Sunday, January 27, 2008

Free Jumping

We started back into jumping training today by setting up a jumping chute. The jumps consisted of a starter cross rail, then one stride to a vertical then two strides to an oxer.

Brego jumped back into jumping with all four feet (har dee har har). I must say I was pretty happy with his performance considering he hasn't schooled jumps in months. He went down the line with much more impulsion and confidence than last time around and jumped everything with relative ease. The striding was once again too short, but he really got some air time over the oxer. I would love for him to use himself more and power over the fences from a longer take off point, but he seems to be more comfortable to moving up to the fence and then making a compressed bound over it.

The next step is to add bounces to the grid, to see if I can strengthen him a bit. He's already proven he can play the "I can stuff my enormous body in a 12' stride" game, I now want him to really stretch and get the confidence to use his size to make his life easier. He's not quite fit enough to make his jumps look effortless, but the size of the fence is certainly not a problem.

One of these days, I am going to get a jumping lesson and start to work on myself. Brego's talent is started to show off my own inabilities, so I need to rise (and ride) to his level and really support him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Thou Shalt Ride

It was a miserable day in Texas today. Hovering at 36 degrees and 0.25 mile visibility, the drizzle/mist/fog weighed heavily. I have vowed to get Brego and myself back into work, however, so I dutifully rode. The arena was too wet so I did trot sets in the upper pasture. The footing held up well although I didn't brave much cantering.

So to start conditioning wind, we started with 4 five-minute trot sets with 2 minute intervals. I intentionally pushed Brego into a forward trot to get him going, so this work was not done at a jog. Next time I do sets (as soon as the ground dries early next week), I will drop a trot set and add 2 two-minute canter sets with 3 minute intervals. I think to get Brego "fighting" fit, we need to work up to 4 five minute trot sets and 3 three-minute canter sets, all with 2 minute intervals. Realistically, the big boy is only going Beginner Novice, but he will likely have to do all three phases in a day and I want him to think it's easy. Of course, the more fit he is, the less the likelihood of stress- or fatigue-related injuries. Always a good thing.

I was feeling quite proud of myself for not writing off the day with this horrible weather. Eventer are tough, so I better suck it up if I hope to join their ranks this season.

In other news, Brego made a brief appearance on a Danish horse-related forum. The original reason for the thread is a very impressive Ardennais which caused some really good discussion about the suitability of the "cold-bloods" to compete in the Military (what the rest of the world calls eventing). From what I can translate, there was some good points made weighing in on both sides. Compared to the original horse, though, Brego seems quite small!! I am glad people are talking about these horses, though. The more we learn collectively, the better the future for both the horses and the sport.

And finally, I have made plans to take my very special friend H and her awesome mare, Guinness, to the March 8-9 schooling show at Indian Creek Farms. If anyone has missed the cutest pair on earth at the fall formal dressage show, they will want to check out the pictures from the March show! I know they will be wowing everyone again!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fun on the Trail

After our grueling dressage lesson yesterday, we decided to stretch our sore muscles on the trail. I took the little camera along to give everyone an idea of the types of trail work we do here in the Hill Country. Even though Brego had broken one of his boots last ride, I whipped out the duct tape and taped the boots on. Very fashionable and almost lasted the entire ride.

Since his feet have been doing so well, I think I will save the boots for multi-day rides and continue to condition his feet to the rocky trails.

We did the "short" loop today at 6 miles and found a couple of obstacles to jump, just to keep things interesting.

I have a call in to my jumping training to work on that jumping over my leg. Yikes! I need to get that fixed before the show season for both beauty and safety.

And of course, I tried to get pictures of my riding partner jumping, but Brego has to be the center of attention. He's such a camera hog.

We are forecasted to get lots of rain this week which will really help the ground conditions. I will start canter sets with Brego in the next couple of weeks and I am hoping for softer ground.

I hope everyone else had an equally horsey weekend!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dressage Lesson 7

Brego and I went back into training today, hard core. We took a very intense dressage lesson and worked on lateral leg aids and refining his responses. Let me preface this by saying that I did ask several times if the exercises were a little advanced for a training level horse (and rider). My instructor felt we were up for it, even if it was just a shadow of the more advanced movements, because it taught us both to respect leg aids.

The main exercise we worked on was: Coming down the long side of the arena at a trot, do three strides of shoulder in, then transition immediately to medium trot following the shoulder-in bend until we get to the third track. Then, keeping the bend from shoulder in, leg yield back to the rail. Needless to say, it blew both our mids. Welcome back from vacation, indeed! When things with the leg yield went all wrong, we changed the exercise to include a halt after the medium trot, and a 360 degree turn on the forehand before trotting off again and then performing the leg yield. The entire exercise was intended to be ridden on the same bend.

Interestingly, it exposed a lot of weaknesses with my own execution, because I would try to adjust my reins after each stage of the exercise, which of course broke contact and Brego would lose his flexion. When I could keep it together and stay consistent, he was able to respond much better. In general, he is moving his shoulders well, but his haunches are still non-responsive, which is why we drilled the exercise, to teach him to move laterally off my leg aid.

We finished with some canter work, but we were both so exhausted that it was pretty not-spectacular. So another day goes by without capturing the "miracle" canter on film.

Overall, though, I think Brego came through the vacation very well. He's moving nicely and has much better balance than last time I took a lesson, which I believe was November 15th. This lesson gave us enough to work on for awhile, I think! Also, the 7" bit passed my instructor's critical eye. She really liked the way he was moving in it and did not think it was too big. Egads!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Let the Season Begin

We're under two months out from the first schooling show of the season so I decided it was time to actually do something with Brego. We had a nice arena ride on Saturday, just getting things back in gear, like working off my leg. He has a new mouth, after his float, and a new bit (7" behemoth loose ring), so I did not ask for much. I am hoping to restart Dressage lessons next weekend.

On Sunday, however, we started to work on condition. Since Brego had been ridden periodically over the last two months, he has some level of fitness, but not near enough to actually compete and not risk injury. So I am started to bring him back by doing lots of long, slow rides. We rode for 12 miles yesterday in some very hilly, rocky terrain. He did pretty well, but definitely got out of breath after long uphills.

I also took the opportunity to try out his new mega-sized hoof boots. I was pretty skeptical, but they worked really well and did not twist. I chose this ride to test them on because I knew he could complete the ride barefoot if needed. He didn't mind the boots at all, and I was inspired enough to make him trot for much more of the rocky trail. There was lots of good interval training, trotting for 5 minutes, then walking for three, etc.

Around mile 10, however, one of the cables on the boots broke and he shed the boot. We were in the middle of a good trot and I didn't notice at all until my riding partner saw his naked foot half a mile later. I went back to retrieve the boot and ended up finishing the ride without either boots. He trotted on fine barefoot over the rest of the trail. It's good to know that he can handle that kind of terrain, but I think the boots definitely give him longevity. I can go longer and faster with them without worry. I also wanted to point out that I was very concerned about slippage and traction in the boots prior to the ride. He had a few slips on the rough-and-tumble parts of the trail, but he also slipped with his back feet as well, so I can't say for sure the boots were a problem.

Anyway, he was one tired boy, but we did finish the ride with a nice canter over some railroad ties. My one concern about this season is getting him confident enough to move up and jump strange fences without prior schooling. He tends to be a looky-loo which in extreme cases can lead to getting marked for "refusals" even if he does successfully jump the fence. He did well over the little jump, even tired, but we have lots of training ahead of us.

I will give him a couple more weeks before I start any gallop work (and pray for rain for this hard ground), but I will continue to leg him up with these longer rides over varying terrain at the walk and trot. And of course, the arena work never ends.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Inner Side of Brego

Brego got the week off of work because he was still sore from his float. So there is nothing to report from a training or conditioning perspective. But I did get an excellent vet out to take digital radiographs of his hocks and feet in order to assess any issues he might have with the upcoming season. He may not look like it these days, being a couple of weeks out of work and rather, er, squishy, but I have high hopes for that boy.

So I requested xrays of his hocks and front feet and the overall read was they are very good. He has some slight changes evident in the joint between P2 and P3, but the vet was not concerned at all. He also had a slight lipping of one of the joints in his hock, but again the vet was not alarmed. He did show pretty significant sidebone, but surprisingly, the vet seemed to think it would not cause him any problems and was pretty normal for a horse of his size. He thought he had good feet and excellent balance, thanks to my excellent trimmer, and was pretty optimistic about him in general. If this was a pre-purchase exam, Brego would have passed with flying colors. Granted, he did not give me the green light to go out and jump 4', but he certainly didn't think Brego was suffering in any way from his current work load or last season. The real test will be to see the same set of rads taken next year. Will a year of improved work and more showing accelerate any changes?

He did recommend we drop the supplemental joint medicine and switch to IM Adequan. After doing a cost comparison, it was actually cheaper to make the switch and he felt it would be a good prophylactic to minimize changes. He stated there was more research and studies done showing the efficacy of Adequan over feed-through joint supplements. I had not really looked into Adequan, because I felt it was one of those "pharmaceuticals" burnt-out hunters needed. I did not realize that it wasn't a drug at all. Anyway, Brego got his first dose tonight and my SmartPak is going to be radically changed.

Finally, he confirmed that although Brego is sore from his float, it was good dentistry and that his TMJ is probably just sore from having his mouth open for so long during the procedure. He agreed with my decision not to ride until Brego is 100%. (I hope to start riding again soon... The spring show season will be here all too soon...)

Without further ado, here are the rads, for your viewing pleasure (Click on each one to see a larger version).

Left Foot Lateral

Left Foot DP

Right Foot Lateral

Right Foot DP

LR Hock Med Lat Oblique

LR Hock DP

LR Hock Lat Med Oblique

LR Hock Lateral

RR Hock DP

RR Hock Lat Med Oblique

RR Hock Lateral

RR Hock Med Lat Oblique

Monday, January 7, 2008

Divergence in Training

On Saturday, something unfortunate happened at the barn. A dog belonging to one of the workers chased a doe into a fence and she broke her neck. Luckily, someone was there to dispatch her as soon as possible so she didn't suffer long. I let the worker know how displeased I was to have a dog chasing game for sport, so senseless. I am not a hunter, but I don't judge those who are. If you're going to shoot them, make it quick and use the carcass.

Anyway, as squeamish as I was, I decided to turn this into another learning opportunity for diversifying Brego's resume. I asked for temporary use of the deer and conditioned him to the smell of blood and the dead body. He was pretty alarmed to begin with, understandably, but after a few moments, I could lift the deer onto his back. Thus, my would-be event turned back-country game horse.

After that "positive" experience, I hosed the blood off of him, suited him up and we had a lovely ride working on moving truly forward and adjusting our pace within gaits. It went very well, he was able to bring his brain back from the truly bizarre experience before and go right back to work.

Many people think I am crazy at the barn for putting a dead deer on my horse. And, I admit, I probably am. But I think constantly about the future for Brego. Despite the optimism in this blog, the reality is if something was to happen to me, he would not be snatched up as an eventing prospect. And we all know that the best way to keep him off the truck to Mexico is to make him valuable at *something*. Sometimes, being a good riding horse isn't enough anymore. So I go out of my way to give him lots of different experiences because I don't know what he may be asked to do in the future, with or without me. Sure, a dead deer I can carry myself is a little extreme, but it's a good learning experience. We do camp in the mountains a lot. What if he needs to pack a dog, or a human and the smell of blood overpowers him. He mastered his fear with the deer and we built trust. He will be able to do anything I ask of him once this eventing lark is over.

Brego has done quite a bit in his short life already, sort of a jack of all trades, master of none. He has gone swimming bareback, overnighted in the mountains, followed the hounds, performed dressage tests, jumped a clean round. And now he's "packed game". One big thing left on my list which I have not done yet is move cows. Any horse in Texas needs to be able to move cows.

Back on target, we ended the day heading to the vet for a float. He had some nasty hooks and hopefully he will feel better now. The vet also aged him at 6 1/2 so he is probably a late spring, early summer 2001 baby. Would I had the papers on this boy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Trimming XXL Feet

The long awaited trimming post has arrived! I am going to detail as much of the trim as I can, considering I am not the primary trimmer. I will relay any specific questions to the main trimmer and answer them as best I can.

To my knowledge, Brego has never worn shoes. Or if he has, it was very early in his life. I know his history from 3 years old and on, and he has been barefoot the entire time. When I bought him, he would not pick up his feet and his hooves were extremely overgrown. His previous owners had taken good care of him, and he was in a good weight, but his feet were pretty neglected, with severe flaring all around the hoof capsule, from the toe to the heel.

In his third year, before I got him, he was housed on a sand paddock and not ridden at all. In fact, the people I bought him from were pretty intimidated by him. They told me the story that the people they had bought him from said he bucked under saddle so they never really worked with him. The end result was that his feet continued to flare on the soft ground and there was no natural wearing or chipping action to help alleviate the overgrowth.

When I bought him, I knew very little about feet. I noticed he had no contraction of his heel and nice large frog and was largely satisfied. My first few trims were a learning process, where I just trimmed his hoof wall back to stop the flaring and did little to balance his foot overall. He has always been sound, even with the incredibly long feet, and he was sound after my trims so I was not too concerned. During the first year and a half that I owned him, he was turned out on 80 acres of black-land prairie which gets quite hard in dry conditions. He was in a large herd of horses so he moved around quite a bit, and I think that had a lot to do with his feet remaining good and sound, even with my uneducated trim.

Last January, I moved him to a "better" facility which had arenas and jumps for training, but he was in an enclosed paddock, just 2 acres, with 7 other horses and 3 donkeys. The ground was terrible, a thick mud, and the paddock was never picked, so he ended up standing in manure and urine and had very little movement. I fought with the barn owner for turnout, as they had originally advertised, and I was lucky if he got turned out into a 10 acre pasture for a few hours five days a week. His feet completely degraded and he lost a lot of conditioning. His hoof wall would flake and peel, completely corroded, and his sole dropped to the ground. He lost the concavity his feet had gained the previous two years. For the first time, he started to be sore over rocks. It was during this time that I found a better trimmer for him, since I doubted my ability to keep him going under those conditions.

Last August, I moved him to a new facility, where he has a 7 acre grass pasture that he shares with only Hobby. This means that with proper rain, the pasture will continue to hold grass and not descend into a muddy hole. He also has more movement, although not nearly as much as he had in the herd environment on 80 acres. His exercise level has vastly increased, as he has come of age and I have put him into serious training. It has taken about 6 months of careful conditioning over rocky trails to begin to get back some of his ability. He still gets foot sore if the rocks are too big, but he can handle a typical Hill Country trail for 12 miles at least, when his feet are dry.

I have included this information, because environment is 50% of the battle with keeping a horse comfortable barefoot. There are some environments where a horse cannot be barefoot, no matter how good the trimming or how naturally predisposed the hoof is. Very prolonged wet conditions, or conditions where the horse cannot have adequate turnout really work against the natural mechanisms needed to keep the hoof healthy. Also, the goals of the rider are also a factor. If the rider desires the horse to be able to go 50 miles over rocks barefoot, then they must expend considerable energy conditioning and acclimating the horse to rocks. It is possible, but it's very hard. Better to go with shoes or boots to protect the non-acclimated hoof. If the goal of the rider are to be sound in a sandy arena and well groomed cross country course, the conditioning is much less severe, but traction must always be a consideration.

I have ridden Brego in knee high wet grass at a canter and never felt a slip, but I would certainly scratch before I did any jumping or speed work at a competition in those conditions. It's about priorities and being realistic. I believe a well conditioned barefoot horse gives me the most options: I can put on boots (if they will fit), I can put on shoes for studs, I can leave him barefoot, etc. So I try to keep him barefoot and progressing, but I am very realistic about his abilities. Once you put shoes on full time and lose the natural conditioning, you must stay with shoes or boots and you have fewer options. Not a big deal for full-time show competitors, but a big deal for me because I have many interests and activities with Brego.

I won't go into all the arguments for or against barefoot, just say that I have done my research and am seeing how things go. I am not close minded one way or the other, and Brego will tell me what he needs to be comfortable.

Ok on to the trim, which was performed on December 17, 2007 (Click on the pictures to see larger versions):

Here are Brego’s feet pre-trim.

He toes in significantly, which is common in draft horses. His is also base narrow and tends to paddle. Draft horses are purposely bred this way so they can walk comfortably in a furrow. Great for plowing, not so great for everything else.

His feet are 7.5 inches in width and slightly less in length, which is why most boots do not fit. Most horses feet are longer than wide, but Brego and a couple of the other drafts I have known are the opposite. These boots are shaped more appropriately for horses like Brego and I have ordered the largest size they have which just might work. I will keep you all posted.

He has an old injury on the outside side of his left foot. It looks like it was some sort of injury to the coronet band that has altered growth of the hoof wall on the lateral side of his hoof. While the injury has not completely “grown out” in the two plus years I have had him, it does appear to improve with new wall growth.

Brego’s feet are trimmed approximately every four weeks. Between trims, we bevel around wall to promote breakover, hinder flares, and prevent wall chipping. Pre-trim, you can see that his feet have flaring all around. We will focus on his left front for a specific trimming explanation.

Here is the lateral side of the left front before the trim. You can see the injury area near the edge of the hoof wall.
Halfway down the hoof on the toe, you can see where the flare starts. We have been aggressively addressing his flares, and this seems to be working as the top part of the wall is more straight. We address the flares by keeping the hoof wall short and beveled.
The heel is very long and run forward.

In the heel picture, it looks like the medial heel of the hoof might be a bit longer than the lateral side of the hoof. This is consistent with the front picture of the foot, which looks like the coronet band is angled upwards on the medial side and not level.

Here is the post trim of the front feet. Flaring has been removed on the lower third of the feet.

Here is the lateral side of the left front. You can see the flare that has been removed. The heel has been lowered. His injury is causing the significant float in the quarter area. We are hoping that this continues to grow down properly so that the hoof wall can be in ground contact all around, with only the *slightest* quarter scoop. Hoof care practitioners disagree on the need for a quarter scoop; some argue that hooves need a quarter scoop for hoof expansion purposes. If the coronet band bulges upward in the quarter area, the trimmer puts a scoop there to help straighten the band. If the band is straight, she bevels the wall and adds a very slight scoop depending on the horse.

In the post-trim heel picture, the medial heel has been lowered so that it is more in balance with the right heel. We have also cleaned up the frog flaps and opened the central sulcus area of the frog so that thrush or fungus does not get trapped in the area.

You can see that Brego’s soles are quite flat. We would like to see more concavity built up. This is the loss of concavity I talked about above, where he stood in mud for months with his feet breaking down.

We have taken the advice of Brego’s osteopath to rasp a 45 degree bevel into the medial heel so that he is weighting that heel more forward than the lateral heel. This is supposed to help with the toeing-in and the paddling when moving. While I have never heard of this, we are trying this for a few trims.

I must stress that “fixing” toed-in feet by trimming or shoeing can cause serious problems if you end up putting stress on the limbs. I asked the osteopath about this, and while he agreed that Brego’s feet will always toe in due to confirmation, he thought that some of the toeing-in was excessive. We will keep you updated on this, and I will ask the osteopath for more information on this method when Brego sees him in March.

I am also going to get a full set of films of his feet done this week, before we start spring training. The best way to keep track of his progress, or lack thereof, is to get baseline xrays and then checkpoint with them annually. Plus, they should be useful to my trimmer, to help her see what his feet are doing on the inside.