Friday, August 29, 2008

All Weather Tread for Brego

In general, Brego does well barefoot. He has been conditioned since I have had him to travel over rocks and uneven terrain without shoes. When we were in Texas, almost all of our rides out involved rocky terrain and Brego did pretty well if kept in reason. For example, I could ride him walk/trot on a 12 mile trail ride over rocks and he would be fine. But if his feet had been soaking in mud for the two weeks prior, it was time to break out his #7 Easyboots.

In the semi-arid climate of Central Texas, you could very easily never ride in mud. The occasional times that it rained enough to cause excessive mud, you could scratch or, better yet, the entire show would be canceled. Thus, I rode for two great years without ever negotiating mud.

Then I moved to New England. Where it actually rains. Sometimes daily. As I am discovering, the barefoot program that worked in Texas may not work so well up here. The jury is still out, but as with all things horses, I am continually learning.

The biggest problem I am facing up here in regards to footing is traction. Brego is still fine over rocks, even with all the wet weather. He is not foot sore or gimpy when we ride out, which is, admittedly less than we rode in Texas. But in the mud, Brego will slip behind.

The kind of mud up here is thick and deep. It's not a thin, watery mud that you can strike through and find purchase on something solid underneath to push off. It's all slick, all the way down. Brego, with his free swinging rear legs, slips in the mud. It could very well be that he is barefoot. Even a flat shoe would offer some grip, I would think. Would it be enough grip in the thick mud to stop him from sliding? That's a big question I have.

Brego might also be slipping because he is honestly not trained to negotiate footing. When all you do is ride on dry, packed earth, it may take some adjustment to center your weight a bit more. Or he could be slipping more because of the way he lands on his hind feet. He swings his rear legs through, in typical cow hocked fashion, by swinging his hoof to the inside, very close to the opposite leg. Then as the foot travels forward, instead of swinging it back out for a nice, even flat landing, he keeps his foot to the inside and places the outside of his hoof wall on the ground first. As his weight transfers onto the hoof, the inside of the hoof comes down to make contact with the ground. So he's not traveling square. This seems to be a breed-specific "feature". I've seen lots of Percherons do this. Being bred to be base-narrow and walk in a furrow has a lot to do with this, I believe.

Landing on the outside of hind foot, sometimes worse than others

This inside travel also has ramification on his hoof development. The outside of his rear hooves are extremely flared and must be trimmed every few weeks to keep his wall from being pushed up on impact and flaring worse. I am of the opinion that you should not correct this type of conformation flaw with shoeing, even if it might be possible. Brego is what he is, and sometimes corrective shoeing will transfer the stress up the leg to his hock or his hip. With his hoof wall being stressed, I can monitor it and he is sound and uses the rest of his hind end well. Of course, I can't predict the future, and he might go lame in 4 years no matter what I do because of this conformation. Such is the nature of horses.

So, knowing that he has such uneven travel, and knowing that his hoof wall is doing a pretty good job and handling that stress and keeping it from impacting the rest of his leg, I am loath to put him in flat shoes permanently. I can't image what might happen to his fetlock if his flared wall was held immobile by a steel plate as he added weight. The double impact of first the outside of his hoof and then his inside might be exacerbated by a non-forgiving shoe.

As a quick aside, I don't believe that all shoeing is evil, but I believe that poor, uneducated shoeing will wreck a horse. I almost lost a mare to ignorant shoeing before I educated myself enough to put a stop to the increasingly debilitating shoes. She went barefoot for seven years and now, as she gets older, she needs simple flat shoes to be comfortable again. Fair enough, I do what is right for that horse. Brego is 95% fine without shoes. The missing 5% is traction. I am not about to mess with the 95% goodness by putting shoes on him until I have exhausted all other options.

So what are my options? Assuming that Brego will not magically learn to travel safely in mud and will need some sort of assistance to compete in New England, what can I do?

Option #1: EasyCare, the fine people who bring you Easyboots, makes a "extreme" boot meant for sloppy conditions called the Easyboot Grip. This boot sounds perfect for what I need. Just slap some boots on his hinds when needed during a competition and the rest of the time, his hooves can rest and keep doing what they are doing. One small snag in this great plan: They don't come in sizes big enough. The Grips only go through #3 and Brego is a #7 up front, probably #6 behind. I contacted EasyCare and they do not have any plans, that they told me about anyway, to make them in bigger sizes. Phooey.

Option #2: Take an existing pare of Easyboots and drill and tap them for studs. All the benefits of studs, without the nailing of a shoe. Right now, I only have Easyboots for Brego's front feet, but his hind feet need the traction. So he would need to be sized and they would need to fit PERFECT to avoid slippage and damage to Brego from a loose boot. I would need to drill and tap the studs (oh yea, buy some studs) and educate myself on when to use studs. This is not such a bad plan, except I hate the Easyboot clasps. EasyCare is supposed to come out with a new clasp, call the Edge, which does not use the little metal cables to secure the boot. I would much prefer the new clasps, less danger of catching on a fence or getting damaged and broken by a rock. But again, when the Edges come out, they may not be in a size big enough for Brego.

On to Option #3: Shoes for Shows. I can put hind shoes on for big shoes, have them tapped for studs. Then after the show, have them removed. There's a couple of big question marks around this option, above and beyond the "traveling" issue I outlined above. Getting a competent farrier who will shoe drafts and do what I want is one. I have not been impressed by the farriers around here. I've never seen so many toed-in, paddling, heel stacked horses in my life. Plus, most farriers will want to put on front shoes, so that would be a battle. I've already been lectured by a farrier that it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep a draft barefoot. That was a fun conversation... No really, I just want hinds. Then there is the question of how will Brego handle the shoes? Probably fine, but he's never been shod in his life. So I would probably need to put them on in enough advance of a show to get them off if he is troubled.

All these thoughts have been running around in my head before I went to the big recognized show. I had some trouble with slipping at schooling shows and I was pretty nervous about how Brego would do barefoot. I watched most of the rides of the day, from the training-level big Thoroughbreds, to the Beginner Novice-level ponies. Some horses had flat shoes. Some horses had shoes with studs. Some horses were barefoot. Everyone had trouble with the wet footing. I saw horses with studs slipping in the mud, front and back. Brego slipped on course once during show jumping. He did not slip at all on cross country, which was pretty wet. But I was very mindful of the footing and so we went an appropriate speed through the wet parts. (So maybe I have a rider education problem??) So all in all, I think he fared as well as the other horses.

So do I really have a traction problem? Or is an occasional slip to be expected and horses and riders learn to just move on? Remember, I have never ridden in mud before, so I am not sure what is normal. Since Brego did so well at the show, I am not pressed to solve this problem today. However, I am going to start working towards Option #2 with the Easyboots that are currently available. The upcoming Autumn will tell me more about whether Brego and I will adjust or if we have a real problem. If Option #2 does not work, I am on to Option #3. I don't mind putting shoes on for a show, but I don't think I am to the point that I will put shoes on Brego permanently for traction. Now, if he started being foot sore, then that's a different ball game.

Everyone tells me that I must put shoes on for the winter in New England, must have borium. But I have met several riders who ride their horses out all year round barefoot. Like all things, it depends on the horse and the level of work. So I need to find a solution that works for both of us and keeps Brego as sound as possible for as long as possible. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind, and my course, at any point. :)


Beckz said...

I couldn't go barefoot, it seems weird and unnatural to me. The only horse I have who falls over regularly is the 4yr old without shoes.

allhorsestuff said...

Hello therre!
I am loving your extensive knowledge of the hoof and what functions it has to the entire leg and skeletal health!
I have only heard my sister talk such. And we have two barefoot horses becausee of her belief in those values of concussion and exspansion to the hoof into legs.

I ride a Thoroughbred mare with excellent hooves barefoot. We live in soggy Oregon so I must boot frequently to keep from bruising her. She tells me when she has had enough of the rocks. Middle summer is best for all bare riding.

There are other boots you know, that you could put some studs in.
I have a whole set of the Easyboot Epics with studs for wintertimes...slick as snot riding.
I have been waiting for that Edge Boot too! My mare now rips the whole easyboots off the fronts..leaving the gaiter intact.
Blame it all...they are taking thier sweet time with the edge one... Must be working the deails out. I too wish to event some in future and will not shoe to do it. So I must use either the "Old Macs G-2" with the studs (easy boot sells the studs) or these other boots I found called Cavallos. They run very large. Have you seen them?
I am going to fit my mare, then take the boots to a shoemaker to have buckles put on them..they only fasten with Velcro...not too- too reliable I am afraid.

Well, I love your blog and your skill is awesome!
see you around!

Daun said...

I know exactly what you mean. It WAS weird at first, but the results with my old TB were amazing. I also think that you have access to very good, certified farriers in NZ. In the US, any yahoo can put on shoes and the good ones are very far between, making big bucks in Virginia and Florida. When I ask my farrier about underslung heels or other aspects of my TB, he just shrugs and then slaps another unbalanced shoe on her. Very sad.

Thanks for your anecdotes! They are very encouraging! The only other boot which we have found to fit Brego were the Boa Boots and he trashed a pair in one ride. The Easyboots last more than one ride, but that darn cable can't hold up to him. His hind feet should be easier to fit because they are more normal sized. Thanks for your comments!! I will definitely look more into it based upon your positive feedback.

Anonymous said...

I too heard the cavallos were good, and was planning on getting those... however, they're held on with little Velcro straps, and industrial Velcro or not, I think Brego might rip 'em off. But, what do I know :) (And, I'm probably still going to try them. :P)

I too have had hoof-wars (When the New Bolton Center of PA foundered my horse... *shakes fist*), but with dealing with a Paint who has crappy feet to begin with. He's barefoot now, and I wish you were closer to New Jersey, because I would recommend my farrier 8000 times over. (Or, the farrier Rob at the New Bolton Center. An amazing man.) My farrier is one of the rare few who doesn't just slap shoes on, takes his time, and is ridiculously proud of his work. He's a good man. :) All I can say is, keep looking... Eventually you'll find someone, lol!

20 meter circle of life said...

First comment here! I live in the Pacific Northwest and we to have MUD!! From late October usually till late May. I am a recent convert to Barefoot with one horse and the other has always been barefoot. Now both are thriving and doing very well. In the winter we dont ride out much bit they pasture out daily, also let me say i know nothing of eventing so I can only offer what i know. The recent convert had some movement issues when we first went barefoot and has only improved as times goes on. A thought might be to remain barefoot and if you think the traction issue is warranted try the glue on route as to not damage the hoof wall with nail holes. I dont think you have been up north super long from what I gather here so it may just take a season for him to figure out how to move in the different footing. Just thoughts from a DQ gone bare!!

Funder said...

I don't know how helpful my anecdote will be, because I *do* know how different Perch feet are from light horse feet... but here's my mud experience!

When I got my first horse, my TWH, he had keg shoes on. We rode half of the very muddy winter in shoes before I got brave enough to pull them. While he had shoes on, he slipped a lot in the mud, but so did every horse I rode with.

I finally got brave and had his shoes pulled. It took about a week for him to adjust to walking barefoot in the mud, but after that first week, he slipped about 85% less. The horses we'd trail ride with kept slipping at the same rate on the same types of mud, but Champ really started plowing through like he had suction cups on his feet.

I credit part of that to his lovely concave feet. And I know that my Percheron's feet aren't nearly as concave as my light horses' feet. Your plan sounds excellent, and maybe shoes would give Brego the extra oomph he needs to deal with mud - but honestly, it sounds like he's doing ok. Maybe do a little more hacking out in the mud, let him get the feel for walk/trotting in mud?

Daun said...

Thanks everyone for your great suggestions and anecdotes. I love still learning about this stuff.

Glue on shoes are definitely an option. I just need to learn more about them. Finding a farrier who will put them on, findings ones to fit, etc, might be more difficult that normal shoes, but I will check it out before I decide.

At the hunt yesterday, there was a woman who rides barefoot and does the easyboot with stud route. I got to check out her boots and the whole thing looks really solid. So now I am going to accelerate preparing for Option #2 and size Brego today. He did AWESOME yesterday barefoot, even on the 1.5 miles of road riding, trotting down the asphalt without a single missed step. His feet are just so good, I might not need to boots until the snow and ice. But I want to have them ready if I need them, so I am going to get them as soon as possible.

I also forgot to the post this, but he never cross fired the entire ride either. So that's another data point.

Mama2Arden (Dora) said...

Hey Daun,

I'm from your general area... probably about 40 - 1hr away in MA...and honestly we're going through a wet summer in our area...

That said... I keep Chi bare (my 3 yr old perchx - mostly perch)she even travels similar to Brego... I was chuckling about your description since my trimmer has been trying to deal with Chi's roll over in back for a year now.

Easyboots were what I finally settled on and are the most economical to replace, which with big horses just seems necessary more often.

As far as snow and ice... I grew up where you either did full shoes with borium or pulled and went bare...TB that I had that really needed shoes we went borium... all others have gone bare and had great traction all things considered. Our barn turned into a skating ring around the main barns last year and Chi had it easier than the horses with boriums.... it made me wonder if it was because she could feel her footing and they couldn't?

PlaysWithPercherons said...

Kudos to you for going barefoot! We have working drafts (that we ride, too) and they are barefoot. We work them pretty much exclusively on gravel, and they're doing great. It was impossible to find a farrier willing to trim them without stocks, so my husband has been doing them himself, using Jaime Jackson's methods. We LOVELOVELOVE our barefoot trimming. Our Percherons have normal looking, strong, healthy feet, rather than bondo-filled, square, heavy, ugly ones.

I don't know a lot about galloping through mud, but I'd imagine that some slipping is natural. Use your dressage training to keep him in control and properly using his body and he should be fine, I'd think. I'd worry about boots getting sucked off in the mud.

We have one mare that travels like Brego, she actually steps her hind feet directly in front of each other, and since going with the natural trim (vs. the regular pasture trim that we were doing before) the flare and wear has gone away and hasn't come back. Not sure why, but not complaining!

ps~Your header pic is my absolute fav! Love your blog and what you're doing with your Perch!

sarcastabitch said...

PArdon the probably doesn't fit in here as well.

Anyway, I ride/show a full Clydesdale. They don't make easyboots (even Boas) big enough for her. The cavallos didn't work for us either because they sit above the coronet band and rub. I would have had to clip all her feather to make that work.

My horse also does well barefoot, with a similar-sounding flare problem, particularly on the hinds. True to type, her hocks nearly touch when she is standing square. Even in slick arenas, she is usually ok for light jumps and schooling.

I finally put her in shoes for a mountain (Alberta Rockies, muddy) trail ride...and the difference to her balance, hoof growth and stability is remarkable. Her feet were "ok" bare, but now they are excellent. Way reduced stress on the hoof walls, even growth...and far less slipping, particularly in the hinds. The nice part about shoeing drafts (properly) is that there is loads of horn to nail to. You don't find yourself throwing shoes very often.

It is tricky to find a draft farrier, but worth it. I have to travel TO mine, but his expertise with draft feet is totally worth it...and he charges EXACTLY what most farriers charge to do light horses, including shoes.

I don't ride much (besides arena) in the winter, and my horse is pastured 24/7. She will go shoeless with 4 week trims, but I am absolutely goign to shoe her again before next year's show season...we hope to hit up the 3' AA Hunters!

Love your blog, Brego looks like a doll.

Daun said...

Thanks for your anecdote. That is really interesting. I love hearing about how many ways people can be successful. It just proves that you have to listen and do what is right for that individual horse.

Good luck with the AAs! Do you have a blog? I would love to follow your story!