Friday, September 18, 2009

The Search for the Perfect Hoof (Solution)

Since I have gotten some excellent leads on good hoof products, I thought I would write up what I already know or have researched. My readers can then extend the search, armed with data.

This is Brego's right front foot right after we pulled the steel shoes. You can clearly see the nail holes in addition to his enormous and quite healthy frog. (An old barefoot trimmer I cliniced with once remarked while looking at Brego's foot: What do you call a frog that's bigger than a frog? A toad!) Brego's foot measures 7.5" to 8" across and it is wider than it is long, which is the challenge to fit. Most conventional hoof products (boots, shoes, etc) are longer than they are wide. Right now, Brego would wear a size 8 shoe. That is a tremendously big shoe, and very hard to find in "sport" models.

We live close to Meader Supply, which is one of the foremost suppliers of Draft and light horse farrier supplies, so we have access to a boggling array of options. Unfortunately, most do not fit. The most common draft shoe is called "Scotch Bottom Shoes" and they are falling out of favor in the driving community and are completely inappropriate for sport. They encourage big hitch action and not the kind of movement I need for eventing or hunting. My current farrier calls them "archaic". The biggest challenge is understanding not only the needs of a big foot, but also the needs of a sport horse, who must have a comfortable breakover, minimal weight swinging on the fetlock, and excellent traction. In short, I need a performance option for a light horse, in a big horse package.

As for boots, I have tried all the major names. The following boots do not come big enough, or they have the wrong shape for Brego's feet (longer than wide): Renegades, Easyboot Gloves, Easyboot Epics, Marquis, etc. Brego does fit in a pair of Boa Boots, but they are bulky and he tends to slip. They are for walking only.

The following composite shoes do not come big enough: Eponas, Smoothwalkers, Flex Step. I ordered a pair of Hoof-Its and they were too small, but there is a larger size to try, so we may be ok there. If Brego fit in Eponas, I would buy them in a heartbeat. I love the traction options and the mesh insert is perfect to prevent balling in winter.

I have also tried Super Fast glue epoxy, glue on pads with Adhere, Sole Guard, and other "pour on" options. One tube (at $30) is enough for one foot for one fast hunting ride, so they quickly get expensive.

However, Brego has been sound barefoot for 8 years and now that the incessant rain has stopped, he is sound once again. I rode him at a rocky fixture at a hunt on Wednesday and he was fine. I pulled back to hilltop after the stirrup cup to save his feet, but he finished the ride just fine. After a long, foot-tiring ride, I do pack him with Magic Cushion and put him in his Davis soaking boots, which do thankfully come big enough. So there is a possibility, with correct conditioning and cooperative weather, that Brego can work over most of the terrain in New England.

I have written up a post including his original feet when I bought him and described the trimming philosophy before. I also have xrays of his front feet to show what's going on inside.

That does not mean there is not more to do or to learn. Brego has sported a pretty significant "splat" flare since I bought him at 3. It is one of the things that you can't really get ahead of without doing something drastic, like rasping a lot of his hoof wall straight. And every time I have done something drastic, he is uncomfortable. I think for his long term health, however, we need to get his foot more upright. This will lead to more concavity of his foot and allow him to be even more comfortable over rocky terrain. So, each winter, while he is resting in soft snow, I will work on the flare. This year, it has already gotten significantly better, with continual treatments of "White Lightening" to sanitize the white line to help it grow in tighter, pulling his foot up stronger. The 60 days of rain really set us back, but the hope is to get his foot nice and tight, and not wider than it is long, by the end of next year. That would probably put him in a size 7. Still too large for most products, but I think better overall.

The CBC came back completely normal, so we can eliminate EPSM, Anemia, and other horrors from possible causes of distress last month. The Lyme titer should take a week or so to get back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick Update

I am not immune to the tremendous outpouring of support. I really appreciate each and every comment. I have a quick update on Brego, since so many people have pinged me privately to ask if he is ok. I am relieved to say that he is doing very well!

We pulled the steel shoes and found close nails on both fronts. The farrier came out that evening, was very professional, and helped us to glue the shoes back on to see if it was the weight of the steel or if it was a close nail that was making him look strange. There was some question because normally being quicked causes three-legged lameness and Brego was just not lame. Anyway, he did much better with the glued on steel shoes so we feel like it was the nails that were causing the issue. The farrier was floored at Brego's pain tolerance, but I was not surprised. That horse has tremendous heart.

The steel shoes fell off after a single ride, but I got the evidence I needed so I didn't mind the cost and effort of gluing them back on.

Since his steel shoes were off, I took the opportunity to order him some composite shoes. It was hard to find some that came in his size, but I found a brand and ordered them and lo' they are too small. So, I've been riding Brego barefoot and over the course of a few days after the shoes were removed, he was back to 100%. To finish up the investigation, I had a chiro out and he passed just fine. She did not find any issues up front. His left his is a bit sticky as always. I am going to up his lateral work to strengthen that left hind.

On Wednesday, I am getting a blood panel drawn and a Lyme test just to finally and conclusively say it was his too-tight nailed shoes. I rode him at the hunt barefoot on Saturday over a less rocky fixture and he was foot perfect, keeping up in the gallops, jumping 3' coops and even leading the field twice over fences when the master begged off. Such a star!

To help him with the increased load from hunting, I've added electrolytes to his breakfast and I just finished a full body clip. That horse has a lot of surface area!

Tomorrow we go cross country schooling, Wednesday it's back to hunting, and there may be a show or two before the end of the year. I am still willing to try properly fitting and nailed steel shoes to help with the rockier fixtures for hunting, I just need to coordinate with my farrier whom I still respect and trust.

Whew, now we're all caught up. I am still slow on the blogging, but I wanted people to know that Brego is doing very well and to thank you for your well wishes, thoughts, and prayers. I have learned a ton through this experience, both about Brego and myself. Brego continues to be challenging to fit, but he is willing to work and has so much heart. He amazes me daily.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Once Again

Ok, once again I am in the position to defend my actions and decisions regarding Brego's discomfort. I urge everyone who reads this blog and thinks they know the whole story to reconsider.

Jennifer and others, please do not think my decision to take my matters private have much, if anything, to do with you. It's totally acceptable to challenge, it's not acceptable to make assumptions. I get emails every day from people who say more damning things than asking if my horse is rearing because he is uncomfortable. For whatever reason, people think some pretty horrific things about my character because I have the audacity to ride my draft horse as a sport horse. And I get to hear about it. All the time. So much is said outside of the realm of this blog, and that's the price you pay for having a public presence. Which is something I mean to correct. Out of respect to my readers, I wrote the last post letting them know I was working on some issues and that I would be out of contact. I did not just fade away and let people wonder if Brego is ok. I decided to be honest.

Secondly, Brego is not chronically sore. He is not suffering sitting in my pasture. He is not moving as well as I know he can. Which is not OK, but there's a big difference between where he is and *suffering*. And please do not assume I have given up. The implication that I am not pursuing treatment due to not wanting to spend money is beyond ridiculous. I have spent more on this horse than some people make as an annual income, getting custom tack, custom treatments, all to make him happy in his work. I have an appointment with a chiro, xrays are planned, I am working with my farrier whom I trust. I have looked into draft farriers and been worried about the "big hitch" shoes. Walking and trotting in a straight line, Brego is totally fine. How many farriers in the US can claim they shoe drafts for sport?? Do you really think that someone who shoes the big hitches in scotch bottom shoes understands the breakover at a gallop, the twisting of tight turns on the hunt, or the impact of jumping? Do any of my readers live in the area, have interviewed draft farriers and know what kind of expertise is available to me?

I obsess over ever detail of my horse and his way of going. His current situation is so subtle that most people would not see it, which does not make it right, but I think should lessen the hysteria that I am doing nothing but letting him rot in a field.

I am being very active to make Brego feel 100%. I am just not doing it publicly anymore, because no matter what I say or write, I cannot win. And again, this is not directed at the people that have the courage to sign their names to their comments, but those who attack for no other purpose than to erode my confidence in my ability to care for my horse. I find it quite remarkable that when we are doing well and winning, I hear nothing but positives about my care and ability to maintain my horse. But when he gets foot sore due to a ridiculous year which is affecting thousands of horses in the area (read COTH or Equisite sometime), then all of a sudden I am too cheap, stubborn, ignorant, vet-hating, quitter, etc, to care for my horse.

A little benefit of the doubt goes a long way.

No Progress

After almost three weeks, Brego has not adjusted to the shoes. He is not lame per se, but not comfortable striding forward and is reluctant to hold the canter. I have been away for work most of the time, so I am relying on my SO to ride, longe and report back.

We've decided to pull the shoes asap and reevaluate. Although Brego was perfectly sound on turf barefoot and would have been fine at most eventing venues, he was not sound over rocks which means hunting was uncomfortable for him. I am now concerned that because of the aggressive trim to fit his hoof to a shoe, he may not be comfortable even for eventing until his foot can grow out. I can keep him comfortable around the farm in boots if need be, but there's a high likelihood that hunting, and eventing, are done for the year.

There are a couple of options I may investigate, such as nail-on hard plastic shoes, in case it is the hard concussion of the steel that is bothering Brego. I am also looking into a hoof casting material that will work as well as the epoxy but have more longevity.

Regardless, this is a devastating time for me, to have come along the entire year and not been able to keep him comfortable barefoot. And now, even shoes are a problem and I am frankly nearly out of options. If he cannot stay sound barefoot in the North East for whatever reason, I have some very hard choices ahead.

As a result, I have decided to stop blogging for the near term. The hard choices I face are very personal and I am loathe air them publicly. No matter how much I try, people always misunderstand and I don't need projected guilt added to my own.

Thanks so much or your warm wishes and for being great readers. I hope to return in the spring, a new, drier year, with much better news.