Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If You Guys Only You Knew... Five Things You Should Know If You Are Thinking of Pulling Shoes

Rocky. Photo © Merri Melde.

When I decided to make the transition to barefoot I made a commitment to stick with it for six months. As that date approaches, there are five things that stick out as some of the most important lessons along the way. It has not all been wine and roses: two of the five horses at our place went through some sore weeks. Both cases were due to human error.

Maintaining a mustang roll.

1. The role of the sole
Rocky was the first to get tender: we were merrily soaking his feet every couple of days and then carving out his false sole with a farrier’s knife. We thought we were going to accelerate the process of exfoliation and make the transition faster. Obviously that was the worst thing we could have done: he went from being sound to being tender footed. We quickly changed our strategy and it took him a couple of weeks to be pain free.

2. Even professionals can make mistakes
Redford was the horse who seemed to be suffering the most from the effect of shoes: his hoof walls were separating from white line disease. The first few weeks with him barefoot were mostly problem free. He was moving around fine without boots, but he was a little sore in the heel area which prevented him from landing heel first. I had his feet trimmed a couple of days before I was supposed to leave for a ride. The trimmer left most of the false sole and trimmed the hoof wall down below the level of the sole.

By the time I got home that evening Red could hardly walk: he was really sore. I had another trimmer come and give me a second opinion a few days later: it was decided there was too much sole and it was creating pressure. It was as if he was walking on snow balling up under his feet. The second trimmer brought the sole down to the level of the hoof wall and Red was instantly much more comfortable. He was sound again within a couple of days.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Make Your Horse Lame

Rocky in the rocks on a training ride last Sunday at Indian Springs.

Why do some people easily make the leap from shod to barefoot while others struggle?

• It’s not because their horse feels no pain.
• It’s not because they ‘know people’.
• It’s not even because they’re lucky.

It’s because they’re not scared of making their horse lame.

And when they make that leap, they no longer have to focus on short-term fixes that keep their horse flirting with soundness. They focus instead on long-term strategies that make their horse healthier.

Clydea and Rusty enjoying a brief pause at the Verde River during the training ride.

I’ve been picking up my horses’ feet every day for the last few months and squeezing their heel bulbs between my thumb and forefinger. I’m actually pinching myself to make sure what I am seeing is real. It is astounding to see how much the heel area moves from the simple pressure squeezing it.

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Crossing the 20,000 Mile Threshold: Celebrating Kevin Waters

Kevin Waters and Tahoe’s Thunder won first place and Best Condition at the Virgin Rim ride when they crossed the finish line in Nevada on September 20. Kevin also reached the noteworthy 20,000 AERC career mile marker.

Kevin and Tahoe at the National Championship 100 in 2009. Photo © by Merri Melde & Endurance.Net.

Kevin and Ali 'Palomino' at Tevis.

Originally from Chicago, Kevin is not really sure why he started in endurance – or what keeps him in it. “You do get to see a lot of country,” he said in his characteristically ironic way. He started riding horses when he was three and took on his first endurance ride at the Black Hills ride in South Dakota. When he crossed the 10,000 mile mark, he was sure he would quit riding endurance. Now that he’s doubled that mileage achievement he says he hopes he won’t make it to 30,000 miles. We’ll just have to see about that.

Kevin has been using Easyboots regularly for more than 20 years now – mostly the Original Easyboot, and mostly over shoes when the trail dictated it. In some years he was able to get as many as 1,000 miles out of a single Easyboot. In 2002 alone, Kevin accumulated more than 2,000 miles. In that same year he rode all five days on the same horse at each of the New Mexico Renegade; Fort Stanton Pioneer; Outlaw Trail and Owyhee Canyonlands Pioneer rides. He did it all in Easyboots and managed to take home five BC awards in the process.

Like an old friend: the Original Easyboot.

At his 20,000 mile mark, none of Kevin’s competing horses are in shoes. He made the leap to barefoot almost 12 months ago. He was riding the horse he affectionately refers to as Palomino at the Las Cienega Pioneer Ride southeast of Tucson in December 2008. “The steel shoes wore out before the three days were over, so Garrett helped me pull them and we used a set of Gloves so I could finish all three days. I haven’t looked back since.”

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*Major* User Error

We went up to compete in the Man Against Horse Endurance Race this weekend. If there is one ride that boots should be on every horse, this is it. And there were scores of booted horses competing.

Man Against Horse is one of only a few races I am aware of in which the equine and human races are held consecutively. Interestingly, there is no Ride And Tie component. The first Man Against Horse race took place in 1983 and was conceived by Prescott, AZ residents Gheral Brownlow and Steve Rafters. Gheral was a runner and owned a store in town. Steve was a cowboy who worked for the Prescott Police Department and enjoyed riding horses. Rumor has it that they decided to put on the race while at one of the taverns on Whiskey Row in Prescott.

It is an unforgiving trail.

Ron Barrett, a local runner and endurance rider, became ride manager in 1988 and moved the ride from its original location at Whitehorse Lake to its current location at the base of Mingus Mountain in Prescott Valley, AZ. All proceeds and donations from the event go to support food banks in the area. Over the years, more than $100,000 has been given to feed the hungry.

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That Was Then, This Is Now

A Warm, Late September Morning

I pulled Redford’s shoes 14 weeks ago and I’m still trying to justify my hesitation in doing so. With shoes he had a tendency to demonstrate some tender footedness over rocky terrain, even with shoes, pads and EquiPak. I was not convinced he would be a good barefoot contender.

Redford just before his shoes were pulled.

His feet were dry and the hoof capsule was beginning to look tubular and much longer than it should have been. The arid Arizona summer conditions were already beginning to take their toll on the moisture content in the sole, and the hoof was breaking away. We fixed the breaking hoof wall by adding some hoof cement.

When I first pulled his shoes his feet were tender for a while, but that soon changed as the feet began to retrieve their natural shape.

Today feet are rounder and the length of the hoof capsule is shorter. His feet are not dry or flaky or brittle, and there is a concave shape showing in the quarters of his hooves. He stands more squarely now than he used to, and I no longer need to use interference boots on him.

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Our Own Little Paddock Paradise

One of the items Dr. Thomas Teskey talked about at some length during his presentation in Arizona in August was the importance of keeping a horse moving to ensure a healthy hoof. In Jaime Jackson’s latest book, Paddock Paradise, A Guide To Natural Horse Boarding, he describes the methodology used in a paddock design to imitate the constant movement of horses in the wild.

Lined up just after the morning feed enjoying their Bermuda hay.

We used this theory to inspire our own paddock set-up last week. We have five horses that are using one large paddock just over one acre in size. We are located on the outskirts of northeastern Scottsdale, Arizona, which means there is no grass: just lots of decomposed granite, several trees for shade and a wide sandy wash that runs through the property and makes for a comfortable horse bed at night.

We secured the feed tubs to the fence along one of the short sides of the rectangular paddock. It is directly opposite the water trough, which means the horses have to cross the entire long side of the paddock to get to the water. With daytime temperatures well over the 100 degree mark all the way into September, the horses drink a surprising amount of water. That means they are adding up miles by crossing back and forth along the paddock, through the wash and back up to the water countless times during the day.

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Glue-Ons: Even You Can Put Them On: Ten Easy Steps to Glue-On Bliss

A freshly applied set of Glue-Ons.

It has been an exciting season for Easyboot with the introduction of the Gloves and the Glue-Ons to the market. I remember a few people riding in the boots at Death Valley at the end of December. Then there were some serious contenders using them at Old Pueblo in southern Arizona in March. I watched a fitting demonstration there for the first time. I was intrigued and felt for the first time that I might even try them for myself one day.

Making the leap to booted success.

Fast forward to the revered Tevis cup in August and the unequalled success of the Glue-Ons there, then on to Bryce Canyon XP five weeks later where boot users consistently predominated in the top ten, and took home the best condition award on four out of the five days. Last weekend the boots got the crowning glory of taking first place and best condition at the National Championship 100 mile event, and best condition at the 50 mile event. It sure makes you think about the benefits of barefoot principals and booted protection in the sport we like to call home. I think Gloves are an excellent product for training and 50 mile races. I think Glue-Ons are also worth serious consideration and I have really enjoyed the every one of the low maintenance rides I’ve had with them.

There were line-ups at Garrett’s rig every evening at Bryce XP for Glue-Ons to be put on competing horses. I chatted with some of the horse owners and bystanders about the process of putting on the boots during the week. Although the Garrett/Christoph team make putting the boots on look pretty swift, I can assure you that putting on the boots is not beyond your own capacity. Let’s recap my own experience before leaving for Bryce. I am not a hoof care professional – I’m not even that handy! But I did manage to get each horse booted in 45 minutes. Click here for the company’s official instructions on preparation, application and removal of the boots.

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