Category Archives: track system

Cloud’s hooves

I thought I had a difficult journey in Ben’s transition to barefoot.  I did not.  What made it difficult was the absence of expertise.  As Dermot and John lived far away, beyond their first few visits, we were on our own.  I read as much as I could, trimmed as I understood I was taught and trusted to nature.  Ben is a cob, with good hooves, and he is rock crunching right now.

Since June 2013 I have had the benefit of consultations from Maureen Tierney.  Currently I am having monthly consultations to guide my trimming of Cloud’s hooves and am learning how much I did not know.  I am also seeing big progress in Cloud’s hooves.

Cloud’s mild bout of laminitis in October forced me to pay great attention to his hooves. I was too sanguine about his recovery from this and allowed him turn-out too soon.  I had some days and nights where he was clearly in pain, hating me touching his hooves and confined to his stable.  He watched miserably as Ben had the happy task of chewing down a small section of the paddock.  Once most grass was gone, Cloud and Ben were turned out on it.  Cloud walked happily on the soft muddy ground and, seeing this, I made a firm resolve to stop worrying and trust in nature.

I had tried: vet’s visits – anti-inflammatories and suggestions to put shoes back on; hoof boots and pads – boots walked out of in no time at all; and every suggestion a helpful tackshop assistant could make.  (One suggestion is well worth passing on: put Staysound on the sole of the hoof overnight, packed into the sole with a cut out section of a feedbag put on top.  This tip from her time in a racing yard was very effective in bringing down heat and pulses in Cloud’s front hooves after I had turned him out on the track too soon.)

After a few weeks, Cloud’s energy started to increase, he started to become pushy with me and with Ben over his hay.  When I stood my ground he circled me with a most beautiful springy trot.   A few days later I decided he was ready for the track again.  As extra insurance I put on hoof boots and EVA foam pads and out he went.  He trotted around the track, out of these boots as well and I watched as he walked over stones and tackled the steep descent of the hill.  He stayed sound.  He looked happy again, energy up, in charge of his world and proving to me that the track works as a space for him and Ben and that time does heal.

Cloud and I opened up to each other through those few weeks of pain.  He hated me touching his hooves, and, even with pain gone, was clearly anticipating more as he would snatch a front hoof from me as soon as I picked it up.  I found no easy way through this.  Time, lots of patience and help from Ben all played their part.

Yes, Ben helped.  Clearly aware, one night he drew near me in the yard as I cleaned Cloud’s hooves.  Snatch, snatch, snatch.  It was wet and cold.  I became very aware of Ben’s presence.  I put down Cloud’s hoof, straightened up and looked at Ben.  “Ben could you ask Cloud to bear with me.  I need to do this.”  A pause; call me crazy but I had a strange sense that something passed between Ben and Cloud.  I bent down again and picked up Cloud’s hoof.  He rested his hoof in my hand, brought his head around over my shoulder and licked my cheek.  He stayed relaxed as I finished his hooves.

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Cloud’s left front hoof, 23rd June 2013.

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Cloud’s left front hoof, 18th December, 2013.

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Filed under health, hoof care, track system

Two different equines

One thing that became very clear to me last winter was that Ben and Cloud do not co-exist ideally on my track system. Cloud’s rate of eating impacts on Ben. Ben’s slower rate, punctuated by rests, does not fit with Cloud’s non-stop and rapid eating. The result has been that Cloud became overweight (far too overweight) and Ben became underweight and looked bad. His coat looked dull, his bones showed and for the first time he looked old.

Having the use of the field this summer reversed this for Ben. Ben’s coat gleamed, his top-line improved (I was also riding most days which I am sure helped) and he gained weight. Cloud’s weight held until the second half of August, when increased grass growth told its tale and he became very round again.

Since coming back, my ad lib experiment has not worked. I have abandoned it a couple of weeks ago. Cloud also got mild laminitis due to the flush of Autumn growth and I have had to face the obvious: they are two different animals and need to be treated as such.

I do not understand this insistence some proponents of track system/paddock paradise have for ad lib feeding. The most I have been able to stretch this for Cloud has been three weeks. I was told (on the facebook paddock paradise group) that it can take six months for a horse to self-regulate. How can this be right? How can this be the right thing to do to a pony like Cloud? I certainly have not been prepared to take this risk.

Feeding ad lib hay worked for Ben and Rosie. Ben set the pace of eating and resting. He may have looked a bit too well-covered but I was not worried for his health. Now Cloud sets the pace.

I do not know Cloud’s breeding, but that he is a native type is obvious, in both character and make-up. He responds so very differently to Ben, for instance, when it comes to loading. Ben, you could say, is more “trainable”. For Cloud, it was clear that he was prepared to resist in every possible manner and a different way to reach him had to be found. I have found Hempfling’s writing on “The Origin” very helpful in helping me understand Cloud. And as regards his make-up, well I wonder about insulin resistance, I wonder also whether he could be leptin resistant which (if I understand correctly) would make him unable to self-regulate. And even if neither of these apply (the test for IR resistance is very expensive so I am holding off for now) I cannot see how a native type, whose ancestors lived on sparse forage over rough ground, could thrive on ad lib forage 24/7.

This morning, I let Ben into grass and spread Cloud’s hay around the track so that he circled Ben moving from small pile to small pile again and again as he foraged for the last remaining wisps. I am still working it out. I have been reluctant to abandon my system which worked so well for Ben and Rosie, where both could share everything day and night. But my big realisation has been that they are two quite different equines and I have to treat them as such. “Keeping it natural” is not quite so easy for this pair.

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Hedgerow time of year

The other morning I created a track within a track. The part of the track that runs up the steep hill on the west side is separated from the grass by a thick hedge of mainly hawthorn, brambles and wild rose. September’s harvest is looking particularly bountiful on the grass side of this hedge.

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So I created a temporary lane from one opening of the track to another running along this hedge. I kept the top and bottom parts wider.

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There is some grass and far too many buttercups. They seemed to proliferate after our long wet winter last year. Ben came when I called. He knew I was doing something interesting. Cloud was more suspicious. But in they came and cropped the grass. It will be a while before they get to the hedgerow. But the grass is sparse. This part of our paddock is my favourite part – an oak and a hazel tree grow there amongst a scattering of hawthorn and ash. The ground drains well and limestone is close beneath the surface.

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I lingered to watch. They moved up and down, the narrow lane pushing them forward and the wider parts allowing Ben room to move around Cloud and come back down. It is a short strip but there was more movement along it than there would be if they had the whole paddock and more movement than on the main track.  No matter how I distribute it, they do not move in the same way for hay.  Hay just does not generate the same excitement. I wonder does it taste much more uniform. On a grass track their seems to be a regular impetus to try the next spot, maybe it will be juicier or sweeter or – some other adjective beyond my imagination, not being a grass eater.

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Filed under a year in the life, track system

This ad lib hay experiment

Hmm. I have to hold my nerve: fat pony, rapidly vanishing hay; very rapidly vanishing hay. Cloud has not been able to get into the haybarn since and they are eating from all the haynets. There is only a very little left in a couple of nets after 24 hours. My idea is to put out 24 hours worth of hay at a time. I may need more hay stations.

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Back home

Ben and Cloud are back home and I have reorganised the track. I have widened one corner and made more feeding stations:

one big haynet under the trees:

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three haynets attached to this tree in the next corner (widened):

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a haynet at the top of the track:

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and two here near the arena where they have often been before:

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I am going to experiment with providing ad lib hay and see if Cloud will start to regulate his intake. Today however, they ate hay only from the two familiar areas and then broke through the electric tape in front of the hay barn creating their own feeding station:

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Cloud looked rather round. I must say, when I came home from work today and saw Cloud’s belly, I had to steel my resolve to try this ad lib experiment. I wonder how long it will take him to eat less – or will he ever? He is a pony after all.

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Filed under a year in the life, ad lib hay experiment, track system

Dream time

June sunlight streams through the trees lending a dreamlike quality to ponies cropping grass. Shadows and light play on their coats, Cloud’s sienna dapples somehow making him shimmer in the afternoon light. Such is the dream: ponies at home, a dream scene.

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As they move I watch their confident heel first landing, relieved that the latest attack of thrush has been defeated. I had missed it – and a cold, mud-laden April and May had done their damage. Cloud in particular hated having his hooves treated and the first time I scrubbed them I resembled a cross mother, alternating between scolding and praise as I held each kicking-out hoof. He seemed to take it in the spirit it was intended, coming up to lick my hand once it was all over.

Today’s dream scene belies the reality – that this has been the hardest and longest winter I have experienced since keeping ponies at home. Cloud arrived during a brief Indian summer, which followed a long, wet summer and preceded an equally long, wet winter. Eighteen months of winter, the farmers said and there has been a fodder crisis, with this green country having to import hay. I ran out of hay, my regular hay suppliers had none and I braved a chaotic farmers’ mart early one morning after a wakeful night to pay a silly price for a small amount of hay. But today, hay is being baled and I await the first of my deliveries of next winter’s hay.

I feel that we have barely contained Cloud on this small track system. I have not managed to regulate his eating. Everything I have read says that if you supply ad-lib hay they will eventually learn to self-regulate. Well, for three expensive weeks I did just that. And then, fear for Cloud’s health and for my budget made me stop. I could not look at his alarmingly round waist and equally could not look at my rapidly depleting stores of hay. Ben got thinner this winter and, for the first time, looked old. During the wettest months, I separated them at night, shutting Cloud in a stable and Ben into the stable yard, Ben not coping well with being shut in. At least I knew that Ben got his fair share of the hay during those nights.

I also think that Cloud’s constant eating wore Ben down. Ben has always liked to take breaks but, keeping up with Cloud, he never could. What I found interesting is that whenever I appeared, Ben would immediately stop eating and rest. I started to feel very protective towards Ben and he has adapted to this and, I think, challenged my awareness more than ever, demanding that I stay strong and alert whenever we are together.

Cloud’s non-stop capacity to eat has dominated my winter. Besides breaking into the haybarn on at least three occasions, he has eaten through hedgerow never penetrated by Ben and Rosie and practically ended up in our neighbours’ yard. And yet, he has won me over. Somewhere along the line, he decided that I was worth following around and I can weave in and out, walk around, stop, back up and he does the same, head at my shoulder with no training or ‘join up’ at all. I have ridden him as well, as he has been putting in stops on the road for my daughter and he has responded beautifully to my aids. Unlike Ben, who insistently demands strong energy from me, stronger often than I feel I have to give, Cloud seems to say ‘oh, is this what you want? I didn’t know. No problem!’

I am renting the well-grazed field behind us for July and August and they will share that space with cows and sheep. And I will look for winter grazing. Much as I love my track system, I need to find a way to allow Ben a fairer share of the forage and also find a way to ease the physical burden on me next winter.

I wander among the ponies and Ben drops into stillness, drooping his head in the sunlight. Cloud comes up to me and gazes steadily across the road to our lake front. The grass indeed seems greener over there.

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A homemade hay steamer

I set my alarm for twenty to seven on the mornings that I go to work. Ben and Cloud have adjusted to this and, now that we have light in the mornings, I can see them from my bathroom window, waiting for me, standing one in each of the open stables, having come down from the back of the track.

This morning I was slow to get up and was lying in bed fighting waking and sleeping when I heard a thumping noise from outside. It sounded like the lid of our hay steamer. We use a sturdy fuel box with a lid that is hinged at the back. It holds a good twelve hours supply of hay and has been in use for months now. I have learned to be careful about that lid, as it can come bouncing down on my head as I reach for hay from the bottom. Looking out the window, there was Ben, his nose pushing open the lid, grabbing some hay and withdrawing in time to avoid the lid coming down. He repeated this and then Cloud joined him and they were both able to pull strands of hay from the closed box, making their own version of a slow feeder.

Admiration and laughter banished any lingering wisps of sleep and when I went outside what could I do but praise Ben for his cleverness?

The steamer exists thanks to the cleverness of my husband and has ended the horrible task of soaking hay in bins overnight. If the hay is not steamed, Cloud coughs. If steamed, he does not. It works.

This is how it is made:

A cheap wallpaper steamer from Argos is plugged into a timer in the shed-cum-tack room that is attached to the stables:

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The pipe from this steamer passes through the wall of the shed and into the hay box:

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The steamer head has been removed and plumber’s pipe is attached instead. Holes were drilled in this pipe at regular intervals. Drain holes were also drilled in the bottom of the box:

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And that is it. We could possibly do with more of the plumber’s pipe (it has an official name which I don’t know) but it works. Cloud is proof of that.

I steam twice a day, for 90 minutes a time:

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Here it is with hay inside, although I don’t leave the hay in slices, I shake the slices out as I put them into the steamer.

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