Tag Archives: barefoot

Back to life

I have been busy and very neglectful of this blog.  I don’t think I have ever let so much time pass since posting.

It has been a strange winter: long, Spring creeping up and catching me by surprise.  And storm lashed.  We lost six trees in hurricane force winds, one of those trees crashing on my trailer so I am now without transport for Ben and Cloud (and for emergency trips to the Mart for hay).  But we have got off lightly here.  Generous friends have offered loans of their trailers when needed.  I have neighbours who have had to reach their house by crossing three fields for weeks now.  The west of the county has been badly battered by the sea.  Houses have been damaged by flooding.

But there has been very few opportunities to take Ben and Cloud out.  Cloud has been stranded with post-laminitis recovery and with a teenager who has a full life of exams, music and friends and a diminishing interest in a pony who requires such careful management.

So Cloud is mine now.  I have to put it that way and embrace this pony who is so different to Ben and somehow find a way into his heart and mind.  I remind myself that I struggled with Ben in the early days.  Easy to forget when communication between us seems to be telepathic now.  We have managed a couple of nice Spring rides, or rather rides and walks as Ben is not fit enough for riding of any length.  But he has enjoyed them, rewarding me with a lick on the cheek afterwards.

A couple of weekends ago I drove north to attend a workshop given by Nic Barker (of Rockley Farm blog fame) which was very interesting and encouraging in allowing horses self trim.  She made the point that we should never judge hooves on photos alone, but to take videos, slow them down and look at the footfall.  I did just that when I came home.  Both Ben and Cloud had heel first landings!  (Ben’s slow motion was gorgeous – such hairy legs clopping down majestically on the yard.)

Some things stay the same – each year, no matter in what manner Spring has approached, by the end of March the primroses appear and the hairiest cob in Ireland sheds wheelbarrow loads of hair, day after day after day.  I become slightly obsessed with currying those long silky slides of hair, and no matter how much I remove there is no discernible difference; and yet there will be, suddenly the bones of his legs will reappear, his belly will seem higher off the ground and his face will be beardless once again.  But for now, he rolls and covers the ground in his hair, rubs and leaves hair caught on the bark of trees, and is starting to walk away when he sees me approaching with the rubber curry comb.

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Filed under a year in the life, hoof care, riding

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

Further thoughts on clicker training

Two recent back-to-back interactions with Ben:

1. Time to trim Ben’s hooves. I tie him up outside the stable. Ben moves around. I move him back to his original position. He moves again. I move him back. He stands still, relaxes and focuses on me. I lift a hoof and trim, Ben stays with me, not leaning on me. Then he moves his hoof. I put it down. He stretches out and down with his neck and licks and chews. I stretch up and back and breathe. (How does anyone do this professionally?) I ask for that hoof again, Ben gives it to me and I carry on. And so we proceed around each hoof in turn. Time to bring each hoof forward to give the finishing roll (my favourite part). I have only an up-turned bucket to use. I put it in front of Ben’s leg. He knows exactly what I want him to do and lifts his leg and stomps his hoof onto the bucket. And so we proceed again around each hoof. The whole procedure has been as efficient as it could be and has felt like a cooperative, joint effort.

2. Time for in-hand work. (I have signed up for Marijke de Jong’s Straightness Training course – excellent so far). So I put a cavesson on Ben and take him up to the picadero. Once there Ben’s entire demeanour changes. He is expecting treats. He knows that in-hand work has been done with the clicker. So he snatches. And snatches. And snatches. Quick grabby snaps with his mouth. And I have used very clear boundaries and they are not working for Ben. No matter how calm I am, how clear I am, what behaviour I ignore, what behaviour I reinforce, and I have been very consistent indeed with Ben in this area, Ben’s excitement and tension come up every time. This is not a cooperative, joint effort. I sense that Ben is hardly aware of me. ‘What do I need to do to get my treat?’

And so I have reverted to my tried and tested bucket behind the fence and asking Ben to stand and wait while I walk to the bucket to get a treat. I have stopped reinforcing every good attempt and he is learning just as well. Essentially I am using pressure and release and also putting some very clear boundaries around my space and Ben’s excitement is lowering and he is focussing on me again.

I like the idea of positive reinforcement and see the logic of using a clicker as a marker. I used it to good effect when Cloud first came to us and he was reluctant to let us pick up his hooves to clean them. But it did not get him into a trailer recently (he’s going in now – that’s for another post maybe) and it never works if Ben is genuinely scared of something.  There have been times when it seemed to work well and it has taught Ben some in-hand behaviours but generally he loses his focus on me when I use the clicker.

The problem has not been with the clicker but with the reinforcer. I started by using treats as a reinforcer and trying to substitute scratches instead has not worked. I do not know if scratches would have worked as a reinforcer if used from the start. I do not think they would be a sufficiently motivating reinforcer. But I have not been able to overcome Ben’s degree of anxiety associated with treats. I am only thankful that I have used clicker in very specific instances with Cloud. I am doing the straightness training programme with him also and he responds very well to the bucket behind the fence. He stands and waits, looking calm but hopeful in a Cloud kind of way. Food is such a powerful reinforcer.  Who knows what history Ben has with food, or indeed what reaction he has to a possible sugar spike from a treat and I did not consider all these aspects sufficiently for Ben.

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After all that…

Ben is rock crunching again. Last Saturday the clocks went back and we had only time for a short ride. So I thought this was a chance to ride without boots. He strode out across the roughest area and trotted over small loose stones with no difficulty. So we have ridden without boots since.

This is obviously huge progress since September. It could be due to being kept off grass all autumn. It could also be due to the track drying up once again – I am pleased with how quickly it drained once the torrential rain stopped. (Although as I type we are having icy showers.) So his frogs visibly improved. And it could also be due to the increased exercise he has been getting since Cloud has joined us – lots more riding.

At least I have hoof boots I can use when I need them. There is very definitely a need for a reliably useful pair that can be pulled out when needed; carried with me, perhaps, for a longer ride in the forestry or waiting in the tack room to provide reassurance when he becomes footy again.

He is looking great – getting hairier by the day, more muddy than one could possibly imagine, with a soft, bright eye and such a soft coat once the mud is brushed off.

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The vexed question of hoof boots

Barefoot woes. I remember my old riding instructor telling me she thought I was mad for going barefoot and her farrier boyfriend stating that you need shoes for the roads and “whatever you do, don’t use those awful hoof boots.”

But we have been rock crunching, we really have.

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Last summer we rode flinty forest trails truly barefoot. Sometimes Ben steps out on the very rough and stony roads here quite confidently without any boots. But not right now. Despite a track system, heavy rains have meant a lot of mud. Ben’s frogs are softer than they were a month ago. And the amount of exercise I have time to provide cannot combat this. So I need boots.

But which boots?

We started originally with Renegades and, while they came off a couple of times, I was generally pleased with how they performed and how Ben went in them.

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(A very hairy Ben in his new Renegades in winter time two years ago.)

He started with a size 2w, but after a few months needed a 2ww. I have never been completely happy with the boots since. They can come off in trot and they rub the outside heel bulb on his right hoof. I first discovered this as a small blister and since then I have played with the cable adjustments but with no great success. We have been riding regularly recently and I kept watching for rubs. One day Ben was snatchy with his right hoof after a ride and did not want me to touch his heel bulbs. I felt very bad and that was the end of those boots for me.

Finding a replacement has not been easy.

We have no supplier of hoof boots in this country. I have been in e-mail correspondence with Liz from Hoof Bootique in England who has been incredibly helpful. She suggested a larger sized heel captivator for the Renegades. My husband cast his engineer’s eye on Ben wearing his Renegades. He pointed out a dark patch towards the edge of the heel captivator on the right boot which seemed to correspond with the rubbing spot. He also suggested trying a bigger size heel captivator. But I have lost faith in those boots for Ben. Too many “ifs” and I want to boot I can be sure about.

Cloud wears Ben’s old, size 2w, boots with great success. They also look quite different on him and this has made me think of the different conformation of a cob. The shell of the boot also does not come up as high on Ben’s hoof as it does on Cloud’s.

So I tried Equine Fusions.

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I really like the concept behind design of these boots and, as Sandra is successfully using them on Minnie, I thought it would be worth trying them on Ben. Ben took a size above Minnie and when the boots arrived I went for a short hack. Ben over reached, which is not like him, and over reached so badly that he kept stumbling. I tried again with the same problem. Comparing them with Minnie’s, the size bigger has not just a bigger shell, but is also higher and it is obviously too high for Ben’s pastern. So the fabric bunches out behind. So they were returned.

So next I reached for a rejected pair of Cavallo Simple Boots which I bought in the early days of transitioning Ben. I had not even ridden in these as I really did not like how heavy and clunky they were. They fitted Ben, but I still was not happy with their weight. Liz suggested Easyboot Trails.

These are better, much lighter than the Cavallos but similar in shape. Ben seems happy in walk, trot and canter. But…

I am now quite worried about heel bulb rubs. The boots are soft and flexible around the pastern so I do not think they will rub there. But they have a serious design fault – there is a seam and rough part just where the outside of the heel bulbs would sit.

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It seems a ridiculous fault for these boots to have. So I have tried out the pastern wraps that came with the Cavallo boots. It took a bit of trial and error to get their position right so that they would not ride up on Ben’s hooves. But they seem to be working. Hopefully after a while I will not need them any more. Ben moves well in the Trails however they do not seem very robust and I would wonder how long the stitching will last.  But I aim to use these boots until they either wear out or fall apart.

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The Glove Back Country would be my preferred choice, without having tried them. But they do depend on a very regular trim cycle which I do not have. And do not even want. I am happy to give a tidy up rasp and we have a good farrier now who understands barefoot trimming and who can cast his expert eye over the ponies about every 2 months. That should be all they need.

On a positive note, Cloud is stepping on the loose stones in our yard without a problem now and his thrush seems to be gone. He also strides out well in his Renegades (and looks quite smart too).

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Transitioning to barefoot with a new pony

So here we go again. I had forgotten just how anxiety-making this process is. It does not help that I am only getting to know Cloud.

I had hoped that the pony we found would be unshod – common enough for ponies here. But Cloud was shod on his two front feet. His hooves were far too long and the riding school owner offered to have him shod again before we collected him. Coincidentally her farrier was the farrier we are now using – he is from Belgium and understands barefoot trims which is a huge relief. It is great to have a reliable professional eye cast on how the hooves are balanced. So I asked that he take off Cloud’s shoes and give his feet a barefoot trim. We were on holidays when he came so I could not talk to him about how he found Cloud’s hooves.

Cloud is tender in both front feet, more so on his left. He is sound on smooth ground but not on gravel and he really does not like his hooves picked out. This has resulted in him planting his hoof, and if it is lifted, starting a pawing motion. This is where I do not know how much of this he would be doing anyway. We were told – and saw – that he has a habit of striking out with his front legs ‘like a stallion’ and were advised that he should be tied up when being groomed. He does respond to a firm ‘no’ and I would suspect that, as a riding school pony, boundaries were inconsistent.

But I need to pick up his hoof and he has not wanted to. So I resorted to introducing clicker. I started with targeting over the stable door. He became very excited with the treats and my whole hand practically disappeared into his mouth. So for the next session I put Cloud in the stable and did clicker with Ben in the yard. I had the treats in a bucket behind the fence. I did targeting with Ben and then clicked for lifting up his hoof. Cloud did not take his eyes off us. When Cloud came out he had got the concept. Over another couple of sessions he learned manners around treats – very quickly – and I could start to click for lifting his hoof. I rewarded him for relaxing his hoof in my hand, not tensing it to strike – quite the opposite of Ben who loves to lean his entire weight into my hand so I am always looking for him to hold his hoof up.

So it has made the task easier, but poor Cloud still does not like his hoof being picked out. I am sure there is bad thrush there. I have ordered some Field Paste from Red Horse Supplies and in the meantime I pick it out (snatch), scrub it with milton (snatch) and then put anti-thrush ointment in (no snatch) and pack the grooves and central sulcus with sudocreme and cotton wool.

And I watch his steps anxiously and I really understand how people give up on transitioning, and I tell my daughter that we have to focus on Cloud transitioning well rather than getting him fit right now.

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Cloud

We are getting to know Cloud. The obvious difference is that he is bigger than Rosie. Which means that he eats more. A lot more. I have them on hay at the moment and initially left their entire day’s hay ration in the big haynets under the trees when I did the evening feed. I came out in the morning to find it had all gone during the night, every last blade, and two extra round ponies were sleeping it off at the back.

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They share haynets. Cloud may be in charge up there but Ben is not intimidated and does not wait back, as Rosie did, for permission to advance towards some hay. He has even taken hay out of Cloud’s mouth, Cloud being an incredibly messy eater who likes to stuff large amounts of hay in at one go. So I took one of my big haynets and put it inside the other in an attempt to make the holes smaller. But when hay is pulled out of those holes the nets line up and the holes are no smaller.

I really like those large haynets. They have lasted very well and still look good for quite a few seasons. They have stretched – they now measure 2.5 metres across instead of 2 metres, so I have made adjustments to how they are hung. But the holes are too big. I bought the 60mm holed haynets so I have ordered one big 45mm net to replace them. I would like an even smaller hole – I have seen 25mm nets but none that fasten as these nets from heunetz do. The design eliminates much of that head jerking motion. I have also ordered a couple of corner nets for the stables.

And I am now soaking the hay.

I thought Ben hoovered his food. He is nothing on Cloud. Ben used to like to eat some hay, take a break, come back for more. Cloud parks himself by the haynet and does not stop until it is all gone, tearing huge mouthfuls out at a time. So Ben has to stay with him. Maybe Cloud does not realise he is supposed to be a trickle feeder?

His teeth have scored lines in his bucket. He has taken hay from the muck heap – hay thrown out as not even palatable to Ben. You cannot go near him with treats on your person.

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But with all that, he is a star. Without food around he is polite, confident but not pushy, and clearly knows his job.

He had shoes on his front feet only. They have come off and as shoeing was very overdue, the farrier was able to trim above the nail holes. He has been a bit footy on stony parts of the track. We are treating his front frogs for thrush and he got a stone bruise last week which I feared for a while was an abscess. But in the last few days he has been much less tender. Fortunately Ben’s original renegades fit his front feet. I had bought a size 2w for Ben which then became too narrow as Ben’s hoof widened. Cloud did get a surprise when they first went on. But yesterday we rode out together for the first time, Ben leading the way. Cloud was great. As time goes on he will need encouragement to take the lead. I would suspect he is very happy to tuck in behind. But for these early rides we will let him slip in behind as my daughter gains confidence on the road. (Or rather as her mother gains confidence – daughter is loving it all and full of plans for upping the excitement level of the rides.)

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Filed under diet, hoof care, riding, stable management