Tag Archives: transitioning

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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Four bare feet

Ever since I bought the renegade hoof boots for Ben, I have been riding him out in them. I had two boots for his front hooves first and he would still try to protect his back feet by walking on the grass verges where he could, rubbing my legs against the shrubs at the side. Then I bought a further pair and rode out happily enjoying Ben striding out in the centre of the road again, over loose stones and rough patches. Putting those boots on became part of the routine, just as much as putting on his saddle.

Then he got a small rub on his heel bulbs. It appeared as two small blisters high on the heel bulbs of his right front hoof. Now this was a moment of real panic for me. My (disapproving) farrier had warned me that whatever I did, “don’t use those hoof boots” as he had seen very bad rubs. I had liked the design of the renegades and been thankful that Ben’s feet were small enough for them. I e-mailed Gina at Renegade who was very helpful and told me that I was probably putting too much tension on the bottom strap of the boot. As far as I understand it, there are two areas where boots can rub: the coronary band and the heel bulbs. Renegade boots do not come up to the coronary band and the heel captivator is designed to move with the hoof, so rubs should not happen. If the bottom strap was tightened too much, the heel captivator seemed to ride up a bit, at least that’s what I noticed when I played with it. I had been tightening the bottom strap against loss of the boot.

So I gave Ben a break from riding out, which allowed me to spend time on the in-hand work. I am satisfied that the rubs, which have now healed, were caused by too much tension on the bottom (cable) strap of the boot. But I also thought about how I ride Ben and wondered if I really need to always use boots. I consider the roads around us to be quite rough but I started to notice how Ben was striding over rough ground with much more ease than he had done a few months ago.

So today we rode out with four bare feet. And he strode over the loose stones and the rough parts and did not seek the grass verges. My legs were safe and his legs felt very good indeed.

I will keep the renegades for the very sharp forestry roads but I think I can declare that, ten months on, Ben has now transitioned.

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Catcing up on barefoot

What with one thing and another, daughter’s confirmation in particular, I have not been blogging as frequently recently. I do want to record that, just over two weeks ago, Dermot and John McCourt returned to look at Ben’s and Rosie’s hooves. I brought them both over to Sandra’s and we had a long, instructive session between Sandra’s two and Ben and Rosie. It is six months since those shoes came off and six months since Dermot and John saw them. Sandra and I have been trimming in the interim.

It was rather nice to stand back and watch someone else do the trimming – and how much faster they did it too.

They were delighted at how well all were doing. What was good about having to trim ourselves was that we had much more focused questions. I was very keen to learn more about heels, what a de-contracted heel looked like and just how low to trim. Ben’s heels have now de-contracted, his hooves are hard and are looking good. (Since Dermot and John were here we have had dry weather and they are looking even better.) It was interesting to re-call just how I felt when, the day after the shoes came off, I led Ben in hand on the road behind us. He walked so slowly and I can really understand how people put shoes back on their horses.

Because of the lack of experience around here, it was very much a journey into the unknown for us. Fortunately, Sandra and I could encourage each other and that support was necessary over the winter, when we struggled through the transition phase.

The concluding comment from Dermot was that we were doing a good job, but being a bit too safe.

Rosie required different treatment as she is on a much more radical trim as a laminitic pony. I was given clear instructions and got some practice in as trimming her is definitely more nerve-wracking. She trotted away quite sound after her trim which was a relief. Dermot pointed out that Rosie’s hooves will grow faster than the others’ and we need to keep an eye on that.

Six months later, I have the right hoof boots, confidence in trimming and can hold my head up amongst any of my horsey acquaintances here about my management of Ben and Rosie. Six months is not a long time looking back, but there were those early months when I had to make an effort to hold firmly to my reasons for going barefoot.

The roads here are quite rough and I would suspect that Ben may always need front hoof boots for those roads, but considering that he must have been at least eight years in shoes, he has transitioned very well indeed. (I also have to thank Ben for having relatively small feet for a cob and therefore able to wear renegade boots; I just love those renegade boots).

Now, we have long evenings, a lovely Spring and we are riding those roads with the same confidence as when we had shoes – correction, with even more confidence as a result of the natural shock absorbancy of a barefoot horse – and all is well in this small paddock paradise.

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Transitioning to barefoot in a wet country

This is a beautiful country. Here, in the mid-west of Ireland the have skies blow the clouds through, sending light dancing through the still-bare trees, to play hide and seek with the shadows, enticing one to venture forth, to chase that light, to ride.

Those skies bring rain, that empties itself over and over onto this wet land, pooling on the roads, making a swamp of the grass and bringing up mud, boot-sucking, hoof-swamping, wheelbarrow-trapping mud to make a nonsense of sections of a track system supposed to facilitate healthy hoof development.

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Under the trees where the haynets are have become one of the worst areas for mud. Although Ben and Rosie use other, still dry sections of the track they stand to eat their hay fetlock-deep in mud. I saw the result of this yesterday.

Sunday, a ride looked forward to all week, we headed out with Sandra and Cassie, both of us too warm. Ben is shedding hanks of hair but still has a very thick coat. I had responded to the icy wind that blew just before we rode and put on overtrousers. As happens here, five minutes later the wind died, the sun felt warm and we rode out on a day that promised us that spring is on its way, longer evenings will come and we spoke of beach rides, rides across the green roads of the Burren, new trails to be discovered in the forest and the hardships of winter seemed behind us at last.

Ben was more careful of his feet and walked, wincingly it seemed, over the loose stones that covered the smaller roads. Unlike in previous rides, this did not change as the ride progressed, so we stayed in walk. I rode with a loose rein, allowing Ben to pick his own way along the road, choosing grass verges where possible, and despite the hard going, Ben felt happy. His head was low, his back swung and at one stage he looked around at me and made a licking motion with his tongue as he does to me sometimes when he feels very close to me. I thought he might be saying “thank you”.

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This ride gave clear evidence to me of how the environment in which the horse lives affects his feet. Ben’s hooves looked fine but two weeks of very soft ground from our recent wet weather has obviously resulted in more tender hooves. I will of course need to do something to that area under the trees, but I will also have to find hoof boots that fit (and don’t rub – my fear about hoof boots) to allow Ben to move out with confidence on these roads.

Shoes would disguise all this. For the price of a farrier coming out to bang in nails every six weeks, we could ride when we liked, where we liked and at what speed we liked.

But it is not about the price of a farrier. It is about the healthiest option for Ben and I would never go back to shoes now.

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Barefoot

We’re getting there. It is four months now since we went barefoot and on Sunday Ben, Rosie and I went out to Sandra’s again. We trimmed Rosie and Minnie’s hooves first – very warm work despite a freezing fog – and left them grazing whilst we went out on Ben and Cassie. (No boots for Ben as they are too tight.) Ben picked his way carefully at first but then walked with more confidence. The route we took had few grass verges so he had to stay on the road. It was interesting to feel his increasing confidence so I asked him to walk out rather than meander as we have been doing recently. He responded really well from my increased energy alone. The fog did not clear and where the road dipped, the temperature dropped considerably. We were wearing high viz and were glad of it for the one car that came along that road.

The only spook was for one gunshot that sounded quite clear and nearby and Ben, unusually, had his back up for quite a while afterwards.

Coming back, we trotted. Ben initially stumbled and I felt cautious. But, by asking for short spells of trot, and on Sandra’s suggestion, sitting to the trot rather than rising, Ben’s confidence grew and he finally trotted on, feeling balanced and secure. It was good for him too as his walk afterwards had much more energy.

A little and often, seems to be the thing – just not quite often enough for my liking right now!

Afterwards we trimmed Ben and Cassie’s hooves. I did not take photos as the light was going, but his feet look really, really good. There is a nice callous, the frog seems to have spread and the hoof wall is very strong.

With weather and roads improving, we hope to ask Dermot and John to come down again soon. I do hope they are impressed with how our transitioning has progressed.

Time for a welcome drink for the humans and a graze in the fog for the equines. That is Rosie in the front, taking refuge from Minnie who is looking this way, whilst Ben is grazing and Cassie is lost in the fog.

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Out and about

…with Sandra and Cassie.

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We had a gentle flurry of snow, two barefoot horses and, guess what? My renegade hoof boots no longer fit. Ben’s hooves have spread and they are too tight to put on. We have had a few weeks off due to the long freeze and Christmas holidays so I probably have not ridden Ben for about 5 weeks. So I had to ride him for the six mile road ride genuinely barefoot.

He coped well. At first he was very careful but gradually he became more confident and strode out, passing Cassie out at times.

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He did try to choose the verge when he could and he was reluctant to trot. His hooves look great. We trimmed afterwards and he has grown a very nice callous and his soles seem really hard. He does not wince now when I tap them. He was also so relaxed with the trimming that he practically fell asleep, mirrored by Cassie, Minnie and Rosie all in their respective places in Sandra’s yard. It was very peaceful.

I don’t know what to do about the hoof boots. I knew that Ben’s hooves would spread. I just did not expect it to happen so soon. These boots were a size 2w with a cut back to accommodate his rounder shaped hoof. I do not know if I should go for a larger size now and hope that the company will accept a part exchange, or if I should wait a few months as his hooves may very probably spread some more.

After the ride we let them have a roll in Sandra’s arena. Ben of course could roll for Ireland and he did:

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Again, and again, and again until finally finished and ready to come in:

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A meandering sort of ride to allow for the still-transitioning experience, but a good ride. The only hazards were a little girl on a new Christmas bicycle who wobbled alarmingly towards Cassie’s back legs and a young horse loose on the road, a sad reflection of the times in which we live when horses are left on land without adequate grazing or any other forage. Ben swelled in stallion mode as we passed but I was pleased to note that he came back to me and relaxed on request (or command in this case).

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