Friday, November 6, 2009

SURPRISE! Your horse has terrible feet!

My first post-chiro ride on Sofie was a bit difficult. She was a little out of sorts (maybe the sternum adjustment brought on bad feet memories?) and I was a lot out of sorts, pretty much psyching myself out from the beginning. I would have done okay, but I left my breeches at home, and was forced to ride in sweatpants, which were slippery and made me very insecure (in an already slippery and not very supportive saddle). Remember my post where I talked about riding out in high winds? Well, yesterday it was about 50 times windier than that. The kind of wind that knocks you sideways when you're walking. Sofie was fine with that, of course, but I was way insecure in my seat and so I got tense and started taking up on Sofie's mouth a little, which she doesn't like. However, my mom said she was actually breaking at the poll and going on the bit a lot of the time (this is why I need a groundperson, as I always assume I'm riding terribly and ruining my horse). She got a workout, including some cantering, and I got her to back up three steps, softly and without resistance (she had been having issues with that). After I turned her out she got a drink and then walked back up to me so I could pet her. So obviously she doesn't hate me or anything, and I was forgiven my poor riding. I really need to chill. I used to be even worse than I am now, but I still get really upset when I make mistakes.

I think I'll take this opportunity to go back to early July of this year. I had moved Sofie to my barn of choice, and after going through some major herdbound anxiety, she was doing better. However, she was still rushing at the trot, breaking into the canter a lot and occasionally throwing in a crazy random tight turn. I was mostly riding her in the big outdoor "arena" (actually a square shaped field which is part of the mares' turnout area) and she was so nutty in there that I was afraid to ride her out in the yard, except at a walk. She did the best when I warmed her up in the indoor, then rode her to the outdoor where I did the majority of my work, and then I would cool her down in the yard. That may be why she prefers the yard now...or maybe it's just more interesting.

Some days were better than others, and we were making progress. But something just did not add up. Why was she so good at the walk, yet as soon as I brought her up to the trot she became mildly insane? I thought it was something from her past, or maybe I was setting her off with my nervousness. Or maybe she just liked to go fast? But she wasn't exactly a live wire in the field. She only galloped when the other horses did, and she would lie down more than what seemed normal. Now I look at pictures like the ones below, and I can see that she was in pain.




It kind of hurts me to look at these pictures now. I'm just very, very thankful that I stumbled upon someone who could give me answers, and solutions.

Back in July, we met an equine massage/physical therapist/saddle fitter out at the barn, and had her look at Sofie. She found things wrong with her, of course (it's always wonderful to have an equine professional look over your horse and make you feel guilty for riding them), and she scrutinized her feet. "When was she last trimmed?" She asked, looking critical.
"A couple days ago," my mom said.
"Her toes look too long," said the equine massager/PT. Then she told us about a barefoot trimmer who took care of horsey feet with "the whole horse" in mind. We made an appointment for an evaluation, as we were into the natural hoof care idea, and we figured it couldn't hurt to have her evaluated in the interest of longterm soundness. We knew her feet weren't great, but we figured they were okay and that the examination wouldn't turn up anything major. Ha. Fools.

We met Anne, a little wirey grey-haired woman who looked like she weighed maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, and brought out our horse. Anne picked up one of her front feet and started making noises. Not good noises, either. She checked Sofie's feet with a special heat-testing thing. Then she called my mom over and asked her to feel Sofie's sole. Apparently it was such a pathetic, crappy excuse for a sole that it was actually somewhat pliable. Not good. Not good at all.

Anne's diagnosis was simple. "This horse has no sole." We knew she had flat feet, we knew they didn't look good, but Sofie had never been lame, never appeared footsore. But those terrible, awful feet were the clear reason for her rushing....she was trying to get off her feet. I thought guiltily of all the times I'd trotted and trotted and trotted and cantered and cantered and cantered her, pounding those poor, sorry feet, trying to get her to calm down. Who knew how long she'd had those feet. Did she have flat feet all her life, and wear down her sole during those ten mile trail rides her previous owner took her on? Had she been footsore for months? Years? I was overwhelmed. I thought, in that moment, that my horse was never, ever going to be right. But Anne had a plan.

I was to stop riding for a month, and handwalk Sofie for an hour every day I could get out to the barn. That would be her only exercise, other than wandering around during the day in her pasture. She would get grass and supplemental hay during the day, and two flakes of hay at night, plus a little Nutrena Quik and her supplements (joint supplement, vitamin supplement and PLEASE CALM DOWN ALREADY supplement). And we cast her feet. THAT was a very interesting process. There is an article about hoof casting that can probably explain it better than I can (as you might have surmised by my frequent use of the word "thing" or "thingy", my technical knowledge is lacking). Go to

What I remember most vividly about the hoof casting process was how Sofie went from taking off down the aisle, dragging my mom along with her and sending the expensive hoof casting gel stuff flying, to standing with her lead rope on the ground, letting Anne and her assistant pick up her feet, stick stuff on/in them, and giving us a glimpse of the Sofie we know and love today. Previously, we had thought she was not a candidate for ground tying (she had "issues" with standing still. Have I mentioned that before?), but ever since then, we have been dropping her lead rope, and she's been standing. Who knew? But Anne is an amazing horseperson. I have learned more from watching her work with my horse (and one of the *cough cough* mannerless JERK geldings at the barn) than I ever could if I watched a zillion Parelli tapes. She's awesome.

I think that's enough for this post. Coming soon: Adventures In Handwalking, and more on Sofie's Hoof Rehab Journey.

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