I have a horse-friend who's been following my blog lately and understands my hoof-woes thanks to some experience of her own with troublesome hooves on her big black horse. We emailed back and forth about trim styles (I conceed I'm probably not nearly as well schooled in these matters as many of you) and she invited me out on yesterday (please note that I technically started this post on Friday, edited it yesterday and am STILL writing it today! Holy busy!) to meet her new farrier.
I can honestly say that choosing a farrier is one of those deeply personal experiences. You kinda have to shop around till you find something you like. I've been looking for some reassurance that I'm making good progress on Moon's hooves, plus wanting to find a fix (if possible) for his flaring. I kinda feel like that after 8 months of trimming we should be making better progress. Time to check out the theory.
Out at the barn I set up some trot poles at 5' spacing and took Moon out to practice our moves. I always love it when you're practicing and find a 'new move' in your horse. Or a fluidity that you previously didn't know was there. Or a way to get a behavior out of your horse that you didn't know of before.
For starters, Moon was much more flexible than he had been in practices for me lately. So either he's less sore because he had a day off, or else the warmer weather we've had has helped. He WAS noticably stiff going right, particularly when I asked him for a 10 m trot circle. While he could do it going left, when asked to the right he'd hollow right up and counterbend. Since I could get him to do it in the other direction and it got progressively worse when asked to do more difficult moves (smaller circles, slower trotting leg yield, etc.), I chose to focus on that side more at a walk to help him loosen up.
I have fallen in LOVE with a new move I'm gonna term "the waggle". Not a wiggle, but a three-stride leg yield where every 3 strides you change the bend from off the wall to on the wall and back. We did this down the long side of the ring and I LOVE how much it improved how supple he was and even helped him slow his trot.
The I started working him in leg yielding in and out of our 20 m circle. When I started asking him to leg yield in, I wound up asking for and getting a strange sort of move. Pretty sure it's not a dressage move at all, but it felt pretty cool to do. Imagine you're leg yielding AROUND a circle, such that the circle was a rope run through your stirrups and you're moving around it from that point, sideways. Like this:
I did manage to get some leg yielding on the part of the arena where no one had ridden since the harrowing ("The harrowing" sounds like a bad horror movie...). And when I went back to look at Moon's hoof falls, I found this:
Is that good or bad? No one online seems to have a picture for me to know! Does it means he's not crossing over? Taking too short of strides? : P
Last came the trot poles. For one, I did some reading and decided to set them at 5'. I HATE spacing poles. Since every horse's stride is different, there's no true standard. I had read 4'. That's where my jump and placing poles were. And it didn't work. In hindsight, I probably made it worse because I forgot to pull the last trot pole before the jump...
Anyway, tried 5' yesterday and he went lovely. I LOVE the way his head comes way down to balance through them. Funny, since he wants to run at them with his head in the sky then the instant he's at them, way down it comes : P I finally started him doing circles whenever he'd start to rush them and only let him carry on the straight line if he behaved himself : P He DOES love the poles. : )
I finished my ride just cooling him down bareback. He's so much narrower now then he was last winter (I'm not complaining) and boy-o-boy do high withers NOT go with bareback : P Or girls who can't sit the trot ; )
Funny thing? I was going to put them away when I was done riding and another rider plus W and a student came in...but guess what everyone wanted to do? Trot poles! : P
Then it was off to my friend's to watch the farrier work. Short and sweet of it was that I liked her, she seemed competent and she held my two strongest beliefs: 1. A natural trim means their hooves self-trim, which we don't want. 2. Shoes are only for heavy competition or running on gravel. Which we're not doing. Passing grade.
I have discovered that it's near impossible to grade a farrier on their skill set until they've been trimming a horse for at LEAST 6 months. Not saying all problems will be gone in that amount of time, but if you know the horse's background and previous condition, you can assess if they've made forward progress or just gotten worse. So admittably, the horses that I saw her trim did not properly identify her abilities to make that forward progress, but the trim job DID show that she did a good job. No carving out the sole, she didn't take too much off but she also didn't leave them long. She took the time to check her angles and did a nice neat job.
So I had her come out and trim Mr. Moon.
Lesson #1: Worrisome first-horse owners ALWAYS think things are WAY worse then they are. I think the farrier thought she was coming to trim terrible feet. They weren't perfect, but they apparently were better then I made them out to be. : P I *think* that's a good thing?
Lesson #2: Trust your gut. I knew he had flaring and new farrier agreed. Not apparently as bad as I made it out to be, and I conceed they HAVE been improving over the last 8 months. Just not a lot.
Today I was back at the barn and had completely forgotten about yesterday's trim. Out into the arena, trot around a bit and INSTANTLY notice on a 20 m trot circle he hurts. Now I'm not sure if it's foot sore or muscle/joint sore, since I did have him doing some pretty difficult moves yesterday. But he HAS had a pretty laxidazy week all things considered, since he had Sunday, Monday AND Friday off. Normally he gets one day off a week, if that.
So I take him inside and wonder if our new hoof boots would fit with the new trim. And I'm once again sad I can't find camera batteries, because they fit. And look hilarious. Bright red. He had his "I'm such a loser in these, do NOT let the ladies see me" face on.
Back in the ring he was noticably better but not 100%. The hoof boots recommend a break-in period of 15 minutes the first time and increasing from there, so we didn't work long. And of course the lunch cart started rolling down the alley outside the ring by this point, which meant I had a screaming, hungry, attentionless mount to contend with. So I made him do two trot circles in his good direction WITHOUT craning his neck out but rather staying soft and bent in, before calling our ride to an end.
The hoof boots on removal had worn a bit of heel skin, though not bare. We'll see if we continue using them.
So, new trim = sore pony? New work = sore pony? Horse seen galloping around the muddy paddock like an idiot for fun = sore pony? Who knows. In the good news, W DID say he looked great doing it ; )
Other happy-owner moment? I found out one of the woman that boards there helps bring the horses in twice a week...and LOVES Moon'ers behavior on the lead. Total gentleman. : ) Oh, and her and her part-boarder want to go trail riding with me, which means we're going to have a fun and diverse winter! : )
Well, I'd better get back to wood-burning. Signs #2 and #3 are nearly complete...and I burned out my new wood burner... : P