March 31, 2015

For Want of a Hoof the Horse Was Lost

Gem came to me with shoes imbedded into her feet so bad that it took over an hour just to get one off. She ended up kinda clubby on the fronts especially the front right and the farriers I tried in OH didn't do her any favors, but didn't make her any worse either. We moved to WI and met Chad aka the World's Best Farrier who recommended we pull her shoes since I was predominately riding in the arena and winter was coming on with heavy snow pack. I did and 5 years later I haven't looked back since.

Chad worked on her every 8 weeks and got her fronts looking more normal and functioning amazing. She always had slightly higher heels than the "normal" hoof, but she moved fine and the consensus was to not bring her down anymore to stress her ligaments. Basically, don't fix what isn't broken. Unfortunately, we then moved to SC and had to find a new farrier.

At around the same time as the move I found the Rockley Farm barefoot rehab blog and began reading up. She recommends no trimming at all. Let the horse build the hoof it needs flares and all. Since I couldn't find a farrier I liked (the one at our first barn had every horse walking lame after a trim and the so called barefoot trimmer I used messed Gem up) I decided to subscribe to that theory. And it worked too. For a long time (about 18 months) she did great without any interference. She was self trimming like a pro keeping those heels down and the toes back all on her own. I was putting some heavy mileage on her in conditioning on hard surfaces and she was out 24/7 on 10 acres with rocks and hard pack mixed in with the grass. Her nutrition was fine: Strategy when needed and good quality hay. She completed her first LD at Biltmore, a RnT and her first 50 all barefoot on rocks. Her second 50 was sand and she did fine although her feet looked well worn at the end.

But after Pow Wow in early Feb something changed. It was subtle at first but kept snowballing. I wondered if she somehow could have bruised her feet at Pow Wow, but that seemed a bit odd given that it was 39 miles of sandy roads. What would have bruised them? It was super wet and rainy following the ride and perhaps that played a part too, but she lived in snow and mud up north without an issue.

The final straw happened Sunday. I pulled her out and took a good hard look at her feet. They didn't look good at all. Her fronts were nearly vertical and the heels had contracted significantly. Her bars were so long that when I looked from behind I could fit my whole finger (not smart by the way as she could easily have broken my finger) under it and the frog wasn't touching the ground at all. Not good.

I grabbed some quick pics:

Back right. Pastern angle doesn't look horrible, but the heel is really high
Front left in the foreground with front right in the background. Look at those!! She looks like she is walking on stilts :(
Looking from behind at front left. The frog isn't bearing any weight at all

Contracting heel, long bars

Front right.
 My best guess as to what happened? I put a lot of miles on her between Sept-Feb due to conditioning and then riding the two 50s. The 39 miles of sand only added to the stimulus for more hoof growth. Then I put her out to pasture and didn't ride at all for 2 months and when I did get on her it was always on the soft grass at the barn. This didn't do anything to wear down the new hoof growth. Add a bunch of rain making the ground even softer and a less than ideal diet and boom! You get crappy feet.

I happened to be talking with S Sunday night about another issue and she mentioned having a new farrier look at her mare. He is an endurance rider here in the SE and she knows him personally, but he lives a long way off in NC. He was coming down last night so I asked if he would be willing to come over and look at Gem when he finished with her. He was happy to add two more horses to his day (Pete needed a trim too) and I met him after work.

I talked to him about her and he was shocked at how high those heels were. I asked if he thought they could have bruised and he doubted it given the footing there and how rock hard her feet are. He was very impressed with that as has every farrier who has ever touched her. The girl has diamonds for feet. He took her bars down quite a bit, but didn't have to touch the toe much at all. In his opinion, he thinks having a longer heel is better than a longer toe to deal with. He didn't see any abscess or signs of bruising, but he didn't like the angles either and wants me to keep a close eye on it with the new spring grass coming in.

He was a bit more aggressive than I like, but then again she looked pretty bad. I was really worried she would walk off lame, but she seemed fine. Her angels improved by about half and he said the rest will come much more slowly. He wants to come out again in 5 weeks or so which I am fine with.

While I am a barefoot fan for lots of reasons, I also like my horse doing well and will give her what she needs. With my current riding and her diet, even though she roams 35 acres all day and night, it doesn't seem like I can continue the self trimming ideal like before. We will see what the summer brings once she is off the grain again and it dries up around here, but for now she is back to regular trims. He was only $35 which is the going rate for a trim around here and he seemed to do ok with her. If she shows up lame tonight for my weeknight ride, then I will have to do some more thinking. I don't like either of the barefoot trimmers around here and so that's not really an option. More on her hoofsies as time goes on.

March 30, 2015

Plusses and Minuses

Sunday was cold by my new SC wimpy standards: 40 and windy. The original plan was to trailer out somewhere and get the first trail miles in since Pow Wow the beginning of February. As I lay in bed that morning listening to Wyatt playing downstairs with Dusty, I ran the numbers in my head:
  • 1 hour to get to barn, catch Gem, groom, attach trailer, load and head out
  • 1 hour drive to trails
  • 30 minutes to tack up and get on her
  • 2 hour ride
  • 30 minutes to untack, cool out, offer water and feed mash
  • 1 hour drive home
  • 30 minutes to unload and get home
  • Total: 6 1/2 hours
We had plans for 5 pm to celebrate my sister-in-laws birthday that night and I needed to get to the store to get ingredients for a dish I wanted to bring along as well as a gift for her. It was already 7 am and I wasn't out of bed yet. I knew it wasn't going to happen. Instead we went to the grocery store with Wyatt which is either extremely amusing or horrifying depending on his mood. Sunday was a complete blast as he walked around trying to help by grabbing things and putting them in the cart. I'm not being sarcastic either. It really was fun.

Wyatt went down for his nap at 12 and I took the opportunity to sneak to the barn to try to do something with the mare.

Spring has fully sprung here in the SE and the pastures are greening up nicely.

As the wind whipped through my riding tights, I briefly debated on throwing her into the round pen for some work and avoiding riding, but I eventually got my head out of my butt and tacked up. She has already shed out a lot of her winter fur, but she is getting those annoying seasonal alopecia spots again this year. They are definitely not as bad as last year and are more like a thinning in areas, but if you know to look for it you can see the extremely thin regions. I need to research this a bit more and figure out if there is anything I can do to avoid it.


I read this really great blog post from Team Flying Solo about being a more positive thinker when it comes to riding. I encourage you all to head over a give it a read. Basically she is challenging everyone to get rid of any negative thoughts when it comes to riding. Instead of getting on and saying "Gem will not spook at that bush today" which only intensifies the anticipation of bad behavior you should think "We will ride around the tracks today calmly". Its a perception thing. Read her post to get a better explanation.

So as I swung my leg over Gem I thought very clearly "We will trot and canter around these tracks bravely today"  and headed down the long hill to the gelding's track. And you know what? We did! I asked for a forward trot and off she went. We even passed a shiny helium balloon stuck in the fence without losing it.

The positive thinking wasn't the only thing I changed for this ride. I did two other things that helped out a lot as well:
  1. I sang. Off key, out of tune and badly, but I sang. I did this during the first part of Pow Wow after we left our husband/wife couple to go ahead and were left alone in the woods. My legs were screaming at me, I was getting a horrendous rub from something on my knee and Gem was being a twit. I started singing up beat songs out load and it got me into a great rhythm and I think helped Gem too. So I sang "Heartbeat Song" by Kelly Clarkson as we started off and posted along with it. It helps to distract me from my surroundings and focus on riding more actively. Gem responds super well to it.
  2. I kept more contact on the bit. I have always given Gem a super loose rein when on trails. She seems to prefer me staying out of her mouth and out of her way. I can't remember the ride where I started doing this, but it was a pre Pow Wow conditioning ride when she was being absolutely pig headed about spooking at every single branch, twig, stump and leaf she could find. I eventually just kept a light, but firm contact and she responded by being braver and more forward. To start Sunday's ride I did the same and she strided out fine.
We made it around the first time keeping a steady trot going and only walking where we had to (you have to walk across the front lawn of the house) and trotting again once we could. She only acted up when we went alongside her group of mares who all ignored her and kept grazing on the new spring grass. She wasn't amused at having to work while they all ate.

After a second loop around I let her stop to graze and then we headed back out going backwards. Sometimes at this point she will let me know that she thought we should be finished and so once I felt myself tensing up to prepare for it, I reminded myself of my positive thinking goal and restated my plan "We will ride around calmly" and began to sing again while picking up more contact. She made a small fuss, but moved forward and off we went.

By this time she was acting a bit tired which is sometimes more mental than physical, but she was also huffing and puffing a good bit. I asked for some pretty strong canters up the grassy lanes and when I felt her drop on the forehand I knew she was tired. I decided 3 times around the 2 mile track was plenty after basically 2 months completely off. As we came up the last long, steady hill to the barn I asked for a gallop and she gave it although a little hesitantly. We flew up that hill and I know I had a massive grin on my face. By the top she was really huffing and had worked up a sweat even with the cold wind, so I let her off and stopped there.

It was a fantastic ride and I just hope I keep these things in my mind when I ride in the future.

So what were the minuses since that was a great, big, fat plus?

The first was the seasonal alopecia coming up again. Argh.

The second is her feet. I need to dedicate a whole post to it. This is the first time in 5years I have worried about her feet for real and I am not happy about it. I have a new farrier coming out tonight which is a big deal for me, so look for that coming up as well.

March 26, 2015

Mom + Horses = ?

From time to time someone asks on FB if being a mom of a little one prohibits them from being able to participate in endurance. While it seems like a silly question to some, mostly to those who are not a mom or whose children are grown, there are very real reasons behind asking this question.

With a full time job and a near 2.5 year old I am right smack in the trenches on this one. Here are some things that I have learned along the way:

  • It was much, much easier to ride with an infant than a toddler
    • I'm sure on some level Wyatt cared when I stopped at the barn after work instead of coming straight home or spent a few hours on a Saturday riding in the sunshine instead of watching him nap, but it is nothing like when he looks straight at me and asks me to stay home with the perfect amount of guilt and sadness in his voice. Plus he is way more fun now that he is playing, laughing and talking and I find myself not wanting to spend the time away from him whereas infant version just napped and ate.
    • My advice: get a great base on your horse when your kid is an infant.

  • I learned to love riding at dusk
    • Infant Wyatt went to bed at 6pm and woke up at 530am. Every night. That meant that the hubby and I had our evenings free and we would spend them alternating between me riding and him getting to run. I truly learned to cherish those warm summer and cool fall evenings riding Gem against a darkening sky. It also meant that winter was exceptionally tricky since it was dark long before I was able to ride, but I just switched gears to running instead during the week and riding on the weekend giving Gem a bit of a holiday through the winter. Toddler Wyatt goes to bed at 8pm and gets up at 6 am. I'm still trying to figure out how to make it work.
    • My advice: Figure out your baby's natural schedule and either become a very early morning person before he wakes up or a night owl after he goes to bed.

  • Riding solo became my new norm
    • When the only time you can ride is at sun up or sun down, you quickly realize that you aren't going to ride with anyone else most of the time. All my riding friends invite me to meet them at the trail head at 10 am or 12 pm which just really doesn't work for me. In the summer I like to be on my horse by 7 am at the latest. Part of that is just how I was raised - we always rode out at sun up to beat the summer heat. A big part of that is Wyatt. If I am on my mare by 7 am, even with a long conditioning ride I can be back home by lunch and still get to spend most of the day with him. I tend to pick one day a month or every other month to spend riding with friends for both my sanity and that of Gem, but mostly we are out there before anyone else shows up or long after they have gone home.
    • My advice: Either find friends who don't mind getting up at 5 am or be prepared to enjoy the bond between you and your horse solo

  • Lots of rest is a vital part of conditioning
    • Or at least that's what I tell myself because in reality while people are posting their 5 day a week work out plans on FB, I get to ride 1 day a week all winter and 2-3 after daylight savings time hits. Even with daylight savings time only 1 of those days is logging any real trail miles at all and the other 1-2 are doing speed work outs at the barn for an hour.  And I have become fine with that because Gemmie has shown me that she can still do slow 50s (talking in the 7-8 hour ride time range) with this condition plan at this point in time.
    • My advice: Be confident in your horses abilities and that what you are doing will be fine as long as you ride in competition the way you condition. Don't ride only 1-2 days a week and plan to go out racing and top 10. If your horse needs more miles than you can provide: find someone to lease her or help condition when you can't.

  • Be creative with your conditioning
    • This goes along with the above, but I have found that while I can't put in as many days a week or miles I can help her by getting creative and making the time I do have work. Such as: I do Hunter Paces when able which while not the same as an e-ride, they do provide great conditioning and the hubby and Wyatt come along and enjoy playing around ride camp and eating the lunch while I ride. It allows me to ride and still see Wyatt having fun getting out and exploring. I also force us to do hill work which gives me more bang for my buck on short ride days.
    • My advice: Use what time you have wisely. Go to Hunter Paces, do dressage work, do small jumps, hill work, speed intervals. Mix it up and keep it fresh while still providing a good work out.

  • Learn to let go
    • There are lots of times when I am out riding that I wish I was out hiking with Wyatt instead. Likewise there are times when I am out hiking that I look longingly at those trails and picture myself cantering down them in the sunshine. Its all a big give and take and lets face it, he will only be small and actually want me to a be a big part of his daily life for a short period. Missing one or two rides to be with him is a gift not a problem. I take it day by day and week by week.
    • My advice: Keeping a good eye on your priorities makes it a whole lot easier when you scan FB and read all the cool miles others are logging while you sit and read a bedtime story to your little one. Those trails will still be there when your little one is off hanging with his friends instead of begging you for one more story and in the end that is way more important.

  • If you do it right, he just might want to go with you
    • Wyatt has gotten to the point where he loves sitting on Gem and Dusty will lead us around running alongside to get Gem to trot and canter while I have a firm hold on him in the saddle. He laughs and giggles and begs for more. I love it. If I play my cards right and things fall into line, hopefully some day he will want his own ride and can go to e-rides with me. That would be bliss. For now we are planning on taking him camping for the first time in July for the moonlight ride. I hope it works out.
    • My advice: I don't really have any. Don't shove it down their throat, but don't avoid mixing the two lives either and maybe someday you can ride side by side across the finish line of a 25 or 50 mile ride. 

  • Other hobbies don't exist
    •  Everything else I have been interested in doing such as running, yoga, zumba, scrapbooking just can't happen right now. With limited time outside of the house any day not spent at the barn is just that: a day not spent at the barn. So taking a zumba class means I don't ride that day and my 2 rides is now 1.
    • My advice: Kiss those other hobbies goodbye

  • Actual competition rides are less than I want
    • I'd love to go to an e-ride every other month. That would be perfect for me and my goals with the sport. I can't make that happen. A single ride costs me a ton of time: there is all the conditioning to get her to peak at the right time, the week before I go out every day to give her vitamin mashes and then the actual ride takes up the entire weekend. It all adds up. I just can't do it. So I go to 2-3 a year. If Wyatt gets to the point where he enjoys camping out at ride camp, then this opens up the door to more rides in the future.
    • My advice: Be thankful for those rides you get to do and enjoy the time you have.

  • After a ride Gem and I part ways for a while
    • This isn't solely due to my family life. In truth after a ride weekend, I'm more than happy to put Gem out for a week or two and ignore her existence. With my family life, I feel like I have taken too much "me" time at an actual e-ride and so those two weeks end up being a month of really not doing anything beyond a quick stop in and say hello on my lunch break type of thing.
    • My advice: hmmm...try to keep your bank accounts in balance. If you put too much into the horse account and pull out too much from the family one it will catch up to you. An e-ride puts a lot in the bank for the horse and takes a lot out of the other, so once you are home spend time replacing what was lost.
Like all things in life, you can make it work if you want it badly enough. I am glad I have Gem and endurance in my life to keep a sense of self and accomplishment outside of making it through another temper tantrum without losing it. Honestly though, if I didn't have Gem prior to Wyatt I wouldn't be jumping on that bandwagon now, but having her already makes it easier to go. I absolutely 100% adore being a mom and would not give that up for anything in the entire world, so Wyatt does play heavily in all my decisions to ride or compete.  I hope this helps someone out there to realize you can do it, it just won't look the same as everyone else's way.

March 16, 2015

Somewhere Sunny and 75

I haven't blogged in a while mostly because I have nothing to say. Life has thrown some curve balls which have derailed my riding as well as my spring plans. If everything had gone right Gemmie and I would be off to do a 2 day 100 the first week of April, but that isn't going to happen now.

With the pressure of real conditioning gone, I've been taking what little time I have at the barn to work on getting Gem to just relax and enjoy the spring sunshine.  I rode her two weekends ago at the barn and she was a hot mess. She was jittery, spooky and unreliable and the ride was both extremely not fun and short lived. Part of this is directly related to her endurance riding. It has not only gotten her excessively fit, but has also taught her that trail time equals go time which isn't always the safest choice. If she would just go straight I would let her run, but the tracks were wet and slippery and she was looking for reasons to jump out of her skin.

Saturday night I took Einstein for a 3 mile run which didn't go so well although looking back there was no reason to expect otherwise having not run much in 2 years and not at all in 2 months. Sunday morning my legs let me know what they thought of my abuse the previous night. It was too beautiful out to care, so we loaded everyone up and went for a hike in the morning anyway. Wyatt got to splash in the creek and create havoc while Einstein and Bones enjoyed the sunshine.

We got home right around nap time and Dusty offered to stay home so I could get some family free barn time in. Gemmie saw me coming down the road and while she didn't meet me at the gate, she at least didn't run to the far corner either. That's about as good as it gets with her most days. I pulled her out and it was already 75 and sunny at 12 pm. She has already shedded mostly all the way out and I was a little bummed to see her coat looking less than stellar. It was dull and boring and that just isn't her. Since she is on a less than ideal grain, I am keeping a close eye on her hoof and coat health to make sure she is faring well.

I tacked her up and we headed out on the tracks. I wanted her to just be calm and relaxed without looking for a fight from every turn, bush, stump etc... She didn't disappoint!! We walked calmly, but forward around the 1 mile track by the geldings and she didn't spook once. The second go round I asked for a collected trot and she gave me just that. It was like floating on air. We glided around twice more then called it quits.

It was 78 degrees and sunny when I stopped, but since we barely worked at all she wasn't sweaty in the least. With the great temps, I figured it was high time for her annual bath. She only gets real shampoo once a year to avoid stripping her of important oils and I am always excited to wash the winter grime off her. She was a perfect lady in the barn cross ties and even propped up a hoof to accept the pampering.

When we were all done and I took her back outside I was surprised to see how the pastures had greened up since I had been there. When I pulled in at 12 there was a greenish tinge to the ground the suggested a future of grass, but by the time I left around 5 pm the barn was just brilliant with new spring grass. What a difference the sunshine made!

Dusty and Wyatt showed up just as I was letting Gem shove her face full of clover, so I tied her back up at the trailer and brushed her until she was mostly dry. I was absolutely thrilled with how stunning she looked with all that grime washed away. No more dull coat :)

The picture is actually smooth, but some how it ends up looking all pixelated and fuzzy on the blog. Anyway..she was sleek and looking svelt after her bath!

I put her back out and watched her roll in the mud then gallop off up the hill to her herd mates. Since Wyatt had just shown up he was in a great mood and Dusty had thought to bring along his digger and dump truck. I set him up between a mud puddle and the saw dust pile and he was a happy camper. I got a chance to speak with the BO while Dusty pulled Pete out. Apparently there are trails cut through the woods behind the pastures as well. He wasn't sure what condition they were in, but I offered up our services next weekend to go walk them with a chainsaw and clippers to make them serviceable again. There wont be many just given the size of the woods, but ducking into them and then back out into the lanes will allow more flexibility and give a great chance to re focus her.

Dusty got a chance to ride Pete for the firs time in over 6 months. That gelding is amazing and is the perfect hubby horse. He is the same if you ride him once a day or once a year. Gemmie could learn a thing or two from him.

We finished up our sunny day by heading to my parents house for a pizza picnic on their back lawn. It was a much needed relaxing and wonderful weekend.

I'm not sure what this season has in store for Gem and I, but the next plan is a 30 mile ride and tie the beginning of May at our home trails then the moonlight 50 July 31 and possible the ride and tie regional championship in TN in September.