One thing I adore about endurance is the constant learning curve that comes with it. I fully believe that you have to have a 100% open mind when it comes to this sport plus the ability to understand that there are about 1000 different ways to achieve the same thing and no one way is better than another or written in stone. What works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one horse, might not work for another. What works for one rider, might be detrimental to another. Constant learning, constant changes, constant challenges.
What has worked for us thus far has been going barefoot. At a back of the pack pace for LD type distances, I still think barefoot is fine. When I jumped to 50s though, I began to get a bit iffy on the whole barefoot idea. To be clear, by barefoot I mean 100% barefoot. Not booted. Gem did fine on her 50s barefoot, but the rocky one made my stomach turn a bit and the sandy one wore her hooves down so much that I worried she wouldn't have any left.
The biggest issue I have with barefoot isn't lameness or hoof wear though. It is all about ride strategy. The best thing I was ever told regarding endurance was the following which came from a 10,000 mile plus rider:
"Never tarry, never hurry"
It is a quote that runs through my head every time I ride. Look at the trail and make speed when you can and slow down when you need to for safety and longevity.
When going barefoot this doesn't always work out. Most trails I have ridden, whether for conditioning or in a ride, have been fairly technical with some flatter, easy gravel roads thrown in. Those flat, gravel roads are perfect for making up time and allowing you to slow down over the harder portions of the trail. Except, when I am riding barefoot I need to slow down on the gravel and then make up time on the hills or twisting forest trails. Not the best strategy.
I tried boots and loved how they reduced my stress regarding the trail. I could let Gem boogie on down the trail knowing that her hoofsies were protected and then let her slow down to pick her way around the tougher sections. Of course the boots didn't work out and added their own level of stress trying to make sure they were on, getting off to fix them and in general causing strife, but the feeling of freedom to move down the trail didn't leave me and made me ache to have it once again. If you don't already follow Liz over at In Omnia Paratus, please read her last post. She articulates the frustrations boots can bring and the decision to go with shoes very well.
So that meant shoes. But what type of shoes? I spent countless hours researching this, reading websites, looking up sources, talking to professionals and picking the brains of long time, high mileage endurance folks. Steel, aluminum, composite, ground control, epona, easycare, Razor, some fancy British racing shoes I can't recall the name of....so many shoes. So many promises of greatness. So much baloney.
In the end I decided to go with the Easycare Performance NG shoe. It fits in well with my own beliefs and functions as I would want a shoe to function. I had talked to my farrier in February about them and it turned out they were also his favorite shoe as well. I 100% trust my farrier. Not only is he the ride farrier at Biltmore (a huge plus), but has been the USA endurance team farrier in the past and was asked to be the team farrier this season as well. I think I can trust his opinion when it comes to shoeing the endurance horse.
Yesterday was shoe day. He pulled in 20 minutes early. I was shocked. Happy shocked. He had an apprentice with him who got busy trimming Pete while main farrier talked to me about what I wanted, my plans and why what I wanted wouldn't work. Wait...what?
I asked for NGs all around and he laughed. The NG is a round shoe. They are made for front hooves and while he will put them on hinds when made to, he thinks it is an expensive waste of a shoe. Gem's hinds are very narrow and long (the reason the boots wouldn't work) and he said they would be too wide for her which would not only make them function improperly, but would have a high risk of her stepping on them and ripping them off. I was thankful that he was honest and didn't waste my money. She ended up getting hot shod with steel on the hinds. I asked a dozen times if it would throw her off having two different types of shoes on and he said no about a dozen times.
He did like the idea of NGs on her fronts though. She got trimmed and I was happy to see that after about 8 months she has a brand new hoof capsule to the floor. All the weird flaring is now gone and the vertical line from the injury in the medial hoof wall is remaining superficial. The scar tissue has made her heel bulbs contract pretty significantly which was a known potential complication, but there isn't much to do about it but trim and work her. Main Farrier did say that he has yet to see a horse not increase the heel width in these shoes after two cycles. We will see.
I watched the process like a hawk and annoyed the snot out of him with a million questions. I wanted to learn all I could about the application process. He began with the trim and then scuffed up her hoof wall with the rasp. He did not use any flame to dry the hoof wall as I have seen on the Easycare videos and in his experience has not had any lost shoes.
He placed Adhere glue to the medial and lateral cuff , but did not use any on the sole of the hoof. He then slapped it on and nailed two nails per side. Borium nails were mentioned to me by two different people and so I asked him his thoughts. He stocks the nails, but in his opinion they are too much for normal conditions and he only uses them is really wet weather. He said that he would have them available at Biltmore and if it was wet to stop by and he would add them.
Once the glue dried, he added more to the outer cuff to seal the hoof wall to it. It wasn't the prettiest job since he didn't have latex gloves, but it was functional. After both shoes were on, he went back and added Equipak soft packing material to the center of each sole. He only filled it to the foam dam to prevent any sole pressure, but he said that leaving it open was just asking for a stone bruise. It dried quickly, he rasped the glue on the hoof wall to make it smoother and we were nearly done.
The last step was to rasp the sole at the toe to make a better break over point. He does this on every horse to reduce the torque.
Throughout the process he kept telling me that I should just apply them myself. He could come trim if I wanted, but that I was wasting money getting him to apply them. I am very much uncomfortable with the idea of nailing anything to my horse, but he was adamant that I should at least try it next time with his supervision. I may. We will see.
Gem looked great and moved off well afterward. I am giving her a couple days in the pasture to get used to them before working her. It is supposed to be very wet Thursday and Friday, so we will see what all I can get in.
Farrier will come out the week before the ride to put new shoes on her. If it was a 50, he would just have me run her in these, but for a 100 he likes shoes being a week out. The plan is to see how she does with conditioning in them and throw the next set on before the 100 and then pull them afterward. I don't have another ride on my calendar, regardless of how we do in the 100, until the fall due to a jam packed summer so there is no need to keep her shod.
Checking all these items off my to do list is feeling really good and making me super excited for the ride!!!