Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I've HAD IT with this

One of the reasons I haven't been posting too much about riding for the last while is because Saga has been off-and-on lame... for quite a while now.

I took Saga to a very good vet I have used in the past to diagnose Cash's lameness issues, and the culprit appears to be extensive bruising on the soles - in front of the frog - in both front feet (his feet are VERY flat). Blocking the foot made him pretty much 100% sound, except for some general body discomfort that we think was directly attributable to him holding his body funny because his feet hurt.

I should note that during this time, I had two different trimmers, both certified, work on him. He was always worse after a trim. But, I continued to have him trimmed every 6 weeks or so because that's what you're supposed to do, right? Besides, the quarters on his feet kept cracking out, which is - as I understand it - caused by the hoof wall being too long.

So, the vet said to let him grow out for 8 weeks or so, and then trim very conservatively. After 8 weeks, Saga was pretty much 100%. I still booted him in front for rides out on the trail where there are rocks, but he would happily trot up and down the street, under saddle, with no discernible lameness (and I can usually feel that from the saddle).

Around the 8-week mark, I learned that my neighbor (literally caddycorner to me) is a certified farrier. I thought how great it would be to have a good hoof person so close, and he seemed open to trimming barefoot, so I made arrangements to have him take a look at the boys. The first session went OK, although the very first thing he recommended for Saga was shoes and pads to keep his quarters from cracking out. I explained my understanding of hoof structure and function and he didn't disagree with me or correct me in any way, but continued to say that Saga needed shoes and pads in front. I asked him just to trim both of the boys since I said they were in light work and I was not looking for shoes at this time.

I asked about the ongoing flare on Saga's front toes and he agreed that his toe needed to be backed up a bit. He also made a huge deal about hoof angles and how one of Red's front feet was at 63 degrees while the other was at 57 and how they needed to be around 55. I'm no expert, but from what I've read about barefoot horses and the studies done on wild horses, hoof angles range from 51 to 68 degrees, depending on the terrain. Why force a horse into a 55 degree angle if that's not the right angle for him? I understand that's the average, but that doesn't mean it's right for a particular horse.

Anyway. Both boys were sound and happy after the first trim. Well, Red seemed a little uncomfortable during the trim because the hoof stand was quite high for His Midgetness, but the farrier said the stand was for his comfort and not Red's (I did not really appreciate that perspective). Three weeks later, I met our neighbor on the way back from a ride and he said Saga needed a quick trim since his quarters were cracking. Because of the setup for that trimming session, I had to hold Saga's head and did not get a chance to watch everything the farrier did, which is what I usually do. As I watched the HALF INCH THICK CHUNK OF HOOF WALL drop to the ground, I realized that he was taking off a huge amount of toe. Before I could stop him he started nipping off live sole. I asked if he could please go a little easier on Saga and not take so much off, and he said that it all needed to go. His comment as he finished up the front feet was, "There! Nice and flat." He'd just trimmed out what little concavity we'd manage to build up! Then, when he went to trim Saga's back feet, Saga wouldn't pick up his right hind, and when he did, he pulled it away quickly. I commented that it was never a problem, something must be wrong, and the farrier said that Saga was, "Just being ornery." More like he didn't want to put weight on his now tender front feet! At the end, he once again recommended shoes and pads (this time all around) because Saga "had bad feet" and suggested I ride Saga in draw reins to build up his topline. Quietly fuming (as I am not fond of draw reins), I said that Saga's lack of topline was my own fault for not riding enough and that he would come round for me beautifully, he just didn't have enough work to create any decent muscles.

I was not surprised to find Saga dead lame on the walk home from my neighbor's house. Effing awesome.

I'm really, really mad at myself. I let this guy do something I KNEW would hurt my horse, and I didn't speak up enough. My repeated attempts to talk about how barefoot horses are trimmed were met with suggestions to shoe. It should have been clear from the get-go that this wasn't going to work. The farrier in question is about my age, so it's not like he intimidates me because of his vastly superior experience, and the guy shoes for the polo club, so I'm guessing he's good at what he does. Maybe it's just that I don't like to tell people who are supposed to know more than I do how to do their job? Still, I should have said from the beginning that this is how I want my horses trimmed and if you're not willing to work that way, I can find someone else. Now I'm faced with telling someone I'm going to live next to for the next 30 years that I don't want him trimming my horses ever again. Not a conflict I'm looking forward to.

Of course, just after Saga was trimmed lame again, there was a post at Rockley farm that made it clear that a horse should NEVER be worse after a trim, and "... if he was then he didn't need a trim, and certainly not that trim." Nic, the farm owner, also pointed out that the hooves in the videos for that day's post were asymmetric, but they loaded properly for the horse, and if the hooves were trimmed to be symmetric (i.e. what my farrier seems to be trying to do, especially with those hoof angles), it would most likely cause problems for the horse. Hm. Sort of seems like what I'm seeing with Saga. In another post, the owner of one horse that went home from rehab at Rockley said that she was maintaining her horse's trim by riding from 30-60 minutes 3-4 times per week on roads and rough tracks. Is it possible to maintain the boys' trim, at least to the point where they may only need an occasional rasp here or trim of the bars there? I don't know, but almost anything is better than having a lame horse (and Saga probably agrees), so I'm willing to give it a try.

Thinking back, Saga was the most sound last summer/early fall when the hubby and I were giving hoof care a go. We trimmed every few weeks and just a little bit. However, not being experts made us both really wary of doing much, which is why we started to try out different trimmers. But apparently, less is more, so maybe we were doing something right after all. At least then my horse was sound.

The bottom line is that I have had it with farriers and trimmers. As of now, we're trying to do regular work with both boys. We've also got them on sand at night, and we're working on building a track with varied footing. Even after just a week on sand, there's a HUGE difference in their feet. The soles and frogs have sloughed off a bit and the bars seem to be less pronounced. There are tiny chips all around the hoof wall and it's rounding out more every day. We're riding them mostly on the road, at least a mile or two, and after every ride, the toe is noticeably worn a little more. The quarters are cracking on both horses, but not hugely. Saga is regaining his heel-first landing, especially on the RF (which seems to be the most sensitive), but I think this owes more to having his foot growing out to a more comfortable place than anything else.

So, tiny improvements. I'm going to try to start taking pictures to monitor progress, but hopefully - HOPEFULLY - we can figure out how to manage things to keep Saga sound. I have definitely learned my lesson - I'm not letting anyone near my horses with a rasp, knife, or nippers unless I have first VERY CAREFULLY AND CLEARLY explained what I want and am certain that person is willing to work with me - and most importantly, with my horses. The alternative just isn't worth it.

P.S. Yes, my vet is pretty sure that all the lameness issues are caused by bruising and nothing more sinister. This diagnosis is supported by the fact that he was pretty darn sound after 8 weeks of no trimming. However, if we grow his feet out again and he's not staying sound even with more carefully managed hoof care, I will definitely take him back in for more further tests and likely x-rays.

P.S.S. Saga's currently only on grass hay and a little alfalfa, in case you're wondering if he's getting loads of NSCs that would affect his feet. He's not.


  1. Oh that's totally heartbreaking! I'm so sorry :(

    If I were you I'd concentrate on keeping a tiny bit of quarter relief rasped out, watch the heels, and watch the bars. If you ride on something abrasive "enough" the toe should take care of itself - at least Dixie's toes always have. My trimmer is sure that minor chipping is a sign of the hoof integrity being destroyed, and I'm equally sure that minor chipping is self-wear. Big chunks are bad, everybody agrees, but I personally don't sweat little (quarter inch?) chips.

    What's going on with his hoof walls at this point? did you see that horse on the easycare blog with the same weird looking hoof walls that Saga had a while back??

  2. What a terrible experience :(

    Anyone who talks angles is someone you should walk away from. It's not about the numbers. Flare isn't always a bad thing and chips and cracks have more to do with balance than length. It sounds like he needs to grow his hoof wall, best done through friction and stimulation, and not have his frog cut back. Poor guy :(

    Good luck. I hope you find a solution.

  3. I'm certainly no expert so I can't give advise, but I completely understand what you're saying about your farrier. I tend to go along with the vets and farriers because I figure they're the experts, right? Unfortunately, I've been learning the hard way that that's not always the case. I know you have too... so sorry that poor Saga is sore again. Sounds like you've got a good plan, though.

    Hope Saga is feeling better soon!

  4. Funder, thanks for the tips. I'm keeping an eye on the bars and at this point, all the quarters have chipped out on their own. They don't look pretty but it's been happening a bit at a time. I will probably rasp it down to get rid of the ragged edges. I'm always afraid to touch the heels but the frog is wearing too, so I don't think the heels are too long. And can you please send me the link to the Easycare blog?

    Dom, the focus on angles made me pretty twitchy. Thanks for telling me I'm not crazy. And in2paints, I know exactly what you mean. Who do you trust if you can't trust the experts? I'm trying hard to educate myself and just give it a go... I probably can't screw it up much worse than the three "experts" already have, right? At least, I sure hope not...

  5. Jen - here's the blog. Good suggestions in the comments.

  6. OMG I just realized that might have come out wrong - I don't think Saga's foundered. I think the other suggestions are interesting!

  7. Can I ask what trimmers you've been using? This is in the surrounding DFW area I think, right?.... which is where I am and where I'm probably going to end up established as a trimmer so I do want to know who else is out there in the area... E-mail me at eventingagogo@gmail.com :)