Thursday, October 20, 2011

Barefoot no more

After 18 months of barefoot ups and downs, Saga is now reshod.

With pads, no less.

This is really not where I had hoped we'd end up - back where we started, only now somehow worse. I've learned a lot about hoof form and function, diet, and exercise along the way, but in the end, I guess I didn't learn enough or do it right, because it doesn't seem like Saga is going to be able to be barefoot and sound as a working horse.

Remember how about a month ago he turned up dead lame on the left front? I hauled him in, we did a workup including blocking, but he didn't come up sound. We ended up with bute and stall rest, with no real idea of what had caused the lameness. I did a lot of handwalking and tack walking with him, and he'd alternately have great days and not so good ones, thrown in with a few really crappy ones. He came out of the stall stiff and sore but would usually walk out of it - mostly. Eventually we turned him back out and he seemed to be improving with more movement, but then he'd have another off day. I still wasn't trotting him under saddle as the LF was still short. Frustrating, but I figured he just needed a little more time.

I'd noticed changes in behavior too. He spent much of his time in one corner of the barn, not eating. He didn't go with Cash to the far hay feeders. He was late for breakfast. He wasn't as friendly as usual. When doing carrot stretches, he could touch his hip when stretching left but could barely make it past his shoulder to the right. If he stretched further than that, he had to pick up his right hind.

He was trimmed last Wednesday but we'd been doing enough handwalking that my trimmer only evened up the hoof wall with his rasp - he didn't touch the sole at all. Saga walked off no lamer than before - a normal trim.

Then Monday of this week he came up dead lame on the RF. Awesome. I called my vet and we consulted - it was almost certainly the foot, but why? And what had caused the previous LF lameness? Could he have Lyme? EPM? A broken vertebrae in his neck? Something in his shoulder? We threw out all sorts of crazy ideas, then made an appointment. It just so happened that Dr. Madelyn Ward, who I'd been trying to get in touch with to get some chiropractic work done on Saga, was in town that same day, so we made arrangements to meet at the vet clinic and do a full workup on Saga. I dropped him off last night, and Dr. Joyce looked at him first thing.

Apparently he came out of the stall almost unable to walk. He was positive to hoof testers on all four feet. He was 3/5 lame on the RF, but went sound after blocking on that foot. Unfortunately, he was then 3/5 lame on the LF, so she blocked that too. With both front feet blocked, he was 100%. Dr. Joyce took radiographs, and we discovered the problem - Saga only has about 5.5-6 mm of sole depth on each front foot. Normal horses have 12-15 mm of sole. He's basically walking on his coffin bones, the poor guy.

Dr. Ward looked at him after the blocks wore off. He was apparently completely locked up on the right on his sacrum, which explains not being able to bend right. He was also really blocked on C7, deep in his shoulder on the left, which isn't surprising given that he's been short on the LF. Dr. Ward attributed girthiness to possible abscesses or stomach upset, likely related to the discomfort in his feet.

The GOOD news (yes, there was some) was that she felt like he was super-healthy, a good weight, shiny, and had good range of motion in his joints. He was not back sore despite the issues in the sacral area. She didn't feel like there was any toxicity going on, and she thought the diet I had him on was great (though there was some concern about the NCSs in the coastal hay, with the stress it's been under from the drought here). She thought his feet were beautiful - thick, fat frogs, excellent hoof wall, no event lines. If only he actually had some sole depth.

I KNOW that horses can grow more sole. Nic proved it with Zan. The process took 6 months and I'm so glad for Zan's sake that it worked out. Saga's had 18 months to produce more sole depth, and for whatever reason, it's not happening. Probably I'm feeding him something wrong, and it's probably the hay, but I need to be realistic. I can't get hay for more than 2 months at a time, as I have no place to store it, so testing it makes little sense. And if it did test high for NSCs, what am I going to do, send it back? Hay is so scarce right now, I'm lucky to get any at all, let alone something that's not complete crap (you should SEE what they are feeding some horses, it's disgusting).

The hubby and I discussed what it would take to keep Saga barefoot. Likely I'd have to soak all the hay, and since I feed free-choice, that would be difficult. We also have the problem in the summer heat that things tend to mold very quickly, so it would be challenging to manage that. I could try giving timothy cubes since those have NCSs below 10%, but that would mean separating Saga for 1-2 hours at mealtimes so he could eat in peace. Once Taran is out of the stall, that might be doable, but right now it's not very feasible, especially not in the mornings, since as it is the boys are barely finished with their alfalfa before I have to go to work.

So, what to do. I want my horse to be comfortable. Ok, I want to RIDE my horse too, but the number one priority is his long-term comfort. We discussed using boots with pads all around, but even WITH boots and pads, he's not always comfortable. There's also concern with thrush and rubbing if they're worn long-term. Glue-ons were another option, but still with the same problem - his sole would be only minimally protected. Glue-ons also need to be replaced every few weeks and work best with a fresh trim. I'm sure I could learn to do glue-ons myself, but there's still that fresh trim issue... and realistically, glue-ons are not meant for long-term use.

Both Dr. Joyce AND Dr. Ward (who is allll about holistic horsekeeping and barefoot) said to go with shoes and pads. As you might imagine, I was really upset about this. I feel like I've worked SO HARD to have Saga barefoot and comfortable. I finally felt like we were getting to a good point, and now this (or rather, "this" has been going on in one form or another for a long time). Where did I screw up? What have I done wrong? I really feel like the world's worst horse owner - I can't even keep him comfortable.

I have no illusions about shoes. The concussive force is bad. It's likely that he's going to start landing toe-first. His hoof won't be able to function properly. He might be sound but he'll still have the problem of thin soles - shoes will only mask the underlying issue. They might be a solution, but they sure as hell aren't addressing the problem.

But what if, despite best efforts, I cannot fix the problem? If I can't get him to grow more sole, then what are my options? How do I keep him comfortable? I asked both vets this and Dr. Ward pointed out the she has a horse with exactly the same problem - great feet, but no sole depth. She keeps him shod when she must, and then if she knows she's going to have a busy (or super hot) month where she won't ride much, she pulls them. She understood my concerns and basically said that I was exactly right, but for Saga right now, shoes may be the best of a few poor options.

So here we are, front shoes with pads and a smushy gell fill-in. I'm glad he used leather pads, and I'm glad the sole will be getting some (comfy) stimulation.

But holy horse manure, did he HAVE to carve out a notch in Saga's foot to put that clip on? That makes me want to cry - he took a Dremel to my horse's beautiful hoof wall, and now look at it. Does anyone know why they do this? I've never seen this before.

On the bright side, with the exception of the notch for the clip, he barely touched Saga's feet. He didn't rasp all the way up. Dr. Joyce said he didn't trim the soles or the frog, and apparently the farrier also said that he hated to put shoes on such nice feet. This is the same farrier that made the hospital plates for Taran, and all the vet hospitals use him for remedial work, so hopefully he's going to try to keep what we've got.

I'm so torn. I feel horrible that I've let Saga down, despite my best intentions and efforts to be educated about keeping horses barefoot. I also feel horrible that my horse has been so sore and uncomfortable for so long. On the other hand... yesterday at lunch when I went to see him and meet Dr. Ward, he almost did not want to come out of the stall. He was listless and dull. At 6 pm when I came to pick him up after he'd been shod, he was bright-eyed and active. I put him out in the small arena at the vet's and he trotted off comfortably (still a bit short LF, but like 95% better). This morning when I came out to feed, he was laying down, but got up without effort and mugged me for breakfast. After breakfast, he and Cash moseyed over to the far feeders and started their usual snacking and grooming routine.

It was pretty much, you know, normal. I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with shoes and pads being the new norm.


  1. You're doing what makes him comfortable. You're a good owner!

  2. Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up :-) You are doing the best you can in a very difficult situation - I got your email and am halfway through putting together a reply - will get it to you asap, but I am sure you made the right decision. At the end of the day, the great thing about shoes is they can go on and come off - and if Saga is happier now then thats a huge plus.

  3. Good on you getting your horse comfortable. Discomfort and inflammation lead to much worse problems. But either I haven't been following your blog long enough (laminitic horse?) or your vet is seems wrong with the "beautiful" assessment of his feet.

    Now he can get his "job" back!

  4. I had to put shoes and pads on my horse this summer--he's back to being sound and barefoot now, after two shoeings with pads. I totally think you did the right thing--in fact I wrote a post about this exact topic over at Equestrian Ink--before I ever read your post. I agree-you are a GOOD horse owner.

  5. You're being too hard on yourself! 18 months is a long time to try, try, try, and like you said, the options you have are limited. You weighed the pros and cons and came to the conclusion that shoes were what he needed to be happy. Like Nic said, the shoes can come back off, so even though he's wearing them now, he can easily go back to being barefoot if something changes.

    I'm not sure if you've been following my last few posts, but Lilly's radiographs showed she has super thin soles too. I think she was right around 5mm. Luckily she's 100% sound in her boots, and comfortable in the pasture, but I don't know what that will mean for showing next year if we can't get hers to grow. My trimmer is thinking about putting hoof casts on Lilly so her soles can have a chance to grow and she can be comfortable. Are casts an option for you? I guess the hardest part is figuring out why the soles won't grow... otherwise, every trick in the book is pointless.

    You're a good horse mom!!

  6. Don't beat yourself up! Seeing your horse happier and more comfortable is the best thing in the world.

    I'm about to post on my own blog about it but...
    After 3 days of having a sore left front after this last trim, I'm about to put shoes on Don too - at least up front. I'm tired of him being sore, he's tired of being sore, every time he nicks his hoof on something. I don't have the money to find out but my guess is that he has thin soles too.

    He was sound after this last trim, and his hooves look beautiful - big, round, solid, they look great. But once again he's got some sort of bruise or ouchy in his foot, and he is not comfortable. He's not even acting like himself. I can't stand seeing him hurting so for me it's an easy decision - I know shoes will make him more comfortable and happier. He's always been tenderfooted (walks across gravel like he's walking on eggshells) and with increased work, he's just not as comfortable as he could be and he nicks his hooves up way too easily.

  7. I've been using my "dislocation holiday" to catch up with all the blogs I like to follow and although I barely ever have the time to comment my break has given me the chance to do so :)
    I really wouldn't beat yourself for putting the shoes back on. I guess I would be despairing too if we had to put shoes on Kingsley after a whole year of hard work on keeping him comfortable but if he needed them he would get them.
    Like Nic said, they come on so they can come off.

    I hope you will find a way to get those soles thicker!