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New Year’s Resolution in November

November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving is next Thursday (a week away) and my mind is still thinking it’s August. Time truly is relative and definitely moves at different speeds, at different times. So much has happened over the past 6 months, that were I to write it all out, no one would believe me.

One of the topics on that list is Rudi’s feet. Suffice it to say that after a disappointing Summer, thinking I would be able to back Rudi, I am now the one doing his feet myself, and I might, perhaps, be able to back him next Spring or Summer (but the jury is still out on that).

I do agree with Napoleon Hill (of “Think and Grow Rich” fame), that every adversity brings with it the seed of an equal or greater opportunity. And so it is, with Rudi’s feet. The program I had been following ended up causing more issues (abscesses in both front feet, vet calls, more pain for Rudi), instead of creating  solutions. But I guess I needed that extreme situation in order to step up to the plate and be willing to take over the care myself.

I am learning, through reading Pam Grout’s amazing series of books, E Cubed and E Squared, to look at everything which transpires in every day, and say “Awesome!”.

being able to respond with “Awesome!” to everything which happens is certainly a new skill, and there is very little cultural support for this perspective, but I’m kind of used to functioning without cultural support, because of our business. (If you don’t know our business, we are on the cutting edge of  food: we have encapsulated produce and vertical aeroponic gardens, so that people can get more produce easily). In my work, every day, I face the challenges of being on that cutting edge, and it apparently is a space where either I feel most comfortable or I am attracted to, because I am there with Rudi and his care and rehabilitation, too.

Currently, I am letting his feet grow in very different ways than we had been doing before. I’m not following any one system, but instead, reading and researching a variety of approaches and then applying what will apply, to his particular feet.

Fortunately, I have been able to spend quite a bit of time just training him, and this, too, is another seed of equal or greater opportunity: Frankly, I know myself. If he had been sounder sooner, I would have skipped a lot of this basic ground training, hopped right on him, and started training him under saddle the way I’ve always ridden and trained.

This time, I have been forced to wait out weeks, actually months, until some modicum of soundness has returned, and that has made me look for other things we could work on together. As a result, we’ve got a much better connection on the ground that I have ever had with any other horse, and it has shown me that much more should be established before I even consider climbing up on his back.

So this next few months will be spent developing my skills (and his) with in-hand work. Thanks to my former trainer, Peter, I’ve done a lot of in-hand work, but mostly using long lines. This time, I will be working up close, with a short line off of a cavesson. I have so many bridles, that I took one bridle to a shoe repair shop, with my old lunging cavesson (which never fit ANY horse well) and I’m having the hardware taken off of the lunging cavesson and put onto the bridle cavesson. That way, I will have the ability to use an outside rein while using the cavesson ring on the front of the bridle. It should allow things to be much lighter, and keep me from creating too many problems.

Rudi does understand the whole concept of training now, which is also very helpful. Rewards are a part of the deal for him, as they should be, but even without treats, he is into trying to figure out what we are doing on any given day. He likes to work, he likes to move, and he also is enjoying discovering that he is quite the athlete.  Its going to be a great journey!

 

Blog posts

Progress

January 16, 2017

Rudi report: Two days ago, Jess came to the barn for another trim. This trim was 5 weeks after the previous trim – a very long span in between trims for Rudi, considering that, at one point, Jess was modifying something almost daily.

 

This trim, just like the last one, was a huge breakthrough for Rudi’s feet, on a number of fronts, and I’ll try to go through them in a way that allows you to see the modifications and understand the growth process.

 

Its hard to remember how much progress we’ve made, but here are what his feet looked like when he arrived:

 

image123

 

As you look at this picture, his left front is to the right of the photo, and it was (and is) the more problematic foot. You can clearly see how the foot is deformed, with a huge flare towards the other foot. Here in this photo, he is not walking on his foot normally at all, even though he was traveling fairly soundly. The hoof wall has grown out sideways, and he is essentially walking on the wall on a horizontal plane, as opposed to a vertical plane.

 

When this happens, a number of issues develop in the interior of the hoof. In Rudi’s case, the bar had also become overgrown and distorted and was creating intense pressure up into the interior of the hoof – so much pressure that he couldn’t land on his heels, was walking on his toes. The bones in the interior of the hoof capsule moved and became damaged because of being in the wrong position, relative to the weight-bearing they are required to do. The pastern joint was rotated partially out place because of how he was having to land on and use his foot.

 

Our goal with this therapy has been to get all of this tissue moved back into place. Once the right tissue is in the right place, our hope is that the bones will settle back in to a more proper alignment, and we can at least arrest the damage being done. In terms of outcome, our hopes have been that we could get him to a point where he is stabilized, and can be turned out without needing therapeutic boots or daily soaking. While I’m still doing both, I think both Jess and I can see that we won’t need to forever. This is great news because it means that he can (if nothing else) be a happy pasture horse and we don’t have to worry about daily treatments or watching that his boots haven’t twisted or come off or are causing rubbing. It is a huge milestone to have reached.

 

The next goal is to see if we can get him sound enough for light work, and as of the day before yesterday, both Jess and I are leaning towards the answer to that question being ‘yes’. The 5 week interval between his last trim and Saturday’s trim gave him time to grow some correct tissue, without creating too much incorrect tissue (although on the left front, there still was plenty), and Rudi was feeling just fine. In fact, he was a bit ticked off that he had to leave his buddy Copper and come in and stand for the trim. He was traveling almost completely soundly and clearly felt no pain, so Jess and I spent a disproportionate amount of time on handling, but it was a terrific learning day for both Rudi and me.

 

Here is what his feet looked like prior to this trim.

This is the right front, and there are so many reasons this photo is exciting – the wall is getting thicker and stronger, but the most important change is down in the toe area.

As you look at this photo, to the bottom right, you will see an area where healthy sole is peaking through the unhealthy mix of old sole and smeared bar and necrotic tissue. It is only about the size of a quarter, but its such visible evidence that a new, healthy sole is on the way!

All the other stuff you see at the toe area is old keratoma which have now been replaced with healthy tissue and are growing out.

 

Right front before trim

 

Here is the same foot after the trim:

 

Right front after trim

In this picture, you can actually see the damage the keratoma did to the sole tissue. See that pink line that follows the hoof wall and then zig-zags behind the remnants of the hole in the toe? That is damaged, bruised sole which (at one point) was way up inside his foot – deep inside, probably near the coffin bone, and was decidedly painful. While it isn’t pretty to look at, it’s helpful to see external evidence of what was going on internally a bunch of months ago.

 

Here is the left front prior to the trim:

left front before trim

This foot is the one which is most problematic. Rudi has had imbalances in this foot for most of his life, and without trimming, they wreaked havoc on the internal and external structures of the foot. The hole that you see in the to area to the left is an old keratoma growing out, similar to the one in the right foot. The hole to the right, and a bit back from the toe, to the side, is the remnants of an area Jess cleaned up at the last trim, when we found sole tubules all compressed and misshapen by the fact that Rudi is still walking incorrectly on this foot.

 

Our goal with this trim was to clean the toe area, but also dig out as much bar as possible in the fulcrum area of the foot (where there shouldn’t be any bar, but where Rudi still has bar in abundance) and then also relieve enough pressure on the inner wall that he can start to walk a bit more heel-to-toe. He has not been able to do that, ever since I’ve had him. Most of the reason is embedded bar, but some of it is also heel and wall shape.

 

Here is that foot after the trim:

 

Left front after trim

 

You can see from this picture (even though it isn’t the best in terms of clarity) that most of what looked gross, was just trimmed right off – it was pretty much superficial ugliness. The bigger change is that there was enough wall and sole for Jess to be able to really modify the medial wall – it is almost squared by comparison to the lateral wall, but this will widen out to a rounded shape now that the pressure is decreased.  You can see in this photo that he still has bar in the fulcrum area (the white-ish lines beyond the halfway point of the frog, in the direction of the toe).

 

Horse’s hooves are actually quite flexible, and if there is bar in the fulcrum region, they loose that flexibility. Think of it this way: the midpoint of the hoof is like the arch of your foot. There should be an air gap there similar to (but no where near as high as) the space between the floor and the bottom of your foot under your arch. The horse’s hoof flexes there, but if bar has been allowed to grow into that space, they lose that flexibility, and the foot hurts.

 

Think about having something rock-hard pressing up into your arch every time you took a step. What would you do? You’d probably walk on your toes, and that is exactly what most horses do: they change their gait, sometimes imperceptibly, and land with almost all of their weight on their toes, instead of the normal heel-to-toe movement. This results is huge changes to the interior of the hoof. Not only is the bar tissue (which is just as hard as the hoof wall, because it is the same thing) cramming up into the interior of the hoof, but the foot isn’t designed to have the weight landing on the toe. The net result, after years and years and many thousands of pounds being carried by the foot incorrectly, is bone and tissue damage to the interior of the hoof.

 

Rudi has massive sidebone as a result of this way of moving. He also has coffin bone rotation, and bone demineralization in the tips of both coffin bones. The sidebone won’t (or typically doesn’t) affect soundness, but coffin bone rotation sure can. The demineralization seems to be more of a question mark. I’ve had some people look at his x-rays and tell me he needs to be put down, I’ve had others tell me he will never be sound. My own vet felt that he’d be sound but with corrective shoes and pads, however, he agreed that given time and working with Jess, we could also potentially get him sound following her therapy. Horses can lose a fair amount of their coffin bone, and still travel soundly. They have keratomas cut out all the time, and return to work. I’m hopeful that once we get him landing and moving heel-to-toe, that the coffin bone angle will improve. His pastern joint was also adversely affected by his feet, and we will hope for that to settle back into a better alignment, as well.

 

Some of Rudi’s outcome will depend upon his ability to handle the changes, but he was in a lot of pain for a long time, prior to my having him, and even though the process of this therapy to bring his feet back to health has, in and of itself, created painful times, he has handled them well. He seems to be able to handle the changes and the process well. The one picture which I did not get was the huge hug Rudi gave Jess at the end of the trim session, after she was finally able to cut away the pressure area on the wall on his left front. He buried his head against her and just said “Thank you” as clearly as any horse ever has.

 

Here are the before (when he arrived) and afters (after this most recent trim) viewed from the front:

Right front:

Right front comparison

Left front:

Left front comparison

 

It has taken us about 6 months of corrective therapy to get to this point, and we still have a way to go, but clearly are headed in the right direction.

Blog posts

A whole new world

January 9, 2017

 

Last May, I bought this lovely guy, thinking that I’d have a challenging re-training project. He turned 11 the week before I bought him, and while he had been started under saddle as a 3 year old, he hadn’t had any more work in the intervening 8 years.

What I discovered, once I got him home, was that he also hadn’t had any farrier care, and so his feet were a mess, and he had suffered damage to the internal bone structure. Little did I know that this would start me on such an incredible journey.

I have been a horsewoman all my life – fearful and reluctant, but inexplicably drawn to horses even though they terrified me most of the time I interacted with them. I actually had been working as a professional in the sport for several decades, before I finally made my peace with my fear, and learned how to interact with any horse, anywhere, on terms that both us us feel comfortable with. But that’s another story, for another day.

This story is about Rudi.

rudi-head-shot

I was first made aware of him through a friend in Florida. It was a simple conversation – a text, I think. Her mom was trying to liquidate a breeding program, and did I know anyone looking?

I (of course) am always looking, but I am also always letting people know about horses available or riders looking, and so it was a natural to get the details on these horses and then spread the word.

I never got around to the ‘spread the word’ part of the equation because as soon as I learned more about the gelding, I felt like he was what I was looking for: a well-bred Warmblood, Oldenburg, a grandson of Rubinstein, a line known to be very teachable and trainable. The other thing in his favor – he was supposedly just 9, and backed but not worked – all good. Most horses are started much too young, and so by the time they are 10, their joints are ruined through early weight-bearing and poor training. This guy had no training or weight-bearing. This combination doesn’t happen very often. Well bred horses aren’t usually left alone as youngsters. So I had to go see him, at least.

We live on our boat, and at the time I learned about Rudi, we were down in South Carolina. Rudi was in upstate New York, and we had no immediate plans to be back up in the Northeast. As all horse people know, horses always sound fantastic – the perfect fit – over the phone. Since Henry and I had decided that this was, in fact, a good time for me to get a horse of my own again, I was actively looking, and had another barn asking me to take on one (or more) of the horses they were selling, and there were also a few other rehabs friends had shared with me that I was considering. But deciding which horse you say ‘yes’ to, when your only information about them is through phone calls, is a challenge. I knew I had to go visit each of them, and oftentimes, waiting to decide is the same thing as making a decision – horse owners under pressure to get rid of horses typically have to place them in the first-available situation that will work. I wanted to wait until I could get to New York before deciding on the others, and that, by default, meant risking the availability of the others.

I wish I could say that as soon as I saw Rudi I knew he was ‘my horse’, but the truth is he charged me twice when I went in to see him, and I did seriously question whether I would be up to the task of training him. But I also knew that I had to try. He was just lovely, and not in the best of situations. He clearly was very intelligent, well-built, and quite stout. While he wasn’t underweight at all, he was in very mucky footing, and his feet were a mess. I have done a few rehabs in my career, but most have been re-training poorly trained or abused horses, or re-feeding starved horses. This guy wasn’t starved – that’s for sure – and wasn’t poorly trained, but rather, not handled at all. These are big distinctions. But a few years previous to this, I had started an older horse, so I knew I could handle that part of the equation, and Rudi needed a job and a person and a life.

So where to start? I bought him, and had him shipped the few hours from New York to Connecticut, and as soon as he stepped off the trailer, I could really see his feet for the first time. Initially, I thought they were simply too long from lack of trims, but within a few minutes, I could tell that, now that Rudi wasn’t moving through soft muck, his feet were in poor shape and bigger things were going on than I had initially been able to see. He had huge cracks in his feet – the kind of cracks that made me think the entire hoof capsule was going to split apart and slough off, so I called in a farrier to get the worst trimmed off, and hope to arrest the splits and keep them from getting worse. Unfortunately, removing the long edges put Rudi squarely on his feet, and it became quickly apparent that standing on his feet was very uncomfortable.

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This discomfort, combined with no training, combined with the terrible bugs of summer, resulted in a crazy horse on my hands – a really big crazy horse. I bought a fly sheet, and fortunately he didn’t mind me putting it on (I am sure he was never blanketed in his life, and so this was a huge ‘win’) but it was an unpleasant time. Once again, I was waking up with a knot in my stomach about heading to the barn – something I had to do now at least twice a day – because I just didn’t know if I’d be able to handle what I’d face when I got there. During those early weeks, I thought the issue was simply lack of training, but it seemed to be a training issue on a scale that I’d never encountered before. I understand, now, that his primary issue was one of intense pain.

There was no way for him to stand or move or sleep without his feet hurting, and everything above his feet hurt, too. I networked with everyone and finally decided on therapeutic boots, but putting boots on a 1300+ pound horse, who doesn’t know how to pick up his feet so that I could get the boots on, and doesn’t really want to weight the other three feet more while the fourth foot is booted, makes for a stressful process. We managed, but not well.

rudi-left-front-x-ray-8

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, and I have to say that that is exactly what happened for Rudi and me. I was feeling desperate – truly feeling over-faced on the training front (remember, I thought this was a training issue and had no clue it was a pain issue), and had started searching for a situation where I could bring Rudi for a month, and get some basic control.

Simultaneously, I knew I needed to approach his feet from a different perspective. My vet recommended shoes and pads, which probably would have made him more comfortable, but wouldn’t have actually corrected the problem. For much of the past decade, I’ve been investing my time in learning about more appropriate methods of horsemanship – keeping horses barefoot and unblanketed, creating a feeding and turnout environment that is appropriate a horse, emotionally and physically.  I knew that how I had been taught to keep horses was not the ideal, and caused most of the problems people faced with their horses, and so I wanted to do things differently, but had no network and no experience (other than what I had read).

I had seen some videos from a school in Sweden, showing how, since horses’ feet grow constantly, issues (even severe issues normally considered to be fatal) can be reversed. This is what I wanted to offer Rudi – not just a band-aid to the problem, but a reversal of the problem, and a future of optimal health, with (hopefully) room to have a bit of a career.

Through Facebook (yes, Facebook), I had connected with a woman who seemed to take a completely different approach, and I was loving what I was seeing. Only problem – she lived 3+ hours away. I had another name, someone trained the same way, and she was closer – but I didn’t know her, and this was all going to be expensive and time consuming, so going with an ‘unknown’ felt risky, but I was desperate. I contacted her, and as luck would have it, or as the Universe intended things to be, Jessica could come in 2 days. She required just one thing before she came – that I soak Rudi’s feet for an hour before she started to work on him. That was a huge requirement! Rudi does not enjoy running water, and certainly wasn’t going to stand happily with his feet in a bucket. But “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and so I settled for making a muddy puddle in the corner of his turnout, constantly running a hose and making him stand in the water and mud. I was hopeful that it would be enough.

I also bought a sedative and was trying to time the administration of it so that Jess could handle him and work on his feet. I knew no other way. When Jess arrived, we debated giving him the sedative, but she really wanted an opportunity to work with him without it. She has never used a tranquilizer of any kind on any horse. I didn’t want to use one, but I honestly just couldn’t see how his feet could be trimmed without one. Fortunately, Jess knew another approach, and within minutes had him understanding how to stand like a Prince.

And then she asked the magic question – Would I consider sending him to her farm for a month of therapy for his feet? She had no idea that I’d been madly calling every place I could find for a residential situation. I thought I wanted it for training, but what I’ve learned is that what I needed was a program to alleviate Rudi’s pain. Sometimes we are just sure that we know what we are looking for, and yet we are completely wrong – asking the wrong question, convinced that when we find the answer, we’ll be able to correct what’s going on. As Randy Gage says, when you ask the wrong question, the answer doesn’t matter. I was asking the wrong question – I was asking, “How can I re-train this horse?”, instead of asking, “Why is this horse behaving the way he’s behaving?” I couldn’t imagine the behavior was pain-induced, even though I could see that he was uncomfortable.

“It’s what we know already that often prevents us from learning” (Claude Bernard)

Fortunately, Jess has seen many horses dealing with even more severe issues than Rudi, and that experience and confidence allowed me to see that her approach might be “other way” I’d been looking for, even though I didn’t even know it existed. Months into this process (we are in Month 6), I am only just now starting to understand how profound the work is that she and her trainer, Cheryl, do. My lifetime in horses has blinded me to much of what they understand, but I’m starting to get it, and I hope to share what I’m learning through this blog so that other riders will begin to get it, too.

We are still a long way from soundness with Rudi, and over the next few weeks I will begin addressing some issues in his feet, myself, with lots of texts and photos and videos sent to Jess and Cheryl for their input. Jess will be down again in another few weeks, to keep do a full-fledged corrective trim, but my goal is to be able to advance the cause in whatever limited way I am able.

In subsequent posts, I will share what we are doing for daily therapy, and also put up videos of any work that I do on his feet. I am also working him in hand, and teaching him the basics of how to move his body and how to understand what I mean. This is a long process, but he is a bright horse, and I am learning. I hope that you enjoy the journey with me, and will learn along with me.