The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bridget is Telepathic and Also Helps With the Chores

Winter arrived and departed again over the past weekend, leaving in its wake a beautiful sunny almost-melted Tuesday, a day too fine to stay indoors.

So I took myself and the wheelbarrow out to the field to catch up on some long overdue manure clearing. The other horses pretty much ignored me, but Bridget came over and spent a full hour helping out.

I tried to stay focused on the task at hand and not be too distracted by Bridget, but it was very nice to have her there, chewing on my trouser legs and inspecting the contents of the wheelbarrow. Whenever she swung her tail around in an effort to make me scratch her butt, I ignored her, but I found it hard to resist her hand-shaking routine.

As I shoveled, I reflected that it was easier for Bridget to entice me away from my task by offering her forelegs, as I found that more entertaining and interactive than being a scratching machine - and I wondered if Bridget would make this connection. No sooner had I had this thought than Bridget backed into me and immediately raised one hind leg and waggled it in my direction.

She kept it up, and I managed to catch a photo later on. I must say it was a rather effective strategy, the proffered hindleg acting as an amusing enticement to the human, who - while playing the footsie game -also threw some scratches in for good measure.

Bridget was showing an interest in chewing on the wheelbarrow. She'd already seen me dump it out once or twice, and I wondered if she wasn't trying to do the same thing. So I said, "Come on, Bridget, you can give it a try," and headed over to the spot where I'd elected to collect the manure. She followed, I stopped the wheelbarrow and said, "Have at it."

After a little trial and error - success!

Next time, we didn't take time to fill the barrow so full as Bridget couldn't wait to try again.

How does this work again?
Uh oh, it doesn't come out when you tip it this way.
All right, I'm just going to pick up the shovel for a minute.
Ok, ready to try again - maybe this'll work.
Look what I managed to do!
We repeated this exercise two or three more times, Bridget figuring out how to create the right leverage to knock the barrow over on to its side. Then George came over to inspect the last barrowload.

How does this work? Not that I care or anything.
I could do it if I wanted though.
Bridget was miffed when George took over her wheelbarrow. She turned her back on him, gave a little hint of a kick and then walked a few paces off and stood opening and closing her mouth, fit to be tied. So I served supper to cheer everybody up.

Now, try telling me that's not as much fun as dressage.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Eight More Feet

Yesterday I had the pleasure of trimming a couple of new clients - two delightfully dignified older horses, Dandy and Bobby.

Dandy is a 25-year old QH/Saddelbred gelding. He has been in the same place, with the same owner, for the last 20 years. When first acquired, he had a severe case of laminitis, which recurred every spring for a few years, until his owner started keeping his front toes well trimmed back, rasping them himself in between farrier visits. Since then, there have been no laminitic episodes. When I arrived, I found Dandy's front toes squared off, with the toe wall well off the ground. There was a prominent toe callous, and the heels were quite high.

I took the heels right down and then thought I ought to lower the toe callous to better match the lowered heels. There was a lot of sole, most of which I left, as it seemed to be live sole, and if there's been descent of the coffin bone, I guess it needs some extra protection. The exception was the bars, which had folded over so much and flattened over the seat of corn that it looked like true sole. A layer of dirt, however, gave it away, and I dug until I uncovered all the dirt.

I wonder if taking the heels down will cause some of the sole depth to exfoliate? There's still a considerable flare in the last inch and a half of the toe wall, where the toe flattens out, and as it's been many complete growth cycles since the last (noticeable) episode of laminitis, I wonder if the flattening is due to heel height ... ? Could the heel height be sortof forcing the foot over in front and causing the toe to squoosh?

I was impressed at how supple Dandy was for a 25-year old; he had no complaints about lifting up any of his feet, and no creaking. After he was trimmed, I had the owner walk him out - he tracked up really well and landed heel-first. I wonder if his owner's conscientious program of keeping his toes backed up has contributed to his spryness?

Bobby is a 20-year old QH/Morgan gelding, who has lived with Dandy and his owner for the last 15 years. He recently had an abscess in the heel area in the LF. It erupted at the hairline, but the vet recommended digging it out from underneath, which the owner later regretted, as the problem was further in than they'd thought, and the hole at ground level meant that the hoof had to be kept clean.

I wondered why the horse had abscessed, as his feet looked good from the outside, and I didn't think the toes looked long. When I looked underneath, I found well-worn heels, a reasonable concavity, and healthy frogs. However .... the white line at the toe was stretched to almost an inch, and the leading edge of the toe sole was wiggly, as if it had been subject to pressure. I showed the owner, and interestingly he said that he'd had a hunch he should be keeping Bobby's toes shorter, but that because they already looked pretty short from the outside, he'd overridden his instinct. From now on he'll keep the toes rockered off so that the toe wall and white line are off the ground. You could see a sort of fold or bend in the toes (both fore and hind) about an inch from the ground where the foot was trying to break over the extra toe length. There was bruising visible along the fold line.

Bobby seemed to have difficulty some of the time in giving his hind legs. He wanted to raise them really high and stick them out to the side. (I think maybe something to do with his back - not to be racist or anything, but do Morgans sometimes tend toward a dip in the back?) When he walked out after trimming, he tracked up (just), but slightly to the outside. I wouldn't say he landed heel first - maybe flat. I'd be interested to see how his feet progress as the owner moves to his new shorter-toe regimen.

The owner was very nice, and retired - which meant that he appreciated the extra time I took, rather than being impatient! He gave me more money than I asked for, which made me happy. He called me in because his previous farrier went into roofing or something. (What? Why? Probably pays better.) The horses have been kept barefoot all the time they've lived with their owner, who has been hoping to find someone who could do a "barefoot", as opposed to a "farrier" trim. He said all his previous farriers liked to carve out a concavity willy-nilly, and although he'd tried to dissuade them, they would only partially comply. Of course, ideally there should be concavity in the sole, but if it's not there naturally, you can't go sculpting it. If the foot is flat and the sole is live, it means the sole is protecting something which needs to be protected.

I'm looking forward to seeing these two horses again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Plug for Bubba Earl and Skeeter

A friend of mine rescues horses and sundry other creatures.

Here's a link to a video she made, which I think speaks for itself. Check out her other videos as well, and support her by subscribing on You Tube!


Friday, January 6, 2012

Sonny and Camille

As I was trimming Joey and Samson the other day, their owner said to me, "I bet you get kicked sometimes, do you?"

I replied along the lines of, "No, not really, but don't let's jinx it."

So, of course, today while I was trimming a new client, she doled out an unmistakeable cowkick. Camille is a pretty 3-year old buckskin mare, who does not like to be alone in the barn while her buddy is out of sight. I should have recognized that it was a bad idea to proceed, as Camille repeatedly snatched her leg away and tried to barge through her owner to get outside. It's almost always possible to tell when a horse is snatching out of discomfort, out of ok-I've-had-enough-now or out of I-don't-have-to-you-can't-make-me. With Camille, it was definitely the last.

I think we get very jumpy and bent out of shape about the Things Horses Do With Their Legs. Like any movement with their hind legs in the presence of a human is a crime against humanity. We think of their hind legs as blunderbusses - existing only to slam out deadly blows - and we forget that horses' legs can perform very delicate maneuvers - scratching behind an ear, for example. After Camille cowkicked, I realized that what she had done was use her leg to emphatically shove me aside - she was not trying to hurt me or punish me.

So, we did two things - the owner went and fetched Sonny back in to keep Camille company, and I took hold of Camille's leadrope and worked with her for five minutes. I asked her to turn towards me while releasing her shoulder away, instead of stiffening her shoulder towards me while her head pulled in the opposite direction. I tried to keep it friendly and helpful, to refrain from demanding any particular movement, and to only use pressure the way your dance partner might as he guides you around the floor. At first she refused. Then I asked her to back and turn while backing. Then I prodded her shoulder and neck and asked her to notice how she was stiffening in that area. And then I asked her to turn towards me again, and she went, "Yup! I get it - watch me!" She softened her head towards me, lengthened along her topline, stepped underneath herself and walked forward on a bend. So of course I was very enthusiastic about her sheer genius.

When we started trimming again, with Sonny safely stationed near her, and her awakened sense of connection with me, everything went very smoothly. As soon as I lifted her foot up, I could tell that she was relaxed and aware of the position of her feet and adjusting her balance to make everything work. And fortunately she needed very little done, so we could finish quickly and end on a positive note.

Camille's friend Sonny is a 23-year old gelding. He had good hind feet, but he has a past history of laminitis in his forefeet.  He was last trimmed in August and had very, very overgrown front toes, not much heel growth, and a bunch of abscess holes growing out in both front hoofs. I think the abscesses were probably all due to the crazy toe length, which must have been causing painful and damaging leverage in the wall. He had very flat forefeet, but there were encouraging signs of exfoliation in the sole.  (It's been some time since the last laminitis episode.) The front toe wall was extremely thick - over two inches at ground level in one forefoot. I cut back a lot of toe and got the toe wall off the ground, but there was still a lot of thickness left. Hopefully next time it will be possible to improve the situation even more.

I guess if the toe becomes over-long, it becomes more difficult and painful to put weight on it, which means that there is even less natural wear, which makes it grow even more, and so on.

Sonny was very good about resting his feet in the stand. He demonstrated for me again that if you ask a horse which foot he'd like you to work on next, oftentimes he'll pick up a foot and waggle it. Occasionally, he'll pick up one you've done already. After the trim, the limp caused by the remains of a heel abscess in one forefoot had disappeared - probably because the toe was no longer leveraging the hole open with every step.

Sometimes I wonder if people think I'm dotty. I ramble on, chatting away to the horses and sometimes supplying the horse's side of the conversation too. I've gotten much more unapologetic about not ever making the horse pick up a foot. I'm just like, "That's the way I do it." A lot of people are used to a "git 'r done" 15-minute farrier trim, and that's not me. I'm more of the Elizabeth Arden school of trimming: "Would Madame care to place Madame's foot in the foot receptacle? Would Madame enjoy some iced mint water to sip while we work on Madame's toes?"

I hope this owner doesn't think I'm too demented to invite back, as I'd like to chart the progress of Sonny's forefeet - I'd love to see those soles after they're done exfoliating and find out if concavity reappears ......

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Joey and Samson Again

The trimming business is slow. I had one new client just before Christmas, and occasionally I'll get a repeat-business call, but things got to where I finally gave up and went to the job fair at the ski slope and applied to work in the rentals department. It pays horribly (even more so when you factor in tax), as most people who work there do so mainly for the sake of free skiing benefits, but I thought I'd better do something, however meagre, to increase our income. It was not to be, however, as they never called me back.

As most people whom I've trimmed for seemed happy with my work, I chose not to be paranoid about the lack of calls from existing clients, but to chalk it up to Procrastination - something which I know all about myself. 

I trimmed the two minis Joey and Samson back in June. Their owner asked me to call her in a couple of months to schedule another trim. So, I called back in August, left a message, and received no reply. Same thing in September. After that, I let it go, not wishing to be a pest.

The owner finally called me two days ago to schedule an appointment, and off I went today, wearing my long underwear, as winter has finally kicked in. I found the horses' feet to be not over-long, and their heels were nice and wide. The horses are kept at their owner's son's place. He is a really nice guy and loves animals. He had the brilliant idea to lay a slab of concrete, about maybe 8' x 8', which the horses like to stomp around on. They go up on the slab and paw the ground. I honestly would never have thought that horses would put a concrete slab to such good use, but it has worked very well to keep their hoofs balanced and not overgrown.

Joey, the little stallion, who was pretty good last time, was even more friendly and cooperative today and stood without being held. His buddy, the gelding Samson, is much more nervous and mistrustful. He was held while I worked on him and was quite resistant at first, as he had been last time also. However, as is often the case, when he realized that I wasn't going to force him to do anything, and that I was trying to help him figure out how to find comfortable positions, he too became cooperative. One of his hind feet was ok resting on the stand; the other was only happy resting on the toe of my boot. He didn't like picking up his RF, but again, when I showed him we didn't have to lift it up very high and that I was aware he was uncomfortable, he relented and allowed me to work on it.

The owner's son has a little flock of goats, of whom he is very fond and whose names and lineages he told me in detail. He has already provided them with some goat playground equipment, but he's planning to build a deluxe high platform with ramps. (I wonder if the minis will feel a little annoyed at the goats' ability to climb up onto a level inaccessible to horses.) It's always nice to meet someone who tries to provide a happy home for their animals.

After I'd trimmed Joey and Samson, they went off to play together. Joey is the dominant, bossy one - but in play Samson bites back. A good reminder that in the horse world, it's ok to be sassy to the leader.

p.s. All day long I've been finding myself in an unexpectedly good mood. This evening, as I pause and take time to reflect, I find that it is because of my encounter this morning with Joey and Samson.