What Do You See? What Do I See?

Late this past summer I began trimming an elderly horse who’d been subclinically laminitic for years. I requested radiographs as it was clear he’d had some changes to his bony column and that he had not been being trimmed in a way that was helping to correct that. We made some preliminary diet changes and then we looked at the film.

It is typical that a coffin bone, when it rotates, also tilts laterally. A telltale sign of rotation is a horse with a straight medial wall, a flare on the lateral and rings that dip at the toe and the heel. This guy had all the signs and the film confirmed it. Trimming this horse, and the questions I’m being asked, have really got me thinking about flares.

One of the things trimmers and farriers hear from clients and vets the most (next to “shorten the toe”) is “remove the flare”. I’ve found myself many times stuck between what a vet wants me to do and what I feel is best when it comes to flares. I have found it’s very important to understand why a flare is there. Is it simply from bad trimming? Is it because the horse is uncomfortable somewhere in his body and is shifting his weight off to one side of this foot? Is it because he’s crooked legged and his body needs that flare so that he literally doesn’t roll his ankle over? I saw a horse once so badly crooked that his flares were what we call *functional flares* and I declined to trim him without radiographs. Another person was willing to, took all the flare off and he then proceeded to walk on his fetlock. Flares are not always THE problem, they are often the symptom of a problem, and require some thinking before you cut them off.

Often I won’t remove a quarter flare until I have a heel and toe in the place I want them. Then removing that flare leaves other structures to support it as it grows back in correctly. I’m slow to remove flare on a foot that is extremely thin soled and thin walled; I’d rather focus on slowly bringing the foot into balance as we develop sole depth and a thicker wall. Sometimes I do remove a flare the first time I trim a horse but often – even if it looks straightforward – I ask the owner if they don’t mind if I wait until I see the horse again. I learn a lot about the horses way of going and feet by seeing what changes between trims.

In the case of flares being supportive of upper limb and body issues, if you cannot get a foot to balance up and it continues to push out in directions you wish it would not, you need to look higher up. I can often tell that a horse prefers a lead or won’t land on a front foot after a fence based on how he grows. Sometimes feet do crazy things because the horse is being ridden crooked or out of balance. A good example is if a horse is encouraged to push more than he can carry. The front feet of horses ridden this way always take a beating and you will struggle to keep them under the horses body. Riding the horse in better balance (pushing and carrying the same amount) will fix his feet. There are a lot of hoof problems caused by riding; high/low feet can be caused and/or exacerbated by not keeping a horses shoulders even and/or overbending the neck in the direction the horse is hollow. This throws the weight of the horse continually onto the opposite shoulder, no matter what direction the horse is going in.

So back to the older horse I’m trimming with the lateral flares. The flares appear to be the problem – but they are not. The medial walls being straight are the real issue. Slowly lowering those walls and only taking off the same amount of corresponding flare is bringing his feet into balance. This will take a very long time and will always require careful maintenance once the ideal has been achieved. In the meantime, his owner has people asking her why he has these flares and why haven’t they been cut off? I feel for her. She doesn’t completely understand why; she has seen the films and in theory gets it but probably would love to see her horses feet look “normal”. Standing her ground while we work on his feet is probably difficult. The good news is, he’s getting sounder and sounder.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about while driving around – flares. Most horses have an issue with flaring in one way or another… it’s the WHY they flare that matters, and dictates how we deal with it.

It’s Fall ~ Be Safe!

It’s fall and the weather, as we like to to call it, has begun.

Personally I hate the cold weather and prefer it to be hot. But not everyone does, I see posts all over Facebook about how it’s finally riding weather.

I also see a lot of posts about people coming OFF their horses.

It’s easy to forget that horses are really optimally comfortable around 45 degrees. Temperatures above that are likely to slow them down, even just a bit, and of course when you get up into the 80’s and 90’s even fit horses are affected by the heat.

So if you are excited about the cooler weather and are making plans to ride, please..

Wear your helmet. If you plan to school cross country or even go hack baby or green horses around, consider a vest.

Don’t assume your made, older horse is going to be himself. Even the sanest ones can get a little wild this time of year.

Take extra precautions going into fields with horses loose. They tend to be spookier in this weather and much more unpredictable. Don’t get yourself into a dangerous spot.

It’s also hunting season in a lot of places. Be smart. Wear orange and don’t ride where you don’t have permission. Hunters should know you aren’t a deer but it’s too late once you’ve been shot. Also a lot of horses are frightened by gun fire, so be thoughtful about this.

Be aware that other people are going to be doing other activities at this time of year..hiking, biking, ATV sports. You may encounter them when you have not before.

What other safety precautions do you take when the seasons change?

Why Cast A Foot Rather Than Shoe?

These are pictures taken of a hoof that I began working on about 5 months ago. The horse had previously been in shoes, then in glue-on’s and this access crack was going nowhere good.

Many times a crack like this grows out easily, with no further issues. In this case, the horse has feet that look decent from the outside but the solar view reveal thin soles, contracted heels and a nonexistent frog. So it’s not a healthy foot and it’s not going to easily grow out a crack like this.

I was asked to begin casting it when the glue on shoes would not stay on. I trimmed it, did a mild resection and had the owner do a deep cleaning treatment. Further prep involved mildly sanding the outside to remove any debris, and then gluing a cast on.

Casts stop hoof expansion. Without getting into too much detail, sometimes we want this to happen. This hoof was cast three times to get to the point you see in the first (after) photo. The last time I was able to get a layer of Equipack down to increase circulation and the foot grew about an inch between casts.

One more trim and the crack will be completely grown out. We’ll keep working on his other issues but this was a fun example of when casting is the appropriate tool.

How To Not Ruin Your Baby Horse

I’ve been starting horses and restarting horses off the track for many years now.  Decades, actually. I’m getting old!  But the upside to getting old is that I’ve learned a lot of things and one is that horses don’t lie.

Horses don’t lie.

I freely admit that it took me a while to really believe this. It went along with horses don’t think about you when you’re gone, horses don’t plot to spook and dump you, horses don’t have an agenda or think about dressage when you’re gone.  Ok, I have one horse who does perhaps think about dressage but he’s a freak.  Most horses want to eat grass and have friends to hang out with.

But over the years I’ve come to realize they don’t lie. Some of them SCREAM at you that there’s a problem by bucking or rearing but some of them are quiet about it.

This picture is one of two caps taken off a three year old in training here.  His teeth were done a little less than six months before, so his mouth is being well cared for… this is not the product of neglect. It simply is how a horses mouth develops.  Adult teeth are formed under caps and caps come off when the adult tooth pushes it off. But they don’t always just come off.  Sometimes they stay on and wear into points – or daggers, as you see here. This horses mouth had bloody holes where the caps had dug into his gums.

A week before I went to bridle this normally cheerful guy and he refused the bit.  He just turned his head away.  I turned it back and tried again. Nope.  I got a little more assertive and he pinned his ears and threw his head up.

I’ve never seen him do this before.  Horses don’t lie.  So I put the bridle away and we went for a walk into the river bed instead.

What would have happened if I had insisted?  There’s no telling. He’s a pretty good natured baby horse so he might have just sucked it up. Or maybe he would have acted out and I would have disciplined him for it, teaching him that he cannot communicate to me that he is in pain and get relief.  It’s likely it would have caused at least some small problem that he might have carried around mentally his whole life.

This is how quirks start.

We do dentals here every six months without exception.  In his case, he should go to three months as he is retaining one more cap that was not quite ready to come off yet. When a horse comes here for any reason we do their teeth, get them chiropracted and have their feet straightened out before we ever get on them.  So many problems are caused by not attending to the details of correct care.  This lovely little guy may have learned to rear and flip over backwards if he’d hit one of those sharp points at the wrong moment.. we could have both been injured or died over something routine and simple not being done.

Resistance in training is inevitable.  If you have done your due diligence you can be confident that when you are in the saddle you can train through it.  We only accept horses in training whose owners put the horses comfort and happiness first – the owners who know that horses don’t lie.  Good owners are  our partners in training and earn my respect for being patient and keeping their eyes on the prize – a quiet, willing, trustful partner.


Hello Again! Long Time No Write.

I’ve always allowed myself to be pushed forward through life by what doors open next.

I’d hoped that I could help horse people feed their horses better through customized programs. I found that was very hit or miss and I’m no longer providing that service. Mostly I comment on FB groups that horses need forage. Forage, forage, forage. And I let it go, in part because the word is getting out and people are realizing that their horses don’t need to be fed by Purina.

It’s a good thing.

I’ve felt a strong pull to be present on my own farm more. Not just physically but mentally. More intimately involved with my own horses, friends and family.

Slowly, without really realizing it, I restructured my work with horses to focus around bringing them here for rehab and working closely with local owners and trainers on their own horses. Recently I’ve had a string of school horses all go barefoot and sound; much to their owner/trainer’s delight.   So the fun has gotten closer to home than further away, not exactly what the age of the internet projected.

Right now there’s a steady stream of horses coming and going, along with my long term boarders and my personal horses. I still have Love and he’s completely sound and in steady work. He wears four shoes, a fact I like to point out to people who are barefoot fanatics. He needs a minor palmer angle correction behind and he dislikes any lack of traction up front on grass. So he’s got shoes. Turns out he’s quite talented and he may be going off to somewhere more upscale to be sold as a happy happy hunter… we’ll see.  In the meantime I’m enjoying him.

The biggest upswing of Love being in shoes may be that I’ve gotten to work closer with my farrier and the group of farriers HE works with.  It’s been fantastic and highly educational.  I think I learn more from them than they do from me but our conversations are always lively.  I’ll be heading to the big farriers convention this January because hey.. why not?  I’ll learn more things.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still feel the need to help people understand horses.  I’m still on that road.  I’ve had some things happen recently that I’m going to write here about in hopes that they help other people understand their horses.  The focus will probably stay on OTTB’s and TB’s in general although there will be things that apply to all horses.

So stay tuned. I’m excited about it all and hope you will be, too.

Introducing Withalottalove!

Wholelottalove  Day OneSo I have to admit that I have been telling everyone the wrong name.  His name is Withalottalove and he’s by Not For Love out of Tekawitha.  If you’re a TB person you probably know that Not For Love died last month.  He was known for putting lovely sport horses on the ground.  Not For Love’s dam line also produced the amazing horse Private Account, who remains one of my all time favorite sires for producing rideability and athleticism.    Withalottalove’s dam line is purely Canadian, which is probably where his substance comes from. They grow them big up there!

He’s seven and had seven starts, one win and nothing else to show for his racing career. He then left the track and was trail ridden for a few years along with a little dressage training.  I’ve wanted a Not For Love for quite a while now, wanted another red head for quite a while and he fell into my lap.  So here he is, all 16.3 hands of sweetness and seven year old happiness.  I adore him.

We hacked around the farm a few days ago and he acted like he’d lived here his whole life. I’m sure every day won’t be that perfect but it was a nice way to start.  I’ll keep updating his progress as he gains some muscle and we work on getting his feet into tip-top shape. He’s already had his teeth done and will see the chiropractor soon.  I am hoping he will be a keeper for me but that will depend on what he wants to do with himself.

Welcome to your new home, Love. We are happy you’re here.

While I’m Under Your Horse Trimming.. Some Guidelines

Lately I’ve had a few new clients comment that they’ve never been told by their farrier or trimmer what they need to be doing while their horse is getting worked on.  I realize I discuss this with people that I work for, but that there really isn’t much written about this. There is however a video from Smartpak that shows a farrier being downright molested by the horse he is doing finish work on (front foot forward on the hoof stand) and everyone is laughing.  It’s not funny.

It’s not funny if you’re the person doing the work.  I’ve been bit on the head, on the shoulder, on the back.. So here goes, starting from the beginning.

When we arrive, we’d like your horses to be ready to trim and reasonably clean and dry. We do understand weather happens; spotless is not necessary but mud to the knees is a problem.  One big reason we’d prefer less muck is because that stuff ruins our tools.  Rasps currently cost over $30.00.  So in order to keep costs down for everyone, clean is good!

Please don’t expect us to catch your horse in the field.  This is dangerous and frankly the liability to you is huge should something go wrong.  I personally want you there so I can discuss your horses feet with you, so I never do this anyway and would never expect anyone who works for me to do it, either.

Crossties.  Some folks are ok with this, personally I am not.  I don’t feel it’s safe after having a horse fall on me and get stuck with me underneath it.  Freak incident?  Maybe.  But horses pull back and horses panic and – things happen. I’d prefer a human on the end of the lead rope!

We really like a clean, dry, level place to work.  I know a lot of people will work in the dirt and I’ve done it, too.  But I can’t do my best work on an unlevel, dirty surface.  Please try to  give us at least a few stall mats somewhere to work on, out of the weather.

Flyspray.  Please have GOOD flyspray available and allow us to use it liberally.  If your horse picks up a foot to kick at a fly, all that weight shifts onto the person under the horse. It’s abrupt and can injure your hoof care professional in a second.  This is a dangerous job; please, let’s minimize the risks of people getting hurt.  I often carry fly spray and if I continually have to spray someone’s horses will charge extra for it.

Your horse needs to stand still when we are working around and under them.  This means also keeping their head and neck straight and still.  When they turn and look right, all their weight goes left and vice versa.  1200 shifting pounds is not safe or easy to deal with and again.. we can’t do good work under these circumstances. I have noticed that often when I trim a horse for the first time who has  a bad trim – he also has bad manners.  I doubt this is a coincidence.  Please don’t let your horse touch me.  Even the kindest horses have nipped me – when I’m under them, I’m fair game.  I always “meet and greet” and say good bye at the end – I like your horses and enjoy getting to know them.  Just not while I’m under them.

Where should you be?  Ideally it is on the opposite side of the farrier while we work in the front and on the same side when we are working behind. Please don’t stand directly in front of your horse in case he startles or the hoof stand goes flying! Staying alert and and aware of your horses activity is important; I appreciate a heads up if a client needs to take a phone call or text.

Discipline.  A great client told me the other day that she realized a long time ago that I am the one who needs to discipline the horse for acting up because I know it’s happening long before she can identify it and furthermore, it’s often directed towards me and therefore I’m the one who needs to address it.  I could not have said it better.  I feel your horse tip onto me long before you can see it.  I feel them think about rearing long before you can see it.   Corrections are based on a lot of factors.  One is – how old is your horse?  Babies get leeway because they need training and I’m more than happy to participate in that because I want to trim well trained horses.  It’s in my best interest, too.  Old horses get leeway because they have aches and pains (and I expect clients to use whatever is appropriate to make them as comfortable as possible).  Your average working horse of middle age has no excuses unless there’s an injury, so – perfect manners are expected.  What is perfect?  My horses can be trimmed with the lead rope over their backs and their feet are light as feathers.  That is perfect.

What is discipline?  Sometimes it’s a growl or I’ll tell you to do something. Usually it’s a tap with the rasp and a sharp word to stand up.  If a horse tries to kick or strike me, it’s going to be more than that.  Rearing gets a strong correction also.  Anything dangerous is going to get a much bigger reaction out of me because I want your horse to understand that this is never acceptable.  Not only is it not safe for me but I think you probably don’t want your horse kicking or striking at you, either.  If you do then I’d prefer to not trim for you.

A world about natural horsemanship and “moving their feet”.  This is inappropriate when someone is under your horse working.  Whoa needs to mean that your horse plants his feet and does not move until told to do so.  You cannot discipline him for moving by moving him more when someone is under him – it’s dangerous.  I’ll leave this subject alone now other than to say that I don’t train my horses that way.

Scheduling. Some clients we schedule the next trim before I leave, some contact me a few weeks out to set up an appointment.  Most horses should not go more than six weeks between trims and I do a few who need to be done every 3-4 weeks to stay balanced.  Life gets crazy and it’s important for us to all stay on top of scheduling as best we can.

Diet.  What goes in your horse creates the foot we have to trim. If your trimmer or farrier suggests a change, ask why and try to work with them on this.  We see a lot of correlation between diet and hoof quality – and we see a lot of feet – so please take this seriously.

Questions.  Please – ask!  I am, and I think most hoof professionals are happy to explain things and answer questions.  If your vet has questions, have them call me. I’m happy to explain why I am doing something the way I am, and to listen to what they have to say.  This is how we all learn.

Remember – these guidelines are so that everyone stays safe and your horse gets the quality work that he deserves!





Is Your Horse A Happy Horse?

I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with my vet yesterday as she did routine dentals on every horse on the farm.  We believe in prevention here; dentals are done every 6 months – sometimes this means nothing more than a tiny point removed with a hand tool; sometimes that means for an older horse or one whose mouth has not been cared for properly his whole life quite a bit more work to keep things comfortable.  After their teeth get done they are chiropractically adjusted within a week or so to realign their necks, jaw and poll as well as an entire body check.

Why do we keep the horses on such a strict schedule?  Because like most flight or fight animals, horses will hide symptoms of pain in order to not appear vulnerable.  What that means as a rider is that your horse might act perfectly normal on the ground and then when you bridle him, engage in all sorts of evasive behaviours that appear to be related to any number of things.  This is just one example; saddle fit can provoke the same issues, as can orthopedic and soft tissue issues.  The point is that eliminating anything that could be an issue BEFORE it becomes an issue makes for.. a happy horse.

We had some time to talk after her work was done and she expressed to me a dismay over the lost art of horsemanship.  We talked about what it means for a horse to be happy; and how when people put their desires and ambitions over the happiness of their horse how they are set up to fail because an unhappy horse will never perform for you.  He will never trust you, he will never be willing to partner with you.  You must begin where they are, do the important physical and mental work and always put their welfare first.

They are, after all, horses.  Not people.

What are the signs of a happy horse?  One comment she made was she wants to see them head down  and eating or resting.  This is an interesting point because when a horse is high headed and animated, he is experiencing adrenaline flow and this is counterproductive to relaxation, which is where all good work with horses begins.  This lead to a discussion about turnout and how so much unwanted behavior in horses results from them not being in a natural setting that allows them to develop relationships with other horses and to wander about for hours a day, building inherent fitness into tendons and ligaments.

If you are new to the idea of tending to your horses needs in a comprehensive way, you are not alone.  I am old enough to remember when horse keeping and care was either what was called “backyard” or they were in a “program”.  Now we have a lot of variety in between and that is a good thing – people want to keep their horses at home AND learn how to give them the best possible care.  At one time you could only get that from putting your horse in a program with a barn manager and a a trainer and grooms who did all that work for you.  Now you CAN learn to do it yourself.  Do you want to commit to having a happy horse?  Think about it.  If your horse is happy you can build on that and achieve just about anything. If your horse is NOT happy you will struggle in ways that are only not acceptable, but were avoidable.  If you want help getting to happy, contact me.


Nyquist Wins The Kentucky Derby! Let’s Talk Thoroughbreds.

So Nyquist strolled down the field today and won the Kentucky Derby. I have to admit that I missed it; I was on a horse. One that is 3/4 TB (see above photograph of him and my lovely daughter)  so not quite exactly the “real deal” but he might as well be. I’ll catch the replay later.

TB’s and OTTB’s have always been my horse of choice. I love the way they think; give them a question and they try to answer. The answers might be eclectic but they sure try. Being patient with their method is key. I love the way they want to work, and work hard. The trickiest thing in getting a TB fit is to NOT overwork them; I have to remind myself of this constantly. Doing too much on a horse who feels good today makes a sore horse tomorrow, which can begin a vicious cycle. It’s hard though when they keep insisting that an extension here would be a really great idea!

I grew up riding them. I learned to train on them. My training philosophies evolved from working with horses who were forward, who were sensitive, who wanted to please and wanted to understand but wouldn’t tolerate being held on to or overly controlled. It taught me how to create a partnership through freedom and showing the horse how joyfully we could create movement together. TB’s like to move. Tap into that and you’re going to have fun.

It has always bothered me to hear the stereotype that TB’s are crazy. Sure, there are outliers in every breed. But I’ve found my TB’s to be the most sensible horses I’ve ever trained and ridden. I sincerely believe that the reason so many TB’s struggle to accept training, to be able to be calm, to be able to focus on work, is because they are being fed a diet that simply doesn’t work for them.

Growing up we fed hay. Lots and lots and lots of hay. We fed oats. Then sweet feed came along, and then pelleted feeds. I wish I had been observing closer but I can say that it seems like the arrival of the crazy TB started around then. Until then, that’s all we rode and some were hotter and some were calmer but for the most part, they did it all – hunters, jumpers, dressage, eventing – and when I lived out west, they barrel raced and even cut cattle and did ranch work.

Today I read constantly about how quirky they are. How hot they are, how untrainable they are, how all the want to do is run. And yet, I don’t have that experience with mine. I sincerely believe that TB’s are being made nutty by being fed incorrectly. It makes me sad because this is an incredible breed with amazing drive and heart and so many of them are like kids on sugar highs – too much energy being generated. The “hard-keeper” concept drives this. Give them more food because they need more calories because they are thin. So the calories go in, the energy goes up and the horse burns even MORE calories, resulting in the “hard-keeper” phenomena. I don’t believe it. No matter what condition a horse is in when it gets here, we feed it for nutrition first. Once you sort out what the deficiencies are (and yes, OTTB’s come from the track very nutrient depleted) most horses calorie requirements – even in average to moderate work – are covered by forage.

Feed companies are in the business of selling feed. If they can convince the consumer that their horse needs 12 lbs of whatever-it-is, they have succeeded in their job of selling feed. Remember this has nothing to do with the well-being of the horse. My opinion, based on a lot of fact, is that TB’s are being made to feel crazy by what they are fed. In general, horses want to be quiet and relaxed in their lives. If your horse is not please consider that perhaps what he is being fed is not in his best interest. Going back to basics and reevaluating what your horse really needs to eat to thrive is the first thing you should do if you don’t have a quiet, willing partner.