Monday, March 28, 2016

Conditioning in Dolly Sods, plus a big change

I'm a multiple passion person. While horses certainly hold most of my heart, I cannot be contented with just *one* hobby/sport/pasttime. Rock climbing, skiing, mountain biking, and anything else I can get myself into keep me active outside of my horse obsession. As a result, I've become the Queen of Time Management in order to Do All the Things. Just ask my out-of-state friends who visit and want to have a grand adventure! I usually mange to cram quite a bit into a very short period of time.

Keeping in mind my busy lifestyle, conditioning for endurance is a bit more strategic for me than it may be for others. Aware that my upcoming schedule would result in little time to ride preceding our first planned 55 of the season, I set this past weekend as a bit conditioning weekend for Q and I up in Canaan with Dan.

Over the winter, Dan acquired a new horse - an Arab to be precise. (I'm a horrible influence, what can I say?) I helped get the pair going before Christmas and found Butch to have a TON of potential. In fact, I told Dan if I didn't know damn well that I had zero time (and money) to put into a third horse I would be REALLY jealous and would be trying to steal the horse away! ;-)

Dan has done a WONDERFUL job with Butch through the winter. The gelding has gained a lot of weight and a lot of miles. He clearly loves his new job on trail, is a confident leader, and has a really incredible 14 mph trot that Dan has honed these past few months.

The plan for our weekend was to put in as many miles as possible with a rough hope of doing 10+ on Friday and 30+ on Saturday. Friday's miles would be on Canaan Mountain and Saturday's in Dolly Sods.

We put in a solid 14 miles Friday in 2 hours and 20 minutes that included a flat out gallop. I think it may have been the first time I truly believe I've had Q maxed out! What a thrill! I used to do that kind of thing all the time in high school, but I've gotten a bit more timid in the years since!

With solid miles put down, Dan and I settled in for the evening to shoe Q.

Yes. *gasp* I am shoeing this mare for competition now. We gave it a trial run on her fronts last fall (she would NOT let us do her hinds) for the OD 25 in October with spectacular results. It was a test run to see if I could feasibly shoe her for the 2016 competition season. That test run went beautifully.

I'm not "quitting" barefoot. I'm not "quitting" booting. I'm not shoeing to resolve an issue that boots couldn't perform protection-wise. But I am saying a firm no to being competitive with boots on this horse. Boots have worked well for us! ...except I find ZERO joy in dismounting to deal with boot issues during a race. It is not fun at all to have to constantly double-check that I still have all of my boots whenever I decide to start moving out at any kind of speed. I'm in this thing to have fun, and I find NO FUN in constantly worrying about boots. Additionally, I firmly believe that dismounting and remounting as often as I have to fix boot issues is doing my horse NO GOOD.

The wet eastern conditions coupled with slick clay mud just don't jive well with Renegades when one wants to start doing more than a slow, steady 5-6mph pace. On a dry day or on a ride with no stream crossings, mud puddles, bogs, wetlands, or muddin' holes (holes ATV riders like to create and play in that often span the width of a trail), I'll have no issues whatsoever with boots. But let's face it, this is the east and it's a temperate rainforest. Wetness on the trail is inevitable.

The boots won't [usually] break. They'll fly off completely intact or just spin off and hang on by the gaiter. And when you get off to fix them and look at them they're typically covered in a thin slime layer because that's just what the dominant soil types do when you add water in these parts! Clay and its close cousin silt become quite slimy/greasy when water is added. Plod down a dry trail, get dry particles of clay/silt to dust the boot, then go through a puddle, creek, bog, etc. and you've got a recipe for error when boots are involved.

And yeah, EasyBoots may do better, and I do have a pair that I've had better luck with than Renegades when it comes to the frequency of flying off my horse's feet. But EasyBoots are a bitch to get on and off, and when it comes down to it, they still fly off if I go fast after wet or mucky conditions.

I'm beyond fortunate that Q has AMAZING feet. I only boot her for competition. Our training rides and conditioning is always barefoot (except in the Sods; if we want to travel above walk in the Sods, we boot. Photos below will demonstrate why!)

I'm also beyond fortunate that Q moves THE SAME regardless of being barefoot, booted, or shod.

Plain and simple, the mare has fan-fucking-tastic feet. They just need protection at times to cover the miles we do on the terrain we have!

The switch to shoes wasn't something I did lightly because I take hoof care of my horses so seriously. I have been the only one to trim Q and Griffin since May 2012. I've been complimented on their feet (Q more than Griffin because she's out and about more often) by every local farrier and even multiple ride farriers over the years. Much to my pleasure (I felt like the pretty girl at the dance) some of the endurance riding icons I look up to the most have complimented her feet even! Switching to shoes wasn't something I wanted to do unless my horse(s) could keep the foot that worked so well for them.

I knew Dan was a farrier and I knew he trains and works with my most favorite farrier in the area - K - for years now. He and K have an incredible hand with horses. I've witnessed K take his farrier tools out into a field, call horses over one by one and trim or shoe them right there in their field with no ropes or halters. I've also seen what his ingenuity with custom shoeing can do. Custom one-of-a-kind shoes he has developed to fix structural issues in horses vets recommended to be put down because of their problems have saved them multiple times. He shoes to the individual horse in such a way that the shoe is made to support the limb, not to look "picture perfect" or "pretty". Whatever the horse needs, he crafts. And Dan follows suit with all of this. Both note that a good, balanced trim is key to any horse's performance - and a good, balanced trim is what I always strive for for my horses. (And what any good trimmer should be doing.)

One of the biggest catalysts for jumping back into shoes was that Dan was totally okay shoeing my trim job. He'd touch it up a little as needed so the shoe would go on, but Q got to keep the foot she's used to that works so beautifully for her. YES.

Dan and I have had so many extremely nerdy hoof conversations over the past 8 months. We'd be discussing hoof care in the bump shack over the winter (we ski patrol together) and literally have other patrollers walk out of the building because we were nerding out so bad on horse feet. His philosophies on hoof care align with mine. He just puts a shoe on it to protect over tough terrain instead of opting for a boot. He isn't for or against any one thing as long as the horse is moving well and happily.

Dan studied the movement of each of Q's limbs all last summer and fall before we put fronts on her. He custom made each shoe (then and now). And because of his attention to detail and skill at his craft, she moved out the same in those shoes as she does bare or in boots. Excellent!

She kept those shoes on for 7 weeks (this length mostly due to scheduling conflicts and no great need to remove them for any reason) before we pulled them and the day we pulled them they were as tight as the day they went on. Yes, she has really bomber feet, but the shoeing job was also impeccable.

We tried to get backs on Q before the LD last fall, but she just. wasn't. having. it. We had a number of seasoned horse experts there to soothe her and try to help, but nothing worked. Her PTSD from the cowboy was just too strong. (Remember, he's the kind who ties a hind leg up to make them "tucker out faster" standing around on 3 legs.) I told Dan I'd spend the winter doing what I could to improve her for the spring (handling and stretching her hinds, banging on the hoof with various things).

Keeping in mind her fears, we decided to only do her fronts Friday night after our 14-mile ride and tackle the backs Sunday when she'd be super tired and when we knew we'd have all damn day to do it. Because we wanted to set all parties up for success and do right by the horse.

Her fronts went on with mostly minimal issue. The sound of nails being pounded freaks her out a bit, but she wasn't too horrible all things considered. Treats and massaging behind her ears and on her poll helped her a lot. She wasn't awesome, but she wasn't as bad as she'd been last year either.

"Dan! I want a picture of the hot shoe!" *cue confused smile*
Q had no care in the world about this process until the hammer clanged on nails.
Prepped and ready!

Saturday morning Dan and I met around 9am to suit up the horses and head for the Sods. We had a map in tow this time to help us keep on track after our Christmas day ride went a bit askew due to a missed turn. Nothing like being lost in the Sods during a thunderstorm downpour on Christmas Day!

The ride was BEAUTIFUL. Definitely the best yet! It really makes me wish the old Canaan 50 still took place! I've ridden on well over half of the trails that it consisted of now and's the most beautiful country I've ever ridden. And hands down, horses are the best way to see the Sods.

Endurance friends, if you ever want to come ride this area, just let me know and Dan and I are happy to take you up there. Bring your own horse or ride one of ours, it'll be the most memorable riding (terrain-wise) you ever do.

I didn't get many photos because we were really moving out at the end (to the point where I was both thrilled and terrified), but I did capture several representative photos to share the ride with those not present:

Climbing the Wall of Tears. Yes, this is the actual trail. Also an ephemeral stream.
Careful horses watch their step!
Then into a more forested section. Still rocky!
Later we cross Red Creek's tea-colored water.
Drinking like a good boy.
And at times you go through tunnels of thick red spruce stands
To reemerge on to the plain-like heartland of the Sods.
We had MILES of this. Upland with minimal bog areas and no rocks that we cantered and galloped.
This is where we just galloped. I skillfully took this from behind my back while we went along.
The rocky ridgeline. If you stood up there and looked the direction this photo is you'd be higher than any other
feature looking east for miles and miles.  You could see all the way to Virginia on a clear day like this.
This was the last photo I managed before we REALLY took off over some tricky terrain. I was very impressed with
Q's mountain goat skills over the rocks we encountered.
When we were almost done with loop 1, Butch knocked the shit out of his right hind on a rock. He hopped along on 3 legs for a few moments before Dan pulled him up and dismounted to check him out. No blood or swelling or tenderness. He was using the foot again within a few moments, but it was kind of scary there for a second. While Dan was double-checking everything, we noticed that Butch had lost one of his 12-week old front shoes. Not too surprising, but a bummer and definite nail in the coffin so far as our planned 30+ miles went! (The loop we completed was 16.6 miles and the following loop we'd planned to add an additional 2+ miles because we wanted to check out another trail or two. If things had gone to plan we'd likely have completed somewhere around 35 miles.)

For me though, it was a blessing in disguise that the ride terminated early. Due to the missing shoe, Dan and Butch were forced to walk the 2+ mile downhill on gravel Forest Service road back to the trailer. Which was fine! I didn't want to completely throw my day away though, so I decided to see if Q would go it alone.

Historically, wide open roads like that are her kryptonite. She spooks the worst and the most on these. But apparently our good rides of late aren't really a fluke. She trotted solo down that entire road without a single spook at a steady 7mph pace! I was flabbergasted to say the least! I don't know who this mare is, but I love her and I hope she stays because this is the horse I've always suspected was hiding underneath.

Back at the trailer I quickly untacked her, took her pulse (56) and gave her a big, wet mash. While I waited on Dan and Butch, I prepped a mash for Butch, cracked a beer, ate a sandwich, and started packing some things away.

When Dan arrived, Butch was untacked and given his mash as Dan and I rehashed the ride, the trails, and plans for future Sods conditioning rides. Gawd, what an incredible ride!!! Because we didn't tackle the planned miles, we made a tentative plan to do another Sods ride the following day post-shoeing with one of Dan's other horses.

Somehow she unhooked her lead rope but still continued to chill by the trailer.

Once both horses were done with mashes and drank a half bucket of water a piece, we took them back to the barn and settled them in for the evening before going our separate ways. (I did re-check the horses later that night to top off hay and water and give them another smaller wet mash and found that while Butch was short striding *slightly* on the whacked leg, he had zero heat and zero swelling.)

Sunday morning, I headed out to the barn around 10:30am to check the horses. Butch's leg still looked just fine and they both had hay and some water leftover. I topped them both off, gave them breakfast mashes, and groomed them until Dan showed up about an hour later to tackle Q's hind shoes.

The definition of a concerned, almost pouty face during the prepping phase

We took the whole process really slowly. Dan took the time to trim and prep both feet and shape both shoes before we got to the dreaded nailing that Q seems to hate the most of any part of the process because of the sound of the hammer. Throughout the prepping and shaping, we stayed really chill around Q so she didn't have anything to worry about. As Dan pounded the shoes with the hammer as he shaped them, I fed Q treats.

Finally, it was time to nail them on. By this point, Q was almost putting her foot on the stand for Dan! She was SO relaxed. We both kind of expected her to lose it though once the nailing started. I slowly and steadily fed her treats while Dan put in the first nail. Q hardly flicked an ear at him. Her whole body was relaxed. After the first nail she shifted her weight and removed the foot he was working on to put on the ground in a very polite way. We gave her her time, then proceeded. One more nail and one more polite removal. And then the next go, Dan got 5 nails in before Q decided she'd like to place her foot on the ground! Holy moly!

A MUCH more relaxed horse!

3 of 4 shoes

Right as I snapped this she opened her eyes, she'd been sleeping for the last shoe!

When Dan got to the final hoof to be shod, he got 7 of the 8 nails in without an issue or a break for Q as I slowly fed her "crack" (Omelene 400) from my hand a little at a time really making her work for it. The only reason he didn't get the 8th (studded) nail in was because I was a poor assistant and lost it in my pocket! So Q got a break while he nabbed another. She stood quietly for the final nail without any bribing on my part. Dan and I both praised her highly afterward. WHAT a good girl. (Though Dan insists it's really because I took the time to work with her through the winter so that this could happen. I'm sure there is truth to that but I'd rather ring Q's bell than my own!)

The shoes and Q's feet look amazing and I'm really pleased. So is Dan. We both want her foot to basically shift back a little bit so her heel is more upright and her toe comes back more (slightly steeper angle more than shorter toe), but that will come with time.



Top L and R correspond to front L and R respectively.
Bottom L and R correspond to hind L and R respectively.

What a really incredible training weekend on all fronts. We opted to forgo the extra ride after the shoeing because Q was so exceptionally good. She was amazing the whole weekend.

While I didn't mention it above, I do want to make note that she self loaded herself onto the trailer every single time. When Butch was having a Special Moment not wanting to load, Q walked over, loaded herself in his spot on the trailer, then backed off quietly after a moment as if to say, "See, that's how it's done." Each other time we loaded, if the door was open and we were in the vicinity of it (Butch loaded or just her getting on solo), I could toss the end of the lead rope over her back and she'd walk over and load herself! What a big difference from a few years ago!!

I was a little hesitant before this weekend about how I'd make it through 100 miles with this horse, but she's really given me a lot more faith and trust in her these past few days. I think we'll be just fine. ☺


  1. So awesome! You know my thoughts on bare vs shoeing. Whatever works for the horse and the situation is best. I can't imagine boots flying off all the time gave Q a lot of confidence in her footing situation, either. I bet shoes makes a difference there. Plus, Dan is obviously an artist. That is a beautiful hot shoeing job!

    1. I never thought about the boots and her confidence in footing. You've got a great point!

    2. Okay, rode her last night with all 4 shoes for the first time and I have to say, I think your note about confidence in footing hit the nail on the head. Not that she was ever ouchy in the areas we worked last night (they're largely grassy or cushiony forest floor with very few, if any rocks) but she just seemed so much more confident about the world in general. I think the hamsters in her brain like receiving fewer stimuli from her feet so they can focus on the environment around her or something? Because it was a really dramatic change to ride her last night vs. over the weekend and I really don't think any other factor contributed more to that change than the shoes. Huh. Go figure.

    3. Excellent point about confidence in her footing

  2. So many comments to make ;) 1) Those trails are both breathtakingly beautiful and scary at the same time. Not sure I'd be brave enough to make a lot of speed over those rocks. Good girl Q for handling it so well.

    2)Those shoes look good on her. I'm pro barefoot, but I've come to believe that going the pace we go, over the terrain and for the distance we do, that boots are great if they work for you and shoes are great if the boots don't. Gem is getting hers on today. I look forward to your experiences competing in shoes this season.

    3.) Someday I really hope to trailer Gem up and get to ride with you in the sods. Maybe late summer or early fall. Depends on her ride season.

    1. I hope you really do make it up sometime! It's gorgeous and so fun to ride.

      And yeah, both horses will be without shoes for the majority of their lives, but for what we're doing on the terrain we're doing it on re: endurance, I think shoes are going to be the better bet. I've no plans to leave her shoes on more than a few months a year and I've got no desire or reason to think about shoeing Griffin for a long while to come.

  3. I love reading about the progress you two are making...leaps and bounds now!

    Holy crap that scenery and terrain! Sign me up for riding there some day!

    Thumbs up for the "good trim as the base for anything" philosophy. Everyone needs to do what works best for them and their horses, and I'll be the first to say that I've seen some barefoot "trims" that are not good/healthy, and shoe jobs that are absolutely gorgeous because they start with a well-balanced hoof and trim.

    1. *fingers crossed* it remains leaps and bounds in a good direction or a plateau in a happy place!

      And I think you'd love riding in the Sods!

      Yep. Good trim and what works best in your given situation! As long as all parties are healthy, happy, and enjoying their jobs life is good. =)

  4. Sods looks like such an incredible place to ride! bummer the ride had to be cut short but seems like Q is ready to take on more and more!!

  5. Boots never worked for Ozzy either. His feet were shaped funny and he would.not.canter. in boots. I competed him barefoot everywhere it was allowed (including Maine and the Allegheny Mountains) and did glue-ons for anywhere protection was required. If I had a horse of my own to compete again, I'd definitely shoe before booting. It's less of a PITA for sure! And you know me... I'm about as barefoot as they come!

    1. Dayum! That means a LOT coming from you because I DO know how barefoot you are! Golly gee!

    2. And OMG glue-ons. I know they can be amazing...but I feel liked 8/10 of the reviews I read on people trying to do them themselves result in failure and stress. Thanks, but no thanks to that! Love the concept, hate dealing with the thought of all that work, prep, and minute attention to detail just to have them fly off within the first few miles. I've got way more trust in Dan's shoeing.

  6. Hey Liz would you be my new agent please?

    1. Q's feet are agent enough, Dan. But sure, haha.

  7. I'm a multiple passion person.

    And this is why we are friends.

    So glad the ponies are going well and no judgment on the shoes -- you gotta do what makes sense for you and your horse and situation!

    I love how much _space_ all your WV pictures seem to have. Would love to see your state some time.

    1. :-D Yes. Please come visit. Bring the dog and the boy. It will be fun. Got a room ready for you whenever you want.

  8. I love how you wrote this: so clear and matter-of-fact. I may copy-paste your reasons for shoeing when it comes time for me to do the same, since we're in the same boat re: barefoot + competing in endurance in the East coast + Boot Problems. I also love that photo of Dan with the hot shoe!

    And yeah: you should totally be his agent! ;) Dan is going to be shoeing every endurance horse in the region before he knows it at this rate! Haha

    1. I blame my job for my writing style these days! It's the way I write every day for work.

      I certainly hope he picks up some more clients from all of this! :-D

  9. Good on you for doing the best for your horse, and he sounds like an amazing hard-to-find farrier. Man I love your riding pictures. If I'm ever in your part of the world I'd love to come out with you one day.

  10. I love Dan's expression in the hot shoe photo lol. :D

    I'm also pro barefoot, but I know there are situations where it just doesn't work. The good thing though is that her feet are so nice that she should adjust back to barefoot easily. The damage from the shoe will grow out in no time, no harm done. :)

    I have a question about the heels though because I'm still learning about all of this. Don't shoes cause under run heels? Or is that due to the incorrect trim that most farriers do before putting shoes on? I wasn't aware that heels could be corrected with shoes on. Sorry for all the questions. I love learning, so I can't help myself hehe.

  11. Under run heels can develop shoes or not due to poor shaping, and could be remedied with proper shaping, shoes or not. I too am pro barefoot whenever possible, and have many times talked people out of shoes for horses that didn't need them. That said, the combination of constant wet and rocky terrain, lots of miles, and improved traction have sold me on shoes for our endurance horses. I worked on another pair of endurance horses recently that switched from boots to shoes, and the rider is raving about the increased confidence in both her horses, and is logging her fastest training times ever.

  12. Is Dolly Sods easy to find your way around? I live not too far away and would love somewhere new to go! I'm just not familiar with the trails there at all.

    1. If you're good with a map and a friend to rough, rugged, wild areas, then certainly! I'd highly recommend a guide your first time though, if not, as not all trails are horse friendly terrain-wise. Hoof protection highly recommended.