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 guys...it'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.|
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. ☺