Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Sunday, January 31, 2010


I'd planned to ride today - another Barefoot saddle trial ride and maybe play with some exercises in the arena.  However, I noticed some blood oozing down Rhio's right front hoof so instead spent the afternoon doctoring.  Second horse doctoring of 2010 already and January's just barely over!

It's been a very cold week and Rhio was full of pent up energy.  I took him into the arena for some free exercise and to assess whether he was lame from his injury.  He was happy to run & buck & snort with his tail up in the air, but I could see a slight hesitation when that foot landed.  Also, it sure bled a lot when he moved!  Yikes.

Time to make room in the heated tack room once again, and entice Rhio to walk in.  Neither he nor Cricket would step across the threshold while the little rug in front of the door was there, but as soon as I moved the rug he was happy to come in, turn around, and stand looking out the window at the horses he could see.
Rhio's sleepy face

A little happy juice facilitated the first step - soaking his foot in a bucket of warm water + Epsom salts for about 10 minutes.
Rhio's right front foot firmly ensconced in the "foot bath."

After the soak, it was nice & soft as well as clean, so I could poke around at it a little and try to figure out what had happened.  It looks like the coronary band has been elevated off the hoof wall & pushed up, and it is now swollen & oozes blood with movement.  There's no sign of anything stuck in the wound or any infection (yay!) but he doesn't really appreciate my poking & prodding too much.  
I think this photo actually makes it look worse than it is.

The wound is on the outside of his hoof, and I think possibly it occurred when he stepped through crusty/icy snow and the crust pushed his coronary band up?  I am considering the best way for this to heal since it's vitally important for the coronary band & hoof wall to be attached so that new hoof growth is correct.  My next step for now is a bandage, so I assemble my supplies.
Animalintex poultice pad by 3M, brown gauze, vet wrap, duct tape, and an old Old Mac boot.

By this point, Rhio's happy juice has worn off and he is seeking out the feed which is sitting on the cart ready for the evening meal.  To pacify him and keep him still enough that I can bandage his foot, I let him eat Cricket's soaked beet pulp.  Oh, is he a happy horse!  He loves beet pulp!

It's not too pretty, but it's functional!

The first layer of bandage is the 3M Animalintex poultice pad (http://3m.com/Product/information/Animalintex-Poultice.html), which is one of my favorite products.  I cut a strip and place it directly on the wound - it won't stick and it will draw out any potentially nasty goo which may be in there (technical terms here, of course!). I hold this in place with several wraps of brown gauze and then vet wrap.  I mostly cover the vet wrap in duct tape for durability & protection.  Then, I place one of my old Old Mac hoof boots (http://www.easycareinc.com/Our_Boots/old_macs_g2/Old_Macs_G2.aspx) over the whole thing for additional protection & traction.
The Old Macs are plenty big to fit over the bandage.

Unfortunately for Rhio, he's going to have to spend the night in a stall so I can assess the wound again tomorrow after about 16 hours in the bandage.  I have had horses lose the boot & entire bandage while turned out, so I want to make sure it all stays in place until tomorrow.  

He's happiest outside 24/7, but he isn't too upset about being stalled either.  His buddy Tomas comes in to keep him company, and he gets a nice big pile of hay to munch on.  

He did show off his "it's-feeding-time" antics in anticipation of his grain (despite having just consumed a vat of beet pulp!) - even though he only gets meager handful of "lite" pellets.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Everybody's Gotta Eat

I help feed horses at the barn sometimes.  When it's this cold, it's about the only thing that gets me a little horse time.

The old guys expect to be served first, showing proper respect for their status.  Actually, they eat the slowest and have the largest quantity of feed to devour, so it is good to get them started first!  Cricket's and Moe's teeth have lost much of their useful grinding surfaces due to age, so they do not chew & digest hay as efficiently as they did in their younger years.  To help them maintain weight and get enough calories & nutrients, they eat a mash twice a day.  They get beet pulp shreds (by-product of the sugar beet industry and an easily digested fiber source with about 40% more calories than an equivalent amount of hay) soaked to be soft & sloppy, mixed with a senior pelleted feed made specifically for older horses.  Yum!

Cricket's evening meal

The horses all know when feed time is, and are usually hanging around by the gates waiting. 

 Tomas, with Cricket in the background

Cody & Winston

Cricket & Moe come into stalls to eat, which gives them uninterrupted eating and also keeps Killian away, so we don't have a repeat of Cricket's poor bitten nose (silly food-aggressive dog that thinks he's starving and that horse food is a great delicacy.)

Cricket leading himself to the barn

Once the old boys are in, everyone else eats in their pasture.
Tomas, with Kaos in the background 

Rhio relishes his handful of "lite" horse pellets

Cody & Winston share the shelter to eat

There is much checking of everyone else's dish once the food has been inhaled, just to make sure no one missed a pellet here or there.

Rhio checking the status of Cody's dish

And then there's the shenanigans - Winston plays with his dish.  

Free refills, right?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What To Do On A Stormy Winter Day?

The view on the drive to the barn.  
At my house, it's about 35 degrees and raining, making everything into slush. I'm off to the barn on this unlikely afternoon, because I've invited everyone to play indoor soccer - on horseback!

Our Equi-Spirit ball is 40" in diameter!

I just received my new Equi-Spirit horse soccer ball (http://www.naturalhorsetalk.com/horsetoys.html) in the mail last week (and it was an adventure getting it inflated!) and couldn't wait to play with it and see how much fun the horses have with it.  The promotional DVD that came with it included video of horses playing free as well as under saddle with the ball.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cR343qUMmU

At the barn, it is about 33 degrees and has obviously been snowing for some time - there is about 8"
already and it's coming down fast & furious. Rhio is the first one to "meet" the ball - and he is curious

and mildly apprehensive. Soon his buddy Tomas joins him and the fun begins!

Christine, armed with a pocket full of treats, quickly teaches the horses to touch the ball with their noses (touch = treat); Rhio will do just about anything for a treat!

Christine teaches Rhio to touch the ball with his nose for a treat.

Soon we are joined by Karen & Duke, although Duke is extremely reluctant to approach or touch the ball.

Karen trying to get Duke to "be brave" by "chasing" the ball.

Teresa & Sweetie join the fun & Sweetie acts like the ball is hardly worth her notice!

Sweetie is much more interested in what's in Teresa's pocket - sugar cubes!

Rhio has figured out the "touch - treat" game very quickly, so I start trying to teach him to move the ball, either with his nose or his front legs. He doesn't get this quite as quickly, probably because I am not fast enough with the treats. I am thinking about clicker training Rhio, and this would be a perfect situation
to use the clicker.

Boy Rhio sure can lean!  He won't take that step that will move the ball, however.

Finally Christine & I decide to try mounted play with the ball - hoping that the horses will get into the game by chasing the ball.

We'll happily stand next to the ball.

And we'll happily trot by the ball.

But we refuse to participate in actually moving the ball ourselves.
Here, Karen walks the ball along while Christine & Tomas "chase" it.
Eventually, Tommie gets into kicking the ball himself, but only when his "safety net"
(a.k.a. Karen & Teresa) are walking along with him.

Cricket is also quite unsure about the ball and soon decides it's not worth his attention, until it moves!
Then it's very scary and requires running away from.

The ball gets Cricket's undivided attention and makes for a great photo!

We all spent a very enjoyable afternoon playing with the soccer ball, and our horses certainly had plenty of mental stimulation.  But, unfortunately, I fear we are many sessions away from actually playing soccer on horseback!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

First Ride in Borrowed Barefoot

I have such generous friends!  Tracy lent me her Barefoot saddle (I just realized I'm not sure which model it is - I'll have to check next time I ride it) to try on Rhio.  Yesterday I saddled him up with my Skito Dryback pad which fits the Synergist and is a little bigger than I would need for a saddle like this.  But, really, the saddle-pad combination didn't seem too bad.  Rhio didn't mind saddling at all and stood for mounting like a champ.  I sure like how light this saddle is (less than 10 pounds, I think)!  It is a treeless saddle, so has no rigid structure to it at all.  There is nothing to pinch a horse's shoulders or withers, as long as the saddle-pad combination maintain wither & spine clearance (i.e. the weight of the rider doesn't squish the whole mess down onto the horse's back).  We had withers clearance for sure; next time I ride this saddle I'll have someone help me assess spine clearance by looking & feeling while I'm in the saddle.

The Skito pad sticks out several inches behind the cantle of the saddle.

Off we went down the driveway to the road, and about 1/4 mile down the road & back at a trot.  We still have to be very cognizant of our footing, as only the shoulders of the road are soft.  The driving lanes are snow packed so tightly that it has nearly become ice.  Our recent sunny & warm days have made even this area fairly soft, but yesterday wasn't sunny and the damp east wind made it feel quite chilly. Hmmm,  something feels funny - back home to adjust stirrups.  Dismount, fuss with stirrups (rotated the buckles down to near the stirrup instead of up under my thigh, as would be traditional on an English saddle), and off we go again, this time along the trail between pastures on our way to the back hayfield.

There is a crew doing some selective logging & trail clearing out back, so the trail has been plowed down to dirt and we trot merrily along.  Rhio is totally unconcerned about the loud machinery off in the woods (which we can't see) and I have to laugh quietly at one of the crew guys walking along the trail - he never noticed a grey horse & a rambunctious Golden Retriever behind him.  Rhio is moving out really nicely in his super-smooth trot that I just sit - he does this trot in his Synergist, too, but often not until we hit a higher speed.  Every trot step he took in the Barefoot was free & easy, like it is in the bareback pad. I like that!

Wearing Red's Synergist - the Skito pad is a bit big for this saddle too.

Home again for a saddle switch, this time to try Red's Synergist.  It looks & feels like a good fit, so I mount up and head out west on the road this time.  Kilian joyfully accompanied us for the 3rd outing of the day - and Rhio didn't complain at all about leaving for the 3rd time, either.  We went about 1/2 mile before turning around (because I knew that east wind in our face coming home was going to be particularly unpleasant).  Wow, does riding this saddle feel different than the Barefoot!  I can feel the rigidity of the saddle - but also the support it gives me as the rider.  Also, I have English stirrup irons hung on the Barefoot and my usual wide trail stirrups (4" platform for my feet) on Red's saddle - and this makes a big different as well.

I only rode in the Barefoot for about 20 minutes, but I am looking forward to riding in it again.  I was pleased so far with it, but need to have more time & miles in it to know for sure.  It is the first of several borrowed saddles I will get to try over the coming weeks.  I did decide to put Rhio's Synergist up for sale, since Red's saddle is a reasonably good fit and can be used on both horses (and I can only ride 1 at a time, anyway!).  This means I'm officially saddle searching!

Rhio's Synergist, which is now officially for sale!  I find this saddle VERY comfortable for me, but my horse's comfort is my number one priority.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

For Comparison

Here's Rhio when I bought him in 2006 as a 6 year old.  He was green broke and had been standing in a pasture for over a year.  He was slightly underweight and had no muscle development at all.

Look at that skinny neck! And you can see how prominent his withers are.

And here he is with the Equi Measure mold on when I first made it to send off for his saddle fitting.

And here are the recent photos of him - you can see that now he's a bit overweight (hey, it's January!) but also that his back has completely changed shape and he's gained a lot of muscle development.  He's been in regular work and just isn't the same horse anymore.  No wonder he needs a new saddle!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Window of Opportunity

Christine plays ringmaster to Tomas & Rhio.

We had a small window of opportunity today to do something with our horses, so we began with a little free lunging in the indoor. Christine did a masterful job of managing the boys while I tried to get good photos.

The Arab head-flip

Tomas works the trot

Good stretch!

Are we done yet?

Then we hopped on for a quick ride down to the “end of the block” and back – that wind sure was cold when we turned for home!  Tomas danced a little jig for Christine on the way home, but otherwise we had a relaxing little jaunt.

After our ride, I brought out the EquiMeasure (http://www.equimeasure.com) back mold, which I had done of Rhio’s back in March 2006. (See Mom, there really is a reason to keep EVERYTHING! You just might need it for something someday!) This was in preparation for having a custom made Synergist endurance saddle (http://www.synergistsaddles.com) fit for his back.  I noticed recently, after saddling him for the first time in a few months (because I’ve been riding in the bareback pad), that his little misbehaviors during saddling & mounting were gone completely with the bareback pad. But they returned the very first time I put the Synergist saddle on him – hmmmm….

EquiMeasure from 3/06 which very obviously doesn't fit his wither/shoulders at all - it is so narrow now it stands up several inches (it should be a perfect mold of his back).

He never complains under saddle and moves out well.  His back is never obviously sore.  But when saddling, he is evasive & scoots away from me.  And when mounting, he raises a hind leg at me.  I had chaulked it up to “just being Rhio,” but I think I’ve been missing a very important memo he’s been trying to send me for a long time!

 "No, this hay belly has NOTHING to do with why my saddle doesn't fit anymore!"

So now it’s time to consider the options: 1) redo the back mold and have the Synergist refit to his new shape 2) buy a new saddle 3) try Red’s custom fit Synergist to see if it fits Rhio as well (since Rhio's back looks a lot like Red's back now that he's filled out) then sell Rhio’s Synergist and ponder the options a while longer.  Luckily, I have some wonderful friends who are generously lending me various saddles to try as I begin the process of looking for a new saddle and weighing all the options.  Stay tuned for updates on each saddle as I try them!  This is my second "window of opportunity" of the post's title - I need to have this figured out by the time real conditioning starts (usually mid- to late- March).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Snow: Friend or Foe

The view from our turn-around spot today, about 2 1/2 miles from home. This is the earliest I've ever been able to do a "road ride."

Foe: As previously mentioned, snow falling from height is inordinately frightening for Rhio.  I agree that snow & ice cascading from the domed roof of the indoor arena is quite startling.  What I wasn’t prepared for, however, is how scary snow falling from trees can be as well.  Today, a gorgeous 40 degree Sunday afternoon, Rhio and I put about 5 miles under our hooves doing part of our usual training route.  This was possible because the January thaw has achieved some clearing of the gravel roads (yep, that brown stuff you see in the photos is bare ground!  In January!) and the footing is quite decent.  There was enough breeze to cause accumulated snow to randomly fall from the many coniferous trees along our route – making mysterious noises in the woods and also causing Rhio to attempt to veer to the center of the road (furthest away from potential horse-eating monsters which were clearly hiding in the woods, as evidenced by the strange & scary noises).  We ride a very quiet gravel road & most of the locals are used to seeing horse traffic in the area, so I typically allow him to take the middle of the road.  Today, though, the middle of the road was often slightly icy, so we practiced lots of leg yields staying far enough to the side to have good footing.  A few times, however, he couldn’t help himself and he scooted sideways onto the treacherous areas.  Luckily, we only slipped once today and he caught himself easily. 

Look at all that clear road - the sun's rays are doing their job!

 Friend: We put many training miles in along the gravel roads, which are hard as concrete much of the time and very abrasive.  Rhio’s hooves can’t tolerate the miles we do in these conditions without protection and he typically wears steel shoes on all 4 hooves from April through October.  But in the winter he is a barefoot horse, giving his feet a “breather” and my pocket book a rest (he gets new shoes every 5 – 6 wks at about $100 per set).  Also, maintaining steel shoes in MN in the winter is a struggle – they collect ice balls with a vengeance and require special pads or other devices to combat this.  Also, the shoes are very slippery on packed snow & ice, so they often also require traction devices. The melting snow is soft & cushiony along the edges of the road, giving us a nice area to ride without causing excessive wear or tenderness to Rhio’s hooves.

Rhio's hoof print in the soft upper layer of gravel road (we all know the lower layers are still frozen solid & will stay that way for months to come)

Another benefit to the snow on the road is that I can easily see our tracks and analyze his stride.  He looked & felt great today and I could see his hind feet were landing slightly in front of where his front hooves had been (this is a good thing)!

So, in all, I think winter riding & snow are a glass half-full kind of thing.  I am thrilled to have these warm days to get out & groove down the road.  It really lifts our spirits to move out a bit and I appreciate even a short 5 mile jaunt like this so much more than I do in the summer.  On the other hand, riding in the deep snow on woodsy trails, as I did later in the afternoon with Red, is also a real joy and equally as satisfying, albeit in a different way.


Red, Kelso, & I on our way back to the barn. We are riding in tractor ruts from Dave driving out to the woods to fetch wood for their outdoor wood boiler.  Red was leery of all the random pieces of wood & branches scattered about, but it didn't slow him down at all because he knew supper was waiting back at the barn! We did discover that we've had enough warm days to soften the icy crust on the deep snow and we can negotiate the trails now - so time to start using that snow to our advantage for strength & cardio training.