The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet – Lao Tse
This weekend was all about feet. I had the vet out on Saturday, because Cassie suddenly turned extremely lame. She was barely able to hobble and the first thing I thought was “Oh please let it not be her tendon”. I anxiously felt her leg, but the tendon looked normal with no sign of heat or swelling. I checked her for cuts and puncture wounds, but there was nothing. I lifted her foot and found she was very sore between the inside heel and the frog. I couldn’t find anything that looked like a puncture wound, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any and Cassie was due an anti-tetanus shot, so I called the vet.
The vet arrived and diagnosed a suspected abcess. I watched in horror as he took out his knife and with a couple of strokes removed Cassie’s heel. He found a spot where he thought the infection might be and started excavating the site. No pus came up, so the vet told me he couldn’t get at it with the knife and to poultice it. He then asked me if I was riding her. I said I was and he said “You’ve gone barefoot so, how is that going for you”. I told him Cassie’s shoes had come off in September and that she was doing really well. He looked at me and said, “Well, horses were never meant to have shoes. If they were, they would have been born with them”.
My vet is an elderly, country vet. He is over 70 and one of the most respected horse vets around. I have known him for years and he is an excellent vet. He comes across as laconic and he usually doesn’t say much. His visits tend to be short. This time, as we started discussing horses’ feet, it was obvious that this was something he felt deeply about. He became animated and told me that 90% of all lameness in horses is due to a problem in the foot, and that in his experience an overwhelming percentage of that was due to bad or faulty shoeing. He told me some harrowing stories of cases he had seen in his practice. We talked about transitioning and how horses cope with the roads. I showed him the Renegade hoof-boots I got for Minnie. I had to put them on her and he walked around Minnie, asking many questions and then this elderly vet went down on his knees to take photographs of Minnie’s feet in the Renegades. Ah, if only I had thought to bring my own camera!
On Sunday we had a visit from Dermot McCourt and his son John. It’s six months now since the shoes came off, and Maìre and I had asked them to come down, partly to evaluate our trimming, but also because we had many questions. The past six months have been an interesting journey. When we went to do the Barefoot workshop with Dermot and John on Clare Island, we learned a lot about how horses’ feet function, the effect shoes have on a horse and we were introduced to the basic trim. When Dermot and John came to us in September to take our horses’ shoes off and set us on the road to barefoot, we had a lot of questions that pertained to how to maintain our horses’ feet with the basic trim ourselves. Now that we have been trimming for six months, and gained confidence both in trimming and in handling the tools, we had different questions. Questions that are more specific to our own horses. How to trim Minnie’s right hind, which always looks flared, but isn’t, because it has a little dish above the quarter that makes it look flared. How to judge heel height. How much to trim off when the frog is shedding
I was slightly nervous before Dermot and John arrived. Maìre and I have been doing the best we can with our horses, but we are of course rank amateurs and now the professionals were coming to look at our work. But Dermot and John had nothing but good news and kind words. All the horses are transitioning really well, and now have nice hard feet. It was wonderful to watch Dermot and John in action again, and a treat not to bend our backs into it ourselves for a change.
Dermot had a good look at Cassie’s sore foot. The poultice hadn’t drawn anything out and even further investigation with a small probe didn’t bring anything up. It is possible that Cassie just hit her foot hard on something and got badly bruised, and after hearing how hard her soles are it seemed unlike a mere thorn could have pierced her! Meanwhile, her heel was gone, and Dermot decided to build an artificial heel so that Cassie will walk evenly until the horn has grown back. She’s a brave girl when it comes to a lot of noice, because when the angle grinder came out to smooth the surface, she tolerated it and after a while she even picked at some hay.
The heel was built up with a special, fast-setting epoxy gel that can be rasped afterwards. Dermot left the hole open, so that if there is an abcess underneath it can drain. Here is a picture of the finished heel.
Here is a view from the side.
It was an enjoyable and informative afternoon in good company.
I love this moment between Rosie and Cassie! Rosie is receiving her trim at this time, and it just shows how relaxed they were during trimming.
And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair – Kahlil Gibran