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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hooves of Steel: The Barefoot Journey, Part II (Gogo's Barefoot Beginnings)

When I first found Gogo, it was very much so a lucky accident. I had spent seven months searching tirelessly for a new horse after I had put Metro down, and had sent out inquiries on over 70 horses, viewed almost 30 videos, and had been to four different states to look at horses, all of which did not work out for one reason or another (yes, failed vettings included). While I was in Pennsylvania at an internship between my sophomore and junior years of college, I just so happened to stumble upon an ad for a mare that was only three miles down the road from where I was. Three miles!! I had just flown to freaking Nebraska to look at a horse for Pete's sake!! She definitely looked promising, and I decided to skip over there and take a look. I liked what I saw - lovely mover, scopey from what I could tell, had the right background, was just the right age. She wasn't exactly a pleasure to ride at that point, and I was pretty sure I was only an afterthought to her, but after trying her a second time, I made my decision. The owner suggested after that ride that I take her on a hack, even though she had a) never been out of a ring before, b) never been alone before, c) I was a totally new rider to her, d) she was totally green, e) it was a hack through a giant cornfield, f) there were ATVs roaring around everywhere, and g) it was REALLY REALLY windy that day. True to her form, the little mare hacked out on the buckle, sighing and stretching down, completely unconcerned that she was alone with a total stranger on her back in a place she'd never been with screaming machinery popping out at her on all sides. That last little bit of the ride sold her for me. She was the one. I hadn't planned on a mare, and I had promised myself I'd never own another bay (boring!), but in my heart I knew. We vetted her out through the insufferably cranky but secretly kind Dr. L, the vet who worked with the farm I was interning at, and I was lucky enough to be present for it at the clinic. I got to further witness her excellent brain at work as she walked calmly into the scary garage-doored clinic entrance and stood without tranq as Dr. L palpated her and did a repro exam (wanted to check for granulosa tumors, a not too uncommon problem that shows up around age 5 or so). We did several hours worth of vetting (and spent almost $1500!!!) but it was worth it. We took radiographs of her front feet and hocks, and the single thing Dr. L pointed out to me as a potential concern was her front feet. "See this?" he said to me, pointing at the digital picture of her left front. "Look at the angle of her coffin bone. It doesn't match her hoof wall. This foot is going to need real support. She might not last because of this, she could go lame at any time. She'll need special shoeing all her life." The little mare was shod in front with pads, and while the farrier that had done her did do a very good job, I could still see something was odd about the foot. Why did the coffin bone angle not match the exterior of the foot? Why did she have pads? The owner told me that her feet had gotten 'out of balance,' and had needed to be worked on by a special guru farrier, but I was never given any details beyond that. After what I had learned about natural hoofcare, and seeing that everything else was sparkling clean on exam, working with the awkward foot was a risk I was willing to take, and a few days later, we purchased her. To my slight dismay, when I arrived at the farm to hand over the check, I saw her shoes had been put back on, but in the few days she hadn't had them on, both front feet had cracked all the way up the toe to the coronet band. "She's always had that," I was told. It was VERY well hidden under the the previous shoeing job. Hmm... this can't be good, I thought. A questionable left front AND two toe cracks to the hairline? Great. Can this mare really go barefoot? Everything I had read said yes, and that these problems could heal themselves, but I was still unsure.

(Left: First day in MI. Below: Unloading off the trailer from PA.) She was by no means a joy at first. She was difficult, headstrong, opinionated, and the complete alpha. But it was clear she'd be an event horse through and through. Within two weeks of her arrival at my home barn in Michigan, I had her hopping up and down off the banks in the jump field like she'd
been doing it all her life. Of course, in doing so, she pulled a shoe coming down off the bank. Hm! Well, I was heading off to school anyway, so we'd see what happened when I got there. I had been in contact with Sherry the Amazing, my soon-to-be barefoot trimmer, for quite some time at that point, asking her a thousand obnoxious questions and telling her that I was interested (although still skeptical) about giving this barefoot hoodoo a try. I contacted her again after Gogo threw the first shoe, letting her know I'd need her a bit sooner! Gogo being who she is, less than a week after she tossed the first shoe, and probably only her second day in the turnouts at college once we returned for the fall semester, she tossed the other one, this time leaving it torqued with pad still intact somewhere on the other side of the paddock.(For the record, I still have these two shoes. One is decorated and hanging in the office at my last job, which I still consider a part of home. The other is in my room, too twisted to do anything with, but still a good desk ornament!)

Sherry came out to meet the both of us for the first time that week, and trimmed Gogo for the first time. I was exceptionally lucky in that she was only slightly tender over gravel for about two days. After that, she marched over any footing I took her over, and I was thrilled. Had it been a harder transition, I might not even be writing all this out. I was so skeptical at that point that I might have gone back to shoes. I was not sold enough on the majik to blindly believe anything. (I have to say, though, over the past three years I've seen some amazing hoof transformations with my own eyes, and I'm now a total believer.) Thankfully, and luckily for everyone involved, the transition was easy and fun. Gogo was almost well-behaved for those first few vital trims, only pulling back and breaking her halter into a thousand pieces once (and then leaving), and throwing Sherry's hoofstand all over the place every five minutes. I spent that first half-year of ownership with Gogo just starting her over and taking my time getting her flatwork and over fences work solid. She went from only having really trotted obstacles to jumping small courses, complete with skinnies, rollbacks, combinations, and gymnastics. She lost her pudginess, and started to gain some muscle. All was going smoothly, Gogo's new barefooted-ness included. She was sound, surefooted, and happy to crunch over gravel. The 'risk foot', you ask? Turns out it was a disguised club foot. As soon as the shoe came off, the foot clubbed right up, right to the angle it wanted to be at. On radiographs now, the hoof wall and coffin bone match each other again. All along, the foot had been forced into a more 'normal' look, when in reality it needed to be a little different in order to be comfortable for her. She has the typical warmblood high-low syndrom, standing perpetually with the club foot back and the other forward. It is a constant uphill battle to keep the heels down on the clubbier foot, and the toe from running forward on the other foot, and in those early days, it wasn't easy. The toe cracks gradually started to come down a little, but never really went away. I wondered if I'd have to fight them forever, or if they'd eventually grow out.

(Gogo's newly deshod feets during a mock foxhunt at college. You can't see it in this picture, but fellow blogger Patricia is riding with me. She also just recently decided to go barefoot with her ex-racehorse Shorty!)

Gogo even went to her first little event, a green beans division at South Farm where the dressage test was walk-trot, the stadium fences were tiny crossrails, and the XC was 6"-12" high, all tiny sticks on the ground. We trotted the entire course, and actually had to walk most of the second half of it because we were too fast! She finished on her dressage score of 39.0 to earn her first ribbon, a 3rd place. Her beautiful bare feet performed fabulously, and I was delighted with how she did. Well, mostly:

(Gogo NOT behaving in the warmup.)

(Right: Gogo learns some dressagin' in the fall of 2006. Below: Gogo learns her changes.) And then came New Zealand. I had been planning my amazing endeavor with Nicole for nearly a year, long before I ever got Gogo, and suddenly found that the time had come to leave my mare in training and head halfway across the world for a five-month stint. I was a complete mess, half excited nerves and half severe nausea, completely worried about my horse and not wanting to leave her for such a long time. The trainer I had picked for her was one I liked and thought would be a good match, a woman who specialized in OTTBs and hotter beasts. She was quiet and correct with her animals. Perfect, I thought. Though I was nervous, I shipped her over a few days before my depature and said a tearful goodbye, kissing her sweet nosey and bidding her a fond five-month farewell.

This is what I returned to....

A skinny, dirty, frightened, claustrophobic, damaged, rearing mess.

To be continued!!

1 comment:

manymisadventures said...

Ugh. It's so horrible to look at those last photos knowing how good she usually looks :( Poor thing. Thank goodness you got her out of there!