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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jabba The Foot

Horses are our greatest teachers. We can read about things in books, we can hear them from other people, but it will be the horse who always tells us the ultimate truth.

Have you been jealous of my gorgeous, immaculate 15 acres of thick, healthy pasture that Gogo has been out on for these past few months? I would have totally agreed with your opinion, until a few weeks ago. At that point, something happened to my pasture that changed everything.

Rain. Rain happened, and a lot of it. When it rained, the grass started to grow. Everything turned BRIGHT green overnight, where it has been just yellowish-greenish before. Dew lingered on the grass every morning, and huge thunderstorms pounded the ground every night for days. The grass flourished, and Gogo started rapidly expanding. Very, very rapidly.

And suddenly, I realized why natural hoofcare advocates are so seriously against turnout on lush, monochrome green, dewy pastures. You can read about it, you can hear it from other people, but until you see it with your own eyes, you don't believe it until the day you see just how much it can affect your horse overnight.

Until this severe green explosion of growth in my pasture, my horse's feet had been looking tougher than ever. They had fully exfoliated twice, and were the consistency of polished marble, gleaming in all their rock crunching glory. They were on dry, abrasive grasses with sandy soil, and everything was all hunky-dory. She walked loads trying to find the best bits of grass in her field, and the movement helped polish those feet to a glow. It didn't rain for nearly two months; we were in a severe drought. The grasses dried and turned yellow, and wildfires ravaged the area. Everything was just so DRY. And the horses benefited from it.

The rain finally started a few weeks ago, and really intensified over the past week and a half. The grass exploded with new growth, and suddenly my pasture became an enormous, sugary, delicious buffet, just waiting for Gogo's consumption. I eyeballed this with skepticism, unsure of what might happen to my easy keeper when released to this potential nightmare. Not surprisingly, she ballooned. A LOT.

She looks like Jabba the Hutt.

What has also happened that I did not anticipate was the complete and utter collapse of the rawhide-tough foot that she had been building up. It is shocking and frightening how quickly a hoof can change to adapt to the environment it is subject to, in this case an increase in wet pastures, sugary forages, and a subsequent severe slow-down of Gogo's movement, simply because she doesn't have to move around very far to get more than enough of what she wants and needs to eat. She was producing epic amounts of hoof beforehand, and suddenly, she isn't wearing them down anymore.

If you look at her hooves from the topside, they look fine. Totally fine! You wouldn't know anything was wrong with them. But flip them over, and they too look a little bit like Jabba the Hutt.

That is an ugly mess, and it all happened in less than two weeks. Almost five years of her being barefoot, and I've never seen her do anything like this before. She's always had gorgeous, robust feet. She has also always been stalled with minimal turnout, until now.

The good thing is that I know what is happening here. There are several different problems, all of which need addressing, but all of which should hopefully be simple to fix.

1) Major grass growth. Gogo shows no sign of discomfort in her wonky feet, so I'm not particularly worried that she's about to go and have wrestling match with laminitis, but she's gained vast amounts of weight in the past couple of weeks and this needs to be curbed immediately. She refuses to eat or drink when she wears her grazing muzzle and does nothing more than just stand by the gate, which is why I had been leaving it off of her when it was drier out, but now she's just going to have to wear it and deal with it. My hope is that she'll just get over it and figure it out, but I'm not so sure that she will.
2) Wet fields. I can help counter this with Keratex, but aside from that, there's not much I can do while she lives where she lives.
3) Grazing in a plush field disengages the caudal hoof. Ever watched your horse grazing when they have exactly the patch of grass they want? They eat and eat, then place one front toe forward for balance, eventually settling back down onto their heel as they rock their weight forward onto that foot to reach the next delicious bite of grass. Now imagine this situation 24/7. I was really watching the way Gogo grazes the other day, and was really surprised to see how little she actually walks while grazing. She doesn't have to, she has an endless sea of food around her in all directions. But this is a problem, and with hooves, if you don't use it you lose it! The integrity of her frog on her RF in particular (clubby foot, pictured) has been completely lost to her endless toodles on increasingly soft pasture. It's not soft, and it's not mushy, but you saw it. It still hard, but it's not right. What can I do about this? We're going to start handwalking on pavement every day. Not only should this help to reengage her caudal hoof, it hopefully will wear down some of that excess hoofwall she's producing and no longer wearing by herself. As an added bonus, it should help to realign some of those healing tendon fibers vertically. Both of our lardy butts could stand for a little exercise too.

The good thing about all this is that she still had a good, strong base to work with, and this hasn't been (and isn't going to be) a longterm problem. This will thankfully be something we can turn around quickly, although in the future I'm going to really have to reassess where I keep her on a permanent basis. I'm thinking there might really be more to Paddock Paradise than I had originally given it credit for.

Beautiful, gorgeous, picturesque green pastures.... you can all just go to hell!


Alanna said...

Welcome to the problems we face in the Pacific Northwest!!! My poor ponies get the soggiest feet during the fall...winter...spring.

Lisa said...

Good post. I agree that it will not be a long term problem. In a couple of months can you please post a pic of her foot from re side to see if there are event lines?

dp said...

Widen the hole in the muzzle by about half an inch all the way around. It will help her get used to it, then you can go to a smaller hole. Worked wonders for Tonka.

Nic Barker said...

Welcome to my world :-) As you say, you don't believe it till you see it with your own eyes on a horse you know well (!).

If the muzzle is too restrictive for movement, try putting a track in place round the edge of your field, if thats practical. It limits grazing and increases movement without the psychological trauma a muzzle can create.

Funder said...

I'm terrified of moving to California because Dixie's feet will do the same thing if I plunk her down in pasture. :( I like my desert horse's rock feet!

If you don't put the grazing muzzle on her, you'll need to put her in a stall or dry lot to keep her from turning into Violet Beauregarde. Either way she'll be pitifully standing by a gate, not eating, giving you cow-eyes. Might as well muzzle her so she can stand picturesquely in a green field and possibly learn to cope!

sweetbay said...

I duuno, just looks like a lot of un-exfoliated sole to me, and a foot that's growing a lot. The biggest problem with wet conditions is the feet softening and flaring. Is she wearing a muzzle? I know you had one on her at one point.

sweetbay said...

PS Love the Jabba the foot!!

Stacey said... sure doesn't help that your area went from one extreme to the other so

I'm jealous, we haven't had rain since last September. Even when we do though...there will be no grass popping up out here in the desert.

Stacey said...

Oops, I meant to finish that sentence. It doesn't help that your area went from one extreme to the other so quickly.

Andrea said...

Stacey, I think that's what Texas plants are designed to do.... get half a drop of water and go YAY EFFICIENCY! and grow like crazy, then last as long as they can before dying up and going dormant again.

Sweetbay, it is a lot of un-exfoliated material, but her frog has lost integrity beyond what is is currently exfoliating. It's normally huge, thick and robust... now it's just as wide as it was before, but it has lost it's robust factor.

Her feet were picture perfect a few weeks ago, so it's not like she's been falling apart for years thankfully... I think it's just a matter of moving and drying out.

achieve1dream said...

This is a very interesting post and also one of the reasons I'm trying to convince my husband not to spray herbicide and spread grass seed on our lease land. There is plenty of grass but there are a ton of weeds too so he has to move around a lot. I realized last year that it's not being turned out 24/7 that has horses foundering, etc., it's 24/7 of very high quality, lush pasture like what Gogo is on. I've learned a lot in the last year and a half that I've had Chrome (more than in all the years I had horses growing up lol). :) I too would like to see updated pictures when things dry out and her feet return to normal. Since I'm getting a lot of rain right now too I'm going to start walking Chrome on pavement again.

Amy said...

Talk about wet, we have been floating away here in Indiana. I wish I could keep thier feet try and lovely all the time but until I have the money to build a state of the art climate controled horsey perfect dome I think we will be dealing with the elements that are. I am sure she will be just fine.

Val said...

Spring rain definitely affects my horse's frogs. They look similar to the picture of Gogo's, but we do not have lush pasture.

Deered said...

Is it possible to cut the paddock into sections, mow one bare and strip graze? We used to do that - had one paddock that was crap, and we ran a mob of sheep over it when it got green, then strip grazed the horses in an ajoining paddock for their "fresh" grass.
It wasn't a 'track' system, but because they had to move fromt eh grass paddock to the 'bare' paddock for grass they had to move around, also the good shelter was in the bare paddock, along with the salt and mineral lick and the good view at the neighbours cows!

jenj said...

Andrea, we just finished putting in a track on our place, and it's really amazing how much they move on even a small track. I have a couple of hay feeders at intervals, and water is as far away from the hay as I can get it, so they have to put in effort to get what they want. I also walk them at least a mile on pavement 3-4 times a week, which helps tremendously (I'll often hand-walk two, or ride one and pony the other). Every little bit helps!

Dom said...

Wet feet and no work probably have more to do with it than grass. My horse has been on LUSH grass barefoot for the majority of his life and his feet have always stayed stellar.