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!
5 hours ago