Saturday, August 30, 2014

Working Girl

In celebration of workers everywhere...if only we all enjoyed our jobs half as mush as a Border Collie.

Happy Labor Day

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Slow Food

The posts I wrote a couple of years ago about building slow feed hay boxes (click here and here) are the most looked at/searched for posts I've written.  With summer winding down, I've had several questions about slow feeding, hay nets and boxes.  Lisa in particular wanted to know more about how my hay boxes have worked out.

Basically, the boxes, when used with the metal grates, work very well for eliminating waste entirely and slowing down consumption a little bit.  If you are really trying to slow down/limit consumption though, the metal grates don't slow them down enough.  If that is not a concern, then they work great with one exception.  All of the equines did very well with the metal grates with the sole exception of Gabe.  Those of you who remember him, may recall that he was a stinking hog about food (sorry Gabe, no offense,  but if the shoe fits....).  Gabe made his mouth sore because he absolutely would NOT stop trying to bite the grate.  If your horses are not stinking hogs about food then you won't have any trouble with using metal grates.  I haven't seen any indication that the grates cause tooth or gum problems in the less greedy equine population.  If you are dealing with a stinking hog, I suggest using nets instead.

I find that the boxes also work very well combined with any type of hay net.  The nets can be secured in the bottom of the box, which keeps the nets out of the mud/snow and keeps the hooves away from the nets.  A frame with netting stretched inside can also be made to fit the boxes instead of using the metal grates.  I like the boxes because they provide a lot of options.  That flexibility is nice when your animal's hay needs vary throughout the year.  

The things to take into consideration when making choices between boxes, nets or a combination are determining what your main goals are.  If you just want to eliminate waste and make sure the hay ration lasts a little longer, the boxes and grates are a really nice, user friendly, economical and long lasting option.

If you have fatties on a perpetual diet, (like, ahem, mine) I like hay nets with very small holes.  One things you'll find is that, over time, the animals become more and more adept at getting food out of the nets/boxes.  What slowed them down dramatically at first will lose a lot of effectiveness as they gain proficiency in extracting the food.  I have found this to be true with every feeder or net I've tried.  My herd has become so proficient with hay nets that I am always trying to think of new ways to slow them down even more.  It's especially difficult for me because my crazy schedule makes multiple feedings difficult.  I really need to be able to put out many hours worth of food yet still limit intake.  Lately, I have taken to doubling up two different types of hay nets.  I found that doubling two of the same didn't work for more than a day because they figured out how to line up the holes.  Darned donkeys are way too clever for their own good.  

It's hard to tell in this photo, but there is actually a thin, grey net inside of the blue one.

This is the thin net made out of something like hockey netting...

Inside a cheap Chicks net.

This combination will make 6-8 pounds of hay last about three hours.  Pretty good considering that they would slurp that down in twenty minutes if fed loose.  This combination is also easy to put out on a tree, leave on the ground loose or secure inside a hay box.

I have also been using the track system I developed last year.  Their pasture is actually a narrow track that goes around the outside of the field.  Although they look to be out in lush pasture, they aren't.  Their access to grass is severely limited.  Seeing the track get nibbled down to the ground makes my farmer's heart quail a bit, but it has kept the pudge down to acceptable levels while still giving them lots of room to roam.  I estimate the track to be about 3000 feet long and they generally go around 10-12 times per day, maybe more at night.  Emma is still a bit chubby, but for a donkey living in NY, I don't think she is too terribly fat.  I'd like to see her lose a few more pounds, but as long as she does not gain any more, I'll settle for that.

I include Tessa in the "donkey" classification because, so far, she is the one I am having the most trouble keeping weight off of.  I consider her to be very high risk for IR and am feeding her the same way I feed the donkeys.  I'd love to give her more exercise, but real-world, it's not likely to happen.

Pushing their pasture area so hard, I do worry about them eating toxic plants.  While my pastures may look lovely in photos, a close examination will reveal masses of nasty, toxic weeds.  Animals are very smart about such things and they won't generally eat toxic plants unless they feel forced to do so.  I don't want them to ever feel forced.  I also need to be able to leave for work for hours at a time and feel confident that they won't be looking for trouble while I am gone.  For those reasons and the fact that they need forage to stay healthy and avoid ulcers, they always have access to some kind of acceptable food.  The always have wheat straw in a Cinch Chix net.  They get this along with a small amount of hay in a doubled net each day.  I like the Cinch Chix nets and would like to get a couple more in different sizes, but they are expensive.

It has taken me a long time to get the straw worked out, but they are doing well with it now.  They eat about 15 pounds of wheat straw each day now and their weights have all stabilized.  The straw has been tested so I know it has a very low sugar/starch content and the farmer who is growing it does not spray it with any chemicals, which is a real concern with straw.  Any straw left in the net for more than a week gets used for bedding.

I would like to increase their exercise and will try to do that by putting their feed out on the track as far away from the barn as possible.  I've done this a bit and it does work.  However, the bugs have been so bad this year, that I didn't have the heart to keep it up.  Tessa does OK, although she hates bugs, but the biting flies go after the donkeys so bad that they come in with blood literally dripping down their legs and their eyes streaming.  I've tried sprays and wraps, but the only thing that really works is hiding in the barn away from the bugs.  Of course, come winter, it will be howling arctic winds that they'll be hiding from.  I am glad to have the variety of nets, boxes, hay and straw that is, so far, keeping them contentedly "grazing" all day while still managing the weight problem.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My, how he's grown!

I just stumbled on this post of Ramsey in his preferred napping spot that I started this Spring and never finished.  I see him so much, I hadn't really noticed how BIG he's gotten this Summer.

He is still the same sweet, lovable, spoiled baby who only holds still enough for photos when when he's sleeping though. 

He takes a nap in this spot every-single-day.

"Go away Ma.  Have you no respect for the sanctity of a good nap?"

See, he's even starting to use big words and punctuation.  sigh. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

When is a foot problem not a foot problem?

This is something that has been circling around my mind for a  long while.  Having spent the past few years studying hooves and hoof trimming, the biggest revelation has been in just how often hoof problems aren't actually hoof problems.

Most of us horse people, including vets, tend to see the hoof as being almost separate from the rest of the horse.  Even if we know better intellectually, the practice of relying on a farrier to do hoof care perpetuates the perception that the hoof is separate.  The notion is further reinforced by our veterinarians.  Vets don't trim feet and will refer you to a farrier when the foot is involved.  Even when Ramsey had surgery on his foot at Cornell, there was a very distinct difference between the farrier work done on his foot and the medical work.  They were even billed separately.  The advice I was given about his hoof care contradicted the medical instruction.  I've encountered the same conflict with every vet and every farrier I've ever worked with.  

The vets seldom look below the coronet band and the farriers don't see above it.  However, the hoof is a reflection of the overall health of the horse.  If the eye is the window to the soul, the hoof is a window to the body.  Everything that affects the body, eventually shows up in the feet and vice-verse. Every one of the animals whose feet I have worked on in the past few years has really pounded this lesson home for me.

Lakota was a prime example.  While my posts about him focused primarily on his feet (I'm as guilty of separating horse from hoof as anyone else), the longer I worked on him, the stronger my conviction became that his hoof problems were a symptom, not his primary problem.  We did know this and made many changes to his diet and environment.  Trying to find professional help in sorting out his issues was an insurmountable hurdle.

Anyone who followed his progress will have seen the triumphs, setbacks and ultimate failure.  What I may not have made clear enough though was the correlation between improvements in his hooves with improvements in diet and management along with the correlation between his setbacks and the times when he broke out of his strict management protocol.  We were also never able to fully diagnose his exact medical problems.  We know he had severe metabolic issues, but he also showed signs of long term renal problems that his vets were never able to pinpoint.  We won't ever know what the exact problem was, but we know there was a problem.  His feet were a byproduct of his medical issues - a symptom that was his ultimate downfall.  Unfortunately, his feet were only the problems that we could actually see.

I struggled for a long time to figure out how to manage Ramsey’s foot.  It wasn't until I abandoned all of his foot care protocols, stopped focusing on just the foot and looked instead at the entire limb that I finally found some direction and balance.  Both of his front feet turn out, but the deformity on the right is worse than the left.  It may be genetic.  It may be from abnormal hoof growth following his surgery coinciding with rapid bone growth.  It is probably a bit of both.  It doesn't matter now, he is what he is and there is no changing it.  The point is, that the hoof he has and the hoof that works for him is a reflection, a byproduct, of his conformation, body condition and bio-mechanics.  If I don’t take into account his unique limb deviation and way of going, his hoof falls apart.  As long as I trim according to what his body tells me, he stays sound.  If I look only at the hoof, everything falls apart.

I looked at a four year old filly last week who had conformation problems in her hind end that gave her a very long back with a terribly upright stifle that also turned outwards.  The stifle issue had been compounded by an injury to her left hind pastern that occurred when she was a yearling.  She got caught in some wire and damaged her pastern, bowing the tendon in that leg at the same time.

Now, at four years old, she appears to be almost completely sound with only a very, very faint gait abnormality visible when she moves up and down hill and a sort of tiny wobble in that foot just before it lands.  Oddly enough, the first thing you might notice as seeming to be not-quite-right is that her left shoulder seems noticeably larger than her right.  If you look at her hooves, the fronts look good, but the left is worn shorter than the right.  The right hind hoof is short with a marked medial-lateral imbalance.  The left foot is long and hardly worn at all because she unloads that foot every chance she gets.  When she is moving around, it takes a really sharp eye to notice that she is not-quite-right.  She may stay sound enough for a life-long riding career.  Then again....only time will tell.

It was that shoulder that really made me sit up and take notice though because it's part of a puzzle I've been struggling with for several years now.  Hawkeye's left shoulder is markedly larger than his right while his hind hoof shows slight signs of the same sort of distortion the four year old filly shows.

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will remember that Tessa was kicked in her right stifle as a three year old.  Her right shoulder is somewhat larger than her left while her hind foot shows slight medial-lateral distortion.  I first noticed that shoulder unevenness about 18 months ago.  I had a veterinary sports-medicine specialist look at her and he was as puzzled by the shoulder as I was.  He was equally puzzled by Hawkeye, as have been all of the vets, farriers and chiropractors who have seen both horses.

I am NOT criticizing or finding fault with any of these people.  My point is that the relationship between hoof shape and wear, compensatory muscle changes and lameness/conformation faults is not well understood and generally seems to go unrecognized even by experienced professionals.  It wasn't until I saw this rather exaggerated case (after spending two years thinking about it) that the puzzle pieces finally came together for me. The pattern is exactly the same in each case: the enlarged shoulder and hoof distortion are compensating for a nearly invisible stifle problem.  The wear patterns in the feet tell the same story in each horse.  The only differences are in the severity of the changes, from minute in Tessa to fairly clear in the filly.

I could give other examples of hoof changes that occur in conjunction with knee problems.  If I had enough horses with joint problems to study, I truly believe that a specific pattern of hoof wear would show up for every distinct joint problem.

If any of you are still with me through this rather long, rambling post, the main point I am trying to make is this:  If you are struggling with a hoof problem that won't go away, it may not be a hoof problem.  It is certainly true that hoof issues can and will cause joint/muscle problems, but the opposite is true as well.

Long term problems become a sort of chicken-and-egg question...was it the foot problem that caused the joint problem or the other way around?  For horses like Lakota, the answer to that is pretty clear.  For Hawkeye, who is showing age related lameness, not so much.  At some point, when the problems become irreversible, it no longer matters.  For a horse like Tessa, who is sound at the moment, but may have problems later, it could matter, but only if I manage to recognize the subtlest of signs when they first appear and only then if there is something that I can do about them.

The bottom line is, if you are riding a horse and are struggling to identify some subtle not-quite-right lameness, take a step back and look to the feet to see what they are telling you.  Look at the muscles in shoulders, hips, back, neck, everywhere.  If they aren't the same, is it because one is atrophied or is it that one is working harder than the other? Don't assume that an enlarged shoulder means a problem in the front end or a smaller hip means a hock issue.  Look at the whole horse, especially the feet.  The feet never lie.  Interpreting what they have to say may be a challenge, but they don't lie.

If you are struggling with a horse who has constant, unending hoof problems - look at the rest of the horse.  First, get the diet right with high forage, low sugar and well balanced minerals.  If you still have trouble, look for metabolic issues.  If that doesn't work, look for other diseases, tumors, etc.  A healthy horse will grow healthy feet.  An unhealthy horse can't grow healthy feet.  Either way, the feet never lie.

Kris Maxwell

Monday, August 18, 2014

Horse Shopping

No. not for me.  I most definitely don't need another horse, but after much agonizing, Riding Buddy has decided it's time to look for a new trail partner.  Her horse, Hawkeye, has gotten pretty arthritic in the last year or two and after adding up all the years she realized that his age is higher than she thought, more like twenty than 16.  He is having more and more trouble, especially on steep or uneven ground and that's nearly all we ever ride on.  It is especially a problem because he is becoming very trippy, not wanting to bend his knees and they have had a few nasty near-misses where he has almost fallen down with her.  It's the exact same reason that I retired my old mare, Suki, a few years ago.  Her other horse is 26 and has already been retired for some time.  They will both always have a loving home with RB.  Neither will ever end up one of those poor lost souls listed on Craigslist or run through an auction.  You know the ones.....

"Older horse for sale cheap or free, only marginally crippled, but past his due date through no fault of his own.  A good home a must of course even though we're perfectly willing to ditch him after 20 years of good service with any stranger willing to take him off our hands so we don't have to deal with him in his old age."

Anyway, time for some younger blood in the barn.  Despite all the many unwanted horses floating around in the world, it is not at all easy to find a good one.  Horse shopping is tough.  There are usually a lot of good reasons for those horses to be unwanted after all.  Don't get me started down that rant though.

The search has just begun and, so far, this is the first candidate....

A lovely 5 year old Morgan mare bred and raised at a friend's farm just a few miles from here.  She is quite green still, but has 10-12 trail rides under her belt.  She has good, tough feet, which is major given all the foot trouble RB has battled in the past few years.  A smidge back at the knee, but nothing too serious, it's very common for the breed and in the "draftier" breeds in general.  She might have sore knees when she's 20, but who among us doesn't?  Her one real downfall is that she has never been off of her very isolated farm.  She has a decent brain, but very little exposure to the world.  Much training is needed.

Her parents were standing just a few feet away.  Mom is on the right and the handsome, studly hunk on the left is her father. 
I have to admit, I've always had a particularly soft spot for Morgans.  My very bestest horse ever was a half Morgan and so was Suki.  As a teenager, I worked on a Morgan horse farm in Vermont, I had some really great rides on those horses..... 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hold Tight to Small Beauties

I was really saddened this week by the death of Robin Williams.  I don't even watch tv or movies anymore, but he was one of the few actors I really enjoyed.

Depression is such a terrible, invidious thing, so poorly understood.  No one really knows what goes on in the minds and bodies of others.  What I know about it is that it is so often a truly physical thing.  An illness that is as real and tangible as diabetes or cancer, yet we so often dismiss it as imaginary.

It's all in your head.
Snap out of it.
Think positive!  

It is not all in the head, it's a physical thing that can knock you flat faster then the flu.  People can't just snap out of it anymore than they can 'snap out' of having cancer.  Telling someone to just 'think positive!' Is the same as saying, "you're a failure, it's all your fault if you can't make yourself be happy.  It's all your fault if you can't cure your own cancer".

There are no easy answers.


A day later, two little Amish girls were kidnapped right off their own farm.  The girls ran out to help a "customer" who had just pulled up to their roadside stand and they grabbed the girls and took off.  The world is so full of evil.

I just heard though, that they got away, escaped and have been returned home, unharmed.  The world is full of evil, but also happy endings every now and then.

Hold tight to the happy endings and small beauties.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Donkey Days of August

"There's really only one thing to do during the heat of a late summer day..."

"....Relax... your favorite spot, preferably near a handy wall for support...

and have a nice nap."

"Sometimes you just have to ignore the bothersome paparazzi....

and rest your weary head."

"That way, we'll have the energy to demand a long overdue outing and to pick up the slack when Ma goofs up and gets her days all muddled again....Ma was supposed to do this, but you all know how she is...."

Happy Birthday Norma!
(At least you can always count on US to get it right!)