The first inkling of any problem was when we rode a 12-ish mile trail that had quite a few rocky spots. The first mile or so is soft dirt, then it goes into quite a few miles of gravel road. I always try to keep her in the tire tracks, assuming they're smoother than the rest of the road, but of course it's still not perfect. The trail goes into some softer dirt roads, then the trail goes up a canyon, which is rocky. Some of the trail has gravel-like rocks, though some of it is larger smoother rocks, which other than the concussive issues of hard terrain, don't hurt her feet the way gravel-like footing does. Where she first showed signs of ouchiness were in the last few miles where the trail is on the side of a hill (valley, really) made up of scree. Arya kept trying to get off the trail (as she'd do if it were a gravel road with soft dirt on the shoulders), and sliding off the hill a little bit. Of course, when the entire hill is made up of rocks between the size of a matchbox car and a deck of cards or so, getting off the trail doesn't help. She also started mincing her steps a bit and showing that she was ouchy. Once we got off the hill back into softer dirt again, she was fine.
So heading into the Still Memorial ride, I asked folks who've ridden there (it's near the above trail, but not in exactly the same place) and the ride managers how the footing would be. I was assured that while many barefoot horses would be wise to use hoof protection, if I've ridden the above-described trail barefoot, she'd be fine.
Well. It turns out that the trails were MUCH rockier (as in gravel; as in gravel roads with HUGE pieces of gravel scattered about, not smooth dirt roads or even gravel roads with lots of small gravel that provides a pretty even, if abrasive, surface overall) than described. I really should have booted all four feet, but only did the fronts. Then when one boot had to be destroyed to get it off from around her leg, she was down to zero (well, we could've had ONE, but that would be silly). And she did NOT do well on those gravel roads with zero boots on her feet.
Then lately, even around Shar's house, she's proven to have some sensitivity on the gravel. I don't know what's changed--have her feet gotten more sensitive, period? Is it that we're doing more miles than we were earlier on? Is she just trying to get away with stuff? Am I more perceptive? Who knows.
Some people are staunch barefoot believers, and will avoid shoeing their horses with quite a bit of effort on their parts to make boots work. However, Arya's on the upper size range of boots, we had one bad experience with one not just coming off, but coming off so spectacularly that it was unuseable the rest of the day, which is just NOT cool for an endurance ride. To be sure boots would fit properly and be less likely to cause problems, I'd have to have her feet trimmed more often. And you have to fuss around the boots before every ride, possibly during any given ride, etc. etc. etc. Just seemed like so much hassle when you can nail on shoes every 6-8 weeks and not have to think about them again. Okay, they're not without issues--horses can "throw" a metal shoe, too, and it can really damage the hoof if they do, there is question about how much steel shoes (and, honestly, hoof boots, too) change the gait and the biomechanics of how the hoof reacts to hitting the ground, blah blah blah. But I am not against metal shoes in principle, and it seemed like the best choice for Arya for right now (who knows, maybe next summer we'll condition better from winter into spring and her feet will become/remain tougher than they proved to be this summer).
So. That brings us to the point where I decided to give steel shoes a try and called the farrier who's been trimming Arya's feet to make an appointment for actual shoes (and remind him how big her feet are so he could have supplies on hand!). The appointment was for yesterday.
He and I discussed pad and whether to use them. Reasons not to include expense (but I'm willing to pay), easier for him to shoe without them, and they could possibly trap moisture, fungus, etc. between them and her feet. "Risks" to not using them include showing up to our next ride, having it be rocky roads/trails (not just smooth gravel or treading on rocks the size of a house, but chunky rocks spread apart enough to be a problem), and having the 5 inches of exposed hoof between the parts covered by shoe impact a chunky hunk of rock and still make her ouchy. I don't want to pay a bunch of money and invest the emotional energy to enter another "long" (for me) ride, only to have to ride fewer miles than we normally do at home, like happened at Still. So I asked for the pads, and we began the process.
|Before (well, he'd started trimming her left foot, the one on the right in the photo)|
|Shaping the shoe--he just pounds on them to shape them cold, no heat necessary|
|Blurry photo, but this is what her face looked like throughout the nailing, including with the very first nail. Slight worry wrinkles, but mostly just napped through it all.|
|Kind of hard to see, but you can see him rasping the bottom of her hoof|
|Finished with the shoe and pad, still need to finish off the nails (though you could leave them as is and call it goth!)|
|Checking the fit--a couple of the shoes took a few trips to the anvil to get just right. Once he had the shoe shaped, he cut the pad to match the outside tracing of the shoe.|
|Again, kind of hard to see (I had to hold her head, so could only take photos from a pretty bad angle most of the time), but he's nailing on the shoe. You can see the flat, black pad just under the shoe, covering her hoof.|
|Not pictured--he "set" the nails by doing a final pounding from the bottom while holding a metal block against them. Then (pictured here), nipped them off even with the hoof...|
|...rasped them to smooth them over...|
|Hard to see in this photo, but new shoes all around.|
The farrier was actually impressed with her behavior. She leaned on him a few times, but didn't really try to yank her foot back, just more like "Oh, you're gonna hold my leg up for me? Well, I'm just gonna go on ahead and take a little nappy-poo then..." But she didn't even mind the tapping of the nailing at all, which was all new to her.
Tonight, we'll give them the inaugural ride and see how it goes, then this weekend will be a high-mileage ride (though probably decent footing she wouldn't actually need the shoes for). Looking forward to seeing how it goes!