The wind pounded us, assaulted us, and wore our minds out yesterday. It was unrelentless as a cold front pushed up against a warm front and they battled it out. I stood with the horses thinking about a warm, summer night walk with Weather Wiz.
When Weather Wiz arrived here, he of course wore shoes. If you know me, you know I am all about transitioning a thoroughbred to being barefoot, and I couldn’t wait to begin with Wiz.
One of the things I immediately noticed when I met Wiz was that he tripped a lot, because his hooves were landing toe first instead of heel first. He walked as if he wanted to go on pointe like a ballerina. Some people think this is the proper way for a horse to walk, but it is anything but. It causes a lot of destruction to the hoof. It tears the hoof wall away from the underlying structures weakening it, which can lead to issues such as laminitis. What causes a horse to do this? Usually it is because they are heel sore from an issue such as thrush, or worse, they can be navicular, etc. Also, wearing shoes constantly can cause this heel soreness to occur, and couple that with a horse that runs at incredibly fast speeds, and that pain only worsens. Imagine how you would walk if both of your heels were bruised? Probably toe first, and now imagine how much pain you foot and legs would be in from walking toe first all the time. This is what happens to horses.
When I looked at his heel bulbs, I saw that they were severely contracted with his heel bulbs butting up against one another and upwards. He definitely was heel sore. My first priority was to pull Wiz’s shoes.
He was such a good horse about letting me pull his shoes. I am not a big fan of pulling shoes with clips on them. It makes it a bit more challenging, but after pulling out a couple of nails, I was able to easily pull them off. He barely knew me, yet he stood perfectly still. After they were removed, I saw that his toes were bruised from the repeated toe landings. His heels were uneven, so I began to gently file on one of them when he pulled back violently on me terrified by the pain that I unknowingly inflicted upon him.
After I calmed him down and reassured him, I saw how the heel horns were blood red just underneath the surface. They were badly bruised. I could only use the fine side of the rasp gently to get his heels to the right height. I whispered to him, “I bet it hurt to run didn’t it buddy?”
The best thing for rehabilitation of sore heels and to encourage a heel-toe landing is to walk the horse. For the first two weeks he wore Cloud boots. After that he was fine to go barefoot. Each day Wiz and I went for walks four to five times a day all around our property. Not only was it great for his hooves and their healing, but it helped Wiz and I get to know one another.
I know Wiz enjoyed our walks, because he waits at the gate for me when it is time to go out. During the summer, we meandered all around as I learned what made him nervous, what sparked his curiosity, and how I never felt like he wanted to break free from me. I’ve never put a chain across his nose, or any of my horses for that matter, and I can walk him with a light feel on the lead rope. He is a joy to walk with.
We often stood together gazing in the distance at other horses, or he would play with me and the lead rope. Wiz loves to play, and he shows me that for training in the future, to always include some aspect of play into it. He also loves to hug. When he needs contact, he will gently rub his head all over you. He never pushes you, he is always gentle about it, and it is loving.
One thing I noticed the first month he was here was that he didn’t want to canter, didn’t want to trot, and galloping wasn’t even a thought in his mind. He always remained at the walk, because those heels were so sore.
When you first pull shoes off a horse, the hoof expands, because nothing is holding it into some predetermined shape anymore. Thus, I trim every two weeks to make sure that nothing becomes a fulcrum that can cause cracks or any further tearing of the hoof wall from the underlying structures. Each time I worked on him, those heels were red until we hit the month mark when two of the heels on his left front were normal. He didn’t even twitch when I rasped them.
Our last walk of the day during those warm, summer nights was always around 8pm. We would walk up to the top of the pasture, and listen to the water flow along the irrigation ditch before we headed back to his barn. I usually would unclip the lead rope and we would walk together at liberty.
One night I removed the lead rope like usual, but he didn’t follow me. Instead he watched me. I kept looking back to see if he moved. He didn’t. When I got within twenty feet of the gate, he gave me a look, arched his neck, and he opened up. He didn’t trot or canter, but he ran as if he busted out of the gate on some track in his memory. He ran straight for me. His hooves seemed to barely hit the ground, yet they made the sound of thunder. As he dropped lower, the wind tried to keep up with him as he flew through the air. My breath escaped me as I watched the racehorse within him return. He blew past me only to corner on a dime that a horse as a big as he is shouldn’t be able to do. He then trotted to me with his head held high, nostrils flaring, and tail raised. He touched his nose to mine.
“Wow! You are amazing Wiz,” I whispered as I stroked his neck.
I clicked the lead rope back on, and we walked back to the barn together both of us smiling.