Monday, January 2, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: A Good Experiment

Fuzzy Face

The following hoof photos were taken a few days after Harley's last trim, which was last year.  ;)

Left front: Oops, turned the camera, but look how straight that outside bar has become.

Left hind with some nice tail

Right front: The bars used to have flaky stuff that extended toward the apex of the frog.

Right hind: Almost nothing to take off the hinds this time of year.

To which experiment am I referring?
Could it be the magnificent magnesium?
Or the regular bar trims? 
(I trimmed his front bars a tiny bit since these photos.)
The alfalfa pellets?
The blanket?

Since Harley was sick, he has not taken any of his supplements.  The vet wanted to eliminate any extra variables, including possible kidney taxing, when we did not know what was wrong with him (Just in case you missed it, he had a virus.).  I am also having him allergy tested, so I decided not to give him any supplements until I see his allergy panel.  My vet also recommended that I stop giving him the electrolytes (mineral/sodium chloride supplement and magnesium) until the summer when he is sweating more and loosing salts regularly.  Even though this threw a wrench in my hopes to see how magnesium affected his feet, I have to listen to my vet.  And she also reassured me that we are not in an area known for mineral deficient hay.  When his blood work came back, his mineral levels looked good, although I will say that magnesium was not on the test and we are talking water soluble minerals which need to be replenished daily.  Since he is on a pelleted complete feed, I probably do not need to worry about it.  He does have free choice salt (sodium chloride) in his paddock.

So my horse has been eating his pelleted feed, beet pulp, and alfalfa pellets (along with more than half a 40 lb. bale of hay throughout the day).  Last week, three (count them THREE) people walked by and said,

"I think he looks a little bulkier." and

"Is he gaining?" and

"Looking better, Harley." 

Are they just trying to make me feel better?  His coat is thick so that can be  misleading, but I think that I have to agree.  I *think* that Harley is gaining weight and since the alfalfa is really the only new thing...

Alfalfa is the good experiment, but not just for that reason.

November 25, 2011
January 1, 2012: A little rounder, maybe?

He is standing with a different posture, too.  His front legs are more perpendicular to the ground.  Was he experiencing some discomfort at the back of the foot a month ago?  Maybe it was just that picture.  Harley says, "Don't objectify me!"

I believe that his feet have changed slightly.  I do not know if you can see it in the photos, but I think that the back of his feet are slightly wider and his heels look more substantial.  The central sulcus of his fronts seem to have opened up a bit.  I treat them if the conditions are wet, which they are right now.  And that is partly my point.  The ground is a muddy mess, but I look at Harley's feet and aside from the frog looking a little haggard from the wet, I think that his feet look great.  The bars are standing up much straighter, which has been progressive improvement due to regular trims, so that could be why, BUT could it be the food, too?  Diet is so important to feet.  Trimming will only take you so far, which is why I looked to the magnesium.  I do not know what I was hoping to see happen.  Am I observing the effects of the removal of magnesium, rather than the addition of alfalfa?  Hmmm.  Probably not, but no way to know for sure. 

Here is the other good experiment, although it is only an experiment, because it is new to my horse:

Harley wears his blanket at night, unless it is warm.  We have had several warm nights (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) last month, so sometimes he did not wear his new blue duds.  My barn friends who help care for the horses have reported that Harley "likes his blanket".  They suspect this because he wears it nicely all night, without trying to shift it around, and stands stock still when he is being dressed.  Thankfully, that must also mean that I bought him the right size (75" Weatherbeeta).  This makes me very happy, but not without creeping feelings of guilt. 

"Why didn't I get him one sooner?"

This is, no doubt, also contributing to his ability to maintain weight, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  The winter has only just begun!


  1. Alfalfa is a good way to put weight on a horse -- especially when they've been sick. I've noticed that the equine hospital feeds alfalfa to its patients to help them regain lost weight. ...and over the years I've spent way too much time there. I have a Weathebeeta blanket for Jackson too. They are the best in my book for a QH. Jackson loves his blanket too.

  2. He has definitely put on weight! Tootsies looking good too!

  3. I think he does look a little rounder in his pictures. There are so many variables that go into making it all come together. It's hard to know what works and what doesn't but it seems like your on the right track. With horses it's always a wait and see type of thing so you'll know for sure if your experiment is working in a while. Good luck.

  4. I think he is looking a little rounder, maybe the extra protein and protection at night were all he needed? Either way I'd keep it up because he looks good.

    Great job on the bars! What you're seeing is exactly what you want to see- the bars should grow straight without bending over the sole. Keep an eye on them and trim them down before they start to bend.

  5. Val - don't kick yourself about the blanket! So he likes it now, but two years ago, he might not have liked it. He might have fussed with it. You've shared how improved Harley has become in his time with you so maybe this year is the right time for a blanket. Just be glad he's happy with it and doing well and know that you made a choice for Harley that was in his best interest at this time.

    And interesting analysis about the feed. I've used electrolytes a lot - most endurance riders do. What they don't used gets excreted out in urine, so I am surprised to hear you're still giving electrolytes in winter ... As a scientist I am sure you know this, but electrolytes simply help cellular function. If a horse isn't depleting those vital salts and minerals, cell function should be fine and no additional ones are needed. Was there a reason for giving them 365 days a year? Can you share your electrolyte strategy?

  6. Annette- I am pleasantly surprised, because I really did not know what to expect. I have bought him digestive and weight gain supplements that were supposed to help, but I never really saw any difference. This is the first time that something seems to be working!

    The Weatherbeeta does seem to be a great fit on his QH body!

  7. Thanks, Lisa! Yay!

    Grey Horse Matters- Well said. I am feeling pretty optimistic.

    smaz- Will do. I must remain vigilant, because the improvement is so slow and I do not want them to go backwards.

    Thanks, Karen. You are right.

    This was the first year that I have purchased electrolytes. I was not giving him very much, so I felt that it would encourage him to drink during the colder months. The magnesium (also an electrolyte) was for his feet, since I read that lots of horses are magnesium deficient (or cannot use the magnesium they ingest due to high calcium levels) and this is a vital mineral for healthy feet. I wanted to see if his feet improved (I thought the soles became tougher, but again, very tricky to determine cause and effect). My vet said they were not necessary this time of year, so I stopped giving them. She recommended that I just salt his food on heavy work days during the summer, instead of pay for daily supplementation. I wasn't going to argue with that one. :)

  8. Yes, Ma'am. Have been for about three years.

  9. We are fortunate to have a farrier who is competent with barefoot trims and has been successful with other lamanitic horses. I'm hopeful he will be able to keep Jackson comfortable. He gave me pretty detailed instructions on how to ease him into this.

  10. I am thinking about you and Jackson and wishing there was something that I could do to help.


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