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So Zorro had a little episode which resulted in him being a bit footy a couple of weeks ago. Of course this happened the week before we were supposed to go camping with our driving group and have two big days of driving in the mountains. I was crushed.

Zorro had been going around, reaching under the hot wire and eating the new green grass that is coming up. He has done this every year since he has lived here without any side effects. But this year everything was just right for him to get sore footed. Of course the grass he was eating is the dreaded Crested Wheat Grass that I have talked about here. This same grass cost me both Chloe and Bonnie. I am not prepared to lose any more ponies to this grass so changes had to happen.

I made a smaller pen for Zorro, had 10 yards of sand brought in and bedded his pen down with 2-3″ of sand. This helped him immediately. Of course it didn’t take all 10 yards to do that so we fenced off another area, scraped the grass up with the Bobcat and then spread the sand around for Sky and Mikey.

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I set up two feed areas that have a t-post driven through a rubber mat. Then I tie their hay bag to the post and they can eat in a sand free area. We didn’t put the sand on every square foot of the area, so I put their hay in two spots that don’t have sand. Then I sweep the mats off every time I feed.

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Sky has been packing on the pounds without the track. No track means little exercise. Clearly she needs to go out and work a bit so that will start this week. She looks like she may foal any day. I won’t be posting pictures of her close up for awhile!

Mikey is actually calmer and happier in the smaller area. Clearly he prefers less area to the openness of the track system. This is hard to juggle. His mental health for his physical health. I would prefer they live on a track so we are going to try something a bit different.

We took all the fences down, except for the pen they are currently in, and will re-design the track to be a little smaller and much more secure. In interior of the track will also be fenced with a field type fence, maybe cattle panels if I have enough of them to do the inside and the outside. Then we will top that with one or two strands of hot wire.

We will clear the inside of the track of as much grass as we can by scraping it with the Bobcat, as well as scraping the track. My Hubby called the home owner and talked to him about this and he is fine with it. Thank goodness! We were going to put the health of my ponies before the ground anyway and haul in material when we leave if necessary, but I am relieved that he doesn’t mind us setting this all up!

That means I can bring in more material for the track as well. Some more sand, some pea gravel… This is going to take some time and some money so I don’t think it will be done this year. We also have to build a new hay shed because I constantly lose too much hay every single year using the tarps. So the shed will come before the track. But at least we have a plan! And the horses are safe in the area they are set up in right now. There isn’t any grass in that pen and is small enough that I can stay on top of it. Plus it’s starting to warm up which will help kill the grass as well. Phew!

Is this my dream set up? Not at all. But this is one of those times when it’s important to stay flexible. This is what’s best for their health right now so this is what I will do.

They are getting a measured amount of low sugar/low starch hay while locked up. 2 flakes in their hay nets in the morning and 1 flake in the evening.

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This is what 1/2 a pound of alfalfa pellets with 2 ounces of Soybean Meal looks like.

They get 1/2 a pound of alfalfa pellets topped with 2 ounces of Soybean Meal twice a day right now. They have access to salt 24/7 and of course fresh water. The boys are looking wonderful on this feed plan. I’ll stick with this for the next year and see how they do. Then I may be able to stop feeding the Soybean meal!

This is where I put their feed together in the garage. I went from 3 different garbage cans full of feed and three drawers of supplements (they didn’t get all those at the same time, it was what I had amassed over the last few years trying to find the perfect feed program!) to this:

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On the left is the Soybean Meal and on the right is the alfalfa pellets. That’s it! Oh I have a jug of water that I use to wet their feed. I would never feed this without adding water…

So things have majorly simplified as far as the ponies go for right now. It’s not ideal but it is what it is!

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The world is full of opinions. The horse world is over flowing with them. And in many cases if you don’t agree with this opinion or that opinion then you are considered stupid.

I get called stupid on a regular basis. Mostly by people who don’t drive at all, drive very rarely or don’t even own horses. It’s amazing to me how everyone and their brother is a professional on Facebook.

I drive about 5 times a week. Our typical drive is 5 miles. Sometimes we go 4 miles and sometimes we go 8. Basically we drive a lot. I am not a professional, anymore, but I am using my equipment quite a bit. I am out exploring and pushing the boundaries…

I have A LOT of opinions about things. Harness. Carts. Boots. Ponies. Driving trails. But I realize that they are just that. Opinions. There are many ways to get to an end result. Though there are some hard and fast facts, they are few and far between. And people who say their way is the only way are fooling themselves and you. (This blog will be VERY unpopular but I am getting so tired of people making others feel wrong because they do things differently.)

Over time and with more practice I often change my opinion about things. I carefully watch my ponies when I’m driving and then make adjustments to make their job easier. I am always questioning things. Trying new things. Being flexible.

I was told that a saddle with a tree in it would be best for the type of driving I do. It would provide stability for my mini and make her job easier. But my mini is very wide. The tree is narrow. It caused pressure points and did not make her job easier because it blocked her shoulder. I spread it as wide as I could and got a wider and longer back pad to help. Then I turned to the treeless saddle (The MaraFUN harness) for my two geldings. I just recently ordered a treeless Comfy Fit saddle as well and can’t wait to give it a try! I think Sky will be happy with it.

I decided to try the SuperFlex collar, which is the same thing as a Euro Style collar. I have heard so much negative about these collars. Actually until I got my own I already decided I did NOT like them. It was going to be too hot. It covered too much on my pony. It was going to make pulling the cart even harder and wasn’t necessary.

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**This style of breast collar is absolutely NOT appropriate for a low line of draft. It is soft and pliable and not designed for logging, harrowing or any vehicle that has a low line of draft. BUT for my Hyperbike and my easy entry cart it is actually quite wonderful. Zorro loves it.

Does this mean you need to rush right out and buy it because it will change your horse’s life forever? NO! It just means that if something isn’t working and you are wondering about it, it’s worth it to try something different. Don’t disregard it just because someone else said it was a bad collar type. I’m so glad I decided to give it a try.

Same with Soybean meal. I have been 100% against anything with soy in it for so so many years that it was very hard for me to wrap my mind around feeding soybean meal. But now that I am and I’m seeing such positive changes in my ponies I am so glad I changed my mind. **Please don’t confuse soybean meal with anything with soybean hulls. These are not the same at all. You can go HERE to read more about the changes I have been making in my ponies diet.

Some people really frown on the Hyperbike and I get comments about that often as well. I’m so happy I don’t listen to them as I love my bike and so do Sky and Zorro. (Mikey isn’t quite sure about it yet! LOL!)

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I have always been a leather snob but I am so glad I saw the benefits of the Comfy Fit and the MaraFUN harnesses. I have zero plans to go back to leather… though I do use leather driving lines. Mine are padded at the hand end and so soft and comfortable. Plus they are beautiful! (I’ll add them to the website soon.)

So basically what I am saying is it’s fine to have opinions. It’s totally fine to share them! It’s fine to do things your way, if your way is working. If things aren’t working then it’s fine to try something different, new or even frowned upon! You may end up being pleasantly surprised.

Every spring I take before photos and then again in mid summer and again in late summer, early fall I take afters of my ponies. This helps me gauge how well my feeding/exercise program is going.

This year we are doing the No Grain Challenge, which for us is more about no treats, no flax seed, no chia, no vitamins/minerals. My ponies are currently not getting grain, as I was using timothy grass pellets as a carrier for their supplements.

After taking the Horsemanship Nutrition Course I found out that both flax and chia seeds are inflammatory to the gut lining. Which would explain why Mikey has such a dull coat and is still ribby and not thriving.

So they are not getting ANY treats other than alfalfa pellets and this week I will add in Soybean Meal to bump up their protein. By bumping up the protein this will help them utilize the fats that are in their forage.

Onto the photos!

First up is Zorro. He has gained a little weight over the last week, so has Sky… I gave them a TON of hay last weekend. They pooped on it, peed on it, laid in it and pigged out royally. Plus I got some new hay and they have gorged themselves a bit on it. I sent the testing off yesterday so we will see what the sugars and starches are. Also they are only on the front part of the track and are being fed right beside the water trough. This is not ideal as they don’t have to move much to go from eating to drinking. I’m hoping to move their hay to the back side of the track later this week!

Zorro is amazingly hairy. I can not wait to see him all shed off! He is actually well muscled and fairly sleek under all the fluff. He has a more sprung rib cage which makes him have a rather round silhouette, but he is in pretty good shape right now!

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Sky will lose some of this weight when I move the hay. LOL! But she is ALWAYS the cutest. And she gives such sweet kisses.

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Mikey is a bit ribby and has a very dry hair coat. However I would prefer all three ponies to come out of winter looking a bit more like this. They did not have any shelter other than wind breaks this year and I think that worked well. Sky wasn’t ribby but she was much thinner even just two weeks ago. I was very happy with how they all came out of winter… until I had to give them extra new hay last weekend. I’m super dreading how fat they will all be when I get home from my trip with Chimacum in May!!

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I also think it’s weird how these two pictures look like two completely different ponies! He is very fancy when facing west and becomes a bit dumpy when facing east. LOL! I don’t know why. He is so narrow and has ZERO belly. If I were to start working him right now he would look like a race horse by summer!!

So that’s what we are starting with. It will be so interesting to see where we end up!

I have been taking this online course¬†about simplifying our horse’s feed program.

WOW.

I have always tried my best to keep it as simple as possible… when I say simple I mean I feed what horses will find in their natural state. Forage 24/7, plain oats (if needed), herbs, a plain vitamin/mineral supplement, a fat supplement, adding in Magnesium if the horse is deficient, grass hay pellets as a carrier when I am not feeding plain oats. For a couple of years I fed Crypto Aero and LOVED it. When Mikey got here I realized that he is sensitive to Rice Bran (it created hot spots in his hair coat) so I had to quit feeding it. I also had to change the vitamin/mineral mix I was feeding. I wrote about that HERE.

It turns out I have been complicating things.

I am really enjoying the course and having my mind blow a little bit more every single time I watch one of the videos. Really I am. Even though a few times I have felt nothing but completely stupid.

(The feed companies are really good at marketing. Let’s just leave it at that!!)

There is a funny little bit going around Facebook right now:55882146_10215011673818479_6300492843119017984_n

Basically do this and then don’t do it. Always do things this way but never do them this way. What we think we know is in fact not what we know.

Sigh.

What I like about Dr. T’s course is he backs up his information with science. AND he backs it up with what the horses have been telling him. This is the way I do things here. Just because science says to do something one way doesn’t mean I will do it that way if my horse says it’s not working. I will always error on the side of my horse. I have had to drastically change how I do things around here over and over again, based on what the horses have told me. Thank goodness I am good with rolling with the punches. Even if I don’t like change.

Here are the basics:

  1. Sugars/starches/carbohydrates create inflammation in the gut. And they kill off the good bacteria.
  2. We all need good bacteria to digest our food. As the good bacteria dies off our digestion process is damaged.
  3. Horses are not people.
  4. Horses have had the last 55 million years to evolve to what we have now.
  5. Protein is a building block that horses need to survive.
  6. If you want to help your horse rebuild good bacteria, heal ulcers, have better behavior, taking things OUT of their diet is the best way to do that. Not adding things.
  7. This one blew my mind: ulcers may not be caused by the stomach acid sloshing around in an empty tummy. Ulcers could be caused by inflammation of the gut when the good bacteria is being killed off and the bad bacteria is taking over due to excessive feeding of sugars/starches/carbohydrates AND antacids!!! Ulcer prone horses ONLY need the gut bacteria balanced to heal the ulcers.
  8. Horses should only eat things that would be found in season in their area. Sugar year round in the form of bagged, grain feeds, only causes big problems for their gut and overall health.

WOW.

He is not saying we can do this in a week or two. This can take years to accomplish. But the things that we add into the diet can actually make this take even longer. Basically we are feeding our horses into ulcers, being overweight, founder, anxiety, behavior problems, etc. And doing nothing never feels right so we do more and more. Add more and more to their feed pan. I am 100% guilty of doing this. Especially with Mikey. His behavior has been so distressing to me that I tried everything that I had read or heard about that can help them feel more calm and settled. Nothing I have fed him has changed his behavior. What I have fed has definitely changed his appearance.

(It comes down to the fact that Mikey’s behavior problems are most likely mental and I have a lot of work to do this summer to set him up with his own area where I can still care for him during the winter, where he will still have access to the water and will not be too cold when we are -40 but where he can not torture the other ponies. Off topic!)

To put it simply. I highly recommend spending $47 to take this course. I felt I got my money’s worth in the first two videos. There is nothing out there that is this affordable that is teaching as much as this course is teaching.

And it will save you money if you can settle in and relax to the idea of less is actually more.

The marketing skills of the feed companies make this a very difficult concept for sure. It has been a struggle for me. Especially when he talks about GMO’s and chemicals. Basically, we can’t do anything about it. Most of us can’t afford to feed 100% organic feed to our horses. So we shouldn’t worry about it. Let’s enjoy being horse owners and change the things that we have control over. Change the things that are known problem causers for the horse. What’s the harm in trying it? None that I can see.

Last week I took my ponies off all the supplements I have been feeding. There weren’t many. Just a basic vitamin/mineral supplement, chia seeds and flax seed fed with timothy grass pellets. I am just giving them the grass pellets right now for 2 weeks. Then I will add in a protein supplement, soy meal, gasp! and see what happens.

The ponies have wintered well. And when I say that I mean they have come out of winter at a very good weight, even Sky! Mikey is a bit thin, but it doesn’t effect his energy. Zorro is driving and getting lots of exercise and looks fantastic! They had hay 24/7 and the supplements I listed above, but very little sugar and starch, and very very little protein. I can see the lack of protein in Mikey. The other two always have a nice filled out top line. With the summer I have planned, I think adding in a protein/fat supplement is a good idea for Zorro. I will take some before photos of the ponies this weekend and then do a follow up in the summer and the fall. Now since I haven’t been feeding sugar/starch, I don’t expect there to be much of a change in them, but it’s definitely possible with the added in protein! I think it will be interesting. And it will definitely save me a ton of money.

I will add that I just bought two tons of hay from a guy an hour away that has an old field that hasn’t been seeded, fertilized or sprayed for weeds for many many years, possibly close to 100 years. The grasses are natural species of grass, they do not irrigate, they wait and cut the hay around the second week of August. There is a legume called Vetch in the field that may bring the proteins up a little bit more than the grass hay I have been feeding without adding alfalfa. I hope it does anyway! I am going to send in a test sample of this hay this week and will share that when it comes in. But I am crossing my fingers that this hay is ideal so I can have a constant hay supplier of hay that is all around good for my ponies and will require me adding little to nothing in the way of supplements.

**EDITED TO ADD: I called my vet to see if the Vetch in the hay is poisonous. It turns out there are 100’s of types of Vetch and while some are poisonous some are not. This field is actually just down the road from her vet clinic and she said since the farmer has been grazing horses on this field and feeding the hay to his horses for over 20 years and they are fine, then the Vetch probably isn’t a problem. When I run across some in the hay I will send it in for testing, but I haven’t found any yet!

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This hay has been sitting in a stack all fall and winter and is clean and green. It does have a bit of dust to it but I’ve found that to be normal for grass hay. Cross your fingers that it comes in below 12% for sugar and starch!

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I get questions all the time about how I care for my ponies when we are dealing with some intense winter weather. I thought a blog post was due!

This winter has been super easy so far. I was even able to keep up with scooping manure up until this last week! Some winters I have to stop in December. I’m especially grateful for this right now as it means far less clean up when we start to thaw…

This last week we’ve been dealing with the “Polar Vortex” (I think it’s so funny that they named it!) which basically means we’ve been well below zero during the day and at night for the last week. It’s not supposed to break until early next week. I’m really looking forward to the warmer temps, these cold temps have really cut into Zorro’s February miles!! So far we have been able to do 3 miles this month. We’ll have to make that up as soon as the weather breaks!

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  • I make sure they have plenty of windbreaks. All of my shelters are currently full of hay so they don’t have a place to go IN, but they can back up to many of the different windbreaks that I have scattered around the track. Most of the breaks are for the north wind, which is the nastiest of our wind here, but they can also hunker down if we are getting south wind.
  • I make sure they have access to hay 24/7 with piles left over between feedings. This will help them warm up from the inside which is the best way for them to weather the storms.

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They are still getting their supplements via breakfast, but I never up their intake of grain/supplements when it’s cold. Doing so does very little to help them stay warm. And the grain products can soak up any water they are drinking which can cause impaction colic. I add water to their hard feed but giving them more of that will do little to help so I just keep those amounts the same.

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  • All three ponies have very thick, dense hair coats. They have some extra padding in the way of fat as well so they have made it through this weather just fine. No shivering at all. I do have a blanket for each one but find they rarely need them. If I haul them in the trailer in the winter I do blanket because my trailer is not enclosed. If I work them hard away from home and have to haul them I double blanket for the trip back. If I work them hard here at home and they get sweaty I do not blanket them, but allow them to roll in the snow and dry on their own – Unless we are having a lot of wind and they get chilled. Then I will blanket over night until it warms back up.
  • I do not like to brush them when it’s this cold. They will naturally fluff up their hair to create an air pocket of warmth between their skin and the air, brushing will flatten the hair and can make them feel chilled.

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  • I make sure they have access to water. For this cold snap I found I couldn’t fill the trough all the way up and had to use two trough heaters. The wind just made it very hard for one heater to keep up. If my trough freezes over? Then I have to haul buckets of warm water many times a day to make sure they are getting enough water. So I do all I can to ensure my trough doesn’t freeze over!

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They are making tracks within the tracks, but the snow is deep enough in some spots to nearly cover the hot wire that runs around the middle of the track! So I have to keep an eye on that. If we get much more snow fall then I’ll have to shovel some away from the fence lines. A snow blower would be awesome right about now!

We are warming up slowly but enough that when the wind blows it is starting to harden the snow drifts. This makes the going much harder out there. Walking through knee deep drifts that are hard is quite a work out. At least Zorro will be in good shape when we hit the road again next week!

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Here is a link to a post I wrote about driving in the winter. I do things a bit differently when I’m driving in the winter as compared to summer. Zorro has a different collar and hames but I’ll share more on that later this week!

I spend a lot of time doing research on supplements. I don’t like to jump around from one thing to another, but I do like to be aware of how my horses are doing and then adjust to what they need. When Mikey came here last summer there were quite a few red flags that went up as I watched him and interacted with him.

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  1. He was extremely anxious and spent most of his time pacing. He would pace when in his own area and pace when out on the track.
  2. He would paw aggressively when it was time for food or when he THOUGHT it was time for food. He pawed for grain, he pawed for hay, he pawed if he thought there were cookies involved.
  3. He had some fat pads over his hips, on his neck and over his shoulders. Then he lost a bunch of weight and got ribby.
  4. He was always spooky. Extremely spooky.
  5. He HATED to be brushed or touched. He is not a pony that likes to be petted or snuggled. But he is totally fine for harnessing. He will meet me at the gate if it’s time to go for a drive.
  6. He hardly ever pooped a regular size amount of poop just just two or three little balls of manure. He also had the runs often. That may seem like TMI but it’s significant.

Interestingly Mikey was great when I had a halter on him or when he was in harness. Not spooky or reactive at all. He was confident and seemed very happy to get out and do things!

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When tied up he was/is a basket case if he can’t see the other horses, but if we are in cart he doesn’t care at all about leaving them when we are at home. If I take him out to other places to drive then he is more herd bound.

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I had my equine body worker come out and work on him. He had lots going on physically and there were audible pops and cracks while she worked on him. He went from feeling anxious about having her touch him to feeling better, so looking forward to having her work on him. He was still doing a few weird things with his body but my body worker said physically he was great!

I started him on Magnesium powder right after I brought him home as well as Crypto Aero mixed with some grass pellets. He was also getting California Trace mineral. After a few weeks I also put him on B1 pellets hoping that would help as well. None of the supplements I was feeding seemed to help him with his anxiety at all.

So I called my vet and ran a few of his behaviors and the state of his manure past her. As I was suspecting she said “ulcers”. Sigh. Such an expensive problem to have! But also very painful and would make many of his behaviors understandable.

So she had me start him on Gastrogard (Omeprazole). He had to have the paste once a day for 4 weeks and then I tapered him off by giving him a dose every other day for 3 weeks. During the tapering off time I also started feeding Uckele’s GUT supplement. After a few days on the Gastrogard his manure became normal and quite a few of his behaviors stopped. I was relieved thinking, “what a simple fix! A little medicine and everything is better!”

Then, I was visiting with a mini horse friend while at my first Combined Driving Event, and we started talking about the dreaded ulcer. Mikey was done with his Gastrogard and seemed like some of his behaviors were coming back. Was this because he had the ulcers so long, ‘learned behavior’? Or were his ulcers coming back? She told me about Purina’s Outlast pellets. This supplement is also a gut support supplement and aside from the wheat middlings, didn’t have anything I wouldn’t want to feed in it! Such a rare thing in supplements!supplements

During all this juggling of meds and supplements I noticed that Mikey’s hair coat was not soft and silky any more. Also he had some hot spots where the skin felt very warm and he was rubbing the hair off. Typically if I start seeing skin allergies the first thing I try is removing Rice Bran. For some reason I have known quite a few horses that were sensitive and even allergic to Rice Bran. So I had to take Mikey off the Crypto Aero and California Trace mineral. Both have Rice Bran in them. Sigh. Back to the drawing board!

As with many things in my life, timing is everything. I had a reader email me asking about a vitamin mineral she wanted to try with her minis, High Point Grass-Mixed Hay daily Vitamin/Mineral. And walla! The perfect supplement for Mikey. And this one even has Probiotics and Prebiotics great for gut health! Thank you to Victoria for that email!!

So over the summer and into the fall I switched Mikey from Crypto and California Trace minerals to plain timothy grass pellets from Standlee, topped with the High Point minerals, GUT from Uckele, the B1 pellet and some Outlast pellets. He didn’t have the bloom I wanted so I also added in some ground flax and chia seeds. For a little while during the switch over it felt like he was getting a supplement BOMB every day! Even Bonnie’s breakfast wasn’t so complicated.

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Now things are settling in and he gets 1/2 a cup of the Outlast pellets, 1/4 cup grass pellets, 1/4 cup alfalfa pellets, 1/2 scoop of the High Point minerals, 1/3 of a scoop ground flax and 1 Tablespoon of the Chia seeds, all soaked in water, once a day.

Sky and Zorro get a variation of this a well, less Outlast and Sky doesn’t get the alfalfa pellets. So far they are all looking great and Mikey has completely quit pawing when ANY food is present. He just doesn’t do it anymore. He still has some anxiety but I think that will continue to get better and better with more time. He is still settling in here and we have quite a bit of ground work, in hand work and driving to do yet before he I would consider him completely settled and confident. But we are on the right path now. And at least I know his behavior is no longer associated to pain in his body!

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It’s been about 6 weeks since I first put the 24/7 Equine Fusion boots on Zorro. He had one week in that time in which he didn’t wear them because one fell off, otherwise they’ve been on 24/7!

The changes I’m seeing are really quite wonderful. He is finally starting to grow some heel! I didn’t do much today aside from rasping his toe area a little bit. He had a lot of old sole that wanted to flake out so I took that. I didn’t trim his frogs and only lightly rasped the seat of the corn to level them, but not to take any height off there. I think things are looking really good!

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Zorro’s Right Front. I love how the bars are straightening! He is developing a nice shape of foot. It’s losing that roundness.
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Zorro’s Left Front. I love the how wide his heel buttress is getting! And this foot is also developing a better shape as well.
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The Left Front. This is the foot that lost the boot. He had that chip in the toe quarter and it’s now gone! I love how the back of his foot is filling in and not pulling down and under his foot anymore.
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The Right Front. You can see that he still has too much toe that is pulling the foot, but because he has been wearing the boot that heel is allowed to actually grow and not wear away. I love how it’s looking!

I can’t get any more use out of the 24/7’s not because they ran out of tread but because the leather uppers won’t hold up to any more gluing.

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So today I put the old Easy Boot Minis on him. I don’t like to use those for 24/7 use because they hold all the moisture and create an environment ripe for thrush, but I want him to keep growing that heel. I padded the boots with felt hoping that helps some with moisture. Then I taped them closed with athletic tape.

I loved using the 24/7’s because they have a drain hole in the bottom and they did not ever trap moisture. His feet look fantastic after wearing them for so long!

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So my experiment totally worked! I promised my Handsome Hubby that I wouldn’t buy any more boots for now, but I will be getting the 24/7’s again later and using them for Zorro. I may try a different glue next time. The glue that you get from Equine Fusion is really interesting, kind of stretchy and foamy, but it doesn’t seem to hold up well. I am interested to see if the Vettec glue will work a bit better and last longer. Especially since we will be driving next summer!

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Zorro after I glued his boots on last time!