Over the past year, I have lived and died by the weather report. I have faithfully watched the weather during news broadcasts at 5:30 am 6:00 pm day after day in order to have the most accurate information possible in which to make my most important decision of the day. One might think that as I often work out of doors, I need to know whether to wear a jacket when heading out to a farm call. One might also think that this decision is something that runs along the lines of should my daughter wear her raincoat when heading to the bus stop. Granted, while these are very important decisions that should never be made frivolously, the decision to which I am referring is of a much more grave nature, one that haunts me day and night (my husband can attest to the fact that I literally wake up in the middle of the night pondering this question) - should I turn my horse out or keep him in the barn?
I worry and fret this decision over and over throughout the day something, which drives my poor long-suffering Stable Boy (whom for the purposes of this story we’ll call Dave - my barn buddies call him Stable Boy, I call him my husband) absolutely to distraction. You see I am a major worrier by nature. I will fret over anything given the opportunity. I sometimes wear a rubber band around my wrist, which I snap from time to time when I feel myself spiraling downward into the worrier’s abyss. This characteristic is something my husband says I share with my recently departed and much missed mother-in-law. It is a characteristic he both hates and understands. What he doesn’t comprehend is the depth to which my concern runs about my horse Ping’s daily comings and goings. You see Ping is the proud bearer of a large portion of artificial hoof. This clump of epoxy and Mylar is what keeps my horse on his feet and moving around at all.
Ping suffered a mild bout of colic in May of last year and abscessed shortly thereafter. Normally, an abscess is no walk in the park, neither is it what one would consider a serious problem given the scale of serious problems which one could find oneself dealing with when living with our equine friends. The abscess created a long linear fault running along the hoof near the heel for about 2 inches just below the coronet band on the outside of his left hind. Now, being the naive soul that I am (call me blessed or just darn lucky but I have never, NEVER had a horse that either colicked or abscessed before, something which my friends find astounding given the fact that I owned my very first pony at the age of ten and am now well past that age by a number of decades) I wasn’t too concerned about this abnormality until several months later when my farrier leaned over the foot and expressed his concern in no uncertain terms. The weakness had grown down and was now dangerously near the nail line. However, he pronounced that the situation would be just fine as long as Ping didn’t injure the hoof or somehow manage to crack that portion of the hoof off.
Now you and I both know that Murphy’s Law is always lurking around a horse barn, waiting to pounce when you least need it. Asking a fit Thoroughbred Eventer to refrain from injuring himself when he is most vulnerable is like trying to stop the earth’s rotation around the sun…it just isn’t happening! That crazy horse (that’s what I call him most days because it just seems to fit and the FCC has rules which preclude my telling you some of his other, more shall we say colorful handles) just had to get all fired up one afternoon about two weeks later when the horse next to him was fed first. He kicked the stall wall, warping the shoe and cracking that hoof right up to the toe. Old Ping can sure pack a wallop when he wants to. It’s the same foot that severely injured the bursa in my knee in December. I know just how that wall felt (again, my friends were astounded as it was the first time I had ever been kicked by a horse in all these years of horse keeping, go figure). Ping has raised my awareness on so many levels about so many equine issues I had just never had to deal with prior to acquiring this talented but shall we say, spirited fellow. I am dubious about this honor. Believe me, this is information I could have lived without indefinitely.
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, my farrier informed me, as he was packing the 1 inch by 3 inch portion of missing hoof with epoxy (which he nonchalantly refers to as hoof in a tube) and Mylar, that I can ride, trail ride, jump and do all other equestrian activities on this artificial hoof (sounds great so far) BUT (here it comes) I cannot, under any circumstances, get the hoof wet or allow Ping to walk through any water while wearing this patch. Ah, there’s the rub. The water gets under the patch and allows bacteria to enter the vulnerable area (one of those words I just love to hear and have heard quite often during my life with this particular horse) allowing infection to set-up. Sounds like a highly desirable scenario to me!
To the untrained eye, this sounds like no big deal – pretty optimistic actually - until you realize that I board in a very nice partial care barn resplendent with all the equine amenities save one - an indoor riding ring.
We have lovely pastures, large airy stalls, beautiful trails both on the property and county bridal trails less than 3 miles away. But, we do not have any nice, always dry facilities in which to exercise this now moisture challenged animal.
“No biggie” I think out loud rubbing my wrist. “I’ll just turn him out with his buddies.”
“Not so fast” shoots back my farrier. “You can’t turn him out in the mud lot!” Why if he gets that foot deep into a big old quagmire out there, it just might suck that puppy right off! Then you’ll have a real mess on your hands!”
He’s absolutely right because the one other not so great thing about my barn is that it does not have any winter turnout accommodations (I live in Ohio where it rains and snows all winter, leaving the ground a mushy mess until the end of April) for the horses other than a very large 15-acre very muddy mud lot. The management closes the 90 acres of pasture in winter to protect them from overgrazing. I understand their position but it makes it difficult for some poor fellow like myself who has this teensy weensy little hoof problem.
And now, after 3 months of living with this situation, I have come up with a game plan that allows for occasional turnout. I have purchased a boot (one of several I have tried) that protects his foot from the wet and mud if I wrap his foot in a plastic grocery bag prior to inserting it into the boot. (BTW, any of you design entrepreneurs out there should look into designing a boot that keeps an injured shod hoof dry and when you design and manufacture it, let me know. I’ll be your first customer and I’ll help you market it!) . I boot him up and turn him out alone in the riding ring but all he does is sniff the other horses over the fence and walk back and forth trying to figure out how to get over that fence and into the mud! Well, at least he’s out and moving.
So, I watch the weather reports, as I wait patiently for spring, and pray for either a very dry or a very cold spell. The dry spell to dry out the mud lot so I can turn the Crazy Horse out with his buddies, and the very cold spell so the mud in the lot will freeze and I can turn Crazy Horse out with his buddies. I even pray for dry snow because cold, dry snow is acceptable patch footing as long as CH isn’t out too long. Besides the photographer in me loves to see the horses running through the snow, nostrils blowing, in the afternoon sun.
Last evening, after riding and after five days of beautiful sunny weather, I felt lighthearted and very excited. The mud lot seemed nearly dry enough to turn him out without a boot (I’ve lost one out there already and would like to hang on to this latest version as long as possible). Full of buoyant anticipation because there was that mossy, sweet smell of spring in the air, I turned on the television – as Stable Boy watched - to catch the weather report and guess what? It’s supposed to RAIN, then SNOW, then RAIN again tomorrow! Snap…now where did I put those rubber bands?
©Nanette Rawlins, 2005
All Rights Reserved