Boot Maine-ia

Now that EasyCare has launched its new blog platform, it will be much easier for Boot Maine-ia to hit the virtual newsstand!  First, a short introduction.

I've been riding endurance and CTR since 2003 with my then-6yo gelding, Zephyr.  We started off barefoot, then when his hooves wore too quickly I tried original Easyboots.  Then when I got sick of not being able to keep them on his feet, I tried Ground Control plastic horseshoes.  Then when I got sick of the dirt getting wedged in at the heel, I tried metal (steel and aluminum) horseshoes.  

We've come full circle this year.  In May, we completed a 3-day 80-mile CTR during which he pulled off both front shoes within a mile of each other, ~7 miles into the second day, and successfully finished the remaining 23 miles that day barefoot in front.  I had the ride farrier reshoe him that night, but as soon as we got home, I pulled his shoes and ordered an Easyboot Glove / Glue-On Fit Kit.  Three weeks later we finished our first 100-mile endurance ride in Easyboot Glue-Ons.  We weren't fast, but he looked AMAZING at the end... better than after some of our 50s.

2009 Pine Tree 100

I'm trimming his hooves myself these days to ensure the Gloves always fit.  It's been a learning process but I'm improving every time.

He'll be 14 next spring and I'm looking forward to the busiest ride season that my vacation schedule and budget will allow.  For us, that means I hope to compete once a month between May and October... not a demanding schedule compared to some riders!  But we all do what we can, right?

This winter, watch here for feedback on riding in mud and snow with Easyboot Grips, and on ice with studded Gloves.  I will also be testing Comfort Pads and Dome Pads in the Gloves.  Finally, you can expect to see how the Hoof Trimming School of Hard Knocks is going... I'm trying to get rid of the hoof flares that developed this summer while I was on the steepest part of the learning curve.  (It's going slowly, but it's going.)  

Feel free to visit my website www.zegifts.com or my personal blog at www.zegifts.blogspot.com!

See you around!
-Sharon L. in Maine

Tips From an Amateur Trimmer - "Boot Maine-ia"

A few weeks ago I received a set of Grips and a set of studded Gloves to test in snow and ice here in the frozen Northeast.  Since that first successful test, we've had an odd combination of near-50's rainy weather and near-0° windstorms!  Not only that, I sold my saddle and don't have another one yet.  Zephyr is so full of energy right now that I don't dare ride bareback... he bucked me off on our last ride WITH a saddle!

So today, since I have nothing to add regarding hoof boots, I would like to speak to the "I don't have the facilities / time / equipment / skills to trim my own horse's hooves" argument.  Hogwash!  I'm an amateur, for sure, but I'm holding my own with minimal equipment, and without any facilities, time, or formal instruction.  (I do admit it's a lot easier with only one horse!)

For equipment, I just use a $10 rasp, a $25 hoof knife I was given by an old farrier (as his blessing to do my own trims), a round chainsaw file to sharpen the knife, and a basic $25 iron hoof stand... nothing else.  Anytime my back starts to hurt I stand up and stretch, and maybe walk Zephyr around for a moment. 

I live in Maine, as you may have gathered, where there is snow on the ground for half the year.  I do not have a barn to trim hooves in, I'm SUPPOSED to have half of the garage for a grooming / tack / feed room but for the last year it's been out of service because my husband was rewiring / insulating / sheetrocking / painting it in preparation for using his half as a workshop.  Instead I tie to the trailer.

This summer/fall, it was fine, I was trimming about once a week so it only took about 20-30 minutes to do a thorough job.  I could fit it in after work, or even before a weekend ride.  But this time of year is harder.  During the week I get home at 6pm, which right now is about 1.5 hours after dark, so hoof trimming waits until the weekend.  If a particular weekend is too cold, too snowy, too rainy, or too windy, hoof trimming doesn't get done.  That's OK, it can wait, I'm not riding in those conditions anyway!

Keep in mind that last summer I was re-learning to trim, and I accidentally allowed quite a bit of excess length and some hoof wall flares to develop.  My goal is, over time, to shorten Zephyr's hooves overall and to eliminate those flares.  So my methods are specific to that, but you may find some helpful tips too, who knows.  I just do what works for my body and my horse, in my facilities (such as they are), and with my tools.

After cleaning out the hoof with a hoof pick and brush, and using the hoof knife to clean out the seat of corn, I start by putting the hoof on the hoof stand and "trimming from the top", or making a vertical cut in the hoof wall.  Until recently I was going all the way to the white line with this, but now that the flares are under control I'm starting to be less drastic and only go to the water line.  If you're confused what I mean, go here, click on "Do Trim", and scroll down to "Back up the Toe".  I've stolen a picture from that site to show what it looks like from the bottom, when half done.  The dark brown line is the "white line", which in this case has stretched and attracted dirt, and the cream-colored line to the outside of that is the "water line". 



Once I've finished the Trimming from the Top part, I start working from the bottom.  I don't tend to put the hoof between my legs (the classic farrier stance) because it feels awkward... I hold each front hoof with the inside hand, and rasp with the outside hand. 

I rasp the quarters before I do the heels; it makes doing the heels easier because there's less surface area to rasp.  I rasp the heels one side at a time, doing my best to avoid rasping toe callous or sole.  The best way to do this, I've found, is to rasp each heel individually with the rasp pointing from the middle of the heel to the outside of the hoof.

Many times, with front hooves, I will kneel on one knee, and place the hoof upside down on the other knee while I work on the heel.  For hind feet, I recently discovered that it works great to hold the hoof in the inside hand, turn the rasp handle-end away, grap the point/handle in my hand, and use my forearm to press the rasp against the hoof.  This gives great leverage and keeps the rasp level against the hoof.

Of course to check the balance I need to stand up and sight along the sole.  (Did you know the best way to check heel balance is to sight along the sole and compare the distance from the hairline to the heel?  As much as I've read about hoof trimming in the last few years, I had forgotten that tip until a farrier I recently had check my work reminded me of it.)  

Then I finish the hoof with a strong "mustang roll" all the way around to discourage cracking and flares.

I do one hoof at a time until it looks finished, then go back and double check them all in the same order so any differences between the first hoof and the last hoof become more obvious.

I can't wait until I have use of the garage again... for now, all of my tack and supplies are still in the trailer, which is about 200' from the house, parked alongside a very icy paved driveway.  So before I trim Zephyr's hooves, I have to liberally sand the driveway between the paddock gate and the area I'll be working.  Even so, the hoof stand tends to scoot away if Zephyr puts much weight on his leg.

I did finally manage to trim Zephyr's hooves last weekend, at about the 4-week mark, but unfortunately my camera wasn't available.  It was interesting to work with that much growth.  His bars and heels were quite long compared to when I've been trimming every week, which made it very easy to see the medial-lateral imbalance that he tends to develop.  I was super careful to get that as balanced as I could, and was gratified that he was standing more under himself and with his legs more straight than before the trim.

I was thrilled with the lack of hoof flares, both on the sides of all four hooves (the white lines had stretched quite a bit), and on the fronts of his front hooves.  The side flares are just about gone, the white line is tight and dirt free!  The toe flares are almost gone, the white line has always been tight and dirt free but there was a scoop to the toe that is now very minimal and I was able to almost entirely eliminate it by rasping the bottom inch of the outsides of the hoof walls.  I do wish the frogs on his front feet were in better shape, but I doubt he'll ever have the flat/hard frogs of a Western horse.  It's just too wet here.

Again, I am an amateur who only has to learn how to trim one particular horse, and only needs to be effective in trimming style... there are no owners looking at me and thinking "I've never seen a farrier stand that way to trim a horse".  I have horrible conditions to trim in, hardly any time to do it, basic/cheap equipment.  My saving grace is a willingness to admit when I'm in over my head, and to ask any and all farriers for input.  Occasionally I find one that I decide has less business trimming a horse than *I* do, but most of the time I find that the feedback is positive with just a few improvements or pointers.

If I can do it, I bet you can too.

Yours truly,
The Boot Maine-iac

First Test of Studded Hoof Boots

We got our first snow a couple of weeks ago, and another storm a few days later followed by rain, so we've got about 4" of snow laying on the ground... some of which covers ice but you can't tell until you hit it!  I thought yesterday's sunny 34° weather would make a perfect day to test the set of studded Easyboot Gloves that arrived last week.

Outside bottom of studded Glove hoof boot

Inside bottom of studded Glove hoof boot

I had to tie to the telephone pole in my driveway because there was so much ice around my trailer that even I didn't want to go there without my YakTrax on my boots!  I wanted him to have his studded boots on before we went up to the trailer to tack up.

It's been pretty cold lately and our garage / grooming area is still out of service due to a remodel, so I haven't trimmed Zephyr's hooves in about 3 weeks.  For that matter, I haven't really looked very hard at them either so I wasn't sure what I'd find when it came time to see if I could get the boots on.

Luckily, his hooves looked great!  The quarters had been badly stretched at the end of the summer, but all autumn I've been working on bringing them tight again.  They've responded a lot faster than the toe flare has, but even that is looking a lot better.



I was in a hurry to boot up and get on the trail because my husband was waiting until I left to to use the chainsaw on a deadfall tree that had fallen next to the trailer... so I don't have as many pictures as I'd like.  The photo above his Zephyr's right-front hoof.  Here's that same hoof in a size 2 boot without any trimming:

Right Front Hoof - Size 2 Boot

I'm pleased at the amount of spread in the V ... that toe flare is really getting under control!  His hoof wall is in contact with the boot all the way down the front of the boot, unlike it has been recently.

In fact, I'm pleased to say that all four boots went on without any trimming... and that's with the same sizes that I've been using since the end of the summer  (larger than he started with).  The difference is that the toe flares seem to be getting under control!  I will be interested to see whether he needs to move down a size when I next trim him.

All 4 Hooves Booted - On Ice

From the first moment he stepped onto the ice, Zephyr felt very secure in his boots... just like me in my YakTrax!  (This photo was hard to take without a helper.)

Gloves and YakTrax

My husband needed me to leave so he could start cutting up the tree that had fallen next to the trailer.  The sunshine had deserted us and twilight would be on us sooner than we wanted!  

Deadfall Tree

So, as quickly as I could, I tacked up and headed down the driveway.  Zephyr's walk felt bouncy underneath me, and I began to think safety might be a priority today.  I had planned to ride down the side of the road, but the horse-eating black garbage bag over our neighbor's rhodedendron sent him scrambling backwards so I headed up a short trail that leads from our driveway to the neighbor's dead-end road.  

It's about .8 miles long, and goes up a steady but not very steep hill the whole way, so it makes a good place to just do laps in the wintertime.  My husband jokes with me about it... "walk up, walk down, trot up, walk down, canter up, walk down, trot up, walk down, walk up, walk down."  Hey, it's a good workout, we don't have to go far from home, and we can quit anytime we get cold or bored.  It's easier to face a ride at 10°F when you know you're not locked in for hours of agony!

Anyway, when I turned onto the road I was pleased to find that it hadn't been plowed.  It's a much nicer place to ride when it's not plowed!  And for the first time I didn't even have to worry about hidden patches of ice, because Zephyr was wearing his new studded boots.

He felt GREAT and sprung into a trot within the first few yards.  His trot got prancier and prancier until he slipped comfortably into a beautiful left-lead canter.  YEAH, I thought!  He NEVER volunteers a left-lead canter, so this new Barefoot Atlanta saddle I have on loan must be comfortable for him, and the boots must feel good too.  

He cantered on the left lead almost all the way up the next hill, and I could feel him starting to get faster and faster.  I was just leaning back to slow him down, when I felt him take three giant leaps like a bunny rabbit.  On the third leap he threw in a joyous little buck, which because he was on the rare left lead I wasn't ready for, and off I went.

As I somersaulted gracefully through the air, I consciously kept a firm grip with my left hand on the rein and also rolled to the left to avoid being stepped on.  When I looked up, he was standing over me, looking down as if to say "well it's not MY fault you couldn't stay on".

It took a few minutes to stop my legs from shaking, no matter how often I fall off it always makes me shaky.  I took advantage of being on the ground to check the boot gaiters.  They were still about as tight as I could get them while still fastening straight across.  That is to say, they weren't very tight at all and there was some snow packed down inside but I know from experience that as they get broken in I'll be able to fasten them tighter.

Then I led him over to a stump, tightened the girth for good measure, and climbed back on.  We walked up to the top, walked back down, trotted up the hill, walked back down, and then trotted most of the way before cantering to the top.  I made sure to keep him slow and in control this time!

When we returned and I pulled off the boots, I was pleased to find that there were no rubs anywhere, not from snow/ice getting inside the gaiter and not from the boot being too tight in the heel.  Again, I'll be interested to see if he drops a size after his next trim.

All in all, despite the fall, it was a successful first test of our studded boots.  I never had to worry about ice hidden under the snow, and he was perfectly safe on the ice-covered pavement in my driveway. 

From now on, unsafe footing is NOT an excuse for me to stay on the couch instead of riding!

Yours truly,
The Boot Maine-iac

Lost? Nah, we just don't know how far it is!

This ride actually took place on Saturday September 26, and it’s taken me this long to write it up!

My friend and fellow Mounted Search and Rescue member, Melissa, brought her TWH mare Peek-A-Boo over so she could ride with Zephyr and me.  She thought she knew what she was getting into, but maybe she should have talked with my friend Kerry first.

First things first… I booted Zephyr on the front feet, and left him barefoot behind.  He’s still wearing Size 2 Gloves on the front, but they’re starting to fit a lot better in the heel now that I’m getting his hoof flares back under control.  Also, now that they’re a little broken in, I’m able to get the gaiters fastened tightly straight across!  Some of you may remember how hard I’ve struggled with that.

See how nice and tight they are?

I was running late and couldn’t find my windbreaker, but it was so sunny and warm that I figured I’d be ok without it.  We headed out on the one trail that leads straight off my property.  The trail is a little rough but I love the two stream crossings, it’s a great chance to get the horses to drink.  And they always do, even though it’s just a few minutes after leaving home.

After a nice uphill stretch on a paved road, a long camp road, and a nice grassy trail, we came to the start of my Orrington trail loop.  It’s part of the #107 snowmobile trail, maintained by the Bucksport snowmobile club.  Unfortunately, a lot of ATV riders use it, so it’s plenty rocky!  Melissa says rocks sure do grow well around these here parts. 

This picture is of one of the REALLY GOOD sections.

The view is worth it, though!

After a short while, we turned right onto the Orrington Snowmobile Club trails, which I don’t know as well as I know my normal loop.  I wanted to finally make it all the way to the top of King’s Mountain… last fall I made it most of the way before having to turn back because it was getting dark.

The trails were much less rocky and much better maintained, but I had forgotten how steep some of the latter part was.

Right after this shot was taken, I looked down and realized one of the gaiter screws was missing from the side of Zephyr’s left hoof boot.  Whoops!  I checked the other boot, and one of those was loose, so I tightened it with my nail clippers.  I really must put my multi-tool in my everyday saddle packs!! I worried that the boot would come off because of the steep uphill section but it stayed on.

We popped out on top of King’s Mountain and were treated to a lovely view of Bangor/Brewer/Orrington.

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I told Melissa that we had two choices.  First, we could turn around and go back the way we had come, but it was pretty rough and I was already missing one boot screw and was afraid I’d soon be missing more… I just couldn’t tighten them well enough with the end of my nail clippers.  Second, we could continue straight and “connect the dots” between where we were and my (somewhat shorter) existing Orrington loop… that would result in mostly road riding (paved and dirt) and would be easier to go boot-less if I had to.  I confessed that I wasn’t sure exactly how far it was, but insisted that I was sure of the route.  We agreed to continue forward. 

When we came out to the paved road down the other side of King’s Mountain, we got an even nicer view!

Right about this point, I turned to Melissa and said, “Have you ever had a moment where you suddenly thought, I have just made the wrong choice?”  We laughed about it but kept going.  Halfway down the King’s Mountain road I decided to remove the boots, as they were making a weird clunking sound and I was afraid they were affecting his way of going.  Unfortunately my packs were too small to stow the boots, so Melissa was kind enough to make room for them in her pack.

When we got to the bottom of the paved road, it was 3:45pm.  I turned to Melissa and offered one more choice… we could turn right and follow that paved road to my house, or we could turn left and connect the dots to my shorter Orrington loop.  We agreed that the traffic on my road was too fast and that the light would be fading soon enough to make it not safe for riding.  Left we went.

We were only on the busy road for a quarter-mile or so before we turned onto a private dirt road named Swett’s Pond Road.  It crossed under a set of power lines, and although I had planned to continue to Betts Road (the farthest reaches of my previous Orrington loop), I was unable to resist this “shortcut”.  I had looked at my GPS and couldn’t see Betts Road on it, so I didn’t know how far it was, and was starting to get nervous that it was farther away than I’d thought.  The power lines seemed like a safer choice.

We followed it for a while until we crossed a second set of power lines, which seemed to point more directly towards home.  So we went that way until we were stopped by both an un-crossable river and the sound of gunshots!  It would have been ok if it was just one gunshot now and then, but it was obviously someone target-shooting quite nearby.  I don’t know whether Peek/Melissa were reacting to the sound, but I flinched every time and it was making Zephyr nervous.  We might have opted to turn around even without the un-crossable river, and even if we were covered in blaze orange (which we weren’t)!

When we got back to Swett’s Pond Road, we stopped and asked someone in their yard how far it was to Betts Road.  They thought it was about a mile, so off we went. 

The rocks on the dirt road got pretty big, and I stopped to put Zephyr’s boots back on again.  He was then able to trot, and we made up some time.

We rode for a while, then a while longer, then a while after that.  Eventually the road we were on turned to pavement.  We kept riding.  We asked someone how far it was to Betts Road, and they told us “about a mile”.  Oh NO.  We finally did see a light at the end of the tunnel as it became clear that we were riding around the far end of Swett’s Pond.  Surely Betts Road would be on the far side of the pond.

We rode for a while longer before we finally got to turn left onto Betts Road, which in my memory was dirt.

It was paved.  Oh NO.  That’s right, I had forgotten there was a long stretch of pavement before Betts turned to dirt!

We did get to see some more nice scenery though. 

If you can see them, note the towers on the far right on the first shot above… and on the hill in the center of the second shot above. You’ve seen them before… ohhhhh NOOOOO!  Did we really come all that way farther around from there?  It was 5:30pm at this point.  I was starting to get really cold in my T-shirt, and wishing I’d at least opted for my usual long-sleeve polypropylene shirt.  The sun was low in the sky, and would be setting in another 2 hours.  We had been riding since around 1pm.  It was DEFINITELY time to make tracks for home!

Just about that time, I looked down and realized that BOTH hoof boots were now missing their left-side gaiter screw.  Oh darn.  Well, they were staying put for now, so off we went.

We trotted most of the way along Betts Road.  Eventually it DID turn to dirt, and unfortunately I made a couple of wrong turns that cost us probably another 20-30 minutes before we ended up on the right trail home… which AGAIN was longer and rockier than I’d remembered.  I was glad Zephyr still had his boots on.

Finally, we came out on a trail that was familiar from earlier in the day.  It was twilight as we cantered up a long rocky slope.  A short distance up the hill, Zephyr’s hoof boots started making a very odd noise and he started to hop.  When I looked down I realized that the right hoof boot (with the old style gaiter) had come off his hoof, spun around, and was riding on the front of his hoof upside down.  The boot with the new style gaiter, which if you recall had lost one of its screws much earlier in the ride, was still in place.  Interesting test, with interesting results!  I got off and removed both boots, and Melissa stuffed them back in her pack for the rest of the trip home.  Luckily, the rest of the way was going to be along the side of the road, so Zephyr would be fine barefoot.

In fact, he was better than fine.  He boogied down that 2-mile paved road (all downhill) doing a rack or foxtrot the whole time!  He almost never does that for so long at once, and I was thrilled to discover that he had enough energy left.  He really needs to be “up” to do it, and ever since our last endurance ride in July I really haven’t ridden him much at all.  Melissa’s mare was pretty well pooped out, so Zephyr and I would ride ahead, then stop and wait, then ride ahead again.  You should have seen the Gaited Grin on my face!  He was REALLY smooth and pretty fast too!

When we made the turn onto the last paved road before the woods trail to home, it was really getting dark.  I was glad I had the reflective strap around my helmet.  There weren’t many cars, but their headlights were bright enough against the dark to blind us momentarily when they passed.

We knew it would be pitch black in the woods, so as we turned onto the trail for home, Melissa got out her headlamp and put the batteries in it.  (She stores it without batteries to make them last longer.)  I was glad she had it, not to help the horses see the trail, but to alert me to branches in my face!  Zephyr and I were in the lead, and he walked along quickly no matter how twisty/rocky/root-covered the trail got.  He never hesitated, not even for the go-rounds around downed trees.  But there were a lot of low-hanging branches, and the brief flashes of Melissa’s headlamp were enough to keep me ducking at the right times.

We crossed both streams easily, though it turned out that Peek pulled a front shoe as she crossed the second stream right onto my lawn. Bummer!  But at least we were all done then!

When we got home it was 7:30 and full-on dark.  We had ridden for 6.5 hours (30 minutes longer than I took to ride the 2007 Pine Tree 50-mile endurance ride!) and gone a little over 20 miles according to the GPS.  Melissa and I both agreed, though, that despite the cold, the dark, and the beginnings of some real hunger, we had both had a wonderful time and would always remember this unique ride.

PS… since then, Melissa bought a pair of Easyboot Gloves!