Keeping It Real

Kevin asked me if I'd write something for the EasyCare blob and I said I only would if I could talk about boots, warts n' all.

My take is that people need to be secure in the knowledge that when things aren't going smoothly "as seen on TV", they aren't alone. There is often trial and error involved with booting and no, you aren't a freak, you just need to understand that you live in the real world of badly behaved, muddy horses, ones that deliberately stand on your foot when you're trying to boot the front end, and poop on your back when you're trying to boot the rears.

It should also be pointed out that it doesn't matter what you think is going to happen - boot fit-wise - or what your friends tell you will happen, it doesn't work the same way for every horse.

Déjà Vu - Toe Length and Boot Loss

When I first transitioned Roo to barefoot-n-boots in 2009, the biggest hurdle to overcome was persuading his back feet to stay in their Easyboot Gloves when going up steep hills - particularly after going through water (which seems to be practically every climb we do).

Here's what I wrote at the time:

"I couldn't get Gloves to stay on Roo's back feet. Garrett told me I needed a smaller size but I couldn't see how to smush him into the next size down...I sat down and made a paper template of the inside of the Easyboot Glove. Then I held it up against the underside of Roo's rear foot to ascertain exactly how much toe I needed to remove to get him in the next size down. My impression had been that I was going to have to compromise hoof integrity to make it work (which of course I wasn't willing to do), but when it came down to it Roo just needed a bunch of toe removed - toe that I later decided probably shouldn't have been there in the first place..."

In the interim years since writing the above, Roo got some time off while I rode some of my other horses but this year I decided he'd been mothballed long enough and it was time to get him up and running again. To start with, we just conditioned barefoot, since we weren't going far or fast enough to warrant using boots. As he got fitter and we started to increase the mileage (and the weather turned dry and the rocks came out to play) it was time to get him in boots again. And we were right back to 2009 - once again I couldn't get those back boots to stay on and his right rear would pop off every time we went up a hill, with the left rear also making the occasional escapade.

Little Bald Mountain Loop above Robinson Flat.

Remembering my lessons-learned and following three frustrating rides in a row where I lost four back boots, I sat down to analyze what was going on. My problem was two-fold:

  1. The reason the right rear kept coming off was the same reason his back boots always came off - he needed less toe and then to be fitted into a smaller boot. I rasped his toe and off we went onto the trail again. To my dismay, he still twisted out of the smaller 00.5 boot so I went and fetched a power strap.

    Often times I'll hear people say "I can't get my horse into a smaller size boot", and if I hadn't already got that 00.5 Glove on Roo's back foot before adding the power strap, I'd have said exactly the same thing. It was a relatively new boot and a sparkly new stiff power strap and there was no way that thing was going on. My rubber mallet was put to good use, as were a few choice magic words. Finally I resorted to trotting him up and down in-hand a few times - and finally it popped on properly. Voila - the boot stayed on.

Here's Roo's right rear about two weeks after I dubbed his toe. Time for a touch up on the rest of his foot.

  1. The problem with the left rear boot was even easier to resolve. His left rear is a larger foot, width-wise, so I wasn't going to get him in an 00.5 (I tried, believe me - it wasn't happening). Inspecting and prodding the size 0 Glove I'd been using, a light bulb went on - I realized that the boot I was using was from "Way back when..." - it was an old style boot with the old, thinner toe. Back in 2009 it was realized that the toes on the Gloves needed to be thicker and the design was modified to a more reinforced toe area. The old thinner toed boot I was using allowed for more stretch and therefore the foot was able to twist within the boot. I pulled out a slightly newer, stiffer boot, attached a power strap, and voila, this boot also stayed on. 

And so we put these newly-fitted, newly-accessorized boots to the test, and Roo got to do the section of trail between Robinson Flat and Foresthill at the weekend - 32 miles of canyons. If a boot is going to come off, you can guarantee it'll come off somewhere on this trail.

Roo waiting for Fergus and Patrick to catch up on the trail from Last Chance to Swinging Bridge - 
1700 ft/520 m down and so rough in places that it's better to walk on foot.

Remember the part about how all our best climbs seem to be proceeded by water?
Here's Roo and Fergus getting a drink in the creek below Swinging Bridge.
The trail traveling up from this creek to Devil's Thumb has 34 switchbacks and
ascends 1500 ft/460 m - if your footwear is suspect in any way, you will lose boots.

Late in the evening we arrived in Foresthill, tired and grimy, but having had a most excellent ride. The pones did great and performed above expectation and best of all, Roo's boots never shifted the entire time. Now that right rear boot is broken in, it'll be much easier to get on next time around. Looks like it's time for Roo to hit 50-mile endurance rides again and I'll be comfortable that I'm not going to have to spend the day futzing with his boots.

Lucy Chaplin Trumbull

Home From Joshua Tree (In Which We Get Back to the Slop)

Joshua Tree National Park was  - as always - a blissful week of riding on twisty trails with amazing views and spikey vegetation. 

Getting out of the slop and into the dry desert air was a welcome respite, despite the freezing temperatures.

Both horses had had two months off, so we took it easy, going out for short, fun rides - with lots of walking in deep sand washes - just what they needed to build up fitness again. During the week we rode a little over 55 miles and climbed approximately 9,000 ft.

The footing was about as perfect as it could be and we never bothered to boot once. I did touch up both horses' feet with the rasp for minor chips, but was very pleased how well their hooves held up - especially given the wet, muddy conditions they'd been living in for weeks prior to their desert excursion.

The footing as about as perfect as it could be... most of the time:


 

Photo: Kaity Elliott

The crisp, cold temperatures caused them to stay very cheerful indeed the entire week - particularly one of the days we ended up riding in a snowstorm - first time I've experienced that in the desert and it was very pretty.

Riding in the remains of the snow the following day made for yet more cheerful horses, pink cheeks, and great memories.


 

Photo: Kaity Elliott

All in all, a great start to the year.

Unfortunately, we're now back in the real world with mud-covered, pink pones. It's time to get the Bobsey Twins up and running again after 14 months off, with the hope of getting them ready for some 50 mile rides later in the year. With my limited riding time, in order to get them both out I've lots of ponying ahead of me to ramp up their fitness. The first outing went well with no histrionics or unwanted excitement. 

Here we go again - 2013. Happy New Year to all.

--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

 

Getting Ready for Christmas (In Which I Don't Cook)

Horse life is still quiet at our house with the pones enjoying their winter sabbatical. The beauty of having them all barefoot, of course, is that when I get around to deciding it's time to break out of hibernation and start riding again, all I need to do is trim, apply boots (or not, depending on the terrain), and go - none of this scheduling a shoer to come and work on them, waiting for him to be available, followed by either changing my mind and wanting to ride the horse that wasn't shod, or feeling guilty because I got sidetracked and didn't ride afterall, thereby wasting $100+ in shoeing.

We're getting ready for our annual winter trip to the desert - taking Fergus and Small Thing down to Southern California to get out of the mud and enjoy the longest break of the year.

2011 - Fergus scaling the mountains of Southern California.

At a time when most people are consumed with Holiday activity - gift wrapping, feast cooking, etc - I'm trying to figure out how much hay Fergus and Small Thing will eat, what blankets to take, if I have the right sized boots for each pone, and have I emptied the portapotty?

Taking the pones to the desert is good for their feet in so many ways. The current mud pit they are living in isn't exactly conducive to moving around much. So we will begin our trip with an overnight stop-over at a fairgrounds and let them run around before continuing the journey. Here's video from last year's leg-stretching exercise - big fun. 

2011 - Small Thing and Fergus enjoying the non-muddy footing at the fairgrounds. First time they'd been able to run around in weeks.

Once we get there, I can actually see their feet (instead of just looking at mud blobs) and give them a suitable trim as needed. My trimming kit consists of the hoof stand and a bucket o' tools:

The sandy terrain will typically abrade their feet into great shape. Riding them on this footing means we don't necessarily need to boot, although there are quite a few fun technical trails with good quantities of rock, so we pick and choose as necessary - and can always carry boots just in case. I'm planning on taking Small Thing's Back Countries and his Gloves, to see which, if any, I prefer in this type of footing.

Lastly, their feet get a chance to dry out, get rid of any lingering thrush from the soggy conditions at home, and get a really good work out. 

Small Thing in Baby Jesus mode, enjoying the sunshine and the dry warm sand.

May you all have contented winter breaks and enjoy your furry friends.

--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

 

Gimps R Us (In Which Lucy Plays Nursie)

After a pretty intensive year, the arrival of a new puppy, and the desire avoid burn-out, this fall I'm taking a timeout from riding - a few weeks off for me and the horses won't do any of us any harm. They are cheerfully covering themselves in mud and enjoying the cooler weather while I get on with some indoor quilting and knitting projects that have sat in the corner all year.

New puppy Finn "helping" me feed the horses - why does the hay net have to be the bestest dog toy ever?

Unfortunately, the horses didn't get the memo about this break and have continued to try and maim themselves. Fergus managed to slice open his muzzle - caught on what, I have no idea - but he couldn't have worn a bit if I'd wanted him to. 

And then last weekend two horses turned up gimpy. One hasn't been ridden in a year and the other has been retired for six years, so I've no idea why they even bothered with this extra effort.

First Provo, my 24-year old ex-endurance horse was so stocked up in the back that he couldn't move. It turned out that he was unwilling to put weight on his right rear so the left was doing all the work and had thus turned into an elephant-leg, making him even less willing to move around. A few days of bute, plus the lure of grazing in the orchard finally got him moving and judging by yesterday's mayhem (he got into the chicken feed and the [sealed behind a door, in a bin, with a bungee cord over it] [no-longer unopened] sack of beet pulp), he's on the mend now - but still no clue as to what the problem was to start with. 
 
Provo, also known as Black Button Eyes, enjoying his new digs - no sharing, no mud, endless supply of food...
On Sunday it was Uno's turn. Uno seems to think that it's his duty to produce an abscess around this date every year, whether we need one or not. So looking at the calendar, I could easily guess what the cause of his gimpiness was likely to be.
 
While trimming his right front foot a week or two ago, I'd noticed a black line between bar and sole. Uno grows a lot of bar which likes to lie over, trapping bacteria. I dug a little with my hoof knife but unfortunately, it went deeper than I was willing to pare, so at that point I left it alone. 
 
 

 
I don't have a photo of the current problem, but here's one I prepared earlier:
Uno's foot in February 2011. Same problem, different month/year.  (see black line on the right side of the photo where the bar meets the sole). And yay for records: according to my notes, he also abscessed on this same foot in January 2010... I'm picking up a pattern. 
 
Sure enough, upon investigation this time, the black line was still evident and some gentle probing with the hoof knife produced some black ooze. Hah.
 
Looking out at the squishy mud, I needed to figure out a way to keep it clean and poulticed. Easyboot Glove to the rescue! Uno's sole got slathered in ichthammol, duct taped, and slipped into a size 2  Glove.
 
 
This morning I cleaned everything up and discovered that the abscess had other ideas about coming out the same way it went in, and it looks like it has chosen to come out of his heel bulb. So yet more extensive glopping of ichthammol, more wrapping, more duct tape, and Glove boot back on. 
 
 
He's now ensconced in his own stall which he enjoys greatly because it means he doesn't have to share hay. We shall call him The Little [OK, Fat] Prince.
 
 
A few horses got juggled around this morning to accommodate their new disabilities and I'm running out of out-of-the-mud spaces to put them. Not to mention the added fun of a torrential downpour predicted for later this week. So much for taking a break from horse activities.
 
--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

 

Castle Peak Loop (On Which Small Thing Eats)

(Note: Please forgive the strange fish-eye effect of all the photos in this article - I was trying out my new Optrix XD gadget for iPhone videoing and still hadn't quite gotten the settings sorted out).

Last month, Small Thing and I managed to sneak in an end-of-season excursion to Donner Summit to ride the Castle Peak Loop. Attempts to ride this loop in the early summer were abandoned when we came across deep snow on the backside of the mountain and I hadn't gotten around to going back, despite this being some of the most gorgeous riding in the high Sierra. 
 
Consulting the weather forecast showed me that if I wanted to go, I would have to do it on Saturday when it would still be pleasant - or not at all. So on Saturday we set off up the mountain on the 75 mile drive. As far as I could remember, the loop was about 15 miles, so I figured so long as we started riding by 1 pm, we'd be finished before dark (~6:30 pm). 
 
There were three flaws to my plan. 
 
Flaw 1 was forgetting that most of this loop is uphill. Never mind that it's a loop, you never notice any of the downhill part because you're trudging up, up, up, forever. Or at least that's what Small Thing thought.
 
And Flaw 1B was forgetting just how technical the trail was - large parts of it are across granite slabs, much of it requires the horse, uh, pony to knows how to climb up (and down) rock steps, put his foot in a space that is barely big enough for said foot, clamber over sloping rock, squeeze around boulders (I only knee-capped myself once, but got really good at contortion), step down into narrow creeks, over roots, over fallen tree trunks, ... you get the picture. This is not a trail that involves speeding unconcernedly across neatly mown turf.
 
 
 
 
Flaw 2 was forgetting that I'd want to stop at regular intervals to take pictures, admire the view, chat with hikers, etc. 
 
Flaw 3 was overlooking the fact that "Solo Pone = Slow Pone" - and Small Thing proved this to be true by attempting to eat at every opportunity and plodding along in a sulky fashion when I didn't let him.
 
 
Small Thing and I admired the overlook to Frog Lake. 
 
Small Thing smelled a large coyote that was sniffing down the trail long before we actually spotted him.
 
Small Thing cheerily munched on the green grass next to the small creeks in lieu of actually drinking from them (Lucy thinking "well, at least he's getting elytes").  
 
 
The 1000' drop to Frog Lake. I suspect I enjoyed it more than Small Thing who was miffed by the lack of vegetation up there.
 
Two hours into the ride, we'd barely covered five miles and I was starting to do the math and conclude that we'd be out there until 8 pm. Uh oh.
 
I began to peddle. Small Thing responded by continuing to try and eat every piece of vegetation in the immediate vicinity and ignoring my paddling legs. I got out my rommel and suggested that he pay better attention to my requests and he grudgingly stopped eating, but continued to advance down the trail with his sea anchor thrown out behind.
 
 
As time went on, we started to make better forward progress although Small Thing was sure that he might die if he had to do more than a shuffling trot. I, of course, fell for it hook, line, and sinker, worried that I was asking too much of him, so babied him along and got off at regular intervals to run with him <roll eyes>.
 
To complete the loop, you have to go across-country to link one trail over to another. Exactly where this spot is located is a bit of a mystery, so you just set forth and hope for the best. Small Thing knew we were lost, and he really knew it when I told him "it'll be fine" and we ended up sinking in a small bog. I continued to fret about time, but once we hit the Pacific Crest Trail we started to make up some miles. The fact that we were now headed towards the trailer didn't hurt either. Small Thing's outlook on life continued to improve the further south we went.
 
The pony was wearing his BackCountry Boots which worked great for hoof protection in the rockier parts, and for traction when we were on some of the granite slabs. Towards the end of the ride, when we pretty much trotted everything, albeit slowly, I would have been worried without the added grip from the boots. I've found that late in the year, when hooves are rock-hard, even barefoot can be slippery on pavement and rock.
 
 
The last part of the trail is probably the most fun - Small Thing knew we were nearly there, so he speed-walked over the most technical parts, and picked up the pace to the point of trotting over terrain where I'd be thinking "uh...!?" and then we'd be through. All we had left to do were the two tunnels that went under the freeway, and as he had on the way out, my brave pony aced them again.
 
 
Miraculously, we made it back way before darkness set in and Small Thing's legs didn't fall off despite the ordeal of having to do 15 solo miles with hardly a bite to eat.
 
It was just as well we got out on the Saturday - ski season started the following Monday and the Castle Peak Loop is, once again, under a blanket of snow:
 
 
The Caltrans highway cam at Donner Summit on I-80
 
--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California
 
 

Small Mesh Hay Bags (From Which the Pones Eat Slowly)

Towards the end of the year my dry paddocks can turn into a sea of mud in the space of a few rainstorms. And hands up all those who have watched in frustration as the gold dust hay gets trampled underfoot and turned into a soggy mess and the pones refuse to eat it because "it's all mucky"?

As barefoot beasties, my horses live on a diet of grass hay with a seasoning of alfalfa and I like to "free feed" as much as possible. Trouble is, greedy guts that they are, given the opportunity they'll scoff the lot in less than an hour then stand around pretending they're starving until the next feeding. For this reason, I've turned to "slow feeders" to keep the pones a'munchin while limiting the speed of their intake and keeping their whale-like proportions under control.

Best of all, using slow feeders, the hay stays mostly in the bag or in their mouths - with little lost in between, and virtually none ending up as expensive soil enhancer.

With slow feeders, the horses are reduced to plucking wisps of hay out over time, more closely mimicking natural grazing, as opposed to stuffing hay in as quickly as they can (the way they'd like to).

There are all sorts of slow feeders on the market, from basic hay nets to more elaborate (and expensive) dispensers. Whilst I'd like to own some of the higher-end feeders, with six horses squabbling over the food and knowing that my paddocks slope so anything unattached ends up rolling to the bottom, I need to stick with options that won't break the bank because I'm going to need a lot of them.

My current favorites are the small mesh hay bags sold online for less than $10 each. I've found that these will last at least a year (if not longer) before they start to suffer and even then I can usually keep them going with minor repairs. 

Fergus tends to be very hard on bags because of his patented "get the hay out quicker by grabbing the bag and shaking it vigorously" method.

It doesn't matter what kind of bag it is, apparently the smash and grab trick is the way to go. Other lesser bags don't last long under his ministrations. This one below lasted less than one feeding:

The $10 small mesh hay bags are usually a 2" gauge:

but earlier this summer I decided to splash out on a longer-lasting, more robust hay net that had the added benefit of having 1" gauge holes:

This forced the horses to eat slower still - keeping them busy throughout the day. They seem much more relaxed using this feeding system - although they're pleased when I show up at feeding time, it has limited the amount of bickering that goes on. The horses no longer act like Starving Marvins and there's a lot less posturing and jealous guarding going on. They'll nibble for a bit and then wander off to get a drink. Right now, I can feed six horses using 2-3 hay bags because the top dogs are no longer standing over their prizes, causing the lesser mortals to go without.

The new, more expensive hay bag also came with a front-loader - a metal frame that you thread the bag onto and then attach to your rail fence or panel. The flakes of hay are posted through the frame into the bag - much more convenient than filling hay nets.

I use the snap they provide to keep the hay from being pushed out the top by over-enthusiastic pone muzzles when they flip the bag around:

.

So far, the new bag is lasting well and showing no signs of deterioration (despite Fergus' best efforts). I especially like it because of the large amount of hay it will hold (four + large flakes)(and they make larger ones!) and the fact that they make it in several mesh sizes to suit your horses' particular needs.

--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

Squashing in a High Sierra Excursion (In Which Small Thing and I Jump)

The trouble with doing 100 mile endurance rides is it leaves little room for pleasure riding - you're either training, resting, or exhausted. Exploring the mountains on horseback was something that was sorely missed this summer, so taking advantage of the mild weather last weekend Patrick and I snuck out for three days of horse camping at Faith Valley in the high Sierra, about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe.

 
 
Faith Valley sits at 7500' (2300 m) so we were a little concerned about how cold it would get and indeed it did get below freezing a couple of the nights we were there, but during the day the weather was absolutely glorious - up in the 70s (low 20s°C). Campfires in the evening and pones bundled into blankies meant that no one suffered terribly.
 
 (ho-hum. Someone's got to do it)
 
 
 
Small Thing and Fergus woke us up at 6:30 am twice - mostly ST banging around trying to bite Fergus and not being able to reach him around the corner. Turns out Fergus was actually causing the trouble, having run out of hay and was miffed that ST still had some, so squabbling ensued. Having said that, I'm still unclear how exactly ST's hay bag ended up over the top of his spring-tie, unless it was catapulted there by flying feet?
 
 
Neither Small Thing nor Fergus wore boots for our first day's excursion - a 1500' (460 m) climb up to Forestdale Divide to a mountain overlook (you could see the tiny speck of our horse trailer far below). 
 
 
The rock road leading to the top wasn't the most barefoot-friendly piece of footing we'd ever been on, but Small Thing seemed to take it in his stride. 
 
 
 
 
 
On the way back down again we picked up the Pacific Crest Trail for a couple of miles. The PCT runs from the Mexican border all the way north to Canada, following the crest of the mountains. One of my crew at Tevis this year - Brenna - had hiked great swaths of the PCT this summer (she happened to have appeared at the right place [Donner Summit] at the right time [for me] to temporarily suspended her walking and crewed in exchange for showers and food). It was fun to imagine that we were following in her footsteps from earlier in the summer.
 
 
By the time we were clambering back down the trail, Fergus was getting a bit ouchy (although still comfortable enough to race Small Thing across the meadow at the end), so when we got back to camp I gave him a 30-minute trim to ready his feet for Gloves all around the following day.
 
 
Although Small Thing had shown no signs of being sore the first day, I opted to at least boot his front feet for the second day's ride - a trip over a shaley mountain. Originally, I was just going to be lazy and slap his Glove Back Country boots on, but remember me saying it was time to trim him two weeks ago...? Yup, that's right, I hadn't done it yet. So while Patrick was tacking Fergus up, I quickly trimmed up Small Thing's front feet so I could get his boots on.
 
The start of this trail took us up to a lake on a winding wooded singletrack. The previous winter had not been kind to this trail and there were lots of downed trees. Small Thing is good at jumping things when I'm not on him, so I decided to start asking him to jump things while riding him. To begin with, it was a little messy - him taking great vertical leaps over 4" high logs, but gradually he settled into it and we started to figure out this jumping thing. Big fun.
 
 
 
We then clambered up the side of the mountain and the higher we went the less vegetation there was. Up there, the views were stunning - that is, until we got into some yellow jackets and all got stung. Yes, Small Thing can buck high when he's trying to escape wasps. I got stung twice, Patrick once, and ST at least twice judging by his antics. No idea what the wasps were doing up there - there wasn't anything to eat - at least until we got up there.
 
Slithering down the other side in the rocks, I was amazed at how well Small Thing's bare back feet were holding up. I thought he'd get ouchy with all the clambering over rocks, but he didn't really seem to care.
 
 
We finished up this ride by a trip over into Charity Valley to the creek, past ST's nemesis - a large glacial boulder standing next to the trail. I have no idea why he is so alarmed by this boulder, but his avoidance antics resulted in some boulder circling for a few minutes.
 
 
 
The last day we did an easy trail - only up about 400' along the ridge to the west, past the rocky overlook that peeks into Faith Valley, and then back down through the creek at the bottom. The aspen were a'quiverin' and the sun shone so brightly I got sunburned in my tank top. Did I mention how much I adore living in California?
 
(There's our horse trailer in the edge of the trees on the left)
 
 
Faith Valley is only 2.5 hours drive away from us, so we're already wondering if the weather will hold long enough for us to squeeze in one last trip next month. By then, both Fergus and Small Thing might need another trim, unless I can get them to self-trim on the rocks again.
 
--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

 

"Fall" Is Nearly Here (Which I Don't Believe)

This time of year is always confusing to my "european" body - the sun gets low in the sky, but the temperatures are still in the 90s. Twenty-eight years of living in Europe tells me to put on warm clothes in the morning and I feel ill at ease pulling on summer clothes "just in case it should turn chilly" (I wish - during September Sacramento had 26 days over 90°F (32°C) and it wasn't much cooler up in the foothills).

The pones are also reacting to the light change - I've noticed the beginnings of coat changes, either large amounts of shedding (only on the white haired horses, of course), or just thickening of fur.
 
I don't remember the last time it rained, but all the vegetation is dull brown (and dust-covered) and green is a distant memory. The ground in the horse paddocks is rock hard with a thick layer of duff on top. Everything is ridiculously dry including the horses' hoof walls. Trimming — even with sharp nippers — has become a bicep-bulging fight. I've tried presoaking but it doesn't seem to make a lot of difference and, in any case, with my organizational skills, the interval between me deciding to trim and actually doing it could be termed "instant" and if I waited until the hooves were pre-soaked, I've usually wandered off and found something else to do.
 
It's always interesting to see how the season changes affect the state of the horses' feet. Every horse I've trimmed in the last month or so has been sporting about a quarter inch of dead sole and shedding frog - practically falling out and begging to be chomped on with my nippers. Under normal circumstances I try to be fairly conservative with sole removal to maintain that tough, calloused surface, but this stuff needed to come off.
 
Below is Hopi's long-overdue-for-a trim front foot. He's currently on vacation, so not self-trimming on abrasive surfaces. The missing sole on the right easily fell out on it's own when I started picking out his foot and the area around the toe (usually left alone - the toe callous area) could be easily prised out with a hoof pick. This stuff is more than ready to come off. Nom, nom, go the nippers...
 
 
Although I'm not finished, I've started tidying up his frog in the above photo. The area circled by blue will also get trimmed back to prevent crud getting stuck in there and getting thrushy. The trick with frogs is avoiding getting carried away and making them look like something turned out by Martha Stewart, but trimming off any nooks and crannies that could harbour junk. 
 
Below (not terribly good photo, sorry) I've poked my hoof-pick under a flap of shedding frog. When this is removed, the area circled in blue (above) may well come with it. Again, you don't want to take off too much - this is a supportive structure - but enough to keep it healthy.
 
 
With the protective callous gone, the result can sometimes be a horse that's a little tenderfooted for a few days. Popping on boots is an easy way to get around this problem - with no mud to deal with, boot application takes seconds. But with our current climate the newly-exposed sole on most horses dries and toughens up in a few days as if nothing had happened (except, perhaps, that they're no longer walking on lumpy soles).
 
Here's Hopi's other front foot - about three days after trimming - when freshly-trimmed, this sole looked a lot like the exposed area shown above. Now it's hard and tough again.
 
 
Small Thing and I have been going out for 1-2 hours excursions the last few weeks and I haven't bothered to boot him once - he just hasn't needed it. His little feet are hard as hard things right now and he rarely bobbles on rocks. He does need trimming - or more specifically his ever-enthusiastic pony heels need trimming - but I'm loath to do it for fear of encroaching on his toughened soles. It's become a balance - can I ride him enough on rough surfaces to keep him "self-trimmed" or do I need to resort to a trimming session? 
 
Small Thing and me above Hwy-49 and the Confluence of the North and Middle Forks of the American River
 
 
Unfortunately, most of the time he's running around [persecuting the other horses] on the layer of paddock duff that is luxurious to roll in but doesn't do much by way of abrading feet. I have a feeling Small Thing and I have a trimming date in the near future.
 
 
 
Small Thing and Fergus visit the train on "No Hands Bridge", put there for the 100th Anniversary.
 
At a time when many people's riding seasons are coming to an end, I'm looking forward to cooler temperatures and therefore more energy for riding. Right now, a dry winter is being predicted - good for lack of mud and clear trails, and good for hard little feet to stay that way. If it wasn't for the early onset of dark, this would be the perfect time of year.
 
--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California

 

Virginia City 100 (In Which I'm Regularly Reminded Why I Love Using Boots)

This was going to be a ride story about Fergus' and my Excellent Adventure at Virginia City 100, but instead I found I had quite a lot to say about gluing, so that story will have to wait. Needless to say, we had a great weekend and Fergus, as usual, impressed the pants off me. He continues to astonish me with his ability, his enormous walk, and the way he takes everything so calmly in his stride (and a very big stride it is, too). Love my borrowed golden boy.

Alas, as part of the original agreement (where I got him on loan to do "NASTR Triple Crown")(and snuck Tevis in there too) I now have to return him to his rightful owner, Patrick. Despite that, I'm already secretly scheming to borrow him back for 20 Mule Team 100 in February. 

Smug Gluers R Us

For once I actually felt ready - Fergus and I drove up to Virginia City on Thursday night after work, arriving after midnight but ensuring I'd have all day to get him glued, get everything ready for the ride, preride the part of the route through town, and still relax and socialize.

The camp for Virginia City 100 is on the south side of town and the trail exits on the north side of town. Because of this, we repeat the through-town section four times - always in the dark. The ride starts on the main street and within two blocks drops down a steep paved road to the next terrace below. Judging by the amount of yelling going on at the start of the ride, this steep drop is not much fun in steel shoes. Fergus, on the other hand, marched right down the middle of the road, causing us to appear at the front of the pack and, very briefly, be in third place overall. Awk. Not where I wanted to be at all.

Following shod horses through town later in the evening, every time they hit some repaired asphalt or a painted part of the pavement, their back feet were slipping out from under them.

In boots? Nope...

Fergus and I pre-riding through town on Friday afternoon.

Gluing

Friday morning's gluing went very well and I was extremely satisfied with the outcome. The fact that I ended up completely covered in glue, including a gob all down one leg and a large blob in my hair is neither here nor there - so long as the boots went on well, I don't care what I look like.

A freshly-glued Fergus gazing down at Virginia City. Thanks to my assistant volunteer, Lorri Stringfield (who also used Glue-ons for her first 100 with her horse, Cruiser), for keeping him as still as she could during the proceedings.

New Things I Learned About Glueing

1. Using a Cooler 

After a discussion with Kevin Myers during which I whined about not being able to get the Glue-ons on the horse before the Vettec Adhere glue set up (approximately 0.7 seconds during California summers), he pointed out that even if I kept my glue cool, if I was applying it to a warm boot that might have an impact. I flashed back to my Glue-ons sitting in the warm sun before my last gluing experience and could see where I might have been going wrong.

Accordingly, I arrived at Virginia City with an enormous cooler filled with ice packs and boots and glues and alcohol and disposable gloves and tips and knives and paper towel and ... well, you get the picture. 

Keeping everything in a cooler was a stroke of genius. I was actually able to "take my time" (this being relative - you still can't hang around, but at least you don't have to have the powers of the Silver Streak to get the job done). It still required everything to be laid out ready (albeit inside the cooler), and you had to prethink what you were going to do ahead of time, but the resulting experience was positively relaxed. 

2. Sikaflex Application

Unfortunately, I wasn't there when the EasyCare Glue Crew put Fergus' boots on for Tevis, so I didn't get to see whatever ludicrously effective system they used to get those suckers to stay on so well. The only thing I had to work from was a quick blurry photo that my husband, Patrick, was able to sneak before being shouted at for not keeping Fergus completely immobile (not actually possible when he's bellowing at the world).

The resulting pic showed a curious difference in how they applied the Sikaflex (formerly Goober Glue) sole packing. Instead of a small bead all the way around the inside edge, followed by a blobby triangle-shape mimicking the frog (see left), they made a large fat "I" shape (see right). This is much quicker to squeeze out and judging by the Tevis results, just as effective.

 

Fergus had been a little footsore on some of the harder footing during our pre-ride, so I wanted to make sure that he had as much cushioning as possible. As a result, it's possible that I overdid the Sikaflex "slightly"... ...and it's possible that's how come I ended up covered in glue as it proceeded to ooze out of every possible exit. Apparently I still need to perfect that aspect of glue application. Different sized feet with different amounts of concavity will require adjustment accordingly.

3. The Twist

The third thing that I suspect I've been missing out on (probably related to the aforementioned fact that I seldom had time enough to get the boot on the hoof before the glue was set up solid), is to give each boot a slight twist back and forth once they're on, to get the glue to really stick well to both hoof wall and Glue-on wall. 

4. The Growth

And now we come to the only mistake I made during the whole proceedings. As mentioned, perhaps I was a little overenthusiastic with the Sikaflex - witness below the golf-ball sized glob of glue that oozed out of the back of the first Glue-on that was stuck on Fergus' right front foot (and I suspect I also forgot to give it that smearing twist).

In my defence, I did pull at the blob slightly just after glueing, but was worried I'd pull out the entire back part of the squooshy glue which so nicely plugs the heel area, so I left it alone to cut off later ...and never went back to it. So as a result Fergus went over 40 miles with a bobble on the back of his foot. 

No harm done, right? 

Wrong.

The bobble acted like a handle, so when he stepped on it while climbing a long hill at 42 miles, the boot popped right off and we left it behind. 

Lesson learned and luckily I noticed not too long later as we crested the long hill we'd been trudging up. I always carry sparesies, so on went a Glove and off we went and I never really thought about it again.

The long 2000' climb at around 40+ miles - Washoe Lake on the left, rocks on the right. At the top of the climb I noticed we were missing something

Other Reasons You'd Want to Boot at Virginia City 100

Nevada is well-known for its rocks. Luckily, for the most part you can step in between them. Of course, there are exceptions - like Bailey Canyon that occurs between 25 and 35 miles. It's actually a lot of fun, so long as you aren't the type who likes to travel at warp speed at all times. You take your time and you enjoy the challenge:

Although there isn't much water on the trail to lubricate your boots, there are a few really steep climbs that cause you to pray you've got your booting protocol down. Here Fergus is at the top of the first (and steepest) "SOB" and is explaining to me that it's time for me to get off and walk:

and here we are scrambling up the other side looking back at Connie and Pam who yelled across to me that she found my lost glue-on (they are the tiny dusty things about half way down the descent):

You also spend quite a bit of time on old mining roads that take you all over the mountains. There are plenty of places to trot, but you have to be ready to slow down when necessary. Connie (in the blue ahead) found an old oxen shoe not far from here while marking the trail:

 

Part 3 of the Triple Crown - Mission Accomplished

And so Fergus and I completed VC100 around mid-pack which is where I wanted us to be - slow and steady is going to get the job done since neither of us are likely to break records in the fitness department. But by doing so, we received the NASTR Triple Crown award (NV Derby 50, NASTR 75, and VC100) we hoped to achieve back in March when we set out on this journey. Like Uno before him, Fergus wasn't necessarily expected to do much more than slow 50s, which is why it's all the more satisfying that he has turned out so well.

As I said at the beginning - love my big golden borrowed boy, mush face and all.

Pre-Riding for Virginia City 100 (In Which Small Things Meets Wild Horses)

With two weeks to go until Virginia City 100, I decided that it would be a good idea for Fergus to inspect the parts of the trail we would be riding at night during the endurance ride. Unlike Tevis - which is held the weekend at the end of July/beginning of August closest to the full moon - VC100 is held two weeks into September, moon or no moon - and this year there will be no moon at all.

Accordingly, Patrick and I took advantage of the three-day weekend and trailered Fergus and Small Thing over to Nevada for a pre-riding excursion.

Saturday

Predictably we arrived two hours later than hoped for, but managed Part 1 of the Mission late Saturday afternoon - riding the bottom part of the 75 mile loop - the area where it would just start to get dark on the day of the Ride.

Fergus wore Gloves for the rocky trails, while Small Thing wore his Glove Back Country Boots.

Patrick was pleased finally to get to ride his horse.

So much of Nevada is open land it's sometimes hard to grasp - miles and miles of sagebrush-covered hillsides dotted with old mines. And roaming these desert highlands are bands of wild mustangs.

Looking out towards Virginia City as dusk approaches.

On our way up the mountainside, we saw a couple of groups from afar, but coming over a hill we suddenly came face to face with a herd of eight horses - four of them youngsters - right next to the trail.

Small Thing's eyes got very big, but he kept it together - that was, until a couple of the more curious yearlings approached for a closer look.

Looking at little wild-eyed as the babies come in for a closer look.

Thankfully they lost interest before Small Thing popped and we went our separate ways.

Coming down off the mountain, it began to get dark - just like the real ride, only this evening we were treated to a huge full moon to light us along the last few miles of our canyon ride.

Moon over Geiger Summit - one of a couple of road crossings during the ride.

Sunday

The next day we had big plans to get up early, trailer back up to Virginia City for Part 2 of the Mission, and drive home again in time for supper. But waking up at Washoe Lake that morning blew it all out of the window. The horse camp there is so pretty in the morning light, with the sun coming up over the mountains that we abandoned our plan and made arrangements to stay an extra day.

In the afternoon, we took the horses for a ride to the lake and played in the dunes. 

Fergus was still wearing his Gloves from the day before - what with the plan of getting up early and going riding, right? All we did was loosen the velcro straps overnight. I'd taken Small Thing's Back Country boots off the night before, however, and didn't bother to reboot him for this ride - Washoe Lake State Park is almost entirely sand, so perfect barefoot terrain.

Our horses aren't used to large bodies of water, so it took some persuasion to get them anywhere near the lake, but finally Fergus' thirst overcame his fear. Small Thing, on the other hand, wouldn't go closer than four feet - who knows what monsters lurk below.

 

Fergus is still wearing size 2.5 Gloves on the front, and a 1.5 and a 2-with-powerstrap on the rear feet.

The main trouble with riding in soft sugar-like sand is the horses' tendency to forget themselves and collapse without warning. In the photo above, Patrick comes close to going over Fergus' head when his front end melted out from underneath him on a steep downhill. A swift kick in the ribs brought Fergus out of his trance-like state and reminded him that rolling while your rider is aboard isn't the greatest of ideas.

Monday

Part 2 of the Mission was to ride most of the last loop of VC100 - Cottonwoods. Small Thing hasn't done any work in weeks, so after riding 14 miles over the previous two days, with some good climbing and some deep sand, he didn't get to participate in this expedition.

Some of this loop goes right through the middle of town but I decided we didn't need to do that part because a) we'd be able to practise it the day before the ride as a leg stretcher, b) it's lit by street lights, and c) riding through Virginia City on a Holiday Monday while there's Ye Olde Tyme festival going on didn't seem the brightest of ideas. Fergus is pretty steady, but let's not test it to the max, eh?

Accordingly we parked at the old cemetery (spooky finish line for the ride - interesting when you pass by there in the wee hours of the night) on the north end of town and leaving Small Thing and Patrick to lounge in the shade, Fergus and I set off up the canyon.

Fergus was not amused. Why did Small Thing get to stand around and eat hay, while he, Fergus, had to go gallivanting about the countryside in the hot sun? As a result, there was plenty of peddling from me, and plenty of bellowing and swerving from him, but we finally got going.

Long Valley Road - not the most interesting part of the loop, especially when you're forced out there, all alone.

When you ride it in the pitch black during the endurrance ride, there are "things" that look at you from the sides of the road. Never did figure out what they were or if they were hallucinations when Uno and I rode it in 2010.

Fergus and I managed only to get lost once, which was a plus because it meant we came upon the water trough about 45 minutes before expected. We backtracked to the correct trail (much to Fergus' disappointment) and continued on the lollipop at the top of the loop that brought us back around to the vet check area and the trough again. 

Prior to this I'd only ridden this section in the dark, so it was a pleasant surprise to get to see the scenery in detail. 

The chalk cliffs at the very furthest point of the loop

 

Fergus seemed a little foot-weary on the hard-packed dirt road, so I'm treating his feet for any lingering thrush. When we got done, I discovered that not only had he worn through the toe of one front boot, he'd also jammed a rock into the hole, so that might have accounted for his discomfort. The boot was probably a little past its sell-by date, having done two days on the abrasively volcanic trails at the Washoe Valley Ride (some shared trail with VC100) back in May, and been worn for every conditioning ride in the lead up to Tevis. The Nevada trails can be hard on feet, so I was glad for their protection.

Three hours after we set out, we once again crested Sign Hill and looked down into the canyon that leads to Virginia City. This 30-minute section is ridden four times in the dark, so I was glad Fergus got a good look at it. 

Our return to the trailer was punctuated by Fergus bellowing (and Small Thing shrieking from his perch on the hill-top), and trotting like a maniac (the most animated he'd been all day). We completed the 19 mile loop in three and half hours, so I was very pleased with him. On the day, I've allowed us four and half hours (considering it'll be dark and we will have already ridden 75 miles before setting out on the loop), so I think we should be in good shape.

The noble beast finished his ride with a big pan of liquid slurpie. No kisses for him.

--
Lucy Chaplin Trumbull
Sierra Foothills, California