Kate Saunders, PhD, Turned Professional Hoof Trimmer

Kate SaundersLet me introduce myself. Yes, I spent 6 grueling years getting my PhD in Cognitive Science (comparative and developmental cognition), and then some more years in corporate America as a professor, and then director of a brain injury center. All the while, my real passion has been my horses.

Although I have ridden and worked with horses since I was a young child, it was not until a few years ago that I became intensely involved with horse feet. While I slaved away in corporate America, my horse Marley Man experienced a miracle in my pasture with the help of Marie, my last hope.

Marley was lame from the day I got him, but six years, 5 farriers, and 7 different types of shoes later, Marie arrived and removed Marley’s shoes. Marley was given his very own pair of EasyBoot Epics. Within one week, my horse was walking and trotting well in his new hoof boots; within 3 months, he was barefoot and fancy free!

Now a professional trimmer, I trim for various barns, both competition and pleasure. Recently, my story reached the ears of a thoroughbred racing trainer who is willing to try anything to keep his horses happy, healthy, and fast, even if that means going barefoot!

These are the trials and tribulations of staying on track.

Kate Saunders
Hoof Girl

An Adventure in Glue-Ons

I have made my Easyboot Epic love affair known. I have successfully infiltrated a southern Louisiana racehorse training center and sprinkled Epics throughout the grounds, from Barn D where they can be found in droves, all the way down to Barn M where a few people have heard of "that barn" that trains their horses barefoot, and that one horse in their barn (M) wore Epics to sooth his aching feet.

With a little encouragement, I decided that it was time to step away from the Epics and try my hand at something I'd never done before - Glue-Ons. Because I'm a virgin gluer, I invited my mentor, Marie Daniels, and her replacement apprentice to join me in my attempts to become more... sophisticated. After all, now that Garrett Ford has developed an EasyBoot Race prototype, this "practice run" would be the first step towards racing Louisiana thoroughbreds in glue-ons instead of metal shoes.

Riding

We had two horses lined up for this little project: My star, Lil' Rick's Gal, who was scheduled to race in just over a week from that day, and Banfish, the two-year-old who was in light work at the track.

We began with Banfish. Right from the beginning we had some real challenges. His feet, still in the early rehabilitation phase of natural hoof care, did not fit any of the Glue-On shells as well as we would have liked. We finally settled on one 0.5 wide and a regular 1, however there was some bulging at the quarters that was definitely not ideal.

Wide

We fitted the shell and cleaned the top of the hoof.

Goober Glue

Goober glue was applied to the inside of the shell and Adhere was lathered on the hoof wall.

Marie

After waiting about five minutes for the shells to set, Banny was allowed to go back in his stall.

He was walked, trotted, and cantered each morning for about half an hour over a 7 day period. He was worked in straight lines, circles, and serpentines. The rider said that Banfish was working very well in his "slippers", and that he hadn't even noticed the first few days that the horse had the glue-ons on his feet.

Fronts

However, Banfish had already lost one of his shells after only 7 days of light work. Would these shells have stayed on the characteristic 10 to 14 days if the fit had been better, or if we had prepared the hoof better before application? Possibly we did not brush the top of the hoof enough. We didn't put rubbing alcohol on the hooves at the time of application; maybe this extra step would have made the difference. Or maybe the shell fit was just not good enough. We will never know exactly how he went about losing that first shell. Nonetheless, 7 days seems like a terribly short time when you consider how many horses keep these shells on for weeks, all the while going through sticky mud and knee-deep rivers.

Riding Feet

Someday, I would like to be a Glue-On guru like so many of you. Today, however, I'd love to hear what you think. Should Banfish's boots have stayed on longer than 7 days? Is there something that I could have done better, or did Banny just not fit well enough in those shells? After all, he did have the worst feet in the barn!

Next time, I'll let you in on how well Ricky faired in her Glue-On "slippers"!

The Worst Feet in the Barn

For several weeks, Lisa talked about the horse with the "worst feet in the barn". I couldn't work on him right away because the track farriers had just put shoes on his feet.  And so I waited patiently to see the worst feet in the barn.

Finally the day came when we could pull his shoes, and I could get started on my new project. Banfish, who is two now and is only doing light work at the track, had been sick when he was a foal. The sickness affected his entire body, including his feet. After months of love and attention, Banfish fully recovered from his illness. Except his feet were still a mess.

Banfish

The track farriers put shoes on him as they always do, but in time he developed a quarter crack that spread all the way to the hairline. To correct the crack, glue was applied to the crack and the metal shoe was cut so that it stopped just in front of the crack. Yes, that's right. The shoe itself went from one heel, around the toe, and stopped just in front of the quarter on the other side of that foot. No shoe under the quarter or heel on that side of the foot.

side

Pancake foot with no heel
- September 13, 2011.

When I removed Banny's shoes, I quickly agreed that he had the worst feet in the barn. Unsurprisingly, his heels had been lopped off to accommodate the shoe. To my horror, however, I also found that his soles were in fact the very opposite of concave; the bottom of the foot was thin and bulging at the toe. Yikes!

Top

I always air on the cautious side when I am presented with a long toe or long heels. In this case, Banfish had long toes with no real attachment of the hoof wall.

Side down

He still has quite a lamellar wedge when my first trim is complete, but I know that I'll be coming back soon for another go-round.

Front

Amazingly, Banfish showed little discomfort as he walked on dirt or sand with bare feet. Nonetheless, he got his own pair of size 2 Epics to protect those unique feet.

Several days later, I met the vets at the track for x-rays of Banny's feet. Although I don't always get the luxury of seeing x-rays, boy do they help when I can get my hands on them. And so I removed another inch off of his toes and swapped out the size 2 boots for some 1's!

Banfish has been barefoot and using his Easyboot Epics for the past two months and has shown some good improvement during that time. Although he began by wearing his hoof boots on the track and on the walker, he was able to begin some barefoot work within just a few weeks of beginning his new "program". To keep the quarter crack from spreading, I gave him exaggerated pressure relief at the site of the crack.

Ban bottom side

November 7, 2011: some heel has grown, and his foot is slowly becoming more concave.

Ban front november

His lamellar wedge has been greatly reduced, and his foot is looking much less like a pancake. Although the bottoms of his feet are much flatter than I would like, he is totally sound barefoot on the barn's dirt floor and in the track sand. He is still too sore to walk at all on any hard surfaces such as concrete.

Ban side november

Banny side angle - November 2011.

The healthier hoof has grown to about 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the coronet band.

As you may know, I tell clients that I will only trim their horses if those horses are being fed a dry pelleted food. I cannot make such demands at the track, because (unfortunately) it has been shown that racing horses need the extra energy (sugar) in the sweet feed to perform at their best. And so it is particularly interesting to note that Banfish has made such improvements despite being kept on a sweet feed diet. Keep in mind that the sweet feed fed to racehorses is very different from the typical $5 sweet feed found at a backyard barn. Although racehorse feed is covered in molasses (the real problem), it is also composed predominantly of vegetable oil, beet pulp, and other ingredients found in a dry pellet.

Banfish has been feeling great. So great that he tried to run away with the rider! With this new attitude change, he's been sent back to kindergarten to learn his manners and his steering.

Ride

Can we grow a truly healthy foot while still feeding the racehorse sweet feed? The verdict is still out, but with the improvements I've seen so far, I'm willing to keep up this experiment in hoof health and nutrition. We'll look at his feet again in a few months to see if the Easyboot Epics have won out over the molasses.

An Epic Love Affair

If you look on the Team Easyboot website, www.easycareinc.com/Cool_Stuff/team_easyboot.aspx, you will quickly learn that the Easyboot Glove is a huge favorite of endurance riders, trail riders, and cart drivers (to name a few). Coming in at a close second is the Glue-on, most often used for multi-day endurance rides through anything from hard asphalt to slippery, slimy mud hills.

So why is it that my boot of choice, far and above all other boots, is the Easyboot Epic? Is there something wrong with me? Am I really missing out on a revolution that my little brain just can't fathom? In fact, I get asked similar questions by other Easyboot lovers, who themselves wonder why I haven't caught up with the rest of the Easyboot world.

race track Epics

The Arceneaux racing barn is full of Easyboot Epics.

Although I have doubted my love affair at times, I am confident enough today to tell you exactly why the Easyboot Epic works best for me and my southern Louisiana horse clients.

Tack Room

Every groom at the Arceneaux barn has a different way to care for their Epics.

As you may have already gathered, the majority of my horse clients are thoroughbreds: Thoroughbreds off the track and thoroughbreds on the track; thoroughbreds jumping fences and thoroughbreds prancing in the dressage arena. Yes, I have lots and lots of thoroughbred clients. And not JUST thoroughbreds. No, they are thoroughbreds who live in sloppy, humid Louisiana and who have been overloaded with carbohydrates and starches for much of their lives. Yes, the majority of my horse clients have really ugly feet.

Pancake

A typical "pancake" foot: flat sole, long toe, very wide at the quarters.


Flared toe

Flared toe, wide quarters, with a large lamellar wedge

I have found that the Epic is by far the best boot for unhealthy thoroughbred feet in my area for several reasons. First and foremost, the majority of my thoroughbred clients have what I call "pancake" feet: their feet splat way out to the sides with flares at the quarters, and some have a greater width to their feet than they do length! This is a bit of a problem for the Glove and Glue-on, since these boots are better suited for more "normal" feet, with a closer ratio of length to width. Try and try as I have, I have not been able to get the regular Glove or regular glue-on on my thoroughbred clients' feet.

glue-on

Often, the V does not spread and the quarters will bulge. One size larger is too big, but this is too small

Not only can I fit an Epic on a pancake foot, but the Epic also allows for adjustable tightening! Because the majority of my thoroughbred clients are rehabilitation cases, I must always keep in my mind that as the horse is provided with a healthier diet (lower starches and balanced minerals), the new hoof will grow in tighter and at a steeper angle than the old hoof. As the healthy hoof makes its way from the coronet to the ground, the shape of the hoof will change. At times, this change is quite drastic. So, a size 1 Glove today may not fit well at all in a few weeks.

Glove
A smaller boot is too small, but the long toe does not allow for tight fit up top

With the built-in versatility of the Epic, I am able to modify the tightness and fit as the hoof heals and changes. At times, my horse clients will swap out a larger size for a smaller size as the new growth progresses, but often the Epics the horse is already in will be tightened or loosened with an easy adjustment of the cable as the hoof makes its transformation. I can even take the cable out of the boot to cut it shorter for a more snug fit. I will then put a new crimp on the end of the shortened cable and thread it back through the boot. Same boot, tighter fit.

Adjustable Boot

Originally both cables were  tight in the middle, now one cable crosses to the other side

So, if you Glove-lovers and Glue-On gurus come across a horse who doesn't fit your mould, put down YOUR boots and give the Epics a try!

Now that I have made my case for the awesomeness of the Epic, I will admit that I have done a little experimenting of my own since the development of the Glove wide. Since the beginning of May when Rin the race horse came off the track with sore feet (so bad he couldn't walk), I have kept him in Epics at my barn, allowing him to take time to grow some new feet. The process is finally complete, and Rin is walking sound barefoot with a new hoof wall that has grown all the way to the ground. Recognizing that he finally has somewhat "normal" feet, I figured I'd try him in some of those new-fangled Glove wides...and they fit! I've been riding him in his new boots, and I will admit that I absolutely love them!

Lil' Rick Comin' on Strong

Lil' Rick ran her second race since being given her very own pair of EasyBoot Epics and going sound on her feet. I am still trying desperately to understand the sport of thoroughbred racing and the difference between one type of race (ie a "claims" race) and another (ie a "starter"). However, what I can tell you is that after winning her last race, Ricky was moved up to a more difficult level for her next race. For sure, the horses ran much faster than those in the previous race. In addition, this race was on the turf instead of the dirt.

Rick 1

Final Stretch, Lil' Rick is currently 2nd: Number 3 in blue and the Rider wearing Green.

Several days before the race, shoers came and glued metal shoes on Ricky's feet. Although I am still disappointed that we must resort to metal shoes (for traction), I was thrilled to see that the shoers did not take nippers or knife to her feet, gluing the shoe to the exact foot I left for them. This "teamwork" is a certainly a big deal; these farriers are actually willing to work with me and my "natural stuff". I think part of the reason that the shoers and I are able to work together on this horse is because although Ricky has a very defined cup to her feet, they do not have a dip at the quarters the way so many of our barefoot horses do. The lack of a dip allows me to trim down to a fingernail's length above the sole all the way around the foot, but still have a flat surface for the shoers to place the shoe.

Rick 2

Now running in 3rd, the finish line is so close!

Ricky was feeling good and ready for the greater challenge. She left us all walking proud.

Rick 3

Lil' Rick took 4th place! Next time, we'll get 'em!

Our little girl may not have won this race, but 4th place was more than we could have asked for as she took on "the big guys". I say this race was just practice. Maybe next time she'll be in some EasyBoot Race boots! The metal shoes came off after the race, and Ricky was thrilled to get back into her "sneakers".

First Project: Lil' Rick's Gal

With the success of the pony horse, 91, and visual signs of improvement in several horses who were brought to their farm for me to work on, Lisa nonchalantly suggested that she would like me to meet her at the training center ("the track") to look at a few horses currently racing. I like to believe that she just got tired of trailering horse after horse from the track to the farm. Whatever the reason, Yippee! 

Track Barn
Victor and Lisa's Barn at the Training Center

You'd think this would be an easy thing to do. Just show up at the training center, drive to the designated barn, and that's it. Oh, no. Not the case at all. Just as Garrett Ford suggested in his blog, blog.easycareinc.com/blog/hoof-boot-news/the-horse-that-wasnt-allowed-to-race, the racing industry is FULL of red tape. After about a week of running around from place to place, I finally acquired my "Plater's" license (not an easy feat since I had no proof that I had any ability or intention to put racing plates on horse's feet), and was allowed to enter the training center property.

Mug Shot
A mug shot would have turned out better than this

As if rewarded for a job well done, I was presented upon my arrival to the training center with my first project: Lil' Rick's Gal.

Lil' Rick's Gal

Ricky is a 5-year old mare who arrived at the training center with sore feet. For months, Lisa and Victor worked with the track farriers to find something that made Ricky more comfortable. Metal shoes did not help.  Lisa and Victor knew that something different had to be done; this horse could barely walk, let alone hold a rider on her back.

Poor Rick

During the time that Lisa and Victor were struggling with Lil' Rick at the track, I had one rehab race horse out of his boots and on the road to recovery at the farm. Lisa, feeling more confident in the natural hoof care technique, decided to do something that most likely had never been done in the entire state of Louisiana: She brought those boots to the track! For 60 days, 20 hours out of the day, Lil' Rick stayed in her hoof boots. She was hand walked each day, several times a day, for gentle exercise until she was comfortable enough to go on the walker.

Rick in Epics

By the time I was finally brought into the excitement, Lil' Rick was not only walking on the walker, but had actually begun exercising on the track with her size 0 EasyBoot Epics!

And so the EasyBoot Epic made its way into Lisa's heart and onto a Louisiana training track.

At first, the exercise riders were skeptical of these contraptions on her feet, and agreed only to pony Lil' Rick in her boots. That is to say, the riders were afraid that the boots would come off at high speeds, and so they agreed at first only to ride a pony horse while leading Lil' Rick on her exercise routine. They did not want to be on her back when those boots came off.

Rick on Track with Epics

And it is true, the boot did require some tweaking. With a little sports tape, the boots now stay on throughout her morning exercise routine. The downward buckles do pop up and so we may swap out the current buckles with up-buckles, instead.

Sports Tape
Sports Tape Post Morning Work Out

Today, Lil' Rick can not only trot down the aisle barefoot, but she is currently running BAREFOOT (not even boots) with a rider on her morning exercise routines!

With the background on Lil' Rick set, we now come to the speed bump in the road that defines the racing industry. Ricky has run and WON one race since she began her rehab with the EasyBoot Epics. However, just before the race, the track farriers glued aluminum shoes on her fronts, and nailed aluminum racing plates on her back feet. Lisa did make sure that those farriers took nothing off of her feet when applying the shoes. At the time of that race, Lisa did not know of any better options.

Lisa and Victor are still concerned about traction and the need for something on a race horse's foot as she leans into the curves and navigates around other horses. However, with Garret Ford's Race boots that he has been working on, the Arceneaux barn (and their kooky natural hoof care trimmer) have hope that we may have a number of great options coming our way.

In future posts, I will provide the nitty-gritty on attempting to fit EasyBoot Gloves and Glue-Ons onto Lil' Rick's tiny feet, provide feedback on exercising in these two products, and hopefully, make some headway with the racing secretary in approving an EasyBoot Race for official races!

My Own (Ex-) Race Horse and the Importance of a Trimming Schedule

I suppose I should admit something. I'm an English hunter/jumper from way back and, well… my favorite ride in the whole world is the (sound) off-the-track thoroughbred. Their willingness to go at the mere shift of your weight, their enjoyment of the sport, and their overall enthusiasm for life is just so infectious! So many of these horses develop special bonds with their new owners, as if the memories of their racing careers help them to truly appreciate the lifestyle change that generally comes with a new home and a new job.

Jump

2009: Marley and I Jump with Egg Bars and Bell Boots

One common theme with off-the-track thoroughbreds, however, is that they are known for having unhealthy feet.

Shoe

Marley's Right front with Egg Bar
s (2009)

My horse Marley is an ex-race horse whose feet were mismanaged for about 10 years (of course, this was back before I learned to trim myself). I acquired him when he was 5, and went the way of metal shoes for 5 more agonizing years.  

Flat Foot

2009 Before Picture:
Marie Daniels Pulls his Shoes.
Front

To this day, Marie and I can both say he's the worst case we've ever seen.

Finally, after pulling his metal shoes, putting him on a low-starch diet, fitting him with EasyBoot Epics, and making sure that he got lots of exercise and regular trims by a natural hoof care expert (my colleague, Marie Daniels), he finally grew some kind of OK feet. Marley is completely barefoot and sound today, although he does have bone loss at the tip of his coffin bone on his right front. He will never have great feet, and so hoof maintenance is a crucial part of his soundness.

Healthy Sole

May 2010

Some clients act surprised when I tell them at my first visit that I keep my horse clients on a strict 5-6 week schedule. I warn people during this initial visit that I will not continue trimming their horses unless they are willing to have their horses trimmed regularly. At first, these individuals have difficulty understanding my reasoning for being so strict. One client, for example, insisted that I trim her horses once every 12 weeks; after all, when she was growing up, her family trimmed their horses only 3 times a year.  Her current animals have very sick feet.

Healthy Right

2011: Marley's less-healthy right front (missing coffin bone)

I inadvertently performed a little experiment on poor Marley that illustrates the importance of regular trimming.  Recently, I became very busy and my own horses fell completely off of my trimming calendar.  With the thought in my mind one evening that my horses must be due soon, I was appalled to look down at Marley's overgrown toes and find a nasty crack that ran all the way from hairline to the ground.  How could I allow this to happen to my high-maintenance horse?

Crack

2011: An ugly crack just right of center on his left front that actually looks better than it did the day before. Darn for not having my camera the day before.


I knew exactly how. I took in an off-the-track thoroughbred this past May who was dead lame and needed trims every one to two weeks to keep the separated hoof wall from pulling away at ground level. My days were filled with trimming other people's horses, and my evenings were taken up with my new 4-year old project…and my "sound" horses fell to the wayside.

Rin

Rin: My newest project, and a "gift" from the trainers, Lisa and Victor.

The moral of my little story is that regular trimming is so important, whether we're talking about a horse who is uncomfortable on his feet and in need of rehabilitation trimming every 2 weeks, or a sound horse who just needs maintenance trims every 6 weeks to keep him balanced and moving well under saddle. Certainly, if Marley had stronger hoof walls and healthier soles, the crack that he developed probably would not have traveled so far up his foot. However, the ugly truth is that the majority of my client horses do not have very healthy feet. Instead, they are recovering from carbohydrate overdoses and improper shoeing and trimming, putting them in need of a very regular schedule to keep the old, weak part of the hoof from invading the healthier hoof that is growing down from the hairline. Marley is no exception. Although he has grown new hooves from hairline to the ground at least twice since starting natural hoof care, it is going to take a lot longer than 2 years to grow truly healthy feet after 10 years of improper hoof management - and when there's permanent damage, such as Marley's missing coffin bone on the right front, that hoof will always need very special attention.

Rin and Marley

Marley and Rin.

Every horse wears his hooves differently, depending on diet, exercise, and the terrain in which he is most often worked. Your natural hoof care professional will be able to help you find the trimming schedule that is right for your horse, as well as the diet and exercise plan that will best fit his needs.



Marley and Rin are now pasture pleasure riding ponies. The racetrack horses we will be discussing next have many more trimming, booting, and even shoeing considerations.



Stay on track, and don't let your horses fall off of your trimming schedule.

From the Farm to the Track

I never thought I would ever trim for thoroughbred race horses.  After all, my barn is full of off-the-track race horses who have come to me with terrible feet.  OK, so I currently only have 3 horses, and 2 of them are off the track thoroughbreds. But I have owned 5 of them myself, and trim many on a regular basis.  From what I knew about the racing industry, race horses have three strikes against them when it comes to natural hoof care: A sweet feed diet; no turn out (although they do get galloped and walked on a wheel each day); and nail-on shoes on their feet.  Certainly, there was nothing I was going to be able to offer to people in this corner of the horse world.

And yet, I had met a woman about 4 years ago, way before I knew I was going to become a trimmer, who did seem to have a very different approach to horse racing: an approach that sounded promising.  I met Lisa Meaux when she was looking for a home for a newly-retired race horse named Blondie.  My neighbor, knowing my love for thoroughbreds off the track, suggested that my barn was the place for Blondie.  I agreed before even meeting the horse, and so met Blondie and Lisa on the same day, when she pulled up to my barn with my new "present".

Farm to the Track - Image 1 Farm to Track 1                            

From the moment Bondie arrived, he had a calmness not often seen in race horses
Unlike other trainers, Lisa starts every young thoroughbred by first working intensely on ground manners, using methods from Clinton Anderson.  Once the horses begin their racing career, Lisa will incorporate other techniques not often seen in the racing industry, such as chiropractor, acupuncture, and message therapy to keep her horses happy and comfortable.

With her less traditional methods of training in mind, I figured just maybe she'd be interested to hear about my new exploits in natural hoof care.  Low and behold, she was very excited to hear that I may offer something different from her track farriers!  No, no.  She wasn't about to have me rush over to the track to start pulling the shoes off of her race horses.  After all, no one down in Louisiana has ever heard of thoroughbreds racing barefoot.  However, her husband Victor Arceneaux did have a beloved pony horse at his farm who had been struggling with sore feet for over 2 years.

Fark to Track 2

When I got to poor old "91", he had shoes on all four feet, and large foam pads duck taped to the bottoms of his front feet in a desperate attempt to relieve his pain.  91's shoes were pulled and I trimmed his aching feet while he stood on foam padding.  Next, he was fitted with Easyboot Epics, and we discussed changing his feed from a sweet feed to a dry pellet.  Lisa followed all of my suggestions with him, changing his feed to a low starch pellet, taking him off of pasture (necessary in cases such as severe obesity and EMS), making sure I trimmed him regularly, and getting him plenty of exercise in his new hoof boots.  Within a few months, the horse that they were about to give up on was back to his old mischievous self-- barefoot!  Lisa and Victor were thrilled!

Farm to Track 3

With this natural hoof care triumph, Lisa began pulling sore-footed race horses out of training for me to rehabilitate.  I noted that the horses brought to the farm for rehabilitation had  been left with no heel and no sole.  Their feet were flat and their soles soft.  Each horse was fitted with EasyBoot Epics (my personal favorites), their diet was changed to a dry pellet, and they were sent out to play and exercise. 

In no time, Lisa was able to identify the healthy hoof as it grew from hairline to the ground, and noticed the difference in heel height and sole concavity that happens with natural hoof care, compared to farrier-shod race horse feet.  She began bringing pairs of hoof boots over to the race track training center for any horses who showed lameness, and began requesting more and more for the farriers to leave shoes off of her horses at the track. And yes, she is now giving me a shot at a few of her thoroughbreds in training at the track!

Cautiously optimistic, I realize that there are many hurdles we have to face in this new adventure.  After all, many in the racing industry still believe that a horse cannot race without shoes, and the few that do believe racing barefoot is possible also believe that barefoot horses wouldn't have a chance against shod competitors.  Then there are the issues with diet and exercise.  Most horses in the racing industry are fed sweet feed, an enemy of the healthy hoof; and race tracks are certainly not known for their ample pasture space.

Am I getting in over my head?  Possibly.  But with one trainer willing to give natural hoof care a try, I feel that I have to gamble on a win for the barefoot horse, and for the chance of encouraging the racing industry to make changes toward healthier, happier athletes.