For thirty years I had Arabians with magnificent, rock hard feet. I never needed shoes or boots and they handled our sometimes rocky trails with ease. I knew from the moment he came in Radar would need some type of protection for his hooves if I was going to use him as a trail horse. His breed alone suggests the foot composition he was born with—long toe, low heel, thin walls and soles—so I put in a call to Leslie Emery, the original barefoot hoofcare practioner (he literally wrote the first books ever written about barefoot hoofcare) who just happens to live on our Island.
Leslie, who taught Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey about the many benefits of keeping horses barefoot, was training a new apprentice, Ben Killian, who he said needed the “practice.” Because Ben would be working under Leslie’s guidance, there would be no charge for Radar’s foot rehabilitation if I was willing to give Ben a shot. Since we had no idea if we could even fix Radar’s lameness issues, and really had no clue how long the process could take, I agreed to the terms and they went to work right away pulling the shoes that my trainer had put on Radar’s feet and giving him his first rehabilitative trim. As I was starting to figure out, nothing with Radar was going to be easy, but I believed that I had the right people on my team who would give it everything they had to bring my horse back into a natural state for optimal health and, hopefully, a future as a trail horse.
As is usually the case, his back hooves came together first and it wasn’t long before Radar had good sole depth and concavity to go along with his now correct heel and toe angles. We realized pretty early on, however, that his front feet were going to be a bit more challenging. Because his heels continued to want to grow with his toes, it became obvious that we were going to have to reign in those toes somehow to stop the pull on the heel tubules. Rather than compromise his hoof walls any further, we opted for glue-on shoes for my boy’s front hooves and within a few months we began to see some important changes beginning to occur. As his toes were brought back, the heels of his left foot slowly began to grow downward beneath him, rather than forward with the toe, and this foot began to come together. His right foot was very stubborn and even with the shoes, the heels on this hoof continued to grow horizontally with the toe, rather than vertically as they should.
Months went by and Leslie and Ben continued to trim Radar’s hooves, shortening those toes with each trim. They continued gluing plastic shoes onto his front feet, but his backs were bare and looked fantastic. I continued to lunge Radar a few times a week, but his lameness issues continued as before: sometimes lame on the left, sometimes the right, but nothing so major that I felt we couldn’t get past this at some point. Every six weeks my guys would come and work on Radar’s feet. As the left foot slowly grew into a nice looking hoof, the right one seemed to still be floundering, but we continued on in the hopes that someday he would be usable.
In early summer, 2016, I went out to the barn to start my chores and found Radar standing quietly in his stall. I gave him a rub on his forehead and opened his door only to find him standing in a pool of blood around his left foot. Oh, crap. What now?
Check in again next week