So–We Did It! Running with Pink Hair and Batman Part 4…..

Well, we are done, and the sum total of our fundraising for the Brooke has bought in £650 (or nearly £770 with GiftAid!) which has blown me away somewhat since I thought I would probably manage about 200 quid even with a good bit of shameless self-promotion and random JJ being naughty pics!


People’s generosity was remarkable and it has to be said that the fundraising proved to be almost as entertaining as the race itself, with my OCD asserting itself late on and various mates variously contributing to round up the total raised to a tidy figure…and others then donating 79p or other evil unbalanced numbers to disrupt the balance of the total (and the universe) yet again. I thought we were doomed actually. but The Brooke has been adopted as the official charity of Team Mick Karn and TMK Pen managed a literal last second donation from Peter and from badge sales over the last week, in memory of Mick–I think it went through just a millisecond before the official fundraising page closed, but it also rounded the figure up to £650  so the universe is now back in balance and I am getting stressed about people who hang up their headcollars on the wrong peg in the tackroom instead. I mean, really. Still, what an amazing total–I can’t thank everyone who contributed, with money, time, and lots of help promoting the run, though I should have emailed you with even more thanks by now 🙂

The race itself was quite fabulous. Having been injured out of the Royal Parks Half twice before, I was pretty astonished that I managed to get to London the night before without getting myself killed (I had been forbidden to do anything involving riding horses or motorbikes for the week before!) and I managed to stick to my Race Plan (turn up without too bad a hangover being step 1) because a couple of pints of cider in the hotel bar came to fifteen quid and that nearly choked me. (In my defence, Ron Hill, who has got to be one of the greatest runners of all time, reckoned you should never have more than a couple of pints the night before a major race anyway, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s OK for me. I can only assume he never made a habit of drinking in London though). I went back to my room and amused myself writing the names of all my sponsors on the back of my shirt. This amused my son no end since he had identified himself as MISCHA SMELLS on the fundraising page and needless to say he had already written something similar on the shirt, which was much commented on the next morning.

I have a feeling I am easy enough to spot!

I have a feeling I am easy enough to spot!

The next morning though, disaster nearly struck when I woke up at 6am with a migraine..however I had decided by then that short of being actually properly dead, I was doing the race, so I abandoned all thoughts of finishing in the planned 2 hours, drafted up a survival plan, checked where the St John’s Ambulance points were, drugged myself up to the eyeballs and feeling rather spaced out and queasy, headed for Hyde Park. Helpfully all the tube stations adjacent to Hyde Park were closed, so a mad warm-up dash following a crowd of runners following a chap in a full Batman costume ensued, in which I learned that running in minimalist barefoot shoes over cobbles is awkward. But the headache had gone by the time we arrived at The Brooke tent to have pictures taken, so I reckoned I would probably survive.001

And I did, by dint of trotting along cheerfully and when the flashing lights came back at miles 6 and 10, by walking until I could see where I was going again. In actual fact, just jogging along was a jolly good way to run a race. I got to talk to folks, admire the carefully manicured trees (it is a bit wilder here in the Clocaenog), the extremely fat squirrels, the bizarrely gingerbready cottages that dot the park. I saw a horse (and was grateful once more that JJ was at home, since I can assume he would have had something to say about it). got confused and spoke to an interested dog in Welsh, and coveted the gallops (which JJ would have probably approved of). 13 miles passed in no time actually, and I think it was probably the best and happiest run I’ve ever done (possibly because there were a lot of things to look at, and also, we got to run over Westminster Bridge which for some reason was wildly cool).

Spotting other Brooke runners was also extremely good–there were 26 of us in the end, all in orange and we definitely had the loudest cheer team too 🙂 I’m not sure what the final total raised is yet, but it was well over 16k at last count. I will say one thing, if you want to run a half for charity, the Royal Parks really ought to be the one you go for. It’s not hugely competitive, not least because almost everyone in the mid pack of ordinary runners is fundraising. Even people who were clearly NOT runners by choice were running, often rather well, to raise money for pretty much every charity you could think of. Battersea Dogs’ Home, various cancer charities, many in memory of relatives who hadn’t made it. ‘I am running because my Dad can’t anymore,’ said one shirt. Another girl was raising money for Great Ormond Street, in memory of her baby daughter, whose picture was printed on her shirt. I sniffled my way round miles 7-9 I think. Everybody had a story, everybody had something to say. The chap who I ended up running next to for a bit, who was wearing the (really rather good) Royal Parks shirt you are given before the race, said he was doing it because he needed to lose seven stone and had lost four training, but that he felt a bit left out so was going to do the race as a charity run next year (‘By which time I’ll be thinner and I’ll break two hours if it kills me,’ he added, which is something I can heartily sympathise with). I didn’t see Batman, apparently he came in a few minutes behind me, still in his full rubber suit, presumably a bit cooked, but the spectators were great and very encouraging, and if you look a bit loud–which I was, in orange with pink hair and my name on my shirt–people do shout lots of encouragement. I’d have loved to hear what they said to Batman though.

The Royal Parks is definitely the best organised race I’ve ever done–we were very well fed at the end with Bounce Balls and bananas, more offerings of water and Lucozade, and the most enthusiastic volunteers I’ve ever met handing out the rather excellent wooden race medals to us sweaty folk in various stages of banana-clutching exhaustion. I’m afraid I felt perfectly fine in the circumstances, but I’m putting that down to running in the barefoot shoes with proper biomechanics, and not slamming down heel first, rather than the fact I had spent the previous hours trotting along chatting and not, as my much hated old PE teacher would have said, ‘putting any backbone into it.’ But I shouldn’t think the donkeys will care very much (plus I got to mooch round London, visit the Tower,  and stroll along the South Bank later on without actually being in agony) 😀

Barefoot  shoes. There's an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Barefoot shoes. There’s an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Back with Emma at the Brooke tent, and we were fed rather well again actually, with protein bars and coconut water. and I picked up my Other Half who had been my pack donkey for the day, and had been looked after rather well by The Brooke as a result. I was grateful for that actually since I was convinced he was probably going to get bored and go to sleep on a park bench somewhere and be arrested for vagrancy, but actually he had been t-shirted and recruited on to the Cheer Team, which meant he managed to take photos as well, though not of Batman.

Needless to say JJ the Quarter Horse was terribly badly behaved in my absence, and in between being vile to everybody, human and equine alike, apparently was standing by the gate looking for me. I am pretty sure he wouldn’t have been any better behaved in Hyde Park though, and the aftereffect of taking your horse running is now that he thinks he can bomb about at trot everywhere, often leaving me hanging onto his tail as he buggers off, or just hanging on if I happen to be sitting on him. Since I didn’t think he’d live to see this winter though, I’m not complaining: I’m grateful that he is still around to have done his bit raising some funds for other equines who need help.

The QH is watching you. Be afraid.

The QH is watching you. Be afraid.

And help it will. So–a round of applause for  TMK, Peter, Pen, Mel, Sue, Daisy, Phoenix, Becka, Matti, Craig, Adam, Angie, Sam, Emma, Houdah, Leanne, Kate, Victoria, Natalie, Jenny, Nessie, Guilia, Simon, Magda, Rohan aka MISCHA SMELLS, Dani, Catrin, Freyr and Eldar, Yann, Louise and Flynn, Phillipa, Jen, Dana, Annette and Telyn, Lucy at The Saddlery Shop, Jill, Lorraine,  Julie, Chris, Ann-Marie, and the totally anonymous person who I failed to track down despite the best in OCD detective work. Maybe it was Batman. Our thanks to you in Britain, Finland, Texas, and New York, from us in Wales and a lot of donkeys in India, Africa, and South America  😀

Wooden finishers' medal!

Wooden finishers’ medal!







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Helping a Horse to Help Other Horses to Help People…..

We are nearly at target with just over a week to go!!! 😀 😀 😀 Many thanks to everyone who has donated, and a quick reminder to those who have promised to, haven’t got round to it yet, and of course, all you dozy beans who haven’t been keeping up and haven’t heard what we are up to yet 😀 Here is our fundraising page where you can part with your hard-earned cash (if you have any!) to help the Brooke help people and animals in the Third World:

and of course, if you have already contributed, or are as broke as broke can be, please share the penultimate bit of the running blog which is right down below! ! 😀 


Well, in just over a week we will be in London. I say, we. *I* will be in London, I suppose JJ will be stuffing his face on the tracks or in the yard, wondering where on earth I have gone, and I will have to phone home every twenty minutes to make sure he is OK. At any rate, that eight months of planning and trudging round the forest went quickly. OK, maybe running up some of the hills wasn’t very quick, and felt like an eternity. But in general, it is now nearly winter, and my bit of a run in the Park is a week away, and very soon I will be lining up with 16 000 other people in silly trousers who will all smell of fabric conditioner.

The fabric conditioner thing is a real issue for me.  Running, you see, seems to sharpen up my sense of smell.  I can now tell you that the house outside the village is owned by coffee snobs who would clearly die before they made a cup of instant.  The farmhouse next door to them, as well as smelling like…well, farms, uses the dreaded fabric conditioner–I can tell when the washing is on the line, and when they are in the garden, despite a six foot hedge, because I can smell them. I can smell women in cars as they drive past, too, and in town, I can smell them before they come into sight around a corner, or in the next aisle in Tescos.  In short, the world has become a ghastly barrage of loud chemical synthetic smells that drown out normal smells, and it’s vile, like living in a world entirely soundtracked by thumping drum n’ bass.

It is an interesting insight into how horses perceive people, too. JJ finds it pretty offensive when people are smelling of stuff other than normal people smells. Storm likes sniffing you–woe betide you change your shampoo, you can’t get him out of your hair–literally–for days, and we caught him sniffing knickers on the washing line too.

This is Storm, refusing to make eye contact, after the knicker sniffing incident he would rather you didn't know about.

This is Storm, refusing to make eye contact, after the knicker sniffing incident he would rather you didn’t know about.

But JJ literally will snap at blokes for wearing Lynx and he pulls faces at anything particularly hefty on the fabric conditioner front. You will be sniffed, he will recoil, curl his upper lip, and make it VERY clear–often with snorting and nose tossing and pinned ears–that your personal niff is NOT to his liking. I am beginning to understand why, although sadly nearly fifty years of social conditioning is putting me off skidding to a halt and biting anybody who has marinaded themselves in some vile gloop.

Somebody smells. And they smell bad.

Somebody smells. And they smell bad.

Still, I suspect that a few miles into the run, no amount of fabric conditioner and foul bodyspray is going to matter too much. I live at 900ft in a forest, where the trees outnumber the people about 20 000 to 1, so trying to breathe in London to me is a bit like trying to inhale custard. I am reminded about what Douglas Adams said about New York: that the best way to get a breath of fresh air, was to open a window, and stick your head into a building. I’m not planning to break the two hour barrier, let’s put it like that.

Once upon a time, of course, I would have a Race Plan. How fast to do mile 7, what to listen to in Mile 10, negative splits, how to get to the finish faster than I did last time, and so on. Now I am planning to turn out without a hangover, preferably on time, and maybe to chat to a few folks en route, perhaps take a few pictures, that sort of thing, and having survived long enough to see the FINISH line, to go visit the Brooke tent and perhaps to potter over to Southwark for a swift half in The George. At least I won’t have to stop to haul my running partner out of a bush, or deal with his now ingrained habit of speeding up in certain places. Quarter Horses learn quickly, and once they have learned that a particular stretch of road is good for running along, then you ARE going to run along that bit of road at every opportunity. Even when you are being sat on. Except then, of course, rather than having a human on a bit of string slowing you up, you can actually lurch into a 50mph gallop down the road, because apparently that is perfectly reasonable. I pulled him up eventually and he was extremely annoyed with me for ruining a good hoon.

This has been one useful side effect of taking JJ out training, of course: he is slightly fitter. Now his last bout of abscessing is over and done with, and his meds have kicked in, he is actually pretty sound, and at the moment–for the first time in years–he is back out on the grass tracks and even in the top field. He is moving more, eating far more, looks much better, and is slowly regenerating his back muscles. He is still far from normal, but he is better than he has been in years, and is remarkably cheerful too. He hasn’t tried to kill anybody in ages, at least so long as they don’t smell too bad.

Nowt more boring than horses in a field eating grass. Except one of them is JJ. Eating grass, in a field, as though he were actually NORMAL.

Nowt more boring than horses in a field eating grass. Except one of them is JJ. Eating grass, in a field, as though he were actually NORMAL.

It feels like a long time since Easter time, when JJ had started to improve slowly but even then I wasn’t even sure that he was going to survive, and I decided to do this race. I suppose I would have been running anyway, but probably not whilst thinking about the impact of poverty on animals in the Third World. It has been interesting seeing people’s happy reactions to the banning of working cart donkeys in Tel Aviv. Huge victory for animal rights? Well, not for me. What is going to happen to all the folks who were scratching about making livings recycling junk? I bet they weren’t using donkeys and horses because they preferred them to a pick up truck: chances are they were using them because they can’t afford a truck. They’re probably not recycling junk for a laugh either. So in one glorious blow, we have created a further welfare situation, taking away humans’ meagre livelihoods and making the animals useless. Chances are they will be abandoned or destroyed, and what will happen to the people? Israel already has a 20% poverty rate, higher in some places.

Perhaps it would have been better to instigate something more like the Brooke’s policy, where owners of working animals can have access to education on welfare and management, and veterinary care. I suppose we are up against a very British view of the world though, where animals are companions and pets, and not ‘working’ creatures: I see a lot of Facebook pictures of overloaded donkeys and plenty of bayings of how this should be ‘banned’ and so on, by folks with finely tuned selective compassion. I doubt the little kid working in an Indian brick kiln is having a great time either, and if you think working a donkey is wrong and it should be eating its way to laminitis in a grass field, then remember that the poor kid could probably do with being in school and learning, not working in those conditions, if he is to have a future at all. But he probably has about as much choice as the donkey, and the best we can hope to do is educate him so he can look after that donkey, which can then help the child and his family to earn more and have better lives. I’m afraid being irritated by fabric conditioner is a bit of a First World Issue compared to conditions in a kiln (I’m afraid this doesn’t make the fabric conditioner less irritating or me any less wound up about it, though), but you can find out more about what the Brooke is doing in the brick kilns here.

Interestingly, Monty Roberts has been in India this week looking at the work of the Brooke–he has a long history of working with disadvantaged kids as well as animals, and he is very difficult to keep quiet once he has a bee in his bonnet, so I am delighted that he is taking an interest in the Brooke.

This is what he has to say about the work of the Brooke in India:

 Monty in India 

So, that’s one place your donations are going, and you can see that it’s clearly making a difference! I’m actually pleased that we’ve been able to do our (very small) bit to help, too, and I’m hugely grateful to all the folks who have also done their bit–through donating or sharing these blogs–to help my horse help other horses to help people. We are now nearly at our target of £350–I think if you include GiftAid we have about £75 to go, though we have a bit promised from various nice human beans we know. If you have any spare pennies of course, JJ and I will be delighted to relieve you of them at:

And of course, if you happen to be about in London on the 12th Oct, do come along to one of the Royal Parks and look out for me. I’ll be the one plodding along like an old bag with pink hair, donkey ears, and an orange shirt, so I think I should be reasonably recognisable even without the horse. And, if you are daft enough to have bathed in Lynx and washed your hair in fabric conditioner, I’ll certainly spot you a mile away.

Of course, this might be the last time you see me alive......

Of course, this might be the last time you see me alive……

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Sore Feet and War Horses–Running for The Brooke Part II

There is now a month to go before I head off to London for a bit of a run round a park to raise funds for the Brooke. Fundraising has been pretty good and we are now at about the 200 quid mark, with £150 to go to hit target, so I am chuffed with that (and obviously if you want to add a few pennies to it, you can do so here:

Even a tiny amount helps, especially if you can GiftAid it, and it can make a heck of a difference to the lives and working animals and their humans in the Third World). I’d like to say that JJ and I have been tearing round the lanes at a rate of knots doing lots of training, but the poor little chap has been awfully ill again.

Sleepy Quarter Hose! JJ contemplates Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Sleepy Quarter Horse! JJ contemplates Life, The Universe, and Everything.

He does have Cushings, and at this time of year it inevitably gets worse–and I don’t think I increased his meds soon enough. At any rate he dropped weight, developed sore feet and then another mega-abscess in his right hind hoof. For anybody out there who is a normal, and sensibly horseless, human bean, you might at this point want to imagine a very large tooth abscess in a very small space, a kind of organic bomb really. They usually brew up for a week or so then explode vile goo everywhere, after you have spent about fifty quid on animalintex, epsom salts, vetwrap, and treats to keep the wretched creature still while you soak, poke, and wrap flailing limbs, and then phone other horsey people to discuss the imminent and glorious explosion of vile frogscented ooze, usually into your eye. Poor JJ was on three legs and could barely walk, let alone do any running (although to be honest he still managed to go faster than I could when he realised the garden gate was open and there was a reasonable chance he could get out and into the haybarn). Still, he is fully recovered and much improved on a higher dose of Dried Pink Frog Pills (that’s Prascend to those of you who are not alumni of Unseen University) to the point that he is out and about on the grass tracks, being ridden a little bit, and is now walking out every other day. Yesterday, in fact, he even managed to do some running, after we met a very large lorry on a very small lane, and I decided discretion was the better part of valour and legged it. I will say at this point that neither JJ nor the delightfully kind and cheerful lorry driver were the slightest bit concerned, but both tolerated my quarter of a mile spook–one by resignedly running alongside me.  and the other by crawling along at a careful distance, grinning, presumably at the sight of some mad fat pink-haired bird attempting to sprint whilst wearing high heeled cowboy boots. JJ appears to be fine, anyway. I’m not so sure about myself!

Out and about!

Out and about!

Running on your own is rather easier than with a horse, since I don’t have to concentrate on not diving into the hedge for snacks or spooking at horse-eating sheep. It does give you time to think though. I probably wouldn’t admit to most of what I think about (nor remember it), but there have been a couple of recurrent things I’ve been pondering recently. The first,  suppose, is how bizarre fundraising is nowadays. Merely running a half-marathon isn’t enough to get folks digging into their pockets–or heading to PayPal–any more. I mean all of my people are being remarkably generous, even if they can’t afford to be, but just looking round at what other people are doing, they are having to hold bingo nights and garden parties and set up cupcake stalls or raffle their children’s kidneys and God only knows what else, AS WELL AS running for fifty miles a week in training for whatever race it was they are supposed to be doing to raise funds. Running is clearly a bit old hat, although perhaps not when you’re doing it with a horse. The main reason I was thinking about this though, of course, is the ALS icebucket challenge, in which otherwise perfectly normal people felt obliged to empty buckets of very cold water over themselves and donate money for medical research for a disease most of them had never heard of up until that point. I considered filming myself getting back from a long run in horizontal rain, uphill, freezing cold, soaked through, to see if that would work as well, but my mate pointed out that it would probably raise more if I emptied a bucket of ice over JJ’s head.

Whoa. Hang on right there.


Token evil small pony, probably plotting something.

I know there were plenty of people stupid and mean enough to do that–I saw at least four on facebook, who clearly had no regard for their equines whatsoever–but if anybody tries emptying a bucket over mine, there will be a pair of a second hand skewered kidneys up for auction, assuming the horse doesn’t get you first (in which case your kidneys are going to be the least of your problems). I understand that people often expect some element of entertainment or return on a charitable donation–but there are ethical limits. I’m quite sure JJ doesn’t mind trotting round the lanes, and the exercise is good for him. He probably doesn’t have much of a concept that his trotting about is helping donkeys in brick kilns in India, mind you, and I bet he’d be absolutely horrified if he met a donkey (he is not a fan of cows either, especially the mooing, and the small ponies down the road are apparently dangerous minions of the Anti-Christ and are plotting to roast him for lunch).

I draw the line, however, at causing discomfort to one (already frail) animal to help another, however needy. And I think, on the whole, that everyone I know is in agreement with me on that. The British value the welfare of non-edible animals very much: I did see earlier on today that folks had rallied round and raised a vast amount overnight to help the Manchester Dogs’ Home, which was the victim of an arson attack that caused massive canine fatalities. People are astonishing–they were queueing up with bedding, food, offers of foster homes, and while as species go I tend to like horses and parrots rather more than humans (and, I’m afraid, dogs), I am with TH White on this one. The one redeeming feature–possibly the only one actually–is that people WILL do without themselves to help other species when they have fallen on hard times. Maybe only some species–I doubt there would have been front page news if the Pont Y Clwyd Tarantula Sanctuary had been razed to the ground–but all the same.

And this, of course, is why organisations such as The Brooke exist. Have you seen or read Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse? I confess I haven’t–I was traumatised by Black Beauty and I met Joey the War Horse puppet at BETA earlier in the year and that was enough to

Close up, this is HUGE--well over 18hh. People move around him and interact with him, exactly as if he were a real horse. The real horses, of course, were cautiously embarrassed, pretty sure he wasn't a In good British fashion they kind of went along with it.

Close up, this is HUGE–well over 18hh. People move around him and interact with him, exactly as if he were a real horse. The real horses, of course, were cautiously embarrassed, pretty sure he wasn’t a horse…but…um. In good British fashion they kind of went along with it.

set me off.  But war horses are the reason The Brooke exists–they were founded in 1934 to treat, rescue, and humanely destroy those British Army horses that had survived the First World War in Egypt, and had been abandoned to live out the rest of their lives as working animals on the streets of Cairo. This is what Dorothy Brooke has to say about them:

Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old Army Horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the War. They are all over twenty years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly. Those sold at the end of the war have sunk to a very low rate of value indeed: they are past ‘good work’ and the majority of them drag out wretched days of toil in the ownership of masters too poor to feed them – too inured to hardship themselves to appreciate, in the faintest degree, the sufferings of animals in their hands.These old horses were, many of them, born and bred in the green fields of England – how many years since they have seen a field, heard a stream of water, or a kind word in English?

Many are blind – all are skeletons.

Her first letter to the English newspapers raised the equivalent of 20k, and this rescued five thousand old horses. Many of them were in such a state that they had to be put down. 80 years on, and The Brooke’s charitable spend last year was 12 million pounds, helping over a million horses, donkeys and mules. And, of course, medical knowledge is rather better now than it was in 1934, so we’re in a much better position to prevent all those working animals, across three continents, from becoming the often blind and always skeletal wretches that Dorothy Brooke originally saw.

It is of course 2014, and the Centenary of the outbreak of World War One and the hostilities that killed 8 million equines, and left an incalculable number to live lives of hard labour. Unfortunately, for every person willing to do something to improve the lot of other critturs, there are others who are determined to create the problem in the first place. I have never much liked that damnable animal war memorial in Hyde Park, because to me that two million quid could have been spent more wisely elsewhere. It does the job at reminding people exactly how many blameless creatures were destroyed in conflicts not of their making, though, and I suppose as a long term investment it is probably going to raise more awareness and probably indirectly, even more aid than it cost. On race day, though, I think we have to run past it, or very near it, which given the origins of The Brooke seems entirely fitting, particularly in the Centenary, though all that is no doubt going to be far to solemn for somebody with pink hair wearing even pinker donkey ears.


You can read more about the history of The Brooke at and about the Animals in War Memorial here at

If you can, please sponsor my run on 12th October. You can donate here:

If you can’t contribute with funds (and of course, if you already have!) please consider sharing this blog post on your Facebook page, or on any forums or discussion groups or anywhere where you think peeps might be interested. Thank you 😀




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Running a Half Marathon for The Brooke….with a Pink Hair and a Quarter Horse


Check out our mini-blog page on mine and JJ’s progress training for the 2014 Royal Parks Half Marathon on 12th October 2014! We are fundraising for the Brooke Animal Hospital and you can read about why and how HERE




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Track Systems–Are They Actually Worth It?

Track systems seem to be a bit of a must-have for a lot of barefooters lately, and it’s been kind of interesting talking to folks about them, and indeed, lurking on various sites and discussion boards and listening to what people are saying, planning, and indeed, the occasionally rather odd things they are claiming that A Track System Will Do For You. We have a pretty decent one, and we’ve lived with it now for a couple of years. And, unfashionable and boring as it is, I think that before you sell a kidney or your grandmother into slavery to afford all those fenceposts and all that pea gravel, there are a couple of things you need to know.

But, first things first. What’s a track system? Well, the idea originated with Jaime Jackson’s Paddock Paradise. You probably should read the book of the same name, because it’s jolly good and very interesting. I think everyone who has built one since has their own take on the hows and wherefors, but briefly, a track system is an enriched environment that enables horses to display natural behaviours–24/7 movement, foraging, and social interaction–by fencing an ideally multi-terrain track around your pasture land. It can be as simple as temporary electric fence round the perimeter of a flat field, or it can cover acres of forest, mountain, rivers–pretty much any location can be successfully tracked.

Rocky track to the bottom field, with a couple of blades of grass that need investigating.

Rocky track to the bottom field, with a couple of blades of grass that need investigating.

Tracks can function most basically, as strip grazing with more room to move, or as diverse mini-ranges mimicking the much larger paths and tracks that wild horses are supposed to follow on their travels in the wild.

In theory, this system has huge benefits. Horses that move more looking for food and water tend to develop stronger feet and muscles, and rarely have the respiratory complaints or stable vices they develop if locked up. A track need not be grass–it can be surfaced, or overgrazed to bare soil, so providing safe turnout for laminitics and insulin resistant horses who simply wouldn’t cope in a square pasture–even muzzled. And of course, movement is thought to reduce insulin resistance too, so the very act of moving from hay station to hay station, to water, and so on, is likely to be beneficial. A track surfaced with rock–gravel, shale, slate, crushed concrete–also strengthens up feet, since feet tend to adapt to the environment they are in: so it makes sense to pasture a riding horse, not on soft ground, but on the flinty, rocky, or hard surfaces that it is likely to encounter out on the trail or on the roads. It is the best of both worlds: preparing feet for domestic work whilst  mimicking supposed ‘natural horse living.’

Living in a yard...our original laminitic pad

Living in a yard…our original laminitic pad

Our previous set up, back in the days when we only had  three horses, all laminitic and pasture intolerant to some degree, was a third of an acre of what used to be next door’s garden. Next door had been demolished to make way for a road, so we bought it, uprooted the trees, put down a ridiculous amount of slate waste to raise it above the flood plain (the sea was 50 metres away) then topped it all off with wood arena surface and a small sand yard, with a barn and run in stables. It was next to the house so we had running water and electricity, which made hay soaking and night feeds a lot easier, and we had a very large beach and coast path for exercise. This actually worked OK for a good few years. The main issues we had were stealth feeders sneaking over the fence to feed JJ things he was allergic to, or were too sugary, so we were perpetually having to claw him back from near laminitis, not helped by the humidity encouraging dust mites in the hay, which kicked off his allergic symptoms, and the not inconsiderable fact that it was almost impossible to guarantee a decent hay supply. Also–and bear this in mind if you are thinking of installing a wood surface for turnout–wood rots down pretty quickly and it seriously, seriously messes up feet. Quite apart from the lack of sole and heel stimulation, mushy woodchip in a humid coastal environment (and Welsh rain) grows fungus like nothing else, so if you want perpetually sodden feet, rotting frogs, pitted crumbly soles, perpetually infected perioples and and an environment full of spores and mycotoxins, you’ll be delighted to know it all comes free with a couple of grandsworth of recycled woodchip arena surface. We had a hell of a crop of what looked like magic mushrooms too. I spent half my time murdering the bloody things because three horses thinking they were in Magic Roundabout Land wasn’t on my agenda, and H Pony in particular had already shown that she would eat woodlice and turkey sandwiches, so I reckoned she wouldn’t baulk at mushrooms. The chickens didn’t either, but to be honest, chickens behave like they’re in an LSD version of Jurassic park anyway, so who would know? Still, we decided we needed to go.

It took us rather a long time to find somewhere to move to, where we reckoned we could

Forest. Yes, it really IS that creepy. I would probably be petrified living here if I wasn't sure that the only thing out there scarier than me, is actually JJ.

Forest. Yes, it really IS that creepy. I would probably be petrified living here if I wasn’t sure that the only thing out there scarier than me, is actually JJ.

set up a better system of non-grass turnout.  Our intention all along had been to build a track, since it sounded like the perfect solution for three very laminitis prone barefoot horses. We ended up 60 miles away, 20 miles inland, at 900ft and on the outskirts of a forest, or in other words, on the other side of the back of beyond. The house, which was falling down, was part C17th, part Victorian, had no running water, fried electrics, and a large colony of bats in the roof as well as about 40 000 very loud owls in the garden. The forest was silent, dim, hiding moss covered ruins of old longhouses: it was like walking into Fangorn, or maybe, given how often it rained, into a Twilight novel, although I have so far failed to track down Viggo or any Cullens, but you never know.  Still, we can do without them: the house also had seven acres of  wooded valley, complete with river, huge ponds, two long, narrow hillside fields that hadn’t been touched in years, had never been fertilised, and were sown with old meadow varieties, as well as a garden paddock, three fords, and a network of old, derelict, but stone-surfaced forestry tracks.

We bought it.

This is Wales, so we had to remove about a mile of fallen fencing, barbed wire, scrap, debris. We found bizarre things: toy guns, dead sheep, a syringe, a chain harrow, garden tools, a concrete hedgehog, a ruined cottage. We tried to replace the more decrepit wire stock fencing with horse-safe electric, though couldn’t do much about the boundary because the only thing that will keep sheep out, is stock fence. We also doubted the older chaps would deal with living out over winter, so elected also to build a stable yard next to the house. It had a run in covered yard and access out onto the tracks and the garden paddock, and the plan was to let them come and go as they pleased.

Storm out on an early version of Track 1, having a brief forty winks

Storm out on an early version of Track 1, having a brief forty winks

Initially we used 40mm tape on plastic posts to create a series of central paddocks and outer tracks in the lower fields,  but it became immediately apparent that our new colt would calmly walk through fencing and the old Welshie would either jump it or help demolish it. Plus, tape catches the wind as it whistles down the valley, often streaming 40m of detatched and still electrified tape. Now, No 1 thing you need to know is that a track system intensifies the thought that the grass is always greener, in a horse’s mind, because even the most dim crittur can see the difference between Bare Track with Hay and All You Can Eat Equine Buffet on the other side of the fence (and al of mine have minds like buzz saws).  I spent a lot of time catching horses at first, and at one point, retrieving them from the forest after Storm decided to experiment whether he could jump more than 2ft 6 (he can, but only in an outwards direction). It was, I can tell you, a bloody miserable way to keep horses, not helped by the wettest summer and winter for years, which turned track, field, and yard to knee deep mud.

So, a grass track in December. At this point we abandoned ship and went back indoors for the rest of winter....

So, a grass track in December. At this point we abandoned ship and went back indoors for the rest of winter….

After a bout of mud fever so severe the vet insisted we keep JJ in til spring, we retreated into the large barn we’d borrowed from next door, and stayed there.

And indoors, in a very large communal barn, they were much happier.

And indoors, in a very large communal barn, they were much happier.


We moved over to electric rope on 3 inch round wooden posts as soon as we could, which cost the earth. They were pretty difficult to actually drive INTO the earth, for that matter, since bedrock appeared to be about an inch down. Also, quarter horse colts and middle aged Welsh ponies are very helpful when you are fencing, and everybody involved ended up sounding like they had Tourettes.  By some miracle however, nobody got a broken nose from the post driver, and the fencing looks very smart and so far has been horseproof. Possibly replacing our energiser with two mains powered electrobeasts that could stun an elephant a mile away had something to do with that.

We tackled the mud issue by resurfacing the first portion of the river track with riverstone, the yard with shale dug out from the quarry in the garden,  and part of the hillier section with slate slab, though that needs topping off with something smaller. We sank 2m tall hay poles–along the lower track, to hang haynets from, and rigged up a system of baths and barrels outside the yard to soak hay. On the whole, it is pretty good: overall, the track is about 1.5km, possibly slightly longer given that there are various routes through the woodland. We have 6 stables in two blocks, a tack and feedroom and covered concrete yard, and the track itself is basically a series of circular routes, with two areas where the horses can access the river as well as a water point in the yard, with the lower tracks surfaced, plenty of hills, and the grass tracks in the fields of varying widths, with open areas, shade, and a series of gates so we can close off areas or open them up as we need to.  The idea was that the ones that could eat a decent amount of grass, or who coped muzzled, could graze down the grass tracks then the central paddocks, and the really compromised PPID boys could have the yards, the surfaced tracks, and the more threadbare grass tracks at safe times of the year.  When the weather was bad–this is Wales, after all–then everybody could bodge around on the surfaced tracks and in the yards.

This is the layout as it stands now

This is the layout as it stands now

Obviously, we didn’t build all this in one go–the idea changed and evolved as we found out what was likely to work, and what didn’t. We are now pretty much finished, apart from planning to put additional crushed rock surface down on the yard and in front of the second stable block. Resurfacing is always problematic–pea gravel, the much beloved surface of the barefoot rehab, isn’t an option here because we are so far from anywhere that transporting it in is prohibitive cost wise, particularly since we can’t get a 20 tonne lorry down the lane and even a smaller truck would have to leave its load 200m away. The quarry in the garden (I mean, that’s really normal, right?)  has a more or less inexhaustible supply of shale though, and there is always riverstone from the river…so long as you’re prepared to dig it out and wheelbarrow it (usually uphill) to where you want it.

Malory and Storm eating on  the river track, compacted shale and riverstone surface underfoot.

Malory and Storm eating on the river track, compacted shale and riverstone surface underfoot.

So–does a track system offer any actual benefits in the real world? Can you translate a US dry-weather concept to the mud and rain and rocky terrain of North Wales?

carneddau family grou

Carneddau family group, Conwy

Well, we have wild ponies in Wales too, and they are probably a better model for wild living in our environment. Mimicking supposed ‘wild horse movement’ is a bit of a misnomer really, since our local wild ponies use their environment (which is high level Welsh mountainside with very much the same sort of terrain as our valley) rather differently to the way horses from the Great Basin are supposed to move for twenty miles a day. I’m not sure I’d want that sort of wear and tear on a horse anyway, to be honest, but ultimately environment is going to determine how any horses move, interact, and live, and a Welsh valley is a bit different to one in the Great Basin. In Wales, 20 miles won’t happen: for most of the year forage is pretty available if you’re an efficient grazer or browser and the weather isn’t too awful, there are always gardens to raid or tourists to mug, and given the national rainfall, there’ll a water shortage here when hell freezes over. The ponies do range freely, but they generally tend to hang around in one area for a few days, and move on.

Carneddau pony mare in the distance, all by herself

Carneddau pony mare in the distance, all by herself

They have leisure time, in fact, which they put to good use vandalising cars. Sometimes–in the absence of any predator bigger than a horsefly–they wander off on their own, you will find individuals grazing quite unconcernedly away from their family group–mostly, they live in very small family groups. Watching them, briefly, they do seem to have known paths that they travel–and if you follow the youngsters and end up lagging behind, they will often stop and wait for you as well, which isn’t perhaps behaviour you’d expect. Equally, watching the little herd of domesticated Sec As in the field down the road, they have exactly the same patterns: little familiar paths worn, according to the terrain, favourite places to sleep, socialise, and roll. My sheepfarmer neighbour tells me that sheep are exactly the same, and the seven feral sheep that have moved in with the ponies do, in fact, seem to have joined the herd: I saw all of them plodding cheerfully in single file up the hill together, following the biggest sheep.

Greyed out colt foal wil on the Carneddau. He was a cheeky little muppet and I really liked him.

Greyed out colt foal wil on the Carneddau. He was a cheeky little muppet and I really liked him.

Now, we actually have a wild pony here: H came off the Carneddau in North Wales, and  introducing a proper wild pony–admittedly one who has been out of the wild for some time–back to simulated wild living on a track is an interesting prospect, and not really something you get to do in the UK very much. Obviously it’s not going to tell anyone anything revolutionary, but the idea entertained me anyway. For those of you who don’t know about the Carneddau, or how even to say it (you’re on your own on that one), we are not talking about ‘wild horses’ as ferals reintroduced into the Americas 400 years ago after the indiginous population died out in pre-history, or horses like the Namibian thoroughbreds. The Carneddau ponies are genetically distinct from Section A Welsh ponies, and are probably one of the oldest breeds in the world–there were ponies on the Carneddau in pre-history, and they are pretty well adapted to this sort of environment, which is why  they are still there and thriving despite thousands of years of climate change, land use, and encroachment by other species.


H Pony, having just moved onto track turnout, and looking very well fed. She doesn’t look like that now!

Unfortunately, laminitis appears to be one of the adaptations: the cycle of getting fat, getting insulin resistant to conserve fat for harsh winters,  as well as pregnancy, very much seems to prime some of the mares for spring laminitis. Only a small proportion of them are ever noticeably lame, even though their feet often show a long toe/low heel configuration: despite pretty rough and abrasive terrain, not all of them have the fabulous neat pony feet you might expect from wild living on varied terrain and scrub.  But, of course, slightly sore feet is irrelevant. There are no predators, the symptoms subside, the hoof breaks away and normalises, self trimming on the rocky terrain, and the ponies are small and light anyway so cope better than a horse would even with a degree of rotation, so the ponies carry on as normal.  What this means, of course, is that laminitis is NOT a problem solely of domestication, or even modernity.  Brian Hampson’s PhD thesis makes for interesting reading, seeing between 40% and 93% incidence in chronic laminitis in three feral horse populations, Lane Wallett looked at 1119 pedal bones from prehistoric America and discovered evidence of laminitic changes in three quarters of them, and pedal bone remodelling in a third. And obviously any internet expert in laminitis will have read Chris Pollitt’s Advances in Laminitis, which begins with an excellent review of laminitis in medical literature from Classical times to the C20th (references at the end for anyone interested).  What this basically means is that laminitis appears to be a problem of wild living as well as domestic living, and indeed, in savannah as well as upland environments, and in antiquity as well as the modern age.  Obviously it is somewhat unfashionable to suggest that an untouched wild horse might live its life in a degree of pain or that its environment might actually cause issues, since laminitis is usually considered to be entirely a modern epidemic and a matter of rubbish management in unnatural domestic settings. Unfortunately, that is now known to be untrue. And the Carneddau ponies have existed in their own mountains for so long I’m afraid we can’t realistically say they are in an unnatural, unsuitable, wet-weather and green grass environment for which they haven’t adapted either, because like most native British ponies, they clearly have. Unfortunately, laminitis appears to be part of the bodge fix of  equine evolution: you are able to get porky and insulin resistant enough to live through a bitter upland winter, or a wretched harsh dry season, or any other time of dearth and dowithout–but as a side effect, you are going to experience foot pain.

Now, I mention all this partly because it is relevant to using tracks to manage laminitics–that we are mimicking wild horse living does NOT automatically mean we will be laminitis free. Also, our particular Carneddau pony, H, is a pretty standard EMS pony. Allowed to stuff herself on low sugar, soaked hay whilst living with two larger geldings, she has managed to get laminitis twice, both times after a cold snap of weather. For her, keeping moving, keeping her thin and restricting her intake of everything (she is a total dustbin, I wasn’t joking about the woodlice) keeps her perfectly sound. You can do it by stabling her overnight (she doesn’t give a stuff), but on the face of it being on a track should be ideal for her, as well as being a more natural environment for her–so long as, of course, you don’t feel obliged to mimic the wild pony fluctuations of dearth and plenty, insulin resistance and starvation, that cause problems in the wild. The idea obviously is to mimic the good, in a track system, and not the obvious disadvantages–to, in fact, improve on nature.

And what does the pony think of track living? Well, to be absolutely brutally honest, she doesn’t care. She likes being out, but she also likes the yard, a stable, is fond of raiding the garden, and would probably live in the house cheerfully as well. She’ll live in a square patch with or without a muzzle, bodge round the woods, she even liked the beach and poking through seaweed and trying to eat Coke cans. She really does not give a stuff so long as she’s got something to do and ideally, something to eat, so being given a track wasn’t exactly life-changing for her at all, though personally I’d rather her be out and about than locked up.  She has lost lots of weight and hasn’t had laminitis since being on the tracks, (but then she didn’t when she was yarded with the others during the day but stabled at night to restrict her overall eating). On the whole though, the track is a better option for her and she is, I think, happier than she would be if she was in a miserable laminitic life of 23 hours stabled and one hour out.

It’s not an option without its problems, though. All of our five have vastly differing needs, which leads to issues with communal living. H is considerably smaller than the others: they are all quarter horses and welsh cobs, and she is 11.2hh and needs to eat much less. However she can always, in all situations, eat more than she moves. I suspect she can eat

H and Chilli at the ford

H and Chilli at the ford

more than she weighs actually. However, Malory and Chilli are are 14.2hh baby quarter horses, built like trucks and eaters of grass, a great deal of grass with apparent impunity. If H is left to eat the grass tracks and long central paddocks with them, she will without a doubt turn into the Hindenburg overnight, but if we put her on the surfaced tracks with adlib hay and JJ and Storm who are both ghastly appalling hard doers, she will cheerfully eat herself to death, and in both cases, she is heading for laminitis. As a result, she spends a lot of the time over spring and summer on the grass tracks and paddocks with a grass muzzle on, or has to be brought in at night with soaked hay, but it is a system that suits her so far and she is much thinner and fitter (albeit slightly pissed off). Having a shopping basket strapped to her face, however, isn’t ideal because she can’t easily browse the hedgerows or avail herself of any of the huge variety of plants and bushes that she loves and that would make up a lovely varied, useful diet for her–and there is an ever present possibility she will snag her muzzle on a fence, or a tree, so when she is muzzled, I tend to have to close off the woodland tracks. Were she able to live with another group of ponies with similar needs, I rather think the track would be fine for her, though, but another five Carneddau ponies would be an army and frankly I feel outnumbered just dealing with H. If you can imagine the scariest old bag of a middle aged primary school teacher, cross her with a Thelwell pony, add a mind like a buzz saw, give it a can of spray paint and a bottle of cider, then photoshop it so it looks like a mini-Iberian, that’s H. One is enough. More than enough.

Walking down the tracks in single file....

Walking down the tracks in single file….

Watching her interact with the others and the environment itself though, is interesting (muzzled or not). Our track is large, and complex, every track goes somewhere, and demands a certain amount of reasoning ability, ie if all your mates are walking off and you are on the other side of a fence, you might actually have to canter in the other direction to go through the gate to catch them up. H, of course, had the instant confidence of one who hadn’t spent her life in a square field, and knew this immediately. The others, who have all been clicker trained, also knew it, and the one that didn’t soon figured it out. Quarter horses and Section Ds are bright. When we had a few horses to stay for a friend, they were an absolute nightmare, and one of them NEVER figured it out, but would run up and down fencelines screaming and finally plough through them. One of the things I very much like about the track is that it fosters independence–even Storm, who was Mr Separation Anxiety for years, will like the wild Carneddau, mooch off on his own (especially if he thinks he can find something to eat by himself). Unlike a flat field, or a track round a flat field, here they can lose sight of each other, and they get used to it. At other times, they prefer to stick together: they will plod along in single file on the narrower tracks, very like the wild ponies, and if you are around, you are immediately included in the herd.


H waiting for us stragglers to catch up

This assumption that humans also belong fascinates me. This means that a: they will follow you if you walk off a bit purposefully (especially if you really want to do something that will be more awkward with them helping), and b: if they decide they are going somewhere and you straggle, they–especially H–will normally wait for you or even chivvy you along if you dawdle. Curiously though, there are certain points at which they will let you leave: I am expected to walk to the watering hole if they are heading out, but not, it seems, to go under further (unless I want to). If you are at base camp, they will shout to you to check in, and–however bizarrely–everybody here has also got into the habit of periodically calling up to the horses too. So long as JJ isn’t around, there is no real primary leader or mover, not even H, although she is more likely to insist that the younger ones drink or move to where she thinks is best. Periodically all of them kind of ‘pick up’ the herd, and move on. They all have a communal rolling place–of course it is the vilest and muddiest area–and their movements during the day are pretty predictable, normally following the same path, the same places to eat, the same places to take a nap. You can see little bare earth paths worn into the grass, marking their progress. I’d like to report that they have tidy dung areas as well. Unfortunately they don’t: even strategic dung piles, which are supposed to encourage the creatures to have toilet areas nearby, have done little more than amuse the chickens (and the wild pheasants) who like nothing better than to shower you with horse doings as you go by. Malory, being an ex-stallion, very much likes to leave his mark in gateways or on the boundary though. This, of course, is about as far away from the various poo piles as he can get, and he likes long grass too, which means cleaning up is usually like trying to comb the world’s largest nits out of a 7.5 acre barnet.  I swear the humans with the wheelbarrows get far more exercise than the horses, which I suppose is a good thing if walking 20 miles a day (on top of running 6 and riding however far) is also on your list of things to do.

As for horses moving for miles…. Our fields are steep and long and narrow and accessed by the tracks anyway, so to be honest there may not have been a net gain on the track as opposed to in normal turnout.  The central paddocks merely restrict their grazing and direct their movement. They move more on the tracks than they do when they are allowed to eat one of the paddocks, that’s for sure, and far far more than if they ere locked in stables all the time, but turnout on the actual surfaced tracks, with soaked hay hung from haypoles, doesn’t seem to encourage much in the way of activity at all.

The Spring and Summer arrangement is that Storm and JJ are pretty much confined to the surfaced tracks and yard, JJ booted if necessary. Because JJ is a picky eater, often Storm is stabled overnight so that Mr Awkward can be left feeds that he will nibble at. He is quite capable of not eating for days and at worst, just after his diagnosis and before we

Storm under lock and key!

Storm under lock and key!

had increased his Prascend dose, when any food seemed to kick off a laminitic attack and our 9% sugar/starch hay had to be double soaked for him, he weighed 421kg and looked like a rescue case. Daily grass track turnout for him, even on a track eaten threadbare by the others, is NOT an option, and in that respect the yards and surfaces are a godsend: but neither Storm nor JJ move as much as I would like, because to be honest, putting hay out in various places doesn’t motivate them that much and they really will return to the yard to complain if they don’t feel like eating further away. It would be a different matter if they had tonnes of grass to stuff themselves with, I think, but sometimes they have to be pretty hungry to go looking for a soaked haynet. I could simply refuse to feed them in the yard, but for anything with blood sugar issues, you really don’t want them fasting then eating, nor getting wound up and stressed.  On the other hand, on some days–usually dry, warm ones–they cheerfully clear off for hours and I have to go looking for them. Still, even on a refusing to move day, they move more than they would if they were locked in stables or the yard, and JJ has been fairly clear of PSSM symptoms, so the arrangement will do. I suppose the basic issue is I think they are on a track and they should be moving, foraging, doing normal horse things and stimulating Good Feet, and they think that some days they want to hang around on the horse equivalent of the sofa all day doing buggerawl and being comfortable. Do I actually have the right to determine their every move, even when they are on their own time?

One of the things I do hear a lot from fellow barefooters is that they believe they but they will be able to maintain much better feet on a track, or maybe dispense with trimming altogether. Now, lower sugars and more movement is obviously going to be beneficial to a horse with low grade foot soreness from subtle insulin resistance, and H would agree with you there (in principle, wearing her shopping basket). Obviously for Storm and JJ any grass (and the vast amount of tasty trees and shrubs) are too much in the way of sugars, but I think in general I’d agree than any normal EMS/IR pony would benefit from a track, especially for the chubsters who live on air and think running round happens to other horses. However, the best feet in our herd belong to the two young unbroken quarter horses Chilli and Malory, who irritatingly do perfectly well on any amount of grass. Combined with track turnout, they are both glossy and muscular and neither of them are trimmed much–Malory twice to tidy up in the last year, and I can’t remember the last time Chilli needed trimming. Chilli’s feet, however, looked exactly the same on 10 acres of rye cow pasture and when she was on three weeks box rest, so she would probably cope with anything. Malory needed more frequent attention on a less abrasive surface.  The others are more special needs, being metabolically challenged, and are trimmed as needed. Storm, despite stomping around on rocks and gravel all day (and despite having PPID he is sound over everything, and I mean everything) grows wall and bars like they’re going out of fashion. I have blunted new rasps on his feet and if anyone ever invents hydraulic nippers, then let me at them. JJ is trickier, because despite having neat, hard quarter horse feet, no amount of diet management, mineral supplements, frog pads, boots, or mileage has ever improved his feet to the point that he is trustworthily sound over the wicked terrain we have here. His feet issues are not mechanical, weak foot issues that movement and stimulation will sort out, a bit like how weights might sort out puny muscles. With JJ, it is long term systemic illness–Cushings, PSSM–encouraging inflammatory changes in the actual soft tissues, and no amount of stimulation is going to stop a sore corium from being sore. The only things that have ever made any noticeable long term changes, in fact, are Prascend and Keratex, both of which as you no doubt know contain dangeroustoxicasfuck chemicals and will probably cause the world to end or something. I could tell you an excellent story about the connection between Joan of Arc and Prascend actually, but that might have to wait.

At any rate, I can report that the track works pretty well for horses that actually need not be on a track. Chilli and Malory are quite happy on it: I suspect were they on a mud bath with a few haynets round three acres looking at lots of unreachable grass in the centre, though, it might be a cause of unbelievable mental stress though, and I have to ask myself why anyone would keep a horse on a bare track unless they actually had to. For JJ and Storm, there’s no choice, but to be honest they have been off pasture for so long they really aren’t bothered any more. Over winter, both are actually allowed more Time Out, though this is awkward. For a start, JJ, unlike the others, periodically struggles on the riverstone and needs boots: if he is then allowed access to the grass tracks, then it’s pretty much a case of Goodnight Mr Boot, because not even Transitions, in the end, stood up to galloping over a stony river, up a near vertical hock deep woodland track, back through the field, and then a rapid sliding stop when he realised someone had closed the corral bars on the post and rail. Death count so far has been 2 Transitions, and 6 pairs of Gloves. One of them is still out there. Somewhere. Slinky electric gates are another thing we get through actually (14 so far), mainly because Storm inevitably takes shortcuts to get somewhere before the others, and doesn’t always realise gates are shut. He normally clears the bottom line and pings the top one 20 feet up into the trees: there’s a couple still up there that I couldn’t reach, they keep the magpies amused for hours because shiny gates are clearly worth stealing, but are also 4m long and so far the poor birds haven’t found a way of flying off with them. Unlike Storm.

The watering hole in the snow

The watering hole in the snow

Still, I digress. The PPID boys cope with a bit of winter grass turnout, but there is one huge problem: when JJ is there, the herd goes where he goes. He isn’t ‘the herd leader’ in any responsible sense, and couldn’t give a monkeys whether they are there or not, actually, he goes where he wants. This often means that he is eating from one of the hay stations, and the others are watching him. They may not actually walk away to a different hay pole, even one nearby. And when he moves, they follow, often bickering and fighting, because Storm is deeply suspicious of new arrivals and is particularly against Chilli (she has been here since last year, but he is not very forgiving and she is an awful squealy marish girl, it’s a bit like watching your old grumpy uncle putting up with Miley Cyrus twerking and shrieking round the house). JJ ignores it all. You’d think he’d be grateful for being given the run of 7 acres over winter really, wouldn’t you? But more often than not, if he can be made to head out to the fields at all,  he stays out for 15 minutes and then hightails it back to the yard, usually covered in mud, hoofboots in tatters, because he would much rather bodge about in sight of the house eating hay. And when JJ heads back, they all follow–like, in fact, sheep. The only way that you can keep them out of the yard if they decide they want to come back in, is to lock them out, and even then they spend hours milling round the gate wrecking the track surface and not doing what horses are supposed to, you know, stand about eating grass. Our winter grass is clearly not worth bothering with, hay out in the fields or tracks equally unappetising, and they would rather stand indoors eating than outdoors eating. I suppose if I removed all food and water from the yard and lower track then they would HAVE to go look for food eventually, but the fact it that winter is cold and wet here, the land becomes saturated, the rivers at times are dangerously high,  the horses become deeply miserable, and they HAVE to come into the yard or be stabled at night. This reinforces the notion that the yard itself is where you are fed and comfortable, rather than the tracks, where you aren’t–so they will always wait it out til they are allowed in again, or JJ will. The others follow.

This evening, in some ways, was a case in point (and also reminds me that small Carneddau ponies, when they are neither hungry, thirsty, or sleepy, usually find something to break, often your windscreen wipers). I was expecting to bring the normals and H back down for hay and a check over, and sort out JJ and Storm with a bit of feed and the night’s hay ration. They had had the run of the lower tracks, all day, with hay. Had they eaten it? Had they heck. Rather than actually take a short walk to find supper once they’d eaten everything in the yard–and they could have gone to see Chilli, Malory and H over the fence–they had opened the door of every single stable, attempted to break into the feed room, and when that failed, had managed to break into the tackroom–again. Bear in mind that every door in the place is now secured with a carabiner or a padlock through the bolt, but I tend to leave the keys in the padlocks for safety, and JJ, unfortunately, has managed to turn the keys and spring the locks before now, remove the padlock, shoot the bolt, open the kickbolt, and in he goes. The only food in the tackroom of course was a pot of treats and the birdfood in the budgie and parrot cages. Nobody will take the parrots on, since Malory tried and got a nose piercing and a good pecking from a 275g Senegal called Percy, but

Do Not Mess With This Parrot!

Do Not Mess With This Parrot!

today the budgies copped it good and proper: cage picked up and smashed, budgies released. First I knew about it was when Lethal White Budgie crash landed next to me in the haybarn. I caught her and remembered pretty rapidly why she’s called Lethal White Budgie, then had to try to put together a crushed budgie cage with one bleeding hand, surrounded by furious parrots, rugs everywhere, saddles on the floor, cage litter everywhere and indeed, shelves ripped off the walls.  I’d have cheerfully murdered the little swines actually but I’d spotted Paisley Budgie in Storm’s stable, so stalked her down–at one point she actually landed ON Storm, who helpfully transported her back into the stable….budgies can’t ride, apparently, she had to grab his fly rug and hang on with her beak. I nearly threw my coat over her then but I had a feeling that Storm–who was looking guilty–would probably assume he was being told off and then I’d be trying to catch him as well as the budgie. I had to walk her down the track and into the woods before she finally crashed and gave up, small, stressed, shocked and very pathetic. At any rate, I now have a clean-up operation tomorrow, which is another few hours wasted, and another few hours out of the exercise and shitshovelling time budget, simply because it is clearly more interesting to break things and eat second-hand budgie food out of a broken cage than it is to take a short walk to find a haynet. This is the second time it’s happened, actually. I didn’t take any pictures this time but I did last….and I’d say on both occasions had I left adequate food round the yard, and not expected them to actually use the tracks, that they wouldn’t have even bothered trying to break in anywhere. Then again, sometimes they go up the tracks and break things there. And sometimes they let themselves out into the garden and raid that. It is I suppose, not so much a Track Issue, as a Horse With Time on its Hooves issue. If you’re in an environment where your needs are met, and not really hungry (or at least not for your normal rations), not tired, not thirsty, don’t fancy a good mutual scratch, hoon around, and if the humans are failing to provide any entertainment, then cheerfully vandalising something probably fills in time beautifully. The ponies on the mountain, certainly, would agree there. It’s probably perfectly natural behaviour, in fact, for a shared-species environment, though personally I’m grateful the little buggers don’t have opposing thumbs and internet access.

M, being bored, decided that sticking his nose into things that don't concern him is the best way forward.....

M, being bored, decided that sticking his nose into things that don’t concern him is the best way forward…..

In short, the track has been remarkably good for the horses here that don’t actually need to be on a track, and a white elephant really for the two who looked to most need it, simply because they totally refuse to use it at the times of year they can. I am not sure using force and food deprivation to make them do so would in any way mimic stress-free ideal living. Stress is NOT proven to be a cause of Cushings: oxidative stress is a possibility, but that is not the same as ordinary ‘stress,’ and we have no idea what actually causes Cushings anyway. Stress sure as hell doesn’t make IR or Cushings any better, though, and Storm and JJ are happiest and least stressed when they have plentiful hay and can go inside when they feel like it, not when they are forced to be out in all weathers. We do not do the out 24/7 rugless here, or the PPID boys don’t. Cold spells involves extra rugs and hoods and leg wraps, since it is now known that cold stress causes a rise in ACTH–and PPID horses are far more vulnerable in autumn and winter when ACTH levels are higher anyway. And the second the temperature drops near freezing at night, H is indoors, on rubber and bedding: wild pony or not, I am not risking another cold spell triggering laminitis.

The track certainly hasn’t made my life any less stress free. OK, if you like running–and I run a lot–it is fun to run around, in a cross country way, though you can expect to be chased by a pony who thinks you are being wierd and thinks you need disciplining. Otherwise–leaving aside the occasional tackroom wrecking wild pony vandal behaviours, apart from the astronomical cost of setting something like this up, maintaining it is a total nightmare. I know lots of people who think that the extra movement on a track will make up for the fact they can’t exercise their horse for miles every day, but the annoying thing is that I’m self employed and I CAN make time to exercise them–if I wasn’t having to clean 1.5km of inaccessible, steep, awkward track, whilst mucking out usually the two or three stables that are left open. Today, I spent four and a half thankless hours cleaning up. And

Round the yard haypole, winter 2012

Round the yard haypole, winter 2012

then there’s the hay: stuffing and soaking and draining 15 haynets a day in winter, all of which have to be transported, again, along the tracks–and of course the waste hay (because they will always waste some) has also to be scraped up and disposed of, because otherwise it becomes foulsmelling rotting goo that you don’t want them standing in. And don’t get me started on the endless fence maintenance….or how tracks destroy beautiful, old meadow pasture and wreck the ecosystem (I have taken to reseeding every year) because old grasses simply don’t cope with the sorts of traffic and intensive grazing implicit in a track. The lovely bare parched earth you have now, is likely going to be a vile poached slippery bog if it isn’t reseeded and rested, and you will be getting mud fever, saturated feet, frog rot, and filthy, miserable, stressed horses if you leave them in it. And once you have destroyed your soil structure, it will never be the same–and the more unusual, older varieties of meadow grass just won’t flourish anymore, whereas it looks to me like blasted high sugar ryegrass will. And docks. And nettles. I can forgive the thistles, the pony likes eating them and has taught the others how to pick the flowers off, and the same with gorse–although now she is muzzled, needless to say, she can’t actually do that any more 😦 And in the absence of the Pony Flymo, it is one of the humans with the strimmer that will have to remove the weeds…and the undergrowth under the electric fence and let’s not forget the poisonous stuff too. We don’t have ragwort. We do have foxgloves, which are death in 15 minutes. It takes me a lot longer than 15 minutes to pull the bloody things up though, and of course–with laminitics on site, and being so close to a watercourse, we can’t spray.

The Clwydian Range in the background

The Clwydian Range in the background

I suppose this sounds deeply negative, and yes, it is, in very many ways. No doubt I’ll be howled at and told that if the design was different or I was barefooting harder or if I lived somewhere more suitable, then everything would be hunky dory, but that’s scarcely a practical solution. Probably if the yard and house were in the centre and the track a gravelled surfaced oval, they would be happier using it, but that sounds like a totally factory farmed, arid environment to me and not at all enriched living. The truth is, tracks have issues–same as any system of management. You just have to decide if the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

One of the issues I can see developing, actually, as this sort of horsekeeping becomes more mainstream, is an increase in equine motor neurone disease. Do NOT underestimate this–if you’re keeping a horse primarily on a hay diet without supplemental fortified feed, you MUST supplement with Vitamin E. I do see a lot of people (not only on tracks) who aren’t, and it doesn’t take that long for a serious deficiency to develop if the horse isn’t been fed decent compound feed to manufacturer’s recommended amounts, or at least a supplement in straight feed. Unfortunately it is more likely to be the barefoot and alternative demographic who are feeding mostly or exclusively hay diets, and are also giving credence to the idea that every known horsefeed is somehow grubby floor sweepings or chockfull of dangerousnastytoxicasfuck chemicals–anything pelletted, anything with non-natural mineral and vitamin sources in it, soya, oatfeed, wheatfeed, rice bran, grain, beet pulp, carrots, alfalfa, grass meal, straw (especially that nutritionally improved version which is now being blamed by a process of Chinese iWhispers for everything from ulcers to lameness), molasses, rapeseed oil, vegetable oil–which considering that’s what most vitamin and mineral-fortified feeds consist of, is not leaving you with very many options for filling in the gaps in a dry forage based diet. Is there any truth in any of that? I really wouldn’t like to comment. The line between truth and projected eating disorders is one I probably couldn’t tackle in a couple of sentences. But I do know that artificially restricted feed regimes leave horses open to a  range of vitamin and mineral deficiencies if you don’t supplement adequately. And even if you do, feeding a load of hay, magic powders, and nowadays what is most likely to be a bowl of turmeric, coconut, and linseed, is still only the equine equivalent of a meal replacer sachet–it will do, and if you really are dealing with something like JJ, who is allergic and hypersensitive to sugars and starches, it may be your only option. But for normal horses who could eat normal horse food including sensible amounts of grass, it may not be the best option.

The thing is, by far the vast majority of horses do fine–and are sound, with good feet–on a

This is the look you get when the hay has run out in the yard.....

This is the look you get when the hay has run out in the yard…..

much more varied diet, including grass in sensible amounts.  Moreover–and this is an idle thought, but one worth thinking about–there is a currently unidentified relationship between EMS/IR and the later development of PPID in many horses. What if there is something in the way we are managing or feeding our laminitics that subsequently predisposes them to PPID? Plenty of people are hoping that by putting their laminitics into more natural enriched-living strategies like tracks will reduce chronic stress and reduce the chance of PPID developing. It would be a long shot to suggest that a dry, restricted, often nutrient-deficient diet that is low in antioxidants, such as that commonly fed to a laminitic (and latterly, grass-free horses generally), MIGHT contribute to the oxidative stress that MIGHT be a cause of PPID. But there is probably as much peer reviewed evidence for that as there is for carrots or other feedstuffs being chockfull of significant levels of dangerousnastytoxicasfuck chemicals that affect feet, possibly rather more, because there is a tentative bit of research on antioxidant therapy and Parkinsons’s Disease, which has more than a passing similarity with PPID. Obviously there are plenty of alternative supplements being sold by companies jumping the research gun on this one, but if you are willing to entertain the dangerousness of carrots, then this is worth pondering too.

Still, that is a by the way, so to get back on track–as it were–having lived with a track for a couple of years, I can’t say I’m hugely bothered either way. It’s useful, but not critical. The tracks were here anyway, so we have to use them just to get to water, or to the fields, so they may as well be used for turnout as well, even though I resent the vast amount of time just keeping it clean takes up. But it’s fine for the youngsters, and I’d be truly stuffed if all I had was a line of stables in a field as my two options. At least here, the PPID boys have got a pretty decent quality of life and aren’t confined all the time, even if they are wretched vandals (I repeat, this is natural wild pony behaviour, interaction with environment and all that). Would I build another track from scratch? Maybe, maybe not. It wouldn’t determine where I moved to anymore, let’s put it that way. If I did create another track, and if I (being poor) couldn’t actually put all weather surfaces on a kilometre or so, I think I would factor Storm and JJ out and probably give them a nice big surfaced yard. Maybe they are old and institutionalised, but they liked that much better anyway, plus I can position the CCTV to keep an eye on the little bastards when they are up to no

JJ at sunset

JJ at sunset

good. As for the rest of you reading this, well, it’s up to you what you do. You might find it far more indispensable than I have, or you might pull up your fence in a sea of mud in a few months and give up completely, I don’t know. What I do know is that while a track can be pretty useful (especially for normals who need restricted grazing) it isn’t the be all and end all if you don’t have one, and in all honesty they tend to involve ongoing expense, aggravation, time-consuming slog and ecological impact that may well outweigh the advantages, especially if your horse is one of those who doesn’t strictly need to be be on a track anyhow.




Lane A Wallett. Laminitic paleopathology: evidence from the fossil record of Equus. Abstracts Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 33 (2013) 840.

Brian Hampson. The effects of environment on the feral horse foot. A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at The University of Queensland in May, 2011
School of Veterinary Science.

Link to abstract:

Henry W. Heymering, CJF, RMF. A Historical Perspective on Laminitis. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice, Vol 26, N0. 1 April 2010.  Also here: Christopher C. Pollitt, Advances in Laminitis, Part 1. An Issue of Veterinary Clinics: Equine Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences. 10 May 2010,





Posted in Cushings, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Insulin Resistance, Paddock Paradise, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Sex, Drugs, and Sorry Soles: The Easyboot Transition has Landed!

Ok. I lied about the sex (though the stallion lives in hope) but we definitely have drugs (since this is what I do for a living, and of course the Cushings crocks are popping pink dried frog pills every day). The sorry soles, however, are worse than I thought.

Surely there must be some girl somewhere who wants to give a poor lonely boy her phone number???

Surely there must be some girl somewhere who wants to give a poor lonely boy her phone number???

Let’s start from the beginning, just in case you haven’t been keeping up 🙂 JJ, my 16 year old Quarter Horse, has finally–FINALLY–been diagnosed with Cushings. He has never exactly been easy to keep sound, since he is both allergic to everything (including trace contamination in feeds) and hypersensitive to sugar and starch levels, but with a carefully analysed and regulated diet we have managed to keep him comfortable and even working for the last eight years. This year, however, even that failed to control his symptoms, and he has gone from riding 50 miles a week to being 100kg underweight, muscle wasted, depressed, and far too sore footed to be comfortable even walking out in hand in Easyboot Gloves with pads. Our local terrain is vicious–steep hills, rough, shale forestry tracks, and since JJ is on a mostly pasture-free diet, he actually lives on a system of tracks like these as well, and that’s not great for anything that doesn’t have rock-crunching feet.

Resurfacing the track system, Autumn 2013--loose shale in the yard. For this sort of surface, you need pretty ronust feet.

Resurfacing the track system, Autumn 2013–loose shale in the yard. For this sort of surface, you need pretty robust feet.

Drugs and diet are critical in controlling Cushings, but exercise is equally important. Partly exercise will help reverse insulin resistance, if that is a factor, and IR is instrumental in the development of sore feet and laminitis. JJ’s IR, according to his bloods at least, is under control, but exercise builds stronger, fitter feet, and strong feet resist small laminitic challenges better than weak ones. Lack of movement this last summer means JJ’s feet have appreciably got weaker, despite being out on a track system that means he HAS to move to find food and water. Nearly two months on Prascend and an even tighter diet though means he is now pretty much sound on a smooth hard surface, even on tight turns, and the vet and I both agreed it was time to start him back into work, even if it is only walking inhand for miles every day. Hills and rocky terrain remained a problem though, even in the padded Gloves: JJ looks perfectly sound in terms of gait analysis, but is still showing a bit of reluctance to go forwards, walks down hill like someone’s shoved a duck up his bottom, and moving OK or not, inevitably has a tense, fixed, inward focussed look on his face. Obviously, you’d probably look the same if someone had shoved a duck up your bum, and having weak wasted muscle and PSSM wouldn’t help either. But some of it without a doubt, is feet. We seriously underestimated how much.

Better than a box of frogs, four newly-arrived Easyboot Transitions

Better than a box of frogs, newly-arrived Easyboot Transitions. The future is orange, assuming your future consists of a box, anyway. Ours clearly did.

Gloves, really, are the barefoot running shoes of the horse world. What we needed was a serious hiking boot with a good thick sole, capable of taking thick pads, that was suitable for full turnout if necessary on the unforgiving tracks and hills, wouldn’t come off or rip in half (JJ has the soul of a Dalek and holds the world record for numbers of Macs and Gloves successfully exterminated), that had decent grip and ideally needed to be able to double up as a boot for overnight thrush treatments. Also, because of JJ’s basic conformation, it had to be fairly form fitting, not a bulky bucket like a Mac or a Cavallo–and, of course, it had to be capable of doing more than usual leisure horse mileage on all terrain.

Well, that’s a tall order, and unsurprisingly pretty much every other boot on the market failed to satisfy one requirement or the other.

Form fitting and padding just don’t go together.

However Lucy from The Saddlery Shop, who happens to be the UK  distributor for Easycare, reckoned that there was a boot in development that might fit the bill: a riding version of Easycare’s RX therapeutic boot, which was being specifically designed with an orthotic layered sole, for riding and turnout, and which on the face of it sounded ideal. Early previews of the boot looked promising: it was ideal for serious padding, but nonetheless looked to be fairly streamlined, with a two part upper that was shaped to the fetlock–a proper hi-tech ankle boot that looked adjustable enough to fit skinny QH legs. In theory, it was designed for distances of up to 25 miles a week, with the qualification that a horse it fitted well would probably be fine doing any distance in it. JJ has never been particularly hard to fit, so it had to be worth a go. When the Transitions hit the UK in late Oct 2013, they were straight on their way to us too.

First impressions were somewhat delayed. The phone rang. ‘This is Pat your DPD driver. I’ve had a crash and they’ve sent me back out in a 7-half tonner and I can’t get up your lane.’

‘Oh dear,’ I ventured. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Aye, aye, I’m fine, they hit me.’

This was not my idea of fine to be fair, but each to their own. After a failed attempt to deliver to the pub, which was inexplicably closed, I deployed my better half and he tracked Pat down in Ruthin and picked the box up.

So: the Transition really *is* the equine equivalent of a hiking boot. The construction is pretty complex and feels solid: the two parts of the upper are designed so you can get a close fit round the pastern, unlike Cavallos which are like gaping buckets. The sole is rugged enough–I could just flex it–and has a bumper that is moulded onto the upper, rather like the RX. The upper itself–regrettably from a vegan perspective–is leather and fabric, and feels very robust. If you ride in horrible terrain where there is any possibility of a coronet or pastern injury, this would be a good boot for you.

Sharp pointy stones, rocks, adders, and other things lurking in the undergrowth...

Sharp pointy sticks and stones, rocks, adders, and other things lurking in the undergrowth…

The straps are velcro, removable, and good and long (plus you can set them up for a left and right sided boot). The inner liner is totally smooth with minimal stitching. My feeling was that the boot would take some time to break in, and might rub until then, particularly when saturated, but that would be no different to most boots. Compared to the minimalist Gloves, however, the Transitions looked huge.

Now, JJ’s feet generally tend towards being narrow QH feet, and disuse and a slightly overdue trim had given us a bit of contraction as well as slightly underrun heels. As a result there was a two size difference between width and length, making me think the boots might twist. Lucy reported that the internal measurements came up pretty snug, and we were borderline between a size 1 and 2. In actual fact, we needed a 2–it was impossible to get JJ’s hoof into the aperture between front and back uppers, even folded down, on the size 1s. The 2s were a beggar to get on as well (and even the bigger size was snug width-wise), and I broke two fingernails on the first boot–but I am pretty sure when they have softened up they will be a lot easier.  The boots could be cinched up pretty tight, thought I broke another four nails getting the velcro straps through the rubber O-ring keepers. One of the advantages of a snug boot I suppose is that it doesn’t come off easily (and these don’t) but as with any velcro fastening system with trailing straps, there are potential issues with mud, shavings, and the horse standing on them. And, of course, three year old colts who think the sound of velcro opening and closing is the best thing ever….

Elderly and very small 0.5 glove....rather smaller than a Transition....

Elderly and very small 0.5 glove….rather smaller than a Transition….

The actual footprint area of the Transitions is obviously rather larger than the tiny Gloves. JJ’s reaction was to take a step then snort with his eyes on stalks and refuse to move at all, since his feet had clearly glued themselves to the floor. After a bit of persuasion and a few steps of walking like a spider with a couple of legs cut off,  his proprioceptive skills reasserted themselves and he moved normally.

I say normally. Bearing in mind I hadn’t actually padded the Transitions at all, and that the vet had commented earlier that day that he was fine on tight turns on concrete, it suddenly became apparent that when he had a more giving footbed, he was suddenly MUCH lighter on his feet–both on turns, and his usual ponderous moving over when asked suddenly became much more willing. I began to wonder exactly how sound an apparently sound horse is. I left him in the yard with the boots on for a few hours to begin the process of breaking them in, but checked later to find no rubs, so left them on overnight.

By morning, they still hadn’t rubbed, come off, or twisted, so I set about padding them up prior to hitting the trail. We’ve used a whole variety of things over the years but the current favourite is Easycare’s EVA 12mm pads. Even with 24/7 use they will last about a week before they are totally flat, much longer in normal use, and then I tend to glue prolite on the bottom to give them a bit of extra life. There aren’t any specific pre-marked pads for the Transition yet, so it was a case of making a template and using a stanley knife to cut the pad to fit:

Step 1: draw round outside of boot to get rough template.....

Step 1: Draw round outside of boot to get rough template…..

Step 2: Stuff template into boots and score round it with a sharp pointy object to get an accurate sole shape...

Step 2: Stuff template into boots and score round it with a sharp pointy object to get an accurate sole shape…

3. Use template to mark up and cut out pad--this is a 12mm Easycare EVA pad.

3. Trim template then mark up and cut out pad–this is a 12mm Easycare EVA pad. Keep the spare bits for frog pads.

4. Then stuff the pad into the boot. This fitted first time but also revealed why the boots are awkward to get on--the moulded rubber heel bumper curves inwards to cup the heel, but getting the heel past it while the boot is going on is an adventure to say the least.

4. Then stuff the pad into the boot. This fitted first time but also revealed why the boots are awkward to get on–the moulded rubber heel bumper curves inwards to cup the heel, but getting the heel past it while the boot is going on is an adventure to say the least.

5. Get boot on horse. Somehow. At least you'll be able to find him in the dark!

5. Get boot on horse. Somehow. At least you’ll be able to find him in the dark!

No. I'm not moving.

No. I’m not moving.

They didn’t go on any easier with pads in, either.

So, time to go out. Obviously given that JJ has PSSM, any exercise needs to be introduced very gradually with careful increases in duration and intensity, so currently he can manage a few miles at walk. The weather had just gone cold, though, and he was clearly feeling much better. We had a major strop on the footbridge (shiny new soles on wet leaves over sheet steel with an eight foot unrailed drop to the river, probably not the most sensible place to buck in protest because he wanted to go the other way). Uphill was hard work, and he is still stopped to rest up–though the million dollar question there is whether this is behavioural, muscle weakness, PSSM, or simply different pressures on his heels causingthe reluctance to go forward–and if the latter, if the tenderness is systemic and a result of the Cushings, or whether it is simply a matter of mechanically weak feet. I don’t have a straighforward answer to that, but once the uphill stretch was out the way he was off at about 400mph, stomping over everything. Interestingly even on wet grass and mud he barely slipped at all, probably because he was a lot more confident in putting his feet down–which suggests to me that so far we have massively underestimated how much even low grade, almost imperceptible foot pain, affects the entire horse. Still, the not slipping was just as well, since at that point the miserable all-day torrential rain decided to turn into a full blown apocalyptic thunderstorm, at which point five trail bikes with their lights on blazed up the track. JJ took the opportunity to grab some grass while I flagged them down, so they all stopped and came over to make friends with him while the pack leader told me about his horses and I told him about my bikes, though they were all very entertained to see a horse with trainers on, particularly a horse who didn’t seem to be greatly bothered at being into the middle of a KTM fanboy convention (I think there was one rebel Honda rider but I’m sure he’ll see the error of his ways). At any rate, when they had gone, JJ decided it had been very exciting really, and wanted to trot, then bogged off at canter, bucking, before stomping off home at a rate of knots. Remind me to take a 22ft line next time. I did actually lunge him (you can imagine how that went down) before we got back and he seemed perfectly fine on both reins. So, success: we now have a reasonable chance of getting some miles on him, though  suspect I will probably get flattened before the week is out.

At the moment the poor chaps are short on turnout, since we are digging the tracks up and resurfacing, so it’s a case of deep holes and no haypoles to persuade them out, but I let them out of the yard for a bit to stretch their legs. Actually, it was more like THREW them out the yard, since it was still raining and they are a bunch of utter girls. They plodded off over the various piles of stone, grumbling, scratched about for a bit looking for blades of

Gratuitous pony rolling picture, of course totally irrelevant. But funny, and of course, no ducks to be seen. Even if you zoom in. Incidentally, I will KNOW how many of you enlarge this pic.

Gratuitous pony rolling picture, of course totally irrelevant. But funny, and of course, no ducks to be seen. Even if you zoom in. Incidentally, I will KNOW how many of you enlarge this pic.

grass, then found a good mud bath and had a roll in that. The Transitions stayed on–this is where Gloves generally meet their ends–even with leaping up and charging off cavorting. Plus, JJ stayed upright. I had to make a run for it for the second time that day, as the little rotters thundered back over the rocks, down a steep incline, through the river and back to the yard. I had been slightly worried that soaked boots would rub, but actually, I took them off to find that’d not actually let any water in at all. A good scrub and a night on top of the Aga, and they are dry as a bone–I had been concerned that they wouldn’t dry out but they seem fine, and I’m also pretty sure that so long as they were done up firmly (that means onto clean velcro!) with the strap keepers in place, there’s very little chance they would go AWOL even on field turnout.

So, first impressions are highly favourable: clearly the Transitions are ideal for padding up for sensitive feet, seem to stay on well, offer a good bit of lower leg protection, are pretty streamlined compared to most top-loading boots, and they clearly encourage bucking and cavorting. Less positively, bear in mind you might need to size up (though snug fit widthwise particularly means twisting is unlikely), and they are hard work to get on (when new at any rate): there is also the odd weak point in construction–the front leather strap keeper is sewn in to the boot upper and one of ours has already detached and disappeared (although to be fair I’m not sure it’s necessary anyway). But overall, this has got to be the best boot for horses like JJ, who need more substantial hoof protection.

Obviously, I might have a totally different perspective in a few weeks, when the boots have worn in–but it is looking hopeful. And on that note, I am going to fetch my 22ft line (and possibly a pair of gloves, of the human hand variety) and haul the Awkward QH out onto the trails again. I may be some time…….

The Road Goes Ever On and On.....

The Road Goes Ever On and On…..

Posted in Cushings, Easyboot Transition, Hoof Boot, Uncategorized | Tagged | 5 Comments

Putting the Boot In…..Trick or Treat?

People being wrong on the internet. I mean, let’s face it. Mostly they are not creating Third-World poverty, planning genocide, world domination, or dissing The Lord of the Rings, or anything else that ought to be a capital offence (were obviously capital punishment not a thoroughly bad thing too).  Unfortunately, they are still jolly irritating. I spend FAR too much time being irritated. Usually, it’s at bad nutrition advice being doled out by yard experts to owners of insulin resistant/EMS or Cushings horses, but no doubt I will be posting about that later on. It needs a rant in itself, possibly multiple rants. No, today’s source of irritation is: The Hoof Boot.


JJ modelling a particularly embarrassing set of pyjamas, accessorised by a set of Easyboot Gloves and a matching black halter.

Or rather, people’s attitudes towards hoof boots. I should know better than to lurk on various discussion groups I suppose, because you come across gems like: ‘I’ve never really approved of hoof boots but my sister’s horse has gone really sore footed this last few weeks and she is thinking about buying some. What are the best sort to buy please?’ And then everyone leaps in to recommend their Boot du Jour. Buy Equine Fusions,  buy Renegades, buy Gloves, buy Epics, until one lone voice suggests maybe the horse needs to be shod, and everyone leaps on her instead.

To be fair, I’m being a miserable git. People want to help by sharing what they know works, she was trying to make the right decision to help the horse, and at least now, increasingly, boots are becoming a first line option. All good. However….

Let’s look at what that statement REALLY says (and why it got my back up). ‘I’ve never really approved of hoof boots…’ Why not? Because a horse in boots isn’t a ‘proper barefoot horse?’ Because someone told you they rub/slip/break/come off ? Or because you are lucky enough to have a horse (probably just the one horse) that you could feed on sugar bombs and ride over needles and it never flinches, so you don’t see why everyone else can’t manage? Well, step out of smugville and into my world for a minute. Ask yourself why a horse might need a boot. Mostly, it’s because its feet are mechanically weak. Management that sets them up to succeed–good trimming, plenty of movement and stimulation to fitten up the feet, low sugar forage, high nutrient supplementation–will generally grow you a decent hoof. While you’re still growing that perfect hoof capsule, using a boot and an appropriate pad to compensate for weak structures in the feet will let the horse move comfortably and properly, even over aggressive surfaces, and the increased stimulation will get you results much faster. It’s hard to see why anybody wouldn’t ‘approve’ of a useful bit of therapy like that, unless, of course, they hadn’t got a clue what they were talking about.

JJ, Malory, and Storm out on the tracks: using a Paddock Paradise system to encourage movement and discourage sedentary over-eating.

JJ, Malory, and Storm out on the tracks: using a Paddock Paradise system to encourage movement and discourage sedentary over-eating.

Sometimes, however, manipulating diet and environment won’t work. If that horse has a disease or systemic problem that’s giving it sore feet regardless of normal good management, you need a diagnosis. Irritation point no 2: why is the horse sore?  See, sore feet aren’t actually a normal horse thing, even a normal barefoot horse thing. Healthy feet do what they’re supposed to, you know, allow a horse to run away from predators (and people with a halter), lark about, walk for miles in search of lunch, in short, be an efficient horse-ground interface. If a horse’s feet hurt, it either a: has rubbish feet that need fixing (see Irritation Point 1 above), or b: has something wrong with it. Now, before I put a boot on, or a shoe, I’d rather like to know whether I’m dealing with unfit feet or life threatening disease symptoms. You can use a shoe and indeed a boot to make a sore horse pretty comfortable, but no amount of booting on earth is going to stop the progress of Cushings, or laminitis. Sore feet aren’t always a farriery problem, or a hoof-fitness one: they can be a medical matter too. You need to know what you’re dealing with before you decide what to do about it.


Iron Fist Ruby Red Slippers. These ARE the best shoes to buy…really.

Which brings me to Irritation Point no 3. What is the best boot to buy? Well, what’s the best human shoe to buy? Personally, I would be going for a nice pair of Iron Fist platforms. They’re vegan, generally sparkly, sky high and I LOVE mine. Obviously, they are also ideal for misshapen or sore feet, cross country running, and mucking out….oh. No. Hang on a minute. You mean I can’t run next year’s London Marathon in them? *looks stunned*

Vivo Barefoots. These are also the best shoes to buy. Really.

OK, chances are that somebody–probably dressed as a six foot high carrot raising money for Foot Deformation Awareness–already has, but you get the point. Horse boots, like human shoes, have a defined purpose and are often designed for a specific sort of foot. Basically, if you have a desperately sore unresolved Cushings case, you’re going to need a different approach and a different boot  to someone who has a fit endurance horse who needs to do 50km over rocky trails that it’s not trained on or used to.  It’s the difference between buying Easyboot RXs and pads, running bloods, getting a diagnosis and starting medication and diet changes, and tapping on well fitting (say) Easyboot Gloves, and heading for the start line. Orthotic slippers v. barefoot running shoes. And this is why listening to yard experts on the internet can be such a bad idea. What worked on their round footed TB may not be such a great idea for your slipper footed Section A, for a start, so do ask specific questions. And if you take a recommendation, or just order something online you like the look of (red and sparkly is NOT a selection criteria here!), don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work as well as you’d hoped. Do more research.  Talk to your trimmer. Make sensible choices based on fit and function. There is plenty of information on the manufacturer’s websites, and most retailers will help you out as well. 

Which brings me to JJ. On the face of it, he isn’t at all difficult to boot. Most hoof boot makers are American, most American horses are QHs, so he fits into the normal demographic. His feet aren’t flared, bizarrely misshapen, 12 inches across–in fact, unless you knew what you were looking for, you’d probably think they were OK feet. As a result,

Not the strongest foot in the universe, but to be honest, for a long time laminitic and recently diagnosed Cushings case, it could be a lot worse.

Not the strongest foot in the universe, but to be honest, for a long time laminitic and recently diagnosed Cushings case, it could be a lot worse.

we can fit him into pretty much anything and we’ve pretty much used everything on the market. Every boot, we found, was good at something, and not so great at something else. Original Macs (which were about all there was when we started out) had to work as serious therapy boots: there was a four size difference between JJ’s hoof length and his hoof width when we took his shoes off and discovered he couldn’t actually stand up. The Macs, for example, ended up customised with sewn- in side padding, and they held up to shuffling round the yard, made pretty good poultice boots,  padded up well, but were obviously a bit bulky for walking out and tended to come off in mud. They also tended to rip in half, but we had the local cobbler trained to put them back together again (it cost £2.50 a boot and he confessed that while he’d had to sew people’s bondage gear up, he’d never fixed a horse shoe before). Renegades, we found, were made of hard plastic and were awkward to pad–though we did it–but they were probably better suited to a horse that needed boots to prevent wear and was already sound over everything but the roughest terrain. Cavallos were fabulous to pad but were like boats, little quarter horse legs rattled round in them and they came off too easily (though they made very good slippers and poultice boots). The general best bet, for JJ, was actually Easyboot Gloves: he never liked bulky boots, and these were absolutely form fitting. Plus, we could pad them with a 6mm pad. Once they wore in and stretched a bit, you can use them for White Lightning treatments too–cotton wool soaked in WL, packed around the frog and heel, cling film and the boot over the top. For anything needing a poultice or on the rare occasions the poor chap was very sore, it was RXs, normally reinforced with a bit of duct tape.

The terrain here is tough, even for a horse that doesn't have systemic issues

The terrain here is tough, even for a horse that doesn’t have systemic issues

This last year though, the Gloves have been less than ideal. We have pretty rough terrain here–he works and lives on flinty, shale covered forest tracks. And the last year has taken its toll on him as well. Last autumn he was riding 50 miles a week. By spring, he was being walked out 6-10 miles every day. By the time we finally got a Cushings diagnosis and a prescription two months ago, he was walking down the lane in hand for a mile or so, booted, and looking uncomfortable doing that. The Prascend has helped, but still the difference between comfort and unhappy really is a couple of haynets of hay that hasn’t been soaked long enough, or in enough water.  Don’t get me wrong. He’s not crippled. The terrain here is pretty harsh, and even a sound horse without JJ’s issues would struggle on it, I think: unbooted, he seeks out softer terrain and is careful. He is sound barefoot on concrete, and its only his expression that gives him away when he’s walking out. Boots help him out but basically, we can’t pad the Gloves enough to make him 100% comfortable on rough terrain, and if we use a bigger size and a bigger pad, they come off.  Since we are resurfacing the tracks right now and they’re even rougher than normal, he really needs something for turnout too, that ideally he can’t rip in half. 

We could go back to using Macs, or Trails, but neither really fill me with enthusiasm. Equine Fusions, I’ve never been convinced they have enough grip and the last thing he needs is a flexible sole that will enable him to feel the ground.  What he does need though, is to be comfortable enough to move, because his feet are clearly getting worse and worse through inactivity and being a couch potato won’t keep the insulin resistance under control either.


Could this be the best boot to buy? The Easyboot Transition, picture shamelessly stolen from

So, what is the best boot to buy? We decided to wait it out until the new Easyboot Transitions are available. On the face of it, they tick all the boxes–suitable for turnout, suitable for exercise, a decent Glove-style tread (that means decent grip, folks), unlikely to be ripped off or torn in half, can be used for minor White Lightning treatments, and are specifically designed, sole wise and padding wise, for remedial feet. On the downside, they’re not vegan, I’m slightly worried that being part fabric, they will saturate and rub, and they might be a bit bulky,  particularly since JJ’s feet are rather longer than wide. But we will see.  He copes fine in the RXs (though can take them off) and the Transition looks to be the upgraded riding version, so I am hopeful. If it can cope with our terrain, and make any difference to the world’s most awkward horse, then it’ll be worth knowing about. They are set for a Hallowe’en launch by the looks of it, so check back early November to see if the boot turned out to be a trick or a treat!

Posted in Cushings, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, Hoof Boot, Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Horse | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting the Losing Battle….

We are not going to win this one. Living with a horse that can’t eat much if any grass, is allergic to almost all known horsefood, and who has two serious and debilitating metabolic conditions, and is currently nearly 100kg underweight with no possibility of ever getting any weight, or any muscle, back on him, of course, is living to fight a losing battle. We are not going to win, and every day that passes makes it less likely that JJ will ever have anything that passes for a normal horse’s life. Still, he is doing OK and we are not going to give up yet. And that is what this blog is about.

JJ is a 15.1hh American Quarter Horse gelding.  He was foaled in 1997 and came to live with us when he was 8. We had been looking for a sane middle-aged cob but I bought him, not because he was in any way suitable, but because he was desperately clever and because I knew if I didn’t buy him, I’d probably think about him every day for the rest of my life. Later on we learned that even his breeder had called him a problem horse that had cribbed from birth, and one of his early Western trainers remembered him as difficult, fizzy, and opinionated. His then owner reckoned he was easy going, steady, and a nice friendly horse–which to be fair he is, if he likes you, and if he is feeling well. My first impression of him though was that he was clearly not going to be the easiest and most co-operative creature on God’s earth.  I suspected I’d bitten off more than I could chew, but apart from the fact that is my normal modus operandi, I reckoned I would think of something. And I have, though not exactly in the way I’d hoped. Because what I actually had to deal with, three days into horse ownership, was the realisation that there was something seriously wrong.003 The eight years since have been a long process of finding out exactly what, from low-grade laminitis, to suspected PSSM, through a period of stomach ulcers and extreme behavioural issues to a severe allergy syndrome, and finally, to a diagnosis of Cushings that to my mind, should have been made years ago.  It’s a journey that has seen us do some pretty extreme things. Buying next door’s garden, flattening it, and making a surfaced turnout pen so we could have grass free outdoor living, as well as 24/7 surveillance. Disowning several friends, for suggesting that JJ’s less desirable behaviour could be cured by a good thrashing. Being disowned by several friends, when JJ tried to kill them. Realising exactly what other friends were made of, when even though some of them were petrified, they still helped us out. Rohan abandoned a career in photography and trained as an Equine Podiatrist. I hung up my gown, exited academia, trained as an equine massage therapist, ended up as a feed analyst (and I still can’t trot a 20m circle). The gown, actually, slightly dusty, still hangs in my study and still, faintly, smells of perfume from girlier days (nowadays I, on the other hand, smell of horse feet, horse wee, and Hibiscrub). We reassessed everything we thought about horse owning, training, veterinary medicine, and even ourselves; destituted ourselves, did without, and finally, we moved to a remote and very derelict farmhouse in the Clocaenog Forest, more, of course, for the horse’s benefit than ours. We spend more on hay per month than food, and, of course, managed to pick up an extra three neds en route to where we are now (not including the pigeon, the two parrots, two budgies, four ducks, ten chickens, and an uncertain number of cats). Currently I am drying out a set of hoofboots on the Aga and the entire house smells of singed rubber and cooked thrush. Nobody has noticed.

014We are, in short, sad obsessive geeks who don’t know when to give up, and if you are already thinking ‘you’d have to have something wrong in your head to do all that for a horse’ then here is not the place for you. Of course, you might not be entirely wrong, either, but that’s not the point. The fact is, when you’re the only thing between a horse and a bullet, you bloody well carry on. I don’t think we will ever fix him, but we can keep him comfortable, and even though it’s not exactly been easy, emotionally or financially, that’s the price of an education. I would buy him again tomorrow, if I could.

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