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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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:
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
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…….