Thursday, March 10, 2016


So, my forever horse, Jax, is barefoot. Not because I don’t like metal shoes, but because he can’t wear metal shoes. His feet are great, they hold metal shoes really well. The problem is he forges when playing out in the pasture, and every time metal shoes are on his feet he gets a splint. Every. Time. He has had a total of six splints since I’ve had him, one was on a back leg from getting kicked, but all the others were from forging. Three of the six came in a six month period, right after I bought him, while wearing metal shoes. The other two were also from forging, but it’s only happened twice without shoes in a 3.5 year period.

So, after finally figuring out where these splints were coming from, I starting looking into metal shoe alternatives. After a lot of research, I found that hoof boots, more specifically Renegade Hoof Boots, looked to be my perfect solution. I’ve been using them on Jax for about three years now, and he is doing great with them. His feet are even tougher than they were, and many trail rides he can do without his boots now. Of course when riding on gravel roads he needs the boots, but many trail rides which consist mostly of woods, grass, and some rocky creek beds, are no problem for Jax completely barefoot.

Jax ready for a road ride in his Renegade hoof boots
I want to lay out some of the pros and cons of hoof boots in general, then more specifically about Renegades. I have A LOT of people ask me about the boots, mostly because I live in an area where very few people have even heard of hoof boots, let alone seen them.

  • 1st on my list, of course, fewer splints
  • His feet are beautiful! They seem far healthier now that he doesn’t have nail holes in his hooves
  • He is comfortable at any gait on any surface, galloping on gravel is no problem (he is booted on all 4 hooves)
  • Pavement is no longer slippery, in fact he has great traction on every surface
  • Horses at our boarding facility can’t have back shoes, so now he is protected on all 4 feet during rides
  • He used to get quarter cracks in his back feet, now he has no cracks anywhere
  • I usually get about 8-10 months out of each front set of boots, a little longer from the back set (I get more time out of them now that he goes barefoot more, and we ride on very rough surfaces)
  • If you don’t ride very often, these boots can last for years, allowing you to save money on shoeing for just a couple of rides per farrier visit.
  • If they don’t fit just right, they will come off in certain situations such as deep mud or faster gaits
  • Some boot styles require hooves to be trimmed about every 3 weeks
  • It’s not saddle up and go, hoof boots take time, especially if your horse’s feet are muddy (winter time is the worst)
  • If you ride a lot on tough surfaces (such as gravel), you may be spending more money replacing the boots than you would on shoes.
  • Not all styles fit all hoof shapes, you need to shop around

So far I’ve tried (or seen in action) three styles of boots:
  • Cavallo Simple Hoof Boots - too clunky for the type of work I do with my horse. I didn’t try these, but tried them on a horse for a client. The size was off, but even so, I didn’t care for them.
  • EasyCare Easyboot Gloves - tried these on, and tried a couple trail rides in them. The toes stuck out really far and tripped him up. Lost them several times in muddy areas. I think I just bought them a little too big, but like the Cavallos, I didn’t care for them enough to try a different size, and I didn’t like the idea of trimming my horse every three weeks.
  • Renegades - I chose Renegades because 1) they were the correct shape, Jax has round feet; 2) they looked easy; 3) he did not need to be trimmed every three weeks; 4) they are extremely adjustable. So far I’ve only tried the classic style, the next set I get will be Vipers. I LOVE these boots. I’ve helped others to purchase some because, after seeing them in action, people are usually impressed. Jax’s feet grew a little and he went a size up in his front boots (from 2W to 2WW), so I tried using his old front boots on his hindlegs (usually wears a 2, tried 2W). The boots were just slightly too big and I ended up losing one, so be aware that they won’t work correctly if you don’t have the right size. That said, I can go a normal 6-8 week trim schedule and the right fitting boots will fit the entire time, getting slightly tight towards the end of the trim cycle.  I've had these boots come off a total of three times since owning them: 1) During a pretty bad wreck (see Cheap eBay saddle for more); 2) Some time during the ACTHA trail ride we completely lost the bottom half of a hind boot (see SI Injury for more); and 3) During a trail ride, we sunk into mud up to Jax's belly, and in his struggle to get out the boot came off his hind hoof but stayed attached to his fetlock so we didn't lose it.  In all three cases, the front boots (that fit) stayed on and 1 of the hind boots (2W, so too big) came off.  When we used the size 2 he never lost a boot.
Jax took to his Renegades fairly quickly, just a few OMG high-legged steps the first time he had them on. I had rode him a lot on gravel roads in just front shoes, and you could see (and feel) the difference in his expression and his movement the first time he realized his back feet were now protected from the gravel. While I have no disdain towards metal shoes, Jax will always be barefoot, just because I know he is comfortable in his boots (and fewer splints).

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Peeling Back the Layers of Horse Health

** Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

Horse health, like the layers of an onion, can stink and make you cry. If vet visits, chiropractors, and just plain guessing can’t make your horse better, what do you do? This past year has brought one ailment after another.

Such a good boy, coming back into work after the initial injury

Jax, my heart horse, has not been right for a little over a year. Around the end of 2014/beginning of 2015, I took Jax for a trail ride to some trails we had never been on. It was his first long(ish) trailer ride, just a little over an hour, and he was a little shaky getting off the trailer. After a slight rest, we saddled up and began our ride. Jax always gets excited in new places, and I could tell he was anxious at the start, but he settled as we went down the trail.

After just a mile or so I noticed he seemed a bit shaky again. I figured he may just be nervous (he tends to shake if he’s scared) and continued on. We came to a slippery spot which I didn’t see until we were right on it (it was on a slight downhill). I tried to pull him up out of it, but he slipped down into a rut and lost his footing. After some scrambling, he righted himself, but he seemed a little off afterwards. I decided to turn around and head back to the trailer.

On our way back, he had to step over a log. Something he’s done many times before. But this time, he didn’t get his feet up and got caught up on the log. He fell forward onto the log, with all of his weight going forward onto his front legs which were laying down on the log (imagine the typical jumping stance with fronts legs bent and stretched forward, he was in that exact position, with the front of his cannon bones laying on the log and his full weight on top). His back feet stayed planted, stretching his back legs considerably. He couldn’t pull himself back up, so I jumped off to get my weight off of him. He finally pulled himself up and I checked him for cuts, etc, and seeing nothing walked him a couple steps. Now he really seemed off. Nothing major, just no forward and not quite right. I decided to walk him back to the trailer, he wasn't limping, no major change in movement, just sluggish. On our way back, there was a long, steep downhill. He refused to walk down it. After much coaxing and a lot of stopping to rest, he finally got down the slope and walked back the rest of the way without incident.  Uphills and flat didn't seem to be an issue.

And thus the beginning of our problems. Right before this happened, he was put on sweet feed to keep weight on him (he gets really skinny in winter, and never really puts on much weight the rest of the year). After we got back, I took him to the vet to check him out before riding again. He was flexion tested and given a full bill of health. After a couple more days I attempted a short trail ride. My horse is very forward, let me stress, VERY FORWARD. He has a big, fast walk, trot, and canter. He never creeps along. EVER. On this ride, he had no forward, and he couldn’t keep up with a horse that he usually left behind. I knew he was hurt, so we began about a 3 month hiatus from any work.

Jax slightly skinny after a few months off, even on grain,
using his "extra energy" for nefarious purposes (April 2015)

After three months, he looked and felt great. By April 2015 he was riding walk, trot, canter and was back up to riding 12 miles with no problems. He had developed a swelling over his SI ligament on his right side immediately after the initial injury, but by May 2015 that was gone.  You may wonder why I would ride him if he had some swelling left.  The answer is - Jax is a high energy horse.  If you don't use his energy, he will... and it won't be a "healthy" use of his energy.  So, once he starts to act like he wants to move around and do things, we do it together in a (hopefully) controlled manner.

As I started bringing him back into work, I noticed that his urine was discolored. It was fine until the very end when it would turn a reddish brown. I took him to the vet again, and the general consensus was that it was from the color of his supplements/grain. We continued work and even started some local schooling shows and light start on barrels at a trot.

Jax with mild stiffness in hindquarters (click on pic to see larger image).  Notice he's standing a bit sickle-hocked, and there's a slight roach to his back.  His feet are kept close together rather than stretching out.

Around July/August 2015, Jax stopped cantering. He was starting to look like he was very stiff in his hindquarters after our rides. I decided to try some Aspirin supplement on the days he was stiff, and that seemed to help. I was giving him more and more days off, I just couldn’t stand to ask him to work when he was obviously having problems. After on and off issues in his hindquarters, I thought we had finally turned the corner and he was getting better. In November of 2015, we went to the ACTHA Festival in Mora, MO. Three whole days of trails and obstacles! I got my Ghost treeless saddle demo in time for this event and we were ready. After the first day I noticed Jax had dry spots under his saddle. On the second day I checked Jax’s back and he was sore. After cancelling our rides for the second day, I decided to try a different treeless on his back and maybe some treed saddles as well, since there were plenty of vendors at the Festival.

Jax tried to murder every person who touched his back. He wasn’t just uncomfortable, he was absolutely miserable. I took him to the chiropractor on site and she adjusted him as best she could, but he was not nice to her. She said his right shoulder was atrophied (possibly due to saddle fit) and his right hind was twisting when he walked.  This horse has never had a mean bone in his body, he’s as sweet as they come. I decided to scrap the rest of the weekend and take him home.

Back to the vet, and then a chiropractor visit. Chiropractor noticed a slight deviation around his SI. She didn’t bend and twist him, she used some machines to vibrate and lightly pop him back into place, and found issues with his neck, withers, back, and SI. It seemed that something was off on his right side and was affecting his entire back and neck.  After her visit he was much better for a couple weeks, until farrier day, then he was immediately sore again. Back to the Aspirin supplement. Got him okay for a couple days, then a little sore again on a January 9, 2016. I thought I should leave him without the Aspirin for a while just in case his stomach was getting sensitive to it, but he was so stiff (almost looked like he was tying up) I decided one more dose wouldn’t hurt.

Sunday, January 10, Jax colicked for the first time in his almost 9 years. He’s never had a sensitive stomach. The weird part of it was he looked like his back end was tying up, along with the obvious stomach distress. We got the vet out to put mineral oil in him, and he started eating and feeling better.

My sad looking horse, right after a mild colic episode in January 2016.  Notice how rigid his muscles are in his hindquarters.
The colic scared me. Really bad. I decided that the colic and the strange color to his urine was two reasons too many, and switched his feed.  Even if it was something as benign as food coloring, I wasn't going to risk another colic episode. I started reading about Hindgut Acidosis being caused by grain fermenting in the hindgut instead of being digested in the stomach. You can tell that is happening when they “discard” grain in their droppings. He had been doing that since being on sweet feed. So I switched him over slowly to Strategy Healthy Edge.  I also switched his supplements, making sure he gets Vitamin E (which helps tying up) and joint supplements, along with a full spectrum of vitamins, amino acids, and probiotics (I selected every supplement to work with his new grain and his mostly grass hay diet, I didn't just randomly select them).  With supplements there's a chance that your just paying for expensive horse pee, but if there was even a chance of it helping I wanted to try it.

Long story short, he has not colicked, nor has he been stiff in his hindend or looked to be tying up since switching his feed. After a couple weeks off we had a great 6 mile ride where he used his hindend and went comfortably down hills. Problems all solved, right?

A couple days later his back right leg started hitching more than usual. He’s always been prone to sticky stifles when he’s out of shape, and with all the other issues he definitely was. He also had this hitching when I first brought him back after the initial SI injury.  So we started (again) working in hand to strengthen his back legs. No back soreness, everything was going great and the sticky stifles were getting better. So we started ridden work. After some very short rides he started getting sore in his lumbar area.  Through all of this, Jax has stayed high energy and maintained a willingness to work.  Once again, if I give him time off when he's this high energy, he will end up hurt some other way.  He was also getting regular chiro visits, about once a month.

So, back to the vet. After explaining everything, I showed him a small knot that I had just found that had formed over Jax’s right SI area. We’ve concluded now that the SI has been a factor through all of this, and the sticky stifles aren’t helping. He’s gotten over this issue once before, so it's just a matter of building muscle without aggravating the injury.

He’s now on a COX-2 inhibitor for inflammation and with the addition of liniment over the SI area, Jax’s sore back is a rare occasion, even with short periods of ridden work. The small knot has dissipated, he no longer stands sickle-hocked, and his back no longer has a roached appearance (this went away after the first chiropractor visit).  However, his stifles are still sticking, so the next step is farrier work with more of a mustang roll to help breakover, and another chiropractor visit. In my next Horse Health post, I’ll update on if the mustang roll helped, and exercises we’ve used to keep Jax strong while (hopefully) helping to heal this SI issue.

See Horse Health part 2 here for what has actually been wrong with Jax!

English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews and Comparisons

Have you ever wondered about those cheap treeless saddles on eBay? The ones that forums say will maim your horse or break and send you crashing to the ground? Here's a list of my experiences with both the cheaper english-style treeless saddles, then with some nicer brand saddles for comparison.

Let's start with a description of my horse. Jax aka "Love of my Life" has massive shoulders, long sloping withers, and well-sprung ribs. He is long legged with a short back, and he's a BIG moving horse. I've had saddle makers try their trees on him in an effort to find something to fit him to no avail. I've tried Western, English, and Aussie saddles, all of them restricting the movement in his shoulders and causing him obvious discomfort, especially on the downhills. After reading many opinions and testimonials on treeless saddles, I finally decided to try treeless, but with very little cash I went the cheap route first.

  • $135 + s/h, made in India
  • Used with a Reinsman contour pad, not a correct treeless pad, but it seemed to work for my horse (I did add panels onto this saddle to keep my weight off his spine)
  • Very comfortable, decent construction and materials
  • Horse never got sore in this saddle
  • Took me a while to get my feet under me and gain my balance - had to shorten stirrups A LOT
  • Made my very wide horse seem much wider, my hips eventually started popping
  • Floppy construction - saddle was not secure, sold it after slipping.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...

During my time riding in the saddle above, my horse tripped on a trail ride, straining his SI ligament.  Since that time it's been difficult to really assess a saddle, since his SI gives him lumbar soreness at times, so some of the saddles below may not have gotten a fair assessment, especially the Ghost treeless saddle.

  • 2nd Treeless - Jumping Saddle - ($65 on auction, reg. $120 + s/h, made in India) - okay saddle, not very nice to look at (black synthetic and bright orange).  Saddle was slightly too small for me, and the seat was pretty hard.  Not sure it was truly treeless as there was some very rigid materials used.  Had detachable panels which I used on the treeless saddle above to make sure it would not sit on Jax's backbone, meanwhile this saddle sat in the tack room.  Reattached the panels to this saddle and sold it after I sold the saddle above.
  • 3rd Treeless - Spanish saddle ($160 + s/h, made in India) - decent quality leather and very comfortable. However, no rocker to it at all, and the seat area was very stiff. Sat like a flat board across his back, touching only withers and loin. Worked on the leather a bit and got it more flexible, then shimmed the detachable panels underneath so they would sit flat along his back. Looked like it fit ok, so took it for a short trail ride. Got back and found that the edges of the panels had poked his withers. Decided this saddle wasn’t worth the effort and sold it on eBay, mentioning it would only work on a flat-backed horse.
  • 4th Treeless - Freemax Synthetic ($110 on eBay) - sat it up on my horse, hated the quality, sold it for dirt cheap on eBay.
After purchasing and selling at a fraction of the cost the 3 saddles above, I decided that maybe a higher end treeless was worth a shot. 

  • Used with a toklat pad, inserts were in need of replacement
  • Very comfortable, nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position even with shorter stirrups
  • Thin leather flaps under the thighs and saddle has a bit of a twist, so much more comfortable for my hips.
  • Very secure saddle for the rider with the thigh blocks, and did not slip on the horse.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...

  • Used with a toklat pad, with new inserts with poron
  • Very comfortable, very nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position with long or short stirrups
  • Close-contact style means no thick flaps under the thighs, gives the saddle a bit of a twist
  • Very solid construction - fits my high withered, wide-shouldered horse wonderfully and DOES NOT SLIP. With a fleece saddle seat saver it’s very secure.  SEE FULL SADDLE REVIEW...
If you've taken the time to read all of the reviews, you'll see that some cheaper treeless saddles do have some good points.  However, those saddles can't come close to the quality of either the Ghost saddle or the Torsion.  As I said in my review, I don't think I gave the Ghost saddle as much of a chance as I'd have liked, and I'll definitely consider it if I get back in the saddle market.

Anything you put on your horse can hurt him.  A $2,500 saddle, if not well fitted, can hurt him.  The cheaper saddles in and of themselves can be used successfully if you know what to look for, and if you absolutely watch your horse for any behavior or physical changes.  ALWAYS be a watchdog for your horse's health and happiness, but don't be afraid to experiment.  In the end, my experience is that the Ghost/Torsion saddles are just plain easier.  You don't have to fuss with them to make them work.  They are better for your safety if you have a fast or spooky horse.  They make mounting out on the trail MUCH easier.  And if you don't know what to look for when considering your horse's comfort under saddle, these better brands have more customer support and better technical specs for making sure your horse, and you, are not injured.

Torsion Close-Contact Treeless English Saddle Review

  • Used with a toklat pad, with new inserts with poron
  • Very comfortable, very nice construction and materials
  • Naturally good position with long or short stirrups
  • Close-contact style means no thick flaps under the thighs, gives the saddle a bit of a twist
  • Very solid construction - fits my high withered, wide-shouldered horse wonderfully and DOES NOT SLIP. With a fleece saddle seat saver it’s very secure.

I bought this saddle in great used condition on eBay for $399 + s/h. I have not worked in this saddle as much as I would have liked, my horse is still in rehab mode from an SI injury. I can say that for the rider, this saddle is wonderful. I can also say that this saddle fits him beautifully, no slipping, sits perfectly for his shoulders and withers, and does not seem to make him sore.  His back looks just as good after riding in this saddle as it does before I put it on him.  While he tends to get girthy with saddles that aren't a great fit, he has no issues with this one.

This saddle also works well for me and doesn't make my wide horse feel enormous.  It has a low cantle, but with a fleece seat saver it is quite secure.  Unlike my cheap eBay saddle this saddle is not floppy, it is quite structured, and perfectly contoured to my horse's back (with enough flexibility to work on many different shapes).  Overall I am extremely happy with this purchase, and after a bit more rehab for my horse, plan to put many miles in this saddle.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.

Ghost Firenze Treeless English Saddle Review

  • Used with a toklat pad, inserts were in need of replacement
  • Very comfortable, nice construction and materials for the saddle, pad, and all equipment that came with the demo saddle
  • Naturally good position, even with shorter stirrups
  • Thin leather flaps under the thighs and saddle has a bit of a twist, so much more comfortable for my hips than my previous Made In India treeless saddle
  • Very secure saddle for the rider with the thigh blocks, and did not slip on the horse. 
  • Wonderful customer service

I did a 2 week demo on this saddle, and it was as secure as a saddle can be. Extremely comfortable with a decent twist, stayed securely on my horse. I took my horse on a couple trail rides, the first went really well, but after about the third long ride I saw dry spots under the stirrup area. I must admit two faults to my trial:
  • During the time I demoed this saddle, I was very stiff and had to ride with short stirrups (a combination of riding in the cheap eBay saddle, and having tight hips). I could feel when I was riding that I was putting way more pressure on the stirrups than usual, probably a combination of short stirrups and my unfamiliarity with thigh blocks. I believe this was a major cause of the dry spots.
  • My toklat pad inserts were nearing the end of their lives, and maybe this just didn’t work with extra weight in the stirrups.

That said, I chose to try this saddle because of the variability of the girth placement. However, because of this variability the girth kept slipping too far forward and pulling the front of the saddle down. My horse has an unusually forward girth groove, and laid back shoulders with long sloping withers that push saddles back, so he is just a hard fit anyway. Had I tried different padding options I possibly could have fixed the issues.

Overall, I loved this saddle.  I would have bought one if I hadn't gotten dry spots on my horse's back.  My first trail ride was a Halloween ride with obstacles made to spook your horse, and while my horse did wonderful for most of the obstacles, he had some massive spooking, spinning, and thoughts of bolting for one of the obstacles.  This saddle kept me very secure, I felt like I could ride out anything my horse had to offer.  I was sad when it didn't work out.  If my horse wasn't having other issues at the time of demoing this saddle, I probably would have purchased it anyways to see if I could have ironed out the kinks.  The lady who I worked with for this demo was wonderful and tried to help me through everything, but in the end I decided to try something different.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.

EDIT JULY 2016 TO ADD: After a not so good ride with the above mentioned Toklat pad and my bareback pad, it's completely possible that the spots above were caused (or at least helped) by friction from the pad slipping on hills, rather than pressure from the saddle.  See my Treeless Saddle Pad Reviews page for more.

Cheap Ebay Treeless English Saddle Review

  • Bought on eBay for $135 + s/h, made in India
  • Used with a Reinsman contour pad, not a correct treeless pad, but it seemed to work for my horse. Also, I removed the panels from another treeless saddle and attached them to this saddle. Without those panels, I wouldn't have used a regular saddle pad.
  • Very comfortable, decent construction and materials
  • Horse never got sore in this saddle
  • Took me a while to get my feet under me - shortened stirrups
  • Made my very wide horse seem much wider, my hips eventually started popping
  • Floppy construction - saddle was not secure, sold it after slipping

This was my very first treeless saddle. After trying and failing repeatedly to fit a treed saddle to my horse, I finally found something he was comfortable in. The saddle construction and materials were decent and looked good on the horse. However, it was very floppy, like a bareback pad. The Torsion Close-Contact saddle has a much sturdier construction and holds its shape well, keeping it from slipping. This cheaper saddle slipped every time my weight shifted too far to the side and there was no mounting from the ground. My first ride in it I rolled it under my horse’s belly. Learned quickly that I needed to make ABSOLUTELY SURE the girth was tight.

The thick flaps on this saddle made my already wide horse feel enormous.  When I first started riding in this saddle, I could not get my feet under me and I had to shorten my stirrups.  This helped keep me in a good position, but the lack of twist in this saddle would later become a problem.

For about 1-2 years I rode solely in this saddle, up to 15 miles at a time 1-2 times a week plus some arena riding, and it did really well for me.  I gained a very secure seat (because I couldn’t let my weight go to the side) and had a lot of great rides, both trail and arena, in this saddle. The construction of the saddle was quite durable, and I never had any pieces break.  However, any spook that sent my horse sideways, or barely knocked me to the side, ended with me on the ground. After about 2 years it got worse as the saddle started breaking down, and I was starting to notice a pop in my hip ligament that I never had before due to lack of twist. Finally, after a really bad fall that absolutely shouldn’t have happened (my horse spooked and my saddle ended up, once again, under his belly), I sold this saddle as a knock-around saddle to play in but not for serious endeavors.

Overall, I enjoyed many rides in this saddle.  I made a few alterations, such as beefing up the velcro under the seat and adding the panels, and I switched out the leather seat for a suede one for added security.  The only reason I sold it was because it just wouldn't stay on my faster-than-the-speed-of-light cutting bred horse.  Though my hip started popping while riding in this saddle, I can also attribute this to tight hips and a previous riding accident.  Getting more exercise, lifting weights, and most importantly starting Yoga has fixed my hip, even though I still ride the same horse with a thick bareback pad.  I'd consider this saddle to have been a good intro to treeless for me, though it would have worked out much better on a steady-eddy type horse.

See all of my English Style Treeless Saddle Reviews.