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February 18, 2020

It's Not An Abscess

Echo decides to prove yet again that my paranoia is not unfounded.

We finally made it to the vet today for spring shots & the planned radiograph I mentioned previously.  It was supposed to be last week, but the rain prevented the machine from coming out to play & it was so wet, I couldn't get the trailer hooked up & out without tearing up half my property.

Turns out, Echo's prolonged on again/off again soreness on his left front is in fact due to some bone bruising on the medial wing of that coffin bone.  Which Dr. Bob also referred to as "crushing" & "micro-fractures."  Which I did not really appreciate because I don't care what the vet-land rules are, but these words do not all mean the same thing to me & shave several years off my life!  I am just going to call it bone smooshing because that is descriptive without being quite so terrifying-sounding.
Smooshing is right where the #4 is on this coffin bone
This type of injury happens when a horse's heel impacts something hard, such as a rock or a hard piece of ground, with too much force or just the right angle or it's Tuesday.  Fortunately for Echo & I, his smooshing is right at the tip of the bone.  Which means it will heal, is already healing, & he should be fine.  If you get smooshing farther forward on the bone (like by 3 or 5) or extending up into the joint, that is when it becomes a Really Bad Thing.  I am hopeful I never have to learn any further detail about that.

Since this has been going on since early December, Echo is already a "fur piece" down the healing road.  Having had a gnarly bone bruise, I am familiar with their slowness; Dr. Bob said this type of thing can range from 6-8 weeks for a mild one (like Echo's) up to 6 months for something more severe.  So we should be on the "improving" side of the curve & we should see continued gradual progress over the next month or so.

Also fortunately, my gut management instincts (& repetitive haunting of Dr. Bob's phone line) guided the correct course of action over the winter, even though I wasn't certain of the cause.  He's done very little work, which consisted entirely of walking & an occasional short trot for feels on soft ground.  He's been able to move freely in the pasture, which is what needed to happen for circulation which then fuels healing. 

And for the last month or so, as he's moving more & when we get more frozen ground cycles, both front feet have been protected with full support across the heels & frogs.  The exact devices will get their own post, because farrier & I have been learning about new technology, but right now, he's wearing a pair of EasyCare's flip flop boots & they are working pretty well.
One of his expensive slippers
These allow his heels full lateral freedom (which is his particular Princess Pony Foot demand), but provide a thick, sturdy pad under his entire foot while still providing good traction in mud or frosty grass.  All the details will come in the next post.

Until then, he has been cleared commanded to go back into more consistent work under saddle on the flat (with bute as needed) to use that 5-yr-old energy most constructively (although I am sure he will still engage in many spring frolics) & help the rebuilding process.  I am sure I will be ultra paranoid conservative about it, but I suspect I shall receive no arguments from Echo other than "SO WHYYYY IS ALL-CANTERZ A BAD IDEA????"

Definitely not as "benign" as the abscess I was voting for, but on the upside, it involves no wrapping & will be far less messy.  Another plus:  this was the only foot I didn't have radiographs of yet, so now I have images of all four (yes, horse owners celebrate weird things).  Joint spaces were clean & lovely, navicular bone was fine, soft tissue had no issues, & all the other pieces were where they were supposed to be.  And while it's been frustrating to watch his muscling disappear, I'm just glad that it's not permanent (at least not this time).

Answers bring a great deal of peace of mind, even more so when they are not catastrophic.  We'll see how the next 30 days go, but I'll be thrilled if they are completely uneventful...  
I know he's just hatching his next plot...but at least he will do it shini-ly

February 13, 2020

Winning The Thrush War

Solo's feet hate moisture & they've definitely gotten more finicky with age.  I've never had a case of full-blown thrush in the past, it's mostly just been a "things are looking mushy & threatening" kind of vibe.  I was usually able to clear things up with a short course of Thrushbuster.  In the past year or so, however, I've been losing the battle.

His front feet are the problem children & he developed some pretty deep sulcus splits in both frogs, out of which I started getting some smelly not-goodness.  The Thrushbuster was having little to no effect & Dr. Bob told me that all those thrushy micro-organisms can & do develop a resistance to iodine.  It was time to set out on a quest for something new.
Solo's big crack.  Yeah, I crack myself up.  TWO CRACK JOKES!
I proceeded to read the ingredient list & reviews of every thrush product ever formulated, searching for something non-iodine, but demonstrating real effectiveness without requiring long soaking or specialized boots.  Funny side story & spoiler alert:  I ended up at one of the same conclusions as L. Williams, who wrote up a great account of her experience recently!

The Winner

After extensive reading, I decided to try Pure Sole Hoof Mud.  I'm always a little hesitant about things that scream "ALL NATURAL FROOFY" or whatnot, that sound like someone just concocts it in their basement & then sells their placebo for a bunch of money.  However, one of the primary ingredients is apple cider vinegar, which is an acid with well-documented effectiveness against thrush, along with zinc oxide, which is a good moisture barrier.
It's extremely easy to use.  I love that I don't need gloves & it doesn't make me all sticky or dye me purple.  It has a perfect, dry clay consistency so you can pack it in to cracks & crevices easily.  I kneaded it deep into those sulci, where it generally stayed for about 24 hours or so.  I've been using it in nasty mud & wetness with no issues.  When the horse puts his foot down, the clay just gets shoved deeper in there.
Just brushes off my fingers when I'm done
Even better, IT WORKED.  I applied it daily for a few weeks, although that may have been overkill with the acid, because I did see a little frog degradation.  But no more stinky funk.  I backed off to using it once every few days, more often if it's rainy, just in the crevices as a preventative.
After packing
I bought the smaller tub & have used probably 95% of it in 1.5 months, but it will take a little while to use up the last 5% now that I'm using less of it less often.  I did already get a new big tub, so now I'm prepared for the microbial apocalypse.  The clay itself seems very stable, the consistency has been the same whether it's warm or cold & it's definitely been out in the shed when it's 20F.

The only thing it didn't succeed at was sticking to the outside of the hoof wall or white line.  I wanted to see if it would help Echo's toe that is prone to separation, but the clay won't stick to that by itself, it falls off or gets rubbed off in about 4 seconds.  But for areas in & around the frog, worked great.

Two hooves up from us (technically eight, because I did put it on some other spots on Echo's feet too).  

February 2, 2020

Bruise Purgatory

This is where I've been with Echo for the last too-many-weeks.  A lurking bruise in a front foot that just won't commit to action.  At least I hope it's a bruise, because a worse alternative is...much worse.

He bruised something inside that foot in November, taking a bad step in a field (I saw it, fortunately, he was essentially standing still, so not a ton of force, he just vastly over-reacted to moving out of Solo's way).  Vet checked it out with a basic exam, wasn't overly concerned, we rested.

It lingered.  In early December, Echo was still sore at times & I had worked myself up into an over-anxious state by drawing many parallels with Solo's DDFT injury.  So we went back to vet & he said still just a bruise & after watching the exam, I returned to normal baseline paranoia.

It still lingers, as bruises can sometimes do as they shift around & laugh at me, which Encore expertly taught me.  I am getting twitchy again, because my brain loves to gnaw on things & also does not know how to process time, so I often struggle with temporal perspective.  We have spring shots scheduled in 10 days, so if it's not better by then, we'll shoot a radiograph to see if there's anything bizarre we missed (surely not in a horse that I own *sarcasm*).

Like all things horse, it's complicated.  We did put some super-cool fancy pads on his front feet, which will get their own post, as I thought that would help him bridge the last gap of healing (he's been barefoot for over a year).  Unfortunately, it appeared that one nail, while not a "hot" nail, did put pressure next to the bruise, so we had to pull the shoes after a week & will try some glue-on boots instead.
Thank goodness for Gorilla Tape, my booties now last 3 days
He was much better within an hour of pulling the shoes, but is still a bit sore a week later, so that nail may have aggravated it a little.  Not horrible, just enough that I can see it on harder ground, definitely in his foot, around the medial side of his toe.  Not sore enough that he won't frolic around in his paddock, so I did sit on him today (almost all walking & it just rained so the ground is soft).  I didn't give him any bute beforehand because I wanted an honest feel & while I could still feel the lingerer, I think he did seem a bit better?

Sigh, these subtle things are so confusing & frustrating.  Especially when you don't own imaging devices.  I'm trying to shame Echo by reminding him that his almost-24-yr-old "brother" with arthritis is currently sounder than him.  I'm fairly certain, though, that Echo was standing behind the door when they handed out guilt.
Shame not installed

January 26, 2020

What Happens When Scientists Own Farms

We can't help ourselves.  We do this:

Why yes, that's a box plot of hay consumption from the past six years on Flying Solo Farm.  For the non-scientists, each box represents summary statistics for that month.  The t-shaped lines extending up & down represent maximum & minimum values.  The boxes themselves show the distribution of the data in quartiles (25/50/75 percentiles), with a horizontal line in the middle for the median. 

For example, in May I always have grass, so rarely feed any hay.  That box is very narrow, showing that the range of values over six years is very small (i.e. they're all about the same).  In February, though, generally our nastiest, coldest, most unpredictable month, you can see the long box, indicating there's a wide range of values.  One year I fed 17 bales, one year I fed over 40 bales that month.

I also plotted the deviation from overall average of the last three years.  This interested me because I changed hay suppliers in January of 2019.  The new hay does cost more but it is MUCH nicer & I felt like I was feeding less of it, justifying the cost, but I needed to see the data.  As soon as I plotted it, it was immediately apparent that yes, every single bar after the switch was below the average.  Win!

Some of this is just geek gratification, but I do find that tracking my hay use is VERY helpful in planning how much to buy & whether I need to resupply.  I have a paper planner that I use for everything (work & farm) & I just note for each feeding how much hay I fed.  It's an estimate, such as 0.3 bale.  Then I add up each week in a little chart, which goes into a spreadsheet.  I also include any notes of unusual things, like when Solo was on pen rest for his tendon injury in 2016 & ate up a bunch of my winter hay in fall (which is what is skewing the average up in Aug-Oct).
2019 planner chart of hay nommed
Weight would be a more accurate way to measure it, as the variation in bale sizes does introduce slop in the data, but I just keep that caveat in mind when I interpret the numbers.  Less work.

Those aren't even the only charts I have...     

January 23, 2020

How We Hay (Net)

It's that dark, cold time of year where the hay burners practice their money hay burning best.  Now that I know exactly how much hay costs, I'm always looking for ways to stretch it out & hay nets can play a big role in that.

The tradeoff of course is that, as anyone who has ever used a hay net can tell you, hay nets can be devices of human torture, seemingly designed to cause the maximum amount of rage & failure when it comes to getting hay inside of said net.  When you finally achieve this, you are now faced with the contradictory goal of convincing the horse to remove the hay from its hard-won net as slowly as possible.

*pausing for a moment to wonder why we do this to ourselves*

After much rage practice over the years, here is what is currently working for us:

Horze Slow Feeder Hay Net

I'm amazed this thing is still alive!  I first wrote about it when it was sent to me to try here in 2014 (awww, my shed didn't even have walls yet!).  Initially, it seemed like the mesh might not hold up to regular use, but I was wrong.  While I have patched it a time or two with hay string, that bugger is still holding hay, even though it gets violently snatched at by a Baby Monster. 
Encore remains the champion of "doing it HIS way"
It has stayed out both of the last two winters.  Recently I have had to fix the hanging corners, as the  material finally dry-rotted from UV bombardment, but it was just the binding tape.  The  netting itself is still mostly functional.  The holes are definitely small enough to slow a horse down considerably.  This might be its last winter, but six years is pretty darn good, I think.  I would totally buy another one.
Technically still alive

SmartPak Slow Feed Hay Bag

Since Solo hates the Horze net (he says the holes are too small & it's way too effective), he monopolizes this one.  I have mixed feelings about it, but I think overall it has done decently.  I got the larger size & yes, it is very large. 

Pros:
  • Durable - material is heavy-duty, no sign of stitching fails or wear after a year
  • Holds a lot of hay -- flake size is variable, but you could easily fit 3 fat flakes in here
  • Easy to load - big opening holds itself open with two metal bands, well-covered in fabric so no poking
Cons:
  • There is velcro closure at the top.  Who combines hay & velcro?  The velcro is still holding, but I'm constantly picking hay out of it, it annoys me.
  • I doubt the single ring hanger would survive as sole support on its own.  Fortunately, some helpful person had posted an additional support idea in the reviews & I adapted that.  I used some old leg snap clips & wove a rope out of hay string to create a weight distribution system that has kept that ring from tearing out.
  • I wish it was wider rather than longer.  I would wish this even more if I was a short person, because you have to hang it high enough to keep it off the ground, but still need to reach it to load it.  And because the hanger is in the center, it swings like crazy.
SP net plus my engineered supports
The size I got (2") is also not really a slow feed -- Solo can clean it out relatively quickly, pulling fat chunks of hay out of the gaps.  I bought this bag with a coupon & while I would not pay full price for it (although it appears it's on sale right now), I appreciate that it hasn't disintegrated & it works for now.

I'm always on the lookout for better options, though.  Have you found a hay net you love that doesn't make you want to throw it in the woods?  Unless it's $100, at which point I don't care, I'm never buying it, ha.