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We Are Flying Solo

November 21, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part II - Finding My Seat

Next came Hunter -- in his late teens (I think?), this rangy 17 h TB sets a new bar for quirky.  I don't have a picture of him right now, but just picture a tall dark bay with solid bone, no white, & a truly noble face.  He ended up giving me something very valuable.  First, some background...
  
Hunter is another of TN's personal horses.  Most of her horses, Rocky being the exception, come to her because everyone else has given up on them.  They have been labeled "unrideable" or are rife with physical issues.  TN truly has a gift for these horses, no small part of which is her seemingly endless patience (seriously, I am in awe of this woman's capacity for calm).

I only know bits & pieces of Hunter's story:  he did event, has done some dressage.  He's a sensitive horse, particularly emotionally.  He has definitely had some rough patches in his life.  As a result, he had become volatile, which is understandable as I got to know how particular he is.  So he carries baggage, which I certainly don't begrudge due to my own familiarity with the concept.  You can't put the reins over his head from the front, you probably can't catch him if he doesn't know you, you can't carry a whip around him, & if another horse canters up behind him in the ring, he might tuck his butt & scoot.  And as we recently learned, a brand-new, stiff saddle pad is akin to torture & he will be unable to trot & will carry his back somewhere around his navel.

Hunter is Special.

Despite this, he has a deeply kind & patient nature.  He likes to be ridden a very specific way, but as long as you don't get aggressive, he will wait for you to figure your shit out.  Even if you are a slow monkey like me.  Thanks to TN's years of work with him, generally the worst he'll do is give a kick out if he thinks you have used too much spur or asked something unfairly, which I have no problem with.  When you do finally sort it out though, he'll give you a nice, respectful contact & a delightful canter.
Some days I feel like this...
As I mentioned, I was looking forward to the opportunity to work on my seat.  It's workmanlike, I think, but I know there's a lot of room for improvement.  It's something that is difficult for me, in large part because I have facet joint arthritis from about L13-S1, so things stay a little stiff, lopsided, & creaky in my lower back/pelvis region.  I never could convince the PT to take up residence in my spare room, sigh.
 
To get to the point of a story which is in danger of rambling out of control, Hunter showed me how to really sit the canter.  Of course, I have long been able to sit ON a canter, but I never felt like I really mastered that supple, following seat which just flows with the saddle inseparably.  It really frustrated me for years because I just couldn't put my finger on why I was failing at this.  I knew it was one of those things that you have to feel to understand, but I didn't know how to stumble into that feel.
 
Enter the gift that Hunter held.  TN was talking me through our initial ride as I learned what he liked & what he didn't.  One of TN's other strengths is a fine-scale eye for body alignment & feel.  She had me put Hunter on some 10-15 m canter circles, where he found his cadence & gave me a soft, receptive back to sit on so I could focus on following his motion with my inside hip.  And "suddenly," there it was -- my hips were part of his back, with no intermittent gap between ass & saddle, with the two of us completely, finally, moving as one.
 
I put "suddenly" in quotes, because as I'm sure many of you know, that was actually really hard work.  I've had to learn what I call "Hunter Time," which means "Super Slow & Patient" because Hunter does nothing in a hurry & gives nothing away for free.  Of course, me being me, I yelled out, "OMG! THIS is what sitting the canter is supposed to feel like!!  This is what I've been looking for for YEARS!!!"  I figure TN can at least have some free entertainment while she's on crutches.    
On that day, it felt like this
I've kept working on this in subsequent Hunter rides whenever he is cooperative (he doesn't always agree that anything which might outpace a snail is necessary nor should he indulge your tiresome human whim to continue at the canter).  And I've found that I'm able to carry that feeling, that seat, to other horses now.  It's not perfect, but a HUUUUGE leap forward for me & I'm really excited about it.  
 
At present, I can't break it down into words & I don't have any magic analogies for you, I'm really sorry about that.  I will keep thinking on it & if I come up with something, it's yours!  But I can say this:  when you have the opportunity, ride different horses.  You never know what gifts they may give you.

To be continued...

November 17, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part I

I think we can all agree that there is never a good time for your horse to hurt himself.  However, throughout the course of Echo's travail, there have definitely been some aspects of timing serendipity.

Normally, spring/summer/fall means lots of work travel for me, chasing wildlife across 1/3 of the state.  Which would have exponentially ratcheted up the stress of having to care for him off-property (yes, next-door, but still another place I needed to be).  But the pandemic meant drastically less field work due to logistical difficulties & virtually no overnight travel.

It also turned out that Echo wasn't the only one who needed me around.  In one of those in-a-flash mishaps that horses excel at, Trainer Neighbour (TN) broke her leg.  Luckily, it didn't require a cast, just six weeks of crutches, but that really puts a kink in your ability to feed a boarding facility -- & ride your training & personal horses.  I finally got a chance to feel like a Really Useful Neighbour: not only can I give a horse a schooling ride without constant supervision, I can schlep feed buckets around with the best of them & thanks to Echo, I was there every night anyway.

I actually started picking up the occasional ride before TN got hurt.  She had a full schedule & needed some help keeping her lesson horse in shape & I needed to not lose all my riding muscles to sadness & atrophy.  The bonus for me was that said lesson horse was Rocky:  the kind of horse who makes it impossible not to smile.

Only Rocky pic I have - during which he took a nap
Rocky is a 26 yr.  old Quarter Horse & reminds me in some ways of Solo

  • He has a long back & a big spring in his trot.  
  • When you ask him to canter, you can feel him go "yippeee!"
  • He will attempt to convince you that his butt is only there to hold his tail on.
  • Nothing makes him happier than a jump (or something he can pretend is a jump...like a puddle)

And just like Solo, he is a kind chestnut with a big heart who will never stop trying for you.  He has a sweet, pocket-pony personality & he makes the most adorable treat face you ever saw.  Yes, he is a priceless gem.

You might have read "old QH who is the primary lesson horse" & thought, oh, that sounds like a dull ride.  You would be completely wrong.

Rocky makes you smile just by being precious when you are near him, but once you start riding, that smile becomes a grin.  Because he is wonderfully responsive to light aids & can give you as much forward as you may desire.  And since he is 26 & honest, you have the option of letting him do his thing so you can work on yourself.

This allowed me to do things like spending an entire ride focusing on riding turns & bends off my outside aids.  Or making tweaks to my position or balance without having to remind the horse to keep going.  Or experiment with different corrections to see which gave a better result.

Bc riding Baby Monsters sometimes doesn't include perfect equitation, lol
It also allowed me try different exercises to tune up areas where Rocky tends to get sloppy, like falling out of the canter into a racing pile of forehand or snatching at the bit when asking for halt.  Playing with my toolbox & finding new pieces to add.

And of course, this was all re-tuning me, rebuilding lost muscle, & with his trot suspension, kick-starting my core re-development.  Which prepared me for the horse we added next -- a horse who actually cares what you do with your seat & just might buck you off if you don't listen, a prospect which both interested me & dismayed me, because seat finesse is what I have the LEAST of.  Similar to Solo's belief about his butt, I feel that my HQ only exist to hold my legs on.

How it went comes next...     

November 11, 2020

In Which We All Co-Habitate Once More

That's right, Echo is finally back home!  

I decided to go ahead & bring him home this past weekend since we were supposed to get rain this week.  He was doing well in his enlarged pen & I didn't want him to backslide if I had to pen him back up just to keep him out of mud.  His own paddock here drains very well & doesn't get muddy.

So with the help of the always-fabulous Erica, we marched Gabe, Solo's substitute buddy, back home next door & returned with an (aced, just so I didn't get accidentally trampled in exuberance) Echo.

True to his good nature, he has transitioned back seamlessly to annoying us here instead of next door, ha.  It took him about 14 seconds to pounce on Solo's head for some Face Tag (during which Solo looked at me going, oh yeah, now I remember how annoying this kid is...).  After which, he returned to his normal pastime of meandering around his paddock & watching the world exist.

Echo in full meander
I'll wait a week before allowing him & Solo to be together again -- Echo has not been able to play with another horse for 4 months, so we didn't want to throw it all at him at once.  

I did sit on him once last week, just walking around for a few minutes.  It didn't feel great -- his feets are sore from not being on grass & his whole body felt tight.  But he seemed to enjoy getting out & doing something, even if he did get bored in about three minutes.  I at least know all the buttons I installed are still there.  And he behaved completely, which was the most important part.  He really tries so hard to be good.

No muscle, but shiny. I wore my vest just in case, but he was uber-chill

Moving forward, I will probably just stick to light work on the longe.  It's not really necessary for me to sit on him at this point & it will allow me to watch him.  I will just see what he tells me he's up for.  Right now, that is essentially walking.  But hey, it's walking AT HOME & it's walking WITH NO STALL CLEANING anywhere in the vicinity.  Vast improvements...

October 31, 2020

The End Is Near!

 By which I mean...the end of cleaning that bloody stall!

To my relief & no small amount of surprise, Dr. Bob actually got to give us GOOD news on Tuesday:  Echo's fracture line is completely healed!!

 *pause for strange feeling...is that...dare we...hope?*

We are not completely done.  Echo still has some bruising in that area to heal & the lytic area around the toe is still filling in.  But now he is a "bruise horse" instead of a "fracture horse," which is somewhat less terrifying for "owner of horse."

The schedule is to let him out on a little larger paddock area (already done with success!) for the next two weeks.  If nothing untoward happens during that time, he can then come home & be in his paddock here for two more weeks & wean off the Equioxx, after which he can go back to regular turnout.

First grazing at liberty since July
I can also begin sitting on his sorry butt (well, technically, his sorry back) next week & tack walk him.  I'll bring along my friend, Ace, for the first attempt, of course -- I know he will try to be good, but he is holding in four months of PLAY-PLAY-PLAY, even a Very Good Boy can only contain so much.

Dr. Bob had us go ahead & transition out of his "fracture shoe" that farrier had devised, consisting of an extra sturdy draft horse pad, into a medium-soft EquiPak pad (forgot to take a pic of that), to provide a softer cushion for the bruising.  

Cut-down draft horse pad
I'm a long way from not holding my breath anymore, but it's a big step forward, so thanks for all the good vibes because they worked!!

October 26, 2020

The Hits Keep Coming

Poor Echo. 

Baby Monster has been on small pen rest since July. His shoulder was making progress, but there was an element to his limp which persisted in a way that nagged at me. I scheduled radiographs with a secret hope that Dr. Bob would tell me I worry too much & everything looked fine. 

That's not exactly what happened. 

I did, however, get an answer. Echo, at some point (same time as shoulder? Hard to say), fractured his left front coffin bone. No horse owner wants to hear that particular f-word (it prompts even heavier use of the OTHER f-word). I did what I do - research.

Coffin bones are heinously slow to heal (of course), but, as long as the fracture doesn't extend into the joint, the prognosis for full recovery is very good. Echo's fracture does not extend into the joint & that whole joint is very clean.  This is good as long as it doesn't change.

He needed to be restricted, though, & I didn't have the setup to do so for 4-6 months or more. Thanks to my very kind neighbor, he is staying next door instead while I once again borrow Gabe, who kept Solo company when I sold Encore. 

At least he got a chance to learn about pigs...
This means that every day for the past 4 months, I work, then I walk next door & feed/muck out the Pig Boy, who loves nothing more than to walk in circles in his poop & mince it into a shavings jambalaya. I come home & have just enough energy to check out, which is why it's taken me so long to write this. 

Dr. Bob comes tomorrow to do follow up rads & see where we are, if it is healing, if it has spread - given our luck, I give it about 50/50 at this point. Obviously, I am hoping for some good news. I keep giving this horse chances because he really is something else. This 6 y.o. TB has been in this stall/pen for 4 months, only coming out a few times a week for hand grazing. And I can take him out in his regular halter, no chains, no drugs, he is obedient & sensible & as adorable as ever. 

One of many chill graze sessions

I had been originally hoping to try & sell him this year -- he is an exceptional horse to handle & ride, but he shows little to no talent or enthusiasm for jumping.  He does have, however, an amazing potential for serious dressage, which I have neither the money, the inclination, nor the facility to pursue.  But this will all have to wait for him to hopefully finish healing. 

In case you are wondering what kind of crappy horse owner doesn't realize their horse has a fractured foot -- there was never any heat, no swelling, no digital pulse.  He wasn't terribly lame; it could easily have been an abscess or bruise.  So my advice to anyone who has a mild mystery lameness that doesn't sit right with you:  do the radiographs sooner rather than later.  

We could use some good vibes if you have any to spare.

June 10, 2020

Taking Action

I generally do not delve into too much social commentary on this horse blog, but we have reached new-yet-old levels of horrifying behaviour & I want to share a few things.

Some things shouldn't have to be said.  I'm going to say them anyway.

Judging anyone based on their skin color is wrong.

Classifying someone based on any attributes they can't control is wrong.  You are not better than someone else just because they have cells that grow with a different shade than yours.  Human behaviour, choices, ethics, & intelligence are not dictated by the colour of the sack that holds their organs together. 

Someone else is not less deserving or less worthy or in any way different from you just because they fell out of their mother on a different side of an imaginary line drawn by dead, greedy white men.  

Racism, just like sexism, is wrong.  Both should be named, called out, & shut down on sight. 

White people, of which I am one, don't like to hear it, but the truth is that we are not that special.  If you have found success in your life in this country & you are white, at least part of that success is because you didn't have to battle the colour you were born with.  Part of your success is absolutely due to pure luck (hint:  if you immediately thought 'no', that means the answer is 'yes').  Plenty of other people worked just as hard & harder than you did & wanted it more.  What they lacked was the key ingredient of opportunity, aka luck.  It's up to us as mature, thoughtful adults to realize that accepting this does not denigrate us, rather it's an important step to recognize both the humanity & the struggle of others. 

I could dig into that in extensive detail, but what I want to do instead is talk about how we can move forward.  Because it takes ACTION from all of us who did have that luck in the form of parents or other family/connections who could help us out, in the form of access to education, which creates choices, in the form of a job when we were looking for one, in the form of relative safety when we speak up -- change is possible, but to have meaning, it will require force from us to overwhelm the fear & resistance of those in power.

What that action looks like is going to vary based on our individual capabilities & strengths.  I don't have money, so in this society, I have little power.  Even my vote is crippled since I live in a gerrymandered district.  However, I can still effect meaningful change.
When I started working in conservation, I quickly noticed that it is REALLY REALLY white (it's also really, really male, but I won't get into that for now).  For much of my career, I've been banging away at that drum & trying to find ways bring more diversity into our conversations, our meetings, & our conferences.  Because it's not just about what people look like -- it's about the diversity of life experiences, cultural backgrounds, values, interests-- these are what make our communities & our programs better & that was sorely missing in our agency.

It's been a puzzling problem to tackle, because I knew that at least in the hiring decisions that I had a say in over the last 15 yrs, it was definitely NOT due to discrimination against diverse applicants.  We were simply not getting any qualified applicants who weren't white people.  And for a long time, we barely even had any that weren't white guys with brown beards who hunted & fished (yeah, sadly, I was a major component of our division diversity for a while).  So what were the barriers that prevented people from even getting to our entry level (you can be a technician with an associate's degree from a community college)?

We're a long way from a solution, but I can share some positive things.  A few years ago, my statewide professional society started sponsoring bilingual outdoor family events which are geared towards our hispanic communities.  This is a small-but-huge step that our agency is part of.  I wish I could be more help with those, but alas, we don't seem to have many French-speaking groups in NC.

The big effort though, that I am very excited about, is a result of a grant we were recently awarded from a national program.  I am part of a small sub-group of employees who are working on concrete steps to broaden the diversity of our partnerships both internally & externally.  There is a solid workplan & momentum that I am thrilled to finally see.

This effort, called Partners For Inclusion, is a 3- pronged approach, recognizing that you need diversity within in order to successfully engage the diversity of constituents.  It includes critical elements like creating opportunities all the way down to elementary levels for kids to see people they can relate to & for people to see that natural resources belong & are relevant to everyone & there are so many different ways to enjoy them.  It's hard for people to fight for environmental justice if they don't feel included as stakeholders.  It's about being better communicators, which includes both reaching out AND listening.
Many need to be coaxed out of their shells...
I mention this for two reasons:  one, I wanted to share something positive in this cacophony of violence & soul-wrenching sadness.  Two, I want to challenge each of you, if you haven't already, to look around you & identify a niche where you can contribute to opening doors & creating opportunities where they may be lacking.  Where you can give a voice to someone unheard, or even better, create a safe space for that voice to flourish.  It's easy to shower out words of support on the internet -- I do hope that some of them will cause detractors to at least stop & think, but words will never be enough.

If you can support protestors in any way, that's great, do so.  But don't feel helpless if you can't, because there is a great deal of important work, some already in progress, much more that still needs to be done, that lies ahead of us.  That work, to ensure people have access to their basic civil rights & an equal opportunity at choosing their own path through life, will take commitment for a long time, from all of us to see it through.  Because make no mistake, if someone else's civil rights can be trampled on, that absolutely means yours can be too.

Every society is only as strong as its weakest members & helping someone else does not reduce you.  Taking care of each other strengthens us all.  Conversely, standing by & letting others fail merely dooms us all to an inevitable tumble into the same abyss.

It's up to us whether to choose to build a bridge instead.

May 23, 2020

Solo Steps In & Other Updates

Thank you again to all who took the time to share compassion & kindness for the loss of our dear friend.  I miss Richard very much.  I miss bumping into him feeding his horses when I get home from work, when I would stop the truck for a chat.  I miss his friendly greeting of, "Hey, girl," always accompanied by his infectious smile.  Sometimes I talk to him as I walk around the farm now -- it's not the same without his quiet chuckle, though.  There were still so many things I wanted to ask him & stories I wanted to hear. 

In the meantime, Echo is working on shoulder healing.  Being a horse, he of course does not proceed in a linear, or even understandable fashion.  But there is slow progress.  And I'm getting pretty good at equine massage.
Ridiculous creature
In between those meantimes, I've been doing short work sessions with Solo.  Sometimes longeing, sometimes riding, at all times, a joy.  I decided since I don't know how many rides he has left in  him (although we never know that for any horse...or human), I didn't want to waste any opportunities.  We both love working with each other -- although Solo has distinctly less love for longeing, given his long & complex history with it.

We don't do anything complex -- walking, a bit of trotting, some ground poles, depending on what he is feeling up to (he never fails to tell me).  I sneak in a few steps of lateral work or transitions, then quickly look away in case he catches me trying to surprise him with his nemesis, Dressage.  Occasionally,  he gets excited & takes a few steps of canter.  I let him have it because it puts a big, stupid grin on both of our faces, but I bring him back after a few strides so he doesn't make himself too sore.

His bad foot gets tired quickly, so I keep field sessions around 30 minutes or so, although he can walk longer on a trail once Echo can go out again.  He's crooked, but I don't pick at him since he's 24 & carrying old injuries.  Despite that, he still has his lovely suspension when he lifts into the trot.  And I still get to spend a few minutes with my favourite view in the world.

April 30, 2020

A Different Kind Of Derby

In an effort to give us all something to think about that is not tragic or terrifying, I present to you the following:

This weekend is the first Saturday in May, but due to COVID-19, for the first time since 1945, there will be no horses lining up at the post for the Kentucky Derby.  There WILL however be a Derby...

...of turtles! 

You can read the details here about the Kentucky Turtle Derby, which will even include an official race call by the Triple Crown announcer.  It doesn't sound like he has ever called a race this long before.  This isn't the first time racing reptiles have stepped in to give us something to cheer for:  the Turtle Derby emerged the same year, 1945, of the last equine Derby cancellation.

I will definitely be tuning to see the athletic prowess of delightfully named animals including Seattle Slow & Sir Hides A Bunch.  Thank you to whoever is organizing this, I, for one, sorely need a little levity.

It'd be even funnier if they actually ran like this...
     

April 26, 2020

Take Care Of The Caretakers

Thank you to all of you who took a moment to leave a comment or send a message - each means a great deal.  Our community, our world, has indeed suffered a great loss & it feels just that much dimmer without Richard in it.  While I am grateful that he didn't meet his end with this damn virus, in a hospital, attached to a ventilator, as I so worried, I would really rather he still be here to sit down & share a stale Oatmeal Creme Pie from his tack room stash.

I learned last week that Richard was only 70 -- which sounds old if you are 25, but not after you pass 40, as I have.  Until about a year ago, I felt certain that he would be one of those sturdy farmers who keeps working until they hit triple digits.  But then his wife became very ill (she still is) & Richard became a caretaker.

I don't think the situation of caretakers for the gravely ill gets talked about enough.  As I learned from personal experience, in some ways, it's even harder to be the "helper" than it is to be the sick person.  There are few to zero support services for caretakers & in many cases, people who are doing this work for someone they love are doing it in addition to their regular job/life duties.  They dedicate all their own resources, financial, emotional, physical, to supporting their loved one every way they can think of.  It is stressful, scary, & most of all, draining.

Because the caretaker is not doing this as a job, they don't get mandated breaks, there is no sick leave, there is no "signing off."  Because the caretaker is often driven by the twin engines of love & fear, they will push on into territory they would never have previously entered.  When this persists for a long time, as it so often does, the toll can be debilitating or even deadly.

I point all this out to say that if you know someone who is a caretaker, take note that they are at risk too.  Stress absolutely exacts a price from our bodies & the caretakers very much require care just as much as their charges do.  It's not anyone's fault, except for maybe the larger cultural system which doesn't do enough & that's a bigger problem than I can tackle.  But there are things we can do on the individual level to support each other. 

If you have the ability to give someone a break for a few hours or a day, do so.  Whether that be by helping with tasks or a financial contribution to hire some help, say, a house cleaner.  Maybe you can bring food or supplies or run errands if you are going to be out & about.  Maybe you can do some chores or take care of some pets.  Any of these things can help reduce some of that stress, even if just temporarily, it still counts.  And remember to check back in a few days & next week & next month & the time after that. 

If you ARE a caretaker, you are probably both tired & stubborn -- I hear you & I know that condition all too well.  Please hear me -- let others help you.  Ask for help.  It's not an imposition, we will all need help at one time or another.  It doesn't mean you are weak or incapable.  It's ok to be helped. 

None of us can fix everything or save everyone.  We can, however, by doing things that seem small & every-day, make a big difference in tough parts of someone else's life.  Maybe even save a life, but at the very least, add a bright spot where it is sorely needed.  Taking care of our caretakers is a win for everyone -- the world needs all the generous, compassionate people it can get.

And because this a horse blog that is about horse things -- I found a photo of Big Boy & Richard, both doing what they loved most, & I hope his family won't mind that I borrowed it from his obituary:

April 21, 2020

Unexpected Loss

Saturday night, we unexpectedly lost a treasured human friend.  I still can't wrap myself around the size of the hole he has left in our lives.

I don't know exactly how old he was.  Maybe in his 70s, but up until a couple of years ago, he was strong, active, & capable of working harder than I was.  The past couple years though, he has been taking care of his wife, who has terminal cancer, which has dragged on far longer than anyone expected.  I can testify that the exhaustion & stress of watching cancer eat alive the person that you love is a deadly threat.  And so it was - Richard collapsed of a massive heart attack & a relative found him in his home Sunday morning.

"Heartbroken" does even begin to describe how I feel.

The first time I met Richard was when I came out to look at this property in 2013.  He was selling his back pastures, so he was also looking for a good neighbour.  As he carried me back through his fields in his utility vehicle, his soft-spoken kindness & gentle humour immediately put me at ease.  I fell in love with the parcel which became Flying Solo Farm, but part of that was due to added feature of having Richard next door.  For two people from two very different generations, we had a whole lot in common.
We both loved horses; Richard with Buddy the Appy, last April
FSF sits on the foundation he created.  He bought this parcel as cut-over timberland & transformed it to rolling pastures edged with mature oaks, pines, & sweetgums.  He built the fences by hand, hung the gates, established the forage that my horses use today.  He could have made more money selling this property to someone else but that was never what Richard was about.

I never could have built this place without him.  He used his enormous tractor to bushhog over-grown fields for me.  He moved & re-drove fenceposts so I could make new gates & he built the entrance road.  He taught me how to repair & adjust the hi-tensile fence so it stayed safe for horses.  He helped me improve my tractor bucket skills & pitched in to any project that was too big for my equipment.
2016: Fixing my driveway culvert
What defined Richard, though, was his generosity.  He owned every tool known to man & offered any of them to me.  It didn't matter how busy he was, if I needed a hand with something, he was there for however long it took.  And it was the same for any other person he met -- he lived to help others, no matter who they were.

As is common with those of generous spirit, Richard also had a deep & open love for animals.  His quiet, gentle way with them endeared him to dogs & horses with the same effect he had on people.  Broken hearts with darkened pasts found a balm for all the sharp edges that life cut into them.  He was a quiet port in which to rest, safe for a moment from battering seas.  It was his gift to abused equines.  It was also his gift to me.

Richard loved horses above all.  An avid trail rider, he showed me the vast network of trails across neighbouring properties that he'd strung together over the years & kept maintained.  Although he had a weakness for a flashy paint, his favourite horse, his Solo, was an old-school, plain bay TWH named Big Boy.  A big-moving, big-headed mahogany gelding overflowing with energy, the two of them used to do 15-20 miles a day the first few years I lived here.
I can't find any Big Boy photos, so here is Nobody, another of Richard's TWH & this was Richard's contact photo in my phone
Big Boy died suddenly last fall -- he was found dead in his pasture, not a mark on him, no sign of a struggle.  He was somewhere in his 20s & retired & we suspected his heart just gave out.  Richard buried him where he found him, on top of a hill looking over the fields where he had lived out a good life.  It's a little eerie looking back now, that they both went the same way. 

There's so many more good things I could tell you about Richard.  He was well-loved in this community & you'd be hard-pressed to find a person he hadn't helped.  He & his wife both grew up here in this small-town county & were related to everyone by blood or marriage.  He went far too soon & I know I'm not the only person missing him terribly.
2014: Driving anchor holes for my first hayshed w/ 100 HP behemoth
One of the things he was most looking forward to was eventually getting back to riding.  He hadn't been able to do much of anything due to his wife's health needs & he always put her first.  I worried so much that he wouldn't survive the stress, because I knew what a similar situation had done to me.  My deepest sorrow for him was that he didn't make it to that goal.  He missed riding so much & he never stopped cleaning his tack in hopes that he would get to use it again.

One day last summer, I did manage to coax him out on a brief ride in May, his first in two years.  I didn't know then it would be his last ride, but it makes me doubly glad I did.  It was a beautiful day, with summer sun dappling through the leaves & he kept telling me over & over how good it felt just to sit on a horse.  I couldn't stop smiling watching him.
That ride:  Richard & Smokey, me & Buddy
I've spent the last few days aimlessly wandering the farm & sitting on the porch, alternately weeping & cursing the unfair universe.  I miss my dear friend, I miss his gentle teasing, I miss his unintelligable phone calls of southern-mumble-quiet-drawl where I had to guess at every other word.  I miss his looking out for me:  if we didn't cross paths in his yard (my driveway goes through his farm) & he hadn't heard from me in a while, he'd randomly come back to the house & knock on my door just to see if I was ok & have a chat. 

Most of all, I miss one of the biggest hearts & kindest, most generous natures I have ever known.  I owe him so much - I tried to repay him via barter whenever I could, grooming his horses when he couldn't get to it, fixing small things for him, mowing a fenceline while I was on the tractor -- but he was so dang capable, I felt like I could never keep up.
2015: Plowing my driveway with his skidsteer (part of this amusing story)
I will forever be grateful to him for this farm, which has become my quiet sanctuary, although it will never be the same without his ready smile.  I will try to do what I know he would tell me to do:  enjoy the land, enjoy the horses whenever & however I get a chance, & enjoy quiet walks on pretty days.

I would ask this of you, readers, in honor of Richard:  look for opportunities for a small (or large) good deed, which can be as simple as checking in on someone who is on their own.  Don't wait to be asked - kindness unbidden is always a welcome gift & it is one that I will try to give more often because I know what it meant when given to me.

For Richard:  I don't think anything magical happens when we die & I don't think you did either.  Nonetheless, I choose to think of you meeting Big Boy on the other side, where you calm his anxious energy with a touch just like you did in life.  May the two of you step out together on the trail that never ends, free of the aches & worries that piled up behind you, with not a single fly in sight.  There will always be a part of you here on Flying Solo Farm & I will try my best to do it justice, even though I can never do it as well as you.  I will never forget all that you did for me & I will miss you always.

Farewell, my very dear friend.  Ride free.       

April 17, 2020

Echo's Vet Update

Before I dive into the latest installment of Echo's vet addiction, I do want to send out my best to all of you.  I went back & forth, but decided that I wasn't going to write much, if anything, about The Virus -- it was already all the words on all the channels & I didn't think I had anything meaningful to add to all that noise.  The best any of us can do at present is to follow reputable safety protocols to the best of our ability & for your own sanity, turn off the news & the facebook (if you even watch it, I do not anyway as I don't need to add to my sources of anger).

We are fine (at least as much as we ever are) here -- my job is secure & I can do much of my office work remotely to the extent that my limited rural internet access allows.  Our field work is reduced, but we will still be working on mission-critical projects; there is plenty of room for social distancing in the river though.  I generally don't go many places outside of work anyway; I hate grocery shopping so much I only go maybe once a month (basically when there is literally nothing left in the house), & as an introvert, I don't encounter other humans often.  I remain grateful to have the horses at home, so not many changes for us.  I definitely feel for all of you who can't see your horses right now & am hoping that ends as soon as possible! 

If you are in a position to help others, but are not sure what to do, you can follow this link to a summary page from Charity Navigator of groups which are accepting donations to help with everything from medical supplies to food to financial assistance.  Sending even a dollar from your living room is risk-free for you & can make a difference to someone else.
Click to find a reputable charity helping those in need
Turning back to my problem child...

Earlier this week, I took Echo back to the vet, as his shoulder was just...lingering.  I had started doing stretches & massage about a week prior to that following a phone consultation with vet.  That treatment did bring about some improvement & Echo was moving a bit more freely with a little less limping, but I wasn't comfortable proceeding without a better idea of what exactly we were dealing with.

Also..."Echo's Vet Update" should probably be the new name of this blog.

Turns out he did indeed partially tear his triceps muscle.  Good news:  that muscle is enormous, covering the entire scapula, so there is plenty of "extra" to do the job it needs to do.  Also good news:  it will heal without any functional limitations.  Also good news:  he is at the point in healing where he can start to go back to work as he needs to use it to continue making progress.
Equine shoulder; From horsesidevetguide.com
Less good news:  muscles heal slowly & giant muscles heal even slower.  It will probably 5-6 months until it is completely healed.  He may have a permanent divot to add to his existing scar collection, but at least it won't affect anything.

In the balance, while it's not great, it could be so much worse.  At least we can start doing things again, while is a huge relief to us both.  I will, as always, be conservative -- I got on a couple days ago & we just did walk work & stepping over poles.  Of course, Echo is already happily trotting & cantering around in the pastures on his own.  I'll never know exactly what happened -- maybe it was a kick, maybe he just slipped, maybe it was both.
His lump 10 days ago
I did put him back on the Equioxx, carefully, after we finished other meds, & am relieved that he is having no issues with it, so he has that mild anti-inflammatory support as we work through the physical therapy process.  He also completed a week of Ulcerguard & his stomach is much happier, so he's back to eating his meals (although still at the slowest....speed.....possible).

Farrier also put the hoof testers on him last week & he had no reactions, so it looks like the coffin bone bruise is healed up too.  At least it helps me to gauge lameness without the compounding factor of that foot on the same leg as his shoulder.

I'm sure Echo will find new things to do, but it still felt good to cross at least a couple of the more recent issues off the list.  And even though I hate any injury in my horses, it's going to happen one way or another, because horses, so I'm still grateful when it is at least something that will heal, because I've dealt with enough things that won't & that is much worse.
Shaking off gnats while regaining weight, shine, & getting less lumpy every day
Baby steps for Baby Monster, but we will begin re-building that topline once again.  It should be easier this time since he has more skills than he did a year ago - some of them are even useful.

April 6, 2020

Bute Vs. Equioxx: Tradeoffs

Because it's a good time to learn about things, right?

I recently had the unfortunate but useful opportunity to compare the results of the two most commonly used equine NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs; bute & Equioxx) on the same injury -- Echo's shoulder.  There are pros & cons to each.  Because I firmly believe in making the most informed decisions possible, let me share with you what I learned.

Background

Heat, pain, & swelling are the result of the body's inflammatory cycle.  One of the primary mediators of this cycle is a group of prostaglandins created by cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes, which convert a substance interestingly named arachidonic acid (does it have spiders in it?).  There are different varieties in this group, referred to by number:  horses have COX-1 & COX-2, while humans have additional variants.  NSAIDs aim to break the inflammatory cycle by inhibiting the production of these enzymes, during which the body can break down harmful prostaglandins which have already formed (which takes about 12 hrs).

As you might suspect, COX-1 & COX-2 have different functions.  COX-1 plays important roles in things like maintaining stomach mucous coatings, keeping blood flowing through kidneys, & coagulating blood.  COX-2 is only found at low levels in normal tissues, but levels surge when that inflammatory process begins & COX-2 feeds that cycle. 
A simplified illustration from previcox.com; click to embiggen
Drugs

Bute refers to phenylbutazone, our old friend which has been around for decades.  It's cheap & fairly effective for pain management.  Given orally, it takes about 2-3 hrs to absorb from the belly & peaks in 3-5 hrs.  Persisting about 12 hrs, bute blocks both COX-1 & 2 production.

Equioxx is a brand name of firocoxib, a newer drug that is known in the canine world as Previcox.  It was developed for the treatment of osteoarthritis.  It's also given orally by owners, but is much slower to take effect.  It takes at least 24 hrs for levels to begin to peak & does not reach steady state for 4-6 days.  It also has a half-life of 44-46 hrs, so it takes an additional two days minimum to disappear after you stop giving it.  Firocoxib is a selective COX-2 inhibitor, which means it preferentially blocks COX-2 but still has a minor effect on COX-1.

Choices & My Observations

It just so happened that I was able to directly compare the two as Echo was on bute for the first week of his shoulder pain, then on Equioxx for a second week.  Pros & cons:

Bute Pros:
  • Much more effective pain control (side note: I've heard the same from others)
  • Significantly more rapid action - both to start & finish.  The latter can be especially important if you need to take a lame horse to the vet the next morning & you need the pain unmasked for an exam.
  • Relatively cheap
  • Easy to give -- even picky Solo will usually eat it on his food.  If they start refusing it after multiple days, I just dump it in a syringe with a little water & shoot it in their mouth.
Bute Cons:
  • Blocking both COX-1 & 2 is what brings about the higher incidence of GI issues with bute.  This is why I switched to Equioxx, as Echo had already been on bute a lot for his foot bruise & I was beginning to see ulcer signs.
Equioxx Pros:
  • Primary benefit is its selective COX-2 action:  this spares the GI tract some abuse, as well as protecting other COX-1 processes (cartilage maintenance is another one not mentioned above).
  • Also pretty easy to give as a tablet -- Echo snarfed it up when I put it in my hand with a little grain.  I've also heard of people stuffing them in cookies or gumdrops.  Just don't let other humans eat the gumdrops.  I've also heard of that happening once, LOL.
Equioxx Cons:
  • I saw significantly less pain control that definitely seemed better suited to something milder like arthritis.
  • Slow action, both to kick in & withdraw.  
  • Not cheap -- I did find (too late for me) that it was significantly cheaper online than through my vet.  Vet also did say that he did the math & it was actually cheaper per hour of pain control than bute was.  I believe him, but almost $2 a pill still hurts me.
Related note:  Equioxx & Previcox are both firocoxib.  Because Previcox can be cheaper, many people use it for their horses & just divide pills themselves.  However, be aware, it is now illegal, through the FDA, for a vet to give Previcox for a horse.  This is because accurate dosage for firocoxib is important to avoid adverse effects & it's very easy to over- or under-dose when manually dividing dog tablets.  This legal change occurred around 2016, when the tablet form of Equioxx became available; here is a good explanation.  I'm not going to call the drug police on you, just informing. 

One more note:  I learned from the Equioxx package insert that all NSAIDs have the potential to also block the prostaglandins which control body temperature.  This isn't common, but is something to keep an eye on if something goes awry.

Take Homes

Just like pretty much all of life, there are tradeoffs with each option, but I hope this will help you better understand which might work best for you.  I still consider bute my first line tool in acute pain control due to its strength & speed.  However, if you need to give an NSAID for a long period of time or are treating a horse who already has ulcers, Equioxx may be a more appropriate choice to protect GI tracts.

If you really want to dig in, here is a really nice paper from the Journal of the American Vet Med Association from 2017 on the COX enzymes & use of selective COX-2 inhibitors.

March 31, 2020

Disaster Horse Votes No To Boring

Without doubt, we are in tumultuous times.  Echo the Disaster Horse did not want to be left out of this & had no interest in my plea to be boring.  Not that I thought he actually would.

Right after my last post, he galloped around the pasture like an idiot & re-aggravated whatever he did to his shoulder.  Two weeks later, he still has some lingering soreness.  Vet says it's possible he bruised a nerve, which will take a little longer to heal.  I wish that was our biggest concern.

About 9 days ago, last Sunday morning, Echo was just looking kinda sorry for himself at breakfast.  I took his pulse on a whim & it was a bit elevated, so I took his temp & discovered he had a fever of 101.8 F.  He was already on Equioxx, so I consulted vet & he said go ahead & give bute if the fever gets higher.  At 102.1 F, I went ahead. 

The bute did control the fever well & Echo perked up, but then Monday night, I went out to give the horses their midnight snack of alfalfa cubes only to find the poor kid was completely covered in hives.  As in, his whole body looked like furry cottage cheese & his neck felt hard as a rock, I have never seen anything like it -- even his butthole had hives on it.  He was extremely tolerant of me shoving my shaking hands up his nose to make sure he still had an airway while I dialed the vet emergency line yet again. 
Gee, mom, you didn't actually want to sleep ever, did you??
A few doses of dex took care of that & we never did determine exactly what he reacted too.  It wasn't fire ants (no bites), he had no changes in food (not even a new bag) -- the best guess is maybe a wasp sting but invisible aliens are equally plausible.  At this point, I had no idea what was going on & took him in to the clinic to figure out what the heck to do before I had an aneurysm.

Long story short, blood work came back showing a possible bacterial infection (origin unknown).  Even though the fever had quit by Wednesday, vet prescribed a course of SMZs, which we've just finished.  In addition, & completely unsurprisingly, he also has some acute ulcers from the on-and-off bute over the last few months for his foot bruise.

Baby Monster, you be killin' me.

I have UlcerGuard on order & will be stalking the tracking number, since Echo is now off his feed & he doesn't have weight to spare.  After the last 10 days, I'm off my feed too!  Until it gets here, I'm offering him soaked alfalfa cubes & anything else he will pick at -- at least I have grass coming in & he is grazing some. 
Alfalfa slurpies
I have been itching to get him back into work, as he has lost all that muscle & weight I put on him last fall & he just does better overall when he is doing SOMEthing.  But I don't have the heart to ask him to do anything extra with a sore belly sloshing around, especially when I can't even give him any painkillers.  I'm even afraid of the Equioxx now, which will take a whole 'nother post to get into.

I am absolutely grateful they are at home with me right now & that Echo can at least keep himself mobile since they live out.  I think Solo is also grateful Baby Monster is wayyyyy less annoying right now.  And at least I can keep a close eye on him since I am working from home most of the time right now.

I hope you all are staying safe out there & I hope all your horses stay very very boring! 

March 14, 2020

Update On Disaster Horse

Maybe that should be his new name...

Echo's shoulder has improved some this week.  I'm leaning heavily towards it being a kick & have absolutely no doubt that he was asking for it (he basically always is).  Reason being, he has shown no protest to me extending the leg & he did a big "downward dog" stretch himself this morning, which I don't think he'd be that in to if he had pulled those muscles.

He still has a lump there, although it's reduced a bit, which I'll continue to SoreNoMore, but plan on tapering back the bute & seeing what happens.  He's moving much better, I don't see any more tightness in his walk & he trotted up for his late-night snack last night.

I briefly got on him bareback this morning, just to walk him around & get a feel for things, as that can often give me a lot of information.  I didn't feel anything from that bruised foot (granted, he was still on bute, but that doesn't hide everything), which is good, & got no real resistance from the shoulder.

On Thursday, farrier removed the glue-on boots & put him back in the flip flop pads.  So far, he's looking pretty comfortable in them, which confirms that his initial discomfort with them last time was in fact that it was a suddenly firm surface under that bruise.  He's made enough healing progress now that it no longer bothers him.  We did use race nails (thinner/lighter) in the shoes this time, just for cautious bet-hedging. 
They're back (altho this weird-angle pic is from the first round)
Thanks to the commenter on that post who gave us a perfectly timed tip:  the EasyCare flip flop boots CAN be reused!  We pried them off intact with a screwdriver (by the way, the Adhere glue worked perfectly for 5 weeks).  The adhesive stayed stuck to the hoof, so the boots came off clean & ready to go if I ever want to use them again.  If adhesive does stick to the boot, it can be easily dremel-ed off.  This at least made the price slightly less painful -- if you get two cycles out of them, that's $30 a cycle, which is still a bit high, but much closer with other plastic/rubber/polyurethane footwear.

I am happy with the boots' performance overall:  they stayed on (always critical), tread still looks good, horse moved normally (you know, for a creature with 3 functional legs).  I would definitely add the pour-in material in the toe in the future, as there is just no way to get gunk out of there & there was some moisture trapped in there when we pulled them (we've been in a rainy period).  Echo's feet were healthy when they went on, so no harm done, but pad material would help prevent that buildup.  Alternatively, you could probably cut out some sole "windows," the way we've done with the pads, because the material is pretty sturdy (caveat, I haven't tried this, but I bet someone has).  

Please, Echo, can we just be boring for a while?
Discovering spring grass a couple weeks ago

March 10, 2020

Unlucky People Shouldn't Own Unlucky Horses

Echo insists on continuing to demonstrate his talent...for misfortune.  Combined with my own terrible luck, I feel like we are stuck on a moebius strip of exasperation.

You know his left front leg, the one with the bruised coffin bone at the end of it?  Well, it had been showing some improvement...until yesterday.

I came home from work to find him limping anew.  I initially thought we had somehow aggravated the foot on the short, walking trail ride I ponied him along on Sunday.  Oh no -- now he has done something to the shoulder ON THE SAME LEG!

I found a big, hard lump just behind his scapula that foamed up white as soon as I put SoreNoMore on it (which can be an indication of elevated temperatures which go along with inflammation/spasm in the muscles, which arnica reacts to).  At this point, my hypotheses are either:

  1. Solo kicked him.  Which I have absolutely no doubt Echo deserved, so I couldn't even be irritated at Solo.  If you get kicked by Solo, it's only after you have ignored countless warnings, which are not subtle.  Echo is not one to take warnings seriously if he feels entertained.  There wasn't a mark, but Solo is barefoot. 
  2. Echo torqued the shoulder playing Wild Rearing Plunging Mustang games.  Equally possible.
He didn't react at all when I poked it.  I've seen him roll & get up just fine & he's weight-bearing.  He had no problem with me lifting the leg, extending it in front of him, rolling the shoulder around in its joint.  Which is a little baffling, but at least tells me he didn't break a rib (or anything else) & he didn't dislocate the shoulder.
At least one piece of my tack is getting some use
I'll give him a few days with bute & rest -- oh wait, he was already resting, gahhhh.  If he doesn't improve much with that, then I'll call my poor, harassed vet again.  I'm cautiously hopeful it looks like nothing too major right now, as the lump had softened when I got home from work today.  I put some ice on it this afternoon, although I'm not sure it can penetrate much in an area with so much body mass.

Hopefully he will decide to quit all this nonsense before I forget how to ride a horse.  The key to preventing this kind of stuff is strengthening soft tissues through fitness -- which is a little hard to do when you can't work them.  That hollow, thumping sound you hear is just my skull hitting the table repeatedly.  I'm thinking it would be smarter to trade him in for a pet turtle -- it takes some serious effort to break a turtle. 

Can someone just pat my head & possibly pour some libations down my throat??

March 8, 2020

Two Suppling Exercises For Any Gait

Echo & I are just doing sporadic walking with occasional short trot spurts (less than 10-15 steps) currently, as I wait oh-so-impatiently for his foot to heal.  It bores both of us, but there are endless opportunities to work on important basics.  Things like lateral cues, contact & balance in transitions, responsiveness to aids.  We learned some new simple schooling exercises from Trainer Neighbour last fall -- here are two of them that I have been using very frequently.  Both can be done at any gait.

Exercise 1:  Stretchy Turn On Haunches

I just made up that name for it.  This one has been excellent for Echo's devotion to curling behind the bit.  Prerequisites:  you need control of your horse's shoulders such that you can move them sideways.

Walk on a long or loose rein.  When you are ready to turn on the haunches (TOH), shorten your reins up.  Then ask the horse to move his shoulders around to reverse direction.  I'm calling it TOH, but it doesn't have to be a perfect, hind feet immobile, thing.  The important part is mobilizing the shoulders & feeling them step around.

When direction is reversed, immediately slip your reins back out & if the horse has actually used himself, he should stretch over his topline, reaching down & out.  I was amazed that this worked immediately with Echo.  I had never done or tried to do TOH with him before, just taught him to move his shoulders around at the walk.

The words aren't exactly in the right place, but you get the idea
Repeat the exercise as desired.  You are looking for the shoulder motion in the turn & then for the stretch when you slip the rein.  I find this very effective in warm up.

At the trot or canter, I use an abbreviated version, without the rein slipping, if Echo starts to curl again. Just bring the shoulders sideways for a step or two, which shifts his balance & uncurls him.  You could probably also encourage a stretch this way, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.

Exercise 2:  Spiral Circles

This is a variant on the classic spiral that I find helps keep the horse moving better so they don't get "stuck" in a circle.  Simply incorporate small circles (whatever is appropriate for your horse) all around your work area.  But as you get to the last 1/3 of the circle, cut in a little, then leg yield back out to your track.  Diagram, because words are confusing:

Arrows are where you leg-yield out, I just failed to angle them enough
I also like to incorporate transitions within a gait in these.  For example, if posting the trot, compress the horse into a sitting trot for the circle.  Or just half the circle.  Or just the leg yield.  Alternate.  You get lateral & longitudinal suppling this way, along with balance & strength work.

You can also add in shoulder mobilization to these circles, a couple steps here & there.  Keep them separate from the leg yields, so your aids are distinct (unless your horse is wayyyy more advanced than mine, in which case you probably don't need this post, ha).

Tell me about your favourite exercises -- especially if you have uncurling tricks!
Evidence from last fall: uncurling after some spirals

February 29, 2020

My Horse Is Wearing Flip-Flops In Winter

We've yet to nail down the exact footwear type that optimizes Echo the Baby Monster, but I feel like I'm getting closer.  I've been trying some "new" technology & there is a lot to like -- this post covers two alternatives.  As I've mentioned before, Echo dislikes anything that he feels pinches his heels; this can include a plain horseshoe, so I devoted some focused brain effort towards exploring options that still allowed me to protect the bottom of his foot while he heals.

Behind Door #1:  Flip Flop Boots
 
Right now, he is still wearing the EasyCare flip flop boots I brought up in the last post.  They are still working pretty well:  the epoxy is holding firm in the rain/mud/frozen/unfrozen roller coaster of conditions that is a Carolina February.  Traction remains good.  He seems to be moving comfortably in them (i.e. definitely doesn't prevent him from cantering & bucking across the field for dinner) & I've seen no signs of over-reaching (I am using bell boots with them because, well, it's a horse owned by me, therefore bad luck is probable, heh).  And the rubber is very sturdy -- vet commented on the radiographs that the sole of the boot was nearly the same density as the coffin bone. 
Solar view, complete with mud for "natural" look
As far as application, they truly ARE easy.  If your horse already had a good trim, you could definitely glue these on yourself.  I didn't get any pictures of farrier putting them on because it was dark & I was busy holding extra lights, but it went like this:
  1. Trim foot & rasp wall to roughen for maximum epoxy bonding.
  2. Set foot in boot (without epoxy) & mark (sharpie works) where you want to trim excess length off the back (if needed).  Trim with hoof nippers.
  3. Smear entire inside of boot cuff liberally with expoxy of choice (we used the black Adhere this time since that's what EasyCare recommended, but farrier commented that wasn't his favourite).
  4. Place boot on hoof, making sure it's snugged up against toe.  Hold long enough for intial setting, then place foot carefully on ground for the rest of the set time.
Left front (bruised foot) with boot
EasyCare has an excellent video with detailed instructions here, which is what I sent to my farrier since he had not used these before.  You can also squirt some pour-in pad material into the toe to help keep dirt out -- I would have liked to have done this, but we were worried about creating too much pressure on a sore foot & at the time of application, I still thought it was a bruise more towards the toe.  So we skipped it. 

Since nothing is perfect, the things I don't like:
  • These are rather stupidly expensive, at $32 for EACH ONE.  So a pair is $64 & they are not designed to be reusable -- according to the instructions, you have to cut the boot to get them off.  As a result, I will not be using these again barring emergency, because that is way too pricey for a single cycle (since total price with farrier labour is obviously more than that).  
  •  They do get junk in them.  However, not as much as I expected & I think it would be even less if we weren't in the middle of rainy, muddy paddock time.  When it has been drier & Echo has been in the upper field, he doesn't get anything in there.  
    • It's not too hard to pick out the back of the collateral grooves around the heels, but you can't reach the toe at all.  You could flush it out with a hose pretty easily though.
    • I got the flip flop model because I didn't have time to do a bunch of size exchanges & I figured they had the most flexiblity in terms of fit.  The trade-off is this:  a boot that glues around the whole foot will probably keep more junk out but then you also lose air circulation to the bottom of the foot.  Pick your poison.
Behind Door #2:  Flip Flop Pads

A couple of weeks from now, when the boots come off, we'll switch Echo to something I think is even more promising:  true flip flop pads.  I'd been wanting to try these for him ever since I read about them in this article.  My farrier had never used these either, but was willing to give it a shot. 

We actually tried a set about a month ago & they looked great.  However, Echo was pretty sore in them & again, I wasn't sure what the problem was yet.  We thought that one of the nails might be putting pressure on the hypothesized bruise, so we pulled the shoes/pads after a week.  I know now that he was sore because these pads are VERY firm, they are made to be reset & that sudden change from barefoot was too much for him at that phase of his healing.
Solar view of flip flop pads & half shoe
As a result, I don't yet know exactly how they will work out long term.  But my initial impression, on the foot that wasn't sore, was that these could be good for him.  The concept was designed by farriers & they've been in use for a long time in Standardbred racing (we used the Grand Circuit pads to match the thickness of an eventer shoe).  The pad itself covers the whole foot, providing even support across the entire width of the heels without any restriction on heel motion.  It's then held in place by a regular horseshoe which is cut in half. 
Shoe & pad thickness must match to create level surface for foot
The niche these pads particularly address are horses that need more/better heel growth, whether they are underrun or low or just weak.  The pads work by distributing pressure across the entire back of the foot, spreading out the forces that would otherwise be focused on the heels by a regular metal shoe.   

I like that this provides protection for toe wear, the area where Echo tends to get separation on his right front (in above pic).  It checks the box of "no heel squeezing," as per his majesty, Pony Princess Feet.  The pads come with pre-stamped holes in the toe, but we cut out bigger openings so I could keep things clean more easily (this worked great).  Farrier was a little hesitant at first that cutting might compromise pad integrity, but he stopped worrying about that as soon as he tried to actually cut them -- all his normal tools (pad cutter, hoof nippers) wouldn't do it, it took a lot of muscle & hacking with a very sharp hoof knife & that barely cut it.
You do need a chop saw to cut the shoes
I'll definitely share more info when I've had a chance to collect more data.  I've seen good reports from other users online.  They are much more reasonably priced than the boots, with the pads themselves around $16 a pair & can be reused.  The concept seems solid -- we'll see what the princess has to say about it.