Minute by minute, the days are getting longer. The sun's ever strengthening rays have melted most of the snow, but they still aren't powerful enough to soften the still-frozen ground. I slip Maggie's halter from her head as I turn her loose. She stumbles and cringes as she navigates her way across the the paddock-- where the ground is a rutted mess of frozen clay. Finally, she makes her way to a pile of hay beside the run-in shed. She stands there for most of the day.
When I bring the horses in at the end of the day, instead of rushing to the gate and jockeying for position, she hangs back. Once the others are in, I walk out to the shed to get her. The edges of her feet are breaking up, and small pieces of hoof are missing. She walks forward reluctantly, gingerly, each step deliberate as she searches for a smooth piece of ground to place her tender feet. She looks extremely lame. Thankfully, as soon as we're out of the frozen-clay paddock, and onto the much smoother path, she picks up the pace and walks normally.
Murray's oblivious to the rough, rutted ground. He has shoes with rubber pads, so he has much more protection. Like Maggie, Jaava is barefoot, but her hooves are smaller, and in typical pony-fashion, much tougher. She occasionally takes a tender step, but for the most part, she bucks, rears, and runs with as much spunk as usual. It's just Maggie, with her naturally brittle hooves and tender soles who appears tortured by Jack Frost's unwillingness to relinquish his final grip on winter.
After a second day of watching Maggie navigate painfully around the paddock, I'm worried. Her hooves were in terrible shape when we bought her. There were deep cracks running from her toes to her coronary bands, and large chunks of wall were missing. Between regular visits from our diligent farrier, a balanced diet, and ample servings of hoof supplements, her feet are finally starting to look normal. I don't want a few days on hard, uneven ground to undo all the progress.
Early Summer 2011
They've regraded our road again, only this time, they've covered the soft dirt with a layer of sharp, blueish stone. I'm not impressed. One of these razor-like stones pierces our truck tire. Even worse, when I try to take Maggie for her usual workout up-and-down the hill, she stumbles and trips. She jerks her head up in pain as the rough edges of the rocks press into the soles of her dinner-plate-like hooves. After a few metres, we turn around. Maggie loves the road work, but it looks like we're confined to our soft, sandy ring for the foreseeable future.
I have heard of hoof boots, and I think they might just be the fix I'm looking for. I don't know much about them so I do some research. I discover several companies which make them. My favourite boot, by far, is the colourful, bionic looking "Renegade" (I have my heart set on "Burgundy Blitz"). Alas, Renegade doesn't make boots to fit her large, draft-cross hooves...nor do any of the other brands I come across. It turns out that finding a boot for Maggie is as difficult as trying to fit one of Cinderella's dainty glass slippers onto the elephant-like feet of her evil step sisters.
The boots aren't cheap, and I'm indecisive, so I put off ordering them for awhile, but when the ground begins to freeze in earnest, I dig out my credit card and order a pair. Her front feet are much more sensitive than her hind, so I buy boots to fit those feet first. I hope to put-off buying the hind ones until the spring.
It takes almost three weeks for her boots to arrive. Maggie stands patiently on the cross-ties while I try to wrestle her hooves into the boots for a good five minutes. I can get her feet partway in, but no matter how I twist, turn, pull, push, and shove, I cannot get her hooves all the way into the boots. I stop, I re-read the instructions. I check the size of the boots, and check the measurements required for that size. She's at the maximum width for those boots, but still, they should fit--barely.
I try again. After another ten minutes or so, I'm sweating, and swearing, and Maggie is becoming less and less willing to hold up her hooves for me. The boots are undeniably too small. I angrily throw the boots in a corner in the tack room, where I try to forget about them for a few days.
I consider sending the boots back. But the shipping and customs fees alone would cost a fortune, and they're already slightly scuffed. I decide to try again, but this time, I put the boots on her slightly smaller hind feet. According to the measurements, they should be a size three. Instead, they fit perfectly into the size four boots intended for her front feet. I look at the measurements for the size 5 boots. By rights, those boots should be too big for her. But if the size fours are too small, what other option do I have? I sigh, and decide to order the bigger boots. At least the boots are on sale now. I buy them at almost 50% off.
The weeks go by. I try the boots on Maggie's hind feet several times. They're still not easy to put on, but they stay firmly in place, and she barely seems to notice they're there. Finally, the larger boots arrive. Despite the fact that these boots are quite a bit larger, it still takes me a solid ten minutes to shove her hooves into them. They're a bit big and clunky, but they'll have to do.