I have known since I first started riding Liberty that he was going to be special. Before I began to really train him, I had thought he might be a "transitional" horse...the one I rode while I waited for Fiera to grow up to be old enough to ride. Now, I'm not only sure he's not transitional, but I find myself wondering why I have another horse at all. He has turned into such a special guy, that my heart swells with love and happiness to have him in my life.
This past weekend was the Christmas at the Ranch Ride. Usually it's held at Six O Ranch in Cleburne, TX, but this past weekend it was in Killeen at Parrie Haynes. They have been in a severe, multi-year drought, so they are very happy to have had so much rain. I was concerned about doing the ride in my easy boots, since in NATRC, we can only use boots which go below the hairline and don't cover the heel bulb. I have used them successfully a few times, but since I had had Liberty trimmed the previous week, the boots seemed to be a little big. I wasn't sure they would stay on at the trot and canter since we were now in open. Previously, I had only done novice speeds in boots.
We applied our boots (Maggie was using boots on Dixie too) before check in on Friday. In this case, I did nothing special to apply the boots but just pulled them on his feet. Usually I use either athletic tape or duct tape as a base for the boots, but I had such a difficult time to putting the boots on without any tape, I decided to go with just the boots. I had thought I would pull off the boots and add the tape, but since I couldn't pull them off easily, I just went with it.
Saturday Liberty's boots stayed on for the first loop. He lost the left one early, but we saw it come off and I put it back on at the first P&R. He lost the right one on the beginning of the second loop, but again, Maggie saw it and we put it back on...only to lose it again in the next mile cantering on some good footing. That boot was never found again. Dixie lost her first boot on the first loop and we reapplied and lost it. She lost her other boot too, but I have no clue where it went or when we lost it. At the end of the day 3 of our 4 boots were found. We decided that we would ride barefoot on Sunday as it was just too much hassle in light of the fact that we'd had multiple boot failure that day. We had no idea if we would be able to complete sound without boots, but it was worth a try.
Sunday it was raining and the trails were even wetter than the day before. We did not boot and had less trouble with slipping and sliding than the day before. In fact, while wearing just one boot, Liberty fell down in the muddy conditions on Saturday (miraculously, I didn't come off and he hopped up and went on about his business) The horses began to slow down for rocks and mud, but figured out the game of keeping good time elsewhere. We checked out sound, having ridden barefoot the whole day.
Liberty and Dixie don't live in rocky conditions, so conditioning their feet is not really a great possibility. Liberty has never had shoes; Dixie has had shoes one time. She has gotten sore footed in the past, mostly due to her tendency toward insulin resistance and being overweight. Liberty was tenderfooted this summer when the rain caused extra grass growth. I also think that sometimes the hay has too much sugar in it and will cause these problems. It's been my limited experience that management and diet are more important than conditioning on the terrain where riding will take place, but it's nice if you can throw in some conditioning. As a result, I always prefer to boot rather than to take my chances barefoot. One of my friends with a really good barefoot horse, was laid up all fall when her mare suffered a stone bruise which turned into an abscess and then a bone infection...better safe than sorry. I have recently purchased some gloves for Dixie and some Goober Glue, but the glue didn't arrive in time for booting this past weekend. Liberty's feet aren't quite the right shape, but I'm sure we'll try the boots on Dixie in the future.