Friday, December 11, 2009

In which Fiddle tests out new hoof boots and we are underwhelmed by them

The EasyCare company has been making hoof boots for horses since 1970, and I've been buying them since 1994. You could call me a loyal but somewhat unenthusiastic customer. EasyBoots weren't "easy" at all...but there weren't any alternatives, so I bought 'em and I used 'em.

Until recently, there was only one kind of EasyBoot:


They called it "the EasyBoot." This was the days before Epics and Edges and Grips and Glue-ons. There was just the one color, and just the one style, and it came in several sizes. The size you used on your horse was the same size shoe you would put on the horse.


These old boots were a pain in the tailfeathers to put on and take off. They scraped up the outer hoofwall if you didn't squash down the little teeth inside the boot and they were likely to zing off into the bushes or slorp off in deep mud and be lost forever if you did squash down the little teeth inside the boot.
The cables used to adjust the fit were guaranteed to slice up your hand, so there was always blood on my cables.
Yeah. Not pretty.

With all that said, EasyBoots were a useful "spare tire" for trail riders who didn't want to hop off and hand-walk a horse back to the trailer after losing a shoe. The plastic was sturdy and lasted a long time. The company started making the boot in bright orangish-red a few years ago, which made the boots easier to locate when they went zinging off into the shrubs. And I learned to stuff a couple of bandaids inside the boot when it was stored in my saddlebag, so I could patch up my hands once the boot was installed.

Lately, I've been reading more and more about the benefits of leaving horses barefooted. For Hana, this is not a problem: she has small, tough feet. Fiddle has good feet too--tough enough to break the farrier's nippers--but her soles are tender. I like to leave her barefoot for the winter months when I don't ride much and the ground is soggy, so I decided it was time to try out some of the new products now available from the manufacturers of my old EasyBoots.

I measured her feet carefully. She takes a size 1 horseshoe on all four feet, but the steel shoe must be widened significantly to fit her round feet. Steel horseshoes are hand-fitted to each foot, so even when a horse wears a size 1 shoe, the shape of her foot might be significantly different from the shape of another size-1-wearing horse. Steel is flexible, and a good farrier is vital to preparing and fitting shoes to each individual horse's foot. I love my farrier!

I compared the size and shape to the chart provided by EasyCare, and I saw a good match with the size 3 Easyboot Glove, so I ordered a set.

These boots promised to fit well, be much easier to take on-and-off than the old style EasyBoot, and the ankle straps would keep them in place and prevent them from zinging off into the bushes.

Here's the video produced by EasyCare showing the boot:







Looks great, huh? Looks EASY, doesn't it?

So, why were we underwhelmed? There were a lot of reasons!

To start with, it's not that easy to put them on. Why is my experience different from the experience of the nice fellow in the video? Here's my theory:

* He was demonstrating this boot on a fine warm day
* Here, by contrast, it is not warm. It's downright COLD!
* The material in this boot is NOT nearly as pliable in a cold environment as it is in a warm environment.

Sigh.

I did get them on, finally.
They are easier to put on than the old-style EasyBoots, and they don't have cables to cut up my hands. However, the stiff rubber did not want to stretch over Fiddle's foot.

Finally: got 'em on!

Ready to head out!
Fee was surprised to feel the straps around her pasterns. She did a few high steps, and then figured out that they weren't hurting or impeding her, so she started walking like a normal horse again.

I was pleased. I looked forward to our ride.

I looked back at her when I led her through the gate (about 20 strides from where I took the last photo) and saw this:



Uh, left-front boot?

I took the boot off (they are easy to take off!) and put it back on (still not as easy to put on as the video would have you believe). Tight fit is essential to the fit of this boot...and tight fit + cold plastic = a small struggle to get it on again.

Sigh.

Okay. Four feet pointed forward again!

Fiddle patiently snacks on grass while I fix her boot and take photos.

Off we go, down the road! The sound of booted feet on our country road made a nice little thock-thock-thock-thock-noise.

"Nice," I thought. Fiddle was striding out properly, not tiptoeing forward the way she does when her feet are tender.

Less than a quarter mile later of walking on our country road, the sound changed to a thock-thock-thock-thwap sound.

I looked down: one boot was sideways on her foot.

I hopped down, took the boot off, put the boot back on, made sure the pastern straps were a little more secure, hopped back up and proceeded forward. Thock-thock-thock-thock.

"Nice," I thought.

Less than a quarter-mile later: thock-thwap-thwap-thock.

Both boots on the right side were flapping around her pasterns.

I hopped down, took the boots off, put the boots back on, adjusted the straps, hopped back on and proceeded forward.

Thock-thock-thock-thock.


You know what's coming next, don't you?

Less than a quarter-mile later: thwap-thwap-thock-thwap.

Three boots flapping, one boot securely in place.

Sigh.

Fiddle happily ate grass and wondered what the point of this exercise could possibly be while I pulled all the boots off her feet

and attached them securely to her breast collar.

Then, I hand-walked her carefully home, rode her barefoot in the pasture for a little while, and then let her eat grass in the backyard while I examined the boots. Three were in good shape, but the fourth


had a little part tearing loose between the boot and the strap.

Total distance covered: less than a mile.

Total satisfaction rating: totally not satisfied.

I recognize that some people have been very happy with these boots--their testimonials convinced me to try them. Personally, I consider the entire trial an expensive failure.

I plan to send a link to this blog post to the EasyCare company, with hopes that they will endeavor to make me a happy customer again. I'll let everyone know how that turns out.

EDIT: before I could send a note to EasyCare, Garrett Ford (prez of the company) contacted me via the "comments". I call that good customer service! I will keep everyone posted on our progress to re-boot my mare.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In which we sing an old Ella Fitzgerald tune and try to stay warm

I really can't stay
But, baby, it's cold outside
I got to go 'way
But baby, it's cold outside
This evening has been
Been hoping that you'd drop in
So very nice
I'll hold your hands,
they're just like ice...



I love the song the way Ella and Louis sang it in 1949. That does NOT mean, however, that I enjoy cold weather.

Uh-huh. No way.

I live in the Swamplands for a reason: it doesn't get really cold or very hot here very often. It gets wet, oh yes. Soggy, you might say. But rarely does it get cold enough to sing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" for five days in a row.

Except this week, alas.


Why yes. That IS the manure fork covered in little frost crystals.
Frost on the pumpkin = sweetly poetic.
Frost on the manure fork = not so much.

The paddock pipe corral fencing is decorated with beautiful frost ferns as well:



Enough with the pretty, though. Cold weather means work on the farm.

Water is always the most pressing concern.

The chicken's water tank comes into the house at night, once they've been locked into the Winter Palace for the evening. Then it thaws out in the sink overnight so I can fill it back up and haul it back outdoors for them in the morning.

The mammal tank won't fit in the laundry room, so we have a different strategy for it:Jim likes the heavy engineer hammer for the task of breaking up ice.

I have decided, after nearly dropping the hammer into the tank twice this morning (because the handle is icy and ice is--duh--slippery) that I'll use the tall rock bar from now on. It's 5 feet long--long enough that I won't have to dip my hands into that water to fish it out if I drop it!

This is the pile of ice Jim pulled out of the tank yesterday: knee-high on a goat!

The goats and horses don't mind the cold too much. They get extra hay when it's cold, which always makes a gold-star day for them.

We also started feeding them beetpulp this week, since they are reluctant to drink cold water (even from the pasture tank that has the tank heater in it). Hydrated beetpulp = hydrated horses.

Fiddle loves her beetpulp!
The chickens are fine in this weather. They ARE wearing down jackets, after all.

I did find a frozen egg this morning, though. They aren't laying quite as many eggs right now, because the days are so short, but we'll install a light on a timer for them this week to keep them warmer and to fool their bodies into producing a few more eggs through the winter.


Does anybody know if the light should come on in the morning (so we don't have to let them outside into the cold quite so early) or at night (so they'll go into the lighted coop and not fall asleep in the doorway)? We're still debating this question, and would love an experienced opinion or two.



It's so cold....how cold is it?


It's so cold that we aren't allowed to use the woodstove right now to heat the house!

Clear skies, cold weather and very little wind in the Swamplands lead to a dangerous inversion layer of particle pollution in the air. There's a Stage Two Air-Quality Burn Ban set for us and for three adjacent counties until it rains or the wind kicks up...maybe next week!

The bright side to that: I can used the forced-air vents in the house to dry my gloves now.
Puzzle has found a satisfactory alternative to curling up beside the fire.