What’s in a dentist?

This post is my attempt to explain my very limited understanding of what I observed when using a neuromuscular equine dentist for the first time. Please forgive my shortcomings in terminology or biomechanical understanding. It is a lot of connected information. This post is intended to invite you to do some real research of your own on what you think is best for you horses with a hope you will consider just maybe what you thought you knew or have been told by those in the wide trail might not be complete…

For those who love, or are at least curious about the narrow trail…

After over a year of research, digging, inquiring, waiting, praying and then scheduling, today was the long awaited day that the dentist from the Spencer Lafleur school of Neuromuscular Horse Dentistry (aka Natural Balance) came to our barn.

Most horse people I know agree that taking care of the horse’s teeth is important. Yet a little over a year ago I learned the standard common practice of equine dentistry generally does not address the horse’s mouth in a biomechanical way and cause negative unintended consequences.

I have noticed in my equine journey there seems to be a wide trail and a narrow trail. The wide trail is what mostpeople are doing with horses in care and training.

Each step I walk off the wide trail I notice my horse changes for the better. Sure, at first the narrow trail seems less clear, a little lonely and it’s never as simple. It takes some digging, seeking, asking deeper questions and sometimes small leaps of faith. Yet the more time I spend on it I see that in the long run it costs less and is more freeing and infinitely more fulfilling than my experience was on the wide trail.

My most recent foray off the well beaten wide trail has been in equine dentistry.

My first equine dental experience was with a “local” guy who had good rapport with the horses, generally didn’t need sedation and hand floated the teeth. I don’t remember how he was trained but he was not a vet. I was told that power tools were bad.

A few years after that I needed a chiropractor for some issues in my older mare. I found a highly recommended chiropractor who was also a vet and helped me substantially bring a horse back to better physical health after a bout with Lymes and what ended up being a serious saddle fit issue that as a new horse owner I did not understand until it had caused some real damage. This chiropractor vet worked closely with a skilled dentist and explained that power tools were good in fact you can’t expect to get the job done right with hand filing the horse’s teeth. The enamel is very hard and doing the job right takes time and strength most equine dentists don’t have thus hand floating is usually not done to the extent necessary for good health in the horse’s mouth.

Feeling newly educated by a professional I trusted I became a power tool believer and insisted from then on my horses must be done this way. Hand floating was stone age. From almost 5 years ago I had power tool and sedation dental work on my horses about every year until two years ago.

Looking back I do not see any difference in my horses physically in hand floating or power tools.

I had been introduced to Cranialsacral Therapy (CST) for some issues in a different horse and my mind was blown. I watched my horses transform before my eyes and the practitioner always knew things that had been going on with my horses in a way that made me feel my horse was TELLING her things while I stood and watched. My horses welcomed the process and trusted the woman working on them.

It was my CST practitioner who asked about my dental work history and suggested that some of my horse’s physical issues will be not truly ever be sorted out while my horse’s head and neck aren’t able to function properly (due to traditional dental work that didn’t take the angles of the Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ)–  the joint where the jaw hinges to the skull into account which greatly affects the poll of the horse which greatly affects… EVERYTHING). She did not care about hand floating or power tools- she wanted to know if the dentist was trained and skilled at seeing the horse as a whole and balancing the teeth in the mouth to the needs of the body: jaw, poll, neck, hind, legs, feet etc…

WHAT!?

I am certain I have never had a dentist who was looking at my horse’s mouth in this way. I have never had a dentist speak to me of such things- they talked of sharp points, hooks, waves and bit seats- but never about the nerve system that runs through the body or the fact that imbalance in the jaw and mouth can create tripping or imbalance in the body, an inability to bend properly at the poll or use her hind end effectively.

My CST was certain I didn’t have a dentist who took these all into account as well- because she was looking at my horse as a whole and the angles in the jaw and poll were hindering my horse from true free movement she needed to thrive.

I began to dig into the world of neuromuscular equine dentistry and the Natural Balance school. And with more education I made another step off the wide trail, this time to seeking a professional who would work with my horse to create the correct balance in the mouth as a first priority to dental health.

I decided not to have anyone else work in their mouth again until I could get someone trained at the Spencer Lafleur school.

NOTE: This is not to say I don’t believe anyone else is doing good dentistry- but that I believed I could trust this school was training professionals that were doing what I wanted… so I would start with them.

There aren’t yet enough of these professionals to handle the even small percentage of clients who are beginning to realize how important this approach is! Thankfully someone within a days’ drive was new enough to be building a client list. Even so, this meant months to get scheduled, but she at least was willing to talk to me and agree to travel to my area as long as I could find enough horses to make it worth the day.

If there’s one thing I’m pretty good at is rallying the troops. I called her back with 6 horses to schedule and we chose a date for mid January which gave me heartburn because that’s when real winter has usually begun and I figured the chances we will have clear weather for her to travel here was about as good as santa clause dropping down my chimney with a unicorn….

… it could happen… right?

As you have guessed from the blog so far, I’m pretty sure 2019 is the year of my unicorn!

Friday was a clear sunny but cold day and though the rest of her weekend was threatened with snow she determined to come to us even if she had to cancel the rest of her weekend nearby clients.

The true test of anyone’s ability to understand horses is Wyoming. She’s a fantastic mare, but she doesn’t trust easily and she puts up with little human error. She is a little wild, a little sweet and a lot smart and once her opinions are developed it takes a lot of time to change them.  I still struggle with trimming one of her hind feet after a bad farrier experience two years ago who thought what she really need was more fear of humans; so I had mild heartburn trying to imagine her allowing someone to put a file in her mouth and work on her teeth with minimum sedation. I was fully prepared to pay for the consult and find the dentist may be unwilling or unable to do dental work on a suspicious mustang mare. Still I was willing to wager my money on this process believing that if the gamble paid off it would be a really wonderful thing for her and me both.

Khaleesi as usual was the most suspicious. She is in charge of everyone and everything and needs to approve of how her herd is treated and handled. She got over her initial concerns quickly as the dentist checked her over and showed understanding of horses and in finding areas she wasn’t physically comfortable- they came to agreement while I watched them in their own language converse about areas of tension and decreased mobility. Licking and chewing et. al.

Next she came to Wyoming and the two got on perfectly. Turns out this dentist inherited some nice young horses with a sad human backstory which meant they ended up feral a few years on a property and turned out some pretty wild youngsters including stallion with what she called a 30 foot bubble when she got him. She’s learned how to build trust with mistrustful equines and spoke mustang with ease.

While evaluating Wyoming at one point a dance ensued that I didn’t understand and I thought Wyoming was refusing to move with her and I wondered if a blow up could be coming (I’ve learned to see this way way early on while things still look ok to most domestic horse folk…) but no such issue arose. She explained Wyomings range of motion was being tested and the mare was simply saying I cannot move that way… nope… nope… not possible. The dentist response was simply: ok how about this? No? ok how about this? No, ok don’t worry I’ll help you…It was simply part of the evaluation to see what was needed to help the horse get her body functioning better.

Though none of the horses put up much fuss, it turned out Wyoming was the most compliant of the three with the process. She seemed to appreciate the small changes as they came. She was no problem at all for my new dentist friend… and being Wyoming approved is huge in my book.

I cannot expertly explain the entire system of this style of dentistry, but I can offer a website that gives a nice range of information if you’d like to delve in for yourself.

Link: Neuromuscular Horse Dentistry Home

I directly witnessed positive changes in each horse in unique ways. My understanding (opinion) is that OVERALL the traditional dentistry these horses have undergone (Khaleesi and Wyoming with power tools and full sedation, Molly with a “traditional” hand floating program) treats the horse’s mouth with an “all mouths should level out basically the same” approach. In the words of Spencer Lafleur:

Many of today’s equine Dentists apply centric, or centered alignment to the mouth; that is, applying a static “leveling”, standard to every equine mouth they treat. The focus common among dentists currently, is occlusion. This means, the meeting, or flush contact, of upper and lower tooth – on- tooth surfaces…. The fact of the matter is that the focus should be on reestablishing proper biomechanics to the horses jaw.

What I saw in effect was that when this standard leveling was applied to these horses, it created different issues for each of them in their unique bodies. Upon finishing the work on each horse they had very individual reactions to the changes, but overwhelmingly positive.

In Khaleesi her incisors had been done (or not done) in a way that didn’t allow her jaw to move freely as she walked. This in turn affected how her neck would move, and how she had to hold the angle of her jaw at the TM Joint, which in turn affected what angle her poll could manage, and due to the “pulley” system that runs through the entire horse from poll to tail meant that after the work on her mouth was done and she couldmove more freely I watched her hind end drop down and her hind legs find better balance underneath her body. Something I’d been wondering how I might be able to accomplish physically in recent weeks.

Wyoming had more serious issues that resulted not only from previous dentistry but likely began with an injury. After looking the mare over briefly she turned to me and asked: do you know if this horse had a wreck where she had pulled back hard on the halter? Why yes. She accrued an injury and was pulled from the mustang makeover event in fact and that’s how she ended up going in the the TIP program and wound up here.

She had almost no mobility turning her neck to the left and the angle of her jaw had obstructed the nerves coming through the poll and TMJ area to the point where she had vascular system issues- like a hose that was kinked- there isn’t complete stop to the flow but significantly reduced. The dentist noted this horse in particular would have likely had stifle issues. Why yes actually that is the reason we even began using our CST was due to stifle issues in the mustang…After working on her incisors she dropped her head and relaxed and began to participate and help the process. Apparently some horses realize what is going on and begin to move their tongue to help create space for the tools and begin to pull their jaw and teeth slightly against the tools to help file and move in ways as to ask for attention to be paid here and there.

Her head and neck moved completely freely from the poll in all directions right after the work was done. I can’t wait to see if these changes will also help her feel better overall and if the physical work I do with her gets easier.

As for Molly, she’s had enough tooth taken away that they appear not to be able to vibrate and meet properly if her jaw is correct (or possibly the eruption process has been inhibited by incorrect past dental work) — yet making the changes for the teeth to do that in her case would compromise her whole jaw and do more damage.  The natural chewing movement a horse needs was not possible which meant she had to use force to press her jaws together instead of the macerating usual chewing motion. The vibration of the teeth as they move properly with the jaw movement in chewing encourages correct eruption which is the slow process where they continue over time to “erupt” into the jaw to then (hopefully) get worn down by eating. Vibration therapy to the jaw should help this process “wake up” and begin to encourage her mouth to come into better balance.

During her evaluation we were able to see that she had no visible muscle in her cheek responsible for normal chewing compared with both other horses (completely atrophied and sunken). To start Molly had her incisors adjusted so that her jaw would move more naturally then some work done deep in the back of the molars. Her jaw was not only off from front to back but right to left was misaligned and this explained the serious discrepancy in her shoulders (one more developed and one higher than the other). Of course the shoulder issue connects to everything- her turned in front feet, her ability to balance in her hind end, and between that and the issues it caused in the poll she moves around in a state of inversion most of the time only exacerbated when being ridden and carrying weight. The changes in this mare’s jaw resulted in an observable change in her hoof balance that was not there before the dental work began.

In other words- balancing her mouth made it so her legs were able to straighten out which made her hooves which previously looked correct between leg and ground NOW needed to be rebalanced to match the more biomechanically correct carriage of her front legs. This will change the way she loads her hooves which will hopefully, over time, change the odd growth pattern that she’s developed in her feet.

Getting all the pieces right for this mare over time is like unraveling a scarf that had gotten all off in the knitting in order to set things right. It takes time to make the changes but it will be beautiful as they come right as a whole. Focusing too much on either her shoulder, atrophied top line, inverted posture, or her turned in feet would only create more trouble somewhere else. She needs a whole horse approach that includes regular adaptive hoof trimming, dental work, bodywork, remedial walking therapy to allow her to feel her body changing into better balance, a dynamically fitting saddle, patience in creating a relationship-mental connection, and TIME to trust the humans helping her through the process.

Horses are awesome creatures designed for human error. Each time we inhibit their best efficient and correct/tweak movement with misunderstanding of the whole system of moving parts- like ill fitting saddles, unbalanced hoof trimming, forceful tack tools (tie downs, tight nosebands, severe bits…), changing of the jaw function in dental work, not to mention unbalanced riding or injuries and accidents… the amazing creatures fill in for us by adjusting the entire system to fit our issue and continue on often with big hearts that perform what we ask even while (at times severely) compromised.

Horses unlike dogs do not cry out in pain. Instead when the struggle has gotten hard enough on them, they act out in the inability to comply with behavior so often seen as disrespectful, disobedient, spooky, dangerous and often called stupid. Much of the time (especially on the wide trail) these attempts at communicating: I JUST CANNOT are answered with force. It looks like a more severe bit, a tighter noseband, a tie down, a crop, cross ties, two people holding the horse to be mounted, or a new training program where the horse learns who is boss, to have a healthy fear (ahem…respect) of humans etc.

I realize many people will find it hard to believe that the wide trail of equine dentistry with all of its science and accepted common understandings could be damaging to horses. It’s what EVERYONE does…It’s what the vet says to do (or does himself). The people on the wide trail look at you funny when you suggest that the issue they are using a tie down for could be contributed by bad dentistry ?of course as part of the whole)…the flares the farrier can’t seem to make go away… or the lack of muscle on the topline… ulcers or tripping.

Well. That wouldn’t be the first time someone on the wide path looked at me like I was a little off the beaten path.

That’s ok.

I am.

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Saddle update

I’ve been working through a saddle fit puzzle this season.

There have been rubs and some white hairs developing and as I adjusted saddle pads and shims the rubs moved around… through occasional the uneven sweat patterns and roughed up hair – her back wasn’t sore.

Regardless I knew something wasn’t right. After the season ended I had her looked at by my bodyworker and found that she was severely sore in the shoulder area and though her back wasn’t sore along the topline she was contracting and not able to move optimally. It was serious, and she told me my saddle was too narrow in the front.

Knowing that wasn’t possible I brought out the saddle which is a Balance 8x GPJ and an unusually wide saddle for the purpose of allowing the maximum movement. When she saw the saddle we talked about my set up and it became clear that somehow the front of the saddle was still pressing down onto the shoulders as if the saddle was too narrow.

Verdict: you’ve got a saddle problem… a serious one.

After spending so much time assessing, puzzling, considering, trial and error over the season… I finally surrendered.

Maybe the saddle is just too wide and there’s no way to keep it off her shoulders. I love the saddle and I love the concept- so I got in touch with the folks at Balance for some input if a 7X (the next narrow) might be an option.

The company sent me instructions for a full consult and after uploading dozens of pictures and videos in and out of tack the answer came back better than expected: The current saddle I’m using indeed is a fit.

However it’s not working for a few reasons and L at Balance could explain why if I could take some time for a phone call.

I’ll share some of the basics of what she helped me with. Though everyone whose owned a horse has at some point struggled with saddle fit, each case is unique to the horse, saddle, rider and discipline. Maybe some of the pieces in my puzzle will help others as they sort out their own puzzles.

There are certainly things that one can get away with in more casual riding or shorter sessions in an arena that the amount of distance and varied terrain I cover for endurance training will not allow for. There is little room for tack errors in our sport.

A warning: I’m paraphrasing a conversation and how I understood it. If you’re interested in digging deeper there are lots of resources out there and I’d start with all the PDFs on the Balance Website. If you’re interested in their saddle concept they are amazingly helpful.

First there is a delicate balance between pressure and friction. Friction is the most obvious: missing hairs, white hair patches, roughed up fur, rub spots- these are from friction. I had been dealing with signs of friction and as I adjusted my saddle set up and pads the friction areas would move and change; Khaleesi didn’t have a traditionally sore back. Friction, though needs to be addressed, is less damaging in the long term than pressure. Pressure basically squeezes the blood out of soft tissue and over time creates deep tissue damage and atrophied muscle. You can solve a friction problem with pressure- if there’s enough pressure on the saddle and it basically sits on the horses back often how people have traditionally thought a saddle should fit- it will likely not move and you have no friction. However over time you starve the muscles of blood flow and eventually can shut down the movement in the back. This is a problem, but many people never even realize it. It becomes normal and their back looks just like the saddle panels… in fact the saddle appears to fit great… never moves… very stable.

Thankfully along her topline I had friction (which I would like to solve) but not pressure. However I did have pressure in the shoulders and near the withers.

Friction causing white hairs on the top line while ‘good sweat pattern’ in the shoulder area is where the pressure was coming down.

The saddle is extra wide in the front. The design is intended in the right circumstances to encourage blood flow and good freedom and range of motion. The company has specifically constructed pad options to help horses in different stages of development from past atrophied muscles or underdeveloped muscles from being out of shape.

I was using a similar half pad system in shape- but the pressure came from the material. The pad I was using had felt shims where the balance half pad is constructed from a closed cell foam which is designed to allow movement and blood flow (“squishy”) yet with enough structure to return to its shape immediately – so it immediately gives support where it’s needed. The felt doesn’t have give so though I was able to add structure, the saddle pressed down making the effect of it being narrow.

My mattes shim half pad that uses felt inserts

I will also add what they call a JB pad which is about 8” wide and will sit back a few inches from the front of the saddle. This “shim” will fill in any gap in her topline behind the wither that’s been created from the pressure on the front end hindering her movement and it will lift the saddle very slightly in the front creating a couple inches where the shoulders can now move freely again.

Adding to the destructive spiral has been my riding.

Due to my concern about the front end of the saddle pressure, I’ve done my best through the season to get off her front and encourage her hind to engage and front to lift. L saw the problem in the video footage- I’ve been staying too upright in the posting trot. Though I thought I could keep my weight and balance off her front, what really happened is I ended up pushing down more on the front. This explains why the problem continued to get worse the more I tried to fix it.

Here’s how:

First it’s hard to post up and down staying so upright over my feet. This means that I had to engage more tension which hinders her ability to move… Second it makes sitting back into the saddle gracefully almost impossible. Third this way of moving also put all my weight into my stirrups as I rose above them. This weight in the stirrups pushes the front of the saddle down onto the withers and shoulders making the horse more heave on the front end. As the pressure builds in the front end and shoulders from the felt half pad with no give pushing out the blood flow and compressing the soft tissue, Khaleesi gets more and more narrow during the ride which pushes the saddle down farther and creates a very bad cycle. Thus the saddle at the end of the ride is sitting very differently than it did in tacking up before the ride.

L helped me by talking through sitting and standing in a wooden chair to sort out a better way to counterbalance my upper body forward slightly in order to take weight out of my feet. She mentioned being careful not to go overboard because many riders get out of balance too far forward (which I have also done in years past and have now overcorrected).

I didn’t realize that you can make a horse heavy on the front both by leaning forward and not leaning enough forward! But after some experimentation it makes sense.

With a few simple base pad changes and some attention to my riding balance and counterbalance she thought the problem should go away. Having the closed cell pad should also give a better fit to help with the friction issues but I know that the weight in my stirrups was creating too much movement in the saddle and this all makes sense from my experience riding.

Last she suggested less bulk in my stirrup leathers could be helpful in my particular situation with this particular horse. She suggested switching to ‘T-bar” or “A web” stirrup leathers that attach to the stirrup bars with a loop and then are adjustable at the bottom of the stirrup which also has no metal buckle under the seat. That’s an inexpensive and easy adjustment as well and a pair of those are already on order.

The depth of layers the representative from Balance went over in collecting data both static and in motion, with and without saddle to see how my horse moved and how the saddle was functioning for the horse and the rider was beyond what I expected – but exactly what brought me to such interest in their saddling concept.

L also gave me some ideas to experiment with and I appreciated that she encouraged me to use my horse to determine what works and what doesn’t. As I try shifting weight around and the way I post or sit will become clear through how my horse responds and she suggested keeping what makes a positive shift and letting go of habits or ways of carrying my body that bring negative feedback.

Thankfully I have a mare who will let me know just what she thinks!

Scratches

Mud Fever… Dew Poison… Greasy Heel…

Pastern Dermatitis. Scratches in horses is a condition caused by the fungus Sporotrichum Schenki. It’s a chronic, progressive, painful condition that infects the deep layers of skin in the heel, fetlock and pasterns of horses.

From the American Association of Equine Practitioners:

Scratches can affect any breed– it most commonly affects the rear aspect of the hind pasterns and especially nonpigmented skin. Without treatment, the lesions can spread to the front of the pastern and fetlock. Clinical signs vary, but initially owners might notice edema (fluid swelling), redness and scaling, rapidly progressing to oozing, hair matting and crusting. Ulcers might form on the skin. Secondary bacterial infection is a common complication and can perpetuate the signs. In chronic cases, skin can thicken and fissure due to constant movement and flexion in this area. The lesions are often painful.

With the extreme wet weather Khaleesi and I battled our first real bout of scratches this fall. The older gray mare I had went through it every spring and fall as a mostly mild case that took constant attention in ‘dew’ season.

In the four years I’ve had Khaleesi she has never developed a case until this fall. Her condition however got so bad on the white sock hind foot it was extremely painful and all my previous successful treatments only held it at bay. After I was sure I’d gotten it under control a little rain and it wound return worse than ever until it threatened to take over the entire back of her foot.

Of course the best treatment plans always suggest keeping your horse off damp pasture and dry and clean in a stall. This year that would have meant keeping K inside for months- and I can’t even rationalize a whole day unless the injury or damage is truly more serious than the intense stress that comes from a horse used to living in pasture naturally being jailed in a cell no matter how nice the cell is.

After working through some options and trying a few different products to greater and lesser success and commiserating with others who’d had varying degrees of success battling the condition over the years, I did finally come up with a magic formula that I will use next time and share it with you in case you find yourself looking for a good treatment.


My first step is to clean the area as much as I’m able as it’s usually very sensitive and also probably muddy because that’s why we have a problem in the first place (wet muddy conditions). I start with a gentle spray with the hose and then gently press as she’ll allow with a clean towel and try to rub just a little to loosen any dirt and mud I can. (Dry either with towel or air dry to prepare for step two)

Second and most important is to shave the area. This helps keep moisture as minimal as possible and allows for the scabs to release better as they have less hair worked into the painful scabs. It also allows you to really work the cream into the affected and painful area.

Third apply product. I have had luck in the past with scarlet oil alternated with zinc oxide diaper rash cream. The scarlet oil seems to help dry out the area and is antibacterial but the zinc oxide helps to soothe and protect the skin and it helps the scabs soften. I’ve never used both at the same time until….

Two good horse friends suggested the best application is a thing I’d never heard of called thuja zinc oxide. My dear friend decided to buy Khaleesi a container of it when she heard how bad the condition had gotten over the weeks… it was out of stock and the substitution was just straight white zinc.

That was ok because I learned that thuja zinc is basically zinc oxide and scarlet oil (it also has petroleum, lanolin and thuja oil).

I’d never heard of thuja oil. Very brief research says it is another name for it is cedar oil (which I use at home…) I am not sure if cedar oil truly is the same as thuja. Here is what thuja is used for topically (webMD):

Thuja is sometimes applied directly to the skin for joint pain, ostearthritis, and muscle pain. Thuja oil is also used for skin diseases, warts, and cancer; and as an insect repellent.

Between this information and a suggestion of a local farm friend who keeps horses and sheep… llamas and cows etc… whose wife is a nurse practitioner (and often have sound advice): they use athletes foot cream…

So. I made my own concoction of-

  • Zinc oxide
  • Scarlet oil
  • Athletes foot cream
  • And… within a couple days the scabs and lesions were cleared up never to return again.
  • This will definitely be my go to for bacterial or fungal skin conditions in the future- I may even add a few drops of cedar or thuja!
  • Saddles: constructive, destructive, defensive?

    Saturday, August 11, 2018

    Most people who ride horses at some point or other use a saddle.

    For as many people riding horses there are at least as many opinions about Saddles… style, fit strategies, size, weight, placement, tree type (if one at all), then add the question of pads… material, shape, thickness, shim, more, less… and if anyone has been riding horses more than one year it’s likely they’ve held several different very strong opinions as well.

    I don’t know a single horse owner who hasn’t struggled with the saddle dilemma in some form. Some are fortunate enough to have a slight issue that gets easily solved.

    Most have more serious situation that results in multiple saddles bought and sold to sort out something the horse and rider can live with. Some end up with severe problems that seem to take endless resources and no good answers regardless of how many experts consulted and dollars are spent.

    Something I’ve found confounding is watching some of the folks who’ve suffered the most dead ends have gone through custom saddle fitters-makers who have had a saddle made to fit the exact horse. Few people I’ve known who have tried that have been successful with their custom saddle problem-free for very long.

    My journey has been somewhere in the middle- I’ve had rubs, pain and white hairs develop in all the horses I’ve owned at some point and needed to change and adjust my program to make the horse more comfortable and have had decent luck finding something that was workable for the horse.

    Here are some bullet points I have confidence as truths I’ve learned:

    • The worst place for saddle fit advice is Facebook.
    • Most people who’ve struggled to a breakthrough in a saddle fit dilemma thinks the saddle they found will be the answer to others who are struggling.
    • The answer to any saddle question depends on a lot of variables between both horse and rider and include ability and confidence of rider.
    • A saddle that fits great while a horse is standing still may not be a great saddle after 50 miles of riding in it.
    • A saddle that fits great in June may not fit so great in January.
    • A saddle that fits in 2018 may not fit in 2020.
    • The worst place for saddle fit advice is Facebook. (Yes I know I listed that twice!)

    It is a great mystery to me how people used horses for so many miles in transportation all those years ago and somehow didn’t lame, cripple or kill the animals in the process yet having way way fewer options to choose from and probably less resources available.

    Since getting khaleesi 4 years ago as an unstarted 4-yr old I’ve used 6 saddles and a bareback pad not including ones I’ve borrowed to try for various periods of time.

    Started her with an inexpensive western saddle for stability. It was ok at first but quickly became too narrow at the withers.

    Tried out then bought a paragon Granada saddle – supposedly great for gaited horses and a good inexpensive saddle. I loved it for a while and seemed fine for K. But the position was too feet forward for my trotting ‘gaited’ horse. I had a hard time finding my balance to post so I moved on to a used …

    Wintec adjustable with the CAIR system. This seemed great for a young horse still developing her body. The saddle could grow with her! Unfortunately I was getting pressure points and sore spots no matter what I did.

    In the end I wondered if my unadvanced riding skills were coupled with a minimal surface area to distribute the posting impact on her back and something with a better tree would help. Nothing I tried made the saddle more comfortable for her so I sold it and moved to an endurance style saddle that had been wonderful for Faygo.

    Working with the folks at Phoenix Rising was great. I have a good friend who has been riding in their saddles for many years. The saddles hold up well to much trail riding abuse and the horses are happy in them. I borrowed one temporarily from her and found that khaleesi was better in this saddle than the wintec. I bought an endurance style standard tree that fit her topline splendidly.

    Life was good and we were off doing 25-30 mile limited distance riding and though it was fine at first, after a few months I began to get rubbing and eventually sore places. Honestly I didn’t want to think about it! I found the right saddle! It fit when I bought it. Was working great… why would that change?

    Luckily Faygo had the wide tree model and although when I bought the standard tree the wide had fallen down onto Khaleesi’s spine (confirmation it was the wrong size!) now it seemed to fit beautifully. So saddle #5 was the Phoenix Rising wide tree.

    Now all was good enough to begin to move up distance and khaleesi and I began to compete in 50-55 mile endurance rides.

    I stumbled upon a riding coach who saw the saddle and had not thought much of it at first. After seeing us ride in it though she said Khaleesi likes it, she moves freely in it- and you guys are good.

    Hurrah!!

    Then almost a year later in working with the same coach I asked her how she found khaleesi’s back, topline and saddle fit. I wasn’t having problems but I valued her extensive experience and knowledge and only had access to it a couple times a year. She had an interesting approach.

    (2016 was when the standard PR tree began causing problems. Her back had changed and I moved to the wide tree)

    (2017 the wide tree PR working fine, but not as good as constructive saddle would)

    She told me the saddle was ok and not causing pain. But you can see the beginning of muscle atrophy behind the withers and though I may not have pain or rubbing I would not be able to encourage good topline development with the current saddle I was using.

    That is when I began to learn about constructive saddling as opposed to traditional saddle fit.

    The company that has the most information and research for this concept is Balance International. I highly recommend doing a little digging into their Information Centre where there are well written articles on constructive saddling, defensive saddling, remedial saddling and how their saddles work.

    What I learned was in short form, a saddle tree that fits my horse while she’s standing still will not allow the most freedom to use her back muscles while she’s in motion.

    Treeless saddles do somehow work for some people but for most they do not distribute weight, pressure and impact (posting) well enough causing long term problems for the horse. Basically these are usually just barely better than a bareback pad with stirrups.

    (Picture from August 2018- you can see how much muscle growth has developed over a year of riding in balance. A traditional ‘V’ shaped saddle would not fit her at all anymore.)

    Most horse’s backs look a lot like a traditional saddle. A ‘V’ shape. A healthy and strong back with good topline muscling looks more like a ‘U’ shape. Riders would love their horse to have this kind of topline and spend time and energy forcing a horse into carrying herself with a lowered hind end, lighter on the forehand and asking for ‘collection’ in between (the middle of those horse lifted, rounded, where the rider sits). Doing it the way many riders are taught using force from hand (rein) and leg aids creates a fake, forced way of carriage and movement.

    If you set the horse up right (and saddle is a big part of it but not the only part) you can have beautiful unforced self-carriage because the horse will literally push up into the rider, bring her hindquarters lower to engage her engine, and lift in the front.

    It is the best way of moving for them once they try it they will begin to do it more on their own – unless you have a traditionally fitted saddle pushing their back muscles down and making them unable to lift up into the saddle. Add to that the fact that most riders have hollowed out backs and sit slightly leaned forward pressing their sit bones right into the spine making it almost impossible for the horse to move freely.

    The beautiful thing about Phoenix Rising (PR) saddles is they are constructed so well that it allows a lot of freedom despite being a basically traditional saddle. The materials and design are to enable gaited horses the most movement possible in their topline. (Khaleesi trots and the saddles are great for any horse- don’t let the gaited marketing fool you)

    I believe this is why Khaleesi went from the standard tree in 2015 which fit beautifully to a wide tree in 2016 just under a year. I had also been learning how to ride in a way that encouraged self-carriage and she had a saddle that allowed some freedom to do it.

    The next step was to make the leap to her 6th saddle which is a Balance saddle.

    The balance saddle is basically the widest saddle you can find traditionally then like 3 times wider. It’s shaped like an upside down ‘U’. Her back isn’t quite this shape yet but it will be. So until then I need to add felt padding to give it support. The felt padding has some give so it allows her to move and grow yet give structure to the places she hasn’t grown into yet.

    ( you can see how the saddle is a wide ‘U’ shape. The panels almost seem like spreading wings to me)

    I love this concept and am amazed at how well it works. I can feel my horse lifting in self-carriage more and more often and I can see the shape of her back changing over time. Her back is strong, wider than ever and muscled- her neck is more muscular on the top instead of underneath as can happen when horses move with necks either too high from being inverted or strung out ahead of them.

    It doesn’t come free though.

    There is a commitment from the rider that has to be in place or the saddle will do more damage than good. Because the saddle doesn’t perch exactly onto a V-shaped back, I have to stay centered or the saddle will move. I also have more influence over how she moves for better or for worse. If I continue to improve my balance, stability, and grace she will continue toward self carriage and a strong back which I want for my long distance riding.

    I have committed to this. However it seems the more I learn the more daunting it is!

    Changing diagonals to use the weaker side, learning how to sit the trot and use the side-to-side movement instead of only up and down and keeping a quiet seat through all kinds of terrain and situations pose all kinds of challenges for me. Just when I feel like I get better I am humbled by something off kilter!

    I’ve been using this saddle a year now with great changes in both her and me- but in the recent few months have been struggling with rub spots, white hairs and very minor sore spots (not where the rubs are).

    I have been going through trial and error with shimming my pads, changing my thin base pad, and trying to sort out my riding. Focusing much effort and time on the side-to-side movement of the trot while sitting has been eye opening but also causing some of the rubbing as I’m still getting it slowly. Sometimes I end up with too much side-to-side I think and it takes me time to hone in the subtlety of the movement. Meanwhile I’m moving way too much.

    As always it’s the horse that suffers!

    But she knows I’m trying. I also know this matters and once I have another option in our riding toolkit to change gears over long miles it will help us both.

    Ironically it’s because the system is working that I’m struggling.

    The saddle doesn’t fit the same today as it did a year ago!

    One switch that began to help was upgrading to a base pad made by balance with wool instead of a thin cotton-polyester all purpose pad.

    Finally yesterday I believe I found the current solution. I borrowed a different type of shim pad from a friend who also rides in a balance saddle. The pad I began with was a mattes half pad and I had shims for the front half and back half. When the front shims became too much I removed them… then the issues got worse. I tried adding back shims that made it worse yet.

    What I needed was actually something right in the middle like where the saddle was bridging slightly.

    I began tacking up with a 1/2″ pad and the mare would have none of it. She glared at me and snarled her teeth then tried to bite me as I tightened the girth.

    So I stood back and thanked her for her honesty and began to untack. I decided to at least try the same idea but with a 1/4″ pad and she relaxed and stood quietly for the entire process. Not a cross eye or a fidget.

    On the ride it felt great- she was moving very relaxed and easy so I will see how that goes for a while and hope the rubbing and on and off soreness goes away.

    I would love to sing to the world that all horse owners should be using these saddles! That this is the answer to horses building topline naturally without force and moving comfortably without pain….

    But as amazing as the saddle is and the concepts behind it… it is not for everyone.

    They are all-purpose, dressage or jump seats and don’t offer a lot of security for those who need that (green riders or green horses).

    They are not so easy to find used- and I believe the company insists you get help from a representative before buying new. They are aware that damage can be done if you don’t understand the whole equation and the company is committed to helping horses not hurting them. So it’s not so easy to just ‘get’ one.

    They take paying attention over time to fit and the ability to trouble shoot your changing horse’s build, fitness and weight. Even I struggle with this (as you can see!)

    They take a commitment to balancing as a rider without much help from your equipment.

    As much good as the saddle can do… it can also do harm if the rider is physically incapable of riding well. Or not interested or unwilling to improve.

    Either way I highly recommend doing some reading about the concept of constructive saddle fit. Knowledge is power.

    And if you’re not sure you’re ready to jump into the balance world… take a look at Phoenix Rising Saddles. They are a fantastic saddle, well made, reasonable price, great customer support and I can’t speak highly enough of them.

    You can take the concept of constructive instead of defensive saddling if you go with the wide tree and add a mattes half pad to add some shimming and watch your horse grow into it!

    In fact you can take the concept to a lot of other wide tree saddles and consider shimming and allowing your horse to strengthen. I was told years ago that no pad or shim can make a saddle that doesn’t fit work.

    I disagree with that advice now. Wider is better and if you take the time to understand how the back and saddle function and work with your horse you can change from a defensive saddle approach to a constructive one.

    The saddle question is one of the most evasive and elusive, shifting one we deal with as riders.

    Wherever you are in the cycle of it good luck out there!

    Horse Sneakers?

    One of the biggest learning curves I’ve had bringing Khaleesi into the endurance world has been her hoof program.

    It seems the question I get most often by riders and the general public alike is:

    Is your horse wearing sneakers??

    And the answer is

    Actually, yes. We call them hoof boots

    So I dedicate this post to the question of:

    What exactly are hoof boots and why do you use them?

    Most horses in regular work of any sort need some kind of hoof protection.

    Even though hoof material is generally tough, horses can get sore feet due to genetics or improper care; and those who don’t struggle with tenderness can still wear down their hooves over time depending on terrain unless they are in very light work.

    For centuries humans have dealt with this issue in domesticated equines by using metal horseshoes. Most people are aware of horse shoes even if they’ve never owned a horse. So once they see my horse does not have metal shoes they are curious as to why not.

    My personal experience with Khaleesi who came to me as an unstarted 4 year old barefoot and roaming with a semi-feral herd on a massive farm in varied terrain, was that she would slow over any hard or rocky terrain which made it obvious to me her feet were sensitive even when ponied without a rider.

    When I began to ride her more, I had to protect her feet that were sensitive to rocky terrain. I liked the idea of staying barefoot so I began to experiment with hoof boots.

    Hoof boots are removable just like your own gym shoes so she could live barefoot in the field most of the time and for the few hours I rode her she would have her feet protected. It seemed like a perfect situation.

    As horse owners are learning about the negative affects of metal horse shoes hoof boots are becoming more common and there are more hoof boots on the market today than ever before. I tried a couple different styles and no matter what I did with sizing and fitting and tweaking advice from the representatives they would not stay on reliably so at the time I gave up.

    My farrier assured me that once I went with metal shoes like the majority of horse owners, my horse would move better and I would have less problems- so out of frustration and impatience I had him put on a set of metal shoes and began to compete in endurance riding.

    At first she seemed to do better- but she was still sensitive on rocky ground, my farrier recommended adding pads to the shoes.

    This also helped at first, and then when she was still struggling in shoes and pads- and had a serious abscess just before a 50 mile event I began to question if this was truly the best route.

    It was our first 100 mile entry just over a year ago that we lost a shoe on mile 4 which really tore up her (now weakened) hoof. Though I could have had the ride farrier recreate her hoof with synthetic materials and put on a new metal shoe I knew in my gut that was only continuing to go the wrong direction for my horse so I decided to option out of the ride and go back to the drawing board. I knew that the metal shoes were weakening the hooves over time. I could see it.


    Khaleesi’s feet recently after pulling all shoes, July 2017

    Hind feet a couple months after pulling shoes.

    Most recent photo I have of her feet from April 2017. Today almost 4 months later they are even more improved.

    Hind feet April 2018


    The more I searched, the evidence became clear and fell in line with my personal experience, for the most part metal are an easy quick answer for most but over the life of the horse do more harm than good. I believe now that many horses are successful in spite of metal shoes, not necessarily because of them.

    There was a time when no other options were available and nailing on metal shoes were the only possibility. Yet technology has come so far in our world it seemed unlikely to me that we couldn’t do better than thousand-year-old hoof technology.

    The hoof and frog play a part in pushing blood back up through the horse’s legs and when a metal shoe and metal nails stop the ability for the hoof and frog to expand and contract like a pump as they walk, the blood flow decreases, which will over time diminish the strength and health of the hoof as well as the legs.


    Frog and sole right after removing shoes and pads June 2017

    Healthier frog and sole January 2018


    There are other issues such as the ability of the horse to feel varied terrain and learn to move through it with less injury. Shoes and pads can allow the horse run through rocky terrain but at what cost? Over time there is less blood flow, less feeling, less acute proprioceptiveness, and poorer hoof quality. This can lead to injury from stone bruises, abscesses and tendon damage as the horse has less ability to navigate the footing naturally. I saw this happen in my horse and those around me in the endurance world.

    Other advantages I’ve found using boots vs. when we had metal shoes are:

    • I don’t have to wait an entire trim cycle to do small adjustments to her feet. This is better for the horse than waiting 4-6 weeks and making big adjustments.
    • Better blood flow through the legs and hoof over a year have led to better hoof quality
    • If I have a boot issue I can quickly adjust and fix myself- even on trail, if I lost a shoe in the past I needed a farrier visit.
    • My boots have so far lasted me over a year, this is much less expensive than new metal shoes every cycle were.
    • My horse did not like much of the shoeing process and I know from talking to others she’s not alone. Khaleesi hated the heat seal process my farrier insisted on to ensure a reliable set. I forced that on her even though she never got comfortable with it. A friend’s horse has to be sedated for the nailing and they’ve never found a physical pain-explaination. Many have to be in cross ties and though horses are able to be trained to comply (in some cases shut down)- that doesn’t mean they are comfortable. Barefoot trimming is something I can do much of myself and I am able to work with my horse as I go. I had a wonderful trimmer who used the reaction of the horse she trimmed to help her know if the changes were positive to the horse and I’ve been amazed at what the horse will tell you if you work with them!

    By the time I was serious about going barefoot because I was finally out other of options, I’d found Scoot Boots and had success with them on the off season. I began to read more information on their website and blog about how to help build a healthier foot. I parted ways with my farrier (who I really liked and still do!) and found a barefoot trimmer who taught me the basics of how to begin taking care of my own trimming. I took more seriously the nutrition aspect and changed my feeding program.

    Over the year of rebuilding a better hoof, I learned patience in allowing both the hoof to regrow stronger and to gradually but purposefully condition the hoof to varied terrain. Thankfully the Scoot Boots now were working for my horse where the past other boots had not stayed on. They stay on for about 90% of my riding with most training rides (often up to 20 miles) having no issues at all. Last Fall I completed a rocky 50 mile endurance ride with my Scoot Boots and they worked brilliantly!

    Even more exciting to me was my last 50 that has little rocky terrain but miles of muddy trails. I did the majority of that ride completely barefoot coming up sound at the end and would have never imagined that possible a year ago!

    Basically before I ride, I pick up my horses’s foot, pick out any dirt and rocks as usual, then slide on the hoof boot. Once the foot is back on the ground I secure two rubber toe straps and a pastern strap over a metal knob hook. It’s that simple.

    The things I appreciate most about Scoot Boots that I find unique from the boots I tried previously are:

    • They are the easiest to get on and off.
    • No velcro! (Velcro wears out over time, it also can get dirt or snow packed into it making it less effective to keeping the boot in place)
    • No cloth parts attached that can tear away from the boot.
    • No wires or cables to break or have to be adjusted.
    • Very easy to clean off.
    • Easy to clip a spare on the saddle with just a carabiner and saddle ring. (No need for a hoof boot sack)
    • They have a great breakover for natural movement which makes them ideal for endurance riding for me.
    • The design allows for good drainage so in wet conditions they don’t accumulate water weight or debris.
    • They are flexible and allow the horse more proprioceptiveness and flexibility on varied terrain in the hoof itself like barefoot natural movement would.
    • The straps come in highly visible colors so I can see if they are still on in a quick glance (some other boots have taken this into account now as well).

    As of now I don’t foresee using metal shoes again but I also know enough to never say never. Putting on a set of shoes for a ride and removing them within a week or so would not do enough damage to preclude the possibility in the future- especially for a 100 and also with the interesting options for non-metal shoes (NGs, epona or easyshoes).

    For now my trimming learning curve appears to be working for my mare, the Scoot Boots are staying on reliably enough to complete 50 mile rides and I’m able to feel better about not forcing my horse to go along with a process she tried to tell me was not good for her for a couple of years and that matters a lot to me!

    A few misc extra notes about hoof boots I’ve picked up in the past year:

    • They have a learning curve for you and your horse. Fit matters, and the first couple rides you may find them to twist or come off and it’s possible in a few rides your horse will learn to move in a way that encourages the boots to stay on and not twist.
    • Generally if you’re getting a farrier trim to enable you to get back into shoes after an off season without shoes, you will have a harder time keeping the boots on. I did not believe it- and my farrier told me it wasn’t true… but a barefoot and balanced trim IS different and boots are meant to fit in this foot trimmed this way. My boots stayed on much better when I found a true barefoot trimmer immediately.
    • Different boots work for different horses and people. I love Scoot Boots but they are not the only good boot. I know plenty of people who love their gloves and renegades too- you may have to try a few different kinds and that can take time and money. Try the hoof boot exchange on Facebook to buy and sell used to help!
    • Many boots have some modifications available either through the manufacturer or ideas of inventive people- there are studs, pads, shims, and many more. If you’re curious do a search about duct tape modifications, athletic tape modifications, vetwrap modifications, using sikaflex and who knows what else!! Be creative and consider problem solving yourself.

    After months of using Scoot Boots successfully, competing in them and corresponding directly with the company regarding fit, use, modifications and other accessories, Scoot Boot became a sponsor of greento100 and my endurance riding. They send me products to try and give feedback and now supply Khaleesi’s boots.

    The nuts and bolts

    Saturday, July 7, 2018

    On the road to the single day 100 it has become more clear the journey has developed into two major categories: the mental, relational and personal story; and the nuts and bolts details of saddles, hoof care, electrolytes, nutrition, fitness etc et al.

    This offshoot blog will cover less of the reflective material and more of the tack reviews and questions about the informative details I ask or get asked about.

    I hope this offshoot can be helpful when riders are curious about how tack is holding up over time and the process of how I’ve sorted out questions of care and management and ride days.