"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Of Not-Mountains

I want to highlight this day before I forget it...though it's taken me long enough to get it written down!

Kathy and I were going to go up to Catoctin Mountain on Saturday to practice some climbing. She is considering drag riding with Queenie at one of the endurance rides this fall but wasn't sure about Queenie's recently injected hocks and the terrain. I told her a good way for her to get an idea of what the terrain would be like would be to go to this park, which is considered to have pretty challenging footing for this area. They have 6-mile equestrian trail loop that seems to be less difficult than some of the trails for hikers and bikers from what I could gather on maps and photos. I figured worst case scenario we could always turn around and hand walk the mares back to the parking lot if Kathy felt like it was too much for Queenie. But it would still be better than signing up to volunteer, trailering all the way down to Virginia and camping out in 40 degree weather just to realize that she wasn't comfortable with the rocks and elevation gain.

Wolf Rock & Chimney Rock Trail on Catoctin Mountain.Yup, I'd say that's very similar to the kind of footing in the George Washington National Forest where the Old Dominion Triple Crown endurance rides take place.
Except this is one of the hiking-only trails on Catoctin Mountain.
Kathy ended up getting a mild concussion in a freak accident at home, which put a damper on our plans for obvious reasons. No riding until she's feeling 100% normal again. Thankfully she is very much okay, just a slight headache. I was happy to postpone our plans until a better day. Perks of postponing: if we end up going in September, we'll get to enjoy the fall colors on the mountain!

So I went to the barn early on Saturday anyway, planning on taking both mares over to the park across the street for more challenging rides, since last weekend we just stuck to the fields at the barn. As I was driving past the park on the way to the barn, I saw that the parking lot was JAM-PACKED full of people, some of them in running gear, so I figured maybe they had some sort of trail running race going on. Bummed that my plans had just gone down the drain, I continued on towards the barn, wondering what should I do instead.

I pulled Lily from the field and set her up in the barn aisle with beet pulp mash, a haynet and a flake of alfalfa and just puttered around taking my time grooming her while she ate. I decided I wanted to do 10 miles with her, but I'd do them in the fields. But the guys were working with a tractor outside so I had to wait. So I trimmed Lily's hind hooves and inspected her fronts, which I chose to leave alone this time.

I've been taking a less-is-more approach with Lily's front hooves. I like the way she's moving. Last fall she lost some muscle over her left shoulder and I was really bothered by it. I didn't mention it on the blog but kept photographic tabs on it, just to make sure it wasn't getting worse. I found that there is a correlation between shoulder muscle asymmetry and high-low syndrome in horses (where one front hoof is clubbier than the other, which has always been Lily's issue) so I kept the heels low on the clubbier foot and the toe short on the flatter foot. And then it was recommended by a couple of people that have been doing this much longer than I have that I should also rasp the heels on the flatter foot because the heels seemed underrun. Well, the foot wasn't changing.

These photos are of the flatter right front from when she had her bruising at the beginning of April, which I posted about here and here. (It turned out to not be laminitis as she tested negative for IR; just severe bruising from the dramatic weather changes we had: rain for 72 hours + standing in mud for 72 hours = soft feet. That then froze over...hence the massive bruising and lameness.)

I REALLY brought her toes back when she had the bruising, since initially we thought it was laminitis from the spring grass that was coming in at the time. She actually was more comfortable after this trim.
With laminitis you usually bring the toes back as much as you can to minimize leverage on the laminae.
Solar shot of the same foot, same day. You can see how flat her foot was. When radiographs were taken, she had 9 mm of sole, which is thin even for a TB.
I'd been doing some bar trimming in the photos above and I still think that didn't help her, given our wetter environment here in the Northeast and the fact that she has thin soles. She needed her bars for support. And she confirmed this: the first thing her feet did after the event/bruising in spring was grow these huge bars that pretty much overlapped her soles. I was surprised, as I had never seen her do that before. I thankfully had the good sense to leave them alone, as the minute that happened, she became sound. It took a little under 2 weeks.

Flatter right front. It's not clear in this picture but if you look closely, you can see the edge of the overlaid bar over her medial sole. At first I honestly had no idea what this was until it later started flaking off on its own as she was able to start moving around more. That's when I realized it had been her bars.
Left front. The light-colored spots towards the apex of her frog is where the excess bars started to come off on their own. Pardon the appearance of this foot: there was no horrible fungal infection. The dark gunk along her heel was leftover Magic Cushion, and dark areas around her sole and frog were from Durasole.
Below is the same foot, the right front, 4 months later. I don't back the toe up as much anymore, but I do keep it in check by doing a quick rasping once a week, usually after riding her bare in the front over the rockier footing of the park across the street or on the pavement of the driveway. I let her feet tell me where to remove excess.  I'm happier with her angles now, especially at the back of her hoof. Compare to the top sideways shot of this hoof from April. She has some heel now and they are starting to be less underrun. Barefoot horses don't usually need heel, contrary to what some vets and farriers believe, but this recommendation also depends on the horse's own mechanics while moving.

Yup, much happier with this foot when comparing it to the photo from April.  Her palmar hoof has a better angle now that I've stopped messing with her heels. The flare on the lateral side of this hoof also still gets addressed, but only to a certain point: if I were to rasp it all off, I'd leave her with no wall on this side of her hoof, which wouldn't help matters at all. 
Solar shot of the RF. You can see that from the bottom, this hoof looks pretty centered: the flare on the lateral side, which used to distort this entire hoof previously, is almost imperceptible from this view now.  The lighting makes it look funny, but her heels are finally even with the back of her frog. The purple stuff on her sole is Durasole, which I'm still diligently applying about twice a week. This is the kind of bar that she likes to keep on this hoof. It doesn't grow more than this if she's in work and turned out 24/7, and if I trim the bars around the apex of her frog to make them look they way they "should", her foot becomes flat like a pancake and her stride changes. Same thing with her heels: if I lower them, she starts landing flat-footed. Counterproductive.
I'm just posting these so others can see how I manage it. And yes, it could probably be better and the hooves could look prettier. I'm no expert, I didn't go to school for this, half the time I question what I do on her feet and tear my hair out thinking I should call a professional...but then I watch her move. And you know what? The mare lands heel first and that muscle asymmetry that she had over her shoulders that coincided with me micromanaging her feet? GONE. It disappeared the second I stopped rasping all the toe off the right front. So I guess that says something...which I constantly have to remind myself. I'd love to be able to have a better grip on her diet (no grass, just grass hay and minerals to balance it out + current grain and supplements) and for her to be on something like the dry pebbly tracks they have at Rockley Farm...but we do what we can with what we have.

While I'm rambling about hoofers, I haven't really mentioned Gracie's on the blog because they are so easy I barely have to think about them. Gracie's hooves are something beautiful. Her feet are like a mustang's. Concavity, thick walls. She had majorly contracted heels when I first got her from just standing around in the pasture. Yes, a horse can be barefoot and still have contracted heels!

Case in point. Gracie's right front back in April. Check out how narrow her frog was, how close together her heels were, and how squished together the back of her hoof is when you look back towards the pastern. This is on a mare that has been barefoot all her life; she was just not working.  I'd already been working her for a couple of weeks at the time of this photo; the trimming you see on her heels and walls was done by the ground, not a rasp. 
This is her right front now. Photo taken last week. Check out her frog and how much wider her heels are! What did I do? Worked her. She has been worked barefoot all over creation averaging about 20 miles a week since the end of May, progressing from mostly walk to mostly gaiting now. This is what just getting a horse moving will do to a hoof that is otherwise ideal. The underside of this hoof has not been touched by any kind of knife. She keeps those bars like that all by herself.
So with her, when I think she's needing a trim, I just take her out on a longer ride and, like Lily, just even her up afterwards. She rolls her toes all by herself; I just finish off the roll. I'm really happy to report that with the work and trims in this fashion, she is really and truly landing heel-first on ALL four feet ALL the time. She used to land flat-footed on her hinds and toe first on her fronts.

Okay, so back to Lily and our ride. :)

So Zoey arrived at the barn as I was finishing tacking up Lily. We got to talking and I mentioned the possible trail running race at the park across the street. Zoey mentioned that she had just driven past there on her way to the barn...and there was only a car or two. 

Well, in that case...off we went to the park! My mistake was that I realized later that I had tacked up for field work and forgot to put Lily's breastplate on. Not a big deal, but she really needs it when we're doing hill work.

There were actually more like 5 cars in the parking lot so I decided to head for the back trails of the park that I usually take, the more remote ones that people usually don't hike.

It ended up being such a great ride. I'm really glad it worked out so that we could go! Lily started out looky and giving the occasional startle, but I talked to her and ignored the stuff that she was looking at, just focusing on the trail and praising her when she trotted on at my request. (Like I've said: completely opposite psychology of Gracie. If I let Lily stop to look at something that intimidates her, she thinks, "Oh, so I SHOULD be afraid of it and that's why you're acknowledging it!" Follower mindset vs alpha mindset, where Gracie needs to stop and look so that she can see for herself that it's okay. She has to make that call; you can't do it for her.) As we trotted on through the park she got more into her "I got this" mindframe and she started to stride out confidently.

I never tire of seeing her happy ears in front of me.

*All of the trail photos in this post are recycled. Lately I carry my phone in an arm holster with my headphones threaded through the holster. It is a pain in the butt to try to take pictures with this arrangement...need to start bringing my small camera. Apologies for the repeat pics, but some of you probably haven't seen these before, as they are from last year. And it helps break up the wordiness. :)
We trotted on down the nameless trail that we usually take (the one in the photo), across a couple of creek crossings, and then took the long switchbacking hill that Charles and I discovered on his first ride with me. Lily attacked that hill at a fierce bounding gallop, biting at the rocks on the trail in huge lunging strides. I just bridged my reins, leaned forward and grabbed onto her mohawk. She flew, and then insisted on cantering on through the woods at the top of the hill. Laughing at her enthusiasm, I let her. This is great practice for her fitness-wise: to be able to continue at a faster gait even after a climb. Her canter has improved SO much with all of the trail work. She has a distinct three beat gait now, whereas before it used to be so lateral that I always doubted we'd ever get good scores on it in dressage if we'd continued on up the levels.

Trail at the top of the Dead-End Hill
This trail dead-ends on private property and as usual, we turned around before we got to the sign. Lily asked for permission to canter more, so we continued until I asked her to come back down to a trot when the zig-zagging trail winding around the trees + speed started to not seem like a good combination. She obliged and continued on trotting all the way down that hill. She's a badass.

We turned left to continue following the river at the bottom of the hill, following the trail all the way back towards the Galloping Hill that Kathy and I used to take at speed all the time over the winter. You have to cross through a field to get to it. It's a fairly steep but short grassy hill that has to be taken at an angle to maneuver around the trees and prickly plants splattered around the hill. You get to the top in about 5 gallop strides then duck through an archway of vines at the top, flying back into the woods.

This is Lily's favorite part of this trail and as usual, she bounded up the hill the second I gave her permission. We cantered on through the woods at the top of the hill, following the trail back down the other side of it. Recently I discovered that if you turn right instead of left, the trail takes you out of the woods and onto a sort of grassy easement between the park property and the fields of the neighboring private farms.

So what we'll do is trot down the back of the hill and turn right, where I'll unleash Lily onto the easement, which has two rolling hills on it.

Coming off of the first hill on the easement, with the second hill rising ahead. Parkland on the left, tree line on the right demarcates private property.
Lily burst out of the treeline like a racehorse out of the starting gate as I leaned low over her neck, laughing into the wind while watching our shadow racing next to us on the windswept grass.

It was freaking awesome. She slowed to a canter on the first dip in the land then accelerated back into a gallop as we went up the second hill.

I brought her back down to a walk as we reached the end of the path and we turned around.

Trotting down the hill on the way back up the easement.
Lily trotted down the first hill then cantered up the next. The last downhill is pretty steep so we just went back down to a trot, continuing at this gait as we made our way back into the forest.

We turned right at the main trail, heading back in the general direction of home. Lily flicked her feet and extended her trot happily. I stroked her neck, grinning at how much this horse loves her job nowadays.

On this route we passed the dead-end hill again so I had Lily gallop up one more time. 

One of my front Gloves tore a gaiter and I'm waiting for the replacement. In the meantime, I've only been booting her hinds so she can really push through her hind end without worrying about her tootsies.

As we reached the top of the hill, I heard the "flop-flop-flop" that indicates a boot that spun off. I brought Lily to a halt and dismounted to replace the boot. I realized the saddle had slid back a couple of inches thanks to the missing breastplate so I straightened that out as well. She was breathing hard after this sprint: the day was really starting to warm up by now, as it was just past noon. I hand walked her a ways down the trail, during which time she was able to get a breather. I found a tree to use as a mounting block and hopped back on. We then walked back down the hill. At the bottom she picked up a trot of her own accord and so we continued at a trot down the trail. 

We continued on our usual route through the forest. Because there have been rumors of ground bees in the park, I chose to stay on the well-travelled trails. This was around the time that I decided that my goal for the day would be to do negative splits. We were already trending in that direction anyway as MapMyRun kept calling out faster and faster miles.

Trail paralleling the river.
We headed off towards one of the steeper river crossings. I gave Lily the option of drinking but she just splashed on through the river. 

Trail headed towards the lake loop. It is SO overgrown right now. This is what it looked like last year. The goldenrod is currently in bloom too.
The lake.
We went around the lake loop and took the hill on the far side at a gallop. Halfway up the hill we usually stop to take an adjoining trail that takes you back down the hill on the other side of the woods. However, I recently discovered that you can continue going ALL the way up this hill until it dead ends at a park entrance gate. So lately I've been having Lily gallop ALL the way up and she now knows the drill. 

Once at the top we turned around and trotted back down. 

We then took the longer route back towards the river and then back out of the forest, taking the trails through the back sections of the park so as to avoid other park visitors. (Yes I don't like people! Lol)

On the last stretch of trail, I looked down at MapMyRun as Lily was motoring on, again flicking her toes happily. 

Guys, at that moment in time her trot was 12mph. 

Mission negative splits completed!

9 min/mi = 6.6 mph
Well, kind of. But we did end up faster than we started. Slower splits are when we threw in some short walk recoveries or when we slowed down to cross water. There are several small creek crossings throughout these trails.


Elevation gain in the park when doing every single hill

Ultimately this would have been longer than 10 miles once you factor in the driveway but I didn't want the walk home to count towards our average pace. I turned off the app as we came around the meadow trail at a trot and slowed to a walk to go through the park parking lot. Once back on the barn driveway, I dismounted and loosened Lily's girth, hand walking her that last 1/4 mile back to the barn buildings. By then her respiratory rate had dropped significantly. I untacked, hosed and scraped, then have her a full shampoo bath. Afterwards she went into a stall in front of a fan to stuff her face with more alfalfa, grass hay, and another beet pulp mash.

I then went to fetch Gracie. It was almost dinner time in the mare field so Gracie was happy to see me but when she saw me grab the halter, she turned tail and tried to run away. "No, I want my food first!" I cornered her between the feeding chutes where she let me catch her. She received a short review on groundwork and once she was snappy in her responses to my requests, we made our way back up to the barn. 

Once back at the barn I realized I was tired! I'd been wearing my vest while riding Lily and I felt drained from the heat. 

I tied up Gracie in the barn aisle with a haynet and her grain dinner since I had plans for a higher mileage ride with her and didn't want her going on an empty stomach either.

I then went and sat down in one of the patio chairs at the end of the aisle way (where I could still see Miss Blonde Bombshell, since she likes to get into trouble when she's done eating) to chat with Kathy and Zoey while eating a snack.

"Why on earth are you blowing air up my ass?"
Photo taken on a different day, of course: I had just bathed her and set her up with the fan so it would help dry her out quicker. (If I turn her out while still wet, she will find the biggest pile of poop in the field and roll in it!) She was trying to somehow make it into one of the two stalls on either side of her so she could eat the leftover hay and would not hold still. I eventually walked away and just left her there. She'll stand quietly if I ignore her long enough...
I may have sat around for an hour and a half...

But it worked: by then my energy was back. And by then all the stall board horses had been turned out so I couldn't ride in the fields even if I wanted too. I briefly debated going on the bridle path or working in the arena but it was all so boring...I just wanted to return to the park.

So that's what we did. 

Gracie was happy to gait all the way out the driveway, across the street and into the park. I think she really enjoys these adventures alone. She's such a game horse, even as green as she still is.

I basically did the same route I had done with Lily. My goal was to do a shorter distance, so I only did the Dead-End Hill once. After our last solo ride in the park, Gracie understands now that she is to gallop up all the hills as well. So she galloped up the Dead-End Hill, which always leaves her somewhat out of breath. I encouraged her to pick up a slow gait at the top so she could recover. We followed the trail for a ways and by the time we turned around, Gracie was ready to go again.  She gaited back down the hill. Good girl! Once back on the main trail, we turned left just like I had with Lily and we followed the trail all the way to the field with the Galloping Hill. Gracie offered a canter for the first time here; she's always preferred to take it at a trot in the past. I then followed the same route onto the grassy easement.

Same thing: I clucked at Gracie and she flattened out into a gallop. That's the first time I've galloped her on a surface that isn't just all hill. It was as exhilarating as it had been with Lily.

As we came to the end of the easement I sat up and told her, "Whoooa" and Gracie, in typical Gracie fashion, slammed on the brakes. Which I was expecting: she has a fantastic whoa button that was installed by trainer Bob and I've been making sure that it works at ALL the gaits. She is hilarious: she'll be chugging along, all churning wind and fire, snorting with every stride, neck arched and mane flying, and the second you say "Whoa" she comes to an abrupt halt. She expects you to instantly release the reins: if you don't she'll yank them out of your hands. "I stopped. You're supposed to release!" And then she'll just stand there, square on all feet with her head down like an old plug. And she'll continue to stand there on a loose rein for as long as you want, until you cue her to continue. This is a very unusual thing in a horse this spirited, let me tell you!

Gracie demonstrates her ability to whoa and chill with Charles on one of his first rides on her.
We turned around and gaited back into the woods onto the main trail. Here Gracie offered up a trot and I let her. She gaits better over terrain than on the flat, but when it comes to the speed rack, she can only maintain it for very short periods of time over smooth footing. On the trail, she actually covers more ground at the trot. I encourage her to gait all the time because it works so many more muscles but the truth of the matter is that she needs to take breaks from it. So she will ask to trot because it is easier and it is a way for her to stretch out. She'll lower her neck and lift her back, still carrying herself correctly, just in a different fashion and engaging different muscles.

Gracie's more upright carriage when gaiting.
This is what she looks like when she's trotting under saddle:

One day I will have photos of Gracie herself doing this...
She continued down that trail at her biggest trot, ears pricked happily, brave and alert. That mare just loves the trails, man. Loves 'em.

We went down to the steep river crossing. As we were splashing through the water we saw a young guy on the opposite bank, dressed in hiking clothes with a small satchel on his back. He was a ways down the river. I said hi and we gaited on past to take the lake loop. 

Like Lily before, Gracie galloped all the way up the long hill behind the lake and we also took the long way back towards the river. G-mare finally asked for a walk break and I let her. She walked maybe 20 strides before saying, "Ok! I'm rested! Let's GO!" And she enthusiastically picked up her gait again. I was laughing at her.

As we came out of the tree line to head back to the river, I realized we were behind the hiker that we'd encountered previously. The trail in this section is very narrow and overgrown and I simply did not want to ride that close past this guy. He did not seem threatening at all when we first saw him, but you become paranoid when you are raised in PR. 

I turned Gracie around and we backtracked. Which worked, because I'd just been thinking that I need to start varying our usual route: we've been going in the same direction for a while now. Gracie glanced at a few things but never lost momentum as she trotted on through the trees. 

We crossed the river and headed back towards the meadow trail. Again I stopped MapMyRun when I asked Gracie to come down to a walk as we were approaching the park parking lot. She did 8.6 miles in 1 hr and 17 minutes.

Also average pace of 6.6 mph
She had a bath and a beet pulp mash, and once she was dry, both her and Lily got turned out for the night. 

It was a really good day.







20 comments:

  1. "It was a really good day." AKA: Hi guys, I rode both of my horses nearly 20 miles because I'm superwoman like that. WEEEE!

    ;-)

    Is that the park we're riding in this weekend? 'Cause it sure is purty.

    And OMG GAITED BEAST I WILL RIDE YOU AND I WILL SQUEAL FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVERRRRRRRRRRRRRR......

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    1. Yes it is! Just have to watch out for the ground bees.

      You will go WHEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeeeEeEEeee...hahaha ;)

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  2. Sounds like a fantastic Saturday to me! I am super jealous of all your trail access from your barn.

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    1. It was one of the big reasons why I chose it! It's a wonderful thing to have. :)

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  3. Great day! And wow, the change in those heels, great work!

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    1. Thanks! It was great to see the photos side by side! I hadn't kept as good of a photographic record on her feet as I have Lily's.

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  4. LOVE those comparison pictures of Grace's feet - you can really see the difference in the heels. Good work!

    Sounds like a really fantastic day all around. :D

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    1. It was a really great day! I look forward to hearing more about your trailventures with Tristan. ;) You should take up endurance with him, Amanda, since pergolide is legal. You could do LDs and the shorter intro rides. :)

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  5. You do kind of kick ass, you know. Leave the rest of us trailing after you in the dust, thinking, "how in the heck does she do it?"

    Beast!!

    And that fear of a solitary man in the woods by yourself - it's not a PR thing - it's a woman thing. Been there. (Sometimes in the elevator at work when there is one other person in there with me and it's a man, and he's bigger. Intimidating. Sometimes frightening.) I hate that I change my plans to avoid, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

    Even if you were on a 1100 lb beast. Perhaps if we were to teach our horses to do some of the upper level battle moves, it would be different.

    Glad you are safe friend. Wish I was close enough we could do those rides together. Tell Kathy to stop having wild, hot cougar sex on top of a bucking horse and to feel better soon.

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    1. Lol it helps that the second horse is gaited! If Gracie had a jackhammer trot I highly doubt I'd be doing this kind of mileage on both of them on the same day. :)

      I'm exactly the same as you when I'm by myself. I won't even go to the gas station alone after 9:00 pm. Stuff like that. Carlos thinks I'm silly but I disagree. Sadly being a man in this world is still not the same as being a woman.

      I know! I'd love to go trail riding with you! And I'll give Kathy your message. Haha she's going to laugh! ;)

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  6. You are so lucky to have trails that close! Trailering out to ride every time gets annoying. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a sunny summer afternoon.

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    1. It was! This park is really good to have this close thanks to the variety of terrain it has.

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  7. That looks like a blast, hope you've been well Saiph :)

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  8. Definitely something said about less is more. That hoof looks so much better since you stopped taking the toe back. I love that you document this stuff and explain it to us.

    Gracie looks really good, such nice feet too.

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    1. Thanks L! :D I'm glad you enjoy the documentation!

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    1. Yup! You get FULL CREDIT for that! :D Thank you for the advice Andrea!

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  10. There's always so much information in your posts, I have trouble figuring out what I want to comment on!:) I do love seeing the hoof pictures and hearing about what you're doing. I always feel like I don't know what I'm doing...And if I could borrow some of your energy, that would be great!:)

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  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing the photos of Gracie's hooves! Chrome's are looking like that and I have been stressing myself out about that and his toe first landings in the front (he's flat or heel first behind). I'm so happy to know that exercise is what fixed her heels and landings. That has given me so much hope that I can get Chrome's hooves back to normal if I just exercise him. Thank you for the motivation!!

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