Corazon de la Tierra

May 26, 2006

Corazon de la Tierra (Heart of the Earth) is a BLM mustang gelding from the Owyhee HMA in Nevada. He was born approximately 2000 and was adopted by us in November 2003. Corazon's herd group tests high for genetic markers showing Spanish blood and he has many of those characteristics. His herd ranges along the Idaho/Nevada border on a high rolling basalt plateau with deep cut canyons. Water is scarce there and we have been told the herds may go several days between trips to waterholes. The photo below was taken shortly after we adopted Corazon and brought him home as a three year old.

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I first saw Corazon at a BLM auction in Reno, Nevada in July of 2003. I was really impressed by his calm demeanor in the holding pens and with his overall conformation. When he was moved into the auction ring I was especially impressed by his way of moving and was surprised no one bid on him. Unfortunately many people at the auctions have romantic ideas about wild horses and being a plain dark brown horse, I think no one else saw Corazon's virtues. When we were in a better position to adopt that fall, friends helped me to locate Corazon in a longterm holding facility in Carson City, Nevada and we went and brought him home.

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The BLM has very specific facility requirements for unhandled mustangs and certainly for good reason. It was impossible at that time for us to bring a trailer all the way up to our property so we accepted the offer of a near neighbor to house Corazon in a BLM approved paddock and shelter. In retrospect, had we been able to bring him directly home I believe we would have gentled Corazon much faster. While he is what I refer to as a benevolent alpha in his own world, the world of humans was simply terrifying for him.

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It was impossible to use standard roundpen techniques of pressure and release because even the most subtle of body language would send him into a panic sweat and diahrrea. After attending a workshop with Shawna Karrasch I tried clicker training and suddenly everything in Corazon's world changed. He immediately understood we had started a dialogue and began interacting with me with eager excitement. After months of not being able to touch him, on the first day I was able to remove his BLM neckstrap and groom him from head to hoof. Soon after he was haltered and in February of 2004 he came home up the mountain. For extremely fearful horses I think clicker training is the Rosetta Stone of communication.

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The photo above was taken on Corazon's first day of freedom on the mountain. We have never seen a happier horse than when he was finally able to run in a world that made sense to him and with other horses who spoke his mustang language. It sadly brought home how difficult his prior two years in captivity had been. In spite of what many people said, Corazon did not revert to a wild state, instead he has become increasingly calm and trusting with us humans. In January of this year I began the process of working with his wild feet and that is when the photos below were taken.

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The many months I spent creating a foundation of trust with this horse have paid off in a steadily expanding level of tolerance for me working on his feet. I'm going at it slowly and focusing on balancing them a little at a time laterally and shortening his toes and keeping a good rocker. Griton has already shown us these small steps on our very rough terrain will allow Corazon to fix his own feet over time.

Recently I have had to accept that Corazon is on the way to becoming obese in spite of our nearly ideal environment for our horses. For the last year he has run free on our land and had free choice local mixed grass hay that is not fertilized or sprayed with pesticides. He has been given no grain, just enough beet pulp for supplements, and he has steadily gained weight. The photo below was taken last summer and you can already see the increase in body fat.

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On May 17th I decided it was time to treat him as if he is an insulin resistant horse which is probably where he is headed without intervention. I took the photo below as a baseline shot to track how he does on this new diet program. He no longer gets free choice hay and I have cut the other horses back from this for the summer as well. Now Corazon comes into a pen each morning and evening where he receives a bucket with one standard scoop of beet pulp that has been soaked with water. Added to that is 1/4 cup canola oil and two teaspoons of cinnamon. In the evening he also gets trace minerals and probios. While the other horses are getting their regular ration of hay, Corazon gets one thin flake. By the time he finishes his meal, the others have cleaned up everything but some stems. (His missing tail is from having it yanked out by Griton to get Corazon to chase him.)

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In just a little over a week I am already seeing a huge change in Corazon's energy level. Increasing the level of 'good' fat in his diet with the canola oil and the base feed of soaked beet pulp which does not trigger blood glucose responses, seems to be really having an effect. For the first time I am seeing Corazon instigating play and long gallop sessions with the other horses and he comes into the pen at a trot to get his bucket. I've tried to make it an even better experience by spending time with him morning and evening grooming and doing a little ground work. He is a horse with a generous spirit but he seems to appreciate not having to 'share' me with the others during our pen time together. Hopefully along with improvements in his feet, I will be able to show a slimmer and fitter horse in this journal over the coming months.

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Griton’s Hoof Injury

May 18, 2006

On May 3rd I was due to leave for Utah to attend an event for our business, Black Horse Design. Early that morning and well before sunrise I had heard the horses galloping hard up on the mountain. That's pretty normal for them so I wasn't worried about it though their morning romp is usually done in the lower sandy portion of the property. We often go out on the deck in the mornings with our coffee to watch them running and sparring in the sandy bottom area below us.

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When I went out to feed the boys I immediately noticed Griton was lame on his left front. I checked him thoroughly for heat and swelling and could see a sharp abrasion on the outer bar and sole so felt he had hit a rock hard during his morning run. He was eating and didn't seem overly distressed so I felt I could safely leave him in my neighbor's care for the weekend. When I was pulling through the gate to leave though I saw Griton was no longer putting any weight on the foot, his respiration was almost at a pant, and he had a strong digital pulse. I stopped everything, called the clinic, called a neighbor for help and hooked up the horse trailer.

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Because our road into the property winds through five acres of heavy ponderosa pine forest, it is very difficult to get our horse trailer close to the house where the horses usually are. Even after a shot of banamine to give him some relief, it took my friend and I close to an hour to get Griton far enough down the road for me to have some hope of wiggling the trailer around in the trees to get it turned around and him loaded. Once we got him to the clinic I felt I could safely continue my trip since we have a wonderful vet who actually likes and appreciates our mustangs.

There are many vets who won't work with mustangs at all. A woman on a wild horse list I am on called her vet when her newly adopted mustang mare came up lame. Her vet not only refused to come out, he suggested the best thing would be to shoot the horse. This may sound extreme but there are a lot of myths about these horses and a lot of people who view them as trash. Dr. Nelson grew up on a ranch in west Texas where they used mustangs as ranch stock so he has a great appreciation for their hardy natures and willingness to trust. I try to explain it to people that it's like the difference between a child raised in a functional home and one raised in a dysfunctional one. Wild horses grow up in a natural herd social structure. They know exactly how to be horses and how to relate to you once they understand your role with them. We actually feel safer with our formerly wild boys than we do with many pushy and ill-mannered domestic horses. This photo is of Mike and his mustang Cuervo whom we lost last year to an internal abnormality that resulted in a ruptured gut. Even in his great pain, Cuervo was a gentleman to handle by both us and our vet and his staff.

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The initial phone diagnosis based on a first set of x-rays and his profound lameness was the outer wing of the coffin bone was fractured. Dr. Nelson felt Griton would recover but would need to be in a bar shoe and strict confinement for twelve weeks. I was glad to hear things sounded positive but my heart sank at losing all the ground we had gained by forced confinement and shoes. There was also the fact that Griton has an irrepressible playful spirit and I could not imagine keeping him quiet for twelve weeks!

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Dr. Nelson knows how we feel about keeping our horses barefoot and natural so he took two more sets of x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Fortunately none of the additional x-rays showed any sign of a fracture and by the fourth day Griton was again putting weight on the foot. When a large chunk of bar and sole broke out it was determined he had hit a rock very hard and sustained a deep bruise and could go home as soon as I got back from Utah. Mike and I brought Griton home on May 8th and he was quickly back to his normal play instigating self.

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I took the photo above on May 10th to show the large portion of bar and wall that was broken out during this episode. The depth of field doesn't clearly show this pit goes 3/4 of an inch into his hoof and there is a crack at the bottom that might go into live sole. I was incredibly glad I had not removed what appeared to be dead sole from his and the other horse's hooves as it is clear they need it in our rugged environment. Within a couple of days, Griton was sound again on our hard surfaces except when pivoting on the foot or if he hit a rock wrong.

It's been two weeks now since Griton's injury and he has been just a tiny bit off since we at least temporarily broke the drought with over two inches of rain. Here in high desert country two inches of rain is like six inches most anywhere else. I think he is getting wet sand packing into his hoof putting pressure on the sole so I have been picking it out for him anytime he comes down around the house. My recovery plan for Griton is to keep 'rocking and rolling' his foot as needed and allow him to heal at his own pace. It certainly isn't slowing him down! The next photo was taken yesterday morning with him doing his best to be a granite camouflage horse. Sometimes it is hard for me to visually find the band because Corazon's dark brown coat blends in with the pine trunks and Valeroso's bright red bay matches the pine thatch.

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I took the photo below to show what several days of moving on abrasive sand and granite rocks can do to a moist hoof. I have done absolutely nothing to this foot since the post-injury photo and was shocked to see how 'naturally' rolled and even the wall has become. It makes me wonder if the wild horse hooves don't move in and out of looking like what we consider to be the ideal model depending on weather and time of year. We were told when we adopted Corazon that the horses from that herd often go several days between visits to water meaning their feet would stay quite dry. We haul all of our water in so creating a soaking pool isn't really feasible; but this has me thinking more about a future plan to create a runoff pond for the horses in one of the arroyos. It would be strictly seasonal but would still create some periods of fast clean-up.

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The focus is a bit off in the next photo but you can clearly see the off center toe rocker he is now self-maintaining since I stopped trying to put it in the middle of his hoof.

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Due to a really busy fall with our business we had gotten so far behind on hoof trimming we had a local barefoot trimmer come out to get everyone caught up for us. From there I felt I could manage on my own. The first time I took photos of Griton's feet was January 2006 about eight weeks after they had been trimmed by our local trimmer. We have had an off and on problem with Griton being sore in his joints and tendons after trimming so I posted photos for feedback from the Barefoot Horse Care list for advice on how I should continue maintenance. The following hoof photos are all of Griton's left front foot to save space and because that is the foot he tends to have problems with:

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After posting these photos in January I rasped his feet back to an even length, shortened his heels slightly, put a small scoop at the quarters and put a toe rocker straight across his toes. Once again he became sore, particularly in his left front. Each time this has happened the soreness has been in the soft tissue, not in the hoof.

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It seemed the more I adjusted his feet, the more sore he became. Since he was now moving well on his stifles I decided to make a leap of faith, keep my hands in my pockets, and did not pick his feet up again for another eight weeks. The reason for this was to see if he would get sound again on his own, and if moving around on our harsh granite surfaces would show me how he needed to wear his feet to be comfortable. The photos below show Griton's feet after the eight week grand experiment of 'hands off' trimming:

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After eight weeks Griton was 'excessively sound' (my husband's phrase) and it was clear he naturally wears an off center toe rocker. My continuing to place a centered toe rocker which forced a centered breakover might have been what was making him sore after each trim. At this point my trim strategy became 'keep an eye on his heels, keep a mustang roll and put the toe rocker where he is comfortable with it'.

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Just a few days after the above hoof photos were taken I watched the horses gallop hard across the mountain for close to ten minutes. I had not yet trimmed Griton's hooves and was curious as to how this hard gallop on granite and quartz rocks had impacted him. The photos below show the deep abrasions on his heels left by the rocks and how a somewhat longer heel than would normally be left might be necessary for his environment.

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The photo below shows one of their 'trails' down the bluff. You can see a trace of the path in the sandy area just to the left of the small pine sapling.

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