After Ben's freakout on Sunday, thanks in part to the comments of a friend, I began pondering whether his back might be bothering him. It shouldn't be, given how little work he's been doing for lo! these many months, and the ideal life of puttering about the fields he leads. Still, he does have kissing spines, which flare up painfully once in a while, and the last time he had the injections for that was well over a year ago. Plus, when I ran my fingers down his back near his spine yesterday, he flinched.
So today Ben got a visit from Lael, his massage therapist, who hasn't worked him over in almost a year -- after all, he wasn't being ridden much, so he didn't need the regular maintenance he used to get. And whaddaya know? He had knots of ouchy tenderness here and there about his body, primarily in the areas of his right wither and left croup. It certainly wasn't as bad as he's been in the past, but it was more than Lael expected from the life he leads.
We checked the fit of the Aussie saddle, on his bare back, with the usual saddle pad, and with the pad plus a contoured foam pad I used to use on him but hadn't lately. The saddle was snug with no pad and didn't rock, seemed to fit fine -- but wait. Under the left panel up in front, if one slid one's hand beneath it in the dip just behind the shoulder/wither, one could feel it pressing a bit too tight. Tight too, though not as much, on the right side. Put the cloth saddle pad on -- about the same. Add the foam pad, and it lifted the tight part just high enough to relieve most of the pressure.
Verdict: Saddle needs restuffing to fit the grazing-enlarged Ben. Till that can be done, he can be ridden as long as I use the foam pad.
Verdict on the Sunday explosion: He's been in greater discomfort than this before without blowing up, so the soreness isn't the whole story; but if he was upset for other reasons, then any nagging ouchiness would just move him that much closer to the edge of losing it.
Meanwhile Commander has decided he wants to go naked -- no more shoes! He's pulled his left front shoe off, taking some hoof wall with it, three times in the last two-three weeks, the first time because he was mucking about in the bed of the creek that runs alongside his fields. That's been fenced off now, but still he's managed to remove that shoe from his increasingly chipped-away hoof. The third shoe expungement happened sometime between Saturday midday when I rode him and Sunday late morning when Rick was grooming him and discovered his oh-no-not again! bare foot. Since he seemed perfectly sound on it, and we were going to be riding entirely on grassy fields, we decided to go ahead -- and Commander was fine for the whole ride, not ouchy at all.
Which led me to wonder, well, instead of asking my poor farrier to reattach the shoe yet again (nailing into what? Is there anywhere in that hoof wall that's still solidly nailable?), maybe Commander could go shoeless? This is always a dicey question with a horse who's foundered in the past. Still, his single bout of founder was four or five years ago; he lives out on grass; what limited riding he gets is on the fields; and watching him move about with both shoes gone, he appeared be be quite comfortable, only taking one yikes! step when he put his newly bare right foot down on a stone.
So I talked it over with my farrier, the pros and cons, and we're going with no shoes for now. Ken will trim his feet tomorrow, to tidy them up, and we'll see how he does. I may put some Venice turpentine or other hoof toughener on his soles. Come winter he may well need to go back into front shoes (he does great with no hind shoes), but if we can give him at least a couple of months to grow out his hooves, perhaps he'll hang onto his shoes when they do go back on.
Sigh.............. It's always something with these critters, isn't it?