Here I am listening to Supertramp. But that's not important. I am also almost finished the water in my water bottle. But that's not important either. The horses are enjoying our current fine weather, grazing contentedly out in the front field. That is critically important in the grand scheme of things, but not important to the current topic.
I am sitting here in a grey t shirt, no longer grey because it has been made over by flying hot rubber from the angle grinder. My hands are black, but fortunately today's adventure spared my wedding rings which have only recently returned from a trip to the jewelers to remove red paint from the settings.
And now you are saying "what the heck has she been up to now?!"
To tell you that I must tell you this.
Last year Duke had some abscesses in his right hoof. Always the right front. Winter came and the abscesses eased off and the foot was healthy for the duration of the off season. And once our season started, he started with the sore foot again. At first I wasn't concerned. It's not unusual to have abscesses in the spring because of the melting and the wet. We would soak his foot a few times, and the pain would go away. Then a few weeks later, there it was again. More soaking, and he would feel better. Until August. Then it hit hard, and soaking didn't make it go away. It just eased the pain before nightfall.
Our farrier, Alain, came in after four or five days. I told him that we were going to find the root of the problem, I didn't care how long it took. Duke was still out in the field, so we all went out to meet him. Of course, he saw us coming. He had developed a sort of a hop-skip by then, to keep weight off that foot. I took his head, Alain took the foot between his knees, Brett knelt beside him and the search began. Could it be here? What about that spot? And then I hear "hey wait a minute, what's that", "I was wondering about that myself". There were two flicks of the knife, and pus shot out four feet from the foot.
Four feet. Do you know how much pressure it takes for that to happen? As Alain worked to open up the hoof, I stood with my face buried in Duke's mane, saying I was sorry over and over. Meantime Duke stood as if nothing had happened, and replied to me "no really, I'm good! Feels great now!"
He has been completely sound since, but we have two more jobs coming up before the end of the season, and while I am pretty sure we finally got it, I am worried that stone bruises and gravel roads might be a contributing factor.
We have been running Duke for two seasons in his bare feet. He was shod with the biggest shoes you ever saw in 2015, but when we removed the shoes in the winter we never put them back on in the spring. Horse shoes lift the horse's foot up off the road surface by about 3/8 of an inch. In so doing, they protect the horse from most of the stone bruises he might suffer. Some maintain that they also prevent tired feet, the iron shoe providing more reinforcement to the shape of the foot.
Horse shoes are fitted by a process called "hot shoeing". The shoe is measured against the foot, and then warmed up be means of a portable forge. The warmth of the iron makes it easier to form to the shape of the horse's foot. Once this is done, the shoe is made red hot, and pressed against the horse's hoof. The resulting scorch mark allows the farrier to see if more reshaping needs to be done or if the shoe is ready to be nailed to the hoof along the outer edge where there is no tissue to be damaged by the nails.
In the summer of 2015 we had to go through this process with Duke three times. The first time, he was his usual tolerant self, accepting my assurances that it wouldn't hurt. But by the third time he was so terrified of the smell and the sizzling he had to be controlled by a means of a chain across his upper gums. This is an acupressure point, but he didn't care. He had become progressively more terrified with each refitting.
I have been assured by many experts that Duke should be able to run barefoot if he is mostly on pavement. But with the series of events I have retold here, I am becoming more and more convinced that my experts and I have different ideas of the meaning of the word "mostly".
For the last two months I have been searching for alternatives. And I found quite a few. There is something called Horserunners made in Austria that is a really good product. There is something called an Easyboot which is also great. And there are a few more. They are really good ideas, perfectly suited to what I need. Except.
Duke's foot is eight inches across, and eight inches front to back. Suzy also wears this mammoth shoe size. I stopped short of measuring Silver and Shannon. Absolutely every single product I found was not made large enough to accommodate that lovely big hoof. One was 159 mm, another 189mm, but none were big enough for my boy. I even phoned and emailed to see if they had molds big enough that they just weren't using. Nope.
And then someone said something in a Facebook group that got me thinking. Something about a tire.
So this morning I marched out to the workshop and set up a workmate. I went and found one of the old tires from the front of the truck. And I set to work.
Note: For the more litigious among us, I issue the following disclaimer. I am about to describe the use of big and potentially dangerous power tools. I am probably not even qualified to use them. I am not an expert in the use of said tools, nor am I qualified in any way to instruct others, over the internet, with their use. If you are not qualified to use power tools, if you are a little afraid of them, and maybe not quite strong enough, be it on your head. I will not be held responsible if you chop off your foot while following my example.
I have looked all over the internet for someone who would tell me how to do this. I had trouble finding someone who would tell me how to cut a tire apart using basic power tools. So I have had to figure it out on my own.
I started with my big tire. I wanted to cut off the side walls. My journey across the internet had told me this much. After a bit of trial and error, I started with pilot holes along the seam between the side wall and the tread. However, I had to have a way to get a cutting implement in there. So I got a 1/4 drill bit and drilled pilot holes all the way around on both sides.
Having drilled the holes, I had to figure out what to use for cutting. My first choice was an angle grinder with a fine cutting wheel. Cut like nobody's business. Like Butter. It also heated to rubber up and sent gobs of it flying in all directions.
A point of order: DON'T USE AN ANGLE GRINDER! It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now my hands, the tools, and the angle grinder blade are now black. Oh yes, and me. I'm black. Well, parts of me.
I used the drill to make a big enough hole to put the blade of a reciprocating saw into, and then turned it on. In this manner I was able to cut from pilot hole to pilot hole and remove and side wall. However, neither is this the perfect method. As those who have used a reciprocating saw will know, this can be very hard on the arms.
Note the black marks on the tools at left in this picture. I wasn't kidding. Now I needed to cut across the tread to make the soles of my Duke sneakers. Now mind, this is a rough cut to achieve a piece larger than I will require. I didn't want to be cutting a circle in a big tire. A smaller piece seemed more manageable.
I cut through the tread in one place, so that I had a long strip of steel belted rubber. I clamped it down. I marked where I wanted to cut and away I went. The problem I encountered was that the clamps kept coming undone from the vibration of the reciprocating saw.
And Voila. two pieces of rubber just wide enough to accommodate a honkin big hoof. Note the Davis medical boot used at a guide.
And that, my dear readers, is where I stopped. I'm filthy, I have tired hands, feet, elbows, wrists........This is not easy. I hope Duke knows just how much I love him. Now I have to figure out how to affix the top of this sneaker to the soles I have created. Velcro is the obvious answer, but what to kind of material to attach the Velcro to? Glue? Rivets? I have both. If there is a reader out there who has an idea how to put the top of the sneaker on the bottom, please write to me using the contact page on this web site.
And if anybody asks, when I finish making these for Duke, NO I will absolutely NOT make them a pair!!