Over the past week Hola and I have been busy walking the trails. I am very fortunate to board close to a river dyke where trails and paths for walkers, bikers, runners and riders are easily accessible. In years previous, the footing was made up of hard backed gravel topped with sharp loose rock, (not ideal for unshod horses) but due to flooding last summer the parks have replaced the footing with a finer pea gravel that is ideal for developing a good barefoot horse. One of my New Years resolutions was to start walking Hola on a daily basis... this killed two birds with one stone. I need the exercise. And Hola needs time on hard ground to support the development of healthy bones, a good food and a well developed digital heel cushion. As an added benefit we also get the opportunity to work on leading past scary obstacles, sending her over fallen logs and exposing her to traffic, pedestrians and horse-eating-boulders. So, I guess it would be more accurate to say we killed nine birds with one stone. Of all the birds we are busy'a'killin' my primary goal is actually to help Hola develop a decent foot including that ever-important digital heel cushion, a part of a horses anatomy I didn't even know existed just a year ago.
I found a site with excellent photos and information on digital heel cushions (DHC). Check out HorseHoofHelp. There is a super cool picture of the digital cushion in an elephant foot! An important fact is that the digital heel cushion is developed while the horses is growing and the only way to grow a good cushion is to provide the foot with stimulation on hard surfaces (given that the foot is trimmed correctly). After reading about DHC I realized that Hola has had VERY little exposure to hard ground and even less exercise on good footing. Here in the Pacific Northwest we are a land of mud and muck from about September through till June. I know that an hour walk a day isn't going to amount to much but I feel it is better than nothing. As an added benefit it will provide me with extra motivation to get off my butt and out the door! Which is especially important as my Hola is just a tiny wee thing! I sure hope that her butt starts to grow at about the same rate that my butt starts to shrink! Or I might not be riding her this year at all!