Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ulcers and the Endurance Horse

Let me start this post with the following :  I am NOT a vet, nor do I pretend to be one on TV. :)
This post is about what I have found to be useful in dealing with ulcer issues in my gelding, Fizz.
A little background - I picked up Fizz as a 10 year old 'problem child.'  He had been causing problems with the previous owners in a myriad of ways.  Difficult to load, anxious, rearing, aggressive behavior, bucking - all the behaviors that don't endear horses to their owners.
My initial impression of Fizz was that he was a very smart horse who had figured out how to manipulate the system(humans).  Fizz and I got to work establishing a relationship and all appeared to be swell.
Fast forward to middle of the ride season 2012.  Fizz is not holding weight, has become a reluctant trailer loader(again) and is extremely reactive under saddle. When I say reactive, what I really mean is when Fizz was having a bad day(which is what I used to think/call his episodes) - he felt like a bomb about to go off.  If I moved/twitched, he was going to erupt.  His behavior made no sense.  Fizz is a 15.2 hand, big, athletic Arab gelding.  If he wanted me off his back, he was fully capable of making that happen ASAP.  So why the chaotic behavior?  What the heck was going on?  I started doing research regarding his symptoms.  Decided I had perhaps pushed him too hard in his first season of endurance riding. Perhaps he was sour from an excess of work.  Laid him off for the remainder of 2012.  
Spring 2013 - Fizzy looks great.  Weight is good, attitude is excellent.  Here we come ride season 2013! Once again however, about mid ride season, the weight began dropping, trailer loading issues, bad attitude under saddle.  WTH is going on with this guy? Research pointed to an ulcerated pony. :(
Dr. Kerry Ridgway DVM has a great article on Equine Ulcers.  Excellent reading for those of you who think you might have an equine friend in trouble.

The standard test for ulcer involves a 12 hour fast prior to scoping. The withholding of food for extended periods of time can contribute to ulcers.  My vet recommended that we proceed with treating Fizz for ulcers proactively.  Fizz received a month of Gastroguard.  
After a month of treatment, once again Fizz looks great.  Attitude has improved.  But here's the catch - unless I can address what is causing the ulcers we will be facing treatment again.  
Research has shown that 60% of performance horses may have ulcers.

So what causes ulcers?  The better question might be what doesn't cause ulcers. :) The following are some of the suspect activities for ulcer formation:
Competition, trailering, changes in feed, changes in routine, grain, exercise at speeds greater than a walk, fasting during trailering.  Yikes - sounds like a laundry list of what endurance horses deal with every weekend.

It is now 5 months after treatment.  Fizz looks great.  Attitude is great.  He is back to work and all appears good.  I have my fingers crossed for the 2014 ride season.  Here is what has worked for us.  **Again, I am NOT a vet.  Please consult your veterinarian before trying these recommendations.

My Laundry List for Ulcer Prevention
  1. 24/7 access to hay.  This was a bit of problem for me initially.  I have 5 horses, one of which is an extremely easy keeper.  I ended up having to muzzle Bert(easy keeper) for 12 hours of the day even during the winter for the 24/7 hay solution to work
  2. Slow Feed Hay Nets.  Research has shown that ulcer development occurs when gastric secretions(acids) attack an empty stomach. By utilizing slow feed hay nets, I can keep hay in front of the herd at all times.  The slow feed nets encourage 'trickle feeding' into the equine stomach, similar to grazing.  In addition, roughage(hay) stimulates saliva production which helps to neutralize stomach acid.  
  3. The addition of alfalfa to the diet.  Alfalfa is high in calcium which is thought to help decrease ulcers.  I use alfalfa pellets as I do not have a reliable alfalfa source in my area.
  4. Elimination of processed grain.  This was a tough one for me initially.  Fizz has always been a hard keeper.  I thought if I took him off the grain, he would probably just disappear.  Couldn't be farther from the truth.  I eliminated all grain, began a feeding program consisting on beetpulp, alfalfa pellets, ground flax, fat, and supplements.  And of course, HAY, HAY, HAY.  Fizz has actually gained weight on this feeding protocol.
  5. Pro-active treatment before trailering.  Before Fizz even sees the trailer, he receives a dose of Maalox (antacid) via dosing syringe.  I have always offered hay in the trailer while hauling.  Since the addition of the Maalox, Fizz has begun eating in the trailer.  
  6. Hauling with a buddy horse to endurance rides.  Bringing along a companion horse, while making more work for me, has greatly helped Fizz to settle and relax at rides.  At this point, it seems a small price to pay for a non-ulcerated horse.  Much cheaper than another round of Gastroguard!
  7. Preventative treatment during competition.  Gastroguard(omeprazole) is illegal during competition in AERC sanctioned events.   Since I know the stress of competing could cause an ulcer flare-up. I began to search for solutions.  So after again researching legal options -  I began using Neigh-lox from KPP.
   According to the research at KPP, " Neigh-lox has the capacity to buffer for a long period of time (minimum 6-8 hours); most antacids buffer for much shorter period.  Neigh-lox buffers large amounts of acid; one dose (4 oz) has 240 mEq of acid-neutralizing capacity, which is equivalent to the amount of gastric acid typically produced over a six-hour period.  In addition to its buffering capabilities, Neigh-Lox also contains compounds that coat the lining of the stomach and adhere to gastric lesions, which maintains healthy mucose and and supports healing."  

This ulcer journey of Fizzy's and mine has been a long, painful, and educational experience.  One of the many things that has occurred to me is this:   
How many truly great horses have been put down or sent to slaughter as rogues/maniacs/unmanageable were actually horses reacting to ulcer pain?  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Camping on a Shoestring!

I have been endurance riding since 2005, so I'm not an 'ol timer' in the sport but I did start out camping like they did in the 'ol days.' :) 
My first trailer was a little 2 horse straight load bumper pull.  Needless to say, no shower, toilet, air-conditioning or heat! 

I moved up after a couple of season to a 3 horse stock trailer with a dressing room.  Wow!  That was living.  I actually won the AERC Limited Distance Mileage award camping in the back of that trailer.  Camping in the back of an aluminum stock trailer in October in the midwest is not recommended, but it can be done.
Okay, so you say you don't have a lot of money, and who does if you have horses and compete in endurance riding?
Here's the way I have always looked at things - until I get rich, I can either have a fancy rig and not be able to afford to go to many rides OR:  I can have a minimalistic setup that will financially allow me to go to LOTS of rides.  Option 2 always wins.
So let's talk about camping on a shoestring.  We need to figure out what we must have to go horse-camping for a weekend.

Here's my list of human needs:
Water - for washing up, showering and cooking.
Heat/Cooling sources - in the midwest you might need both on the same weekend.  I never take my portable heater out of the trailer.
Food - refrigeration/cooking appliances
Bathroom/Showering facilities

Okay, lets start working on these items.
Water -
Initially, I was pulling the 2 horse trailer with a Chevy Suburban, so had the 'luxury' of that big back end of the Suburban to haul everything I needed.  I would lay a large tarp in the back end and carry 7 - 5 gallon water tanks along.

I carry 2 - 35 gallon water tanks on the back of my pickup truck now.  That will usually take care of 2 horses for a weekend, unless 1 horse - read Elvis -
decides to amuse himself by dumping his water bucket repeatedly.

Heating/Cooling -

Initially, for heat,  I had a mummy sleeping bag rated for below 0 for camping early and late in the season.  This worked pretty well most of the time.  Tip:  No liquids after 8 pm, once you are snuggled in that bag, you don't want to get out to potty. :)
Now I have a Mr. Buddy heater with an attachment that allows me to run off a 20 lb propane cylinder mounted under the gooseneck.  If you decide to go this route, I would also recommend mounting a carbon monoxide detector in your trailer.  The Mr. Buddy heaters have a very sensitive carbon monoxide detection monitor that shuts the unit down in the event of carbon monoxide, but better safe than sorry.
These little units are very nice and work almost too well.  In my very small gooseneck trailer, I usually will get up and turn the thing off after a couple of hours - it gets very warm.

Initially for cooling - I relied on the kindness of camping neighbors with air-conditioning! :)  Then I found these camping fans.  They actually work pretty well.  I have 2 of these units mounted on either side of the sleeping area - cross ventilation.  For the really hot nights, I now have a 2000 watt generator that will allow me to run a big box fan - creates a wind tunnel in my small trailer!

Cooking/Refrigeration:  Then and Now!
I bought a Coleman cookstove when I first began horse camping and I'm still using it today.  Have to confess that I'm not a big 'cooker' while camping.  I've been known to get by on a package of Pop-tarts, a 12 pack of soda, 6 pack of beer and a jar of peanuts.  Not a recommendation mind you, but it can be done!

Refrigeration:  I have a Coleman Extreme Cooler.
It's rated to keep things cold for 5 days, I haven't found that to be true.
Here's a tip:  I freeze 5 quart ice cream pails and set them in the bottom of the cooler.  That really seems to work better than buying bagged ice.

Now to the most important item on the list - SHOWERING!!

I tried a solar shower setup similar to this -
I didn't have great luck with this minimalist shower.  Maybe it was just me or riding in the midwest, but I had too many very cold showers to make this a realistic option.
My next shower idea was the Zodi HotWater Shower
This setup actually worked quite well for several seasons.  Unfortunately it died while Nic and I were crossing Michigan during the Shore to Shore ride a couple of years ago.  That was bad timing, believe me. :)
I think I have finally found the ultimate camping shower for me, at least.  The Coleman Hot Water on Demand System.  I love this thing!  Not only can I have a hot shower, but also hot water for tea, coffee, soup, etc... in seconds.  I store the unit in the first stall of my trailer.  I unpack when I arrive at camp, set it up on a camp table in the stall, and voila - hot water.  More pics on my shower arrangement in a later post.

Okay, we have one more issue to cover - ahem - bathroom issues.  Again, much experimenting in this area.  Best option - camp near/but not too close to facilities at horse camp.  Or should I say - downwind? :)  
What to do in the night during a cold/windy/rainy ride weekend?  I hate going out in the cold during the night to pee.  Here's my solution - the Luggable Loo.  I also store this in my first stall.  I have an access door from the human area to the first stall, so can just slip through, do my business and be back in bed in seconds. 
If you decide to go this route, I would recommend plastic bags as liners, along with the chemical deodorizer.  I have used this setup for a weekend - no issues.  Just tie the bag up when done and dispose.  No issues/no odors.

Let me know if any of these tips helps you or you can help me with any of your low cost camping ideas!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Louise Reidel Memorial August 2012

Thought I would post a few pics from my 2012 ride season.  I haven't quite gotten the knack of keeping up with this blog and riding my horses and working! :)  Anyone with tips, please share.

Louise Reidel Memorial Ride - Arkdale, WI. This ride is held at Ukarydee Horse Campground in Arkdale, WI.  This is a wonderful campground - friendly management, great layout and almost every camping site has a pipe corral to contain your horse(s).   There are miles of trail that wind by the Wisconsin River.  Trails are flat, mostly sand packed, with a bit of gravel road riding.  I have ridden these trails barefoot.
Here's a link to the campground.

El and I had a wonderful day.  The weather was just about as perfect as it can get for endurance riding - low 70s. 
El felt fantastic and since we were riding alone, I decided to push him a bit faster.  Within a few miles, I wasn't enjoying myself anymore.  Why? I asked myself was I hurrying along?  It was a gorgeous day, El was happy, I was ecstatic.   What's the rush?  There is always going to be a horse in front of us.  Lesson learned.  Enjoy the ride.  :)
For those inquiring minds, we finished in 7 hours and change.  Fastest 50 for him.  It was nice to be done early enough to shower and nap before dinner, but what's the rush?  Something to think about.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What to do with your endurance horse in the off season!

We are very fortunate here in the Midwest.  From April through October, I can attend a ride almost every weekend, if my truck, trailer, family, and checkbook will allow!  The downside to this luxury is we have almost 5 months of cruddy weather, by cruddy, I mean - snow, mud, freezing rain, mud, ice, mud, snow, mud, mud, mud...  Get the idea? :)
In the past, I have boarded several of my horses at a facility that had the luxury of an indoor.  This is a wonderful way to keep condition on your endurance horses during the off season.  It may be boring, but those endless laps in an indoor do put conditioning on your endurance horse.  You just have to grit your teeth and do it!
Okay, for those of us less fortunate that don't have the luxury of an indoor - what are we to do?  I have a couple of suggestions that have been working very well for me this winter.
First of all, I made up a wish list of everything I wish my horse(s) were better at.  You know what I'm talking about, those little things that bug you during ride season, but during ride season,  you are just too busy riding to address.  Winter is a perfect time to work on those behaviors.

For example, Fizz, a 10 year old Arab gelding that I took in last summer, has had very little training done.  He has been saddled and ridden without much success.  I decided to start all over with him from the ground up.  Obviously this picture was taken in fall, but here is Mr. Fizz calmly wearing his riding tack.  I like to teach horses to stand quietly while being tacked in an open environment.  You never know when you might not have the luxury of a hitching rail, cross ties, etc...

Here's a shot of another rescue, Beau, calmly wearing his first 'raincoat'.  :)  I'd much rather find out that my horse is a little plastic phobic without me on his back! :)

Here's my checklist for this winter :
  • Tying to a stationary object.  Including the ability to remain tied whilst your horse friends leave. ;)
  • Sacking out with plastic, ropes, tack, water jugs, beer cans, soda bottles and anything else I can think of that my horse might encounter on the trail.
  • Crossing plastic tarps, water, logs, etc...  
  • Tacking/untacking without the use of cross-ties or ties or any sort.
  • Mounting from a mounting block/stump from both sides.
  • Dragging logs, tarps, bleach bottles.
  • Crossing bridges.
  • Riding along roads, dealing with traffic and scary mailboxes, dogs, etc....
I'm sure most of you can come up with lots more items that are on your 'wish list' of behaviors to improve.  Pick an item and let's get started.

I decided to start with riding along roads, dealing with traffic and scary mailboxes, dogs, etc....  You might be thinking - "Is she nuts? That's one of the toughest ones!"  Not so fast, we are going to chip away at this deal.
I start out walking my horses down my country road with a traffic safe buddy.  You might think it would be more difficult to take 2 horses versus 1, I haven't found that to be the case.  The 'newbie' horse draws confidence from 'ol Bert' who's been around the block a time or two.

In Bert's case, he's closing in on 3,000 competition miles and there isn't too much that fazes him anymore.

Here's a pic of El and Fizzy ready for their morning walk.  I love projects that are a '2fer.'  2fer means I get to accomplish 2 things at once.  In this case, I get my green horses more accustomed to road traffic, Bert gets some walking conditioning and I get a nice winter walk in!  Wait a minute - that's a '3fer'!

I happen to live in a pretty rural area, which has both benefits and liabilities for road walking with horses.  The benefits turn out to be liabilities as is too often the case!

Benefit/liability 1:  My road sees very little traffic, which is really nice when taking initial rides on a green horse, however, when there is traffic, it is usually cruising around 60 mph straight at me!

Benefit/liability 2:  Rural roads are the favorite shortcuts for grain trucks, hay wagons, snowplows! and assorted other odd bits of farm machinery which can't make the speed on the main roads.  After a few days of walking with those beasties buzzing by your green horse, there ain't much that's gonna bother him on a normal ride route!

You might say, "Jos, I'm never going to have ride close to that kind of traffic at a ride."  Not so fast, one of my favorite rides in Michigan: Shore to Shore, has a day when you ride alongside a major highway within arms reach of you and your horse.  To top things off, you cross said highway, ride through a town, next to the county fair, through a subdivision, complete with wind chimes and ferocious dogs and out of town.  The first year I rode that little trip, I was EXTREMELY glad that 'ol Bert' had been to town and back several times!!

So, get out those rope halters, grab a horse and go for a winter walk!!!  You and your horse will appreciate it during the ride season.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Recap - short and sweet - cause the season wasn't ...............

For those of you following this baby blog - 2011 was a bit of a missed season for my horses and myself.  Life events forced me to focus on a new home for the horses, entailing weeks of putting up fencelines, barn, pasture, etc...  You get the idea!

I did find the time to get El through his 1st 55 mile event in 2011.  We completed the DRAWARAMA 55 mile ride on Thursday, September 1, 2011.  This will begin El's journey toward becoming a member of the Decade Team, which I think is one of the most prestigious recognitions that an endurance horse can achieve.  For more information on Decade Teams, please check out Karen Chaton's blog on endurance riding.
A little recap of our 55 mile ride.  The weather started out quite pleasantly.  It was about 55 degrees, overcast - a typical fall day in Wisconsin.
The ride was held in Palmyra, WI, which I felt would be perfect for El's first attempt at an endurance event distance.  These trails are our 'home turf'.  We condition on these trails on a weekly basis.  Nothing like trying to stack the deck in your favor! :)

The ride consisted of 4 loops, 16/9/16/9.  Good friend Ann and her mare, Kassie, rode the 1st 3 loops with El and I.  Ann wisely noticed that Kassie wasn't feeling entirely sound after the 3 loop and decided to rider option.  About this same time, the wind and rain began to let loose.  What to do, what to do?  I never start a ride without the intention of finishing, but I have to admit that I was tempted that day!  The temps had dropped to the high 30's, along with howling wind and driving rain at times.  Not pleasant.
As I headed out of camp for my last 9 miles alone, I knew there weren't any other horses on the trail.  Not a cheerful thought!  I consoled myself with the knowledge, that if things got really ugly, I knew how to get quickly backed to camp. 
I was so proud of El as he trotted out of camp all alone.  He let out a couple of anxious neighs and trotted away from his riding buddy.  The miles were going by quite quickly and we reached the turnaround to head for home.  Yippee!
Not so fast with the yippee, the rain began to fall with a real purpose, just as the sun began to set.  We headed back to camp in ankle deep mud in the dusk.  Not quite what I had envisioned for El's first endurance adventure.  He was quite the trooper and finished up with mostly A's on his vet card.  He was a tired pony, but I think a 'proud horse.'  I know I was a very proud mom!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interested in Endurance Riding?

Last year, I began competing a young (6 years) Arabian in the sport of endurance riding.  Here in the midwest, we have the opportunity to compete in any of the following divisions -
Endurance - Rides of 50 miles or more, to be completed in under 12 hours.  Winner determined by first horse across the line.
Limited Distance - Rides of 25 - 35 miles, to be completed in 6 hours (for a 25 mile event).  Winner determined by the first horse that crosses finish line and reaches pulse criteria.
Competitive - Rides of 25 - 100 miles, averaging 5.5 to 7 miles per hour.  Competitive rides are not managed as a race, but rather as a test of a horse's fitness.  Winners are determined by a scoring system that penalizes heart and respiration scores above a norm.

In the Midwest, conventional wisdom dictates that one should be begin competing a horse in the competitive division. Looking at the divisions listed above, that seems to make sense, doesn't it?  Competitive riding theoretically takes away the 'racing' aspect of our sport.  The rides should be emphasizing the physical fitness of our equine companions.  After riding El in the comp division in 2010, I have some serious mis-givings about offering that advice to new riders. 
Some things to consider when beginning a competitive career for your horse:

  • What are your ultimate goals for yourself and your horse?  Do you aspire to ride longer distances? Multi-days? Decade performer?
  • How old is your equine partner?  Although UMECRA allows 4 year old horses in the competitive division and AERC allows 5 year olds to compete; I would not recommend begin to compete a horse until they are at least 6 years old.  Dr. Deb Bennett has written an excellent article on the maturation of the equine species. 
  • Are you and your equine partner comfortable riding alone, in a group?
  • Would you like to be able to get off your horse and 'school' through a difficult obstacle? (Competitive rules in UMECRA) do not allow forward progress unless mounted.)
  • Would you like to be able to put water on your horse to aid in cooling? (Again, competitive rules - UMECRA) do not allow the use of water, except for natural water.
Don't get me wrong - this is not an article bashing competitive trail riding.  I think comp riding has a real place in our sport.  I also think the Limited Distance division has a legitimate place in our sport.  In fact, Bert excels in the Limited Distance events.  He is currently in 9th place in lifetime AERC mileage for Limited Distance horses.

So, what's my beef? :)  I don't think competitive trail or limited distance events teach a horse to take care of himself.  I also don't think the restricted mileage events teach riders to take care of their mounts.  I can hear the protests already - please take a moment listen to my reasoning.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the average backyard horse that is being ridden on a regular basis should be able to comfortably complete an endurance/competitive event of 25 miles.  While this may be true, is completing this event in the best interests of the horse?  In fact, I would argue that the horse that gets comfortably through 25 mile events may never learn to 'take care of himself.'  I would also argue that the rider that only rides 25 mile distances never learns to truly take care of their mount.

I believe it is only when the horse and rider are faced with longer distances that the horse and rider form a team that has to work together to get through the distance. I always remember the quote from Matthew McKay Smith, "Never hurry, never tarry."  I view every endurance event as a test of my horse and myself against the trail.  The other riders out there are just obstacles on our way to the finish line.  :)

Events of 50 miles or more teach a rider to watch for the subtleties in their horse.  Is he eating, drinking, peeing and pooping as normal?  And while the rider is learning, the horse has even bigger lessons to learn - drink at every water source, eat at every opportunity.

Horses are incredibly adept learners.

The mud puddle they used to step delicately around, now presents an opportunity to stop and drink.  They quickly figure that they can walk and sometimes even trot down the trail and grab snatches of grass.  I have a rule for my horses - as long as they maintain forward motion, they can eat at will.  While this may be frowned upon by trail riders, it is essential that my horses learn to eat while being ridden.

Here's another very interesting article by Stagg Newman regarding Endurance Riding vs. Endurance Racing. 

I would encourage everyone to read as much as possible about endurance riding before attempting your first ride.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

El's recurrent hind end abscess - solved! (Hopefully)

Subtitle -  How and Why a Barefoot Trimmer ALMOST Ended Up Putting On Shoes.
I am a bit hesitant writing this article.  On the surface it would appear that I am about to violate everything I believe in, regarding hoofcare.  But that is simply not the case.  I became a barefoot advocate and a barefoot trimmer because I truly believe it is in the best interest of horses.

Okay, what the heck am I talking about? :)
Here's the issue and some background:  El began competing last year as a 6 year old.  He completed roughly 150 miles barefoot, in 25 mile rides.  Then in August, I decided to take him to a multi-day ride in Michigan called Shore to Shore.  I was a bit concerned that his hooves might not be tough enough to handle 25 miles per day, so I decided to boot him for the week.  He completed 100 miles that week and looked great.  Here's the glitch - 3 weeks after Shore to Shore, he blew an enormous abscess in the right hind heel bulb.  At the time, I didn't think too much of it, as abscesses are relatively common.
Fast forward - 5 weeks later, El comleted a 40 mile competitive ride in good shape.
Fast forward - 4 weeks.  El blows another abscess in the heel bulb.  At that time, I had a vet look at the heel.  We thought it might just be a residual effect from the initial abscess, just a pocket of infection that needed to work itself to the surface.  No big deal.
Fast forward once more - March 2011.  El and I take a vacation to the Shawnee National Forest.  I read quite a few articles on the difficulty of the terrain in the Shawnee.  I decided to bring hoofboots along just in case.  As I said in an earlier entry, I rode several days completely barefoot and then felt El was becoming a bit hoof sore, so I booted him the remainder of the week.
Fast forward last! time - April 2011.  El is once again lame in the rear hind.  3 days later, another abscess.

Okay, the rocket scientists reading this, perhaps have already put the pieces of the puzzle together.  For the rest of us, myself included, here's what has been happening - the backstrap and/or gaiter has been rubbing El's heelbulbs, creating a blood blister, sore, or abscess.  More importantly, because of the location of this abscess it is almost impossible for this area to drain.  I haven't quite figured out how to tip El upside down. :)

So, now I have a problem.  The recurrent abscesses in the heel bulb have taken the integrity of El's heel and pretty much trashed it.  I am now faced with a choice, turn El out for 3 -6 months and hope that he would move enough on turnout to grow out a heel on his own or put a shoe on that hoof to support that heel.  The addition of the shoe will allow me to work him and accelerate the hoof growth.  Exercise stimulates blood flow, which in turn stimulates hoof growth. Okay, now I have a problem - I know that exercise will stimulate hoof growth, but the addition of metal will constrict blood flow.  Think, think, think.

When the vet initially gave me his recommendation of putting a shoe on that hoof, I felt very conflicted, but unless I can figure out a way to support that hoof, shoes it will be.  Wouldn't this violate my basic belief in my profession?  I thought about this for about 2 seconds, then remembered that the reason I became involved in hoofcare was to help horses and do what was best for the horse at all times.

If a vet that I really believe in tells me that El's heel needs to be supported by a shoe, and I don't know of any other way to help him - I have an obligation to do what is right for him, no matter what.

UPDATE:  After spending 24 hours pondering, researching the internet, calling friends and friends of friends, here's what I came up:
Basic problem:  Very low heels due to the repeated abscessing and boot rubbing.
Possible solutions:  Rear shoes for a short period to support hoof OR!  this is very exciting - Equi-casts. 
Equi-casts are a product similar the stuff that doctors use to cast a human's broken arm.  The use of Equi-cast will allow me to support and stabilize the hoof, allowing the heel to grow out with being abraded!
Many thanks to Pete Ramey, who wrote an excellent article on the use of Equi-casts.  Click the link below for the complete article.
Pete Ramey Article on the Use of Equi-casts
Pictures to follow.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or phoned with possible solutions.  Thanks even to those that chastised me a bit for thinking of putting shoes on.  Made me angry enough to keep searching.  Whether that was your intent or not - it worked!