Feet and Physique: Brandy & Fancy

On the track a horse’s nutrition is structured to keep them lean and running fast. Becoming a ranch horse, an eventer, a barrel racer, a jumper (or whatever is in store for a horse in its second career) requires time and patience. Brandy discusses how the transition is going with her Makeover horse.

For 616 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2020 Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium, presented by Thoroughbred Charities of America, has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Horse Nation readers. Today, blogger Brandy Stevenson talks about building up her horse’s feet and physique.

Fancy (JC name What’s My Doin) has called our ranch home for the last six months. That’s longer than I’ve ever been paid to have a horse in training and yet, somehow, I feel behind. We have had our share of ups and downs and even a moment that had me question whether she would ever be sound again. I now understand why some of my fellow competitors choose to find their Thoroughbred Makeover partners so far in advance of the competition. The physical transformation from racehorse to ranch horse takes time.

My first horse, Briscoe, now 19. Photo by Jordan Campbell.

I have to confess I am not a complete novice to Thoroughbreds. I knew there would be struggles, but I was prepared for them to be more mental than physical. Thoroughbreds are notorious for having poor feet. My first horse had underrun heels, non-existent hoof walls and paper-thin soles. Three years later he had 8 mm of sole depth, hoof walls that would hold a nail and, through diligent, quality farrier work and nutrition, he had great feet!

Fancy’s front left without a shoe. Photo by Brandy Stevenson.

Fancy has beautifully shaped feet, except for her left front — it is my nemesis. In six months we have only managed to make it through one shoeing cycle without ripping it off. I bet everyone knows what happens when she pulls a shoe — she goes lame and I cry as we say goodbye to a little more crumbling hoof wall. The really frustrating thing is Fancy has gigantic lines in her feet where you can see the strong new hoof growth, but it takes time to regrow a hoof capsule — nine months to a year!

Brandy pointing out the line in Fancy’s feet that indicates a nutritional change. Photo by Caleb Hindi.

Fancy’s feet are actually shaped very well — kudos to the track shoer who maintained her. Our problems are the result of recurring, compounded damage and a nutritional deficiency. When you get a horse off of the track they are slicked out and shiny without an extra ounce of fat on their body. I don’t think Fancy was mistreated in any way, but her diet was structured to keep her lean and running hard and fast. All of her energy was directed into motion, not growing strong feet.

How have we changed her diet? We have significantly increased the amount of protein in her diet and cut way back on the amount of sugar. We have managed to create significant hoof growth without the aid of a bunch of expensive supplements.

Sturdy Horse feed supplement. Photo by Brandy Stevenson.

I credit most of her quality growth to Sturdy Horse, a high protein feed supplement developed in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. This cold pressed hemp product is 24% protein and is chock full of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids (more than are found in flax seeds or fish oil). I add a quarter pound of Sturdy Horse in her feed once a day and it has been as simple as that. While we wait for her new, stronger hoof wall to grow out we have to manage Fancy’s panache for pulling front, left shoes.

Fancy’s left front shoe she pulled off in pasture. Photo by Brandy Stevenson.

When you know you have a problem you have to maintain it until, with time, you can correct it. Every couple weeks Fancy defeats our latest, greatest idea for keeping her shoes on. Bell boots: in her stall, under saddle and, of course, in turn out have proved ineffective. Hoof boots are flung off with apparent ease: Cavallo, Soft Ride, hoof shoe and more have all been tried with no success. Our current management strategy is to preserve as much hoof wall as we can by making sure the clinches that secure her shoe will give way when Fancy tries to rip it off. We are playing defense, trying to preserve what hoof wall she has until the strong, new hoof wall grows out.

With the change in work and feed, Fancy’s whole physique is undergoing a transformation. The little filly with the slight ewe neck and quick adrenaline response is gone. In her place an elegant, well-muscled mare has developed. Changes to Fancy’s feed show in her large hindquarters and strong, level topline. Under saddle work has allowed her neck to develop muscle in a more natural way that transitions to her everyday life outside the stall.

Fancy’s overall physique after nutritional changes. Photo by Brandy Stevenson.

While we are making strides toward our goal of competing in Kentucky in October, little setbacks are starting to feel like roadblocks. But every day my racehorse gets closer to becoming the ranch horse I know she can be.

Brandy Stevenson was raised 100 miles from nowhere in the rural community of Glacier View, Alaska. In her twenties, she traveled the country honing her colt starting skills and riding with top professionals. She now resides at her north Texas ranch where she trains a select number of horses and conducts horsemanship retreats throughout the country.