Starting To Explore Options...
This is a question for those of you who have to deal with winter riding issues, when an indoor ring isn't available.
I'm starting to think about options for the winter. I do not have an indoor ring available, but I do have an outdoor one. Winters in New England have been just bizarre the last couple of years. Last year we had next to no snow, but a little ice. Year before we had tons of snow. So in the winter here, it could be frozen-hard ground with nothing on top, or it could be a blanket of snow, or it could be ice, or it could be snow with a layer of crusty ice on top. Anything is fair game.
Last year was my first winter with my horse. He's a retired GP show jumper, so he's not really used to being laid-off for long periods. I pulled his shoes after Thansgiving last year, rode him a few times, and then he was just Pasture Puffing (plus very occasional lunging and a little groundwork) until early March. He did NOT do well with this Plan - he got bored, he got freaky, and then he started developing undesirable behaviors (avoiding the halter, etc.). My trainer is a very good horse trainer (not just human training!) and got me through this, but it still wasn't a lot of fun, and it's clear to me that my boy isn't really cut out for Pasture Puff life.
Here's the hitch. Thanks to some terrible injury in his GP days, he's got an old suspensory problem that means that I can't ride him when he's barefoot, or he starts to go lame. With good shoeing, it's not an issue. And we've got a good farrier.
So here I am, realizing that I need to ride him regularly, if at all possible, but I don't really want to move him to any of the regional barns that have indoor rings, because as it is, I can see him 6x per week but if I move him, it will be only 2 or 3x per week, because those barns aren't very close. Also, the people at his current barn really understand him, and they handle him properly (which means they don't put up with any of his crap, but neither are they aggressive, violent, etc.). The BO treats him like he's one of her own horses. So the first thing is a trade-off - leaving him where he is because he's treated very well but not encouraged to develop bad behavior and I can see him all the time vs. Unknown Barn, Unknown Help, and Not Seeing Him Frequently, but being able to ride him indoors every time I do. I am *pretty* sure that I want Option 1 for long-term success.
I raised the issue with my farrier last week when he was out for a trim, and he first suggested hoof boots, but when I asked if they'd provide the same kind of support for his suspensory that he gets from his shoes, the farrier said "no". Then he suggested shoes on all four feet, with drive-in studs, which would allow me to ride when conditions are even close to OK, but not if the ground is a sheet of ice.
What I'm thinking, now, and what I'd like input on, is maybe having the farrier put shoes on all four feet (he's got them only on his front feet now) and drive-in studs when I'd usually have his shoes pulled around Thanksgiving, and then sometime around New Years, pulling those and letting his feet "rest" for six weeks or so, and then having the four shoes + drive-in studs back on around mid or late Feb until mid-April when the ring ought to be just fine for the normal shoes. The idea is that I'd still be able to ride him once or twice a week (he gets ridden 5x per week now) with conditions short of "sheet of ice", but get about a 6 week break to rest and hang out, and then we'd be able to take advantage of marginal conditions after that until things are good and we can come back into regular work. The thought is that he'd still get some benefit from going barefoot (frog and hoof health, etc.) without being on vacation for long enough to get really bored and cranky.
The farrier suggested the drive-in studs - I think that he felt these would not interfere with his movement in the same way that the screw-in studs might, and also that I wouldn't have to be driving out to the barn in the face of some nasty ice storm to make sure that Huey has the studs in.
I would appreciate the input of anyone with experience under similar situations, background in farrier work, etc. I haven't made up my mind yet - I would love to get more information before I have to make a call.