Where Dreams Lead us


I'm sure everyone dreams, wide awake dreams, dreams of places to go, things to do, loves to live. Dreams are wondrous things. In my dream I was seated in a horsedrawn wagon slowly moving through the countryside. This has become reality thanks to a few words of encouragement by a dear friend and four years of learning, lots of help and also lots of work. Yes, it became reality this dream of mine, but it has brought me so much more. There have been many surprises along the way. I could never have expected the door to life that would open, a very different life than I had known. I could never have imagined all the beautiful people that would come into our life because of the dream, or the amazing horse that we would spend years loving and caring for, and the moments of pure bliss we would experience as she pulled us in a small wagon through the forest. I never dreamed of the hours I would spend sleeping and healing in Toti's magical space resting under a huge tree with Vanille looking in the window to comfort me. What I dreamed of, the horsedrawn wagon traveling country roads, has happened and those days have been ecstasy. Of course there have been difficult moments and setbacks along the way but they have faded in my memory. The beauty is what shines brightest in my mind.

We didn't take a trip in Toti this season and I can't hide my disappointment. We were blocked by weather, injuries, and finally a nasty virus. I haven't ridden Vanille very much either. Nothing tragic has happened, just small things that have stopped us and forced us to just relax. However we have taken numerous three hour trips with the small wagon which is more adaptable to narrow dirt paths through the forest. These trips have been incredible and we have been able to share them with friends. November marks a year since I had my third total knee replacement and finally I am feeling stronger. November will be my 77th birthday and I feel so blessed to have lived this long. November will also be the third anniversary of Vanille's arrival here.

Lately I have discovered the fun of simply taking Vanille for a walk. She clearly loves this moment in her day as she comes at a gallop when she sees me and almost puts on her halter herself. Over the past three years we have established a very gentle relationship and there is a silent communication between us. Bella comes along and we just walk down the road all together, stopping at a tasty green spot or two. The three of us seem to enjoy the quiet of walking under the towering trees, watching the leaves drift down and simply enjoying the peace of the moment. We have been noticing how Vanille chooses certain plants to nibble and I have begun researching the nutritional properties of these plants. That she knows instinctively which plants are beneficial and have a high nutritional value becomes more and more interesting as I continue my research. Did we humans have the same capability long ago? Of course we did! I could never have expected that Vanille would teach me a long lost art. These are her favorites:

Beech tree leaves (Fagus) (French / Hetre)

From Wikipedia:

Fresh from the tree, beech leaves in spring are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage, though much softer in texture. The young leaves can be steeped in gin for several weeks, the liquor strained off and sweetened to give a light green/yellow liqueur called beech leaf noyau.

Plantain (genus Plantago Major) (French/Plantain) (Waybread, Dock, Fleawort)

One of the most abundant and widely distributed medicinal crops in the world. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to facilitate healing and prevent infection. The active chemical constituents are Aucubin (an anti-microbial agent), Allantoin (which stimulates cellular growth and tissue regeneration), and Mucilage (which reduces pain and discomfort). Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be ingested to treat diarrhea and soothe raw internal membranes.

Broadleaf plantain is also a highly nutritious leaf vegetable that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten.
















Wild Chamomile (Matricaria discoidea) (French, Camomille)

Chamomile tea has long been used, as a traditional folk remedy, for a wide range of health issues. Nowadays, researchers are increasingly exploring its effectiveness in managing illnesses, including cancer and diabetes.

The flowers are dried for herbal tea. Vanille just eats the flowers.


Mallow (Malva neglecta) (French/Mauve à feuilles ronds)

People use the flower and leaf to make medicine. Mallow is used for irritation of the mouth and throat, dry cough, and bronchitis. It is also used for stomach and bladder clmplaints. To treat wounds, some people put Mallow in a warm moist dressing (poultice) and apply it directly to the skin, or add it to bath water.










Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica) (French/ Ortie)

The German army used nettle fabric to make army uniforms during World War I. Stinging nettle has been used for hundreds of years to treat painful muscles and joints, eczema, arthritis, gout, and anemia. Today, many people use it to treat urinary problems during the early stages of an enlarged prostate (called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH).











Burdock (Arctium) (French/Bardane)

The root is sometimes used as food. The root, leaf, and seed are used to make medicine. Some people take burdock by mouth to increase urine flow, kill germs, reduce fever, and “purify” their blood. It is also taken by mouth to treat colds, cancer, anorexia, stomach and intestinal complaints, joint pain, gout, bladder infections, diabetes, high blood pressure and skin conditions.









Vanille also loves a vine that is growing wild over a stone wall but the leaves are gone now and I am not yet able to identify it.

This is just the beginning of my study. If you are interested, read more on the internet. All of the above is taken from internet searches. AND, watch what your horse likes to eat

Imagine, Vanille is teaching me about wild plants! When we go for a walk I point to areas of grass that I think look appetizing so we are working together. I recommend taking your horse for walks!

Have fun! Enjoy all that nature offers us!


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The days of August have been hot, sweltering hot and dry. This morning we were blessed with a soft mist but a little rain would be nice. Our life has been quiet and gentle. It has been a month of reading, friendly visits and afternoon naps in Tòti under the trees. Vanille passes by, stops and pokes her head over the fence to say “Hello”. I have noticed that she talks to me much more as time goes by. There is the loud whinny in the morning when she hears our door closing which means I'm on my way. There is also the very soft sound, much like a mare reassuring her foal. This is the sound I hear often now. I always speak to her when I'm approaching and I talk to her, touching noses, looking around together, stroking her neck before asking if she wants to go out. She talks back very softly and lowers her head for the halter. This is our early morning time together when the remainder of the day is too hot. We walk around together looking for the tastiest grass. Since I must ration her grass, in the afternoon she follows my every step as I enlarge her pasture and she talks to me about it most of the time. It's quite a difficult balance to give her enough food but not too much and it changes with the seasons.

We had one accident, a sort of comedy routine. Vanille was giving me a nuzzle and her lip grazed my glasses sending them flying. I'm blind without glasses so I was crawling around looking for them and there they were just behind her front foot, the one furthest from me. I managed to grab them but the cable temple was gone. These were precious glasses to me. My daughter had found the frames in an antique shop and I had lenses made for them. Finally Mark came to my rescue and found the temple, put it in my pocket. I don't know how but I lost it before getting back to the house. This was just one of those days! So Mark managed to find a place in the states where he could order a temple that looks like it will fit the glasses.

We have been taking Vanille out a couple of times a week with the small wagon. Some of our trips have been pretty exciting. We've traveled over some rough terrain in the forest, avoiding ditches and fording small streams as well as some difficult uphill grades. Vanille is impressive. We pay close attention to her weight and she can do a 3 hour trip without overheating. When we arrive home she is dry. We don't push her however. We allow her to find her own pace and after a difficult climb she slows down to her recuperation pace. We call her our diesel energy. She attacks a hill as if we were shifting into a special climbing gear. I feel that she loves the challenge. Often on the internet there is the question, “Does a horse enjoy working?” and there are many opinions. I know that we are extremely gentle with Vanille and when she is harnessed and ready to go, she really wants to go. It's a bit difficult to teach her patience. We allow her to look all around when she is pulling and we allow her to stop if she wants which is seldom so we check to make sure everything is OK. We pay attention to her breathing, the bothersome flies, and that her boots are properly adjusted. Our trips are just pure pleasure, time to talk and enjoy the magnificent scenery. We often invite friends. This is an important aspect of driving a horse rather than riding. It is very social but still there is the special contact with the horse.

AND, the most exciting for me is that I pushed past my fear and got on Vanille, not once but several times. Here I am, granny on her horse.

Thanks to Jean François, I have the use of absolutely the most comfortable saddle ever and a bridle without blinders. Vanille just plods along slowly which is perfect for me. I'm trying to give us both time, time for me to feel confident and time for her to become accustomed to my weight on her back. We don't have a ring to work in so it is a bit different to just take off down the road, but we're building confidence all the time.

So, when will we take Tòti out for a trip? We plan to take a trip here in the mountains around the end of September when the weather is a bit cooler and another trip down our mountain and in flat country for a few days to arrive at a protected winter home for Tòti. Everything we do now builds strength for Vanille. The idea is not to rush into anything but enjoy the time it takes to arrive. It is all important!.

As always, I invite you to comment if you are reading my journey. Much love to all and happy trails.

My email address is


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Buckminster Fuller said ” Love is metaphysical gravity”

Our loving friend Samuel


I belong to several groups on Facebook. One of the groups is Aging Horsewomen and there are over 40,000 women in the group. The other groups are interested in Comtois horses, draft horses, barefoot horses and horses that are ridden without a bit, some with only a neckrope. I realize that Facebook is often criticised but for me it has opened up a huge world of information. Recently someone asked a question on one of the groups that at first seemed like a bit of nonsense, but it stayed with me and brought up lots of thoughts. The question was “How do we know that our horse loves us?” Quite honestly I don't ask the question. For me it is just a feeling. How do I know my husband loves me? How do I know our dog loves me? I just feel loved. How would you answer that question?

What is love anyway? Is it totally different for each person or each animal? Do we truly believe that animals have emotions? How can we not believe it? Why does there need to be scientific research on the subject?

I wake up at 6 every morning, kiss my hubby, have my coffee, throw on jeans and a shirt, grubby shoes, and head out to see Vanille. If I'm not rushed to go somewhere I take her out for half hour or so to eat in a lush grassy spot, I check her over and at this time of year put a non chemical fly repellent on her, then I clean her stall and fill it with bedding, and fill up her water. By this time the sun is high in the sky and I'm in need of a good shower. When she sees me arrive with the halter she talks to me in a soft voice, slowly comes toward me and lowers her head for the halter. We spend an hour or so together, just being together. She is careful and gentle with me. We are just quiet and peaceful. For me it is a loving moment. No one enjoys picking up manure and cleaning a horse's stall but I do it without complaint. When I ask Vanille to work she does it willingly, I might even go so far as to say she does it lovingly and happily. For me this is love. People who see her always say she is so beautiful but she is beautiful because she is loved. I feel happy when I am around her, I smile, and I have energy because she is so eager to please. This feels like love….to me.

What feels like love to you? Do you feel loved by your horse or dog or cat? Why? Why not?

You can comment in the comments section of this blog or email me at totibleu@gmail.com

A wonderul young woman came to trim Vanille's feet. We are continuing to improve her feet with the absolute decision to never use iron shoes. Yes, it's complicated but we're seeing results and she has boots.


This amazing British woman, Daisy, 73 years young is traveling to Scotland and back for the Brain Tumour Charity. She's doing it ALONE with two strong and beautiful horses.






When I have the time I'm still long reining Vanille without a bit using the Zilco Flower. We're doing great!


Dana tried out the saddle on Vanille. There was no problem and my dream is to eventually ride her.

Ahhhhh…these sweet summer days. Long hot afternoons spent snuggled on the bed in Toti, a cup of tea and a biscuit, birdsong, soft breezes.










Our fields are being transformed into huge rolls of hay for winter.

Summer is not all laziness. I had to repaint the flowers on the sides of Toti and repaint the trim on the doors after an endless winter of rain and fog and snow. Monster mildew! This year our challenge is to find a place to put Toti under roof.




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Sleeping in Paradise


Such a beautiful image in words from my daughter Dana Ecelberger


It is June in the Black Mountains of France, in the Tarn District, in the heart of this very passionate country. The skies are very emotional at this time of year, especially this year. Everywhere I look nature responds to the pull of life’s longing. Grass grows as you watch, trees are unfurling their neon leaves, the peony unfolds petal after petal in a reckless fervor. Bees are drunk on nectar; they weave and careen under the heavy load of pollen they carry. Lambs cry across the hillside, “Moommm. Mooommmm.”


I sleep in the warm embrace of Toti Bleu. She sits delicately in the backyard, between the chickens and the two black sheep. There is a palpable calm inside the colorful arches of her ribs, shoulders and back. As I climb into the cave of a bed, it is like entering a womb. Here I sleep as I never sleep in my life in America. The hooting owl, the mewling doves, even the awful craw of the peacock high in the Maple tree, these sounds lull me to sleep. The unbroken black of night so profound here that I forget to worry. I close my eyes and it is as if I cease to exist, as if I join the deep, still night in a seamless absence of definition.


Morning comes early. Like a Satie piece, the birds start slowly and quietly to discuss the day. “Where are you? Did you survive the night? Shall we meet at the feeder? Isn’t the coming of dawn a miracle today? Every day?” The sound builds and is quickly a cacophony of trills, whistles, chirps and chips. Now the lambs join in with their bleating and calling. The peacocks, from their high perch, sound the alarm. The shepherd has arrived to lead the sheep to pasture. Suzanne goes out to feed Vanille. Mark is here to feed Pivoine and to release the chickens from the coop. The dog, Bella, barks at Beau, the cat. The day begins. Gently, but insistently.


I cling to this moment of peace. Savoring the golden glow inside Toti. Let my eyes wander over the flowers and curlicues my mother has so artistically painted onto every surface, marveling again at her inexhaustible creativity. Snuggled down, three quilts deep, I am as happy as I have ever been. Safe inside my mother’s beautiful dream.


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Life with a Comtois horse, Vanille

Vanille's shelter is a vaulted ceiling “cave” built in the 1800's for storing root vegetables. She just fits through the door!

Spring has kept me busy. After a very quiet and extremely grey winter, the grass and weeds are wildly growing. So many jobs that waited through all the months of winter suddenly become possible. However, this spring is wet, wet, wet so a bit of frustration sets in. Tòti Bleu has damp problems on the exterior that must be repaired, nothing serious. However Vanille came through the winter in top condition. Bravo for the Comtois breed!

However, although Vanille is what is referred to as “an easy keeper”, I'll take a minute to explain just what that means to us and our love of Vanille. She puts on weight by breathing, it seems, so her hay has to be weighed out and she is fed small amounts 4 to 5 times a day in winter. If not, she will eat it all at one time and then be hungry. An overweight horse is a dangerous predicament. I won't explain all the problems but if you're interested, look it up on the internet. We are surrounded by acres and acres of gorgeous pasture but her pasture must be limited, especially in spring. I have devised a way of extending her pasture metre by metre as needed. In the winter she has more to eat than in the spring or summer as she needs the food for heat. I read an interesting article on the fact that hay ferments in the intestines of the horse producing heat in the winter. So the seasons are another consideration. It seems every day or so we are talking about just how much food she should have. Weather permitting, I take her out every day on a lead line to graze and walk about. If I have the time, I turn her free and we just spend some time together in freedom. Believe it or not, I will say that she tells me when she's really hungry by telepathy. Also when she is hungry she is in an agitated and lousy mood so there is a balance to maintain.

Aside from food, she is checked for any problems every day, several times a day, carrots are always in our pockets and lots of scratches and hugs. Her upper lip extends and she shows bliss when I scratch just the perfect spot. She also shows me where to scratch. Spring, of course, with shedding, means grooming every day to aide shedding and rub off dead skin.

Then, the hooves…this is mostly Jean Francois' job. He is constantly studying hoof care, trimming, boots, etc. We made the decision to never put iron shoes on her hooves but although her rear hooves are like rock, the front hooves are very sensitive. So, with regular trimming, walking her on hard surfaces and gravel a short time every day, never confining her to a stall, and putting boots on her front feet when working, slowly her front hooves are becoming strong and tough.

So there it is, life with an easy keeper, one who is totally loved and who works for us with calm and eagerness when asked.

Here are a few photos I took yesterday after she had a sudsy spring bath. Notice her friend Bella who is always with her even though sometimes far too bossy. Bella the Border Collie has taught me so much about love, mostly about loving no matter how difficult. It has been a life lesson for me!



This photo shows me that she is not too fat, not too much stomach extending on either side. I also love her big strong butt and pretty tail. Looks like Bella is admiring her, doesn't it!


We are working Vanille slowly at the moment. We try to go out at least once a week and usually for 3 hours or so at a walk with a short period of trotting. She is pulling the small wagon only for now. When we feel she is muscled up sufficiently we will begin short trips with Tòti. Here is a photo of Vanille taking Jean Francois and me down the lane to the neighbor's farm delivering two cartons of excellent organic wine. We are in France, after all!


I have begun a facebook page, roulotte/gypsy wagon Toti Bleu If you're interested, I have posted a couple of videos on it.

Also, our book is for sale on Amazon


Be happy! Enjoy! Love!


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Tòti Bleu’s Book

My daughter, Ashlyn Brown, has taken her precious time to edit and design a book from the 4 years of my blog postings. I am in awe of her patience and many talents. I haven't been able to look inside yet, but am just so excited to see it posted on Amazon. After a long and very dark winter, recuperating from a knee replacement in front of the woodstove, and waiting impatiently for spring, Tòti's book is finished just as the daffodils bloom. What could be more perfect! My hope is that it will give others courage to follow their dreams. As I have said many times, this has all happened because of my talented husband and many wonderful people.


As the weather improves, we have been long reining on the lane and around the barns with Vanille in a halter, no bit in her mouth. This does not mean that we will hook her to the small wagon or Tòti without her proper bridle, bit and all. We are practicing bitless to become more and more successful with voice commands. It is also a lesson for me as I tend to use my hands too much. I'm constantly learning how soft my voice can be and how totally gentle my commands for her to respond. It is interesting to me to know how unimportant the bit is for her. She is doing great! I believe this practice will make the use of the bit less and less necessary but when traveling we will always use her bitted bridle in the case of an emergency. I believe riding and driving a horse bitless is fantastic but I do not have the expertise to feel comfortable traveling on the road with all sorts of dangerous situations. I am just in awe of the videos I watch. Using the bitted bridle is a safety consideration for Vanille as much as for me and Tòti.









We'll start traveling soon but this has been a nice early spring project. It is fun and helps my new knee to strengthen. I have to walk briskly to keep up. Hopefully it will help me to shed a few kilos as well.

Thanks to a check that arrived in the mail…much to my surprise…..from a friend who wanted to donate to Tòti, I bought a Zilco Flower hackamore and bridle. We tried it yesterday for longreining and it seems great. Vanille seemed quite surprised that her new bridle did not necessitate her opening her mouth to take a bit. This is just for longreining and I hope to go for much longer walks this way once I'm able. I now have two titanium knees and I can feel the possibility of long walks very soon.

I was invited to Paris by a dear friend. It was freezing cold and snowing, but Paris was a real treat and spending time with my friend was very special. We went to the Salon d'Agriculture which was too crowded but fun. We were there just at the perfect time to see the Comtois horses in the ring. Not just any Comtois horses, but the five top stallions in France. Quite an array of gorgeous horses.



So Spring will be officially here in just a few days. Life in the country, the daily chores close to nature, reminds me constantly that Spring always arrives. There is that incredible moment when the earth takes a deep breath and wakes up. I wish you all flowers and sunshine after the darkness and difficulty of winter. Breathe it in deeply.


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Attelage Vanille – Synthèse et évaluations

An enormous thank you to Jean Francois Servat for this information. He has kept detailed notes for the past two years!

(I've translated the french text into english. I hope it's understandable)

2016 Toti not finished

This lovely Comtois mare, Vanille, lives here with Mark and I but she belongs to Jean François. The three of us are quite attached to her and are constantly looking for the best and most comfortable equipment for her. In return she does her very best for us. Therefore we embarked on a journey to discover the best solution for her hooves. The following is a long read but for those of you with horses and an interest to find another solution for their hooves than iron shoes, I hope you will find something interesting in the following . If you are interested in reading all the latest in research concerning hooves, the internet is a treasure trove.

Saison 2016 Attelage Vanille. Synthèse et évaluations.

La saison 2016 a débuté très tard le 26 juin et s’est terminée le 2 octobre.Sur une période d’un peu plus de quatre mois nous avons pu réaliser 17 sorties, ce qui équivaut à presque une par semaine avec un total de parcours de 194 kms.

Nous pouvons donc faire l’hypothèse qu’il aura fallu ce temps de préparation et d’entraînement pour réaliser dans de bonnes conditions l’objectif final qui s’est concrétisé par la journée de randonnée du 21 octobre sur le village d’Arfons avec une pause pique-nique d’environ une heure.

Cette journée était pour la jument le parcours le plus long et le plus dénivelé de toute la saison : 17,5 kms avec au retour l’après-midi une côte de 2,3 kms avec trois passages à fort pourcentage.

Elle était en bonne forme à l’arrivée et le lendemain. Le harnais a bien fonctionné et le collier de travail réglable Amish, n’a laissé aucune trace sur l’épaule.

Elle était ferrée, pour cette fin de saison, des quatre pieds avec des fers en matière plastique de type DUPLO Extra avec pinçons. Ils ont été performants pour éviter les glissades sur la route et diminuer l’onde de choc. Nous avons réalisé avec les fers postérieurs 123 kms. À ce stade là l’usure était très prononcée. Les antérieurs, un peu moins usés, on fait 77 kms.

Nous pouvons affirmer que dans le cadre de notre expérience, c’est à dire, traction d’une roulotte de moins d’une tonne avec une jument comtoise de 700 kg, les fers DUPLO peuvent parcourir au maximum 140 kms. Il faut tout de même préciser qu’à ce kilométrage là, le plastique des fers est complètement usé sur toute la moitié antérieure du pied et il ne reste donc une fonction amortissante que sur la partie postérieure.

Il est à noter aussi qu’ils ont été utilisés à 80% sur route et 20 % sur piste forestière caillouteuse.

On peut donc considérer que sur une randonnée en roulotte de ce type, la ferrure DUPLO est hors d’usage au bout d’environ 10 ou 12 jours en fonction de la longueur des étapes.

Pour conclure sur cette question, dans le cadre de notre utilisation, la résistance à l’usure des fers DUPLO sur une période standard de cinq ou six semaines est impossible.

Nous avons choisi le modèle « Extra » dans la gamme DUPLO étant donné qu’il est réalisé avec un polyuréthane plus dur que le modèle « Standard ». L’expérience nous a montré que c’était malgré tout insuffisant. Pour des randonnées ou voyages au long cours en roulotte il faut donc envisager d’autres hypothèses pour protéger les sabots.

Les deux premières sorties la jument a travaillé avec les quatre pieds nus. C’est-à-dire deux fois 7 kms environ.

Ses postérieurs ont continué de travailler sans aucune protection pendant presque 3 mois jusqu’au 21 septembre en réalisant 8 sorties a raison d’une par semaine.

Nous avons donc la démonstration qu’il est possible de faire travailler notre jument pieds nus en réalisant une sortie de 10 à 12 km par semaine dans le contexte d’utilisation que nous avons décrit précédemment.

A partir de la troisième sortie nous avons décidé de protéger les antérieurs avec une paire d’hyposandales étant donné la sensibilité occasionnelle de la jument sur les cailloux et l’objectif d’augmenter le niveau de travail.

Elle avait été ferrée pendant la saison 2015. Elle a passé ensuite l’hiver et le printemps pieds nus jusqu’au 16 juillet 2016.

Notre choix s’est porté sur les New Trail de chez Easy Care. Il faut préciser que pour des pieds de 165 mm de large le choix en modèles d’hyposandales reste très restreint.

A l’utilisation elles se sont avérées trop grandes d’au moins une taille. En effet suite au parage physiologique visant à réduire les évasements, les pieds sont devenus plus petits et les boots avaient tendance à tourner pendant le travail. La transpiration du cheval qui s’écoule le long du membre et qui venait remplir les hyposandales, favorisait en plus cette rotation. Le problème a été réglé en collant au fond de chaque boots une semelle en caoutchouc renforcée de 4 mm et en y réalisant quatre trous permettant de favoriser la ventilation du pied.

Les New Trail ont été utilisés pour neuf sorties avec au total 92 kms. A ce stade l’usure reste tout à fait raisonnable. Il faut préciser que leur poids n’est pas négligeable car en effet ils sont aussi lourds que des fers en acier de type sport pour cheval de trait. On peut s’interroger également sur les conséquences par temps chaud, de l’élévation de la température dans le pied de cheval étant donné le fort pouvoir isolant des matériaux qui le constituent.

Nous n’avons pas connaissance à ce jour que des études sérieuses aient été réalisées concernant cette problématique. En tout cas une utilisation ponctuelle n’a pas semblé poser problème à notre jument et nous sommes toujours vigilants à pratiquer, avec l’eau très froide de la montagne, une douche sur les membres et les pieds après chaque séance de travail.

Qu’en serait-il avec une utilisation de six à huit heures par jour pour un voyage au long cours en plein été ?

Nous avons essayé de poser quatre Spikes au tungstène sur chaque boots pour en limiter l’usure. L’expérience ne s’est pas avérée satisfaisante malgré une pose techniquement correcte. En effet sur très peu de kilomètres avec les impacts au sol d’un cheval de 700 kg ils ont commencé à s’arracher en pince, ce qui faisait vriller les boots sur le pied. Nous avons décidé de tous les enlever devant les risques possibles de lésion tendineuse.

Le 8 décembre le maréchal est venu retirer les fers DUPLO et elle a passé tout l’hiver pieds nus.

2016 Season Vanille. Synthesis and evaluations.

The 2016 season started very late on June 26th and ended on October 2nd. Over a period of just four months we were able to make 17 trips, equivalent to almost one per week with a total of 194 kms.

We can therefore make the assumption that it took this time of preparation and training to achieve in good conditions the final goal that materialized on October 21.
This day was for the mare the longest and most uneven course of the season: We traveled to Arfons and had a picnic break of an hour, 17.5 km in all. The return in the afternoon included a 2.3 km hill with three areas of steep grades. During the picnic Vanille was unhitched and we strung an electric ribbon around a lush area of shaded grass for her.
She was in good shape on arrival and the next day.

The harness worked well and the adjustable Amish work collar left no trace on the shoulder.
She was shod for this end of the season, all four feet with composite plastic horseshoes, DUPLO Extra with pinches. They were good at avoiding any slipping on the road and reducing the shock. We realized 123 kms with the rear shoes. At this point the wear was very pronounced. The front ones, a little less used, made 77 kms.
We can say that in the context of our experience, ie, pulling a wagon of less than a ton with a Comtois mare of 700 kg, DUPLO shoes can travel a maximum of 140 kms. It should nevertheless be noted that at this mileage, the Duplo shoes are completely worn over the entire front half of the foot and so there is only a shock absorbing function on the back.

It should also be noted that they were used at 80% on the paved road and 20% on a stony forest track.

We can therefore consider that on a trip pulling a caravan of this type, the DUPLO shoes are worn out after about 10 or 12 days depending on the length of the daily trips.

To conclude on this issue, for our use, the wear resistance of DUPLO shoes over a standard period of five or six weeks is impossible.
We chose the “Extra” model in the DUPLO range as it is made of a harder polyurethane than the “Standard” model. Experience has shown us that it was still insufficient. For trips in the caravan, we must consider another hypotheses to protect hooves.

The first two outings the mare worked with all four hooves barefoot. That is to say, about 7 kms each outing.
Her rear hooves continued to work without any protection for almost 3 months until 21 September, making 8 outings or 1 outing per week.
So we have demonstrated that it is possible to work our mare barefoot by performing a trip of 10 to 12 km per week in the context of use that we have described previously.

From the third trip we decided to protect the front hooves with a pair of boots given the occasional sensitivity of the mare on pebbles and the objective to increase the level of work.

She was shod with iron shoes during the 2015 season. She spent the winter and spring barefoot until July 16, 2016.
We chose New Trail from Easy Care. It should be noted that for feet 165 mm wide the choice of boots remains very limited.
When used they proved to be at least one size too big. Indeed following the physiological trimming to reduce flares, the feet became smaller and the boots tended to rotate during work. The perspiration of the horse which flowed down her legs ran into the boots, further causing this rotation. The problem was solved by sticking in the bottom of each boot a reinforced rubber sole of 4 mm and by making four holes to promote the ventilation of the foot.

The New Trail was used for nine outings with a total of 92 kms. At this stage the wear remained quite reasonable. It should be noted that their weight is not negligible because in fact they are as heavy as horseshoes steel sport type for draft horses. One can also wonder about the consequences in hot weather, of the rise of temperature in the horse's foot given the strong insulating power of the materials used in the boots. We are not aware to date that serious studies have been carried out on this issue. In any case a punctual use did not seem to be a problem for our mare and we are always vigilant to give her an abundant shower with our cold mountain water after her work, paying close attention to her feet, legs and the area where the collar rests.

What about using the boots six to eight hours a day for a long summer trip?

We tried to put four tungsten spikes on each boot to limit wear. The experiment was not satisfactory despite a technically correct installation. Indeed on very few kilometers with the impact on the ground of a horse of 700 kg and the extra traction of the spikes, made the boots twist on the foot. We decided to remove all of them before the possible risk of a tendon injury.

On the 8th of December the blacksmith came to take off the DUPLO shoes and Vanille spent all winter barefoot.


Saison 2017 Attelage Vanille. Résumé et évaluations.

Nous avons réalisé avec Mark les deux premières sorties le 22 et 24 Février pendant que Suzanne était encore en voyage aux USA.

Suzanne a ensuite repris les guides le 10 Mars, Mark et Bella étaient aussi de la partie.

Sur une période d’un peu plus de huit mois nous avons pu réaliser 42 sorties, ce qui équivaut a presque une séance par semaine avec un total de 456 km.

Les 9 premières sorties, pendant plus de deux mois, Vanille a travaillé confortablement les 4 pieds nus sur un total de 90 km.

Pour mémoire, en 2016 elle avait juste fait 14 kilomètres.

Elle évoluait sur les mêmes pistes et petites routes de montagne goudronnées que l’année dernière. Bien évidemment nous adaptions le travail en fonction de l’évolution de la sensibilité de ses pieds.

Nous pouvons confirmer qu’elle reste capable de fonctionner sans aucune protection des pieds avec une sortie par semaine en restant au pas sur les pistes caillouteuses. Deux sorties sont possibles occasionnellement sur une même semaine sans augmentation de la sensibilité.

Comme l’année dernière, nous avons constaté qu’elle devient sensible en premier lieu sur les antérieurs.

Nous avons décidé de reprendre l’expérimentation de l’année 2016 en protégeant les antérieurs avec des fers DUPLO en résine à partir des 90 km.

La première sortie qui a suivi la pause des DUPLO la jument a marqué une légère boiterie. Au bout d’une quinzaine de jours le phénomène a disparu sans que nous puissions identifier une cause.

La jument a travaillé pendant six mois sans aucun problème avec 4 ferrures DUPLO du début Mai a la fin du mois d’octobre alors que l’an dernier ce temps de travail avait été limité à deux mois.

Voici le kilométrage qu’ont réalisé ces quatre jeux de fers.

98 km – 72 km – 78 km – 100 km

Ils étaient à chaque fois approximativement usés à 80%. Il est vrai que cette année les sorties étaient un peu plus sportives avec des temps de trot plus importants. Nous continuons de constater qu’en attelage l’usure est augmentée par rapport à un cheval monté et en particulier sur les postérieurs. Nous pouvons aussi confirmer cette année les évaluations de l’année dernière concernant la limite d’utilisation de la ferrure DUPLO. C’est-à-dire environ 10 ou 12 jours maximum dans le cadre de notre pratique.

Cette limite va nous amener pour l’année 2018 a réaliser des tests avec des fers en résine beaucoup plus dure que nous avons trouvé aux Etats-Unis de la marque HOOF-IT

La différence essentielle avec les DUPLO réside dans le fait qu’ils ne sont pas rigidifiés par unetture interne métallique permettant entre autre la bonne tenue des têtes de clous. Cette marque commercialise des fers pour chevaux de trait ce qui est assez exceptionnel. Nous avons pris contact par mail avec le fournisseur qui garantit l’utilisation de ce produit sur 400 kms au moins. Nous serons rapidement fixés sur les qualités de ce produit dès la première ferrure.

A notre grande surprise, nous avons retrouvé la jument raide boiteuse à la fin de la saison, après avoir retiré la ferrure DUPLO. Cette mésaventure est survenue le lendemain du retrait des fers alors que nous avions fait la veille, une petite promenade de 5 kilomètres au pas avec juste un peu de trot sur terrain souple en prairie. Lors de cette sortie en effet la jument montrait un peu de sensibilité sur les antérieurs mais beaucoup d’énergie au trot dans le pré.

Le maréchal-ferrant n’avait absolument pas touché à la sole. Il avait juste réalisé un chanfrein périphérique pour limiter les évasements et abaissé légèrement les talons. Etant donné la persistance des symptômes pendant 48 heures, la jument a pu être soulagée par la pause des hyposandales New Trail que nous avions en réserve. Elle les a gardés pendant plus de vingt quatre heures en liberté dans son pré sans aucun effet abrasif sur les glomes et le paturon.

Nous avons fait revenir le Maréchal une semaine après pour abaisser, surtout sur les antérieurs, le centre des fourchettes qui de toute évidence étaient excessivement à l’appui et dépassaient exagérément du plan horizontal du pied, ce qui aurait généré un état inflammatoire important à l’intérieur du pied. Nous avons constaté également un écrasement excessif de la fourchette et des talons dans la partie postérieure des deux pieds.

Nous avons ensuite laissé la jument au repos et bien sûr en liberté pendant cinq semaines. Au bout de 15 jours dans le pré, sa motricité était redevenue normale. Elle restait cependant sensible sur les cailloux. Au bout de trois semaines de repos supplémentaire tout était revenu à la normale.

A ce moment là nous avons décidé de clôturer la saison par trois séances de travail de 4 km à pied, aux longues rênes sur la piste forestière. Ce revêtement abrasif et caillouteux est un terrain idéal de restructuration progressive pour les pieds nus des chevaux.

L’hypothèse d’un effet pervers de la ferrure DUPLO sur les pieds antérieurs pendant une durée de six mois, sur terrains durs et routes goudronnées, reste à prendre en compte. En comparaison, l’année dernière la jument n’avait réellement travaillé que pendant six semaines avec la ferrure DUPLO et l’avait gardée ensuite dans son pré, qui est un terrain souple. Après le retrait elle n’avait plus du tout travaillé et nous n’avions pu faire aucun constat de sensibilité.

De toute évidence les transitions ferrure DUPLO – pieds nus, semble poser quelques problèmes de réadaptation à la jument.

Bien évidemment nous restons pour l’année prochaine sur l’objectif de continuer d’améliorer la qualité et la résistance des pieds de la jument avec l’idée de la faire travailler confortablement le plus longtemps possible pied nus.

Nous savons que les allures au trot sur la route occasionnent une usure importante par rapport au travail au pas.

Il serait peut-être intéressant de réaliser un test pendant deux mois en travaillant la jument uniquement au pas pour évaluer s’il est possible de retarder la pause d’une protection des fers en plastique.

On l’aura bien compris notre démarche est de faire travailler le cheval pied nus et confortable le plus longtemps possible. Le travail de parage physiologique qui est en cours depuis deux ans est réalisé dans cet objectif.

Je me permets de souligner aussi l’excellente gestion journalière des zones de pâture de la jument que Suzanne et Mark ont mis en place cette année et plus particulièrement au printemps, qui lui ont permis de perdre du poids, de retrouver ainsi plus de confort au travail et surtout d’éviter qu’elle ne fasse une fourbure alimentaire. En effet l’année dernière Vanille, étant donné son embonpoint, avait parfois tendance à manifester des signes qui s’apparentent à un coup de chaleur. Nous l’avons d’ailleurs aidée en réalisant une tonte partielle au début du printemps.

Nous avons mis en place en ce début d’année 2018 une supplémentation de compléments minéraux vitaminés, sans adjonction de fer, toujours excédentaire dans l’alimentation des chevaux, sous forme de bloc à lécher en libre-service ainsi qu’un complément alimentaire de 400 g de tourteau de colza Biologique sous forme d’une petite ration journalière.

L’objectif étant d’éviter d’éventuelles carences minérales et en oligo-éléments qui sont préjudiciables à une bonne constitution de la corne. Le tourteau Bio étant un apport protéiné riche en acides aminés soufrés et huile, contribue lui aussi à ce processus.

Nous évaluerons dans quelques mois si ces apports ont eu une incidence sur la qualité des sabots avec en parallèle les bénéfices du parage physiologique.

A propos des quatre jours de randonnée en septembre.

Nous avons pu réaliser pour la première fois le projet de partir quatre jours consécutif en roulotte avec Vanille. Cette année, après six mois de préparation et d’entraînement régulier, elle semblait prête à relever ce chalenge.

Nous voilà partis du Montagnet pour arriver sur le village d’Arfons le premier soir. Merveilleux pique-nique à côté de la roulotte avec un groupe d’amis invités à nous rejoindre et vue sur le pré de Vanille occupée à déguster une herbe grasse et quelques bouquets d’orties qu’elle affectionne particulièrement.

Le deuxième jour nous avons traversé la forêt domaniale de Ramondens en faisant une petite pause au pied des éoliennes, puis pique-nique à côté du château de Ramondens pour arriver en fin d’après-midi à Saissac chez nos amis Armelle et André.

Le troisième jour, l’étape du matin était la plus difficile en ce qui concerne le dénivelé. La jument a dû remonter une côte de 4 km 400 en partant du village de Saissac pour arriver au-dessus de la rigole de la montagne à la première intersection en forêt domaniale. Il y avait sur ce passage, notamment trois zones avec un fort dénivelé. Suzanne était aux guides et avec Mark nous marchions pour alléger le travail de la jument.

Nous avons techniquement bien géré cette grosse difficulté en prenant le temps de la laisser reprendre son souffle chaque fois que nous trouvions un replat. Cette difficulté a été riche d’enseignements. Nous avons été confronté, probablement, à la limite raisonnable à ne pas dépasser pour la jument au niveau de l’effort de traction pendant une étape de 14 kms. Pendant ces quatre jours, à aucun moment elle ne s’est arrêtée en plein effort au milieu d’une côte. La suite du parcours sans difficulté majeure nous a ramené vers Arfons après une délicieuse pause pique-nique.

Le quatrième jour la jument a gravi d’un seul trait, pour la première fois, la grande montée au-dessus du village car en effet la petite pause à mi-parcours n’a pas été nécessaire. Le retour au Montagnet fut pour elle une formalité.

Au soir de ce quatrième jour elle était en bonne forme compte tenu des efforts demandés. A l’arrivée le collier avait laissé une petite trace d’échauffement sur les épaules plus particulièrement à droite. La douche à l’eau froide de la source a réglé le problème en 24 heures.

Pour information voici les temps et kilométrages parcourus.

Au total 47 km.

Premier jour. 9 kms en 3 h

Deuxième jour. 15 kms en 5 h 30 avec une pause repas de 2 heures

Troisième jour. 14 kms en 4 h 30 avec une pause repas de 2 heures

Quatrième jour. 9 Kms en 3 heures


2017 Season Vanille. Summary and evaluations.

Mark and I did the first two outings on February 22nd and 24th while Suzanne was still traveling to the USA.
Suzanne then took over the reins on March 10. Mark and Bella were also with us.
Over a period of just eight months we were able to make 42 trips, which equates to almost one outing per week with a total of 456 km.

The first 9 outings, for more than two months, Vanille worked comfortably with 4 bare feet for a total of 90 km.
For the record, in 2016 she had just made 14 kilometers.
She traveled on the same gravel lanes and small asphalt mountain roads as last year. Of course we adapted the work according to the evolution of the sensitivity of her feet.
We can confirm that she remained able to function without any protection of her feet with a weekly outing on stony trails. Two trips were possible occasionally in the same week without increase in sensitivity. Like last year, we found that her front feet became sensitive first.

The first outing that followed the shoeing with DUPLO the mare showed a slight limp. After a fortnight, the phenomenon had disappeared without us being able to identify the cause.We decided to resume the experiment of 2016 by protecting the rear hooves with DUPLO resin shoes from 90 KM.

The mare worked for six months without any problem with 4 DUPLO fittings from early May to the end of October, whereas last year this working time was limited to two months.

Here is the mileage that these four sets of DUPLO made:

98 KM – 72 KM – 78 KM – 100 KM

Each time they were approximately 80% worn. It is true that this year the outings were a little more sporty with trot times more important. We continue to find that in harness wear is increased compared to a mounted horse and in particular on the hindquarters. We can also confirm this year's assessments of the limit of use of the DUPLO shoes. That is to say about 10 or 12 days maximum, within the framework of our practice.

This limit will bring us to the year 2018 to carry out tests with resin shoes much harder that we have found in the U.S., the HOOF-IT brand.

The essentiel difference between the Hoof-It and the DUPLO lies in the fact that the Hoof-It are not stiffened by a metallic internal structure allowing, among other things, the good behavior of the nail heads. This brand sells horseshoes for draft horses which is quite exceptional. We have contacted the supplier by email who guarantees the use of this product for at least 400 Km. Our attention will quickly be fixed on the qualities of this product from the first fitting.


To our surprise, we found the mare lame at the end of the season, after removing the DUPLO hardware. This misadventure occurred the day after pulling her shoes. We hitched her to the small wagon for a walk of 5 km with just a little trot on soft terrain in a meadow. During this trip, the mare showed a little sensitivity on the rear feet but a lot of energy trotting in the meadow.

The blacksmith had absolutely not touched the sole. He had just made a peripheral rolling to limit the flares and slightly lowered the heels. Given the persistence of the symptoms for 48 hours, the mare was relieved by putting on the New Trail boots that we had in reserve. She kept them on for more than twenty-four hours in her meadow without any abrasive effect on the glomes and the pastern.

We had the blacksmith return a week later to lower, especially on the rear ones, the center of the frogs which obviously were excessively in support and exceeded the horizontal plane of the foot, which would have generated an inflammatory state important to the inside the foot. We also noted an excessive crushing of the frog and heels in the posterior part of both feet.
We then left the mare at rest and of course at liberty for five weeks. After 15 days in the meadow, her motor skills had returned to normal. She remained sensitive, however, on pebbles. After three weeks of extra rest everything was back to normal.
At that time we decided to close the season with three working sessions of 4 km on foot, with long reins on the forest track. This abrasive and stony footing is an ideal terrain for progressive restructuring for the bare feet of horses.

The hypothesis of a perverse effect of the DUPLO shoes on the front legs for a period of six months, on hard and tarred roads, remains to be taken into account. In comparison, last year the mare had only really worked for six weeks with the DUPLO shoes and kept them on in her meadow, which is soft ground. After removing the shoes she had not worked at all and we could not make any observations of sensitivity.
Obviously the DUPLO fittings – barefoot, seems to pose some problems of rehabilitation to the mare.

Of course, our objective for next year remains continuing to improve the quality and strength of the mare's feet with the idea of ​​having her work comfortably as long as possible barefoot.

We know that trotting on the road causes a lot of wear compared to walking. It may be worthwhile to perform a test for two months by working the mare at a walk only to assess whether it is possible to delay the use of the plastic shoes.

It will be understood that our approach is to have the horse work barefoot and comfortable as long as possible. The physiological trimming work that has been going on for two years is being done for this purpose.

I would also like to underline the excellent daily management of the grazing areas of the mare that Suzanne and Mark have put in place this year and more particularly in the spring, which allowed her to lose weight, thus to find more comfort in work and especially to avoid laminitis. Indeed last year Vanille, being overweight, sometimes had the tendency to show signs resembling heat stroke. We helped her with a partial clipping in early spring.

At the beginning of 2018, we set up a vitamin-enriched mineral supplement, without the addition of iron, always surplus in horse feed, in the form of a self-service lick block and a daily ration of 400 grms of organic rapeseed meal. The objective is to avoid possible mineral deficiencies and trace elements that are detrimental to a good constitution of the hoof. Organic meal is a protein rich source of sulfur amino acids and oil, which also contributes to this process. We will evaluate in a few months if these contributions have had an impact on the quality of the hooves with in parallel the benefits of physiological trimming.

About the four day trip in September 2017:

We were able to realize for the first time the project to go four days in the caravan with Vanille. This year, after six months of preparation and regular training, she seemed ready to take on this challenge.

We left home to arrive at the village of Arfons the first evening. We enjoyed a wonderful picnic next to the caravan with a group of friends invited who joined us, and Vanille was busy eating in a lush meadow with stinging nettles which she particularly likes.

The second day we crossed the forest of Ramondens, taking a short break at the foot of the wind turbines, then picnic next to the castle of Ramondens to arrive late afternoon in Saissac with our friends Armelle and André.

On the third day, the morning climb was the most difficult in terms of gain of altitude. The mare had to climb a 4Km hill from the village of Saissac to get over the ridge of the mountain at the first intersection in the state forest. There were on this passage three areas with a steep grade. Suzanne was at the reins and Mark and I walked to lighten the work for the mare.

We technically managed this big difficulty by taking the time to let her catch her breath every time we found a flat area. This difficulty has been rich in lessons. We were probably faced with the reasonable limit not to be exceeded for the mare at the level of her tractive effort during a 14 KM leg. During these four days, at no time did she stop in full force in the middle of a hill. The continuation of the climb without major difficulty brought us back to Arfons after a delicious picnic break.

On the fourth day the mare climbed without stopping for the first time, the big climb above the village because indeed the small mid-term break was not necessary. The return to Montagnet was for her a formality.

On the evening of this fourth day she was in good shape considering the efforts required. On arrival the collar had left a small trace of warm-up on the shoulders especially on the right. The shower with cold water from the spring solved the problem in 24 hours.

For your information, here are the times and mileage:

In total 47 KM

First day: 9 KM in 3 hours

Second day: 15 KM in 5 hours 30 minutes with a picnic break of 2 hours

Third day: 14 KM in 4 hours 30 minutes with a picnic break of 2 hours

Fourth day: 9 KM in 3 hours


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