Saturday, December 18, 2010

Riding Bareback, or How I Acted Like a 12yr Old

Yesterday was a horrible day. Wow. The day before wasn't so hot either. In fact, this whole week has been a little rough. I won't burden you with the details, but needless to say it hasn't been pretty overall.

On Thursday, I came out to the barn, cleaned my stalls, tacked up my horse and went into the indoor arena. I should have known better. All day the stress levels had been rising. My hands and jaw had been aching from all the clenching they had been doing. While attempting not to cry, all I could think of was going to the barn - or settling in with a whole bottle of wine. One of these things is better for me ...

Probably the wine. :)

Guinness wasn't in the best of moods, and my horrid, stressful one, was feeding his anger. Unfortunately, instead of calling the day a wash, I kept trying to work. A combo of my stiff hands and perching created a perfect storm of horse/human conflict. What I'm trying to say is that I spend the entire ride going backwards. Very rapidly. Oops. Luckily, I finally got the hint, we ended on a positive forward note and I called it a day.

Friday was much more fun. After cleaning my stalls, I really didn't feel much like riding. So, I hopped on sans saddle, bridle and everything to go for what I thought would be a quick stretching walk. Guinness, outfitted in his halter with the leadrope only attached on the bottom ring, was all business. He marched into the indoor and let me know that he wanted to do more than simply walk.

So we worked.

Trotting, cantering, transitions. All in a halter, with my horse moving off my leg and seat. Stopping was a challenge sometimes, as GP was pretty excited to just go, but feeling him move under me was such a stress relief. He was enjoying moving out so much, that I had to let go of all of my internal distress and just be. And that was worth it, or as Christian said later: "This is why we own a horse!"

The whole time I felt like a little kid, like I was channeling my inner 12 yr old barn kid. The girls at the barn are always hopping on bareback and practicing their dressage tests, something I never feel that comfortable with. Friday night, I did. I giggled the whole time too, laughing out loud when my horse would put his head down to buck for fun and calling to him to give just a little more, or push just a little harder. God it was fun!

An improved mood, and more connected view of training and riding was a great way to start the weekend and look forward to our future plans!

P.S. I'm quitting my job. Thus the stress. ;)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Time Flies, But The Changes Keep Rolling In

Watching the summer days go by has been both an exercise in patience and a study of exasperation. With each turn around, it seems Guinness and I make a stride forward, and then 2 strides back. At least our reverse is getting good.

Our goal of going to a hunter/jumper show this summer seems like it may not pan out. Maybe later in the fall. Right now, all the local shows are either cancelling due to lack of participation (stupid economy!) or we can't make it due to work or other scheduling conflicts. The one show we were set and ready for, Guinness went and picked a fight. Of course, the other horse beat him up, ripping open his side and giving him so awesomely nasty hematomas on his butt. That took at least a week until he wasn't sore on that side any more. Since then, we've been plagued with wounds of all types and sizes, not to mention the thrush -which is rampant this year.

His most recent injury is a nasty cut on the side of his face. The barn workers found it on Wednesday morning, and gave me a call. Of course I rushed out from work to take a look at it, and ended up cleaning his face wounds in high heels and a dress. Hes such a good boy for me, though and stood through it all - not even dirtying my clothes! The vet was right out, and stitched it up - under the watchful eye of Christian.
Yesterday afternoon, however, I found a depressed and needy gelding who started calling for his Mama as soon as I walked in the barn. A bright yellow and slightly creamy snot was FLOWING out of his nose, creating a puddle of gross. His nose was crusted up like a 5 month old child who doesn't know how to wipe his face yet. His wound was pulled at, and starting to weep down his face. In short, he was a total disaster. And damn was he cuddly! He kept shoving his nasty face into me and just holding it there, as if begging me to make it all better. How adorable, if snotty. My vets came out, and gave him some antibiotics via shot and some oral ones to get him through the next week too.

Stitches before they got all infected and gross like! We're thinking that something traveled from deep inside the wound into the sinuses, or that his current sinus infection caused him to itch his face on something sharp.
The vet visit highlighted a behavioral issue I've been trying to work with with Guinness since I brought him home. The poor horse has some issues with feeling trapped. When I first brought him home, he would freak whenever I touched his ears (and still does, if I catch him by surprise). Freaking, in this case, is exemplified by pulling back, hitting the end of the crossties/rope, and rearing. He usually snaps out of his halter at this point, backs up and wanders off. Sometimes, if he's really spooked, he'll be a touch hard to catch. But, it's not much of an issue. He doesn't run from me. I've been working on this issue with GP since I bought him. I've discovered that moving too fast or making an abrupt approach really weirds him out. He's forced me to slow down the way I interact with him, and that's been all for the better. He trusts me now, and I can move fast around him, but I sometimes forget that he's not an easy horse to get the trust of. My vets do not have his trust.

Vet S moves slowly, speaks quietly, and typically doesn't have too many issues with him. Causing GP any pain, however makes him leery of S. Vet J is a completely different story. She's a fast mover, a fast talker, and is loud. Guinness really does not appreciate this. When she handles him she just walks up and does whatever she needs to do. This finally came to a head last week when Vet J came up to try to tighten the clinches on Guinness' front shoes. She came a little fast, and started sawing away. He reared, popped his halter and slammed his foot down. He missed her, that time. When we tried again, he ended up catching her with his front leg and dragging her down the aisle a bit before extricating himself and spinning off. She was fine, but I think he hurt her pride a little. Every since then, she bad mouths him as badly behaved and crazy.

I might be wrong here, but I think this is utterly unprofessional. I completely agree that my horse was badly behaved during that moment. But any horse that lets me clean a huge angry wound on his face while I'm in high heels and doesn't even get me dirty - he doesn't have a problem. I feel like the guilty party here. I need to start standing up for my horse, and for his needs when it comes to stranger interactions. He's just sensitive, and it's unfair to him to not have me be his voice when he has to be handled by the vet. I need to stop getting intimidated and just open my big mouth a little more.

Remember kids, always speak up for your horse. He can't do it for himself!
Finally, it's time for summer updates. Overall, everything with Guinness has been going rather swimmingly - when I get to ride. In between my week-long camping trip to the great unexplored North (the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, a GREAT time!) and GP's injuries, I've only been able to ride a bit. He's falling a touch out of condition, but I think he's back on track (or WAS until this newest disaster sickness!). We were on target for a combined training show at the end of the month that we were going to just school. We've never been off the property before, and it seemed like a good idea to just take the time to learn to be together in a new place. In September, I have a dressage show scheduled. This promises to be fun - especially since we've been doing almost nothing but dressage schooling for the last month. We are getting really good. I have some video of a recent ride, but it's horrid - maybe I'll post it later!
Overall, it's been a good summer - and definitely a learning experience for me as a horse owner. I think everything that can happen to a horse has happened to mine. Except all the really terrible stuff. *knock on wood!*

Condition shot for August! Looking good, though I think we might put on a few more pounds before winter. He's looking a little ribbier than I'd like.
I'm going to start up with monthly goals - hopefully to help me keep my posting more regular!
August Goals:
* Acheive a more secure and independent seat. My hands are starting to rely on my seat, and I'm a little unsecure - something that I'm not really used to! I need to start doing a lot more sitting trot and no-stirrup work.
* Fully memorize my Training level dressage test and video tape every move to fully understand how to improve it.
* Work on conditioning. We need to start walking up and down hills again to keep Guinness' butt more in shape and his hind legs under him! In addition we need to get out in the world a little more to solve our spookiness issue!
* Get to a schooling show before September! The Old Stone Horse Trials are coming up on the 29th, and I want to make sure we are ready for shows later in the year!
* Take shoes off in front, and examine to see if they can be left off again. Also, investigate further barefooting techniques to keep hind feet from crumbing and getting too long at the toe.
I leave you with a photo of my two best partners in crime. Christian and Sonka-dog. Aren't they two fine looking individuals? Huh?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Road Riding 101

I am a huge proponent of long, slow conditioning work. Having grown up surrounded by Pony Clubbers and other responsible horse people, I feel that it's important to take your horse's entire condition into account. To me, riding is not just about dressage and jumping suppleness and strength. Instead, I believe my horse benefits from long periods of time under saddle crossing over hills and walking by 'terrifying' objects. Riding on the road, is a good way to do this sort of easy build up.

Riding on roads or other hard surfaces, gravel or hard packed dirt (both unavailable where I am), help toughen up your horses tendons and ligaments as well as allow your horse to develop a feel for his traction and balance on a different type of surface. I don't know a rider around who doesn't want their horse to be more balanced and comfortable on all surfaces they might come across!

Since owning Guinness, I've become an even more active proponent of road conditioning. I feel that our long walks have helped cut down on lameness issues and have helped us create trust. By simply walking for an hour+, we build up muscle while avoiding overwear on Guinness' joints. It's not prime cardio work, but it's great for a relaxing ride on a Monday evening after work - or on a Sunday morning! On top of that, we no longer freak out when passing barking dogs, cars or fast moving UPS trucks. And that, ladies and gentleman, is heartening.

But remember, while riding on the road is relatively easy and relaxing, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to stay safe.

GP loves hacking out! It's such a mind break for him.
1. Traction
Whether your horse is barefoot or shod, traction on the road should be your number one concern. If your horse is slipping, you run the risk of a horrible accident for both of you. Nothing is worse than falling on a super hard, abrasive surface. Don't you remember skinning your knees as a kid? Ouch.
For a shod horse, consider adding borium or road studs to your horse's shoes. Which one you go with depends on what you are using your horse for. If you regularly compete on rough ground or live in an area where extra traction is needed, you might decide to go with borium. It's a little less dangerous for your horses joints, though harder to remove in case you decide you don't need it. Studs are easy to customize and remove, but can be dangerous if your horse has a tendency to interfere with himself or if you over-do them.
Luckily, the barefoot horse has traction a little easier than a horse with slick metal nailed to it's feet. The barefoot horse's feet naturally provide a feel for the horse of the ground he is working on, and since they wear, they provide a rougher traction surface to stick to the pavement. Of course, barefeet do wear a lot more than shod feet do. If you are going to work your barefoot horse on pavement a lot, you might consider booting or shoeing to avoid wearing down the wall excessively. With my soft-walled TB, this has been an issue that I watch constantly.

2. Spooking
It's a proven fact (probably) that scary objects are scarier to your horse when he's away from home. I know that while Guinness and I have eliminated nearly all spooking while working on the barn premises, we still encounter utterly terrifying things while out on our hacks. To keep from taking a horrible fall or risking injury to yourself or your horse you'll want to be intensely familiar with the roads you are going to be hacking on. This way, you can be aware of anything your horse might spook at and take extra precautions to make sure you stay safe in these areas.
For example: Guinness is terrified of a certain kind of for sale sign. Knowing this, I am alway extra alert as we approach these. Usually, we do things to keep GP's mind off the whole issue. Working on bend or leg yields typically keeps his mind on me while we pass the scary objects.
Keep in mind that if your horse does freak out at something while on the road, it's better to jump off and deal with the problem from the ground. Having you fall onto the road and get hurt is not going to help your horse at all, and having you both fall could be even worse! Take some time to practice your emergency dismount so that you feel comfortable doing it at all paces. It's definitely a very important skill to have.
In short, stay alert and have a plan for what you will do if your horse spooks.

3. Don't Overdo It!
While working on the road has its benefits, it's not necessary (or even good) to do it every day. Additionally, don't jump right into riding your horse for 1hr. If you have a tubby ball of lard on your hands, he's not going to appreciate you taking him out for a marathon hiking session. Let's face it, none of us really like to be really sore - and you aren't doing yourself any favors if you want to ride your horse again anytime soon. Instead, take a page from endurance riders and long distance runners. Up your mileage slowly and by small percentages each week. This will help you toughen up your horse, without doing damage to his soft tissues or bones.

4. Have fun!
If you're located anywhere like me, it's a blast to ride through neighborhoods and expose non-horsie people to the world of horses! But, don't forget to pick up any messes your horse might leave on the road, that's an easy way to get yourself in big trouble with the locals.
Enjoy the sunshine, relax and learn more about your horse. Riding long distances on your horse helps you learn his personality better than just jumping on for a half hour a couple times a week. It's really fun, and you'll love the bond you two will form! He'll really come to depend on you to tell him everything is okay and that he can trust you.

Now get out there and enjoy your ponies!

Guinness shows his "personality". He's super annoyed at me for taking pictures and not focusing on him! He's also doing his "suppling exercises". Check out that S shape in his neck. What a nutter!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back on Track!

It's hard to admit that my eventing horse hasn't jumped a thing since Easter. I'd like to blame it on his lameness issues, but that's not 100% it. The other side of the story includes my dislike of setting up and tearing down jumps. Ugh.

But yesterday, I was inspired. After giving Guinness 3 days off and lots of Keratex to help his sore feet, we decided to tackle the cross country fences in the field across the street. And what fun this was! Only a few little bobbles (and my crappy position ... ) but all in all, good experience and good fun! Highlights below!

Guinness 1st XC School from Austen on Vimeo.

GP's XC Schooling 2 from Austen on Vimeo.

Hilarious Run Out from Austen on Vimeo.
I love to watch video of my riding. It makes me really take notice of how my riding directly effects my horse. While painful to watch, it's a good learning experience. After viewing the rides from this weekend, I've decided it's time to buckle down and start improving. That means lots of riding without stirrups (at least twice a week, 1 hour total per week!) and keeping my damn shoulders back. I also need to start practicing lots of jump position over cavaletti to get my folding technique DOWN. Right now I'm still in the fetal position most of the time. Everyone loves watching someone gallop and jump while they are curled up on top of their horse and sucking their thumb ... am I right?

Arthritis, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the needle

Look Mom, I look FABULOUS!

After months pass with good food and good conditioning, Guinness is looking FABULOUS! I took these photos a few weeks ago, and you can't imagine what he looks like now! He's so shiny I'm afraid I might cause the cars on the road to crash. Not only that, but he's putting on so more muscle every day.
So Shiny, we blind cars! It's really not safe :)

But, while I've been thrilled with every improvement in The Man's body, not everything has been going to swimmingly. Instead, it has seemed like every week there's a new development - and a new set back. So much for a long active summer.

First, there are the tender feet: It seems to take about 2-3 weeks for GP's feet to build back up after a trim. Until then, he is useless on rocks - making our lovely (but rocky!) outdoor ring useless to us. All the rain we've been getting this month hasn't been helping much either. Plus, my dog knocked over our bottle of Keratex.

It's been rough, okay.

Second, HOLY CRAP rain! I mean, seriously. There's been so much rain this month I've felt like we're about to float away (and in Kentucky/Tennessee, lots of people DID). On top of the torrential downpours, it's been hot. Like steam the skin right off your back hot. Oh, and humid. So humid that you don't want to change clothes because you're afraid you might not be able to peel your pants off. It's gross. And hot. And ... yeah. Ew.

Thirdly, I pulled the big man out of the field a week ago to find that he had sliced himself open in two spots. One on the chest, and one on the left front knee. Seriously? What a disaster horse. After cleaning the wounds and leaving him in for the night, I came back to find his left leg swollen to the degree that it looked like a softball was sewn into the joint. Horrifying doesn't even begin to explain how that looked. The vet examined him, and let me know that the injury avoided the joint (thank god!), but that we had to get that swelling down. Needless to say, 4 days off with cold-hosing, poulticing and wrapping were had. It was the opposite of fun.
(For those interested in how GP hurt himself: He pulled down a section of gate and went tramping through the untamed wilderness surrounding the electrical tower in the field. Then he and his best friend Kirby couldn't figure out how to get out. They panicked ... and thus the injury. Oh Disaster Horse ...)

Finally, we've been having lots of weird behavior from the horse department. Lots of head tossing and sore steps and bucking and resisting and general tail swishing and unhappy. I had the vets check Guinness out, and we went through a flurry of misdiagnostics. First, it was a possible torn or strained suspensory. Then, a loose stifle joint. Then sore hocks. Then, inflexible fetlocks. Even EPM was thrown around for a minute. That was dumb.

We finally came to a decision. Guinness' arthritis has finally gotten to the point where supplements alone are not going to cut it anymore. So we had him injected. Four shots for the hocks, and then both of his front fetlocks too. The actually process was pretty cool. I got to feel GP's nasty old joint fluid. The fluid is supposed to feel like oil a little and be stringy, like good mozzarella. This stuff was inert. It felt like warm water in my hand, and didn't have any stretch. After seeing that, I'm very happy I took the step to have him done. I know it's something that we'll have to keep up with, but seeing him move out so happily now and being able to jump again is completely worth it!

Now, with the weather starting to even out to a good summer, and my horse feeling FABULOUS. I'm very excited to see where this summer is going to lead us!

Look how much he's filled out in the last few months! These shots are pre-injection, so his ankles are still huge and inflamed. I'll have to get some now shots ...

Stay tuned for an update on our jumping and riding this week!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The New Place: A Tour

As you all know, we moved Guinness back in March to a new place. Since we have moved, we have had nothing but fabulous things to say about this place. Sure, it's busier and has a bit less open space for conditioning, but the staff is amazing, the boarders very sweet and the atmosphere super laid back.

Right now, Guinness has been out for a few days with sore feet. His feet were trimmed back last Thursday, and since then he has been slightly footsore. Today he looked much better. I think riding is a possibility again. Tomorrow we are going to do our first conditioning set out in the huge cross country field. EXCITED!

Let's have a quick tour of the new place:

Gorgeous outdoor ring. Check out all that space! While awesome for jumping, this is unfortunately where we have been doing all of our conditioning, due to rain.

This is the Indoor ring. It's small, but the mirrors have already helped us come a long way in our dressage work. Jumping can be rough in here, but if there has ever been the incentive to sit up and balance, this is it!

Dressage Ring. Located uphill from the outdoor, the dressage ring is really helpful in allowing Guinness to focus on straight dressage days. This is also where the majority of our angry fights occur. Oops!
The XC FIELD!!!!!!! Complete with jumps and ... look, Mom, SPACE!

The first aisleway of the barn. There is another aisle, the indoor is connected directly behind me in this photo. Here's what I love about this barn, the intense amounts of activity in this place. Even when I'm there by myself at 9pm, you can still feel the activity.
This is also what I love about this barn. Guinness has been gaining more and more weight every day. In a week, he's going to be borderline chunky. I love it!

Today is a conditioning day, and the big cross country field is finally dry enough to have horses on! Along with the conditioning in the ring, we've been using the neighborhood the barn is nestled in to get our conditioning miles. But today, guess who's finally going to do some real galloping?! Excitement doesn't even begin to describe. Here's to hoping we don't also die ;)

Speaking of galloping and hacking down roads, I'm going to shamelessly plug RoadId. I finally broke down and ordered one. With all the road running I do, and all the road riding and crazy stunts I pull, I want to make sure that I'm as protected as possible while out being active. The Id's come in lots of colors too, so you can order them to match your XC colors. You can even add extra lines of text just to remind you of things like "Keep Shoulder's Back" or, if you are me, "Close Your Freaking Fingers!" When I ordered they gave me a $1 off coupon to spread around. If you want to take advantage of it, check out their site and use the code: ThanksAusten737803. To use the code you have to order by May 13th, so get on it and BE SAFE!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Quick Update

I have a longer post in the works, all about our new place. However, I'm so excited about the improvements in Guinness' condition that I had to post a new condition photo. This is the Big Guy after just under 2 weeks at the new place.

With his new diet (breakfast, huge lunch, and dinner), he's started filling out along his topline again. His haunches aren't so sunken, and you can see definite improvement in along his ribcage. Not perfect, by any means. But better. He's such a happy dude too. Always curious now, trying to get into everything. He has tons of play buddies, and enjoys a good game of "rip the stuff off the front of Cole's stall, and feed it to him." Hilarious.

The new place has a great outdoor, which has been our place for conditioning. It's huge, so that helps, but I can't wait until the fields dry enough to ride in them! The neighborhood location means that we've been doing lots of road hacks, which have actually been helping bring down the size of his windpuffs. Cool.

Right now our only issue is finding a way to keep our stall dry (ugh), and getting his feet done. They are a little long and the hard rocky ground and road have been causing them to chip, and to pull the sole away where the white line is weak. Not good, especially when coupled with wet stall. They stay relatively dry, but just a bit brittle in the old parts. Farrier will be here early next week, and I am buying a rasp.

Consider yourself quickly updated!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Utopia, sorta.

Guinness is super happy in his new place. His whole demeanor just exhibits a laid back feel that he hasn't had since I owned him. It's obvious that the positive feelings of this place are rubbing off on him. Our rides have been happier, and so both of us have been too!

Of course, better rides want me to be able to show off a little. I'm looking into joining the USEA and getting everything set up to show this season. I know planning a show season in late March is a little silly, but I think we can do it.

The only thing we have going for us is a strong support system and a strong financial base. Whew. Wish us luck.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Well, Tuesday was one of the longest days I've had in a long while, but it was totally worth it. Just loading Guinness into the trailer was harrowing enough of an adventure (2 hours! Holy Crap!), but we finally pulled into the new barn at 8:20 on Tuesday night. Whew.

The big guy unloaded like a champ, covered in a cold sweat. Poor pony. Heavy duty trailer training is obviously in our future. He definitely doesn't feel comfortable with the trailer, getting in or riding. That's a skill that we are always going to need. It can't take us 2 hours to leave a place, that's just silly.

Anyway, the new place is awesome! Everyone there is very helpful and very comfortable to be around. The best part though? It's way closer to my house. Like on my running path closer. I'm such an crazy runner person (sometimes!) that I actually run on my lunch break (or in the mornings when the summer heat makes me catatonic). Usually I just go 3 miles, shower and head back to work. Check out the map below. It is just under 3 miles for me to run to my horse, check him over, turn him out, and head back to home! This is totally the best part!

Hello saving gas money by walking to the barn! Woot!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Signed, Sealed, Delivered (almost!) ...

Well, we signed a new boarding contract today. The new place comes with several positive reviews and recommendations from equine friends, a well-maintained xc field, two nice sand outdoor arenas, a great feeding plan, and ...

a bigger price tag.

Ouch. Well, I know from the from working in leasing that people will pay for what they really want. And, it's very true in this case. This new barn is 2.5 miles from my house, and on the path of my daily runs. I can clean my own stall, and be responsible for a majority of my horse's care. Guinness will be fed three times a day, not just two. There is a vet on 100% emergency call who works with and knows the owners well. The turnout fields are rotated to cut down on parasites. They feed a fabulous low-starch pellet option ...

Obviously it's a much better option for us.

The barn owner had to meet with me today to make sure I would not be a total crazy in his facility. Luckily ... I'm sane. Apparently. I guess they had a problem with a woman boarding at their stable and trying to take over all the lessons with their kids and they wanted to make sure I wasn't going to be crazy like that. Yeah, uh? No. I never want children, nor want to deal with them more than necessary. I plan to get to the barn as soon as lessons are over, and before they begin as often as possible. Hurrah!

The last week has been a flurry of boarding searching, vigilant care of my horse and work (which has been totally nutty, of course!). It's looking like the next week is going to be a lot of work getting everything prepared and ready for the move, then settling in. The move is scheduled for Tuesday night. I haven't told my barn manager that I am moving yet ... and don't plan to until my horse is on the trailer and driving to the new barn. I know it's a horrid move, but I'm honestly terrified she would do something to my horse before I can get him moved.

Oh Giggle Pig, how did we get in this situation?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

If it isn't one thing, it's another.

This week has just been a catastrophe of scheduling conflicts, busy days and mysteriously swollen legs. It's been so crazy all I've wanted to do is come home and die at night (and pretty much, that's exactly what I have been doing!). For the most part, we've all been doing fine ... but for the scare with Guinness' leg.

Last Tuesday after pulling the big man out of the field, I noticed some blood on his little white coronet. I fished around in his long wet hair, but couldn't find a wound. Finally, I concluded that his injury was probably due to the chapped skin of his coronet area splitting, sprayed some antibacterial stuff on it, covered his coronets with Corona and called it a day. Unfortunately, I had missed the real issue.

Thursday I found him with a swollen back leg, stemming from a hot laceration halfway between his hock and fetlock and sitting directly over the tendon. Fabulous. He wasn't lame at all, and cold-hosing seemed to have no effect. I cleaned his leg as well as possible, sprayed it with antiseptic and we went for a light ride. After the ride? Clean and cool legs prevailed.

Friday evening he again had horrid swelling and his feet were even hot. It was clear he had not been outside since, as his legs weren't muddy (oh! the mud!). I started flipping out immediately, calling people and being a general nuisance. 10 min of cold hose followed by 10 min of walking rinse and repeat lessened the swelling by half, and I wrapped his back legs and covered him with a light sheet.
But Mom, I HATE wraps and blankets! Gross.
Saturday morning, less swelling. We walked around a bit, cleaned his wound and redressed - sending him outside to walk around the rest of the day. That evening the swelling was down again. I wrapped his legs again and set him in his stall again. This morning everything looked fabulous under his wraps and he was still sound, so we hacked out.

Man, I love this horse! He was definitely feeling his couple of days off, but kept his head around him. He has the ability to feel like a basket case while staying relatively easy to sit. I think it's how he can toss his head, and his neck can totally disappear. He doesn't buck (ever, really), but does have a tendency to just bounce in place when excited. There was lots of that today.
The ground was pretty nasty. Twenty-odd inches of melted snow can do that do your field. He was slow moving over the really gross stuff, but we slogged through all of it, worked on collecting and trotted up lots of hills to work on condition. Even with the temps hovering around 50, he stayed relatively cool. I'm so proud! My little eventer is getting so brave!

My fellow boarder went out with me. Her cowhorse-trained Quarter is such an adorable dressage horse in training. I couldn't stop watching them! Of course, he's a little small for my tall friend, so she's looking for something a little larger to learn to jump on. Here's his Craigslist ad. He's super cute, and just needs someone to put the jump training on him. With that and a few more miles, he would make a cute pony clubber mount for C1 and below. Easy Peasy.

Meanwhile, the barn search is underway. I've looked everywhere near me. It's difficult, as the boarding prices are exorbitant in this area. I'm still waiting on a few places to get back to me. My notice isn't in yet (don't want my B/O stop feeding my horse altogether once she learns i'm leaving!). I'm hoping to have him moved in the next 30 days.
Get me out of here!

As for me personally? I'm struggling with the thought of entering the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon. Billed as one of the most fun large running events, I can't really resist. The Cincinnati/Northern KY Apartment Association is doing a charity sponsor group - and they want me. I need sponsors, though. What do you guys think? Should I sign up? Anyone want to donate to watch me run?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Anger, or How I Lost Trust in My Barn Manager

Sometimes, I hate learning I'm right about something. Let me fill you in ...

We all know how I have been struggling a bit with Guinness' weight. How he's been yo-yo-ing worse than Oprah Winfrey. How his coat's been dull. How a million other little signals that he's not 100% have been driving me CRAZY! Yes, yes? We're all on the same page right? Good, because yesterday I found out why. Ready?
My Barn Manager has been switching his feed. Repeatedly. Without telling me.

Reducing, changing, adding, removing - if you can do it horse feed, she's been doing it. This is a HUGE no-no in my book. Especially with a horse who suddenly has weight problems and arthritis and bad feet. Especially since she hasn't felt the need to share any of this with me. Here I've been pulling out my hair and feeling like a terrible owner, and she's been changing up his feed about every three days!

I could KILL her!

When I moved to the barn, I thought my barn manager was a little flaky and a little backyard breeder-ish. All the horses looked good, so I thought I'd give the place a try. I'm should have kept those misgivings a little more in mind, because I wanted him on as little grain as he needed to hold his weight (he was in perfect weight), and as much hay as I could feed him. She put him on 3 flakes of hay twice a day, and a scoop of a low-starch complete feed twice a day. Plus turnout. She promised round bales all winter. When he started losing weight, I added corn oil to see if that helped. Turns out, they added Pig Feed instead.


Okay, that I caught early and told her to "Never, EVER, feed that to my horse again." I thought I had taken care of the feed issues with that. Nope. Apparently she stopped feeding oil, and while giving me miscellaneous vet advice about how to get my horse to gain weight, switching him from a good 12% low starch to sweet feed (probably because she ran out of the other!). Then, I asked her to add beet pulp, which she did. For two days. TWO WHOLE DAYS! Seriously? She explained herself yestday by saying "he was throwing it all around, I don't think he likes it." Really? She'd told me that she wasn't sure if he liked it after he was on it for one day. I told her we'd stick with it for awhile longer to see how he did with it. One day is not "awhile longer". Furthermore, why did she take him off of it without me telling her?

His hay portions are another matter. He's been dropped from 3 flakes to 2 per feeding. Okay. At this point it just seems like one more thing to bring up. How many times can I say, "Just tell me before you have to change anything!".

So now, my horse has been on 12%, oil, pig feed (!!!!!), sweet feed, beet pulp, and now (as of last night) Purina 200. In addition, when I asked about my supplement supplies, she told me that has about another months worth of my SmartPaks. Um? What? I should be just about out of SmartPaks, as my March order has already shipped. SmartPaks doesn't screw up - so these have not been fed either. Great.

Now, I still feel like a horrid horse owner, but now for a different reason. I should have caught this catastrophe earlier, and paid much closer attention to how my horse was cared for. I also should have followed my gut instinct and not trusted my barn manager. Moving Guinness is something I am looking into really seriously right now. There's another barn nearer to my house that I wouldn't mind trying. The board is a little more, but he'd be closer and easier to keep an eye on. I guess I have phone calls to make.

In other news, our riding has been going fabulously! Even with the snow/mush that's out there right now, we're getting to hack out at least twice, and typically 3 times a week. It's slow walking work, but he's out of shape and it's a good way to work on that condition. After reading this lovely post from Andrea, I decided to try dropping Guinness' bit to see if he would stop fussing so much. And, you know, he's really doing better at accepting contact. Part of his fussing is from being bored/nervous, and that's not going to go away but with more engaging work. But the part that was just generally fussy has stopped, for the most part. Whoo!

Now, gotta run to check whether Guinea's evening feed has been made properly!

Guinness says: "If you feed me what you're supposed to, I wouldn't look like my topline DIED!"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lots of Updates!

I felt like running up and down the aisleway of the barn chanting, "He's sound, sound, sound, sound, SOUND!" But staying silent and a little more sedate didn't make me less ecstatic! During the last month, Guinness and I have been seeing steady improvements and, as witnessed in our last update, lots of snow! It turns out that 23" of snow is brilliant for conditioning, and the big man is starting to lose his flabby chub.

Unfortunately, gaining muscle and being more active seems to be causing and additional weight loss. This means I can again see ribs and a little topline. Of course, ripping apart his turnout blanket and pulling off all the straps so that it is completely destroyed isn't helping much. I haven't noticed him getting cold, but I'm sure that's another factor. I know everyone and their mother seems to deal with the TB weight issue, but seriously! At some point I'm worried I'm driving myself crazy and he is improving from his wormy-ness, but I'm only seeing the negative. Either way, it won't hurt him to increase his feed some.

After looking around for a good option that will keep him rather low-energy, I've decided to add beet pulp. I like the fiber content and the way it meshes with his grain. So far he's liking it quite a bit, though the jury is still out on whether or not he'll gain on it.

As for our riding, it has been getting better with each day. We cantered for the first time last week, and the smile on my face was ridiculous! He felt so good he was taking little liberties (read: throwing up his back legs and wanting to really go), and I was feeling good too and let him. Our major goal right now is to get our connection back. He's chewed a hole in his bit, and I have been looking around for one he and I both get along with. As he is such a delicate butterfly when it comes to touching contact, whatever I needed had to be super light. Plus, with Christian learning to ride I wanted it to be something that could take some beginner hands on it. I ended up with this eggbutt oval double jointed snaffle. Example pictured below:

So far, the big guy's been going really well in it. I'll keep you posted on his transition from rubber to the grown up world of stainless steel.

Now, finding a new blanket has been my goal for the last week. I'm so sick of looking at the word denier, I could shoot myself. Right now, I think this blanket is the best deal I've found. But, my loyalty to Smartpak is going to win out. Hello ... SmartBlue Thinsulate? Oh man. Sure it doesn't match a thing I wear, but I will always pay more for a quality brand with excellent customer service. ALWAYS.

Tomorrow's another ride in the snow and some work in the indoor. I'm a little sick of it, but our basics are improving and we get to try the new bit. Hopefully there will be photos!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Working hard, in the snow!

Look Mom, snow!

In case you haven't heard, Ohio was a part of that "massive snowstorm" that hit the east coast this past week. As an avid snow lover, I have to say that this snow did not in any way cramp my style. Snow outside means a happy and bouncy Austen as she gets excited to go out an play in it. Luckily, I found a great excuse to go outside in the form of my furry four legged pony!

Speaking of Guinness, he's looking great on his feet (no signs of soreness!) and the slight problem we were having with his legs filling up was solved by a couple of days of stable bandages. Viola. He's been just wonderful to ride ... though I'm sure I'm tempting fate by posting that! Unfortunately, once the snow hit, his already limited turnout was really cut down due to his pasture friend's shoes. As the other ponies were compromised and prone to slipping, he got to go out all alone in the round pen ... he promptly complained loudly about being left alone and turned his butt to the door the entire time he was made to stay out there. I feel bad about him being unable to wander around, but I know he wouldn't go far alone anyway.

Of course, he has been getting plenty of snow play himself! On Wednesday when the snow started to fall, Christian and I grabbed our stuff and headed to the barn immediately after work. I managed to convince my barn manager to let us use one of her old Tennessee Walker geldings for Christian and I to go for a nighttime snow ride! We tacked up Shaker and Guinness and warmed up in the indoor, then headed out to the pasture for 20 minutes of tramping through a winter wonderland of fun. Both horses were extremely well behaved, though full of energy. Shaker was reluctant to leave the barn, and Christian learned quite a bit about turning a mouth-dead stubborn horse. Guinness, meanwhile, was brave enough to walk on his own and not even spook at the cars going by on the road. I was so proud of him. It was just what we needed to get back into the swing of things.

Later in the week we did some more trot work, focusing on my position (which has seriously deteriorated, can we say 'needs lessons'?) and taking a light contact. Forward as become the name of the game for us, and the Pig has been happy to oblige.
Look at that high stepping! Daisy cutting is impossible in deep snow, which is why I feel it's a low stress way to add strengthening to your conditioning rides. Plus, it's way fun!

Yesterday, the whole gang headed back out to the barn for some more snow fun. Which Christian and Sonka played in the snow (and took these pictures!), Guinness and I worked on relaxing outside and moving forward and lightly. I think it was very productive. My normally spooky and tense horse was sighing and chewing the bit properly (not eating it!). I'm still deciding whether or not he was being good because he was afraid he was going to die if he tried to run off in the snow, or if all the work on the ground we did while he was recovering is paying off. Either way, the big guy has given me some fabulous rides, and I am LOVING it!
In order to get to our back fields/trails, you have to cross a small creek. Due to warm weather, it was the only thing not covered in snow. Guinness has taken to taking a leap to God to cross the thing, thus the dismount and the big pats. Walking through water, our time will come!

Another little awesome note, you might notice my new saddle in these photos. It's an amazing Craigslist find. The saddle is a Philippe Fontaine Renee, and is in absolutely stellar condition. The woman I bought it from had only had it for a year, and it looks like it's only been ridden in a couple of times.
I was looking for something pretty specific when I was saddle shopping, and I'm really glad I found it. I already have two saddles, but neither really fit Guinness well. I know saddle fit can go a long way into helping a horse with behavior and cooperation, and it was super important to find one that would cover his high withers and still leave room for his massive shoulders. He seems very happy in the saddle, and I have a better feeling of security in it. After riding in older saddles my whole life, having one this grippy and nice is an amazing change! What do you think?

Today, I plan to get us back out in the snow. Whatever good karma keeps giving us good weather, and good terrain to do some easy conditioning on Guinness' back and legs needs to be taken advantage of. Now that we appear to have his feet put back together and healing some, I feel confident putting together a training plan we can stick to. I still want to be able to hit some local jumper shows and maybe a local Horse Trial. How much fun would that be?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Reminder.

Guinness: Conformation shot, the day I tried him out.

Sometimes, in the middle of a nasty, sleeting, spitting day, you need a reminder of why you are even into this "horse thing". Here are some shots of Guinness from the day I tried him out and the day I decided to bring him home.

Us trying for some semblance of a put together canter ...

He was an off balance 11 yr old TB with mouth hooks making him crazy and a bad shoeing job. But, he had character and movement. He was also a willing jumper and had just enough spunk. We're still dealing with all of his issues, but I feel like he's getting better all the time.

Today we are heading out for a little exploration in the woods behind the barn. There's a nice soft field back there we are going to do a little lunging and stretching work. Gotta get that blood flowing!

On the day I decided to bring him home. He was a bit spooky that day, and having a characteristic issue with listening. Of course, it didn't help that my arms are a straight as a broomstick and my legs are swinging everywhere. Let's just say, we've both come a long way!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Barefoot in the Sand, or How Keratex Saved Our Lives!

Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a rabid supporter of anything (accept red wine and awkward interpretations of Shakespeare). I mean, I'm probably closer to a rabid non-supporter of most things. Fad Dieting? That's retarded. Biking instead of driving? Well, I love biking - and when possible I will bike instead of drive. But in America, that's almost impossible. Gay Marriage? Okay, that I do support. But anyway, I want you to understand that my work to transition my horse to barefoot doesn't stem from a crazy idea that he was "born to be barefoot". Instead, here's the story.

When Guinness came to me he was shod all-round. He had badly hewn wedge pads propping up his crushed heels in the front, and his back shoes were contracting his heels so badly they were pinching his frogs! It was a gross mess just asking for a nasty case of thrush and an angry bucking fit from a horse in pain. His previous owner informed me that he had been shod since she had known him. Since he had come to her from directly off the track, I assume he's had shoes on all four feet for at least 9 years! The poor guy had a reputation for pulling shoes (and with his swinging walk and poor hoof wall, I can understand how!), and a pair of raggety bell boots came with him to the new farm. Needless to say, blindly shoeing him was not something I could do and still have a concience.

These are Guinness' front feet as of this week, just after being trimmed up in the toe. The line across his front right is from a previous abscess being cut out. Note the heel.
Another shot of his heel on his front left.
Here's a shot of his front left from below. Please excuse the mud. Though it's difficult to see, his foot is starting to widen a bit, and finally come into some sort of shape. The new heel growth is starting to grow down as well.

Fast forward to the week before Christmas, and I'm meeting my new farrier. He pulls Guinness' shoes and marvels at how sturdy his feet are under all that mess. We agree to leave the shoes off and see how his heels do. The farrier warns me that my horse will be sore on his feet. These words do not prepare me for what follows.

The next day, I get a message from a barn worker asking if I have any bute. It's a cryptic message, and I ask why. She says that my horse looks like he is in terrible pain, and could use some meds to take the edge off. I immediately fly to the barn after work to find my horse standing in his stall (where he has been since being brought in the night before). His arthritic front ankles are swollen even beyond his normal windpuffs, and he looks awful. When I try to coax him to move, he plants himself and refuses to pick up his feet. I pick out his feet in his stall, having to really convince him to pick each one up. Oddly, his back feet are more tender than his fronts.A view of Guinness' back right hoof. Here his abscess line is almost grown out. It's about an inch from the bottom of his wall. His feet are growing so fast!
Guinness' back left. Again, another abscess line can be seen (under the dirt, sorry!). His heels are better on his hinds, probably due to not being wedged up with support and allowed to grow down.
Here's a shot of his back left from below. His heels are still contracted some, but look about 9,000 times better than they did when his shoes were pulling them in to pinch at his frog! It's also a little easier to see his nice hefty sole here. Thank you Keratex!

After lots of coaxing (and about three whole candy canes), we get Guinness out of his stall and into the aisleway. After discovering that the sand arena is too hard on his feet, we walk up and down the concrete aisleways for over 30 minutes. He walks a little better, but still nearly stumbles with every step. I go home feeling like I've killed my horse.

This story repeats every day for the next week. There's always a little heat and pulse in his feet after we walk, which worries me even more. As the days go by, he gets a little easier to get in and out of his stall and he walks a little more surely - but not without pain. I bribe the barn workers to spend the time to coax him out to the field, where he spends days befriending a fat lazy Arab. Life is okay, but I still feel terrible.

The first part of January sees us taking family walks through the woods. With Christian and Sonka (our husky-mix), I handwalk Guinness on wandering tours through snow covered wood paths behind the barn for hours at a time. He starts to gain confidence, not only in his feet, but in me. I also come down with the death plauge. Walking him is just about as much as I can manage. Things are looking up.

Just after our vet visit, we start lunging a bit in the arena as a preface to getting back into shape. Guinness looks mildly lame, but works out of it after warming up. I start thinking the slight lameness I've been seeing recently is more associated with his arthritis and being cooped up in the cold weather than with his feet. Lack of movement = sore joints. Finally, I break down and buy a bottle of Keratex. After using it every day for a week, it's been a miracle! No more tender steps on his feet, and now I become sure that the slight off-ness in the start of work is arthritis. That's easier to deal with, and a lot easier on my mind. Long warmups? I can deal with. Unknown pain from the foot, makes me toss and turn in my sleep!

Last week we started a light conditioning routine. I'm back riding, and it feels SO GOOD. He's very short strided for the first twenty minutes of our walking warm up and his first few turns at the trot are awkward and trippy. After he gets warm, he's much better- long striding and swinging at the walk and the trot, though still tripping a little. Unfortunately, just as things turn around, it's about the time I get off. He's so out of shape, I want to take it easy on him. Right now, that means no more than 30 min under saddle, and mostly at the walk. I don't want to rush him into shape. I want a balanced, supple and well developed horse as I head into good weather season. For now, it's nice to be able to take it easy and work only on his condition and my seat position.

This afternoon, my farrier came back out for a follow up visit. I was adamant that he come out today due to the problems Guinness has been having stumbling. I think his toes are too long, and he's starting to chip around his quarters too. My farrier agreed, and nipped down his long toes. The farrier isn't a barefoot practitioner, but he is familiar with the practice of rolling up walls, and did a really nice roll on his wall edges to help with breakover. I didn't realize how fast Guinness' feet were growing until I took a look at what had been taken off. Almost a half inch! Wow. And, he walked off tender, but not lame. I Keratexed the newly exposed wall/white line and sent him out in the pasture to walk it off.

After talking with the farrier, I feel so much better about his feet. His wall is noticeably thicker and stronger now than when we first pulled his shoes, and his feet are spreading out remarkably fast, and he's even re-growing a real heel! It really is amazing how quickly hooves can change when they are given the ability to move. Now, if I can keep him pain free and feeling good - we'll be out jumping those XC fences in no time!

We'll be jumping WHAT?!?!!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sedation, or How Guinness Had the Worst Day Ever

Yesterday, Guinness saw the new vet.

Buying a new horse, bringing him home to a barn new to you, and meeting and dealing with a whole slew of new horse challenges can sometimes come to a head like it did yesterday. Whew. I am so glad it's over.

Since the end of November, Guinness and I have been battling a bit of a weight issue. For starters, he would lose weight. Then, just when I'd start to think he was looking like I needed to really boost up his feed - he'd look better. It was weird. I was concerned. He started getting 1 cup of corn oil added to his morning low-starch and supplements. He was already eating 6 flakes of hay a day, in addtion to pasture and round bales and getting a scoop of grain divided into two feedings (morning and evening).

Through December, his weight balanced out. While still a touch thin, he had stabilized. I wasn't too worried. Then January hit. BAM! Here I was feeling like a worthless owner with a ribby old gelding. After pulling my hair out, I called the vet. Diagnosis? A bad case of dental hooks (Some of which were punching him in the side of his cheek! Doesn't that just explain the wierd head bobbing?), and a positive fecal exam.

Here are some body condition shots to give you an idea of what we were looking for. I know he's not terrible, but he's not great either. His condition was bad along his neck and spine.

A shot of his side condition, on a good day.

A butt shot. Look at his loss of muscle! Ahh!

A week later and here we are. Sedated as hell. The vet grinds down his teeth, stops a moment, and pulls out a hunk of ... rope? Wow, buddy. That's just nasty.

Hooks taken care of, Guinness got started on on a 57g Fenbendazole PowerPak (the first dose of which he promptly spit in my face). I'll keep you posted on his condition. Right now I don't feel like adding more grain or oil to his diet is necessary. I think once he's no longer wormy he'll start putting weight on.

Next up! Sore feet, and how they suck.