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?!?!!