Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On the road again!

Being from Indiana, I'm pretty used to drastic changes in temperature. This especially holds true during the "transition months", think February, March and April or October and November. As I'm sure most of you know, these months tend to be completely bi-polar while the weather tries to decide if it's really ready to prepare for summer/winter or just wants to stay frigid/hotter than hell.
Don't worry. Since we live in Indiana, it'll probably be sweltering and 70° by the time we  get back to the barn! 
This week has been no exception. From 50° and sunny on Monday afternoon to barely 20° with a frigid wind last night, layering up and keeping a strong will has been the name of making-it-to-the-barn game. Luckily, it is no longer oppressively dark when I leave work. That helps a whole lot.

Needless to say, last night I arrived to the barn determined, but already cold and uncomfortable. With Guinness off for over two weeks, I wasn't sure how a return to training was going to go over. Last Friday my polite attempt to ask for any sort of contact or work over the back was treated with complete disdain. It's not that Guinness forgets what I'm asking him to do, it's that he thinks I might have forgotten how to make him work. Lucky for me, a couple of stiff reminders (a touch of the whip to back up my leg, and a strong back/carrying elbow to hold his evasions) seemed to do the trick. I ended when he stopped throwing a tantrum and we went for a quick ride down the road. I was hoping that last night wouldn't be a repeat of the pony temper tantrums.

Luckily, whatever generous pony mood struck Riva the Diva appears to have been universal. From the moment I jumped on, Guinness was incredibly light and responsive (the spurs I remembered to put on might have had something to do with the 'responsive' part). He had work ethic to spare, and was very generous to my work to remember everything from our Nancy lesson (write-up still coming, I swear!).

The goal for last night was to actually work at haunches-in. I've been struggling with the idea of how to ride it, and thus how to train it. I've been just trying to shove his butt out, and meeting incredible resistance. Obviously not working. So, I did what any good student would do - I pulled out a book, The USDF Guide to Dressage (to be exact). I read through the exact description of aids for a haunches in, refreshed my memory just before I got on, and rode it beautifully all night long.

When I compare what I was doing before to what I was doing last night, I can't really tell you I was doing any one thing 'wrong'. Instead, I think I simply didn't understand how the aids were supposed to be working together to achieve the movement. Without knowing how everything interlocked to make sense to my horse, I didn't know what to emphasize when I met equine resistance. Instead, I would change my weight or move my outside leg forward. Neither of these things worked at all because suddenly I wasn't really asking for a haunches in any more. I was, however, getting really good at scooting Guinness' butt wherever I wanted, without any engagement.

So? What passage in the book really cleared things up for me? This one:
"Start by establishing a balanced, energetic collected trot around the perimeter of the arena. As you ride into the first corner of a short side, concentrate on maintaining rhythm and energy with your driving aids. As your horse rounds the second corner, keep sitting on your inside seat bone and using your inside leg to maintain the forward movement and the bend, but use your outside leg in a "guarding" fashion to prevent his hindquarters from coming back to the rail. Ride haunches-in for a few strides, then straighten him by relaxing your outside leg as your inside leg becomes more active to maintain the activity of his inside hind leg. Repeat in the opposite direction."
At first I was confused by the use of the word "guarding", but when I was actually doing the movement it made a little more sense. I'd have preferred the word "active", but it's all semantics. The book laid out the movement step-by-step and really let me think through every section of what I was doing. I love that.

Working on the haunches-in at the trot really helped me to clean up my 15 meter circles at the canter. I've been having a problem with Guinness falling in and swapping out several times as I flail around to get him to true bend. My lesson with Nancy really helped me here (and more on that later), but the use of the haunches-in helped me to keep the inside hind active. I started thinking "haunches-in" with one stride and "haunches-out" with the next. While I wasn't actually doing the movements, subtle changes in my position kept Guinness stepping up with his inside hind and set him up to really balance and turn with me, instead of falling in.

Next up? The dreaded 10 meter circle to 10 meter circle trot circles of First 3. We shall conquer you!

Now, some reading for the week:

The Chronicle of the Horse ran a fun little story entitled Nice Braids. In it, readers submitted stories of disastrous dressage classes and the somewhat amusing comments judges have left behind. As the recipient of a couple of these myself ("Exuberant lead change not required at this level" one example, and "nice mare" another. Cringe.), I enjoyed reading through. Oddly, this little article is making me look forward to show season!

How professional are you about your riding and your horse keeping? Me? I try to be pretty professional. I hate riding a dirty/muddy/unkempt horse, I don't like sloppily fitting riding clothes, and I try to approach riding as something to take pride in. Piaffe Girl refers to acting professional as "being proffy." In her words, "Being proffy isn't about “stuff” — it’s about having the grit to work as hard as possible so that you can be a credit to your horse, regardless of his breed, brand, and (your) bank account. And frankly, that’s the whole essence of dressage." I like that. Check out more on her philosophy. What do you guys think?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Not too proud for flesh...

There's a saying I've been taking to heart over the last few years:
 "Untalented, difficult, aggressive horses have robust health and long lives; talented tractable horses are accident prone."
Of course, I'm referring to my accident prone gelding. That nasty cut/bruise I've been nursing took a bit of a turn last week. When I finally coaxed off the upsettingly-huge scab, I discovered (unsurprisingly) a small amount of proud flesh beginning to grow. A call to the vet, and I'm working on getting that taken care of before anything more upsetting comes from this wound.

This development, of course, made me think about the ways we treat our horses first-aid needs. With my disaster-prone horse, I've amassed quite a collection of first-aid materials. I have sifted through lots of suggestions and have a system that is proven to work, for me. I'd like to share my approach, as it's come to my attention that others don't have much experience or knowledge of first-aid and some of the best ways to treat wounds. Thus:

 I give you (with a small drumroll!): Austen's Tidbits of First-Aid Awesome

 Tidbit #1: TAKE A BREATH and TAKE A LOOK. I've seen lots of owners freak out at the smallest of cuts, and I've also seen owners do the absolute opposite and NOT react with an appropriate amount of concern to an injury that was clearly in need of attention. Unless you can see bone or something is severed, just take a deep breath and assess the situation calmly. If you do see bone, or something is obviously damaged (besides just muscle tissue, and this WILL be obvious), call the vet immediately. If the cut is small, and doesn't look like it needs stitches, take another breath and investigate further. What needs stitches? Here's a good explanation.

Tidbit #2: Punctures suck, and you should treat them like the delicate infection-prone disasters that they are. I'm speaking from lots of experience here. If your exploration of your horse's wound reveals a puncture (especially to the face or lower leg), proceed carefully. You may need to call a vet if you don't feel comfortable keeping the wound clean and disinfected. The following steps are how I treat punctures, and a good rule of thumb for all cut-type injuries:
Puncture Step 1  - Determine how deep the wound is (yep, stick yer finger on in it ... gross, I know).
Puncture Step 2 - Thoroughly clean out the wound. This is going to be painful, for you and your horse. You need to scrub off any scabbing that might be happening, you also need to thoroughly scrub as far into the wound as you can, and then you'll need to flush the wound thoroughly. I recommend doing all of this cleaning with a mixture of hot (but tolerable!) water and betadine. (BONUS TIP: Betadine stains like you can't believe. Make sure to avoid getting it on your clothing! It will rinse out with HOT water, if you get to it before the stain sets)
Puncture Step 3 - Here's where the controversy starts up. I don't believe in stitching deep punctures. I think it allows bacteria to fester, and makes them harder to clean out. Instead, I will spray a wound with Scarlet Oil (Scarlex). This stuff is an antiseptic, but it is pretty gentle. I love the spray, as it makes application much easier when your horse has had just about enough of your poking and prodding at his ouchy wound. I will often finish my dressing with a splash of wound powder (Wonder Dust). Some recent studies have suggested that wound powder doesn't promote healing. That's probably correct. However, I feel that the nastiness of the horse's environment and the difficulty of bandaging most wound sites makes wound powder an incredibly useful wound sealant.
Puncture Step 4 - Allow the puncture to heal, watching for signs of infection. This is the hardest part. The wound is going to get nasty. Wound powder makes stuff look gross. This isn't going to be a cut like you might have. It's not going to be clean and pink while it heals. You want a scab. At some point, your horse is going to lay down and get shavings and hay stuck to the thing. You are going to be embarrassed. Don't. As long as you don't see signs of infection (sudden swelling, increased tenderness to the area, yellow or white "ooze"), you are probably okay. Obviously, anything that seems out of the ordinary or is a step backwards needs a vet call, ASAP. As wounds heal, I like to put a thin layer of Corona Ointment (OINTMENT, kids. Not beer...) over the scab. This softens the scab, and provides a slightly antiseptic layer as the wound heals. I find wounds treated with Corona tend to grow hair back faster, and heal without scarring.

Tidbit #3: Lameness can be caused by lots of things, make sure to check all your options. When Guinness comes in lame (when, not if), I have a checklist I mentally go through to find the source of the pain.

  • Any cuts? If so, are they in a location that would cause bruising or pulling with movement? An example would be Guinness' cuts directly over the cannon bone, or a laceration over a muscle group that would pull open with movement. Examine these cuts carefully to make sure they are only superficial and don't damage any of the structures beneath. Additionally, watch any bone bruises for signs of sudden infection, as this can cause HUGE issues. 
  • No cuts? How about heat? Run your hands down your horse's legs (Note: you should be doing this every day, anyway. It's just good practice) and check for any abnormal heat or swelling. This could indicate a kicked area, or a tendon strain. Think about where the heat is. A kick or superficial type of wound would be up in the muscle. You might find a tight lump under the heat. This could indicate a bump/kick or a muscle strain. Give the horse some time off, and watch. If the bump or lameness is severe, think about calling your vet and giving a gram of bute to help with the swelling. Any heat or swelling in the lower leg is suspicious. This could easily be something severe. I suggest learning how to palpate tendons and ligaments for injuries and sensitivity. If any is found, call your vet immediately. Heat in the joint capsule typically indicates arthritis issues, but if your horse is young this could be an infection starting or a bone chip/acute injury. Anything that isn't normal here should be immediately checked on by your vet. These things can turn nasty FAST. 
  • No cuts AND no heat? How are the feet? The next thing I check is feet, if there is sudden heat in the foot and tenderness in a specific area, I assume an abscess or nasty bruise. These things will heal with time, but careful watching needs to be done. An abscess can turn gross and nasty if they don't burst on their own and aren't helped out. Some will heal without bursting, but usually not the ones that cause severe lameness. A bruise can easily turn into a abscess. I find Magic Cushion to be a good treatment for these types of injuries, or just sore feet. 
  • Still nothing and the horse is still lame? Call your vet. Some injuries aren't apparent, but can still be serious. Just "seeing if it gets better" can cause longterm damage and limit your horse's career. I don't recommend that. 
Tidbit #4: Your vet is your best buddy. Call him/her whenever you feel like you don't know what to handle. Just do them a favor. Don't hyperventilate into the phone, stay calm while discussing things with them. Having a good working knowledge of bone/soft tissue structure of the horse will help you discuss with your vet where exactly you are having issues. It will also help you stay calm, since you'll have a better idea of what is serious and what isn't. Another good tip to keep your vet happy? Make sure your horse is ready and waiting when the vet gets there. That means catch your pony and clean the mud off of it. If you are short on time, at least clean off the area with the problem. No one enjoys trying to dig through inches of wet clay to try to investigate a possible tendon pull. No one.

Tidbit #5: Keep your general first-aid materials handy, whether at home or traveling. I usually keep some sponges, Sore-No-More, betadine, Scarlex, Wonder Dust and Corona in my grooming bag at all times. Also close are gauze bandages, wads of absorbent cotton, rags, vet wrap and old polos. I find everyone has a different idea of what goes into their first-aid kit, so it's a good idea to figure out what works best for you.

So with all of this experience/information, what went wrong with Guinness' leg? Well, horse's are very prone to proud flesh, especially in the lower leg where soft tissue is at a minimum. This means cuts and scrapes need to be carefully cleaned and treated from the outset, and watched carefully to avoid strange healing. I went wrong by letting someone else handle the initial treatment. While the person treating him meant well, she used ointments that promote too vigorous of growth. In addition, I didn't keep a close enough eye on the healing process. This could have been cleaned up faster if I'd been more careful in ensuring the healing was happening from the inside out. (Tidbit #6? Wounds should heal from the inside out ... not rapidly and past the level of the skin!). Moral of my story? Keep a careful eye, make sure wounds are clean, and don't allow for vigorous healing. The long slow way is always better.

What do you think? Anyone had to deal with these issues before? How do you treat your horse's bumps and brusies and scrapes? I love new ideas on first-aid!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Bruised bones lead to clean closets...

Well, guys. It's been a hell of a two week period. I haven't written mainly because I haven't uploaded the video from my lesson with Nancy yet. I'm a mess. Officially.

Unfortunately, Guinness smashed the front of his left cannon bone (yep, the same one he injured mid summer) on something during his rest day after the lesson. He has not only sustained a semi-deep cut across the leg, but a substantially painful bone bruise. I'm so over bone bruises. Seriously. This is two.

TWO.

I'm like a bone bruise expert...

Bring me all your bone bruises, I shall rehab them all...

Ugh.

Anyway, this has meant two weeks without riding. Nada. Luckily nastily cold weather and home organizational projects have made the time go by. In fact, this was probably a needed break for both Pig and I, though we had really been hitting the groove of putting together our First Level work and really starting to dive into Second Level things. Sigh. There's never a good time for an injury.  Plus side? My closets are super organized, and Goodwill is getting So Much Stuff.

The last few days, I've been gradually riding Guinness some. He's still obviously off at the trot, and in circles to the left. I feel, however, the easy movement of walking and road hacking is better for his chances of healing than standing, bored, in a frozen field. The herd just hasn't been moving much on the broken, frozen tundra of doom that is the field in the recent weather. Evenings are just starting to be long enough to squeeze in a 4 mile walk around the "block" before dark really falls, and the roads are clearer and softer than the surrounding fields.

At least it's time in a saddle. 


One change has been in bitting for hacks. Recently an energetic Guinness has been lacking in the brake department. After blowing through my halts for a couple of acres on our last high energy ride, I decided to equip Guinness with an emergency brake. Note the pelham:
So far, I've been happy with the change. The mouthpiece is a mullen mouth, and I do ride with two reins. The first ride in the thing I was a mess of forgetting how to manage two sets of reins. Seriously, guys. A mess. I don't understand. I can walk two Siberian huskies, both leashes in one hand, and give corrections to them each individually. But two reins? OH MY GOD. Just good practice for a double, right? After all, that's one of the reasons pelhams were invented.

Here's the week's interesting reading:

I read about the Global Dressage Festival's sessions and realized I want to be Ingrid Klimke. In the same moment I realized this may also be impossible. I also learned about suspensory injuries and what might be the cause of them. One take away? Remember to work calmly towards your goal, and not to fight with your horse (I sense a theme?).

Dressage Radio Show featured Dr. Timmie Pollock, an equine sports psychologist. She really emphasized the link between tracking your progress with actually progressing. Journaling rides right after you're done, and keeping a plan in your head for each ride/week was one idea she threw out that I really liked. Another idea is visualizing your tests, really thinking through each movement and preparing your approach to each portion of the test. I always struggle with this, and her idea to record yourself talking through the test and playing it back to yourself is an idea I really like. One great way to do this? The USEF dressage test app (Click for iPhone app) already has the capability to record your reading of the test and store it for listening at a later time. I highly recommend this app. (Full disclosure? I use it when stewarding warm up rings at recognized shows. It helps me figure out where riders are in their tests, which helps me get on deck riders to the ring without wasting anyone's time.) Also worth hearing? How people with ADD work better in high stress situations. Hmm ....

I promise I'll get my video bits uploaded, and give you a full lesson recap!