Monday, October 26, 2015

Horse Jail: Probationary Review and Conditional Release

On a dreary Monday, everyone needs to enjoy moments like these....
Last week the vet rechecked Guinness' leg, with positive results. The offending bump was given several steroid injections to keep its size from increasing, and we hashed out a tentative plan to reintroduce the restless creature to a life of activity. We decided on 8-10 days of continued stall rest, followed by a limited reintroduction to turnout and subsequent start of tack walking. 
This weekend, I decided it was time to release The Kraken the prisoner. 
I took a friend's suggestion to heart, wrapping him all the way around in standing wraps. That precaution made me feel better as he spent upwards of 8 minutes solid burning off his pent up energy.
After running around like an idiot and nearly crashing straight into a fence (not captured on video, sadly), Pig rolled, bucked one more time, and settled in to calmly grazing for the remainder of his time out.
"I'm freeeee!"
After his adventures, he was caught easily and I returned him to his stall for the evening. He looked a little calmer, and maybe even tired.
"Look at me! I'm so damn majestic!"
The next day I turned him out for a few more hours, and it was much less dramatic. He even stood so quietly in crossties that I was able to finally trim his feet.
I think I might have my sweet and quiet horse back.
His leg has looked amazing after two days of wild action, so today he will go out all day with the boys in his old field. By the end of the week, I hope to have him back on full turnout. Keep your fingers crossed that everything continues to go well...
Happy Monday...

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Horse Jail: An Update on Pig and A Probationary Hearing

I think everyone cringes at the thought of a fantastically fit thoroughbred being put on immediate stall rest, especially one who has enjoyed 24/7 turnout for the last 5 years. While I share those cringing sentiments, I went into this process fairly unconcerned about how Pig would respond to stall rest. Why?

1. He's a pretty chill dude. Seriously. He might be a mighty ex-stakes-horse with breeding leading back to the Queen of England, but honestly he's pretty laid back. His hellishly hot moments are usually reserved for temper tantrums and being confused under saddle. On a typical day, I trust him "off-leash" more than my dogs. He's content grazing on grass or napping in the corner, and can be left almost indefinitely in cross ties.
People would kill for this view. The horse doesn't even notice it...
2. I work hard to maintain his good manners. I think allowing an animal to be untrained or develop bad habits just sets the animal up for failure and confusion. Even though Pig is mannerly, he has his occasional moments of snark. When those moments break through, I make sure to remind him to be polite.

3. He's an ex-racehorse. He knows stalls. He is comfortable them. He lived the first 6 years of his life almost entirely in stalls. He doesn't bang on stall doors, or expect to get out. He will stall walk, but given enough hay he'll usually settle into stall life rather quickly.

Despite these positive indicators, I've been dealing with a higher horse than normal over the last few weeks. While he's remained good in the stall (no banging, minimal screaming, neat-ish stall), he's started to become impatient with his short stints of hand grazing. The last couple of days he's been "spooked" and tried rearing and striking. 
"Why I would never! Probably..."
Thank gooodness I've put the fear of god into him, and he dropped meekly back to the ground with a quick growl from me!

Luckily the rest of stall rest has been pretty uneventful. We had the vet out to recheck, and I'll write more about that soon. In other news, I broke my nose and have been using someone's meds to try to make it feel better...
Turns out Surpass is actually the same % of drug as the human medication. It's also so much better than ibuprofen! Instant relief!
And so, here we are. Chugging along on stall rest. I haven't been totally idle, though. I'll try to get some updates out on my activities, too.
Pretty Maryland Farm is pretty...

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Ending the season with a break... of bone

Guinness' week off did not go as planned.

On the second day, the mare in his pasture was re-introduced. She's in heat, bitchy, and apparently super desirable. The field exploded into hormonal chaos. There was running. There was screaming. There was kicking. There was biting. There was more running. All of this is, of course, great for a potentially fragile and healing leg.
And super good for faces, too. Apparently...
The next day, Pig was extremely lame ... at the walk. He was refusing to more than a few steps at once, and the bump on his leg was MASSIVE. The bump was sitting on the suspensory a little, which set of huge alarm bells for me. It was also the first day he showed sensitivity when I palpated his suspensory, which made my little lizard brain freak out.
"Look at me! I'm the size of a small moon!" ... It seemed to say.
I took the only course of action open, I put that horse on stall rest ASAP and called the vet to schedule an x-ray and lameness exam.
"Horse prison?! Why I am in horse prison?! What did I DOOOOOOO?!" -- Hysterical Pig
After two days of aggressive treatment and stalling, Pig's leg finally started to calm back down. Of course, that was the day the vet was scheduled.
Pig's leg after two days of Surpass, cold hosing, icing, wrapping, and stalling. Note, bump no longer sitting on the suspensory. Cue immense relief.
The vet had me trot Pig some, both in circles and on the straight away. Pig was full of himself and enjoyed bucking and playing some on the lunge. Some of that may have been pain related, as he only really did it going to the left (where more weight would be on the bad leg). Overall, he looked pretty good. He would take one bad step out of every four, but looked better the longer he trotted on the lunge.

The vet palpated the suspensory, and checked his knees. He didn't mess with the fetlocks because "he's obviously going to come up positive on those." Well said, vet. Well. Said. Everything else checked out fine, so he was convinced everything we've been seeing is related to the splint injury.

I won't lie.  I breathed a huge sigh when he said the suspensory seemed just fine.

The vet asked if I wanted to do an x-ray. He said he didn't think there was a break issue, but if I wanted to be sure we could do one. I said yes.
Best choice.
I am utterly grateful to myself for saying yes, because what we found changed the treatment plan entirely.
Can we just appreciate how flimsy the splint bone looks on an x-ray? I mean. What is that? A toothpick?
Yep. We found a fracture. It's extremely hard to see, and already mostly calcified. (My picture of the vet's monitor doesn't really show it well, either. I promise it's easier to see on the actual x-ray.) The vet agreed with my theory that he probably popped the splint first, then fractured it when he whacked himself a bit later. Regardless of how he did it, we are extremely lucky that the fracture is very clean and already mostly set.

The treatment plan immediately shifted to one of extreme caution. The vet wants Guinness to stay on stall rest for 10 days, keeping up with the aggressive treatment I've been doing: cold hosing, Surpass, icing, wrapping. He can be hand grazed if he stays quiet (usually not a problem), but zero turnout or walking for the sake of moving.
Loooots of this...
After 10 days, we will reevaluate and do a steroid shot at the bump site. That will keep the bump from growing much bigger and impinging on the soft tissue in the area. The vet doesn't want to do the steroid shot until the bone is further along in its knitting process. Following the shot, Guinness will serve out another 10 day prison stall rest assignment. After that he can go back to turnout and light work.
"You mean I have to stay inside for 20 days?!?! Can you at least get me a book or something?"
So, I guess I'm in the market for fleecy splint boots now... and maybe an air vest...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Working on Third: A training plan

With show season behind us for the year, I've changed our training focus to 3rd level and maybe higher. I'd like to come out early next season and nail our final two scores for our Bronze medal, and be able to play the rest of the season without stress.
Bring on ze ribbons?
We'll see how that actually goes. We still have a lot of training left to accomplish before we can debut at 3rd with a chance of success:

  • Prompt, relaxed, and through flying changes. These need to be on my aids, and not alter the rhythm of the canter. Pig must also not anticipate the change or be late behind.
  • More collection. Our level of collection is sufficient for 2nd, but not quite adequate for 3rd. Must convince the pony to accept more weight on his hindquarter for longer periods of time.
  • A stronger connection, with less evasions and more consistent pressure in my hand. Pig cannot throw his head up in transitions, or all is lost.
  • A better following seat for me in the sitting trot. I bounce a little too much for my own comfort.
  • More separation of my body/aids for clearer communication. I need to be able to swing my legs for changes without altering the balance of my upper body. Need more work on this.
  • More suppleness and flexibility in lateral work, especially the traver/renver. We barely made our scores in this last year, as Pig would get tight in the back and not hold his bend properly. We can do better.
  • A real medium/extended gait button. I'm starting to lose hope that we will ever understand these particular movements... 
Basically, there's a lot of work to be done. Of course, in order for this work to be accomplished, Pig has to be in condition to work. Let's hope this week of spa life and no work will help him come back to normal.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Changing Direction, According to Stephen Birchall

Thanks to The Elusive SprinklerBandit, I remembered one last bit of information from the Stephen Birchall clinic. (Part 1, Part 2) Namely, how to properly change directions and bend.

Since we hit first level and ran up against the hateful 10 meter circle figure-eight from hell, Pig and I have struggled with changing bend calmly.
Oh yeah. That looks reaaaaaal smooth... Though, looking at this video now, I can see his haunches are falling in to the left and I have totally lost the outside shoulder and that is why he is not able to make the change in bend nicely. Oops.
Birchall didn't know this going into our lesson (he hadn't seen me change direction yet when I started asking me to do this exercise), but he explained how he works to teach a horse to change bend right at the start.

Here's the method:
  1. Say you are tracking right. Weight the inside (right) stirrup. Sit heavier to the right. If the horse is reluctant to bend his ribcage, use the inside leg to get him lighten up.
  2. Ask for flexion with inside hand. Important: flexion IS NOT bend. Flexion enhances bend. Get the bend through the body, not with your hand.
  3. Lower the horse's head to make the change of bend easier.
  4. Over X, sit evenly and straighten for a stride.
  5. Step down into new inside stirrup (left) and slightly weight the left more. Use the left leg to get horse to lighten up with ribcage and actually bend. 
  6. Ask for flexion with inside (left) hand. Remember, again, that flexion is not bend.
Boom. It's that simple.

Okay, okay. I won't say that Pig and I went through this flawlessly at first. But, the weighting the inside is something I had totally forgotten, and the refresher was very helpful. It certainly helped us get much looser in our changes of direction, and avoid the Stress Monster. After all... no one wants a visit from the Stress Monster.

Other things to remember:
  • If you lose the outside shoulder, use the outside leg/hip/thigh to get it back. Don't pull back on the outside rein.
  • Change your posting diagonal if posting.
  • If not posting, use your thigh to help guide the horse in the straightening/bend.
  • If your horse tends to get tight and stiffen through the poll/jaw/base of neck keep your fingers moving to keep him loose.
  • Don't forget to keep trotting/walking/cantering with your seat, or the horse will lose impulsion.
Okay. Your turn!
This has nothing to do with this post. I just like watching this consistent working trot.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Week Off

You might remember how Pig popped a splint just before our last show...
How could you forget?
After the show, it seemed to be healing nicely. The leg was cool, and the horse was sound. However, the spot was still tender to the touch, so I wasn't too surprised when Pig accidentally whacked himself during a recent ride and went 100% lame on that leg.
Don't lie. This is a favorite.
Though he came sound again with a few days of rest, he has remained intermittently lame with hard work. This week was the final straw. When he stayed lame for the entirety of my 25 min walk warm up, I called it. This horse is getting time off.

The splint was hot after that ride, and the bump larger. I'm not 100% sure, but I think he may have actually broken it when he whacked himself again. While still rarely serious, and actual break can cause additional healing time and more pain in the area. The thing to watch for is suspensory involvement, which he shows no signs of. In fact, the lamness issue could also be his fetlock arthritis reacting to the cold and wet weather (thanks Hurricane Joaquin/nasty weather system). It's hard to tell. 

The plan right now is to give Pig a solid week off with some topical treatment (mainly Surpass and Sore-No-More). I will reevaluate at the end of a week, and if he is still moving gingerly on that leg we will seek x-rays and further diagnostics.

Oh old horse. Why do you do this to me?
"I think, lady, you may have that backwards. Why do you do this to me?"

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trying a New Saddle, or "Someone Sponsor Me"

I mentioned in the first Stephen Birchall clinic post that my saddle fit isn't perfect. I've known that since I bought the thing, but it's the best I've been able to find/afford. Now, I'm thinking both Pig and I may have outgrown it.

I've developed a theory that as you ascend the levels in dressage, you get pickier about your equipment. While this saddle was fine (great, even) at getting me through the woes of 1st-2nd-3rd level, I'm thinking I fight it too much to really make huge improvements improving at 3rd.
Here's a picture of me sitting terribly to drive home my point.
For me: The seat in the saddle is a little too far back and not as deep as I would prefer. The flaps are also cut a little too forward for me, causing me to like to shoot my legs out in front of me, or lose my balance and shoot them back.
For Pig: The saddle is a touch too wide at the wither and a touch too narrow over his shoulders. (Now. It used to be waaay to wide everywhere. Horse has seriously bulked up.) He's started acting a little more resistant to saddling, and had a stint of possible saddle soreness two months ago (tightening up the girth seems to have helped the issue).

I could probably get the saddle reflocked to help it fit Pig better, but that will do nothing for me. Unfortunately, I'm also not allowed to buy a saddle until I land a full-time job. (Freelancing part time does not a saddle payment make...)

Of course, that didn't stop me from trying a barn friend's lovely Custom the other day...
Oooh, I'm interested...
While the saddle is fit for my friend's now-retired horse, I had hopes it might do okay on Pig. I'm still up in the air. It seemed a touch wide at the withers (but maybe just as wide as the current saddle), but didn't actually rub his withers during our ride. I didn't use a fluffy pad, just to be sure I was evaluating fit by the withers properly. The saddle also bridges slightly right in the middle of Pig's back.

Now. I know bridging can be bad, but I've also heard mild bridging isn't so bad. I would call this case mild. Pig didn't object to the saddle, but he rarely shows a huge difference where saddle fit is concerned.
I have the saddle a smidgen too far forward here. (I seem to always do this when first using a new saddle. Ugh.)
I'm not 100% sure how well a Custom fitter could mold this saddle to Pig's back. I've heard great things about Custom, but it's still a saddle with a tree. You can only do so much.

As for me? Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooo boy. I love it. The flaps are a smidge short for me, but not enough to hinder anything. The seat is perfection. I stick right in the right place and my hips SPRING open. It's glorious. That deep seat is 100% what I crave. In fact, the seat is so deep I hardly touch the thighblocks. They are useful when doing things like changes, but otherwise aren't more than gentle reinforcement of the seat.

Guys. I need this saddle.

Think I can qualify my saddle dreams as a 501c charitable donation? Huh? Huh??!

Yeah... me neither. Damn.