Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lazy Saturday Blizzard Memories

(Warning. There are no horses in this post, only horrifyingly adorable photos of majestic huskies in the snow. Proceed with caution.)

As I'm sure everyone knows, last weekend the DC area was hit with a massive blizzard dubbed Snowzilla... (Seriously. Click that link. The photo is worth it.) While the 25+ inches of snow that fell on my house over the weekend obviously limited my ability to see my pony (or drive anywhere), that didn't stop them from being fun for the rest of us. As such, I present to you a timeline of blizzard moments captured by cell phone camera...
The dogs and I jogged out for a quick run just as the first flakes started to fall on Friday.
Of course. My mom was worried I wouldn't be prepared. She shouldn't have...

Though, by the time my husband fought his way home from work, the snow had really intensified...
Thankfully, we were fully prepared and all of us settled in for the night, ready to spend a nice weekend totally snowed in.
I woke the next morning to a lull in the storm and about 18" of snow.
Which all of us found super fun to try to clear up...
Not willing to let 18" define it, the storm kicked back into full blizzard mode... meanwhile I attempted to recuperate from round one of shoveling.
Still, you can't spend all day hiding from a historic blizzard. Especially when you own adventurous huskies.
So we went on a really long and fun "walk" during the worst of it.
Some of us had to rest before heading back....
Some of us were so tired out by the height of the snow, comfort had to be taken in the form of stuffed hedgehog cuddles...
And, some of us found solace in other things...
The next morning dawned bright and beautiful and buried ... in 25+ inches of snow. Oof.
So we did the only reasonable thing we could think of... 
And went snow-exploring!
It was absolutely gorgeous along the creek trail.
Though even the dogs found the deep snow rather tiring.
But there's no real rest right after a snowstorm, so after walks I got to work shoveling out.
And the dogs supervised...
Even though our neighborhood was fully plowed and accessible, I still ended up with two full days off of work due to all major roads in the city being mostly impassable. It's tough to find a place to put over 2 feet of snow in a single weekend.
Come Wednesday, though, and the blizzard-cation was over. Lyra knows what it's like, back to early mornings and the daily grind and horrific DC traffic, now shoved into newly smaller roadways. When does this stuff melt back to manageable levels again?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Pricey Pinpricks

Stabby. Stabby.
Just days before the huge blizzard, my vet came out to give Pig his discussed hock injections and drop off some other prescriptions.
We started by drugging him a few times to keep him from kicking everyone and snapping off needles in his joints. You know. Precautions.
Of course, drugs couldn't stop Mr. Sensitive from flailing his hind legs about a bit anyway. Nor did it stop him from nearly falling over. Nor did it stop him from kicking me in the knee later when I stupidly pulled off his blankets from behind his drunk ass. (No worries. I'm fine. Not even a bruise. He was too drunk to put any power behind it...)
Aw-yeah, glucocorticoid corticosteroids right to hocks...
Another reason I love this vet (other than his penchant for realism and great medical explanation) is his hospital-grade commitment to sterilization during the injection process. I have literally never seen a vet take as many precautions as this guy does to limit the possibility of joint infection.

Does your vet?

See when you are injecting a joint, you are breaking the skin barrier and taking the chance of introducing bacteria into the fantastic bacteria breeding ground of the joint. And joint infections are nasty. Career ending. Life ending. They will drain your bank account and make you want to forget about horse sports. You do not want to mess around with joint infections.

So, I highly recommend you ask your vet what his/her policy is on injection precautions.
Does your vet take this care?
My vet does a few things:

  1. Tries to maintain a sterile environment for his needles and gloves. Obviously it's a barn, but he was super careful about not touching sterile items with his bare hands. He really went above and beyond.
  2. Clips and scrubs the injection site thoroughly. This takes minutes per site. It is not a quick iodine rub down. Then, the scrub must be wiped off, all while maintaining sterilization as much as possible.
  3. Adds in an antibiotic to the injection, just in case. While I'm usually against the use of antibiotics as a preventative, when it comes to joint infections I am all about it. Reduce, baby, reduce. 
This antibiotic, actually.
The process kind of takes forever, but I'm okay with that. Even in sub 15 degree weather. What I'm not okay with? Getting the bill before I even have a chance to test out the goods... thanks to Snowzilla, Pig got even more time off than prescribed after the injections. 
Holy ouch. Goodbye budding savings account.
I'm hoping extra time off just allowed the drugs to do their anti-inflamatory job even better, so we'll be ready to leap back into action this weekend. 

Fingers crossed?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Estrone Works on Stifles

What's that you say? You sense uninformed internet bullshit?
When I was first told that estrogen shots can work to alleviate sticky stifle issues in horses, I will admit to being very skeptical. The whole thing sounded kind of crazy. How does the primary female sex hormone stop joint pain? Why have I never heard of it before? Are horse people crazy?

Long story short, yes. Horse people are crazy. Still, I couldn't argue with results. Estrone shots DO work to help alleviate stifle issues in my horse. But, how?

I dove deep into the internet archives to try to find an answer, but that seemed to only confuse the issue further. Some said they believed the hormone loosened the ligaments in the stifle, because high estrogen levels are common during childbirth-- a period in which ligaments are known to stretch in women. Others said that actually it tightened ligaments, for the same reason. Even more others said that it encouraged the building of muscle. The reasons went on an on... but none of them actually made sense.

So I made the crazy decision to ask my vet, a certified medical professional. Amazingly, he gave me a very simple and plausible reason the hormone works on stifles...

Bloating.

No, really. Stick with me here. It turns out, there is a fat pad beneath the ligaments involved in locking the stifle. When a horse is given Estrone, the fat pads retain water and bloat up.
Actually, yes. But in my case it's probably more to do with all the salt and beer I just ingested than hormones.
Anyway, these bloated fat pads push the ligaments up a tiny bit, allowing them to more easily slide in and out of the locking position. This gives the horse some relief from pain, so he can work properly to build up muscle support for the joint.
Stifle joint. Photo from Behind the Bit. Fat pads are located above and below the joint, under the ligaments.
So there you go. The easy scientific explanation for how and why estrogen works to alleviate stifle pain. Never say my obsessive research down a horrible rabbit hole of misinformation never lead to profitable information. You're welcome.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The wheels fall off the bus...

These wheels in particular. Related: Is this not the most awkward stance?
With the new year, I have started to turn my head towards my competition goals for the year. Before I can really ramp up the work, I knew I would need to have the vet out to evaluate Pig. This decision was made for two reasons:
  1. It's good practice to have your older medium-level competition horse sussed out by vet before putting him back to work in high-stress/high-expectation program.
  2. He's been lame AF. 
As I wrote about at the end of last year, Pig's hind end has increasingly been feeling like it is about to fall off the bus. His stifle has been sticky, his gaits have been lurchy, and his attitude towards work has veered from really excited to really NOT excited (sometimes in the same ride). Some days I've been able to really put him together and get him through whatever is bugging him. Some days I can't. It's been frustrating, but overall not something I've been too worried about.

Because: when you own an older horse, you get a good feel for what is a serious problem and what is just an age/fitness issue.

Obviously this sort of NQR-ness is not exactly conducive to ramping up for a competitive show season at Third Level. So, I called the vet to see what the options and diagnosis really were. I've been pretty lucky with this old horse. Though he has his issues, I've really never had to pour a whole lot of money into him. Sure, he's had injections but typically only once a year. And he is not on any sort of joint supplement or corrective shoeing routine. He's honestly been extremely cheap. As such, I went into this appointment willing to throw quite a bit more money into his maintenance.
My vet, working with another chestnut horse.
After a lengthy lameness exam, the vet was pretty settled on a diagnosis: Getting old sucks.

To break it down:
Stifles: Vet is pretty sure Guinness is suffering from some weakness in the stifles due to time off after his splint break and intermittent work since then. That weakness, manifesting in brief lockages during riding, is painful and causing resistance to additional work that would help him build the muscle support to stop the issue. This is something we've had before, and worked through. It sucks but is easy to fix.
Treatment: Estrone shots 1x weekly for 4 weeks. Lots of slow hill walking/trotting and walking/trotting over more poles. Additionally lots of transitions, focusing on stepping under and through. (Interestingly, something already on the training plan as we gear up for show season.) If after a the Estrone treatment and strength work we do not see improvement we will pursue stifle injections, but the vet doesn't think these are actually necessary.

Hocks: Oddly, Pig showed the greatest positive to hock flexions, specifically his left hock. He trotted off very uneven from these. As we watched him go, the vet pointed out how his left hind always swings under his body, no matter which direction he is tracking. I've noticed that his right hind is always swinging out, and thought that was the problem. I didn't think about the opposite being the issue, but it makes total sense. Now that I've had it pointed out, it's supremely obvious. I wonder if that was really the issue last spring as well.
Treatment: Hock injections. It's kind of awesome that my horse made it to 18 without needing these after a long career on the track and a few years as a jumper. I'm honestly impressed, and totally ready to throw some money into those joints.

Fetlocks: Zero response to being flexed in his hind fetlocks. This made me feel good, as his rear fetlocks have basically doubled in size over the last two years. I've been worried we'd be looking at the same issues in the rear that we had in the front. My vet assuaged those fears.
Treatment: Nothing.

Back/SI joint: Here is where I was really proud. The vet found zero issues with Pig's SI or back. He went so far as to tell me "this horse has one of the most supple and relaxed backs I've seen". He did find some positive sore points right over the point of the butt and over the SI, but he said these are not due to the SI joint, but instead are indicative of weak stifles, as those are the muscles a horse uses to swing his legs out to avoid putting pressure on the stifle. I found this fascinating, as this is a spot Pig pops up sore on a regular basis.
Treatment: Keep on keeping on. Whatever we are doing is clearly working for him.

Front end: We didn't really look at anything forward of the withers. This vet is aware of Guinness' fetlocks, and said he agrees with me that they are probably as fused as they are going to get and clearly holding up fine to the workload. He did mention that Pig probably has some arthritis in his neck, but he qualified that with "most horses do, the way their necks are built really encourages arthritis in the lower vertebrae." He didn't seem concerned about it, and honestly Pig doesn't either. He checked on the (still huge) splint bump, and said it looks fine. He doesn't think the bump will really decrease in size, but seems to be just fine. He also did a once over on Pig's suspensory ligaments, which all came up negative.
Treatment: What isn't truly broken is obviously still working. Stay aware, but don't worry.
"Give me apples! And also preventative medicine!"
Because this vet is steeped in medical theory, and is really down to earth, I went ahead and asked him some other questions:
  1. What about Previcox/Equioxx for pain management?
    • A great option for a horse with long term needs for NSAIDs. However, my vet was confident that regular injections and a careful eye would be enough for now. Maybe down the road this is something we can look at to keep Pig in a lower level of work. He cautioned using it to keep a horse going at a high level. In addition: He mentioned that laws prohibit the prescription of Previcox for horses, unless there is a valid reason (like horse won't take pastes). This is because cross-species prescription is severely frowned on if a formulation exists for the species being treated. As Equioxx is formulated for horses, there is no reason to use Previcox, other than cost. 
  2. Thoughts on Adequan/Legend for maintenance. 
    • Vet thinks Adequan has shown some good indications towards use for arthritic horses. He suggested it may be helpful to do a session as prescribed (7 total shots given every four days, not monthly) in a couple of months. Legend he was not as positive about. I asked if the intravenous shot of Legend means that the HA is not in the system long enough to make an actual difference. After some time, he nodded and admitted that is very possible, but perhaps still worth trying.
With that said, we made a second appointment for this week to have the injections taken care of and other medications (estrone, dormosedan) dropped off. Until then, I was told to keep riding and working on slow build up of musculature around the stifle and hind end. Riding out on hills was specifically mentioned. Just like with all other arthritis issues with this horse, the suggestion has been "do what he is comfortable with, but above all keep him moving."

So, yep. Getting old sucks.
"I am ageless. I dunno what you're talking about."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Year in Review: 2015

If you read my goal post, you'll already know that 2015 was a crazy year full of successes and new beginnings. As I like to do, let's take a closer look at some of the highlights!

January

I took a jumping lesson at a random barn while on winter vacation with Jen from Cobjockey. It was weird to be back in jumping tack, and also weird how much dressage improved my upper body position. 
I miss this windswept corner sometimes.
Back at home, I talked smack about homeopathy and called out Dover for outstanding service. I also sneaked in one last ride outside before the frigid hell winter began, and later started really working on the half pass. Finally, I picked up the ride on Darius, and started learning what it's like to ride a horse who pulls on you.
Ah, Florida. I both loveth and hateth thee.
January also saw me venture to Florida for the first time for a week of intensive lessons and high level dressage immersion. When I returned, I began chronicling my lessons, starting with a hard look at the dressage seat. I also came home to a convalescing Pig, who had been lamed by a vicious abscess while I was away, and a huge work assignment for grad school.
Best vet doctor husband diagnosis video ever.
February

Grad school, full time work, and two horses in training hit me full speed this month, and I wasn't able to post much.
This. Basically all of this.
However, I did check in a few times to tell you about adding swan neck spurs to our tack arsenal, how much I love Rambo, some excellent training articles, and this horse's wacky wavy mustache.
I also waged war on crappy archivists, because an archive's loss of a book made me crazy for awhile. Just imagine me wandering around a disordered library muttering to myself "it's called the goddamned dewy decimal system!!" and you'll have an idea of my life at this time.
Somehow I did find time to do a few more indepth training write ups. First about working on basic transitions with my hot horse, then another Florida Chronicle, this time about legs. I also tentatively planned out my show season. At the end of the month, we found out exciting news... we would be moving to DC!
Spoiler alert. We made it just fine, and love it here!
March

This month stayed just as busy as February, but with a touch less ability to escape thesis writing by blogging complex positional theory. As such, my only Florida Chronicle dealt more with laundry than riding. Still, it's one of my favorite tips!
It was also super cold this month, so I enjoyed looking at photos of warm Florida.
Speaking of cold weather, I shared some great photos of the dogs in the snow, and had a fantastic ride to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Though, soon I began to worry about Pig's hind legs. The vet assured me his issue was not in his hocks, but actually the stifle. We injected, and things improved.
At the same time, I was preparing for our first show, and so had to clip off Pig's fancy Guinness logo to avoid coming up against USEF amateur rules.
This post needed more snow-dog presence.
Most of the month was actually filled with a ton of random (but important!) musings, like a discussion about my horse's ongoing quest to maim himself, misc. equipment changes (including moving out of the drop for good),debuting our new double bridle, and a hilarious story about getting gravel down my pants.

April
Did we win?!
This month started off at a horse show. While the drive and load in could have been smoother, we rallied and finished the first day with two blues and our highest ever score in a USDF 1st Level test. 
Also, I love this photo.
However, I should have blanketed my newly clipped Pig, as he was too stiff and cold to really come through on Sunday. Still, I was super happy with our scores and work. After our show, my trainer gave me a little homework so that we could start working on flying changes! 
Also the weather finally warmed up.
While all this life was going on and Spring was busy springing, I was mired in homework. My thesis papers were due and I was rapidly losing my mind to the 11th century. I tried to keep everything updated the best I could. I also really wished I could go to Rolex again.
Grad school is.... learning which late night NPR shows go best with adding footnotes.
May

At the start of May, my trainer learned that I would be debuting 3rd level at the end of the month ... and laughed at me (deserved). When I broke down what it would take to succeed at 3rd, I also started to freak out a little...
Lots of this. All year.
As a bit of a mental break (or: life timing sucks) my husband and I literally leapt from the horse trailer into a flight out to DC to shop for a new rental and boarding barn. While out there, I snagged a great deal on a cooler.
Don't lie. You're jealous. Related: I do not miss that house.
While recapped in June (and July?!), I did actually attend Harmony in the Park in May and showed 2nd and 3rd level. This probably wasn't smart, but my smart horse totally pulled it off the first day. The second day was a mixed bag, with a surprising second place in our 3rd level class and a giant middle finger from Pig in our 2nd level test.
Love this place and show.
I also got to meet Karen of Contact... and we made dubious adult decisions.
Adulting, so hard.
June
"This is not the summer vacation I'd envisioned" -- Lyra
We rolled right from unpacking from a horse show to packing for a cross country move, which was stupid hectic. Thankfully, we did eventually manage the trip and get all 5 of us (3 of us having 4 legs!) moved to the East Coast. Thankfully, Pig settled into his fancy new digs very nicely, and we both started to get back into riding shape.
"Hai. My name is Pigwigeon the Guinness, and I learned to take off this flymask in one week. F your horse clothes."
July

Of course even the bliss of an extremely fancy new place couldn't last long.
Basically my exact phrasing when paying my board...
Pig came down with a hellish case of rain rot, which got worse before it got better. His hock also lost a fight with ... something ... and swelled up like crazy. Thankfully nothing was serious, and we kept working through it all. We explored trails, auditioned new trainers (still stuck in the medieval period!), and found a new capacity to work in a lower frame.
Lookin' so good. And high quality. Ha!
My trainer's trainer (grandtrainer?) went to Pan Ams, and I shared some media. I also met Emma for the first time, and we did a whirlwind tour of equestrian statues in DC.
This just in: Emma, we need more gelato in our life.

August
DOC is King of the Hill!
Of course once you meet Emma, you immediately demand more fun adventures. So, Allison from PonyTude, Emma, and I headed out to audit a local clinic with the mythical David O'Connor. We had a great time, and I even drew comparisons between a jumping clinic and dressage riding.
Beware: Rocketfuel Consumed Here
I did a lot of thinking about products. First I reviewed two helmets, and finally decided to keep the One K. Second, I discussed the nutritional needs of thoroughbred sporthorses, as compared to warmbloods and racehorses. I also entered a nearby USDF show, just in time for my horse to go super lame and pop a splint.
Kill me.
Though I did the write up in September, the last week of August was our scheduled show date. Amazingly, Pig came sound the Friday before the show. I decided to ride him even though he had the new splint, and he came through with some extremely consistent tests. He stayed sound the whole weekend, though one judge decided he looked lame anyway (thanks a lot irregular medium trot) and gave us a truly upsetting score and comment sheet. Despite this setback, I learned a ton from Loch Moy and got to share a hilarious video blooper
So proud of this horse.
September
So calm. Much head down.
Thankfully, Pig stayed sound after the show and we continued working hard. At a clinic with Stephen Birchall, we learned I am too reliant on my whip and need to be more aware of my weight when changing bend. We also worked on flying changes heavily, and Birchall was able to help me finally explain the concept thoroughly to Pig. Having literally worked his ass off in the clinic, Pig ended the month with an extremely sore behind...
Biggest breakthrough all year.
October
You know what's up next...
Things kind of went downhill in October. During a routine schooling ride, Pig kicked himself in the already injured splint and went dead lame. Unlike the initial injury, this one was not minor and quickly recovered from. Instead, he aggravated it further in some pasture shenanigans and ended up on stall rest with the vet called, and a bump so large it was sitting on his suspensory. We eventually discovered the splint bone WAS broken, but should heal easily with stall rest and preventative medicine.
Ugh. Splint bones, amirite?
Stall rest for a month was an adventure, with my super fit thoroughbred finally starting to act like one. In an unrelated accident, I also broke my own nose... so Pig and I ended up sharing a tube of Surpass for awhile.
Two sad broken bones buddies...
While Pig was sitting bored in a stall, I wrote about changing direction the right way and what we needed to do to get stronger in our Third Level work. 
I also took this photo of a happy, happy, little husky.
Thankfully, after a full month in horse jail and a steroid injection to keep the swelling off the suspensory, Pig was released back into the wilds of turnout. Which he enjoyed. Like. A lot.
Whee!!
November

Pig did so well out on his own, that he was quickly turned back out with his two gelding buddies in his old pasture. This proved exciting. And I shared all the photos with you...
Noooo... this didn't nearly give me a heart attack. Nope. Not at all.
Finally back to a regular turnout schedule, it was time to start Pig back to work. As befitting his status as a very scary energetic thoroughbred, I, of course, rode him bareback in a double bridle. 
Double bridle, front boots, and bareback. Because with withers like that, you know staying on isn't as big of an issue as having brakes.
However, stall rest had set back Pig's muscle tone and fitness quite a ways. We weren't able to just jump back into our training, which left me struggling to keep track of our progress. Because of this (and not being super rich), we missed riding in a fantastic clinic with Jeremy Steinberg. Not to be left out of the action, I did audit the whole weekend, and shared all my notes.
I learned so much here!
Through it all, the splint was holding up, and we kept chugging away in our daily rides. In a moment of great news, I was offered a full time job (the call came at the barn, of course)! This came at the right moment as I had just sent my saddle off to be reflocked, finding it actually does fit my horse incredibly well. At the end of the month, I finally gave Pig his first body clip of the winter season, though it was about 80 degrees.
Employed owner, skeptical horse.
We ended up finishing off the month with some stellar rides over Thanksgiving break, including a fantastic gallop and hilarious dog blooper.
Love.
December
Life goals. Be this awesome.
I started December off in my new office, trying to juggle my new hours, commute, and dog responsibilities with riding. This didn't go super well at first, and I apologized with hedgehogs. I did finally get into the rhythm of things, channeling my inner Joan of Arc to get it done in the dark.
Dat half halt, doh.
I talked some about our progresses in 3rd level work, comparing the half pass, collection, and changes with work earlier in the year. But ultimately was I ended the year with was wondering how to best treat Pig's ongoing stifle issues, something I'm still working on keeping up with. I think we can overcome it, though!
Bring it 2016!!