Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When Your Training Comes to a Halt. Or, does it?!

I feel like there's always something to work on with baby horses. Always.
"Not me, I'm perfect." -- Bast, who is clearly not perfect
So, when Bast was laid up with his splint injury I knew I'd have time to maybe work on some of the little things that aren't the main focus when we're working in the ring. Mainly, relationship building. See, Bast has a bad habit I hate. No, it's not bolting (though that is still sometimes an issue, and one I've talked about a couple of times before). Nope. This issue is evading capture in the field.

I can't stand horses that are hard to catch. I don't expect my horses to run to me like some kind of weird Disney movie reenactment, but I don't like chasing them around screaming obscenities while the vet waits either.

While Bast isn't usually one to outright run from me, he typically spies someone walking up to him in the field and motors off casually to hide behind the other horses.
"Don't mind me, just sneaking off to hide my tiny body behind my behemoth pasture mate."
This drives me nuts. I know I have to be really careful not to startle the other horses at all (the one Bast usually hides behind is incredibly spooky and fearful of people doing people stuff).
"Pro tip: Always put a huge fearful horse between yourself an the human."
If I do startle them at all, Bast is the first to take advantage-- running off at full speed and snaking his head at the others if they stop running. It's impossible to lay hands on him unless you catch all of his pasture mates first, a feat nearly impossible when you're up there alone in the dark.
I'm not sure if the whole thing is a game, an attempt to avoid work, or something else. That said, it's really hard not to take this behavior as a personal slight (which, I know is totally irrational and not how horses think). Literally no one else ever catches and halters him, so I have no way of knowing if this issue is strictly related to me. My tendency is to think it's generalized, based on his skittishness with the barn staff if they try to handle him at all during feeding time.

I've tried help him associate people catching him with things he likes, like mints and shoulder scratches. With regular catching, he does begin to take the initiative and walk the last few steps up to me (this is rewarded with copious mints). However, his initial response to duck behind other horses or give me a leery stare has yet to abate.

Enter all this time off and my horse going full feral.
Pictured: full feral. Related: I guess that splint is feeling better.
I came out on Saturday to try to check the healing progress of his splint, only to find he had completely reverted to a wild horse. When I showed up he immediately ran over and ducked behind the spooky horse. Then, as I took a step towards them and crinkled a mint wrapper, he was off.
For the next 20 minutes he ran full out in circles around the other horses. If I so much as looked his direction, he poured on more speed and snorted and squealed. After the first few minutes of these excessive shenanigans, I whipped out a full bag of carrots and started walking around feeding the other horses. In just a few minutes I had the rest of the herd gathered around me begging for more treats, leaving Bast to express himself without an audience.
Freaking ridiculous idiot right here.
Gradually he started to wonder what was going on in the huddle of horses and came over to investigate. He was still really skittish, though.
"IDK, man. Are the carrots worth being near the human tho?" -- Bast
I kept feeding all the other horses, ignoring him completely. Finally he caved and started shoving his nose in my hands begging for his share of the goods.

Good pony.

I didn't halter him at all that day (his skittishness is not tied to a halter at all, it's just a human thing), but eventually had him curiously following me around the pasture. I left for a bit, and came back to repeat the trick with only a few steps of skittishness from him.
No more of this though!
The next day, I showed up with a bag of apples and a lot of time. He walked right up to me, and got to enjoy two apples for his effort. I haltered him, curried his itchy bits, and we went for a walk to graze the good grass of the nearby hay field. On returning, I removed his halter and he followed me around curiously again.

I left for a bit, and returned during what was nap time for the herd. I jumped the fence near where they were sunning themselves, and Bast just looked at me as I walked up to him. He approached me, and I doled out more apples and a mint. After awhile, he walked off a few steps, stopping to itch at his leg. I realized he was trying to itch under his wraps, so I slowly walked up to him and wriggled my fingers under his wraps where he was trying to scratch.
Totally relaxed about my presence.
While I scratched, he made a bunch of faces. When I stopped, he investigated my work and sighed. I sat next to him (safety third, my friends), and we hung out like that for a few minutes. Finally he walked a few steps forward, putting himself directly in front of me, cocked a hind leg, and went to sleep. When I finally got up to leave he merely flicked an ear at my movement, completely relaxed and unworried.

I'm hoping all the time spent randomly catching and walking up to him in the pasture without work to back it up helps resolve this issue. We'll see how my methods shake out, but for now I'm hopeful.

Anyone else struggle with a horse that can be skittish or hard to catch? How about one that gallops around like an idiot for minutes at a time?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Magical Mystical World of ... Splints

Bast's training has been swimming right along. Or, well, it was.
Here's a cute photo to momentarily make you forget that blatantly sinister foreshadowing...
A week ago Friday, I showed up at the barn with my mom in tow. It was her first time meeting Bast, and I was excited to show her how nice his training in the ring was coming along. He'd had a great school just a day before, and I knew he was primed for another great ride. However, I put him in crossties, started grooming him, and boom. There it was...
Spoiler alert: Of course it's a splint. If it was anything else, I'd be so much more screwed.
As my fingers ran over the massive, hard bump on the outside of his right front, my heart dropped. The placement of the lump made it obvious it was a splint, though I was happy it didn't seem very sensitive or hot to the touch. Despite the huge size of the thing, I had a hope it was maybe not going to be a big deal. (It's okay, you can laugh with me now.)

While a quick spin on the lunge line in the field showed him to be pretty sound, it quickly became obvious he was a the barest bit sore on that leg. While he never showed lameness, he was resistant to bend that direction.
Actual recording of my reaction.
I slathered some Surpass on it, and resolved to check on it the next day. I think we see where this is going ...

The next day the lump was hot. Plus, I could see Bast head bobbing away walking across the pasture. Obviously when I'd found it Friday it was very very fresh. With a little more time to sit and think about its trauma, the bone was clearly quite angry. The vet was called and scheduled out for x-rays immediately.
It's hard to tell just how hot this thing was in a photo. Try to imagine flames shooting out of it. Also, note how close to the soft tissue that lump is getting!
Of course, it was only just about two years ago that Pig developed a very similar sized lump that turned out to be a broken splint bone with a lump aggravating the suspensory, requiring almost 30 days of stall rest and a lot of time off. Plus, I've had Charlie's splint saga in my head a lot recently, too. Basically, all my experience points to not underestimate a massive lump that nearly sits directly on the suspensory.
Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Proceed immediately to vet for x-rays and bankruptcy court.
The vet was immediately on board with the x-ray plan, especially as the location on the high outer part of the leg indicates this was probably from a blunt trauma (like a kick).  We got to work, expecting the worst. Thankfully, the rads showed a clean splint bone with a big calcification bump over the top.
The calcified bump is that faint lump near the top. The splint bone is that very narrow sliver behind the cannon bone.
Bonus: That fetlock looks goddamn beautiful.
The diagnosis was an overly responsive reaction to a kick. Because there was no break, the vet gave him a steroid shot right away to try to keep the lump from further impinging on soft tissue. He further prescribed stacking the NSAIDs, giving bute twice a day while continuing with the Surpass ointment once a day. He recommended full compression wrapping, and as much stall rest as Bast would tolerate.
Wait, wait, wait. I live in a box again? What is this bullshittery? 
The barn only had an extra stall for 2 days, so we shoved him in and hoped he would deal with the restriction. Thankfully, he was a total gentleman in the stall, settling right in like he hadn't been a feral field boarded horse for the last 6 months. Those racehorse manners are really the freaking best.

He's been back out in the field (with full wraps) for the last 5 days. The size of the splint has gone down significantly, no longer sitting so close to the suspensory. While this makes me feel better, we've been struggling to get the little bastard to eat all of his meds. He started turning up his nose at the grain dusted with bute. Not great, since he could really use all the calories we can pour into him.
Bribing him to eat his medicine with applesauce, macerated carrots, mints, in his own private dining tack room.
Given the size of the splint, I'm planning to be very cautious about bringing him back to work. He'll have the rest of this week off. This weekend I'm planning to work him on the lunge line for a few days while monitoring the splint for signs of irritation. If everything is still cold and unaffected, I'll start him back under saddle the week after that.

Overall, this splint should cost us about a month of down time. While that's a bummer, it's really not the end of the world when you have a young horse. I keep telling myself breaks in training are good, and that not all training has to be in the ring and under saddle.