Friday, April 27, 2018

Vets and Moving

Vet came out on Monday to recheck Bast's leg, and we decided to x-ray the stifle to make sure there was no break. What's a little money between friends, right?
Hay gurl, that's a nice lookin' stifle you got there...
Thankfully the x-rays looked very clear. No breaks or damage to the bony structures seemed evident. We got so lucky!
So we moved on to ultrasound...
We decided to ultrasound the hip instead of shipping him to a clinic to bust out the big diagnostic guns, but thankfully that also looked very clear. However, the ultrasound did show a ton of hematoma under the scrapes on the leg. Like, the inside of the leg looked like it was made of wadded up saran wrap in the images from all the hematoma build up.

Ugh. The vet says this explains all the swelling draining down the leg and resting in the hock at the moment.
Mmm jiggly hock.
Luckily, with no damage to the tendon connections or the bone, Bast has been cleared for limited turnout and lots and lots of hand walking to try to bring down the swelling. So far his turnout options have been limited, as he decided he might want to try testing fences again... However, I hatched a plan to fix his herd bound-ness.
Hint. It involves this magical contraption.
Yep. That's right! I found a new barn for Bast where he can be on stall board and hopefully have a healthier turnout for his brain. I moved him to the new place yesterday, and things went so smoothly for day one.
In fact, I am actually moving Bast over to Pig's barn. It'll be so nice to have both boys in the same place, and closer to my house by about 20 minutes! Plus, this barn has a ton of activity and kids which I think will help Bast settle in and get more experience. My other barn was just so quiet half the time, I think he thought everyone had been slaughtered by aliens.
"Hello new home!"
Though he came off the trailer snorting like a dragon, he also did it in a very civilized fashion. We only had one moment where he scooted around like a psycho (spooked by a galloping horse), but he calmed in hand quickly and never revved his adrenaline back up.

In fact, he was so chill the rest of the day. He really seems to like his new home.
I've literally never found him napping in a stall before. He was so comfortable here from the get-go.
Fingers crossed this will be a good move for him! While I will miss my awesome old barn, I need my horse to be happy so I can actually ride him. Maybe someday soon we'll be back in the land of perfectly groomed indoor rings with amazing mirrors. But for now, we're gonna go with serviceable amenities and really delightful atmosphere.

Today we try him in an individual paddock turnout, and I hope he relaxes and enjoys his time outside.
Goodbye fancy barn, hello happy barn.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

When Your Horse Goes Crazy

Last Saturday Bast crashed a fence.
This fence, actually.
I had been leading him back from bath time in the main barn, when he attempted several times to bolt back to his pasture. This has been normal behavior. I attempted to work with him some in hand to get his attention back on me, but he continued to fixate on the distance and violently pull away. I moved him into a nearby empty pasture, eventually unclipping him. I figured he would run out some of his antsy feelings in the 90 degree heat of the day, and I could then lead him up. Having done something similar with him before, I settled in for a long galloping session.

Instead, I watched him fail to jump out of the field and crash through the nearly 5ft tall 4 panel wooden fence. It's changed the way I think about his behavior. It's time to get serious about his herd bound nerves and lack of respect for human interaction.
He took a direct hit on the post with his stifle, but got very lucky.
It's time to get real and address problems. His crash through this fence was not blind running. It was a conscious decision. He wanted to get back to his pasture, and he was going to solve his problem himself. He refused to come near me, standing in the field waiting for him to calm down so I could lead him back. Instead he took aim and threw himself right into the fence.
Not. A. Jumper.
That is not safe, normal, sane behavior.

This was not a horse being chased. This was not a horse in a blind panic. This was feral horse calculating his options and choosing to a painful and questionable escape to flee back to his pasture mates over dealing with humans.

He was lucky (which is probably a sign he's a terrible horse, since only the good ones seem to have tragedy). His stifle somehow was not shattered, despite taking a direct hit on a fence post at a gallop.
It swelled up immediately, but had nothing but superficial scrapes breaking the skin.
He made it up to his pasture (a little over a 1/4 of a mile from where he broke the fence), and stood outside the gate holding his leg up. I worried he had broken it, as he initially would not put weight on the leg and was very reluctant to walk. The vet thinks he startled himself badly, and the swelling and bruising hurt once his adrenaline dropped.
Your horse should not get into this situation simply being led back from a bath.
I had called the vet immediately, assuming he had broken something based on his reluctance to move and would need to be put down. While waiting for the vet, we sat outside the pasture. Bast exhibited some concern about the location of his pasture mates (who didn't care a whit about him and did not come to the fence where he stood suffering), but he quickly became very calm. He stood with his head in my lap. He licked my hands and arms. He wuffled my hair. He acted much like a sweet horse, which is very unusual for him. This further concerned me. I assume the pain was acting like a twitch.

Once the vet arrived, we determined there was no catastrophic break. We decided to stall him until he showed improvement. The plan is to bute for 5 days. While we initially worried, he made it down to the main barn just fine. (You can see how far it is in the above photo.) His walking actually improved as he moved, which bodes well for the injury.
This was the best he walked. Note the shifted hips, the straight legged movement. The supporting right hind. And the dragging toe. 
I stuck him in a stall, where he immediately turned to the window and began screaming his dumb head off for his pasture mates. I wrapped him while he screamed like an idiot, he ate his dinner, and I left him alone for awhile to think about his life.
Life sucks, huh.
Over the course of Saturday evening and Sunday morning, the swelling increased. I assigned him the nickname "Chipmunk Cheeks" for his swollen ass cheek.
I guess Chipmunk Ass is a better nickname than Dumb Fuck, though I'm pretty sure the last one is a more longlasting name.
By Sunday evening he was moving much better, and actually resting his other hind leg occasionally. I sat with him for an hour and half, during which time he actually turned his butt to me and took a nap. That is a first. Typically he will not relax that much around people without other horses around (we were alone in the barn, as all other horses were on turnout).
Resting the un less injured leg.
While he was still dragging his toe some, I felt encouraged by the improving look of his leg throughout the early part of the week and his willingness to rest the other one. The vet had cautioned that a fracture was still a possibility, and in that case any extreme movement (such as getting up from laying down flat) could torque the bone and cause it to shatter. Until we can evaluate his soundness further he is not fully out of the woods, but this seems like less and less of a possibility.
For now his future is a bit up in the air, and not just because his soundness is questionable. I am out of my depth in dealing with his tuned out and willful behavior. He has exhibited time and again a complete lack of trust in people, despite regular and sympathetic handling. His complete reliance on other horses to supply his confidence undermines any relationship he builds with me or other humans. It's not safe, and it's not improving. Clearly something needs to change. I'm working out what the next steps are, but for now his recovery seems to be progressing well and it seems he will make a complete return to soundness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Many Faces of A Baby Thoroughbred

For anyone who has restarted an ottb in dressage, you would be familiar with the many faces of an opinionated young thoroughbred learning about contact.
Honestly, to some degree, you just have to laugh while your horse makes faces... lots of faces. All of them awkward.
While some horses are very comfortable from the first minute moving into contact, many others rebel against the idea they are expected to hold the bit at all time. Those who rebel can often be quite, ahem, expressive about it.
Of course, as a rider, you simply have to sit quiet and wait things out.
It takes a lot of concentration to keep the rein pressure neutral but present and welcoming, and to keep the horse moving forward into your accepting hand.
This stage of training can feel like it lasts literally forever. Thankfully, experience tells me that this too shall pass.
The important thing is to not get discouraged, stay loose and mentally present, don't get aggressive, and keep going forward. While it might take days, or even weeks to months (especially if you're Pig and very set in your ways), the end result is worth the time investment.
For anyone else out there working on teaching their reluctant and stubborn baby horse about accepting contact, I hope you can take some heart in these photos. We all go through the awkward phase sometimes. Not all training is pretty from day one. Stick with it, and stay patient.
... and don't forget to keep laughing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Learning Lunging

Anyone out there a lunging expert?
'Cause we're definitely not pros...
I am very open about the fact that I am the opposite of an expert in lunging and ground work. To be fair, I also don't believe most groundwork actually translates to dressage training and therefore have not seen a reason to learn more. Pig is notoriously terrible on the lunge line, often losing his balance and nearly falling over or fighting any pressure from side reins or contraptions. As such, I really never got used to using lunging as a training tool.

Enter Bast...
"Oh hai!"
As I've been working with the baby, I've discovered some glaring holes in his education. Under saddle, he's coming along great. However he is struggling when it comes to the basics of reacting to pressure and trusting and looking to his handler. These issues are mostly a problem on the ground, but resolving them will help make his under saddle work much better, too.

I figured bringing Bast back to work after his splint with some light lunging would help address these issues, plus be a light way to test the leg. Unfortunately, I immediately discovered some training holes...
Uh, Pretty sure that's not how it's supposed to go.
I realized Bast's grasp of lunging was completely lacking. As most horses do when confronted with too big of an ask, he was tuning me out completely and attempting to exit stage left to hang out with his dude bros.


So what to do? Start learning how to actually train a horse to lunge, I guess.

I've figured out the best way to approach things with Bast is at the very beginning. As in, so far at the beginning that you might not even feel like you're actually working on the issue at all. What's that mean for lunging?
Hint: Not this at all.
Well, it means standing in the field with my horse in a halter and tapping him on the shoulder with a dressage whip.



"Wtf with the tapping tho?"
The idea is to teach Bast to move away from pressure by annoying the hell out of him with a tapping whip on the shoulder until he finally moves away. Once he moves, I immediately stop the tapping as a reward. Then I repeat. On both sides.

To be honest, he's a really smart horse so this step went really fast. In about 10 minutes he had a good grasp of moving his shoulder away. I didn't move on to the next step (moving away when I simply point at the shoulder), but we'll get there soon. First I want to make sure he understands the concept even when other things are distracting him (like other horses, the wind, the idea of coyotes and lions in the bushes, etc).

The plan going forward to continue to slowly introduce him to increasing questions until he understands all the steps and instruction of lunging. I think this is going to be really useful when it comes to building trust between he and I. He likes getting answers right, and doing this is going to teach him to look to me and think when he's confused, rather than taking matters into his own hands and bolting off into the sunset.

Let's hope it works!
Hopefully we'll work up a more confident version of this soon!

Friday, April 6, 2018

An Update on Catching The Bastard

It seems hard to believe it was just two weeks ago I was writing about catching my little beast Bast. He's come such a long way in just a short time, and I am so proud.
"Am I a good boy?"
The fact that he is no longer having a bute mush syringed into his throat on the daily made a huge difference. However, I notice he is doing better at some of the vaguely shy behaviors (like hiding behind the other horses when he sees someone coming into the field) he's been exhibiting since day one in the field.
Meanwhile this one waits for me at the gate now after almost 10 years of literally not even picking up his head when I called to him? Wtf is happening?!
I started working with him multiple times a day. The first couple of days, my initial appearance would lead to him running around me and the other horses in circles until I could finally walk him down. I did get lucky one day and found him sleeping in the sun, which made the catching much easier...
"Cheating. You're totally cheating."
On the third day, he ran from me when I had reinforcements. I had my friends help me pull the other horses out of the field and graze them on the other side of the fence. When Bast ran from me, I was able to play "keep away from your friends". I refused to allow him to rest near his friends, and continued to push him away until he started actually looking at me not them.

Once he allowed me to walk up and catch him without flinching away (every flinch away resulted in me pushing him away again), we left the field and joined his friends for a few minutes of grazing. Then, I dumped him back in his big lonely field all alone.

After a few repetitions of this, he stopped walking away when I removed his halter. Instead he was following me around like a puppy.
"Okay, okay. I get it. I am also tired of running around."
On the following day, things were much improved. When I showed up, he didn't move at all. Instead he just watched me carefully and continued to graze.
Not running from me, despite my terrifying face.
I've been careful to play with the other horses when approaching. I think that's been helping, though it's rare that he'll leave what he's doing to come investigate. What has been helping a lot is adding a little pressure.

When I walk up and Bast doesn't raise his head to acknowledge me, I walk towards him with forward eyes and confident steps until he finally lifts his head to look at me. At this point, I walk backwards with my hands outstretched. This invites him to walk towards me, at which point I halter and treat him.
... that tail, though.
My goal is to make being haltered his decision, and to show him I'll respect his actions. "Ignoring me is fine, I won't come yank your head out of the grass. However, I will harass you so hard you give up and come to me." As time has gone on, he's become quick to step up to me. Sometimes he'll even offer to walk up to me without having to be invited in.

This has shown another breakthrough. Sometimes he waits for me to leave by standing at the gate. It's so endearing to see him care that I am leaving for the day!
"Moar mints plz?!"
The culmination of our work came this week when Maryland experienced some wild high winds. The horses were on high alert, and the other two in the field were bolting at the drop of a hat. Bast was less concerned than they, but definitely worked up by their concerns. When I drove up, the three of them were galloping in circles out there.
See him check in with me for a second?
I got out of my car and watched them, and Bast immediately started tuning in. While I stood at the fence, Bast continually kept watching and listening to me. The crazy weather had them so stirred up, he couldn't tear himself away from the group. However, his attention in the face of such craziness is heartening.
His staring cracks me up!
Hopefully it won't take much longer and I'll have him coming when I call ... maybe.