Friday, May 18, 2018

Bast Gets a Brain

Alternative title: Ulcer treatment is a miracle cure
A couple of days into Bast's stall rest from his violent fence interaction, I started him on Gastrogard. This was more than just a preventative action, though. I'd planned for months to start him on a full 28 day omeprazole treatment. His fence "altercation" only solidified my plan.

See, Bast had already been exhibiting a ton of ulcer symptoms. He was tight in the belly. He was a funny (not necessarily finicky) eater-- he trampled hay and spurned grass for clods of dirt, but hoovered up his grain. His nervous behavior and tendency to suddenly shut down also matched ulcer symptoms. With the changes in lifestyle in his imminent future, I knew we would have to treat now. So, I spoke with my vet and charted out a treatment plan. I would give him a daily dose of Gastrogard. Once his treatment was done, I would pursue a daily supplement or preventative.
"Dude?! Why would you choose dirt over this lush grass buffet?!" -- Pig, obviously
Last fall, I did the "nexium experiment" and noticed a positive change in Bast; so, I was pretty sure this would help. However, I knew the nexium dosage wasn't truly enough of the drug to really heal the ulcers. As expected, the moment I tapered the pills down the symptoms ramped up again (though they also never completely disappeared). Because of this, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Tracking his improvement was difficult. I didn't notice a real difference at the old barn. I was impressed by his behavior and ease at the new barn, but I don't think that was really due to the meds. (He had shown very nervous behavior at the old farm up to the day we left.) However, a couple of weeks into the new barn leaves me positive the Gastrogard was a necessary treatment.
Sign of improvement #1? Calmly eating grass and not bashing through this fence...
I've been constantly impressed by Bast since ramping up work with him recently. He's still a nervous internalizing horse, but he doesn't jump right to Level 100 Panic Mode. He takes a moment and actually thinks. He's breathing, not just hiccuping, in stressful situations.

In other words, he's acting like a normal horse coming off the track into training. Thank god.
"IDK what we're doing, but I guess I'll give it a try?" -- Bast
"Don't fuck this up, kid." -- Pig
At the suggestion of the vet, I began ponying and lunging Bast regularly to help the hematoma in his hind end work it's way out. With every interaction, I've been extremely pleased by Bast's level of attention and willingness to play the game.
Ears and eyes on me, right where they should be!
I'm so excited to take this new horse back to real work! We took a step in that direction this week, when I finally deemed the little guy sound at all three gaits. Once that milestone was passed, there was no reason not to hop back on him. So... I did.
He was a complete star, even when we left the ring to walk around a soggy, hilly field in a drizzle. I'm so happy with this champion young horse and his great brain. Hopefully we can keep his confidence up and we ramp back into work!

Anyone else notice a huge difference with ulcer treatment? Have you gone in for the whole gastrogard treatment before?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Maintaining the Retired Dressage Thoroughbred

When I retired Pig he was a chunk of a horse.
Pig-a-potomus | July 2017
With a much reduced workload, he was rapidly gaining weight on his ridiculously small previous diet (2 lbs Purina Strategy and 1lb Enrich ration balancer). When he moved to the therapy place in August, his workload diminished even further. They cut him down to just the ration balancer.

By October he was beginning to resemble a broodmare...
Broodmare status | October 9, 2017
In November, he moved from the therapy place to the current barn. Here, field board horses are not fed by the barn staff. He would only get fed (ration balancer) when I showed up. To start this was only about 3 days a week.

I watched him carefully the first month to ensure his weight wasn't dropping with this reduced feeding schedule. He seemed to be keeping up just fine. In fact, he still looked a bit fat to me.
Santa-Pig | December 17, 2017
The end of December and January saw me missing a lot of barn visits, with holiday trips and moving out of my house. I was trying to feed Pig 3x a week, but trying to find him in his huge field in the dark and get to Bast's barn was proving difficult. His feeding schedule fell to 1-2x a week.

By February, I realized I would need to make a bigger effort to get out there 3x a week again. While he looked okay most of the time...
Fluffy-Pig | February 18, 2018
On occasion he showed a bit too much rib for my liking...
Also February 18, 2018
Part of the issue was his completely missing topline. I'd only ridden him a handful of times since he had moved to the new barn. (In November, he ended up with a tick borne fever, so I had given him all of Dec off to recover.) The muscle was literally wasting away from the top of his haunches and back. On one day I'd think he needed to gain some weight. On the next he looked just fine.
Looking fine | March 11, 2018
Right around this time, things started to go wrong. The weather warmed up considerably, and new shoots of grass started trying to poke out. The horses in the pasture started ignoring their hay, instead roaming the vast field for each tiny speck of fresh green they could find.
Grass IS always greener... | March 27, 2018
Pig started looking very forward to his grain ration, even coming to me in the field when called, for the first time in his whole life.
You Rang? | March 9, 2018
Again, he wasn't looking like an abuse case, but I was keeping a careful eye on him. The ongoing frantic search for grass and overheating under his blankets seemed to be doing a lot of damage to his weight.
Drama-Pig | April 9, 2018
Mid April I decided to add in more grain. I picked up a bag of Strategy and started weening him back onto it. As the grass had stopped popping out with the late March cold snaps, he seemed to really need the extra calories.

Whenever I could, I grazed him on the one hill on the farm that was sprouting grass.
GREEN! (But only here...) | April 8 2018
While the grain helped his weight to stabilize, I felt he was very slow to put more on. I was reluctant to add too big of a grain meal, but did increase a bit more. Thoroughbreds can look so ribby just because of the way they are built, especially Pig. But with his lack of muscle, I wanted more weight on him.
Waiting for dinner | April 27, 2018
The lack of topline really seemed to be the biggest issue. Once I felt I had his weight stabilized and the grass started coming in for real, I decided it was time to put him back to gentle work and start building up some muscle again.
One of these butts is not like the other ones | May 12, 2018
Of course, we've been taking things really slow to help build him up without stressing his system and causing weight loss. Mostly he started by ponying Bast around the property. Hauling a young horse up and down hills seems to be agreeing with him (as does the grass).
Ugh, the lack of muscle makes me cry | May 12, 2018
We've finally gotten to the point where I think he's ready (and he seems to agree) for more strenuous work. I am doing some light dressage schools with him, and kicked up some hill repeats and canter sets to built some muscle behind.

Hopefully all the work brings back a topline and we can rebuild that sexy body he had at the start of the year.
Looking good! | May 7, 2018
This winter was certainly eye opening for me. I was amazed at how well he did on limited grain throughout the winter, but next year will be sure to start him on a larger grain ration at the end of January to avoid the spring slump. He's not the only horse in the area that went through this rollercoaster, but I would prefer to avoid it next year. That said, I'd like to keep him from getting as fat as he was last summer! His old arthritic legs could use a break!

Anyone else struggle with their horses this spring? Is your horse's weight difficult to evaluate from moment to moment like Pigs?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Best $90 Spent

I strolled into the tack shop looking for specific necessities, standing wraps and fly spray. Arms already full, I wandered into the cluttered back of the store, where the consignment items languished in chaos. Almost immediately, I saw them...
Cue angels.
A set of glorious chestnut brown polo boots peeked out of the pile of mostly indistinguishable black field boots. I snatched them out immediately, steeling myself for the inevitable heartbreaks of sizing, quality, and price.

By some miracle, the price tag read an affordable $90. The sizing was listed as "7 1/2 or 9?" Unsure what that meant, I whipped off my own shoes and slipped my foot in, jeans and all. They zipped snugly against my leg. The foot was a bit big (so, probably a 9), but the calf sizing was perfect.
We also found a massive eggbutt snaffle for $5.
While the leather had seen better days, a thin spiderweb of superficial cracks wound around the exteriors, I knew these boots were the right answer to my schooling boot problem. They had clearly been used hard, and suffered some water damage on the right calf. However, the inner leg was so thick and sturdy I knew they'd hold up to a lot of riding.

I pulled out my credit card and called them my birthday present to myself.

Once I had them in my possession, I started digging to figure out what they were. I studied the faded makers mark inside for a long time before deciphering a faint "Dehner". That set my brain whirring and my fingers typing. In no time at all, I knew I had a set of these on my hands:
Holy $$ Batman!
Talk about a steal of a deal! Even with the use and the slight flaws, these boots could have gone for much, much more in the consignment. A friend who works at the store later told me she'd taken them in only the day before, and was heartbroken they didn't fit her. She was also astounded at the affordable price set.

I am so lucky!
I love front zips.
While not true dressage boots, polo boots like these have a lot in common with the stovepipe type boot. The upper leg is very stiff and supportive. The zippers are in front, which I absolutely love. My large calves are a back zipper liability, yet I've never had anything but success with my front zipper dressage boots.

Polo boots have a lot more styling flair, which I adore in a schooling boot. The tassels are silly, and the buckled keeper is so over the top. This is a boot I'd pick out for myself brand new, so finding an affordable pair on consignment feels like destiny.
Surprise! Look who's back to work!
I wish they were an inch taller, but won't complain. They are absurdly comfortable in the saddle. The fact that they are already extensively broken in through the ankle means I have zero problem pulling my lower leg back where it needs to be.
Chestnut boots on a chestnut horse? Be still my heart. 
Next steps for these pretty guys is some cleaning TLC, a coat of clear polish or wax, and eventually a new set of soles. I'm enjoying pulling them out for my rides, and love how excited I am to just go out to the barn so I can play in them!
I think they'll look perfect on Bast, too!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Conformation and Conditioning Update

April 8 2018
I hope to make this a more regular feature here on the blog. It's been fascinating to track not only Bast's muscling and conditioning changes over the last few months, but also to track the way his body has been growing.
April 8 2018
Recently, I've noticed Bast seems to have grown a bit longer. His blankets no longer fit in the same way as they did at the start of the winter. Adding to this changes in saddle and other tack fit, I can only assume he's growing.
January 12 2018
January 2 2018
Hopefully he's growing up, as well as wider! I might be imagining things, but it seems like his butt and withers have been jostling a bit for which is taller. That's usually a good sign the horse is getting a bit taller. Let's keep our fingers crossed he finishes uphill!
August 30 2017

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.