Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fix it or go broke trying

We are in a quiet period at work. The downside is that I have too much time to think.

My horse is on my mind, so I’ve been inundating you guys with blog posts to try to exorcise the Bad Thoughts.

First of all, the good news. If you have not heard of Magic Cushion, you should know that it is an incredible product. I posted the picture of the stone bruise on Facebook, and two friends who are both hoof people (one of whom is married to a vet) suggested trying Magic Cushion. The head-bobbing lameness was gone within 24 hours. I treated with MC "Extreme" formula three times (two “changes” just on the affected leg and one treatment of all four feet at once) and the acute lameness has not returned.

But I still can’t go to OR 100.

You see, along with that stone bruise, there was a little filling in the leg. I assumed that the leg would un-puff once the foot pain resolved. And it did. Except for a soft, squishy spot right in the tendon groove—home of bad news, mostly. Injuries to certain ligaments and tendons in the horse’s front legs are just… how to say this nicely? They are career-enders. And in a now-teenaged horse who has not been super reliably sound to begin with, they could be the last straw.

I am trying not to think that way. The vet can’t come until Friday, so in the meantime I am hosing and hand-walking in the spirit of staving off the Worst Case Scenario.

He isn't "actively" lame anymore, but he is not eager to move, either. Making the appointment, it was hard to express to the nice scheduler lady what I was asking for. Roughly this: The boy ain't right and I'm tired of guessing.

The area in question. Nothing to see here. (Literally, I tried all kinds of angles and couldn't get photographic evidence of the problem.)

It is probably just a little strain. Maybe there is a little extra fluid pooling in the tendon sheath that will disappear with Ice Tight and rest.

As much as I hate to spend the money, I am eager to get some professional advice about all of this.

PS: I should add the EXTRA GOOD NEWS that Brian has returned to the kingdom of the fully employed. That second paycheck means that bodywork/chiro will be back on the table this fall. NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Designer babies

I read a lot of controversy (as a health care type person) about genetic screening and interventions and test-tube babies. Some people are up in arms because the next generation of parents could, in theory, pre-select many of their baby's traits.

I am not interested in human babies. Ya'll can keep them.

What I want to know is when I can put in an order for my next horse. I'm happy to pay a premium to get some custom options.

Oh, that? That's just a solid black foxtrotter with blue eyes. Nothing special.

What would you build if you could design your own foal?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Quick hoof update

In case we aren't friends on FB, or you just missed it... LOOK WHAT I FOUND!

A small amount of additional interpretive info:

Red area: This is "the divot" where I dug out the thrushy junk after I cut off the folded-over bars.

Blue area: White line separation, recently beveled.

Green area: Weird hoof spot. This is the front edge of the scarred part of the hoof. The scarred wall tissue doesn't flare when it overgrows; it bends inward. The whole hoof would curve under itself here if I didn't keep after it. There was a small folded-over piece of hoof wall here (just over the white line, not impinging on the sole) that I cut off at the same time as the divot.

Anyway, I can't tell if this is the culprit for certain. He didn't strenuously object to me poking, prodding and cutting there. What he did object to was me trying to pick up the opposite foot to force this one to bear weight. So... maybe?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sympathy pains (AKA: A-lame again, naturally)

I think I would be very pleased with the new barn, had Blue not gone lame virtually the moment we arrived.

That’s not to say that the lameness is the barn’s fault. If anything, the new place is the most foot-friendly yet.

Earlier this summer I began having mild symptoms of plantar fasciitis. This is not terribly shocking given that I work at a standing desk, I’m overweight, and I tend to stand with my weight in my heels. What was shocking was the day the symptoms went from mild to major—the morning that I woke up, stepped out of bed, and nearly fell over because my right foot couldn’t support my weight. A few limping steps, a few minutes in the shower, and all was well again. That’s been my pattern since July.

I did a mountain of reading on the subject, which more or less confirmed my suspicion: Seeing a doctor probably wouldn’t help much. (I say that even as a hospital employee with access to hundreds of doctors and above-average faith in modern medicine.) What the reading did tell me was to get arch supports for all of my shoes and to stop standing so much until things had a chance to heal.

So I write this from a sitting position, my feet ensconced in orthopedic luxury.

Blue, meantime, can’t seem to catch a break. I took him out for one short ride around a nearby hay field, where he was a tense, high-headed idiot. At the time I attributed this to stress from switching barns, but not I think it might have been that… plus pain. 

The day after the hay field ride I thought I would work him in the arena a bit to calm him down, then do the same trail as the day before again, hopefully minus the idiocy. Instead, he was head-bobbing lame—even on soft bark-dust arena footing.

I took him out to the round pen (hurray, I have access to a round pen again!) to see what I could see. He wasn’t too bad going to the right, but to the left he was pretty lame. Not three-legged or anything, but definitely bobbing. You know what that means! 

Oh, you don’t? I don’t blame you. Neither do I. He’s lame on The Weakest Link again, and I couldn’t begin to tell you why. The only thing that looked even mildly suspicious was a laid-over (layed-over?) bar that appeared from nowhere. I swear to you, the overgrown bar wasn’t there on our civilian camping trip.

With the help of my handy-dandy hoof knives, I cut away the portion of bar that was covering the sole and exposed some black thrushy gunk.

Yes, thrushy gunk. In September. The ground doesn’t get any drier than this, folks. And yet, we continue to fight this battle. So I scraped away the black gunk. And kept scraping, and scraping… and scraping at the gunk. Once I made a divot a quarter-inch deep, I felt like I didn’t dare go any deeper. At least I had gotten *most* of the muck that had been hidden under that chunk of bar. What remained was a little black line at the bottom of the divot I just dug, pretty much right where the bar meets the sole.

I took him back outside and trotted him in the round pen to see if the pressure from the hunk of bar had been the problem.

Still lame.

I brought him back inside and put Gloves with comfort pads on him.

Repeated the trotting. Still lame.

One interesting thing. When I popped the gloves off and looked into the divot, it looked like maybe some gunk had extruded through the little black line. It couldn’t really have come from anywhere else, but a part of me is so tired of fighting this hoof battle that the thought of facing another abscess is almost unthinkable.

So last night after work I gave the foot a good soak to soften it, then went over the whole thing again with the knife and the rasp, removing any and all suspicious areas. Then I packed the divot with medicated gauze and left him booted. Hopefully that will encourage any additional phantom goop to find its way out and give my poor horse some relief.

So I’ve had plenty of time to think these last several days, as I stand there over a steaming bucket of hoof-soak. I hate to even bring this up. You guys know I love and adore this horse. He’s one in a million. …But I’m beginning to wonder if the problem is beyond what I can fix. Blue is a desert horse who comes from a long line of desert horses. 12 of his 14 years were lived in arid conditions. He was immunocompromised when I got him. What if he just can’t make a comfortable transition to swamp living? (or at least not on terms that I can afford?)

Am I being overly dramatic here? Probably. But it just feels SO UNFAIR that there are horses all over this valley who never have thrush or abscesses and who don’t get anything like the thoughtful nutrition and physical babying that Blue gets. There are people who literally never give hoof health a second thought because they don’t have to. And here I am soaking and sanitizing and padding like a crazy person.

As a boarder, I have such limited control. I can try and try to make it VERY CLEAR how I want my horse cared for, but I can't be there every minute to supervise. I don't think I ever mentioned it here, but I found out shortly after Klickitat that the barn I just left had been giving Blue molasses in his feed. And not in small amounts, either. On days when I rode him hard, they might give him a quarter-cup or more "to make up for all the energy he burned." Here I am slaving away to make baggies of a nutritionally balanced daily ration with virtually no starch and they are undoing that work without even asking. And I never would have known if I hadn't caught someone dumping the molasses into the bucket on an evening when I arrived early.

For all I know, this latest problem could be fallout from bad feeding four months ago. That's the thing with hooves. You rarely see the problem until weeks or months later, when it starts to grow out.

I’m holding out hope that I will see improvement tonight. If we're talking about an abscess, maybe a night in the boot will have blown out. If it was a bruise, maybe it will be visible.
We’re still far enough out that I am holding out hope for a miracle recovery in time for OR100. If not, I will go sans-horse and be full-time crew for Heather. Now we just wait and see.

On a happier note, here a a few pics of the new place.

He's in the second-to-last stall on the right.
Blue's stall from the outside. He has a stall-sized matted run on a mild slope.

Turnout on sand/gravel

And a small indoor arena

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Riding with civilians

A couple weekends ago, the owners of the barn where I board organized a trip to the Riley Horse Camp near Zigzag, Oregon. Amazingly, this beautiful camp with a few miles of well-maintained sandy trails is only an hour away from us. 

My little trailer is one of only two at the barn, so it was called into service to make the trip possible. Pretty much everyone else would be going up on Friday at some point. They’d be taking both trailers (four horses total) and then bringing my trailer back so I could drive up on Saturday with Blue and another boarder’s horse, Cache. We’d have six horses in camp, which was enough for everyone who wanted a turn riding to have one.

At some point during my work week, it occurred to me that the plan meant the barn owners making an extra round trip with an empty trailer, so I suggested that if they were coming back to the barn anyway, they might as well just pick up Blue and Cache themselves Friday night. I could drive the truck up on Saturday to meet everybody and then tow the trailer home with two horses on Sunday.

Friday evening, while I was slaving away over a hot keyboard with my phone turned off, I got a whole bunch of texts and voicemails. The gist: They hadn’t been able to get Cache in the trailer. Blue got right in, but when Cache pulled back and refused, Blue started getting antsy. So then they took Blue back out of the trailer to give Cache more room to load… Of course, once both were outside again, neither horse would load. I imagine Benny Hill music and horses shuffling in and out.

They sounded exasperated. And they told me to bring Blue up on Saturday, and at least try with Cache, but they wouldn’t blame me if I couldn’t load him—because he was impossible to load and maybe he had been traumatized in a trailer at some time in the past and after all it is just a little straight load and he’s a big horse and he wouldn’t even do it for grain and blah blah blah.

On Saturday morning, it was my turn.

I am not going to say that Cache loaded on the first try or walked right in. The one barn worker who was staying behind to take care of the remaining horses tried three or four times while I was gathering up supplies. When I saw he wasn't having much luck, I opened up the escape door and led Cache in by myself. It took maybe two soft pulls with releases for trying.

Blue balked when I lead him to the trailer (which shows just how fast good training can be undone by bad handling—he normally self-loads without me even touching his leadrope). I set him straight pretty quick.
Because, I guess, here’s another thing I like about endurance: The horses and riders both know how to handle the whole “trailer” thing. 

Cache literally had not left the property in two years. All the vet work these horses have is through barn calls. All the training and riding is on-site. The owners and riders aren’t used to loading, hauling and caring for the horse on the go.

Example: On Friday when they took the first two horses in my trailer, they put buckets of water in the mangers. And they were glad they had because then they arrived, they found their thirsty babies drank all of the water. Remember, this is a one-hour trip.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the carpet in the tack locker under the manger was soaking wet and there were rust streaks on the wall where the water from the buckets sloshed through in welds. I doubt the horses drank a drop from the buckets—it was all in my tack room.

The camping itself was fun. Camping without the pressure of competition really is delightful and relaxing. I ate whatever I wanted. I slept in. I peed in a permanent structure!

Riding with non-Endurance people for the first time in a long time was hilarious/horrible. I saw more falls, more unchecked bad behavior, more trail etiquette faux pas in 24 hours than I have seen in six years of endurance.

Now don’t get me wrong. No horse is perfect. And since most of these horses don’t travel regularly (or even work outside of an arena regularly) I expected they might struggle a bit. So imagine my surprise when my barnmates mounted up bareback or with only a halter and rope for steering. Surely they were aware that a challenging new environment might spook their normally reliable, confident mounts? Surely they would take this as an opportunity for training good trail habits and showing the kids who came along how to handle an emotional horse in an unfamiliar environment?

Nope, that was just me. That was just me training Blue to deal with spooking, whirling horses around him… With riders allowing their mounts to charge up every hill or trot away from the group with no warning… With being left alone in the corral with no other horses in sight... With kicking, ear-pinning mares... I could go on.

But I think the best part was hearing how “tired” the horses were and how “sore” the riders were after… say… 3 miles? *wink*

I went out by myself on the morning of the second day to get some real work done. I took Blue up the Sandy River trail to the Ramona Falls trail, then turned around at the river crossing and came back down. I ran into the rest of party when I was nearly back to camp, and accepted their invitation to go back up the trail a second time at a walk. I didn’t have my GPS on, but according to the trail signs, I probably did close to 15 miles all told because of the repetition. Blue barely broke a sweat in spite of the soft, sandy footing. He offered to jig the last several miles because the horses in front of him were pretty much out of control. We probably did 100 one-rein stops and a bazillion half-halts to keep him at a flat-footed walk and let the other horses go. TRAINING OPPORTUNITY!

As I told my barnmates, Blue really needed another 20 miles. He’s had such a lazy summer, I fear he’s going to be a fire-breathing, trail-eating monster at OR100.

All in all, it was a fun trip. It’s nice to do something different every once in a while and remind myself how foreign my hobby is to most of the horse-owning public. The whole thing was made somewhat bittersweet, though. The trip was, in effect, a farewell party for me and my Lake Oswego barnmates. 

On Labor Day, I I had to move Blue to a new, less convenient location. I'll tell you all about it in the next post: The New New Barn.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sweet Onion Live III (2014)

The whole model horse thing is nuts. I mean, some would say the whole endurance thing is nuts, too, and I’d be inclined to agree, but model horses are different. The whole idea of a model horse show makes no sense. Not really. Not when you start asking the obvious questions.

I was judging OF Traditional Breyer this time (feel free to refresh your terminology memory here). 

So, let’s imagine that there was a sale at the local tack/gift shop and literally everyone in town bought the same shiny, new Breyer. They all unpack them at the show and put them on the table. There are, literally, 15 identical horses on the table. They are an industrial commodity, intentionally manufactured to be as uniform as possible. They are widgets. 

Which widget is the best?

That’s what I was there to decide.

I didn’t take good pictures at the show, so I’m going to do a tiny, simulated OF Breyer class for you on my workbench. Let’s call this class “Half/Part Arabian,” which is a class I judged at SwOL.

Here’s how I decide who wins, in order of what I look for.

Presence. Just like at a real horse show, there are usually one or two horses in the class who just draw the eye. I’ll walk around the table, sizing up the whole group and getting a feel for the standouts. (You'll note at a glance that the horse on the far left is much darker than the other two. That might matter later...)

Basic conformation. Some of Breyer’s molds are very realistic and biomechanically correct. Some of them are a virtual pantheon of how not to sculpt a horse. I’ve done enough research to know who’s who. Thank goodness there are only so many molds, so I just have to know like 100 things and not 1,000. (This class has all the same mold, so biomechanics are irrelevant. For the record, this is the Breyer Mariah, and she is pretty good other than an extremely short back and weird ears.)

Breed assignment. Every horse at the show has a leg tag that tells what breed it is supposed to be. This is not necessarily the breed that Breyer put on the box. The owner can also include a notecard to document why they chose that breed for that model. I mentally DQ’d tons of people for bad breed assignments. Some breeds of horse don’t come in certain colors. Some body types aren’t appropriate for some breeds. Some grooming techniques are used on certain breed and not others (i.e.: cobs are shown roached but hunters are shown loose or braided). It sounds harsh, but when there are 15 horses on the table, it’s nice to throw a couple right out of the running so I have a smaller pool of potential winners to work with when I start looking at the nitpicky stuff.

Imagine this is the Part Arab class. Yes, it is absolutely possible that the guy on the left is part arabian, but he isn't really a prime representative of the body type of a horse who is 50% arab or more. Ergo, he would lose in a part arabian class because his owner chose an unlikely breed assignment.
Nitpicky stuff. Scuffs and rubs. Fuzzy paint edges where they should be sharp. Quality of shading. Dust. Yes, sometimes it comes down to dust.

So that's the order of operations for judging OF. A scuffed horse who is a better conformational example beats a pristine trainwreck.

Congratulations! The first round of breed classes is over. Then first and second place from that class come back to be judged in the championship for their group. (In that way, a model horse show is more like a dog show than a horse show—first judge by breed, then by group, then overall against the other group winners.)

Group judging is where things tend to go off the rails for me. Our theoretical Part Arabian champion from the breed class will find herself in the “light breeds” group along with the champions of Arab, Gaited-American, Gaited-Spanish, Non-gaited Spanish, TB, WB, Morgan, etc. So the question in a group class is: Is this Part Arab a better representative of Part Arabs in general than that Gaited Spanish horse is a representative of gaited Spanish horses in general? This is, of course, a nonsense question.

This would be a pretty typical group class. These are all "light breed" horses from different breed classes.

For argument’s sake, let’s say our little Part Arab wins her group. Now she’s in the running for OF overall championship. Now she is likely competing against a Stock horse, a Draft horse, a Pony and an “Exotic,” like a zebra or a donkey, plus the champion of Collectability (which is a whole other can of worms that I am not even going to dignify here).

Championship (dramatization).

At this point, you might as well throw all of their names in a hat and pick from that, because there is no flippin’ way to decide this fairly.

Anyway, I made it all the way through without embarrassing myself or getting yelled at too badly. I call that a win.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A nod is as good as a wink

I went to the barn yesterday intending to do a little light arena riding. Blue has had two weeks off since Klickitat to do basically nothing but hang out in the pasture with his buddies.

I decided to lunge him in the arena first to make sure he was sound. Last weekend, when I lunged him in the field (new arena fencing was being installed), he was very mildly off on the bad front foot still. But the ground in the field is fairly hard now that it is dry, and fairly uneven because of us riding on it when it was wet. I considered Blue to be nearly normal and well on his way to recovery already, though I didn't ride him. Another week of R&R would set him right.

Nevertheless, as Blue was circling around me yesterday on the smooth, forgiving sand of the arena, something still seemed not quite right. It was puzzling. The rhythm seemed even. The stride length was normal. There might have been an occasional head bob, but it was hard to tell if that was lameness or just high spirits. And yet, something was definitely telling me he wasn't ready to ride yet again.

What was it? I was puzzled. There was...something. I sent him off circling the other way (bad foot on the outside) for a while as I took stock, front-to-back from the ground up. Normal stride length. Normal landing. No stiffness. One ear forward, one ear on me. Willing attitude. Good footing. And yet...

I turned him around again, so the bad white foot was on the inside where I could see it hitting the ground in my peripheral vision as I watched the rest of him.

And that's when I saw the thing that had been tickling my subconscious: Every time the bad foot hit the ground, he blinked.

Such a subtle thing. Too subtle for video, I'm sorry to say. (I tried!)

Horses are always so quiet when they communicate. Blink- blink- blink is horse for ouch- ouch- ouch.

So my saddle will be gathering dust for another week. Luckily, I've got nothing but time! :)