Monday, April 13, 2015

The Shadow of Smith Rock

(Photo shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia)

Yesterday was kind of a hard day.

For almost two years, I’ve been mulling over a simple question: Can I continue with Blue?

For the first half of that time it was just a financial question. Since last May, it has also been an ethical question.

Last year, Blue he had one completion in three tries. He was lame most of the summer into the fall. This spring, as my career continues to demand more and more of my available cognitive load, I looked for a part-lease to keep Blue active and help cover my board costs.

The first lessee lasted almost two months, but she had to drive an hour to get to my barn and decided it wasn’t worth it. The second person who came to see him was a more serious rider with bigger ambitions. On the first day she came to try him out, he was visibly lame. Again. Somehow she saw it in he heart to give him a second chance… and he promptly showed her his lazy, arena sour side that has come out since we haven’t been able to get out and do distance.

I have talked to a lot of people. I have talked to trimmers, traditional farriers, vets, nutrition experts and my endurance mentors. I have read books and websites until my eyes burn. I put Blue on a low-sugar, low-carb, low-iron diet. I keep him in a sand-and-gravel drylot with no access to grass—the driest, hoof-friendliest possible environment in our region short of him literally living indoors on a treadmill made of bentonite.

Still, his feet reek of thrush and are tender to the touch.

To be frank, the math just isn’t practical anymore. At best I am seeing him once or twice a week and not doing any distance work. Half the time he is off on the front end anyway. The west side board bills are right on the edge of what I can afford before we even start talking about vets and fancy diet and remedial farriery.

HE is not the problem. HE is my all-time number one favorite horse—more beloved than even the saintly Topper, who I trained from babyhood.

On Facebook (most of my social life), Becky asked how people can afford multiple horses. The answers fell into two categories pretty much: own land and don’t have other hobbies.

If I owned land, I could postpone my decision. Blue would have a year or two of rest. Maybe he’d become a permanent pasture pet with occasional trail and camping duty or maybe he would finally adjust to the wet climate and recover his soundness.  And then, when he was 17 or 18 years old, we might be able to do two or three more years of LD—if things went well. Then full retirement as a much-loved but broken down old friend and a mentor to my next horse.

Since I don’t own land, that's all just pointless fantasy. Blue’s going to summer camp.

A nice trainer, fairly new to the area but highly recommended, is going to work with Blue. She lives in Terrebonne, (almost literally) in the shadow of Smith Rock, with the driest, grittiest sand-and-lava turnouts and arena I have seen in a long time. A cinder road takes her straight to one of the horse-fords at Smith Rock Park. No trailer needed. I am SERIOUSLY jealous of her place.

She will continue the strict diet and start him on a serious exercise regimen (you might see him at Grizzly or Still Memorial—say hi!). She is a trimmer and will keep fighting the good fight on his long toes.

And, a month from now, if the dry ground and wide-open spaces have done what I fear/expect them to do, she will help me find Blue a new home on the dry side of the mountains. She will help me make sure they are the kind of people who are thoughtful enough to do right by him.

Here's the bottom line for me after more than three years in the swampland: If all signs point to him being healthy and sound as a dry-side horse, then he needs to go back to being a dry-side horse. My emotional attachment to him is mostly irrelevant when the ultimate question is his physical well-being.

So yesterday I left with a full trailer and came home with an empty one. I'm optimistic that the dry climate will make the difference. And if Blue ends up an active, sound confidence-builder for some lucky Central Oregonian (and maybe I occasionally get to see him at rides) I'm going to call it a win.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Check your privilege

“There's that saying...something like ‘if you want it bad enough, you find a way, otherwise you just find excuses.” 

Somebody I like and respect said this yesterday in a Facebook conversation. And I get it, it's a platitude that we've all heard versions of. It's just a thing you say. Follow your dream. You can do anything you want. Where there's a will, there's a way. 

What a ridiculous sentiment.

If I could change one thing about the way people think, this pernicious belief in the power of lifting by your own bootstraps would be it. Yes, with hard work and dedication, you can sometimes achieve your goals. But also, sometimes, with hard work and dedication, you can fall flat on your face.

(…And then someone will kick you when you’re down by saying that you just didn’t want it badly enough to succeed.)

Sometimes a person with cancer who wants to live bad enough will still die.

Sometimes a person who wants to be famous bad enough will never get their big break.

Sometimes a person who wants to leave their dangerous neighborhood bad enough will have to stay behind and care for their family.

And if you can’t see this, maybe you should try harder to find a way to see it

You can't always "find a way." Sometimes there isn't a way. Sometimes there might be a way but the costs are too high and the obstacles are insurmountable. Sometimes finding a way to get what you want means hurting other people. 

A world where everyone does whatever it takes to get what they want is a horrifying place. Equally horrifying is a world where people who don't get what they want are assumed to be excuse-making failures. I'm also not sure there is much to be said for a life where what you want never changes.

And while I'm ranting, when did having an excuse become a bad thing? The whole idea of an excuse is that it explains behavior that seems negative. Isn't that a good thing? Isn't it nice to know that people have thoughtful reasons for making the choices they do—especially when you don't agree with those choices?

What I'm working up to saying is this:  I'm trying out a new set of goals for this year, with endurance very low on the list. There are a lot of things I need to do and want to achieve and I can't find a way to do all of them in a world where time and money are finite. 

You know how sometimes you are cleaning your house, and it has to get worse before it gets better? Well, that's me this year. I'm cleaning house. That's my excuse.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vet visit report

The news is not much, I’m afraid. The vet was supposed to come at 3 p.m., but was late because of a colic—ironically it was on our same road, so at least she was in the neighborhood. After that, she was with us until almost dark, and by then I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the drive over to Brothers for OR100 anyway. I really wanted to be there for Heather, too. It is such a funny thing to have introduced her to the sport when both of us were very green and now watch her ambitions far surpass mine.

(Not that I mind. It isn’t really my business what motivates her or anyone else. I get tired of the endless pot-stirring on Facebook by endurance prescriptivists who want us all to have the same goals.)

So what happened with the vet first was I just had her palpate the squishy spot. There isn’t much to feel, except that it doesn’t match the other leg. There’s no heat and he doesn’t object to having it messed with. Then I trotted him out for her on the pavement, straight lines. Then walking figure 8’s. Then hoof testers. He was apparently sound.

So we took him to the round pen. Trotting to the right he was willing and normal and springy. To the left he was sullen and resistant. Luckily, she could see what I was seeing. She said it was at most a grade 1.5 lameness, but at least I wasn’t imagining things!

I had given her the whole history of that foot not having a heel bulb and being in a cast for a month, etc, so we decided that the first step was going to be a nerve block on the foot to rule out everything from the heel down. The nerve block made no difference in his attitude or movement, so that told us that the hoof was not the source of the problem.

After a lot of talk, we decided to go ahead and ultrasound the leg to be sure it wasn’t something more along the lines of what Sinwaan is dealing with.

It was actually pretty neat to see the ultrasound. First she ran the wand thing down his leg very slowly, looking for dark spots (fluid) or spots where the texture looked different. You can see the actual fibers of the tendon on ultrasound, which was pretty neat. That didn’t show anything, so she did the other front leg for comparison. Then she did still images in both legs at regular intervals. So she’d take a picture of the left leg 10 cm down from the knee, then the same with right leg, then the computer would compare the two and look for differences in the size of the tendons. She did that every 5cm all the way down both legs.

The findings there were pretty limited: The upper part of his left front deep digital flexor tendon is very slightly enlarged. That is all we saw. And by very slightly, we are talking about millimeters. It could be nothing.

She said that because we are past the stage of acute lameness, anything we do now will be all about managing the healing process. So, he was on a very low dose of bute last week, and I hosed the leg for 20 minutes a day. No “forced exercise” until next week, but he can still be turned out alone as he’s not getting stirred up. We could leave him stalled, but I think that might make him worse mentally. He is already wound pretty tight from so little exercise over the summer (since K-tat, really). I know OR100 would have done his brain a world of good, but that deep sand would have shredded his tendon if it already has a weak spot.

I trotted him a little in the round pen over the weekend, and I really need a second opinion. I don’t think I see anything, but at this point I’m also paranoid about making things worse by asking him to do anything strenuous. The problem was very hard to see before. Now it is… gone? Still there? I really don’t know. He came off the bute last Thursday, so I am interested to see if the squishy spot comes back once the anti-inflammatories have worked their way out of his system. One upside of all this is that now I have enough bute on hand to dose an elephant, so we can start back up immediately if the leg does get squishy again.

Next up is a new trimmer and bodywork tomorrow. You probably remember how I was so excited about the last guy being a Real Barefoot Trimmer, but I felt pretty burned after the easyshoe fiasco and lack of any overall improvements to the feet during our nine-month relationship.So I'm trying someone new who has a reputation for band-aid ripping instead of tiptoeing, if you catch my drift.

As I figure it (cynical as I am lately) even if the new trimmer lames my horse by being too aggressive, we aren’t actually going to be any worse off than we already are.

Same with the bodywork. It’s not like things are going to get worse.

I have no idea what comes next. Let's all think positive thoughts.

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