Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Time for a rendezvous

That’s it. We are cleared for Renegade. Kara will be picking us up around lunchtime on Friday, which will put us at ride camp in time for dinner… probably. Fingers crossed!
Farrier agreed with me that everything looks closed up, but we’ll have to forego boots in order to keep it that way. Probably my horse will get VERY tired on this ride, so probably we’ll come home with both interference wounds and overreach wounds. I just hope he finishes at all. Renegade is a punishing ride.
I can tell you that my horse did not show signs of fatigue last night. After the farrier finished it was pouring rain outside, so, with a deep sigh, I resigned myself to arena work yet again. I really wanted to breeze Blue up the big hill a few times to get his head in the right place for this weekend, but I guess we will be having that conversation during the ride instead of before.
For last night’s work, I set up six trotting poles right down the middle of the arena. Since Blue has been ridden very little in the past two weeks, we started by just trotting really fast along the rail, while I worked on remembering how to ride (amazing what a couple weeks away from trotting can do to muscle memory).
The two times that I’ve ridden Blue since our Klickitat debacle have been in the Kuda, so getting back into the Specialized was really uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I really love what this saddle does for my horse, but if I don’t stretch well beforehand it can be an instrument of torture for both of us. I suspect it fits Blue better than it fits me. It seems like no matter what I do with the length and position of the leathers, they end up torquing (torking?) my hips, knees, ankles, or all of the above. And after riding the Kuda for two weeks the Specialized feels especially hard, unbalanced and rigid. Of course, the Kuda feels slick, floppy and insecure when I switch back… so it isn’t like we have a clear winner in this race.
Some day, I will have the two saddles combined into some sort of super saddle. It will be made by a local person who has seen me and my horse in the flesh and understands the challenge of designing a saddle for a pear-shaped woman and a radiator-shaped horse. This will be the last saddle I ever buy… until I buy the next one.
But getting back to last night. We did fast work, and then we added the poles. I thought they would increase the difficulty. Possibly, they did. It was hard to tell because my horse was more than happy to sail over, around and through them at every speed and angle I could devise. He didn’t break a sweat, but the arena air got extremely dusty—incongruous with the sheets of rain right outside the door. I cooled him out with more lateral work. His turn on the haunches is solid for 90 degrees, iffy for 180 and nonexistent for 360, but he’s getting better every day.
After that I untacked so we could do a little ground work. I hadn’t really planned on it, but he seemed kind of disappointed when I took his saddle off and made like I was going to put him in his stall. (What? Was this some other horse disguised as Blue?!)
Blue doesn’t lunge well, so that seemed like a good indoor project for a rainy afternoon. What started as an easygoing lesson for him turned into one of those big arguments that he and I sometimes get into. He told me that he would prefer not to go counter-clockwise. I suggested it would be in his best interest if he did. He pulled the line out of my hand, bolted for the gate, nuzzled the latch, LET HIMSELF OUT, and trotted off into the distance. *sigh* Luckily it had mostly stopped raining, and he wasn’t too much of a booger about being caught. But of course the lesson now had to be resumed in a more structured way.
By the end we were both huffing and puffing, and I was sweatier than he was. But I got what I was asking for. We stopped as soon as I had won the argument, and not a moment sooner.
So yes, he has the energy to do a ride this weekend. But THIS ride? My first Renegade experience was the 15-mile trail ride on Topper (in 2008?). We had a great ride. I was still new, so I thought that when they said “trail ride” they meant it. We probably walked 14 of the 15 miles. I think those speedy endurance riders were on the verge of sending a search party, we were so slow.
And even with our slow pace, Topper ended up needing IV fluids afterwards. It’s that kind of ride.
My other Renegade experience was with Otto. Otto is a fast, powerful mountain goat of a horse. And still, we finished only minutes from being overtime.
The problem, as I see it, is this: The trails at Renegade force me to confront my fear of falling. I don’t know when exactly I developed a fear of heights, but I do remember riding Otto along a narrow trail with a hundreds-of-feet drop on one side and having actual heart palpitations. I started to think about how dangerous this sport can be. A falling horse, a foot caught in the stirrup, and that’s it. A horrific injury and/or a lonely death… possibly for both of us. And—though I am not religious—I was bargaining with the cosmos to get me safely to the end of the ride so I’d never have to do it again.
And here I am. About to do it again.
If the fear takes over this weekend, we will do too much walking and be overtime. If Blue peters out on the uphills, we will do too much walking and be overtime. If the weather is anything other than ideal, we will do too much walking and be overtime.
So Saturday I have a very specific goal: Don’t be overtime!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Choose your own adventure

It is funny how much you can learn about a disease over the course of a couple weeks. (Has it really only been 2 weeks?!)

First of all, I really want to thank my followers and commenters and facebook friends for the outpouring of support, commiseration and advice. Mud fever is a new one for me, and it feels good to know that even you guys (who I consider to be outstanding horsekeepers!) have dealt with it.

I have certainly been inundated with advice on treating it. It seems everyone I know, and many relative strangers, and most of the internet, has a preferred remedy. So far, the advice is as follows:

Wash his feet every day.
Wash his feet once a week.
Don’t wash his feet.

Clip the affected area down to the skin.
Avoid clipping the area.

Remove the scabs every day.
Don’t touch the scabs.

Apply Tri-Care.
Apply MTG.
Apply desitin.
Apply althlete’s foot cream.
Apply DMSO.
Apply nothing.

Keep the feet wrapped in gauze.
Keep the feet wrapped in plastic.
Under no circumstances should you wrap the feet.

Try feeding more copper.
Try feeding more iron.
Try feeding fish oil.

Keep him away from water.
Keep him away from rich grass.
Keep him away from clover.

Truly, I wish that I had the time and facilities to try every known remedy, one at a time, in a scientific vacuum, double-blind study.

But here’s something really interesting that I learned. What we call mud fever or scratches is just a name for the symptom of inflammation of the skin of the lower legs. The disease in question—the actual cause of the inflammation—can be fungus or bacteria or pressure, and one can lead to the other.

Speaking of. EnduranceGranny mentioned in her reply to my original post that she’s seen a correlation between clover and mud fever. I am amazed it took me until today to really put that together. Guess who’s horse was enjoying a new section of pasture at the end of May. Guess what the main forage is in that little corner of pasture. I did a quick google search that yielded a bit of info about the link. I didn’t get a biochemical explanation (yet), but the anecdotal evidence is certainly there.

I have been as good as my word and recruited helpers to make sure Blue gets a hefty smear of TriCare morning and night. On nights when I am there, I also add the DMSO/Panacur paste. In theory the DMSO helps the other meds penetrate. And yes, I wear gloves.

We are seeing progress, though I would not characterize the problem as solved. The front pasterns seem to have mostly run their course. He’s bald from heel to fetlock, but yesterday there was only a tiny bit of scabbing on the edges.

The hind feet are my Waterloo. For one thing, Blue is not excited about me treating them. I praise this horse to the skies for being such a good sport for most things. And really, given the circumstances, he has been a trouper. Anyway, he doesn’t snatch his foot away when I start smearing the goo on there… but he does lift his foot higher and higher to almost acrobatic levels. He doesn’t actually kick, so I think this super-high leg lift is sort of a displacement activity for the kicks he would like to give me every time I rub stinky ointment into his sores.

The good news is that his is not lame and the lower leg swelling is down. The bad news is that every time I rub ointment in, more clumps of hair come out.

The further good news is that he is eager to work. I worked him hard on the lunge line yesterday. He was sound and energetic—surprisingly focused. I say surprisingly because there were two draft horses loose in the arena while I was working him. They watched from a respectful distance; I was proud of all three horses for their composure.

I will start riding him again this week.

Here's my question: Is it ethical to take him to Renegade? Assuming he's mostly closed and healed (hopefully totally closed and healed), is he still contagious? Are swollen, bald pasterns going to get me pulled? 

I don't want the vet to pick up his foot during the pre-ride exam and then pick up the feet of 40 other horses and spread this awful mess.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ugh. Yeah, it's mud fever.

I felt so optimistic on Wednesday. I had a workable explanation for the problem. It wasn't too severe. It was only the front legs.

What a difference a few days can make!

I went out this morning with very noble intentions of doing some arena work. I was going to ride in the Kuda, we were going to do lateral work, it was going to be awesome.

I caught Blue and started leading him back toward the barn. He was walking really slowly and stiffly. Optimist that I am, I assumed this was because he didn't want to leave his buddies and the sunshine to go work.

I tied him up and picked out his front feet first. There was still some scabbing on his pasterns, but the skin underneath looked better. It didn't seem actively irritated, except maybe a little from me scrubbing off the scabs.

But the back pasterns. Remember how they looked perfectly clear on Wednesday? Today they have TEXTBOOK scratches. I didn't take pics, but if you do a google image search for mud fever, you have seen what I saw. Swollen, irritated, cracked open sores across both hind pasterns in the crease above the heel bulbs.The open sores are deep and angry-looking, like someone cut the backs of his pasterns with a knife and rubbed dirt in there.

So, forget the arena work. We need to take care of the scratches.

I washed all four feet from hoof to past the fetlock, rinsing my hands in between each one. I used microtek shampoo and really scrubbed hard. The black hind leg seems to be the most painful. The pastern is swollen tight, and the area around the open sore is thick and hard, almost like it is calloused. The white hind foot has the larger sore, but not nearly the level of swelling.

It was my good luck that there was a fellow boarder out there to consult. She just happens to own a mostly-white paint horse (Cash). She told me that he gets mud fever every year, and in his case it can go all the way up the leg if she doesn't catch it early.

The good thing about it is that she has tried just about everything to clear it up. In theory, Blue and Cash are exposed to the same fungus/bacteria because they are pastured together. That means, maybe, that whatever works to clear it up on Cash should work on Blue.

Cash's Mom said she had already tried microtek and vetricyn. Also MTG, tea tree oil, bleach solution and a few things that are supposedly specifically for mud fever. She says none of them work as fast for her as Tri-Care ointment. And lucky me, she had some I could use until I could go to the feed store and get my own.

It is thick, heavy, sticky, metholated ointment. I slathered him in it. Hopefully it will stick for a day until I can go out again and reapply. It seems heavy enough that it should provide some protection.

While I was at Wilco getting the Tri-Care, I picked up some DMSO and Panacur too. I put a note up on the blackboard to see if if Bob or another boarder could help me make sure Blue gets smeared in Tri-Care in the mornings and the homemade blend once he's back in his stall in the evenings. If we can make sure it happens every day, it should clear up in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, that makes us a "no" for Sunriver and bumps us down to a "maybe" on Renegade. It will depend how well this heals and if he maintains some fitness... and if my pocketbook can handle the cost of driving out and treating several times a week.

Blue's playing in the creek seems a lot less funny today. I don't know where Bob can put him that he won't get wet, other than keeping him indoors. And I can tell you this is not a horse who enjoys being indoors when everyone else is outside! We'll have to talk it over.

I'm also regretting clipping Blue's legs. The feathers might have prevented this. No way to know that for sure, but I will let them grow back out and leave them on him next year. No amount of vanity makes up for missing a ride I REALLY wanted to do just because my horse has a preventable infection. Please remind me next march that the feathers are a good thing, not an eyesore.

Ugh. I miss the desert.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Lameness explained?

So I went out to see Blue last night and get a better handle on the lameness issue. Uh, what lameness issue? He didn’t put a foot wrong. (And I think I might know why.)

I think what we had over the weekend was a perfect storm of two things that may have exacerbated each other. OR maybe it is just one thing that kind of looks like the other thing, but was still exacerbated by conditions at Klickitat specifically. And I’ll just warn you now, this theory gets a little gross. So if the thought of microbes makes you uncomfortable, best read another blog today. :)

Let me explain. When I went to catch Blue in the pasture last night, I noticed that he was wet from the knees down. This is not shocking, as he has pretty much decided that he has free run of the whole property, and his favorite place to go is into and out of the creek/pond.  I seriously think that what he likes about it is that it feels transgressive. If I just PUT him in the mare pasture, it would take the fun out of it for him. So as it is, I turn him out with the geldings, and then, when no one is looking, he fords the creek over to the mares and feels like the cat who caught the canary.

But I digress. The point is that his legs were wet last night. I took him down to the barn to have a look at his feet before lunging him. The plan was to look for any signs of bruising/swelling, and then to lunge him in progressively tighter circles, stressing the joints and looking for signs of lameness. Well, right off the bat, I noticed that the back of his right-front pastern had a wet, scabby area about the size of a band-aid running across it. You know how when a scab gets wet it gets soft and just sort of peels/rubs away? That’s what this looked like. I checked, and it is on the back of BOTH front pasterns, but not on the hinds.

This wet, scabby area does not actually seem to break the skin, but it is missing hair (this part of a horse doesn’t have a ton of hair to begin with).  So I rubbed the dead, scabby bits away to reveal irritated, but not broken, skin.

Those of you who are not as new to as I am to the wet side already know what my conclusion is: scratches/mud fever.

And that may very well be it. Except. (There’s always an “except.”) Mud fever usually affects only white legs, or the white legs are more severely affected.  On Blue, the problem is on both colors of legs. Also, the scabby, irritated areas are only on the front legs. The hind legs are unaffected.

So why the fronts and not the backs? Well, the only real difference I can think of is that he wears bell boots on his front legs to protect from overreach during riding. And the cuff on the boots hits exactly where the irritated spots are.

So, here’s my theory:
1.       Blue has scabby irritation on his front fetlocks. It might be caused by mud fever, or it might just be irritation from the bell boots themselves. The cause is irrelevant in this part of my narrative.
2.       At Klickitat, Blue’s legs got wet right away, and pretty much stayed wet throughout.
3.       The continual wetness softened the scabs, which normally would protect the irritated area from the boot cuffs.
4.       Once they had worn off the scabs, the boot cuffs exacerbated the underlying soreness… and THAT caused the appearance of lameness.
5.       I didn’t see the problem when I checked his feet in the vet check because his pasterns were thinly coated in mud, and I was concentrating on his soles, not his skin.

Mind you, this is only a theory right now. What I did last night was wash his front legs and slather some micro-tek on there. Micro-tek is broad-spectrum but low-dose. I figure it is safe to use on pretty much anything, since I don’t actually know for sure if these are contact sores or fungal/bacterial. I know for mud fever a good mix is DMSO and Panacur dewormer. But since I’m not sure that’s the problem, I think I am going to try applying MTG for the rest of the week and going without the bell boots at Sunriver.

Because what else can we do but move forward? Better to get dinged at completion for overreach wounds that to get pulled at the VC for lameness...

…I guess.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A rock with our names on it

At the ride meeting at Klickitat Trek on Friday night, Vet Mike Foss gave his usual speech about keeping your horse safe on the trail. His mantra is EDPPMF. If the horse is Eating, Drinking, Pooping, Peeing, and Moving Freely, then he is probably fine.

And then Mike said another thing he often says before a ride: Somewhere out there is a rock with your name on it. Just hope you don't find it.

Friday night was coldish and blustery. Tucked up fairly warmly in my trailer, I listened to the raindrops on the roof. Was Blue OK? He was out there in a fleece cooler with nothing to protect him if the spitting rain became a downpour.

I slept like the dead and awoke to the alarm at 7:10. Yes, that late. Marilyn, the ride manager, decided to experiment with the start times to see if it would alleviate congestion at the vet checks. So the 75s went out at 5:30, the 50s went out at 7:30, and the 25s didn't go out until a luxurious 9:30 start. It was cool enough this weekend that 9:30 was light but not hot.

Blue was absolutely wonderful to start. We had to do several single-rein stops walking up the long dirt road to the actual start gate, but he was level-headed about it. I had waited to leave our actual campsite until 9:32, in hopes that the worst of the crazies would be gone. As always, though, I wasn't the only person with this strategy, so we started with a few others somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Blue was aggressive but not uncontrollable. I insisted that he walk from the start gate to the first water crossing, a matter of a couple hundred yards, I would guess. I have done this ride enough times to know that the first water crossing will sneak up on your horse if he isn't paying attention. What I didn't want was for him to have his nose in some other horse's tail, and then spook when his feet unexpectedly hit water.

So we walked. And I insisted on a real, flat-footed walk all the way to the ankle-deep water. It was a fight, but not a bad one. Once across, I eased up on the brakes, and he flew.

I guess there is no way to know for an absolute certainty that a horse enjoys his job. But if Blue doesn't like long, fast rides, then he does a great impersonation of a horse who does. Once we were out there, we passed bunches of people. Marilyn had re-routed a fair bit of the loop, so we had some nice new singletrack in the woods that we helped break in.

We came down onto one of the many familiar dirt roads on this ride to find it puddled and boggy. That seemed really odd since no one had mentioned mud at the ride meeting. Nor had this part ever been muddy before. Riders ahead of us had blazed a sort of alternate trail that skirted the boggy part. We took that, and moved on. I didn't think much of it at the time.

Coming out of that section, we reached The Road That Never Ends. And yes, that infernal song played in my head as we just kept going and going. What's more, the road was in very different condition from years past. I'm not sure if it washed out and exposed more rocks or if the logging company came in and tried to fill the ruts with gravel. Either way, the road was hoof-deep sand and volcanic powder, strewn with golf-ball-to-plum-sized rocks. Normally, it is smooth, moderately packed dirt. Instead, it was really torn up out there this year.

As far as I'm concerned, this weekend had some of the worst ever footing for the KT ride. Not only was the depth making it arduous, but the rocks were just about unavoidable. And they were of that pesky size that can roll under a horse's foot, either wedging into a shoe or causing him to slide.

Blue was handling it OK, though it was a clearly hard work for him.

Just before the water stop, we caught up with Cathy and her akhal-teke, Galen. Blue was instantly smitten. I believe Galen is technically bay, but he is buckskin in the sun. Blue saw a long-legged buckskin horse, and the race was on. Just like Mt. Adams, he made it his mission to be with the long-legged horse. Blue matched Galen stride for stride for the next ten miles. I talked to Cathy a little, but was more preoccupied with my own problems.

For the first time ever at a ride, I was feeling sick in the saddle. Every bounce intensified my stomach cramps. I was just praying we'd get to the vet check so I could get down. Finally, unable to wait another minute, I pulled off the trail and went into the bushes for a bit. I relieved the worst of the pain, but even as we caught back up, I felt pretty green.

Somewhere between catching up and reaching the common trail into the vet check, we were coming down a moderate hill on the wicked dirt/rock combination road. Blue hit one of those rolling rocks going downhill about 10 mph, took a mighty stumble, managed to catch himself, and kept going. Looking back, I am almost positive that was the rock that had our names on it. Blue seemed fine, but then, he was going along with a horse he liked, and he's not exactly a wimp about injuries.

In the last mile before the vet check, there was a big water crossing. I only mention it because I heard there was a lot of drama down there for other riders. Galen and Blue went through it like it wasn't a belly-deep torrent of whitewater/chocolate milk. They really couldn't have cared less about fording the rapids.

Across the water and up the hill, we walked into the vet check.

I knew something was up with Blue pretty much right away. We had walked the mile into the vet check, but Blue's pulse was still at 72. He took several minutes to drop. Janis Pegg was nice enough to walk him around for me while I made another beeline for the bathroom. When I came back, he was pulsed down and we could get in line for the vet.

And then he didn't want to trot out. That was warning number two. Blue is not a fast trot-out horse, but he is always willing. At this vet check, we could barely get him to go, even with much clucking and encouragement. As we were coming back, the vet said she thought she saw something. Not a big something, but she wanted us to trot for her again before she'd clear us to continue.

Frankly, at this point, with his hanging pulse and his lack of enthusiasm to trot out... and with my gastrointestinal rebellion... I wasn't exactly heartbroken. We spent it like a normal hold. I electrolyted Blue and let him eat while I did the same. I thought we might as well stick to our routine just in case we were cleared. The check was 19 or so miles into the ride, so the loop back to camp would at least be mercifully short.

As I sat on my bucket drinking a vitamin water, I heard Darlene tell and retell how she had come off Rock at the water crossing. She was one of two riders who were in the check with me who had fallen into the water. I heard there were many more both before and after her.

As our hold time was drawing to a close, I took Blue back to the vet for the final verdict. Yes, he was mildly but most definitely lame. Probably the right-front foot. Probably nothing serious. But we'd have to get a ride back to camp.

The guy who was driving the "horse ambulance" took me and another woman who'd been pulled for lameness back to camp. There was only space for two horses in the trailer, though there were already two more horses lined up behind us waiting for the next trip. The driver told us that he had begun taking pulled horses out of that vet check at 9 a.m., and had not had a moment's break since then (it was nearly 1 p.m. when he picked us up). That made me feel better about our predicament. Misery loves company.

I haven't yet heard the final tally on completion, but I'm guessing it was unusually low. Between the rocks and the water, this was a much harder Klickitat Trek than in years past.

This morning, as I was preparing to leave, I heard a bit more gossip from Monica and Karen. I had missed the awards after the ride (sleeping! lack of enthusiasm!), so I was pumping them both for the details.

Monica had been very much overtime. The person she was riding with had some boot problems and elected to walk the last 10+ miles because of the rocky footing. Monica is a good person, so she stayed with her as they walked. I had seen her ride into camp in the evening, and had assumed they'd gone out a second time to stretch the horses. No, that was her completion. It was something like 9 hours, I believe she said.

I wonder how many horses were pulled for lameness or missed a completion because of the slow going in the rocks?

Karen told me that the reason the water had been so bad was that the gates on the irrigation were opened the night before the ride without any warning. So the water of course came rushing down and changed the dynamic of the crossing. She said that some riders who were more familiar with the trails found a wider (shallower) place to cross only 40-50 feet downstream, and eventually the loop was rerouted there. But not before we crossed in the dangerous spot. And not before Karen decided not to force Cartman to cross, turned around and went back to camp from the river. She said that she wasn't the only rider who made this choice, and that Marilyn awarded them all completions. I hope she tells about it in her blog [ed: she does!], because I'm really curious how "completion only" works.

I also wonder now if the boggy area near the start was a result of the sudden influx of irrigation water.

I have mixed feelings about Karen's completion, of course. Not sour grapes, really. More like contemplating what I could have done differently in order to complete the ride without the pull. If I had done the same thing as Karen (turning around at the water and skipping the vet check) I might have completed too. Or I might have just ridden an extra X number of miles on a horse who was already lame—doing more damage with every stride. There's just no way to know for sure.

As it was, I was mostly bummed to be missing out on the second day (well, that and the new sweatshirt). I won a certificate for a free ride at convention, but it was only valid for the second day of Klickitat. So that was down the tubes, but at least I wasn't out any entry fees.

To pile insult onto injury, Sunday morning dawned gorgeous. Perfect temp. Sun. Light breeze. It was basically perfect riding weather as I loaded up all of my stuff along with my perfectly normal, cheerful, not-apparently-lame-anymore horse and headed back toward Silverton.

I guess the postscript to this ride is twofold:

1. I turned Blue out when I got home, and he trotted off fast and sound. He remained perky all of Saturday afternoon/evening and was not off his food. He doesn't look lame to me today, so unless I see some swelling or bruising in the next day or two, I'm declaring this a freak accident and sticking to my scheduled rides. Next up: Sunriver.

2. The plan was to ride 25 miles both days of Klickitat as a prep for trying a 50 at Sunriver. Although I am still thinking this lameness thing is a freak occurrence, I am more hesitant than ever about upping our distance. A whole season of LD will not hurt Blue, and there's no particular rush to try a 50, other than the fact that I just kind of want to. Maybe it would be wiser to stick to the easier distance until I'm 100 percent sure that Blue's body can take the punishment of the sport. If the lameness is in any way a sign of strain or overriding, I want to give it a chance to heal and for his fitness to catch up to my ambition.

What say you, oh endurance friends? I love this horse and want him to be happy. I'd be perfectly satisfied to do nothing but LDs for the next 10 years if that's what is best for him. Do you think I should get pads in his shoes for Renegade? Do you think I should give him a break, skip Sunriver and set our sights on Renegade instead?

What do you do about a freak mystery lameness, anyway? :)

[Edited to add links.]