Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thanks, I Needed That

Last Wednesday Chiro Lady came out to adjust Sofie. She definitely needed some adjustments in her pelvis, low back and up by her withers as well. She was very good for the adjustments despite being nutty because it was cold/her friends were running around like maniacs/a dog had wandered into the arena earlier and pissed off her kitty friend, Leo, therefore she decided It Must Die. She stood well and just made nasty faces, which I can understand because I go to a chiropractor, so I know how it is to get your back cracked.

We also told Chiro Lady about Sofie's arthritis and her yucky x-rays, so we got our "third opinion". Chiro Lady's take on it was that the arthritis is not new, that Sofie has been coping with it for some time and that she will be okay. She recommended warming her up on the ground before I ride (we're already doing that every time we come out to evaluate her movement and attitude and stuff) and doing lots of trotting undersaddle (um, yeah, we're working on that, but I'm not about to get bucked off, k thanx). She was surprised that the hock injections didn't help, and said we could do Adequan (too expensive) or Legend (too expensive) or glucosamine injections to complement the supplement. The latter was affordable, so we said okay and she got her first injection right then. She had to be twitched to have blood drawn for her Coggins test and get vaccinated the week before, but she trusts Chiro Lady so she was fine for her shot. I asked Chiro Lady about the potential for laminitis (since all the barefoot people I know/know of tend to freak out at the mere mention of sugar, and she's already on a supplement with high levels of glucosamine) and she said it wouldn't be an issue. I don't think Sofie is insulin resistant or prone to laminitis, and she needs the supplement to feel better, but I like to be cautious anyway.

I rode on Friday for only the third time this month. I took Sofie outside since the indoor was dusty and she was quiet, and she was awesome. And a beyotch. But that's Sofie. She was content to walk around on a semi-long rein (not hanging-on-her-mouth short, but not so long that she could turn back to the barn/eat grass/run away). She walked right through The Place Where We Like To Balk And Get Pissy, The Scary Corner and The Place Where We Like To Canter, even though there was a lady in the neighbor's yard running a hose. We walked around in the yard a bit, doing turns and stuff. She trotted voluntarily back in the Scary Corner area and didn't get pissy and felt nice and sound, but I brought her back to a walk within a few strides. And then I decided to see if I could take her on the trail, and she decided she'd been good for far too long, and started trotting and then getting all pissy, nothing too dramatic, but nothing I wanted to encourage, either. So I kept pulling her down, which made her pissy too. I figured out we were not going to be able to get to the trail without drama, so I rode her over to the front yard, where she promptly spooked at the barn owner bringing something out of her house ("OMG it's Judy! She's going to EAT me!" WTF, Sofie?). I think she just needed an excuse to trot, because she trotted nicely, soundly and without complaint. I got her to walk again, and finished up with some rein-back (which she was SUPER good about. She was SO light!).

Today her right hind was stiff (it looks like she might have gotten kicked on her right hock. AGAIN.) but she free schooled reasonably well (she had attitude, but Sofie without attitude is a rare and breathtaking phenomenon). She was not happy to see the saddle ("Didn't you people HEAR the veterinarian? I AM A CRIPPLE, therefore I should be RETIRED from weight-bearing activities!"). I decided not to take her outside, because it was cool and windy and I knew she would not be content with just walking, and I did not trust her to not "act up" when her hocks inevitably twinged/ground together/snapped/crackled/popped/whatever. So we were stuck in the indoor (because she hates the outdoor, and it is HUGE, and she spooks just as much in there as she does in the yard, if not more) but my mom put cones out. Sofie likes cones. So much that whenever I see cones anywhere, I contemplate stealing them for her.

She stood for me to mount (but not for me to put my right foot in the stirrup, 'cause apparently that was just too much to ask) and I walked her around on a long rein. She felt good, and walked out well. I started doing simple turns and changes of direction, and eventually shortened my reins a little and weaved her through the cones, did serpentines and smaller circles. I tried to think about all my bending aids and use my eyes and weight first and then "supplementing" with leg and rein. She did really well with this and only got a little miffed about my leg once when I had to emphatically insist that NO, we are NOT falling in here.

Then I decided to try something new. I let her have a long rein, and I worked on lengthening and shortening her walk. On the long side I used my legs in time with the swing of her belly and let my seat swing with her walk, almost thinking about using a little bit of a driving seat. At first she only went a tiny bit more forward, but then she started to get it and really started to move out when I asked. Shortening was a bit more difficult for her to figure out, she kind of raised her head and lost all of her momentum like "Uh, are we stopping here or what?" but I wasn't looking for perfection, just cooperation. After a few rounds of this I shortened my reins a bit and started tracking left. We did the lengthening/shortening thing again, and her bigger walk started to be on the verge of a trot. Then finally it became a trot. At first she raised her head a bit and thought about being mad, but then she went forward without hesitation in a nice, relaxed, soft trot. I brought her down to a walk after maybe ten strides, let her walk on a long rein, and when she halted off my seat I got off and petted her and scratched her a lot and she was done for the day.

It was a really successful ride, even though we did absolutely nothing by most people's standards. But I think that's what I need to do. I need to do what I'm comfortable with, what she's comfortable with, and forget about the clock. A good fifteen minutes of schooling, and ending at the optimum moment is far better than pushing for more and losing what we had. I can second guess myself to death, going "Oh, maybe I should have just let her keep trotting, she might have been fine with it", but the fact is that I did what I felt was right in that moment, and it was probably the right thing to do. I've never screwed up my horse by quitting at a positive moment after a short ride. I have screwed up my horse by pushing for more this or that or the other thing, and regretted it later.

I'm not on a timeline. Right now my horse is arthritic and limited in what she can do, though she's getting better. I'm not getting ready for the WEG or even a schooling show. I have no trainer to impose their standards or ideas or demands on me. Sofie is my horse, and I'm training her for me, so going by my instinct is really all I can do. It's all I have. And I think that's good for me. I'm no longer dependant on constant lessons and constant feedback. I'm thinking and figuring it out as I go along, and I think you learn more that way. Thank you, Sofie, for that. You're making me a trainer. And thanks a lot for today. I really needed that.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Read 'em and weep

That's what our vet said when we came in to look at Sofie's x-rays. We chose to have the right hock and stifle done since that is her worst leg. The stifle is fine, but her right hock (and the left, too, I'm sure) have advanced arthritis. His opinion on the injections was that they probably just blew right through the joint and made no difference in her condition. We asked him what she could do, riding-wise, and his answer was "Not much." Walking around, maybe, but nothing more. I had ridden her twice in the last week or so, and she did fine at the walk but when she trotted a few steps (I picked up my reins abruptly to see if she would trot, so I could see how she was doing) she was reluctant and unhappy. She was content to walk around, except for one time when she spooked at the spooky corner in the outdoor arena, so she can probably be a walking trail horse.

We're putting her on a senior joint supplement that has good feedback from lots of people with badly arthritic older horses, and that should keep her comfortable. There are other horses at the barn I can ride who can trot and canter, so I'll be able to keep my riding up. I was already planning to do more rides with some of the other boarders, and just have fun, not worry so much about training. I really don't want another horse, I love Sofie so much and I don't care if she can't do too much. But it's still really hard to hear that, because I never intended to have a pet horse, and I really can't afford a pet horse. There are so many perfectly sound horses at my barn collecting dust because their owners don't ride, and now my horse is unsound for anything but walking undersaddle. It's really hard because I love training horses, and I can't train other people's horses because it just doesn't work. I've done it before, and I've invested a lot in someone else's horse and then ultimately had to walk away because I had no control over what happened to the horse, how it was taken care of, who rode it, anything. But I'm not about to let Sofie go, because I don't want to not have control over what happens to her, either. So I guess I'll just do what I can with Sofie, and maybe someday I'll have my dressage horse.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic

The last time I went out to see Sofie (Saturday) she had improved quite a bit. She actually came around to the back of the barn and was waiting to be caught when I went out there with her halter, which she hasn't done lately. When I free schooled her in the arena she moved better at the trot - her movement had a little suspension and she was more willing to move out. She wasn't swishing her tail as she trotted around, and while she was still counter-cantering on the forehand in both directions, I did eventually get her to take the correct lead tracking right, and her canter was decent (and I didn't get a huge tail swish/kicking out/ear pinning reaction).

I opted not to ride her as she was still "off", though improved. If she keeps improving, I will hopefully ride her again later this week. At this point I'm just glad to see her feeling better. I was very concerned by the level of discomfort she was experiencing just walking around.

We did some grooming and massage on her, and then I took her out in the yard and did some hill work and backing in-hand.

She is on a new joint supplement (Acti-Flex 4000) with higher levels of glucosamine (and a type of glucosamine that is supposed to be better absorbed) as well as other good stuff for joints including hylaronic acid. She wasn't eating it very well at first (I don't know why; normally she is a food vacuum. Pellets, liquid, powder, anything. And I tasted the stuff and it tastes good) but apparently she got enough to make a difference, and hopefully she will get used to the taste soon and not be such a fussy girl. The vet is coming out fairly soon to do vaccinations (ugh) and he's going to x-ray her hocks so we can see what is actually going on in there. And Chiro Lady is coming out to do her thing, but unfortunately not until the 21st. I should have gotten her an appointment sooner; I'm sure she needs an adjustment after that fall, and that may account for some of her stiffness.

So hopefully we can fix/manage whatever problem she has, and she can be ridden again. I really think I am the right person for her, since I have no interest in jumping/showing/ten mile trail rides/doing lots of cantering/riding for two hours/moving up to Grand Prix. I don't mind if we stick to light work, as long as we can have fun and she can be comfortable doing it.

Here are some pictures from early March, when we started having behavioral/soundness issues. As you can see, she was nice and relaxed on the driveway...




...But "difficult" out in the snow. This picture is veeeeeery telling. You can see how hard she's having to work to get through the snow, and how intent she is on getting back to the barn and better footing. Although she has an awful lot of hock action for a horse with bad hocks...hmm. Maybe she's just inverted because I'm clinging to the reins. You can see how crunched forward and apprehensive I am because my horse is not steering and is now trotting away with me.


BUT look what nice shape she was in! See how much that belly came up? And I love this stretch down. I'm hoping for more rides like this in the future.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Fallin' Apart

This is what Sofie's feet looked like on the day I tried her out.

And after six months of natural trims:

I never thought Sofie's feet would come so far. But they have. Can we fix her body, too? I don't know the answer to that.

The hock injections have done absolutely nothing for Sofie. It has been two weeks now, and she is even worse than she was before. She is stiff in the hind end even after being turned out all day in the sunshine and warmth, and she is not even comfortable or happy doing light groundwork. She doesn't run and buck and spin and strike out when turned out in the indoor arena, she just trots around stiffly, occasionally swishing her tail.

We had her regular massage therapist out, and it seemed to help her, though it didn't last. She had extremely tight inner thigh muscles - obviously compensating for something, but what? Her whole hind end seems to be falling apart.

We've been through a lot with Sofie. We knew she would be a project. We did not have a prepurchase exam done. I'm sure she would have failed, between her sore hooves and what appears to be widespread, advanced arthritis in her hind end. We had a lot of hard rides, but we had some shining moments, too, like when she was relaxed and moved nicely when a girl who doesn't like me, and always likes to point out what I'm doing wrong came to watch me ride my new horse. The night she got her hoof casts off and she'd grown sole and developed concavity, and I took her into the arena and we did groundwork at liberty and she was so happy and I started crying because I was happy, too. The first rides after she got her new feet. October and November were amazing. Most of the winter was good, too, especially when we went out in the snow and she trotted and cantered like a Warmblood and plowed through drifts without ever balking. In Early March she was in the best shape she'd ever been in, and was looking less like a cutting horse and more like an Thoroughbred.

In March I started riding her outside routinely, since she was bored with the indoor and it was warm out. The snow was still fairly deep in areas, and denser than it was back in December and January. Remember my when she started rushing and not steering and being barn sour? I thought it was a training fail. It wasn't. My training was fine. Physically, though, she was having trouble going through that snow, so of course she wanted to go back to the barn and driveway area, where it was melted out.

Then she fell. That would've torqued her hind end for sure. She was doing okay after that, with conservative riding. But then I went and had a lesson with that idiot trainer who didn't listen to me and decided my horse was just being a bitchy mare. "She just doesn't want to do it," she said. BUT WHY? Why doesn't she want to do it, is what you should be asking. Think. Don't assume. It's all well and good to ask for more straightness, more quality of work, blah blah blah. But you start with five minutes, and you give the horse a break, and you work your way up to more intensity. An hour + of hard work (and yes, I know we weren't asking her to do a Grand Prix test, but hard work is a relative term! The work she was being made to do was hard for her, a trail horse with her conformation working against her who had only been doing dressage for a year.) was the last thing she needed at that point. I should have stuck to my instincts, but it was after 5 at night and I'd gotten up at 5:30 AM to work at the barn. I was brain dead, and I allowed myself to be pressured into something that was wrong for my horse.

We need to have x-rays done. We need to try to find out what the hell is going on with her hind end, and we need to know if she has a chance at a good quality of life. If she does, then I may move her to Anne, our farrier's barn, where the horses get more turnout on a hilly pasture, and the mare herd may be more active than the lazy group of four at Judy's. I love Judy's barn, and I love the facilities, and I would miss it dearly, but if moving her is the only chance she has, then I have to do it. I trust Anne, as she has done more for Sofie than anyone else, and she was a barn full of horses with all kinds of issues, and they are all happy and healthy.

I do know one thing. I will do the right thing for my horse, whatever that may be.