Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Eve Colic

Let me preface this by saying that Sofie came through this fine, and is alive and well.

I spent a lot of time at the barn right before Christmas. Far more than I expected or wanted to. I occasionally work at the barn (Judy has quite the arsenal of AM barn cleaners, but sometimes people are out of town or busy with the holidays, and I step in whenever I can). I stayed at Judy's house Wednesday night, planning to work the barn Thursday and Friday morning and go home later in the morning on Friday.

I didn’t end up riding Wednesday night (I was dragged out from my lesson earlier that day and short on ambition), but I free schooled Sofie so she would get a little exercise. She moved well. I rode on Thursday, and Sofie free schooled like a maniac, galloping around the arena like she hasn't in quite some time. She had a fair amount of energy when I rode her, and we rode for a solid 45 minutes, incorporating more trot work. She held up well. I did notice the the girth became exceptionally loose, and when I untacked her I saw that her belly was less pronounced than it normally is. But she seemed okay, so I figured maybe she was just getting into better shape. She has been working more.

I went back down to check on her and give her a bit more hay at around 8:30, and I even got out of bed and went down at 10 to check for gut sounds, because she just seemed off to me. I thought I was probably being paranoid (I have that tendency), but I was just concerned about her. She didn’t seem quite right. Gut sounds were present, and she was eating and drinking. Nothing was overtly wrong, so I went back up to the house and went to sleep until 6:30.

In the morning I went right to her stall to check on her. She had drunk a good amount of water, and there were three piles of manure in her stall but no urine. She seemed a bit dull, not quite right, but again, nothing was overly amiss. I gave Sofie her morning grain, and she cleaned it up. Then she went outside with the mares, we cleaned the barn, and I kept an eye on her. She was eating, so I figured she was okay. But I still had a nagging sense that something was wrong. When my mom arrived to take me home at around 11, I went to catch Sofie so she could take a look at her. When I walked up to her I saw she was very “tucked up”, like a greyhound, and she was clenching her abdomen.

I started walking her, alternating between trying to stay calm and hysterical crying, and my mom went up to talk to Judy and call vets. We couldn't get ahold of anyone at first, (Christmas Eve, remember?) so I just walked her for a while. She wasn't fractious at all, just kind of high-headed and distracted, but after a while she started to lower her head and calm a bit. One of the vets, an equine specialist who's based in Wisconsin (he travels to our area several times a year and does the teeth of many of the horses in my barn) called back and said it sounded like gas colic, and to give her 10 cc of Banamine IM, and put her in her stall with no hay. We managed to distract her with an apple and we got the Banamine into her (Sofie is bad about shots, unless Chiro Lady gives them to her). She stood calmly in her stall, not freaking out or even pawing, and we went into the house to "relax" for a little while. I didn’t feel great about leaving her in a stall, since walking seems more beneficial to a colicky horse than standing around, but I was exhausted and we had no other advice at that point.

I checked on her every half hour for a while, and she remained calm, just waiting by her door. Her belly was still clenching, however, and that worried me. Eventually Annie, our trimmer, called and gave us our local vet's cell phone number (we weren’t able to reach him through the vet office, and we knew she had his number from a recent colic at her barn). According to Annie, it didn't sound like gas colic, since she wasn't passing gas and she wasn't blown up like a blimp.

My mom called our local vet up, and the first thing he asked was "Is she in heat?" Yes. Sofie had peed a couple times in her stall, and she was winking. And she had been having a pretty major hormonal week. He said it sounded like her heat cycle had kicked her into colic, and he said to keep her on Banamine, and that as long as she didn't get worse, he didn't see a need for tubing or anything drastic, but we needed to keep an eye on her.

Somewhere in there I took her for a walk outside, and she walked around happily enough, even lowering her head and pushing her nose through the snow. She happily grazed through the snow (the area where I walked her had almost no snow due to odd drifting patterns) and didn’t look sick at all, apart from not having a belly. I had a little hope at that point that she would be okay.

While we were outside she saw her friends, and became distracted, especially when they decided to take off and gallop behind the barn. I decided to lead her out back and see if she would drink from the trough (she had yet to drink from her bucket in her stall). She refused to drink, of course, so I led her back into the barn because she needed more Banamine. She was not happy to leave her friends and began acting very herdbound and distracted. I felt really stupid for having gotten her all worked up right before we had to try to get more Banamine into her. We had been told my our vet not to give her more injections unless we had to, because she could get an abscess, so we tried to give her some oral Banamine, and she threw her head violently, nearly giving both of us a concussion. It was clear that wasn’t working, so then we had to try to give her another shot. I realized if I positioned her so she could stare out the window at the field where her friends were, she might become sufficiently distracted for us to get the Banamine into her, and it worked. She was so fixated on the view into the field that she didn’t even feel the shot until it was too late for her to do anything about it.

We stuck her back in her stall, and she stood by the door, staring tensely at the field. I wondered if she would be better off moving around normally with her friends, and my mom called the vet again to find out if she could be turned out. He said she could go out, and that half her normal ration of hay was acceptable. She still needed to be monitored, and it was important that she manured.

I decided to turn her out, and she galloped off to find her friends, who then ran back behind the barn with her. Once they stopped running around, she pawed a little and kicked at her belly twice. I did not want to see that. I wound up bringing her in because I was afraid she was going downhill, and I needed to watch her. I turned her out in the indoor arena so I could keep an eye on her from the heated office, and I saw her lift her tail, so I went in to investigate. Her manure was normal, and she didn’t kick at herself again. She alternated between trotting around a little, standing around with her head really high, and pawing at the door that leads to her friends. The situation was not terrible, but she still wasn’t fully better, and I had no way of knowing if she was just experiencing cramps, or if there was something wrong inside that we couldn’t fix. I also had no idea if we could get a vet if we needed one. At this point, my mom had to leave to take care of our animals at home, and she left me our cell phone and took off. I went back to watch Sofie. I called the vet once, because I was worried about her having kicked at her belly, and he was encouraged by her having manured. He said from what I told him, she sounded okay, and as long as she didn’t get any worse she should come through it.

Judy left for church around three, and I was alone for a few hours. I wound up putting Sofie back in her stall because she seemed calmer in there than in the arena. I didn’t know what was best for her at that point. I wanted to do the right thing for her, but it was so hard to know what that was. Horse people rarely agree on anything, so as an owner you’re always getting a stereo effect of different, and wildly varying opinions. This can make even online research of bits stressful, and when you’re in a situation when something is quite clearly wrong with your horse, something you have no way of knowing the cause of, that could take a bad turn at any time and take your horse away from you, that stereo effect is terribly stressful. I knew overall that the signs were good, and she’d gotten no worse and maybe a little better, but I was still really scared. I’d never dealt with a colic before, and even though people assured me that it wasn’t all that bad, it was my horse. I have never felt anything so horrible as that not knowing. At certain points, I just thought, I can’t lose her now, there’s so much we haven’t done.

I continued to check on Sofie. There was a small amount of hay in her stall, and eventually she began to eat again. She still wasn’t fully better, but she continued to handle it well. My mom got back around 5:30 or so, and we had something to eat (I’d barely eaten all day). She called up the vet, who said to keep Sofie on Banamine. Our instinct was that she should have another shot that night anyway. But we didn’t know how we were going to get another shot into her. Sofie is not a good patient, and she was done cooperating for shots. At around 6:30 we were calling up anyone we could think of who could help get a shot into Sofie. I got ahold of Annie and gave her the update. She had a mare at her barn who was experiencing a similar colic. I said “I know you probably can’t get away, since you’ve got a situation of your own, but we just really need to get another shot into Sofie.” She told me she’d be there in an hour.

Annie is amazing. Truly amazing. She left her own mare to drive forty minutes out to my barn, and she checked Sofie’s vitals, all of which were great. She checked her gums, tucking herself into Sofie’s neck and persisting as Sofie threw her around, until she was able to slide her hand under Sofie’s lip and massage her front teeth. “This is an endorphin spot,” she said, and Sofie quit fighting. Her ears went forward, and she got kind of a dumb, surprised look on her face. When Annie was able to handle Sofie’s mouth, she went to the other side and did the same.

Then she took Sofie into her stall and stuck a needle in her neck. Sofie started spinning around her, tensing her neck like only she can and bending the needle. On the second try Annie held the needle in her neck and followed her around until she stood for the shot (all the while Annie was going “Oh, you hate me! Oh, you’re such a drama queen,” etc.). Once she was released, Sofie went back to her hay, simmering and glaring. She was pissed.

Annie told us to make sure she got lots of hay and turnout, but no grain for five days, and to monitor her output. She said Sofie looked good, and that it seemed cyclical (cramps). She told me to check on her at midnight and 3 AM, and left me some oral Banamine to give her if she needed it, but told me not to use it if I didn’t need to, since it’s tough on the stomach. I was willing not to. She was eating her hay and had drunk some water before Annie left and we went up to the house.

At midnight there was a little manure in Sofie’s stall, and she looked good, though still tucked up. I gave her more hay and decided she would be alright until morning. I left a note for the women feeding and cleaning the barn in the morning, asking them to leave her stall and water bucket so I could see what she’d done in the night.

I woke up at 6:30, probably because that was my wake-up time for two nights before, and decided to walk down to the barn to check on Sofie. My mom had checked on her at 4 and then taken off for home to take care of our other animals. Sofie looked perky, and she’d drunk at least a third of a bucket (a good amount for her), and there were three manure piles and some pee in her stall. She went out with the mares and I went back to bed.

Later on that morning I went out to the field to check on her. She was still somewhat tucked up, and was occasionally pawing, shaking her head or glancing at her sides. I was utterly exhausted, and I had no idea if she was getting worse or if she was just in a little discomfort. Annie had said this could go on for another day. I was immensely relieved when my mom showed up. We went out to look at Sofie, and she thought she looked good. She hadn’t had any Banamine since 7:30 the previous night, and she seemed to be holding her own. We took some hay out and watched Sofie while we cleaned out the shelter, and she ate enthusiastically, so we went to lunch at a restaurant that was having a Christmas buffet (it was like the only place open). We ate a good meal and then drove back to the barn. When I looked in on Sofie she looked good. By then 24 hours had gone by, and she’d been off Banamine for 14 hours. It was still hard to leave her, but I was fairly confident that she would be fine. I knew things would have escalated before that point if there had been anything seriously wrong with her, so I gave her a hug and we packed up my stuff and drove home. I needed to be home, at that point. I was ready to stop being a horse owner and just be a boarder for a little while. I continued to check in on Sofie and recieve updates via text messaging, and we drove out on Sunday afternoon to see her in the flesh. She was fine, and I even rode briefly at a walk.

Sofie has been fine since. We don’t know for sure what happened, but the consensus is that the colic was cyclical (cramps) rather than digestive, which makes the most sense. This winter has been hell for mares in my area, with colics, prolonged, raging heats, etc. Another contributing factor was that Sofie had been missing out on her magnesium supplement due to salt being put in the grain to encourage more water consumption. We weren’t informed of this ahead of time, and I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the salt in the feed cans (and the mound of salt, SmartCalm and coco soya oil in the bottom of her feeder). A lack of magnesium could well have contributed to her crazy heat and the cramping she experienced. The hay recently changed, and Sofie hasn’t been fond of it, so she hasn’t been eating it as well. And we just pulled her off her SmartFlex Senior supplement. She got no supplements for several days after she colicked as a precaution, and we did find out that the SmartFlex Senior very clearly helps with her arthritis (she was quite stiff when we stopped feeding it, and much more fluid when we put her back on it). But her appetite for hay, as well as her general attitude, improved when she was not on the supplement, and declined when we started feeding it to her again. I’ve been slightly concerned for a while, as I felt her appetite for hay was not where it used to be, and she’s been quite girthy for some time now. Her attitude has not been great, and it seems that the Devil’s Claw in the supplement is causing her some discomfort in her stomach. So we’re switching to the herb-free SmartFlex Senior, which will hopefully help her move just as freely, without the negative impact on her stomach.

So we’re still working out some management issues, trying to find what’s best for her, but I feel like we’re on the right track. She is here, and I want her to be as happy and comfortable as possible.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ahhhh, that's better.

Yesterday was better, definitely. In pretty much every way.

I caught Soapdish (she let me walk up to her, which made me feel better), brought her in and free schooled her (yeah, I'm never not doing that again...so I say) to assess the damage (if there was any) from her craziness. She didn't look amazing, or anything, but she wasn't lame and her movement did flow. So I shrugged and led her into the barn to tack her up.

She was less touchy; I got fewer headshakes and ugly faces. She seemed in a pretty good mood overall, and was even somewhat less girthy. She dove for the bit as usual. She did have a slight issue standing at the mounting block, and she walked off before I wanted her to, but I only had to halt her once. I opted to ride without stirrups (I'm really trying to get back into stirrup-less riding. My seat needs some work, and my confidence always does), so I just left them hanging at her sides (I have single layer, bottom-adjust stirrup leathers and they don't cross over well. Fortunately she doesn't mind them terribly as they hang there). She walked around well, swinging through her back (she may not overstride, but she has SO much movement through her body at the walk).

She flexed well, turned well and seemed interested in what we were doing. The rein-back, which was one of the few high points of Psychotic Sunday, was kind of a sticking point yesterday. She wanted to creep backward, stepping incredibly short and not using herself at all, though she did drop nicely at the poll. When I asked her for more in the way of actual purposeful steps, she often got wooden and resistant, but I worked on her response until she gave me a little more and then quit. I think she may have been a little sore from actually using her hind end a little, but she needs to learn to use herself now that her hocks are not such an issue. When she pulls herself around with her front end, she ends up hurting too, so I just kept insisting that she give a little more. At one point during one of my attempts, she completely locked and stopped moving entirely, so I had to get stronger with my hands (which I hate hate HATE having to do, but sometimes I need to, and a brief, strong correction is not harmful and occasionally necessary). At the height of her resistance she stuck her nose as far out as it would go, opened her mouth and swung her head from side to side, but she did "give" eventually. She did have some very good moments of rein-back, when she really flexed at the poll, and that carried over into our other work. I was concerned that she might be going behind the vertical (she seemed really low), but my friend whom I was riding with said she was not behind the vertical at all. I think I'm so used to her being way out in front of the vertical (or inverted) that when she really flexes, I kind of go "Where is your head?!"

Sofie did very well at the trot, holding up much better. She had moments when she was slightly off, but nothing like the head-bobbing stuff she has been going through. We did a lot more trot work, and she was pretty willing (though I need to start carrying a dressage whip and make sure I don't regress into nagging). She listens well to my leg in the upward transitions, but I tend to nag her to keep going rather than leaving my leg off and correcting her when she slows, simply because she doesn't take much leg even when I use it improperly, and sometimes I just don't want to deal with a potential confrontation (particularly when I'm riding without stirrups and I have no dressage whip). I'm sure it will be easy to make the necessary adjustment, I just need to start working on it. But anyway, the trot work was quite an improvement. She even volunteered some flexion at times, and toward the end of the ride she started to drop her head periodically, wanting to stretch, so I let the reins out to the buckle and she stretched down definitively without bringing her head back up. It was so nice to be able to do some trot work without having her go lame.

We ended the ride with a really obedient, prompt halt and a lovely, light rein-back. Good Sofa!! I spent some time petting her after I dismounted, and she seemed to enjoy it.

It was a big relief to have things go better. I'm feeling quite hopeful, especially since her front-end lameness is steadily improving, even after her trot-and-canter extravaganza on Sunday. Things are not as bad as they have been looking, it seems. There will always be dark times, there will always be worries and wretched days. We will both lose our minds on occasion, but we forgive, and we learn.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Crazy psycho banana nuts

Well. Sunday was “interesting”.

I got to the barn and went to catch Sofie. She seemed fine and normal, except for turning away from me, repositioning herself, and then turning back to me, like “Now you can catch me”. She is a weird horse, though, and she’s done that before so I thought nothing of it. She was tracking up at the walk and seemed to be moving fine, so I decided to just tack her up and ride without free schooling, KNOWING the one day out of one hundred that I make that decision WILL be the day she loses her brains.

She stood fine, picked up all her feet and ate a little hay (spreading most of what I gave her out because she doesn’t like the new hay for whatever reason). She was still very, very touchy, and I got a lot of head shakes and ugly faces (sometimes when I wasn’t even touching her). I got the saddle on her, and she didn’t stand all that well (she was preoccupied with shaking out the hay I gave her, looking for the good parts). Then I went back into the tack room to get something, and things started to go downhill. I thought I heard her walk off, and came out of the tack room to find that she had indeed walked off, went to her head and backed her up to where she was supposed to be standing, told her to stay, and went back into the tack room to put on my boots. I got my boots half on when I heard her walk off AGAIN, and I rushed out to find her down by the arena door. I think this was the point where I started yelling, and I went to her head and made her back up. She backed up unwillingly, leaning on me and being heavy, and at this particular point I was not in the mood, so I smacked her chest, jerked on the lead rope and basically got up in her face until she gave me more of a back-up. She was really, super high-headed by this point, and as soon as I went back into the tack room to get the bridle, she was down the aisle yet again. More yelling, more backing up, more agitation. When I let her stop backing she shook her head at me, and I was seriously not in the mood so I smacked her on the neck. She stood there all high-headed and tense, and I stood there trying to figure out how I was going to get my bridle, since she apparently couldn’t stand on her own for two seconds. I was not feeling great because all I’d wanted to do was have a nice, calm little ride outside (it was gorgeous out, of course), and I felt like I shouldn’t have gotten so mad at her and that I’d probably made her worse, and I knew I should have free schooled her but now it was too late to do anything about that because there was a horse being ridden in the indoor, so I was just going to have to ride her. A boarder came in from the indoor at that point and I asked her if she could grab my bridle, then I put the bridle on Sofie (who put her head down, flapped her lips and picked the bit right up and then cranked her head way up again and went back to her freaked-out setting) and we went in the indoor to warm up because I was not taking her outside right then.

She didn’t want to stand for me to mount, and once I did get on her she walked off immediately. I had to stop her at least half a dozen times before I got my feet in the stirrups, and then she walked around reasonably well, not super relaxed but not taking off either. I didn’t end up riding long because the mare who was being ridden was having issues, and being in there with her and trying to stay out of her way in a small arena (with her cantering and us walking) was not fun at all, so I took the mounting block and my horse outside. Sofie immediately decided to stare at a plow truck, and I walked her around hoping she would calm down but she didn’t. The only positive was that she didn’t completely lose it and run me over/get away/drag me around. She walked by my side most of the time and stopped when I asked. She was just a completely tense mess, and by this point I was really feeling bad for getting so angry with her before.

Eventually I figured out I was not going to be able to ride her outside, since I knew she wouldn’t stand for me to mount, or if she did, she’d walk off immediately and I’d have no stirrups (when I don’t have someone around to hold the off side stirrup, I use the three-step mounting block and get on without stepping in the stirrup. That way the saddle doesn’t slip and I can leave the girth looser, since the saddle never shifts when I ride). I also knew it was not a good idea to even try to ride her outside when she had so obviously lost her mind for whatever reason, but my alternative was going back in the indoor with the mare who kicks (and was not having a good day either). I wound up going back into the barn, and the other girl was done riding so I took psycho pony back in the indoor. At first she walked around, fairly reasonably, but then she starting trotting (and not the way she has been trotting; it was a big, huge, fast trot). I just went with her, figuring she needed to burn some energy. I might’ve enjoyed it (I haven’t felt her move that forward in a while), but I was slightly preoccupied by certain things, like, my horse was completely psycho insane, I felt like a complete idiot, I figured she was probably going to hate me or be afraid of me now, and it was gorgeous outside and I was in the dingy indoor with my psychotic horse.

She wasn’t lame at first but she started to feel a bit off. That did not deter her in any way, however. She barreled along in the trot, and then (this is how bananas she was) she broke into a canter. In the indoor. Under saddle. She threw her head a bit in the depart, and I instinctively half-halted and went “HEY!” because I had no idea if she was going to kick out or completely lose it or what she would end up doing, but she went along in a nice canter, halfway around the arena, balancing just fine and handling the corners with no issues. I haven’t cantered her in the indoor since JUNE of ‘09.


After that we trotted some more, racing around and trying to cut corners (her) and trying stop cutting corners (me). She felt okay at times and head-bobbly at others, but not too bad considering how fast she was going. I’m not sure how much of that was adrenaline and how much she’s going to pay for it later. It will be interesting to find out how this affects her shoulder issue. Something to look forward to, right?

In between trotting around like a maniac, we did some walk work, and at least I know she really knows about flexing (in the walk, at least), because she still flexed beautifully and lightly, even though she was having a mind-loss issue. And, whether it was a continuation of our recent rein-back improvement under saddle, or due to her fearing/respecting my authority more since I totally lost it, her rein-backs were AWESOME. They have NEVER been that good. She was light, she flexed at the poll but stayed on the vertical, and she actually used her hind end. It was pretty freaking cool. Small comforts.

And when I dismounted I saw we had foam, like an actual white lipstick of foam. Dressage people love foam, right? I have to say, I have serious doubts concerning foam. It supposedly means the connection is good, but apart from the walk work, we had absolutely no connection. I think in this case (and probably a lot of cases) the presence of foam has more to do with tension, or heavy contact (like most dressage people ride with...).

I walked her around for a bit (she actually broke a bit of a sweat on her chest for the first time this winter) afterward, and she was still distracted and high-headed at times. She did seem to enjoy her face-brushing, which made me feel a little better. When I turned her out she immediately went off to stare at something in the distance.

Turns out when they brought the horses in the night before I rode, Sofie ran around the arena not wanting to be caught, and went to her stall high headed and totally tense. She didn’t finish her grain Sunday morning, and Sunday evening she ran around the arena once again before letting Judy take her to her stall. She has been eating her food at least, though. She’s had days when she lost her mind before, but this is a little prolonged and dramatic for her. It seems almost like she’s in heat (I’ve only ever noticed her being in heat twice before, but she tends to be really distracted to the point of not being able to stand still), and she’s not the first mare I’ve seen (or heard about) having weird hormonal things happening recently. It’s my best guess. I’ll just have to see what happens. Hopefully this will pass, and not turn out to be something major that requires a vet and a whole bunch of money and drama.

I would like to be able to take advantage of this energy, but since she’s still having lameness issues under weight I can only do so much. I hope she stops being both psycho AND lame, so I can deal with the psycho (or lameness) better. I think it would be better that way.

On the positive side, even though it SUCKED, I did learn from Sunday. I learned that sometimes I do need to discipline her. I want to be soft and light and be her friend (I’ve often been called “passive” by instructors), but she needs to respect me too. I don’t like “getting after” horses, and I give her the benefit of the doubt a lot because of her issues, but I think I need to ask for a little more. I hate that I yelled and jerked on her, but I did get my message across. I should have been less emotional, but sometimes I think I do need to raise the volume.

I also need to praise her more. I think I only rubbed her neck once on Sunday, and it really helps her. I’m always upset with myself when I don’t praise her enough, so I need to make sure I do. I think that will help both of us.

And I know now that she can canter just fine in the indoor. If she is ever sound again, I need to ask her to canter in there. If I’m going to do that, I need to commit and I need to be prepared to follow through. I’m sure I will get drama when I flat-out ask her for the canter, since I’ve been letting her choose when she canters for so long (although I did work on asking for the canter this fall, but that was outside and I kind of stacked the deck in my favor). I need to be able to make it happen. But at least I know she can do it, so maybe eventually I can get us past this.

I just want to be able to do things. I hate not knowing what’s going on with her.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Our December (So Far)

From October...

December has been kind of hard on Sofie. As I recall, this wasn’t her favorite month last year either. She definitely isn’t in terrible shape, but she does have her complaints. I have been riding this month, but only four times so far, and mostly at a walk. Our rides have ranged from completely frustrating and depressing (though that was mainly due to issues in my own head) to (recently) quite fun and hopeful.

Sofie’s feet were trimmed on the 10th. When Annie came out to trim her (sick, to the point of having trouble breathing…I love Annie, she is incredibly, scary dedicated), we told her about Sofie’s head-bobbing lameness issue, and I jogged Sofie for her. Annie checked her over carefully and didn’t find much of anything, except for possibly a little back sensitivity. So she couldn’t really give us any ideas, except for what we already knew about her issues (hocks, chest, shoulder, sternum, oy). At least we got to see how much Sofie really respects (and maybe, just slightly, fears) Annie. She’s been very reactive when either one of us touches/grooms/massages her chest (particularly the permanent divot from when she ran into a barn wall), but while Annie was going over her chest and the surrounding areas she never once put her ears back, and she only turned her head slightly once.

Her feet are still good. They were definitely due for a trim, and it’s nice to have them shorter. The snow doesn’t pack in them nearly as much. Sofie was fairly cooperative for Annie, except in the beginning (she likes to yank her front feet away from Annie when she holds them between her legs). I really hate when she’s bad (she can be pretty bad) because Annie is such a great trimmer. She never resorts to abuse or freaks horses out (except in that slightly mind-blown, good way, like “OMG I’m backing down the aisle at a high rate of speed with this little tiny woman plastered to my chest…how did this happen?!”). And she’s so dedicated to my horse, so it’s kind of horrifying when my dumb horse is an ass while she’s working on her.

Sofie’s been doing better and worse in different respects. She’s moving better overall. She has less stiffness and more fluidity in her hind end. She’s showing more hock action than she has in quite some time. But she seems to be having front-end issues now. This does not seem to be a new or acute thing, but more of the same/ Sofie has a long-standing tendancy of "overuse" type, compensatory aches and pains. When she uses herself properly, her hocks tend to get ouchy, so then she pulls herself around with her front end and ends up with shoulder issues. She has also had sternum issues in the past. And then there’s the muscle damage to her chest from when she ran into the wall trying to fit through a fairly narrow opening at the same time as this other mare. That happened a couple years ago, but it clearly still bothers her at times. Lately she’s been reactive during grooming, and she’s also been quite girthy. And there’s the head-bobbing thing that comes up.

We keep checking her, and she has no heat anywhere, no swelling anywhere. She never really does. Choo-Choo’s legs are funky and have fill all over the place, but Sofie’s have always been tight and hard. I’ve thought about all kinds of stuff, like ulcers, saddle fit (I don’t think it’s saddle fit and I really really don’t want it to be), magnetic therapy, massage (I wish I had access to a good, reasonable massage therapist…most of the ones around here seem to be kind of nuts), rest, should I have a vet out, etc. I’m kind of holding off on making any sudden, dramatic moves. This is nothing we haven't gone through with her before, except for the lameness. I'm not used to her being lame, and I don't like it. I kind of feel like a bad person for riding her right now, but it's not as if I'm making her do anything strenuous. All I'm doing is trying to maintain what little fitness she has, since it won't help anything if she turns into a fat pony couch potato. I wouldn't ride her if she came out of the pasture lame, and I wouuld stop if she told me to, but she hasn't. She’s still trying, she’s still willing. Not that she always has her ears up and perky (unlike a certain toy-like Morgan), but she hasn't acted out or flat out told me "NO WAY." She'll even trot when I ask her to (I've been limiting the trot work to a few strides each direction, just to evaluate her, when I ride). I'm sure she would head-bob her way around the whole arena, multiple times, if I wanted her to. Which is atypical for her. Either she's decided to become a martyr (not likely), she REALLY loves me (I would like to think so, but maybe not so likely), or, as Annie said "It must not bother her too much if she's able to keep working."

She’s gone through crabby phases before, so hopefully this will pass and she’ll feel better. I just want her to be okay. I feel like she will be, and I really hope so.

The last couple rides have been good, particularly the most recent one. I’ve been riding with a friend, and Sofa was really excited to have another horse in the arena (not…she does enjoy making ugly faces at him, though). She’s really starting to “get” poll flexion and respond nicely to the rein aids. I’ve been working on that with her for a few rides now, just little bits at a time, and she was kind of resistant at first but now it seems she’s figured it out, at least at the walk. She did so well with flexion last time. I was amazed. She even reached down into the contact definitively but without pulling, just like Choo-Choo started to do in my last lesson. I swear the two of them have been talking, and Sofie just had to show me she could do it just as well as Choo-Choo. Fine by me. I hope Choo-Choo tells Sofie how to keep her ears up and canter in the arena!

I also worked on moving Sofie off my leg, not trying for any dramatic crossovers right now but just some sideways response. She was pretty light to my leg the last time I rode her. I do need to work on not nagging…I think I give a little too much support with my seat and leg. Not so much that it wears me out, but a bit too much. She’s so light, I don’t want to make her dull. The Jesse lessons have helped me figure out what I need to do with her, and the little adjustments I need to make for everything to be better and more correct.

I did some rein-back the last two rides. She did much better this last time than she did previously. And she was much sounder at the trot. She actually did several trot transitions, and trotted more than halfway around the arena once before she started head-bobbing. I rode without stirrups the entire time, except for the few minutes I rode outside. She was calm yet energetic and seemed happy to be out there. It was really fun, a really good ride for both of us, and it reminded me why I love my horse. Even with all her soundness issues, she’s still trying for me. And much as I love the adorable little Choo-Choo, with her soundness and unceasingly willing attitude, I know I could never have ridden her without Sofie. And don't tell Sofie this, but eventually I would probably get bored with a super-willing, seemingly opinionless horse.

As a super special reward for reading all the way through this super excitingness, I present Our Super Specialty - bad conformation photos! You know you love them. Actually, though, I must say that these are not too bad, by our standards. The hay belly, sickle hocks and fuzziness cannot be helped. The shavings tail fail was a regrettable oversight.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Always something...

Well, I did have three rides at the end of November/beginning of December, but recently it's gotten colder, and when I last saw Sofie on Sunday she went lame after I free schooled her a while. Her hocks seem to be alright; she was stiff but not horribly so. It seems to be a shoulder issue now, which would make sense since she's been reactive during grooming. She was a dent in her chest on the right side from when she ran into the wall of the run-in shed (she thought she AND another mare could fit through the opening at the same time...yeah, not likely), which tends to bother her at times. I wouldn't be surprised if she managed to crack her shoulder a little, which could explain her reactivity and front-leg lameness. We checked her leg and there was no heat or anything, but she was head-bobbing lame, even at the walk, which is never nice to see. After I turned her out she just stood in one place for a while, probably resting her bad shoulder. She's smart that way. I felt like complete crap after we left, since she had been happy and perky when I went out to bring her in (she's been happy to see me and walking up to me and everything) and I just hate it when she goes lame. I'm not used to seeing her go lame, either, since she usually shuts everything down before she ever goes lame. But lately she's been willing to work until she's lame, and then work some more. I'd like to think that she really likes me and wants to work for me, but I don't know how accurate that is, or if the arthritis is just progressing to the point where she WILL be lame some of the time. It's not that bad, but still....arrrrrgggh, Sofa.

Oh, and I was worried about her yesterday, so I texted Judy to find out if she had been looking okay. Apparently she felt good enough to run around the arena and be all uncooperative when they brought the horses in, the evening after she went lame. Arrrrgh, horse!!

We'll see how she is today...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jesse Lessons!

Sofie may have taken some time off this month, but I’ve had the opportunity to take consistent lessons for the first time in two years, and I’ve gone with it. Jesse Collins is one of the best dressage trainers in my area. He’s sometimes here, sometimes elsewhere (earlier in the year he was working on an Oldenburg stud in Germany), and on the occasions I’ve seen him ride and train, I’ve been impressed by his lightness and his lovely, textbook dressage position. He’s also a genuinely nice person, unfazed by non-dressage-ideal horses with “issues”. I’ve wanted to work with him for quite some time, but circumstances (my absence from the “dressage barns”, crazy horse, lame horse, busy, etc. etc.) got in the way until recently.

With Sofie out of commission, I needed to rent one of the lesson horses at the UP Equestrian Center. After all this time, I didn’t much care what kind of horse I rode, as long as it had three gaits I could access. But I really lucked out with Choo-Choo, the little 19 year old, chestnut, park-seat trained Morgan mare we ended up using. I love Morgans, I love large pony mares (obviously), and I really love Choo-Choo. She is hard to catch (and she’s usually out in a huge field) but she’s a sweet little thing, and quite an enjoyable ride. She really catches on, and so far she has been a ridiculously easy and fun retraining project.

When I started riding her the first time, she walked off quite inverted and tight. Her walk had an extra, tense kind of spring to it, and it felt like she was tossing me around as I sat very much on top of her, not into her. It was a disconcerting feeling. The same was true at a trot; I felt an extra lurch that made posting kind of awkward and difficult. She cantered once in confusion, and she cantered in place. Also an odd feeling. Her park training showed in her inversion, quick, tense, “up and down” movement, and whenever I turned her across the arena, she jerked to a halt and “parked out” on the centerline.

We spent the lesson (which wound up being two hours long…I love enthusiastic dressage trainers with time on their hands) working on flexion at the poll. When Choo-Choo actually flexed, Jesse had me lengthen the reins forward to see if she would maintain the flexion and lengthen her neck. It took her a while to understand what I was asking, but she stayed nice and light in her mouth and slowly, with all the quiet flexion work, her head started to come down and she began to uncoil. She needed a lot of suppling work, especially tracking right. But she improved little by little, until she was walking forward, relaxed, stretching her neck out on a long rein. The exaggerated motion of her walk quieted, and she began overtracking instead of undertracking as she’d previously been doing. Her trot developed relaxation as well, and it became less hurried and much more comfortable to ride. She turned from seat alone and by the end of the lesson, she had stopped trying to park out on the centerline.

As far as my riding was concerned, Jesse reminded me to stretch up (I might‘ve heard that before, just a few times…arrrrgh) and bring my elbows in. He also told me to bring my leg forward, since I needed to influence the horse’s shoulder, and I was swinging my leg way too far back (which, as my mother pointed out afterward, she’s told me a million times). And he emphasized training the horse to be responsible and forward by letting them make mistakes and then making the correction, not by keeping them going forward/straight/whatever with constant seat and leg. Which is a very good idea, but let me tell you. It. Is. So. Hard. When you’re sitting there on a green horse or retraining project, you just want to HELP IT ALL THE TIME! Oy. Jesse did say that I have a good position (if I just make the adjustments I need to make), and he liked my hands, which makes me a very happy dressager.

Anyway, it was an excellent lesson. And the day after, when I went to ride Sofa, I was actually able to apply what I learned in the lesson to my horse, without instruction. I’ve never been able to do that before, so it was pretty cool. It helps that Sofie and Choo-Choo are rather similar. They are both better and worse in different ways, but they have certain similarities, and what I’m working on with Choo-Choo is very relevant to my work with Sofie.

In the subsequent two lessons we worked more on the same. Choo-Choo was slightly dead to the leg during the second lesson, and she required some “reminders”, but eventually she started listening better and moving with lots of energy. When we tried for a bit more of a connection, Choo-Choo raised and shortened her neck faster than I could reel in the reins, but we had more success with a slightly longer rein, focusing on the relaxation and stretch that seems to be the key with this horse. When Choo-Choo is relaxed and stretching forward, it’s fairly easy to get the flexion, and as she gets stronger and more secure in this new way of moving we should be able to get more of a connection.

By the third lesson, Choo-Choo’s improvement was clear. She started out with a longer neck and a more relaxed way of moving, right from the beginning. She generally has a lovely, swingy way of moving now, and her back is no longer tight. She showed marked improvement on her right side, balancing on the rail and on a circle without needing much help at all. Her left side, which had been okay, was actually much worse, she really wanted to fall in while tracking left. She was really starting to “get” the whole flexion thing, and we had some really nice moments when she flexed at the poll on a long rein with her nose way down, and the line of her neck was really lovely. On a long rein, she responded to the lightest touches on the reins I could give, which was cool. I really like how light she is, since I hate having to use strong rein aids, even when I have to. We did quite a bit of flexion on a long rein, flexing one way, then the other, which was a nice exercise.

We had some very good moments where I felt a good connection, and there was one point as we trotted around a big circle, when I felt Choo-Choo go forward, not faster. It is a very cool feeling, and I guess it feels just how they describe it. It’s not an increase in speed, or anything like that. Her trot didn’t change in the typical, rushy way. It was like the same gait, but more, if that makes any sense. Very cool. And good to know!

We also started some canter work. I really need to work on my canter skillz…sitting trot, timing, cuing the canter depart, not getting all excited because OMG WE’RE GONNA CANTER and I hardly ever get to do that, etc. Between my total sloppiness and Choo-Choo’s strange tendency to want to fall in and get really, really crooked at the canter, it was a little rough. I think it will get better; I’m just rusty and the canter depart is a tricky thing anyway. One thing I’ll try next time, is not swinging my outside leg soooo far back, because (as my astute ground person-Mom pointed out) Choo-Choo doesn’t have Sofa’s longer back (or her big barrel), so I pretty much had my leg way back in Choo-Choo’s flank. Awkward. Choo-Choo is trained, after all, so I don’t really need to be using exaggerated, green-horse, “PLEASE CANTER” cues on her.

Choo-Choo has a nice little canter, not as nice as Sofie’s, of course, but then Sofie’s canter is the best. We did have one very nice canter depart. It was instantaneous and very light. Unfortunately she dropped back into a trot without continuing on in the canter, but it was still a nice depart, and I like those. I’m looking forward to hopefully improving our canter work, since we both kind of need help in that area, and I look forward to learning more from Jesse and Choo-Choo that I can apply to Sofie.