Monday, December 16, 2013

And We Have Liftoff!

We trotted under weight today! And we weren't hobbling lame! We weren't lame at all!

She is so relieved, and so am I. She's got all this pent-up energy, and I had to keep her from jigging when I picked up the reins. Pony wants to GO! I was super nervous to trot her, but it all went great and hopefully I won't ever have to feel that horrible lameness ever again.

My tentative plan is to actually tack her up on Wednesday and give her more of a real ride, maybe put her together a little bit at the walk and start to get back into the dressagey aspect of things. I don't want to let it go for too long and have her regress, her neck and everything is looking so nice that I just want to preserve that.

Last night there was a snowstorm, and she must have flipped out or something because this morning as I was feeding I looked over and saw her in this stallion's paddock (the stallion is in a roundpen in the paddock, fortunately!). It was one of those surreal moments, like, "Is that my horse? Where she definitely should not be?". She crawled through the fence at some point in the night, walked all over the paddock, and got covered with snow. She also lost one of her magnetic boots, which led me to declare "I'm not even looking for that thing!" But luckily enough, it was sitting right in her paddock, on the pathway the horses have made to the gate, easy to see.

I just put in 48 hours at my job this week, and I was hoping to go home today (haven't been home in 6 days), but my car had other broke down in the middle of the street, and I had to call a tow truck and then stand there watching people try to drive around me. Then I couldn't get a ride home, so I just had to pick out what worldly possessions I needed, and walk back to the place where I've been staying (fortunately within walking distance of my mechanic!).

I know exactly what broke on my car,'s a $30 part that I just replaced a few weeks ago when this happened the first time. Ugh, life. Why is everything I own hanging on by a thread and duct taped together?

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Good Things Are Happening

The rest/light work/bute/magnetic blanket combo seems to be working. It's been bitterly cold, but Sofie has been sound enough to trot around her paddock without a hitch in her gait (she was also bucking and jumping around the other morning, and didn't go Ouch, ouch, ouch afterward).

The applesauce method has been working well for getting the bute into her. She's not the greatest at taking oral meds, but I can deal with her, and this way I know it gets in her. She's just so fussy. I've been leaving her magnetic blanket on almost continuously. She's had it on since Wednesday, minus a half hour a day. I finally took it off and left it off today for fear of making her radioactive, or something. Although that's probably unfounded.

We haven't been doing much, but I've been enjoying myself anyway. On Thursday we went for a brief driveway ride even though it was like 10 degrees out. It was sunny! And it was nice to get outside and go for a little mini trail ride. Then yesterday the arena was empty, and I was going to ride but I decided to go old-school with some good old free schooling. I turned her loose in the indoor, and she trotted off right away and went several times around at a trot. She looked good - free-moving, pretty even, maybe a little tight still on that right hind but definitely much improved. She has so much pent-up energy from not being worked like she's used to - I could tell she was happy to just move for a change. She trotted both directions without an issue, and then as we were winding down I turned away from her, and she followed me. So I decided to play around with it, changing directions, jogging, stopping and transitioning back up to a walk or jog. She stuck with me the whole time and trotted right by me, close enough to touch. We haven't done that in forever, and I forgot how much fun it is to play the "my horse and I are one" game. She's just stupidly adorable sometimes.

It's supposed to warm up (kind of) tomorrow and Monday, so I'll get on her again and see how she's doing. Depending on how she's moving, I may or may not try a few trot steps. I'm kind of nervous to trot her under weight again, but she is doing way better. I'll just have to judge the situation.

In other news, I recently took the plunge and stuck my novel on Amazon (well, the process was actually sorta involved..."stuck it on there" doesn't begin to cover it). I'm still super new to the process of marketing and networking, but I'm excited to have it out there, and hopefully it takes off!

I'm sure those of you who frequent this blog have seen the (hopefully not too obtrusive) link on the homepage, but I just wanted to share the cover, which still makes me super happy:

Very glad I had a horse person design it for me. Accuracy is so important in the equestrian-writing arena! And I figured, if I'm going to make the investment and put it out there for the world to see, it better look damn good!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sometimes you just have to ride

This morning dawned cold, and I thought I wasn't going to go to the barn. I'll wait 'til tomorrow, I thought. I don't want to drive over there...

Inertia nearly took over, and I thought about leaving my boyfriend's place and just going home. But something stopped me. Peeking out the door, I realized it wasn't that cold. Cold enough that no one else would be out riding, but not too cold for me.

I got out the Friesian mare's stuff, and brought her in from the field. She was agreeable, with good ground manners, and soon I was on her back, settling into her swingy walk and riding out the occasional spook. She was looky, stopping and staring at the snow under the door, or the harrow behind a metal gate, or a light patch in the footing. I was annoyed, and a little tense myself. But I kept riding, praising her when she crept past the scary objects. I took her up to a trot, fumbling through the motions of posting and keeping up with a typical Friesian-cross trot when I'm used to my comfortable, smooth operator. But we worked it out. By the end of the ride I was keeping up with her a little better, and she was walking on the rail and listening to me.

And somewhere in there, I just felt better.

I gave the Friesian mare a quick brushing and rubbed her face. She was sweet and cuddly. I returned her to her field and went to get Sofie. She was walking fine, no better, but no worse after our last ride. I set out her magnetic blanket to put on her later, looped her lead through the D rings on her halter, and climbed on her bareback.

I didn't pick up the contact, or do transitions, or do much of anything. I just let her walk freely, and I just rode. My mind calm, I was able to enjoy the moment. The warmth and comfort of her broad back, the soothing rhythm of her walk, the gentle expression in her eye as I watched her in the mirrors. The promise of what's to come.

We've had many setbacks, and much progress has been made. We're not about to be taken out by a mere pulled muscle. It may take until the warm weather comes, but we'll be back. We'll come back.

And until then, I will relax, and ride, and trust. These little things can be the hardest to master.

We'll be alright. We'll be alright. We'll be alright.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Prognosis: Blah

Things are much the same since my last post. My mom came out to look at her, and she pointed out that her right rump is definitely tight - it even looks visibly smaller than the other side. I walked her around, and flexed and wrenched on her pastern joint some more, and nothing. She is just really super tight and painful on that side, and now that the cold weather has set in it seems like she can’t get any relief.

She’s fine at the walk for riding, but after a little while she starts to rush a little and not be as relaxed. At the trot, she’s bad. I did an experiment the last time I rode her and kept trotting her for a while, doing more transitions instead of just testing it out for a few steps. She actually seemed to work out of her lameness and loosen up somewhat with the continued trot work, which was encouraging, but then afterward she was visibly gimpy at the walk again. She wasn’t horrible, but she clearly wasn’t feeling too great. I’ll see how she is when I go back out on Sunday or Monday. If nothing magical has happened, we’re probably looking at walk-only rides for the foreseeable future.

The good news is that she seems to be getting around fine in her paddock, even now that there is some wet heavy snow on the ground. The only question is how much exercise to give her at this point. Giving her time off doesn’t seem to do her any favors - she had a whole week off recently, and it just makes her go stir-crazy and do dumb things like run around in her paddock. She’s a relatively high-energy horse, and she’s used to being ridden frequently and doing things. I think she needs some semblance of a normal routine, to at least be walk ridden a few times a week. Which I can do, but it’s really hard to take. It’s depressing to see her not getting better, especially when I spend so much time at the barn working. Other people are out riding (or at least have the option to) and then I finally get done with my shift and all I can do is limp around on my horse. It really sucks.

Banamine and time off don’t seem to do any good, so I’ve quit giving it to her (plus I’m running low and I need some on hand for emergencies). I tried putting her magnetic blanket on, and that didn’t make any marked difference in her way of going. I can do massage and stretches, which are probably somewhat helpful, along with the light exercise just to keep her from losing her mind.

The obvious thing is to give her bute, but she won’t eat the flavored powder I have on hand, so if I want to bute her I’ll need to mix it in some applesauce and just give it to her orally. I’m working six days in a row next week, so that seems like the ideal time to give it a try. I’ll be there, so I can dose her (and watch for adverse side effects), and it will be consistent. I see no sense in giving her bute on one random day, and then nothing for a day or more. It’s hard on her tummy, and it won’t solve her issues if it’s not given consistently over a length of time.

On the bright side, the lady who is leasing the Friesian cross mare offered to let me ride her, because she can’t get out as frequently as she would like. So I have a horse to ride, which is awesome. But the days are so short right now that after
working 7+ hours and taking care of myself and my horse, I have to make the choice between riding this other mare or driving an hour home over questionable roads while I still have daylight. Still, I’m hoping to get on her soon. I really just need to ride a horse that isn’t falling apart, just for my own morale, which is pretty low right now.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Well, it looks like we’re in for our annual, ominous start-of-winter, is-this-the-end routine. We were due for one of these.

It’s been over a month since Sofie came up lame, and she is still really bad. Apart from those two promising rides mid-November, when she cantered without an issue and seemed like she was on the mend, she has come up hobbling at some point during every one of our rides since that day she pulled something, or did something, or something happened.

On our last “real” trail ride, she was feeling good, and when I first started trotting her she broke into a canter, which of course disintegrated into hobbling. We went on, and I tested her occasionally. She was mostly okay at the trot, and when I tried the canter once more, she felt great, but then she just broke and started limping again. She was fine on hills, and fine trotting, except occasionally when she’d limp, but then she’d work out of it.

The last time I rode, I just got on bareback in the indoor arena for a few minutes. She was okay at the walk, but she couldn’t trot to save her life. She’s not lame at the walk, and she’s not lame even when she’s not carrying my weight, so we’re not quite back to square one. But it’s still very discouraging.

I’m at the point where I may want to have a vet out and have some flexion tests done, because I can’t figure this out. She did so well throughout this year. She was so strong, and so sound. And this doesn’t feel to me like the typical arthritis flare-up. With arthritis, there’s usually more guarding, and disengaging and self-protecting. There’s more buildup. And when she’s not cripplingly lame, she looks and feels great. Even the other day, her canter was spot-on before she broke. It just doesn’t make sense. It feels more like an acute injury than ringbone.

But then I recall all the things I’ve read about how ringbone can be career-ending and super painful, and I get confused all over again. Maybe this is just what happens. Maybe this is how it goes. But there’s no heat in the joint. The lump on her pastern is cold and hard. It’s set. It shouldn’t be causing this much pain. And besides that, I can pick up her hoof and flex that joint hard, basically wrench it and torque on it, and I get no reaction from her. If I palpate up on her rump, where Chiro Lady said she pulled that muscle, she moves away from me more often than not. And a lot of the muscles on that right leg and rump feel super tight. So, I don’t know.

What has changed? Certainly the mud was a factor. I can blame myself for not being more proactive, but mud happens where horses live, and it has never been a problem before. And, we remedied the situation when it did become a problem. That’s all you can do.

The main thing is that Sofie’s herd has undergone a lot of changes. Horses have been moved out of there, and new ones have been introduced. The new herd seems perfectly peaceful to me, but the fact remains that my horse keeps going lame. Something needs to change, because what I’m doing is not working.

Fortuitously, one of the mares Sofie used to live with needed to be moved out of her new herd. She is a pretty nasty, dominant mare, and she was causing dangerous situations when people went to bring their horses in. Sofie always got along with her, though, so when I heard my boss was thinking of moving her to a smaller paddock I asked her if we could move Sofie, too. She loved the idea, and I moved both horses the day before Thanksgiving.

They have a nice spot right out in front of the barn, with a shelter big enough for the two of them. They even have a slow feed haynet. Sofie is fine being by herself at night (the other mare is on stall board) and she has a friend during the day. The other mare has a friend she likes and gets along with, and she’s not endangering people and their horses. And I’m hoping that being in a smaller space, with only one other horse will be what Sofie needs. As much as I like having her in a big field, with an active herd, it’s no good if she hurts herself all the time. And maybe as she gets older, and with all her fused joints and old injuries, she just needs to be a little less active on her downtime.

It feels like a good decision for all involved. Hopefully it pays of for Sofie.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Conformation Shoot Fail

As I type this, it's 8 degrees outside and blowing snow. Who's excited they're not working today? This girl!

Recently, on a way-better-weather day, I spent some time hanging out with Sofie after a ride. And I had the brilliant idea that I would take some conformation shots outside.

My horse, historically, does not take good conformation pictures. She doesn't set up, doesn't square up, and stands really awkwardly in general.

Well, with legs like this, I guess you can't blame the girl...

But I persevered, and set her up outside. She was standing nicely! Yeah, this was going to work.

But. Then. She. Kept. Moving. I'd set her up, tell her to "stay", and step back to take the picture (because horses are more like landscapes than plant life. The Macro setting doesn't work!). And every time, inevitably, she would take a step toward me.

So I ended up with this:

Almost a decent shot, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Would've been a nice shot, but now it just looks like she's doing a very slow reining spin.

Oh, well. I guess unpretty conformation photos are the price you pay for a pony that loves you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ugh, horse ownership

Do you ever have one of those weeks where you just think, ugh, horse ownership?

I had one of those weeks (actually, a couple of them) a little while ago. After a great year of strong rides and minimal soreness, we hit a rough patch where Sofie seemingly just could not stop injuring herself.

The start of winter has been very mild and wet, resulting in serious mud in the paddocks and pastures. Sofie’s pasture was mainly dry, but there was some deep mud by the haynets where the horses spend much of their time eating. She had been a little off, not bad, but I figured the footing was probably aggravating her ringbone a little, so I took it easy on our rides.

When we headed out on a Wednesday afternoon, the weather was good, the footing was decent, and Sofie was feeling good. She was eager to trot, and I felt no hesitancy in her gait, so we went on our usual route, ending up at one of our favorite trail loops that is very wide and open, with gentle slopes and good footing. We often canter here, and we did some of that, slowing to a walk at times when the surface turned slick with mud. She felt pretty good, but started breaking in the canter so I figured she was at her limit, and we turned back to head home at a walk. I took a slightly different route than usual, over a trail that is still being developed. So the footing was a little uneven, but by no means terrible.

After a few minutes, Sofie seemed to be struggling, and it became more obvious as time went on. She was lame. Really, really, dramatically lame. Going uphill, it was even more clear - I could feel her hiking up and almost dragging one of her hind limbs.

Not. Good.

I rode on for a little while, thinking she would walk out of it as so often happens, but she never did. I even got off at one point to check her legs, but of course nothing was amiss. She was just really, really sore. Unfortunately we were out on the trail, so there was nothing I could do but take my poor horse home and reassess when we got there.

When we got back, I untacked her, and even after standing and resting for a while she was still really. Fucking. Lame. I debated whether to give her pain meds, but I didn’t have any syringes on me at the time, and I also didn’t want to mask her symptoms when I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Whatever it was, it was making her hurt pretty dramatically, and I didn’t want her running around on it when she clearly needed to take it easy. So there was nothing I could do but take her back out to the pasture and watch her limp away. I felt really shitty about it.

I was back the next morning to feed, and she seemed okay first thing in the morning.
But later, when I went back out to play with her, she was standing off to the side while the other horses ate hay, resting her bad leg and looking pretty miserable. Obviously that deep mud was the worst possible thing for her right now. I went to talk to the barn manager, kicking myself for not realizing how disastrous that mud would be.

I asked if we could feed the mares away from the haynets until the ground froze or dried up again. That got shot down, but we eventually settled on a solution. I would leave Sofie in the paddock right next to the mares’ field until the pasture could be dragged and the mud could be scraped back with the tractor. I felt pretty good about this. She still had access to the automatic waterer and she could be right by her friends, but she was on better ground, resting her leg, and the mud situation would get taken care of. I also put her on a diet while she was in solitary, since she needed to drop some weight anyway.

After all this, I went home for my day off, where I relayed the situation to my mom. I was feeling sick about the whole thing, and worried by how much the ringbone appeared to be hurting her. I assumed this was officially our start of winter, This Is The End arthritis flare-up (we were due for one, after all).

After I told my mom all this, she went “She probably pulled a muscle. That’s what it sounds like to me.”

And I went OMG YOU’RE RIGHT. The sudden, dramatic onset, the marked improvement with rest, the aggravation of the deep muddy footing…total muscle pull. Sofie had gotten those before, she used to get them all the time. We were due for one. Muscle pull it is!

And I felt vastly better about the whole thing. Sure, my horse might still be super fucking lame, but at least it’s not the big, scary, potentially career-ending KIND of lame I thought it was! It’s ONLY a muscle pull! Hooray, champagne and cupcakes all round!

Sofie did well in her temporary paddock, and the next time I rode she was vastly better. I even trotted her some, and while she took a few bad steps she felt like she was on the mend. I also had her chiropractically adjusted, and the Chiro Lady confirmed the muscle pull. Basically, she pulled a giant muscle in her rump, on the right side.

The mud got scraped back, and the footing by the haynets was once again solid. Brimming with happiness, I opened the gate so Sofie and her friends (who had joined her in the side paddock while the work was being done) could have their field back. Hooray! Be free, ponies!

Yeah, uh, THAT was a giant error. Because of course the two other mares took
, and Sofie went with them, straight up galloping around on her bad leg (or bad butt, I should say), bucking, leaping, and doing that super-excited, “ooh look I’m an Arabian!” trot with the tail up over the back. Also, she went to the extra trouble of galloping straight through one of the piles of scraped-back mud. Yup. After all that, she was super fucking lame again. But still, I was happy to see her out with her friends, happy and full of herself.

The next time I came out, the field had been dragged, and the mud piles had been scattered up on the hill. The footing was as perfect as could be. Sofie, of course, was still pretty lame under weight, so we just limped around bareback for a little while. She was kind of okay at the walk, but at the trot, she was dramatically lame. Oh, well, I thought, she’ll be better in a few days.

And then they introduced the Friesian Mare to the herd.

And my horse fell in love, which is to say, she lost her fucking mind.

Picture this: I walk out the field to collect my horse, and the new Friesian-cross mare who had previously been in the round pen is in the field with my horse. No big deal, herd introductions happen all the time. My horse is sensible, she never gets all that excited by newcomers.

But. I forgot that Sofie loves mares, and her old best friend had just been moved. I forgot that Sofie loves Friesians, as the Friesian stallion who used to board here was the only stallion she was ever sort of bicurious about. And this mare looks like him. But she’s a mare.

Sofie brain = explode

Mmm, sexy...

My horse (who, btw, was still super fucking lame) looked right at me, and took off in a canter. As I watched, she broke to a walk (well, a hobble would be more accurate to describe her gait at the time). I caught her up so we could go limp around for a while, and she kept craning her neck, not wanting to leave her new best friend/love of her life. Also, she was nonstop talking to this horse, whickering and just not shutting up. You know how they make horses sound in those old Westerns where they dub the sound in? That’s how my horse sounded. Like a movie horse.

In the barn aisle, my horse typically just stands there, ground-tied, while I get her ready and/or leave her for extended periods of time. Like this:

Well, she would. Not. Stand. She kept moving forward, peering out the barn door in the direction of her lost love, and I’d keep backing her up. But she couldn’t really back up, due to Super Fucking Lameness, so she’d just kind of hop/hobble backward, and then look at me like “Ouch”. At one point, I left her for a second to grab something, and she just straight up walked down the aisle and out the door to
the gate that leads to her field. She kept stepping on her lead rope, which would normally cause her to feel the pressure and stop, but on this day she just twitching her head to free the rope, with an expression on her face that basically said “I will stop at nothing to get back to my new best friend/love of my life”.

I did ride her, and we limped around for a little while, but it wasn’t very enjoyable because whenever I’d try to trot her at all, she would basically start hobbling. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m making my horse super fucking lame (although she was really doing it to herself at this point with her antics), so I put her back in the field.

Does it end here? Nope. I went out the next day, and immediately noticed there was blood on her leg.

Her good leg. Her other leg. Her non-ringbone, non-butt-pull, non-fucked-up leg.

It was a nice, fresh wound too, so it was still dripping blood. I dragged my horse out of the pasture, and segued easily from “Oh I might actually get to ride my horse” to “LOL nope now I just get to deal with my horse’s leg wound”.

Which I did, in short order. I got out my hydrogen peroxide, my Vetricin, paper towels and my headlamp and got to work. I cleaned it out (although it was a very clean wound, but I still needed to get in there and see what was what) and did my usual “how deep is it, is it a puncture, and are there any tendons or ligaments affected” visual inspection. I freaked out at first because there seemed to be yellowish joint-or-tendon fluid coming out of it, but I determined that it was just normal seepage, because the location of the wound wasn’t really near any tendons or joints, and even if it was, she wasn’t dramatically lame enough on it for me to think that such a structure would be affected.

She was flinchy when I touched it, but she cooperated pretty well (we’ve done this a lot). It was her usual kind of wound - about the size of my thumb, with hair missing from the outer edges and then a deeper chunk of skin missing in the center. She normally gets them on her pastern or coronet band, this was up on her gaskin, which kept it way cleaner.

I didn’t want to ride, because the wound was still so fresh and I just wanted it to set up and stop bleeding. So after I had cleaned it and stared at it a bunch, I Vetricined it and just stuck her back in the field. She limped off (it was now impossible to tell which of her legs hurt more) and I went back to put away my stuff. I mentioned what had happened to the people at the barn, asked them to “text me if her leg stocks up like a tree trunk or if she’s bleeding to death or something” and went home, hoping I did NOT get a text the next day (my day off).

At this point, my mind was so overwhelmed by all the ways in which my horse was hurting herself, so frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t do anything but limp around on
my horse (I may have told her, in a mildly threatening manner, “I could really use that extra $250 a month that I work off for your board, Sofie”), and so perplexed as to why my horse had lost all her good sense. This horse has lived a life of chronic ailments and little injuries like this. She knows how to take care of herself when she’s in pain. This is a horse, who, during a time when her hocks were fusing and she was in a lot of pain, walked straight into her field when I turned her out after a short ride and lay down immediately, resting her achy joints in a pile of hot sand. She knows better!

This is when things started to get really weird in my head. I thought things like, I hope she doesn’t keep running around, because that wound will never heal. Then I started to think, Hey, maybe this is a good thing! If she’s sore enough on that left hind, maybe she won’t run around and she’ll rest her butt muscle! Yeah, this is good. I hope that wound really hurts!

In conclusion: she didn’t stock up, the leg wound is healing uneventfully, and her butt muscle is on the mend...with the occasional setback. We had enjoyed a real actual-ride-resembling rides, and even some cantering, and then today, as soon as I got on her...super fucking lame. Again. I was not that sympathetic, as I had been hobbling around on a killer shin splint all day at work, so I walked her on flat ground and she worked out of it a bit. We had a nice little hack and called it a day. She limped out to her haynet, and I limped to my car.

Ugh, horse ownership!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is it wrong to love horsey feet this much?

(That is a great question to ask random people, by the way. Particularly non-horsey, non-trimming people who will have no idea what you mean but will be seriously confused and/or creeped out)

Since I started trimming Sofie's feet back in March, I've gone through many phases as a DIY trimmer. At first, I tried to leave her with more wall and heel because she seemed to like it better than the classic barefoot trim. And she did like it (for some reason she loves having giant hoof walls and absolutely no sole and frog contact) but I did not love watching her feet degrade into wonky, flare-y messes (not to mention her frogs shriveled up to nothing without stimulation).

I have pictures from that stage, but I don't want to share them because yeccch.

So I changed tactics, and went back to more of a Ramey trim on her, although I do leave her with a bit more wall and heel than Ann used to. She just does not like having her heels taken all the way down for some reason. Her soles are plenty thick, and her frogs are nicely developed, but she lives on soft sand, so when she faces gravel or rocks, she wants a little bit of wall support. I don't blame her for that one.

Having absolutely no guidance, it was a bit of a challenge for me to figure out what I was doing with her feet. (I love it when people ask me "Oh, did you take a course or something to learn how to do that?" And I always give some lame answer back, like, "No, but I always paid attention to how she was being trimmed in the past". Like, basically, I'm a clueless idiot rasping away at my horse's feet for no reason whatsoever. Be afraid!) I compensated for that lack of leadership with a genuine interest and enthusiasm for horsey feet. I've always been a hoof nerd (taking your horse through hoof rehab and seeing hurting feet become rock crunching will do that to you) and I had been interested in learning to trim for a while. When it became a necessity, I went with it. I have a pretty good feel for it, and if I pay attention and make a thorough effort, I do a good job. But I still occasionally do dumb things like let her toes get too long, and then wonder why she's walking weird in front (of course my mind immediately jumped to "OMG she is developing arthritis in her KNEES now!" Uh, nope, you just left way too much fucking toe on your horse, so now she's landing toe first. Good guess, though. Extra points for the note of panic in your voice, too).

If I had access to a reliable, quality barefoot trimmer, I would not trim my own horse. But, I have come to enjoy it (it helps that summer is over. Everyone who trims probably agrees with me that summer is the worst time to do trimming. It's hard for your horse to even try to cooperate when they're covered in biting flies, ugh). It took a while, but I feel like I've finally reached a point where I'm competent, I'm consistent, and I'm doing the best thing possible for my horse. And, I've gotten faster, too. I just recently did a full trim in less than an hour. I appreciate quickness, and so does my horse, who is not exceptionally patient or cooperative when a trim drags on and on.

So, onto the pictures! We'll start with where we started from, Sofie when I bought her. Fucking. Neglect.

Anything's got to be better than this, right?

Left front.

Right front (I see the wonkiness with the bar on that one side, and I fixed it right after I looked at these pictures).

Fronts from the front! I think there's a bit of flare on those outer walls that I've been working on eliminating, but Ann saw these and didn't mention anything?

Left hind.

Right hind, the wonky hind, the one that always wants to veer off sideways and be all twisted. You can see it's not quite right, but it's stabilized at least. You can also see the ringbone on that leg! This is most definitely a case of body issues causing foot wonkiness. She just does not track straight or land straight, and the hoof grows awkwardly because of all the landing and twisting. If I take the inside wall down all the way and pretty much leave the outside wall alone, it balances as much as it's going to.

Hinds from the front. Even the wonky foot doesn't look terrible from this angle, and in the past, you could clearly see that it was all twisted.

I had Ann, my old trimmer take a look at these pictures the other day, and she had nothing but good things to say. It was extremely heartening, and nice to get a professional opinion. She's pretty outspoken if she doesn't approve of something, so I must not be doing a terrible job!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

In a Relationship...with my horse

After much holding out, I recently joined Facebook, and I was surprised by how awkward it was for me to fill out a profile (well, not really, because I tend to feel awkward about a lot of things, but nevertheless). The site seemed to glorify and dramatize such basic human achievements such as being born (OMG who does that?!) and getting a job, referring to them as Life Events in your Timeline (the Capitol Letters make it all very Important Sounding). Which is all a bit much. But Relationship Status is by far the most awkward part of it. I came a smidgen away from just leaving it blank, but I decided that since I actually have a relationship now (a rather big change for formally perma-single me), so too would I have a Relationship Status. So I filled it in, and, yep, just like that it became yet another Life Event for me.

But recently, while I was contemplating the total awkwardness of Relationship Statuses, considering my own romantic history versus other people's, and questioning what it really takes to commit to someone over the long term (yup, things get real deep up in here), I came to the realization that I have been in a long-term relationship. With my horse. Sofie and I are approaching five years together.

And it's been a turbulent five years, not exactly smooth sailing. When we got together, there was baggage, considerable baggage that we both struggled under and dumped on each other continually. There has been chronic pain, injury, health crises and a whole shitload of anxiety. I've seen her through hoof rehab, hock fusion, ringbone and the unforgettable Christmas Eve colic. She's changed me from a girl who needed help bringing her own horse in from the field to someone who takes care of 50 horses in the dark, the snow and the cold, single-handedly. She took a girl who was crippled by lingering fear from a years-old fall from a lesson horse and gave her the confidence to walk into a field of horses and hold her own. To stand her ground and firmly discipline a boundary-testing stallion. To ride a runaway and come away laughing.

After this long together, we both know where we stand. She watches me when I walk out to her field; she knows I'm her person. I look out for her, keeping the bitchy mare in the next field from bothering her when she wants a drink from the waterer. She looks out for me, watching her surroundings carefully when we're out on the trail, or remembering I'm there when she spooks and I'm crouched underneath her, wrapping a leg wound. She stops from the mere tension of a strip of vetwrap. She's that in tune.

And like any long-term relationship, there are good moments and bad, long stretches of comfort and enjoyment deviated by the occasional annoyance. There are times when, much as you love the other person (horses are people, too), you just feel like yelling "I hate you" at them (or just straight up murdering them). We certainly have had those days, particularly last spring, when I was stressed out and unhappy, dealing with the dispersal of my goats after a long winter of struggles with disease in my previously healthy herd. We clashed, we struggled. We got caught up in each others' anxiety.

We are alike, Sofie and I, to a shocking degree. We both work hard, we don't quit easily. We dig in. And when we get nervous, when we get tense, we don't stop and think. We plow forward, full speed ahead, going faster and faster in all the worse ways, making a mess of everything, trying way too hard. She tries so much, even through the pain. That's where we're similar, too.

The riding gets better with time, certainly. Sofie is more connected, more consistent than she has ever been. For my part, I'm sitting taller, more engaged, working with her. Dressage has become steady and fun, and easy language of seat, leg and rein aids, bodies moving together in balance. Occasionally she'll get too quick, too strong, and she'll need a firm correction. But for the most part, she's a dream to ride, and I'm getting more of those lovely, weightless moments when she's moving lightly, almost catlike, highly controllable but energetic and free.

We've been through so much, and there is so much more to come. I'm looking forward to our future together, and I'm pretty sure Sofie would say the same. Because the best thing that has come from our time together, the thing I am most proud of, is her trust. After more than four years, I feel as though she's taken a deep breath, and let go of a lot of her anxiety, for good.

It will never be completely gone. There will always be her past to contend with, and some of it simply stems from her basic nature - tough, smart, overachieving and overthinking. But it doesn't flare up like it used to, leaving her incapable of thinking, a prey animal on the run. It's controllable. It doesn't take over her mind. I can push her now when I couldn't before, working on new skills, eliminating annoying little habits, or working her through the inevitable stiffness. She can work through the discomfort now, mental or physical, and give a little more. She's more willing than ever before. She just seems content, even happy, to go to work for me.

I think she's realized, finally, that whatever my flaws and shortcomings, I care about her, and we are in this together. She's realized that I won't treat her like an ATV, that I won't take her on a five-hour ride when her hocks hurt and her feet hurt and everything hurts. She knows I will take care of her, because I've proven it over time. And she finally believes it.

And without having this horse in my life, I don't know where I'd be. I know I wouldn't be driving a car. I wouldn't have my job, I wouldn't have ambitions and hopes for the future. I'm pretty sure I would still just be aimless.

I love you, Sofa. Finding you was the biggest Life Event of my life.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

First trim

Due to some serious scheduling issues that left Sofie going way too long between trims, and a growing desire to be able to maintain her feet myself, without ever needing to make those major adjustments that can be jarring to a sensitive horse like Sofie. With my farrier's blessing, I bought some tools and have begun learning to trim her myself. I now carry a Hoofjack in the backseat of my car, and have a bunch of rasps riding around with me also.

And let me just say, I LOVE the Hoofjack. Best, easiest design EVER! So many things are NOT user friendly...this is!

I began by just taking her toes back a little, and familiarizing myself with the rasping process. By last Wednesday, I was ready to do more of an actual trim. I found the process to be much less physically taxing than I'd feared (it helps that I'm only doing light rasping, and, again, the Hoofjack is a miracle), and it was enjoyable because I know and like my horse. I would not want to do other people's horses, ever, but I'm not going for professional status here so that's just fine.

Her fronts were very, very easy. They are in very good shape with no issues other than that they tend to grow a lot. The frequent rasping will really help with that! I mostly worked on making sure that her toes were not getting too long, and I tried to address some balance issues that have crept back into her hinds with those long intervals. They are still far better than they used to be, but some flares and general wonkiness resulted from her going way way too long between trims.

I would like to aim to eventually leave her with a bit more heel, and a bit more wall, as I think she likes having some additional support. But it is still winter, and I am going to use this time to seriously address these flares and try to get those hinds back to where they were this summer, when they were almost perfect. No sense leaving her with a longer wall if it is all flare!

I was reasonably pleased with the way her hinds looked after my trim. I did see some improvement, and I found out with some belated reading that my instinct to take down the inner walls more was right on. I still have a lot to learn and get comfortable with, but I'm confident that I will be able to do a good job and I can only improve from here.

Her feet were professionally attended to around a month ago, so I have not yet had to break out my shiny new hoof knife, but I will need to trim those bars pretty soon.



LF, side view:

Hinds, side view:

LH, underside view:

LF, underside view:

Sofie, for her part, was super dubious the first time I broke out my trimming supplies.

"Are you even qualified to do this?"

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Getting Somewhere

We had a great fall, with a solid month of being able to canter during rides and feeling unstoppable. But during the transition to winter, we hit a few snags, as usual. Sofie began to show signs of soreness on turns, so we did more straight work. She was still sound at the canter. Then, at the end of November, she developed a lump on her right hind pastern. High ringbone. The lump was cold and hard when it appeared, so it was clearly not new or acute, but it was still troubling, especially when I read some fairly dire-sounding articles about the effects of ringbone. I was crushed that we had come so far, having seen her through hock fusion, only to be hit with another type of arthritis. And I felt terrible for having not clued in to the signs that she was feeling sore sooner than I did. Could I have prevented this from happening? With the hocks, our battle plan was always go, move as much as possible and keep moving to facilitate the fusion. That appeared to have worked, but was ringbone different? Would I need to work her less, and would that even be in her best interests? I was very scared.

I kept riding, and Sofie, having not read the equine medical journals, carried on like she always does. She really only had a couple truly bad days (one time, she was clearly uncomfortable tracking left and could not go straight. It felt like she was compensating in several different ways and corkscrewing her body to avoid weighting certain limbs), and the rest of the time she seemed okay. I treated her with Banamine on a few separate occasions (she won’t eat her bute, but will take Banamine if I give it to her orally) when she seemed sore, and that helped a lot. I also stopped cantering her for about the first week, then gradually added it back in when she seemed better.

In the midst of all this we also were forced to change farriers (something I was not anticipating ever doing), and they also added slow feeders to the mares’ field. All of this added up to a lot of change (and anxiety), but everything seems to have worked out for the best and I am very happy with our situation.

It’s now been over a month since I last gave her any Banamine, and Sofie is doing better than ever. We bought her some magnetic pastern wraps, and they do seem to help her. She gets “magnetic therapy” four days a week, as I apply them when I work in the morning or evening, and before and after every ride. We also got her some sports medicine boots for her hind legs to give her some extra support where she needs it most. She was a little unsure of them when I first put them on, but they really seem to help give her a better “platform” behind when she is working.

We’ve resumed our canter work, and we are also starting to play with leg yield and shoulder-in. Sofie has gotten really good at leg yielding left, and I recently was able to “unlock” her right side and get some good steps of leg yield right. She is very “stuck” on the right in this movement, despite her great progress with right bend and suppleness in general. She used to be very stiff tracking right at the trot, and now it is her best side. She reaches down and moves forward very reliably tracking right, so I am sure the leg yielding will come with time. I’ve been working on shoulder-in at the walk, and it is a great warm-up exercise for her. It really helps with establishing an honest connection.

Sofie is truly amazing me with her willingness and ability in her canter work. The fact that she is now sound more often than not means we can consistently work on the canter, which has greatly increased her comfort level. Before, when I cantered her, it would be every once in a while, and she would display a lot of anxiety behaviors such as rushing into it, fluffing her transitions, kicking out, and going crooked. Outside, she was much better, but in the arena she was never relaxed about it. I believe the increased tension, coupled with a lack of fitness, lead to her being sore afterwards, and then we had to stop cantering until she was better again. But now she is truly coming into her own.

She is now able to canter on the rail, without swinging her haunches in or going crooked. She is 100 % reliable in her canter departs, and consistently lifts into them rather than flattening and running forward. I have been focusing on doing more transitions rather than long intervals, but she will canter on if I ask and as she gets stronger, we will canter for longer distances.

Sofie is becoming very responsive to my aids and her willingness to canter is super. Sometimes when I half halt and pick her up in the trot she will canter just from the half halt! These are always her best canters, and I’m excited to develop more refinement and sensitivity.

She still has trouble with the right lead, but rather than try to drill it and force it, I am going to focus on developing her fitness and increasing her confidence in the canter itself. She is capable of taking the right lead, but right now when I ask she is guarding, and holding tension. I think if I continue to work on the canter and get her more comfortable with it while building up her hind end and focusing on throughness, she will eventually pick up the right lead with no problem. If we can just get rid of the tension, everything else will come. But she needs to be 100 % on the aids for that to happen. It’s getting there!

I am slowly working through her lingering anxiety. Usually somewhere in the middle of a ride, she will start to invert between canter transitions, either out of anticipation or something else, and she will alternate between slowing almost to a crawl and speeding up. Before, I would have no recourse to correct this, other than allowing her forward and rubbing her neck to ease the tension. Now, because she is so much more trusting of the contact and we have built such a dialog, I am able to keep her within the aids without her getting too claustrophobic. I am able to say, No, stay with me, I want you like this. I am able to explain it to her, and slowly, she is getting it.

The last time I rode her, toward the end, she was beginning to speed up, slow down, and come above the hand. I kept her trotting, asking her to move forward, and provided soft resistance with my hands. Gradually she began to stretch down, moving over her back and I could see her start to realize, Oh, I don’t speed up and look for the canter, and I don’t stop. I stay here.

Looking forward to a great year.