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.