Wednesday, May 27, 2015

One Year Horsiversary

One year ago today, I signed the 'For Sale' slip at the used car dealership horse trader's farm for one 9 year old, 15.3h Chestnut Registered APHA Gelding of unknown past.
It has been a mostly great year, filled with many of the ups and downs that characterize horse ownership and riding.
We went swimming, rode trails, went on a hunter pace, dressed in costumes, rode in a parade, got strep zoo, lived through Snowmaggedon, moved barns, treated for ulcers, switched vets, cliniced with a USEF judge, jumped some crossrails, went to a schooling show, rode bareback on Christmas Eve, and many, many other things.
I feel like I have been whining a lot lately on this blog. I had a good reminder yesterday about GRATITUDE.
I was texting with an aquaintance from a former barn. I mentioned I was boarding at my current barn. Her response was "OMG! That place is AMAZING!!! Wish I could afford it :) Don't have time for rough board or co-op"
And I thought, you know what? She's right. I do board at an amazing place. I am pretty damn lucky. I realized I had started to take it all for granted.
You know why I have been so negative?
I love Boca, I truly do. I really, really want this to work.
I have been concentrating on the worst cast scenario.
You know what they say about FEAR? False Evidence Appearing Real.
Here is what IS Real. Boca is healthy. He is sound. We board at a kick-ass, awesome place, that we are lucky to be at. Boca is off for TEN DAYS. Not six weeks, not two months, not forever. His back has been treated. I am looking for a new saddle that may be a better fit.
It is just as likely that we will go on to have a successful happy partnership as any other scenario at this point.
The reason why I am jealous of other people on facebook is because I am afraid it will never be us.
I need to let go of the fear. Whatever will be, will be. No matter what, I will continue to make the best decisions for Boca and me.
Here's to the future!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Green Eyed Monster

Or, AKA Facebook is the Devil.

Consolation. We looked like this once upon a time.
This weekend was beautiful, perfect New England weather. Long sunshine filled breezy days. Birds chirping, everything bursting into bloom. Perfect riding weather. And I was stuck with a broken pony.
One thing you should not do when your pony is on the DL is surf facebook.
Pictures of acquaintances doing every possible horse-related activity -- horse shows, trail rides and hunter paces -- are guarranteed to activate that mean, grinchly part of you, the one you try to ignore or stuff down.
The green eyed monster.
As I perused fb, I felt that awful beast stir in my chest. I saw pics of people who I knew had been through their share of struggles, who had put years of work into their horses, but still, pics of them merrily jumping fences, cantering across green grass, out at their first hunter pace, ate at my soul.
I slept restlessly Saturday night. In the dark, wee hours of the morning, I tossed and turned, anxious over Boca's future. Stressing over things I can't control. Such as whether or not these back injections will work. Faced with the knowledge that if they don't, I'm in for a world of hurt. What if that will never be us???
I tried to drown my anxiety in the remains of a half gallon of ice cream.
Bloated on the excessive dairy consumption, with the chemicals in my head sated, I was finally able to get some sleep. But the questions remain to be answered.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Back Injections

Bye Bye Monies...
Boca saw the sports medicine vet yesterday. The vet was very good and did a thorough evaluation: palpation and flexions, evalution in hand, on the longe and under saddle.

The good news is that he is extremely sound. The flexions were excellent and showed no signs of lameness. He did present as slightly neurologic. The vet said he is not 100% normal and that Boca is not entirely certain where his back feet are. The vet did say he has seen top-level performance horses present similarly and it has not limited their careers. He said it is something that will continue to improve. I used to joke when I first got Boca that he felt like he was numb from the knees down. I guess I wasn't far off!

What the vet did find is that he has a significant amount of back pain.
Upon palpation, behind his wither, he dropped substantially away from the vet's hands.
The vet noted he is a completely different horse at the trot than he is at the canter, and that in his opinion, the behavior was entirely pain related. He noted Boca's behavior is the same on the longe as it is under saddle.

We discussed my riding goals and Boca's comfort level. We discussed diagnosis and treatment options. I asked the vet to tell me how he would proceed if Boca were his horse.
The vet felt that it was worth treating with back injections, and that we would see improvement fairly quickly upon return to work.

So that's what I decided to do.
Drugged pony

Our rehab schedule looks like this:
3 days off
3 days longe in halter only - w/t/c
3 days longe in surcingle with side reins - w/t/c
1 day longe under tack

I can go back to riding on June 1. At that point, I can ride as normal. In fact, the vet suggested I ride actively to try and build muscle to help support his back.

He encouraged the use of ground poles, cavaletti and hill work.

Also, he suggested I longe Boca in a Pessoa rig 3x per week for 15 mins only, for ongoing strengthening and development.

And of course, carrot stretches.

I really hope this works.

For your entertainment, here is video of Boca twitching while in la la land.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Positive Rides - What Could it Mean?

Saturday and Monday I had two positive rides in H's majikal saddle of bliss. Swoon.
I kept the rides super short and easy - just w/t on Saturday and w/t + a few canter transitions on Monday. My whole focus on the ride was just to keep Boca happy, and that was acheived. No ear pinning, kicking out, gaping mouth, running, etc.  He actually just bopped around, ears up, kind of pokey. I felt like his hindquarters were trailing out behind him, and it probably wasn't much to look at, but two rides without dramatics and a happy pony were the objective.
His back also seems less reactive in general - less reaction upon palpation, and no longer in the spots under where my saddle panels sit.
What the hell does this all mean?
I have two theories.
1) My saddle does not fit, causing back soreness.
2) Back soreness is secondary/compensatory to some other issue (arthritis, hocks, stifles, hip) etc. And my saddle could be exacerbating things.
Our appointment with the sports medicine vet is tomorrow. I also have the contact info for a local saddle rep dealing in high-end used saddles, y'know, just in case. :)
I'm feeling much more positive, and like we're closer to figuring things out.

Monday, May 18, 2015

When You Find THE ONE

When you find the one, you just know it's right.
Things just fall into place.
Everything you used to struggle with just seems to disappear.
Then you know, it's the one.
*Cue Angels Singing*
No, I am not talking about the right man. Or even the right horse.
I am talking about the right saddle.

This weekend, H let me ride in her custom Devoucoux Bizzaritz.
And I have to say, it was nice. I liked. I liked a real lot.
The Devoucoux is known for being a very rider-friendly saddle, and now I know why.
I felt like everything just fell into the right place. All my limbs seemed to go exactly where they should, and rest lightly in place. For once, I wasn't fighting to be where I should.
The only thing that gave me pause, is that I have heard negative things about Devoucoux and back soreness. My saddle fitter K absolutely hates them. It is the one saddle brand I have heard her speak out against.
Boca's appointment with the sports medicine vet is Thursday. If saddle fit ends up being the issue, or is compounding an existing issue, a saddle change may be on the agenda.
A certain blogger may or may not have spent some time googling used Devoucoux over the weekend.
So blogland, help educate me. What do YOU know about Devoucoux saddles?

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Old is 10?

Circa 2005
In my neverending quest to make a sound, happy horse, I have scheduled an appointment with the pre-eminent New England veterinarian for lameness and Sports Medicine.
Yes, my $1,500 horse is going to see the best.
L palpated Boca's back yesterday. He had 48 hours off, and 1 day of bute.
Upon palpation, his back muscles were still spasming significantly.
L said, in her opinion, this would indicate a more chronic condition, and would make her think back/joints/hocks, not necessarily saddle fit.
I'm not going to lie - for all my brave words yesterday, I was pretty discouraged.
It doesn't help that I have too much time on my hands and spend too much time on the internet. The devil makes use of idle hands. I came across a sale ad for a 16h+ 4 year old gelding, at the same place I bought Boca a year ago.
I started wondering... how old is 10 really?  I know nothing about Boca's past. I don't know if he was used hard, or hardly used. Would he be a different horse if I had bought him at 4?
Am I crazy to try to train/re-train a 10 year old horse?
To be honest, I did concoct a fantasy where I swapped Boca for the young, big gelding. In my mind, I pictured Boca going back to the dealer to be re-sold as a trail horse, and the big young gelding and I going on to success in the show ring.
Alas, I am waiting on a call back from the Vet's office to confirm my appointment.
And the big young gelding? He's already out on lease.
If I sound crazy and all over the place, it's because I am.
Welcome to the circus in my head. Grab some popcorn.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

What is Working, What is Not Working

I am close to 4 weeks out from the date of Boca's original vet appointment,
so I thought I'd do a wrap up of where we are at.
What is Working
I am happy with my decision to transition Boca off Alfalfa. He already seems calmer and less reactive
I am also happy with the paddock change. Boca seems less dependent on Cody and has already stopped screaming for him from the barn. Conversely, H's mare now screams for Cody from the barn. He must be the George Clooney of horses (or something).
What is Not Working
Sadly, things seem to be getting worse under saddle before they get better.
That's ok. I am confident we will get it figured out.
My co-boarder L is a former saddle-fitter. I asked her if she wouldn't mind taking a quick peek at my saddle. I figured a second opinion wouldn't hurt. My original fitter has fitted this particular saddle to Boca in Aug 2014, Jan 2015 and Mar 2015. K is a reputable saddle fitter, but sometimes a second set of eyes sees different things.
L's assessment was that #1, I need to get rid of the breastplate (sad face here).
The breastplate was a recommendation from my friend H when she hacked Boca, but H is not a saddle fitter, so I guess it needs to go. Which makes me sad, because I like the way it looks (yes I can be that shallow).
Second, L noted that Boca is not an easy fit, due to his ginormous shoulder.
Story of my life... will I ever own an easy to fit horse? Will anybody?
L said that the tree point of my current saddle sits on his scapula, and she would recommend something with swept-back tree points or a skid row panel.
She also noted that, due in part to his large shoulder and short back, there really isn't a lot of room for the saddle to sit, and he probably needs a smaller saddle. Too bad for him that my butt isn't smaller.
I had just been riding for about 45 minutes. We hadn't even cooled out yet. L palpated his back, and his back was very reactive. There was a lot of muscle spasms in response to her palpations. In L's opinion, he is significantly back sore.
The only thing L could not say for certain is if Boca is sore because of saddle fit, or if it is, in her words, "Orthopedic". (ie: if it is his hocks and his back is sore because he is compensating for them).
L recommended that I try giving Boca Robaxin for a few days, and riding in a different saddle, or riding bareback. Her thought was that, if he shows improvement after a few days, then the saddle is most likely the culprit.  If there is no improvement, then it could point to the cause being orthopedic.
My Thoughts on Treatment for Ulcers
I'm not 100% certain that gastric upset was ever really the cause for any of these behaviors.
It could simply have been the need for a dietary adjustment and a saddle change. Although it is distressing to think I may have spent $1500 on the wrong thing, I'm not 100% sorry I did it. Scoping and treating for ulcers gave me information and it also couldn't have hurt. Boca does not have ulcers. I know this now. He did show signs of stomach irritation and redness, maybe in response to pain or changes in his environment, and treating him can only have helped.
My Thoughts on Where We Are At Now
I have adjusted my thinking from "I have owned this horse for a year and we can't W/T/C" to "I have only owned this horse for a year. We're still working on figuring out the program that is right for him."
I believe 100% that Boca is a good horse and that he is the right horse for me. I really don't think his behaviors under saddle are simply a protest about not wanting to work. I have absolutely zero knowledge about his past. I don't know how hard he was worked, or if he did no work at all. I have had 4 people get on him since I have owned him, all better riders that I, and he exhibited the exact same behaviors for them as he does for me.
I really don't care if we don't show this year. My goals include getting him to a point where he is happy and comfortable doing the work I ask him to do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not in a Program

The past few days, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be in a program.
You see, for all that I am going through with Boca, I am pretty much flying blind.
Although I have been around horses in one capacity or another for most of my life,
I was always a lesson student, a leasee, or an employee.
Now I am a horse owner, and I am responsible for making choices regarding diet, turnout, tack, treatment, etc. on my own, for the first time.
On one hand, I like educating myself and making decisions I feel comfortable with.
On the other hand, when I am chasing the underlying causes for an unwanted behavior, I am forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, and not decades of my own past experience.
Bonus points if you know where this quote comes from.
Admittedly, my few forays into being in a program with a trainer did not go well.
But right now, I am at a point that I feel like I am trying to beg, borrow, and steal information, opinions and resources from others. I admit to a small voice inside that wishes I had the framework of a program to rely on to set Boca and I up for success.
I look at those who are in good programs, with trainers that set them and their horses up for success, and I think if I ever had that opportunity and could afford it, I would jump at the chance.
For now, I will muddle through on my own, getting education and experience as best I can, and trying to make good decisions with the means that I have.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mister, You Are Grounded!

Do you remember back in grade school, when you and your BFF had desks next to one another? Until your teacher caught on to your lack of focus and general misbehavior and separated the two of you?
Well that happened to my horse yesterday.
 Boca is stabled next to, and had an adjoining paddock to, a small Appy gelding named Cody. Boca has decided Cody is his BFF, and will call to him when Cody is removed from his general vicinity. Which is highly annoying.
So Boca has earned the equivalent of his seat being moved in the classroom. 
I drew this handy chart for you. Arts & Crafts at work :)

Boca and Piglet switched turnout paddocks, thanks to my awesome co-boarder H.

Boca's stall will still be next to Cody's, but hopefully no longer sharing a fenceline 24-7 will lessen the attachment.

I also started transitioning him off the Alfalfa Mix hay and onto the Timothy hay, beginning last night. I'm feeling more positive today. I'm hoping these adjustments may stuff his brain back into his little red head.

I also went into his stall and had a talk with him last night. I put my arms around his neck and breathed his horse smell and apologized for losing my shit on Sunday. I told him I'd try to do better. He just went on eating his hay.

I know he's a horse and doesn't speak English, but it made me feel better.


Monday, May 11, 2015

One Step Up, Two Steps Back

I held off on blogging about this, because I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away.
For a while, it seemed as though the Ulcergard was working.
I thought we were on the right track and he was on the mend.
I noticed last week that the unwelcome behaviors had started creeping back.
He trashed his stall on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was kicking out under saddle at the beginning of our ride. I was told a chain was needed over his nose to turn him out in the AM, because he was so anxious and bargy that he was borderline disrespectful.
When brought up to the barn to tack up, he was spinning in his stall, calling for the other horses. On the cross-ties, he was white-eyed, anxious and pushy.
Saturday I had a lesson with a USEF "R" Judge who comes to teach at our barn occasionally. That will be a separate post, but she noted how anxious he was. She felt he has had some rough handling in the past and has anxiety about being in the ring.
He was slinging his head around and doing all kinds of weird gapey-mouth things. We worked on me, and I focused on myself and we ignored his behaviors and tantrums and managed to get some decent work done.
Sunday, I planned to work on some of the simple exercises that she had give us. Which pretty much involved steering and staying balanced at the walk and trot.
He was a head-slinging, unfocused, hollow, bulgy-undernecked miserable mess.
I tried ignoring it. I really did. But I couldn"t.
I was so upset and frustrated, I one-rein stopped him, got off, and lunged the ever-living snot out of him, while he screamed for the other horses like a lunatic.
I was so upset and frustrated I dropped every F-bomb in the book.
He cantered on the longe until his eyeballs sweated.
It was not training. It was not productive.
Neither one of us felt very good about it.
I'm really at a loss on where to go from here.
My first step is to eliminate alfalfa from his diet. I am going to switch him over from his current alfalfa/timothy mix hay, to a timothy/orchard blend.
I am going to change his alfalfa dengie to soaked timothy cubes.
I am going to cut his grain. Again.
If none of the above helps, I may look into trying Depo.
So, that is where we were at as of yesterday.
To say I had a sleepless night would be an understatement.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Horses: How Much Do They Really Care?

This actual conversation took place via text today.
H: Did u have a tough ride last night or not ride?
Me: No ride last night. Took the dog for a hike. Why? Is Boca ok?
H: His stall is horrible!! Like he literally shit on the walls - Like mr hanky.
Me: Oh no! Like diarrhea? I wonder what casued that? Maybe the new smartpaks?
H: Nooooooo. Like he was angry and bored. No loose stool. Just a fucking mess.
Me: OH MY GAWD. Are you serious???
Could he seriously be angry and bored that I skipped a night?
H: Of course. They are habitual. I knew something was up.
Me: That is CRAZY! LOL. My dog gets upset when I don't spend enough time with him, now my horse is pissed. I should have just had KIDS! Hahahahahaha.
H: Nah. He will get over it. But you have been working hard lately.
He probably also is focused now.
This whole experience has left me perplexed. I mean, could it be possible that I really matter that much to him, that my absence is noted?  Is it far more likely that something else got him stirred up? I wonder, with horses, how much do they really care?

PS - Do you love how I immediately went full-on psycho horse-mom? 
"What's wrong??? Is he ok? Maybe it's the Smartpaks!"


And... We Canter!

As promised, I have video proof that we can, in fact, somewhat canter.
(clips are super short, for those who are, like myself, attention impaired )
In case ya'll needed a reminder of what we used to look like, here's a little reminder:

Here's the B-man jumping a tiny crossrail!
The great news? Little red horse don't care about no jumps.
There is no stop in him. Which is not to say he is graceful or coordinated.
But we are GOING OVER, G-DDAMMIT, even if he has to crawl :)
Which he does.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Progression Post

So I took y'all's suggestion and found a junior rider at the barn and bribed her with $10 bucks to video my lesson on Friday night. I was really psyched with the results.
Unfortunately, my laptop has crapped the bed, so I haven't had a chance to upload the videos.  But I have PROOF - YES, PROOF that we now have something resembling a canter.
In the meantime, I have a few photo stills that make me very, very happy.
Let's take a look back at the progression of my little red horse...
September 2014
This photo from September was our first and only horse show. At the time, I thought this was a decent picture. And believe me, it was the best one of a bunch of really ugly shots.
He looks so scrawny and skinny to me here, now.

December 2014
Fast forward 2 months and 6-8 weeks worth of lessons. Much happier with this one.
Already showing muscle development.
What is my leg doing and why is it useless and curled up like a large prawn?

April 2015

April 2015
Feast your eyes on this gorgeousness now!
He looks so much better - stronger, more balanced, more relaxed.
I even like my position a lot better. I'm not as crunched up and tense.
You can tell I've been taking some dressage-influenced lessons!
I'm really happy with our progress and feeling like we're really getting somewhere.
Love this little red horse.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Fake It Till You Make It

Last night I had a fantastic ride, where I focused on FORWARD and STRAIGHT and not getting caught up in the placement of his head.
Before my friend's advice the other night, I had been getting too caught up in fixing everything in the bridle, when Boca pulls his cracked-out-llama imitation (aka his favorite evasion). If I continue to focus on forward and straight and don't get baited into fiddling in the bridle, his head fixes itself.  Wonders never cease.

Also, we completed TWO full 20-meter circles in each direction at the canter, with NO bucking, leaping, sunfishing or breaking.  I can feel us each getting stronger and stronger.
I have a lesson tonight and can't wait to show off our progress. I brought my camera and video camera and hope to coerce someone into taking media of some sort.
I'm really happy with my little red horse and feel like we're really getting somewhere.
I know someday we're going to put it all together and its going to be awesome.
Until then, I'll just enjoy where we're at.