Thursday, October 13, 2016

Finding the Joy in it

Crimson and I have hit a few bumps in the road. It was bound to happen. And yet, they always find new ways to challenge and surprise us.

You see, being under saddle continues to be Crimson's happy place (believe me, for that I am grateful), but a week or so ago, things started to go awry on the ground.

Before I get any further, the first clue that something was not right was that, although we had tripled his hay intake and added 3 quarts of haystretcher to his diet, he took a turn and suddenly started looking ribby.

Along with his shitty appearance came a host of undesirable behavior when tacking up. Crimson definitely hates confinement of any sort. He hates to be stalled and we won't even talk about the trailer. But up until a week or so ago, he was really good on the crossties.

Suddenly, he went from a horse that was generally easy-going, to dancing, pawing, biting his girth and half-rearing. It got to the point that last week, it took two people to tack him up. During that time, he moved his bowels FOUR TIMES and peed TWICE. He wasn't being bad (well, yes, he kind of was) but his anxiety level was through the roof. I felt terrible for him. It seemed like if he could have, he would have crawled out of his own skin.

The thought had already crossed my mind, but Heather voiced it. The dreaded U-word. Ulcers. I immediately formed a plan to make dietary changes and picked up ulcer meds.

But, in the meantime, I was incredibly stressed myself that my horse was so unhappy. I had visions that I was permanently creating bad associations with myself, stalls, and barns in general.

That is when I had a conversation with my friend H. She said "You have to help him find the joy in this" and "Change the conversation".

Armed with this new way of thinking, I schemed ways to make tacking up and being in the barn a pleasant experience, not a fight or a struggle.

I was so excited/anxious to try out my new plan that I could barely wait until the end of the day to get to the barn after work.

First, I had Heather give him 1cc of Ace about a 1/2 hour before I got there. Some might not agree with that. I think of it as giving him a cocktail. A horse margarita, if you like.

When I got to the barn, I put Crimson's favorite horsey friend in the stall next to the cross ties. I brought all my tack and brushes in, so I wouldn't need to leave him to grab anything. I filled my pockets with treats and turned on the radio.

I grabbed Crimson from the field, brought him in and put him on the crossties. I brushed him, sang to him, and fed him and his buddy treats. There was no pawing, dancing, biting his girth or rearing. I fed both horses handfuls of hay. I just generally tried to make it a fun, pleasant experience for both of them.

Once Crimson was tacked, l led them both out of the barn and put his buddy back in the field, then proceeded to go have a good ride.

My plan is to repeat this for a few days. Crimson won't always need his hand held on the crossties. But for now, I want to make this enjoyable and fun for him. So, for now, I am romancing my horse.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Baby Horse Process

I am enjoying the young horse process far more than I thought I would.

Although Crimson has the basics down, from what I understand, he is pretty limited in terms of life experience. He was born in April 2011, grew up on his breeder's farm in Massachusetts and at some point was sent to a farm in Western Mass to get broke. In the meantime, the nearest track, Suffolk Downs, closed in November 2013. At some point, he was sent to Finger Lakes to train. He was there for 4 months, his breeder had a falling out with the trainer and brought him home, where he then sat for another 10+ months.

Lest you think all has been perfect thus far, we have had a few baby moments. Crimson definitely has claustrophobia issues. He doesn't like to be in a stall or on a trailer. His go-to response is to get light in the front end. He half-rears and flails around like a giant orange marlin on a fishing line.

Luckily, I have the guidance of an experienced trainer, who has started and re-started many babies and greenies of various breeds and backgrounds and currently has 5 OTTBs of her own, with another two in training. I jokingly call her the horse whisperer, because she has a lot of 'feel' for horses. She has good timing and understanding of the whys of horse behavior.

Our first experience with Crimson objecting to anything was the farrier. I feel very strongly about my horses being safe to handle by the farrier, vet, etc. No one should have to sacrifice their safety to handle my horse - ever. Crimson has been barefoot and it is pretty clear his feet haven't been done in some time. I had already ridden that day, he was standing quietly on the cross-ties. I wasn't expecting his reaction to the farrier handling his feet, but we were in for a surprise. When my farrier picked up his hoof, we were treated to the rearing and flailing that I have now come to know is his signature move. I took the cross-ties off, put the chain over his nose and we tried again. This time with more violent flailing. At that point I called Heather for help. She came in, we put on a lip chain, and he stood quietly to get his feet rasped. Heather noted he was shaking and was genuinely scared.

Through all this, I wasn't upset, angry or nervous. I was surprised by his response, but I was interested by the puzzle this represented. My assumption is that he has had some negative experiences with having his feet done in the past. I already have some ideas on how to work with him on this and I'm confident that we can make this a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.

I'm kind of surprised by my own patience, how fun and interesting it is to work with such a clean slate. Of course, I enjoy it mostly because he is such an easy baby, and it helps tremendously that his happy place is under saddle.

Overall, this is not the experience I expected to have -- giant, green, young, TB -- but it is one I am enjoying a tremendous amount. I like that I am doing 98% of the work myself, with occasional guidance from my trainer.

I feel like Crimson already trusts me a lot. He comes to me in the pasture, is interested and engaged in what I am doing, feels more secure in the barn when I am there - even if he has the company of other horses and people.

I'm planning on taking things pretty slow with him. We don't have anywhere to be in the next six months. I want him to know that when I introduce him to new things, that they will be fun, that he is always safe with me, and that I am his person. I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs along the way, but this is definitely the honeymoon stage.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Baby Horse is Insane

...As in, insanely good.
Guys, I am really bonding with this young horse. I think this might be the beginning of something special. I just really enjoy being around him. We already have a lot of trust and I continue to be impressed with his decisions.
We don't actually have a ring where I am currently boarding. Just a grass field and a lot of wide open spaces. Some people aren't really comfortable outside the confines of a ring, but I happen to feel most at home there.
We started our ride last night in the grass ring, but it was such a gorgeous night, I didn't want to stop riding. So I unlatched the gate from his back (surprisingly easy to do when your horse is a giant) and we went for a wander.

Not my large orange beast - photo used for perspective

We rode down to the last field on the right, I unlatched another gate, and we took a cruise around the field, chased some Canadian geese, and checked out the neighbor's hay field. I kept it to a walk, because I don't want Mr. Orange to assume that trail ride = speed. That can come later.

He was so good on his own - marching along, interested, confident, excited, in a positive way. I was so happy with his evident enjoyment of a new experience. I have been wanting to ride in the super giant hay field at the end of the lane pretty much since the moment I got there. Luckily, my instructor had a lesson fail to show up, and she had a horse tacked and ready to go, so we decided to head out there.

Not me - photo used for perspective.

I needn't have worried about my baby horse needing company. Even though twilight was falling, he marched around the field, taking in all the sights. He even broke in to a happy trot a few times, but easily came back to me when asked. We were supposed to be cooling out, as we were quickly losing daylight. My trainer's horse couldn't keep up with his marching walk - I don't think he even knew or cared that she was there.

It was another great ride on my giant beast, and I am excited we can ride out in the field with our brains in our heads. That will be a fun place for future hacks and conditioning rides.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Baby Saint

 Crimson continues to impress me with his life decisions.

Ok, maybe not this one.

I'm really enjoying this phase of learning, but admittedly he's making it easy. The goals are low and simple. Namely, don't kill your new mom.

The look I got when trying to remove the burrs from his tail.
Less than impressed.

The weather has dropped 20 degrees and turned windy. But still, Crimson tries really, really hard to be a good boy. He visibly likes to work and seems to especially enjoy being under saddle. Right now, our program is lunging first, incorporating verbal cues and exercises, that we then translate under saddle. My goal is to make everything as easy for him as possible. Lots of praise and making him feel smart for making good decisions.

I've learned that although he is naturally very easy-going and has a great foundation, he tends to be insecure. He looks to you to be consistent and clear. Any foibles we have usually happen when I am disorganized or don't have a clear plan. It is actually helping me a lot as a rider and horse person to slow down, take time and be more organized, something that hasn't always been a priority for me. 

But he is so gosh-darn willing! It makes it so much fun to work with him, that he is genuinely seeking to please. It also helps that I am working with my trainer Heather again. She is the trainer that worked with Boca and I before I went to the eventing barn. Heather is one of those people who seems to have an innate sense and understanding of horses. Plus, she always has great ideas, exercises and suggestions. For instance, I was trying to get the burrs out of Crimson's forelock. I gave up halfway through, as we'd both had enough at that point. Heather asked if I had tried putting detangler in his forelock. #MINDBLOWN  Problem immediately solved with less stress on both our parts. Genius.

We cantered!

On our fifth day, we were able to canter under saddle. Heather introduced this in a really fun, simple exercise. She placed a pole on the ground, between 1 standard and a small block. On the lunge, we asked him to trot the pole a few times. Then, as he went over the pole, we asked for canter, using the 'kiss for canter' sound that much of western training uses. We did it a few times in each direction, to firmly plant the exercise in his mind.

We then translated that to under saddle. I trotted the pole, and we cantered away. Simple, easy, non-event. Much praise.

I'm trying to keep everything simple with this horse. And fun. And so far, it's working. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

First Time Ride

Guys! I rode my pony! And nobody died!!! 

Yup, he is pretty much asleep 

I wasn't expecting to get on Crimson so soon. I figured we would ease into lunging him under saddle, then *maybe* I would get on him this weekend. No rush.

Although I kind of wondered how much lunging I could take, seeing as he already seemed bored, and I was tired from running around, waving my lunge whip in the air, trying to encourage him.

In fact, I actually asked my trainer to lunge him yesterday to see if she could make it a little more organized.

Trotting over poles, NBD
Yes, he really is that big.

I was definitely surprised when she told me to grab my helmet and get on. No multiple days of lunging under tack. No trainer ride.

So I did. 

First, she had me climb on mounting block next to him and jump around a bit. Nothing. Then, we slapped the stirrup leathers on the saddles on both sides. Nothing. So then I put my weight in the left stirrup and lay across his back. Crickets.

So, with that, I swung on. I kept my seat light at first, until we were sure he was truly ok with me up there. And he was.

Guys, he was PERFECT. Halt, walk, trot in both directions. He has a lovely mouth - like buttah. He seems to already understand half-halts from body and seat (Probably because slow and stop are his favorite speeds. He doesn't need much encouragement).

It was so weird to see his thick double-sided mane in front of me. He has a lovely rolling stride. Like being on a big ship on the ocean.

I was so thrilled with our first ride. I think we are going to have a lot of fun together.

All the pats for the best boy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Giant Baby Horse

So... I may have done a thing.

The Thing

Someone we know *not naming any names here* may have bought a giant baby horse. A giant goofy chestnut baby thoroughbred, to be exact.

Ok, fine. It was me.

Yes. I went full-on bat-shit crazy. I bought a giant, 5 year old, 17h chestnut thoroughbred gelding.

But wait! I can explain! It's not as crazy as it sounds. It's actually all my husband's fault. Totally true. No word of a lie.

I had all these grand plans to wait until spring, save all my pennies, and get another horse, one that was further along in its training. Something that I could get started with right away. I was Sensible. Rational. Logical. But that doesn't stop a someone from perusing the sales ads online, AmIRite? I mean, it is harmless. Porn for horse people.

I think my husband just got tired of the random bursts of crying. I mean, when your wife of 3 years breaks down in tears every few days when she thinks of her retired horse, you get a little desperate. We actually had to leave a public park because I used to ride Boca there, saw horse trailers in the parking lot, and promptly lost it. Family walk aborted.

So when said wife was casually perusing online sales ads (horse porn) hubby made a dastardly mistake. Pointing to a pic of a giant chestnut horse (that I was not even looking at, I swear) he said "Look! That telephone number is in our town. You should call it." I hemmed and I hawed, and told him all the reasons why it was a bad idea. And then he said the Magic Words. "What could it hurt?".  What could it hurt, indeed? What's a harmless little phone call?

No harm here. Just giant ears.
I called the number and left a voice message. I expected nothing. I was actually a little relieved not to hear back. My husband asked me a few days later if I had hear anything. So I could honestly tell him that, yes I had called and no, I had not heard anything. Case closed.

But then, I did get a return call. The owner had been out of town, and had just returned home and gotten my voicemail. Yes, the horse was still available. Yes, I was welcome to come see him. And yes, he was right in my town.

How could I not? I mean, he was practically right in my back yard. I had nothing better to do on the weekend. Might as well go see a man about a horse. I roped my friend H into coming with me. She was supposed to be my voice of reason. She was going to point out all the flaws, the things that could go wrong. The reasons why this horse was not right for me.

So not right for me
Except, he was really sweet. Really personable. Really goofy. Really calm, with a great brain. He had trained at Finger Lakes for 4+ months. His owner had a dispute with the trainer and had brought him home. He had been let down for 10 months. He lived out 24/7 and was barefoot. He lunged w/t/c in both directions, voice command. He was happy to try and do what was asked of him, even though it clearly deviated from his routine. I watched his pasture neighbor gallop madly around at feeding time. My horse just stood there and wondered what all the fuss was about.

His current owners were his breeders - a husband and wife team that had bred and raced horses for 40 years. Now in their 70's and with thoroughbred racing all but dead in New England, they only sought good homes for their remaining horses that were no longer racing.

I was doubtful. He needed to be re-started. I wouldn't be able to ride him before I bought him. He was the first and only horse I looked at. Considering buying him was madness. I texted with a friend, who, unknown to me, had also purchased a horse from his breeder. She raved about the breeder, said he accurately represented his horses in both soundness and temperament. Said his horses were lovely, started correctly and were perfect to handle. She said she wouldn't hesitate to purchase from him again. I think her final words were "Go Get Him!!!"  (<--- See, not my fault. I was coerced.)

Also, the breeder took a liking to me. He had been burned in the past by buyers who had not done right by his horses after purchase. His horses had a home for life with him and he tried only to let them go to the right home. He wouldn't consider letting his horses go to be re-sold, only wanted a his horses to go to a home where they would be appreciated and cared for, not flipped as an investment. He cut the purchase price in half for me, without any asking on my part.

So, I decided to do something crazy. I decided to buy the horse.

To recap, I bought the first horse I looked at. The only horse I looked at. Without being able to try him beforehand. In fact, I decided to go full-on crazy and skip a PPE. I reasoned that the last two horses I bought, the PPE did not reveal the issues they were later plagued with, so I should not bother with a PPE this time around. #PretzelLogic

And so, as of Sunday, I now own a giant baby TB. One who bears a striking resemblance in personality and coloring to Boca. I definitely have a type. Great brain? Check. Curious? Check. Brave? Check. Willing? Check. Goofy? Check. Chestnut with a blaze and some white socks? Check, check.

Let me formally introduce you to CRIMSON TIDE.
Yes, my husband named him after his favorite football team.
Ladies, sometimes, you gotta keep the husbands happy.
Crimson came home on Monday. I was so excited to rush out after work and spend time with him. We had a perfect first night, which involved lunging w/t/c in both directions, going on cross-ties for the first time, and getting a bath with the hose.
I am so happy and excited for our journey. I have no plans and no timeline.
We'll take all the time he needs. He can be whatever he wants to be.
Whatever that ends up being, we'll do it together.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Where Do I Go From Here?

The short answer is - I don't know.

The past few weeks, I have been letting Boca just be a horse, and practicing a form of benign neglect. Now that he is on full board and I know that he is being taken care of, I have been pretty absent from the barn. In fact, I haven't been there since Saturday, which is unusual for me. When my mom asked me if I have been riding him, the answer is no. The reason is, it is just too hard. I don't want to question my decision or start the random carousel of thoughts back up in my head. I know on one level, I am trying to start the process of detaching, to make it easier to comprehend that we aren't going to be a team anymore.

People have asked me a number of questions -
Are you going to still take lessons? Are you going to lease? The answer is no.

No, I do not want to take lessons. No, I do not want to lease. I have been there before. I leased and lessoned for years before buying Boca. And I don't want to. I don't want to share. Call me an only child, but I've been there, done that, have the T-shirt. And I'm not interested in doing it again.

Will I get another horse?
Yes. At some point. I just don't know if that point is going to be sooner or later.

If I wanted to get a horse right now, my budget would be really, really small. Like tiny. Like straight off the track OTTB or OTSB. If the right horse came along, I would do it. But it would have to be the right one.

Or, I can take a break for 6 months, save every penny, and have a decent budget to work with in the spring, one that would give me more options. But that means I have to get through the next 6-8 months sans horses and somehow stay sane.

I alternate between feverishly searching online sales ads and floating in a state of numbness and mild depression. I am making it through every day, but not well. Beautiful sunny days hurt me. They are a reminder of all the riding time I am losing, losing, losing, as days pass.

I am trying to wait, be still, let the right answers come. But it is hard.

If you need me, I'll be over here, cuddling my puppy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Getting Ready for Retirement

Boca has spent the last few weeks getting ready for retirement.
As you may suspect, he is handling it quite well.

In one of those weird twists of fate, which makes me think that maybe the universe does have a grand plan for us, Boca has an awesome new home lined up.

The same week that I broke the news to my old trainer that I was retiring Boca, an acquaintance reached out to her looking for a second horse. The woman had recently purchased a small farm, was moving her horse home, and needed a companion. She preferred an adoption type situation for a horse in need, but hoped to get a horse large enough, sound enough and sane enough to do an occasional trail ride with her husband.

My old trainer connected the two of us; we have had many phone discussions, S has been down to visit Boca, and it looks like a done deal.

In the next 30 days, Boca will be going to live with S and her horse on their private farm. He'll have his own 1 acre grass paddock, with 24-7 turnout and a stall for inclement weather. I have released all of Boca's medical records to S, and am putting together a 'Boca fact sheet' for any and all Boca-related information.

S and I have some weird parallels in our lives - including being on the same island, staying in the same hotel. Two years ago, we went on the same hunter pace. I was directly behind her, and when her friend's hackamore broke, I offered a piece of my costume to repair it. It is weird how lives intersect.

So, that is the plan. Boca will be with me for the next 30 days. When S's new farm is ready, I will ship Boca down to S to start his new life. I will get to hand the lead rope over, and watch him walk off into the sunset with his new person.

I am actually ok with all of this. I know I am making the right decision for Boca. I am retiring a healthy, happy horse, that will go on to have a great life with new job description.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Not Where I Thought This Road Would Lead

On July 26, Boca came up lame again in his RF. My regular vet was preparing to go on vacation and would be out of the country for a few weeks. Before he left, he recommended the next step would be to inject both Navicular Bursas. After that, we have exhausted all diagnostic tools available in the field. The next step would be an MRI.

I was very stressed about the financial implications of another round of injections, and worried that the coffin joint injections provided relief for only 4-6 weeks. In addition, Boca has been on daily Previcox, plus the loading dose of Pentosan, with no improvement.

While my vet was away, I decided to have a 2nd vet review Boca's records and x-rays.
I got the phone call Monday morning. This vet's interpretation of the x-rays was that Boca shows extensive bone remodeling in his RF. In her opinion, it is significant for a horse of his age, and has progressed rapidly in the 2 years since his pre-purchase exam.

In her evaluation, Boca will not stay sound at his current work level. Her opinion is that he is more suited to a light riding/pleasure home.

With this input, I have made the decision to retire Boca. 

I am not sure what our next steps will be. If the right situation came along, I would place him in a pleasure/trail home.

So, this closes the chapter on our hopes and dreams and plans. Not where I thought this road would lead.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Winds of Change

As you can probably guess by the title of this blog post, the lesson on Friday with the trainer at New Barn went extremely well :)

The hubby surprised me on Thursday by saying that he had the following day off, and wanted to accompany me and Boca to our lesson. I was really excited at being able to get his input, because the husband is a wise man who generally makes very good, reasonable decisions.

Friday was a killer day weather-wise. The temperature was expected to be in the 90s, which is about at hot as it gets in New England, and the humidity was right up there. I was sweating rivulets just getting the trailer packed and hitched and getting Boca spiffed up and ready to go.

We had a nice 40 minute drive with the A/C blasting to calm things down on the perspiration front. The New Barn (NB) is located about 39 miles east of the current barn, bordering on land that that is the gateway to Cape Cod. The area is very picturesque - miles of cranberry bogs and shingled houses with backyard barns. It is a costal farming area, with tons of land and hints of the coastline.

When we pulled down the drive of the barn, hubby was impressed, and thought that they layout and facilities was actually nicer than my current barn, which was interesting, as I hadn't had that first impression.

I was actually half an hour early for my 9 AM lesson. I don't like to be rushed or late for anything, but definitely not while pulling a horse trailer and introducing a horse to a new environment. Also, to me, I should be in the tack at least 5 -10 minutes prior to the start of my lesson. It's a respect thing. A trainer's time is valuable and should not be wasted by an un-prepared student.

Boca, for his part, was a little wide-eyed, but sensible about everything. I unloaded him, tied him to the trailer, and tacked up, while waiting for new trainer (NT).

I don't have any media from our lesson, but needless to say, I worked my butt off while trainer was trying to get Boca to use his. He has this spectacularly massive front end, which he has used his whole life to, in essence, pull himself around. I was huffing and puffing trying to get him to w/t/c without leaning on his massive shoulders and actually use his (as my Polish great grandmother would call it) "dupa".

Trainer absolutely loved Boca, and had many nice things to say. She said that she thought we were not far off from being capable of putting together a quite nice dressage test, which was definitely news to me. She thought Boca looked like 'a fun ride' and noted he was 'quite sensitive'.  She had a lot of great ideas on developing him further and getting him fit. She noted how his expression lit up when we started jumping, and how he definitely enjoys it.

Much sweat. Very hot. Indoor wash stall (!!!)

It was really nice to get such positive feedback on my horse. I can honestly say I thought she was genuinely complimentary of him, and it was refreshing. That has not always been the case, and it was uplifting to have someone genuinely appreciate him for something other than just his good brain and easy-going nature.
The lesson pretty much sealed the deal. I am a bit of a risk taker by nature and have always embraced change. The facilities are nice, the people are nice. The box stalls are large, airy, well bedded and clean. There is all-day turnout for Boca. The property abuts miles of trails and cranberry bogs. Feed and care appear to be exemplary. There is the opportunity to ride in a program, with someone to oversee our development. And best of all, I can afford full board!
Before I left, I told the trainer I would be taking the stall. She was pleased, and said after meeting me last week, they were hoping I would. Which was definitely nice to hear!
At the end of the day, I gave notice at my current barn. I got the ultimate compliment from the current BO, who is really sad to see us go, but understands us wanting to pursue our goals. It feels good to know that I Boca and I were well-liked, valued members of the community,  and because of that, are welcome back at anytime.
So, the plan is to serve out our 30 days notice and move to the new barn the weekend of August 12th. I'm really excited to begin a new chapter in our journey.
And I'm really, REALLY excited to go on full board, and all the time and possibilities that opens up :)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Choices - WWYD?

Having choices is supposed to be a good thing, but sometimes having to choose between two good things can feel like a curse.

I really, really like where I currently board. The facilities are incredible. I really enjoy my fellow boarders; we have a great community and I look forward to going every day. The only drawback is that I have occasionally felt the lack of 'being in a program' under a trainer. Because I am pretty much on my own, I sometimes feel like I am spinning my wheels and not progressing - although part of that could be attributed to Boca's medical issues.

The opportunity has come up to take a full board stall at a barn close to my work. The co-trainers onsite, from what I can tell, are friendly and positive, and go out and do tons of fun things as a group. One trainer has evented to the Intermediate level. The other has a Hunter/Jumper background, but is dipping her toe in the eventing world and finding she likes it. The barn goes to many schooling jumper shows, local H/J shows, cross-country schooling and horse trials. They are even hosting clinics with some fairly well-known riders.

I feel really torn. I really enjoy where I am, and would really miss the people I interact with on a daily basis. I would miss the incredible facilities.

On the other hand, I have the opportunity to potentially join a team that seems to really get out and do lots of things together as a group.

I guess I am afraid to give up a really good thing, and take a chance on the unknown.
What if I don't like it as much as where I am now? What if I uproot Boca and myself and I'm not as happy as where I am now?

I have a lesson scheduled with the Eventing trainer tomorrow at 9 AM. I am going to ship Boca over and see how we do there. Hopefully, once we are there together, onsite, I will have a better idea of whether or not it is the right fit for us.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Proof of Progress

I know I can occasionally get discouraged by our slow, incremental progress, creeping towards being proficient at ... well, anything.

But - I now have video proof of our pretty significant improvement over time.

I have the attention span of a fruit fly, so I promise these video clips are very short, but worth watching.

As proof of our progress, I present our best canter, Circa August 28, 2014.

Ouch. Poor pony. That is one unhappy, uncomfortable, unbalanced horse.

Compare that to last night's lesson, July 7, 2016.

Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Am I proud of our transformation?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Things I Would Do Differently If I Bought Again

In some ways, I think I did a pretty good job buying Boca. I managed to get a near 16h, sound and sane (although the sound part is a little questionable now) gelding that is appropriate for my riding level, for $1,500. All this without the guidance or in-put of a trainer.

Boca's Sale Ad. Florida, circa 2014

But in some ways, I look back and think I might have done some things differently. It's been a long, slow road to get us to a point of serviceably sound and functional at a pretty low level. On the other hand, I have a wonderful, sweet horse that is a joy to have in the barn, that I can pretty much trust with my life, so there is that.

1) Age

When I bought Boca, he was 9 years old. I though anything under 10 was a pretty decent age for a horse. Old enough to be sensible, young enough to have many more miles in him. However, at 11 years old, Boca is already developing arthritis, which will have to be managed carefully. If I were to buy again, I would probably shoot for a younger horse. There are no guarantees in horses, and when your budget is as limited as mine was, beggars can't be choosers. But knowing what I know now, I might try to find a younger prospect.

Mystery Horse

2) History

I have no history on what Boca did from ages 2-9. I bought him from a dealer, who had picked him up at auction in Florida 10 days earlier. I don't know how much or how hard he was worked - or not worked. I don't know if any of his history has any bearing on the physical issues that we ran into. It would be nice to have some idea of what he experienced. It may have given me some insight into managing his health, training or lifestyle.

Awkward yet cute 
3) Conformation

One thing I gave little thought to when I purchased Boca was conformation. Four legs and a Tail? Great! I'll take it. Unfortunately, Boca is kind of a trainwreck conformationally and it makes his job much harder than it needs to be. He has a HUGE shoulder on relatively short front legs. Each of his legs face a different direction (I think God might have been a little tipsy when he molded the clay on this one). His neck is too short, ties in low, and is upright. In short, an elegant picture he is not.

*Not Boca

4) Already Doing the Job I Wanted Him to Do

In all honesty, I knew I was sacrificing something in order to get the bargain basement price on a horse. You don't get sound, sane and well trained for $1,500. What I didn't realize was the amount of time it would take to get a horse physically and mentally ready to do a fairly low level job. I'm not a pro - that much is clear - but I greatly underestimated how much it would take a relatively ammy rider with no trainer and an auction horse to get even to the bottom rungs of the ladder. We're 2+ years in and we're still not there yet. With the hindsight wisdom of the journey we have been on, it might have made more sense to save my pennies and buy a horse that was already doing the job I wanted to do, rather than try to make one. I'm not a horse trainer, nor would anyone mistake me for one.


It can be hard to see people flying past me, on the way to achieving their goals, at what seems like the speed of light.

Despite of all this, I love the horse I own. He trusts me and takes care of me, and that is hard to put a value on. Would I have done things differently? Maybe. Or maybe I would have made the same mistakes all over again, with a less forgiving horse. There are no guarantees in horses.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Here Comes Your 19th Nervous Breakdown

Are you tired of the endless lameness posts yet? Because I am. I have started and deleted this post more than once. Mainly because my brain has been a dark, dark place recently, and I didn't think anyone wanted to be there. Least of all me. Luckily, things seem to have turned a corner, so I feel it is safe to let you all in.

My new fav picture of us. At least I look happy?
First, it has seemed like some kind of sick joke that Boca has been lame during the 3+ nicest weeks I can remember in, oh, forever. Literally every day in New England has been perfect. Weather in New England is NEVER perfect. At least not for this many consecutive days. Or hours.

Second, all of the plans I had started to let myself get excited about were getting scrapped. June 26th Hunter Show? Not happening. Trailering to the Beach? N-O. Our first ever attempt at a Schooling Horse Trial?  That's a negative, Ghost Rider.

I knew I was being a big baby, and first world problems, and yadda-yadda-yadda. But, I was kind of pissed that here I was, facing ANOTHER medical issue. Enough, I tell you. I have had enough.

But, I gritted my teeth and tried to put on a brave face and tried not to complain too much (at least out loud) about having a broken horse, again.

Cutest face! At least we can play petting zoo.

I think I seriously misjudged just how emotionally precarious my mental state was. 4 Weeks of no riding does not a mentally stable person make. At least not if that person is me. Riding is my escape. It is literally the only thing in the world that shuts off my brain long enough to afford me any peace. When I ride, the rest of the world drops away. I concentrate on nothing but the horse under me for as long as my ass is in the saddle. I need a break from the mental circus that is my brain. There are scary clowns in there.

Bryan decided to make the rare visit to the barn on Saturday. I think he innocently thought he would get to spend some extra time with his wife, and maybe see what our money was paying for. What he got was ... not that. More like a chance to observe and participate in my full-on emotional and mental breakdown. Fun!

The long and short of it is, I got on, Boca was not sound, and I fell apart. I don't know if my expectations were too high. Dr. C had been using cautionary language all week that I didn't like - such as "Hopefully, he's sound". Uh, hopefully?

I got on in the indoor in the GGT footing and he felt better, but not 100%. My instructor H was teaching a lesson in the outdoor, so I thoughtfully interrupted her lesson to make her watch him trot circles and confirm that no, he was not 100% sound.

Upon which I completely and totally fell apart. I walked him back to his stall, sobbing all the way. I cried so hard I actually thought I might throw up. I cried into his neck as my husband stood on, trying to comfort me and calm me down. If there is any upside to all this, at least now he fully understands that 1) Yes, his wife is insane and 2) How much this riding thing actually means to me.

Maybe we have a future as a Pony Ride team.

Now I get to invite you all in to the insane circus that is my mind. Ready to take a ride?

Of course I called my vet right away, but being that it was Saturday at 10 AM, I didn't get a call back until Monday night. Which left over 48 hours for all the crazy to percolate.

I will say that saner minds, such as my husband, cautioned me to wait to hear what the vet said, before getting all upset. But that ship had already sailed.

These are the following scenarios that I came up with:

1) Boca needs extended time off. I should bring him up to H's boyfriend's farm in upstate New York to recover, and take one of the standardbreds down to Massachusetts to retrain for a second career.

2) Boca needs extended time off. I should put him on layup board at instructor H's farm and borrow/lease/swap one of her 10 horses while he is off.

3) Boca is not physically capable of the job I want him to do. I should free lease him to a nice trail home where he can be-bop on a long rein at the walk and take care of some nice old lady. I should adopt a OTTB or OTSTB. Yes, I already had candidates picked out.

4) Boca is not physically capable of the job I want him to do. I should retire him to a trail home and check out a few of the horse dealers in CT to see if they have anything remotely suitable.

Of course, the most reasonable 'Hey maybe he just needs a few extra days for the injections to take effect and to get used to his shoes' scenario just seemed to be the least likely one.

In case you are thinking I am a terrible person for even considering retiring Boca and taking on a new project, consider this --  We are now somewhere in the ballpark of over $4,000+ in medical bills for Boca in 5 months, and I have been able to ride him a grand total of SIX WEEKS. So maybe I can be excused for my momentary desire to think I should consider another path. In all honesty, if Boca were not the totally awesome individual that he is, I probably wouldn't have gone this far with him.

Long story short - Boca is better. He just needed some additional time for the injections to reach peak effect. I have resumed riding him. Sanity is returning.

I think, just maybe, we might just be ok.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sweet Relief

Saturday morning was the vet appointment at Dr. C's clinic, to look into Boca's mystery lameness. I could have waited until Monday to have Dr. C come out to our farm, but to be honest, my mental state wasn't the best, and trailering down to the clinic on Saturday would save me a farm call fee. I didn't sleep very well Friday night, and I woke up Saturday morning groggy and nervous, with my stomach in knots, relieved the day had finally arrived.

I got to the barn at 7 am, with the plan to be on the road by 7:45. I brushed Boca, put on his bell boots and fly spray, hooked up the trailer and we were ready to go. The morning was beautiful - sunny and breezy, with little humidity. Just the kind of morning to remind me why I love New England. The drive to the clinic was down many winding side streets, with charming old farmhouses and beautiful yards. In spite of myself, my spirits began to lift, and I had a funny feeling we were going to be ok. Of course, Boca was his perfect self, loaded quietly, and rode the entire way there without a peep, happily munching hay.

The vet clinic was on a busy 2-lane highway in Rhode Island, without a lot of room to park and unload. It was a mostly dirt, gravel and tarmac parking lot, with little area to graze and not another horse in sight. I was grateful to have such a compliant horse, and thought that a tense or reactive horse would have a tough time with the set up.

We are here... But where is everyone else?
I left Boca in the trailer and went to find the office to check in. We were a little early for our appointment, and I could see the vet techs setting up in the small clinic exam area. Boca unloaded like a pro, and though a little wide-eyed, happily picked at what grass there was to be found.

Dr. C came into the clinic, the vet techs introduced themselves, and we got started. First, I gave them a thorough history of the issue - that Boca had been coming out slightly off in his RF front for 3-4 weeks, that it was slight, and that he worked out of it as we went along. That it was worse recently, seemed more obvious on hard footing, and when circling to the right. In softer footing, and while circling left or on a straightaway, it all but disappeared. It was most evident at the trot, and was unnoticeable at the walk or canter.
Dr. C began the exam by running his hands down Boca's legs, feeling for any swelling, heat or irregularities. He did note that Boca had a very slight digital pulse in his RF, but there was nothing else that stood out.

I think next came flexions. I hope I am remembering the diagnostics in the correct order, but like I said, I was overtired and anxious, so it does have a bit of a fugue state quality.

Flexion on the RF
During the flexion tests, the vet techs were exclaiming what a sweet boy Boca was and what a cute face he had. It is always nice to hear other people think your horse is a good boy. I like to think I have a small part to play in that. He is a pretty good guy overall, but I do make sure his manners stay intact, and I think we have a pretty deep bond of trust. He takes good care of me, but I take pretty good care of him, too. 

Boca's flexions were negative. He flexed and jogged sound on all joints, but I really didn't expect otherwise. He passed his pre-exam flexions with flying colors as well.

We went to the (really) small lunging ring, next to the highway (!)
The vet tech asked Boca to trot right, and Dr. C said 'Ah, there's our lameness'.
And, indeed there it was. The vet tech had Boca do a short trot and canter session in each direction, then we brought him in for the next round of diagnostics, which was nerve blocks.

Local to the LF, before nerve block to the Navicular Bursa
We blocked the RF to the coffin joint, took Boca out to lunge in a really tight circle on the pavement, and he immediately came sound. The really interesting thing is that he was then absolutely crippled on the LF. I was not terribly surprised, as I had read this is not uncommon (I guess interwebz school of veterinary knowledge FTW?)

Dr. C then blocked his RF to the Navicular Bursa. He warned me that this could be pretty painful if there was an issue with the Navicular Bursa, as it only holds a small amount of fluid, and the added pressure of injecting the nerve block could be really painful for the horse. Luckily, Boca didn't flinch, and he was still very lame on the LF, which was actually a good sign. The reason being, the pain did not originate from the Navicular Bursa.

Now that we had a better idea of the area that was causing the lameness, it was time to move on to the x-ray portion of the exam.

The x-rays were more good news, with no deterioration of the Navicular bone, no fractures, or any other areas of concern. One thing I was really happy about was that the x-rays confirmed my farrier is doing a good job with Boca's feet. The alignment and angles were all correct, and overall Dr. C was very pleased with the job that my farrier is doing.
We did find two areas of interest on the x-rays, in regard to Boca's lameness issues. Boca does not have a much of a digital cushion, so it isn't a great 'shock absorber' for the concussive force created when his hoof lands. Also, although his LF has remained about the same, there is some significant arthritic changes to his RF coffin joint, from his pre-purchase x-rays in 2014.
In case you don't know what arthritis looks like on an x-ray (I didn't), I circled the area in red on his x-ray below. That bumpy stuff on the front of his coffin joint is arthritis.
So, what does all this mean, and how do we address it?
To reduce the inflammation, Dr. C recommended we inject both the RF and LF coffin joints and make some minor shoeing changes, to provide extra support and cushion to the area.
When Dr. C inserted the needle to do the injection, there was so much pressure from the inflammation in his coffin joint, that fluid spurted a good 2-3 feet across the room. How I managed to snap a pic at that exact moment, I'll never know!
Look! My horse's joints are peeing!
Boca was a star, and tolerated all the poking and prodding without any fuss. Injections completed, we wrapped him up for the ride home, with instructions to leave him in for the remainder of the day.
Orange travel booties
The farrier is coming out tomorrow to add pads and Equi-Pak to Boca's front shoes.
He'll have until Friday off, then he can go back to work. We'll also start him on Pentosan IM, to help manage/repair/prevent his joint arthritis.
Hopefully, all of these measures will resolve Boca's lameness issues. The only possibility would be, if he does not come sound, there is an existing soft tissue injury in the hoof, which we would not be able to confirm without an MRI... which I cannot afford.
So I am crossing all fingers and toes that this will give me my fully functional pony back, so we can go on to have many fun adventures this summer.
Because, y'know, I need this pony in my life!