Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Artificial Aids" - The Heating Pad

If you're like me, extremely cheap, ahem "frugal" then you sometimes find creative ways to achieve the utmost benefit to your horse.

Back in the fall, when the weather turned cooler, I started looking into the Back on Track products that I have heard so much about. Most anecdotal feedback on the BOT products are highly positive, but the goods are somewhat pricey - $70 for a saddle pad and $250 for the mesh sheet.

I started thinking about the properties of the BOT products I was interested in. Namely, the ceramic-infused fibers which radiate heat back to the body. Which then presumably translates into a looser and more mobile horse. Using the highly scientific theorem that HEAT = GOOD, I decided to invest $7 whole dollars into a highly technological device used extensively in Geriatric and OBGYN medicine.

This miraculous device is called - wait for it - a heating pad.

Armed with my find, I made my way to the barn to see what Boca thought of this crazy/brilliant idea of mine. I put the heating pad directly on his back, under where the saddle would sit. I then put the saddle pad on top of it, to create that warm and toasty, fresh from the dryer feeling.

And Boca LOVED it. Every night before I rode, I would put the heating pad on for 15-20 min as I groomed and tacked up. He would literally go completely still, cock a hind foot, and fall asleep. Droopy lip included.

I actually noticed quite a bit of improvement in a number of ways. Normally, Boca used to be fidgety about tacking up - shifting his weight around and moving his bowels often (symptoms of KS). Once on - he was extremely cold backed - not standing at the mounting block, scooting forward, kicking out (also symptoms of KS).

Using the heating pad was a huge difference in how our rides started out. He was definitely looser, more relaxed, no hump in his back, no cow-kicking at the leg or scooting forward.

And so, I am passing along this equestrian life hack to you, so that you may benefit from my wizardry. You're welcome :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pain or Disobedience?

A barn acquaintance and I were discussing this topic on Monday night. She had her mare scoped and it turns out she has ulcers. Prior to this, her mare had been acting out. She had been unwilling and generally had a pissy attitude. The trainer chalked it up to the change of seasons and hormone cycles and mare'tude. But my friend thought otherwise. Barn acquaintance made the comment that every time the mare had shown signs of training issues, she's proven to have a reason.

We went on to discuss the 'old days' (think 1980's) where no one really considered medical issues when a horse was acting up. It was just considered straight disobedience. Unless the horse showed an obvious lower leg lameness, a more subtle body lameness was really not considered. My friend laughed when she thought of the Crosby Prix des Nations saddle she bought for herself and rode every horse in. She didn't even know the tree size, she just knew it fit her.

I realize horses can be difficult, challenging, hot, sensitive. They can shut down, they have bad days just like all of us do. But when it is a training issue and when is it something more?

I think as a general rule, most horses really do try to comply with what we are asking of them. I think the difficulty lies in the fact that it is much harder to diagnose a 'body lameness' than a lower leg lameness. It stands to reason we would not ride a horse that was visibly limping. But what about the issues we can't see?

When is horse behavior disobedience and when is it pain?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Just the Reserpine Talking

I'm on 21+ straight barn days and I'm OVER IT. Today is gray and rainy and cold and my back hurts and I just want to go home and cuddle with my puppy and husband and watch HBO's Girls that I recorded last night. WAHHH! Rant Over.

"I'll just park my head right here... You won't even notice."

All this time, I have been thinking that I am sooooo lucky to have such a good pony, that he can flat walk in a halter with no chain needed and be on his best behavior. He has been on Reserpine, but I figured it wasn't doing much. Initially I started him on 10 pills .25 mg per day, but it made his manure a little runny and it smelt horrible. I put a call into the vet, who told me to back him down to 8 pills per day.

I call this one "Woman with Stallbound Horse". It's a masterpiece.

Because he's been so good, I've been steadily decreasing him, until by the end of the week, he was down to 5 pills a day. And I found myself, mid-walk on Friday afternoon, suddenly flying a horse kite. We were on a quiet side street in a nice neighborhood. We had been walking for 20 minutes at least, when Boca decided that going airborne was a resonable response to a child running across their lawn. As I looked up at him in the sky, blowing and snorting and striking, I thought to myself "Hmmm.... guess it was the Reserpine talking all along."

"Lies, I tell you. Hideous lies."

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Dope on a Rope

Boca's rehab is proceeding just about as well as it can go. I keep knocking on wood and trying not to jinx myself, but I just have a good feeling all around about this one.

Dr. C came yesterday to take out Boca's stitches, and as an added bonus, palpated his back. Even with applying as much force as he could manage, Dr. C was unable to make Boca uncomfortable. Dr. C said the surgery really is remarkable and that this result is typical. An immediate cessation of pain on a previously significantly back sore animal.

We continue stall rest and hand walking for two more weeks. As a bonus, I've lost a few pounds with all this walking. Silver linings all around.


Here I am, hand walking my wild beast. We have started going for neighborhood walks to utilize the steep hills. Yep, it was 40 degrees and windy, and he's flat walking in a halter and lead - no chain needed. Although moments before, we startled a giant wild turkey, and it leaped up and ran away. Boca spooked in place, then reached over and nipped me. Clearly it was my fault for not keeping him safe from turkeys.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Modified Adult Eq (aka Your Child is Ugly)

Back in Novemeber, my good friend H moved to upstate NY, leaving me BFF-less and also trainerless again. The trainer situation has always been a little awkward for me. I'm not "in a program" which is great, as it brings the freedom to do whatever I want, but also leaves me on the strugglebus a bit at times.

Freedom to do what we want
I've always tried to have a weekly lesson on the books. I am under no delusion that I have a solid enough foundation to go it on my own, with the occasional clinic or lesson as a tune up. The main discipline of the instructor hasn't been hugely important, as long as the basics are solid. My last 4 instructors have specialized in a variety of disciplines: Hunters, Dressage, Centered Riding and Jumpers. My most recent instructor's focus was the Adult Equitation ring.

Instructor K first came to my farm in late fall, when two of her adult clients moved their horses to board at our facility. K has an impressive resume, having spent many years riding and training at a now defunct barn that once boasted Olympic level trainers and future Olympic level students. K's basics were solid and she was an encouraging and supportive instructor. Although K's primary focus was the Adult Equitation ring, I figured I could take what I needed and apply it to whatever Boca and I decided to do. I knew we needed to work on rhythm, pace and going to the base, not just running and flinging ourselves over fences.

Weekday lesson under the lights

I guess I should back up and talk a little bit about identity. And goals. Some people have a specific discipline they want to pursue. Whether it is 3' Eq, Prelim, 100 Mile LDRs or PSG, some people really want to get there. And sometimes in the pursuit of that, if the mount they have is not a good fit for their goals, they move on. And I am totally ok with that. I don't buy in to the idea that you have to have ONE HORSE FOR ITS ENTIRE LIFESPAN, FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN. It's not a marriage. You don't say your vows as you sign the Bill of Sale.

Having said that, I'm not someone who has a particular burning desire to acheive or pursue a particular level in a particular discipline. I would love to jump around a local unrated show at 2'6" and put in a respectable round. But if I could not also go hunter pacing on a glorious autumn day, if I couldn't put my horse on a trailer and go gallop down a sandy beach, I would not be happy. And I think Boca is that horse. I think he can be, anyway.

Back to Instructor K.... Before my friend H left, she took a lesson from Instructor K's mentor. Part of the lesson included a conversation along the lines of H would go much further on a different (read = better) horse. H warned me to expect that kind of conversation would take place with Instructor K at some point as well. I decided I would be able to disregard that conversation, should it ever come to that.
Instructor K's other two clients happened to own giant horses. One was an Irish Sporthorse that came with a pricetag of $15K. The other was an even bigger giant of a WB of some sort, a 3' Eq horse with a pricetag of $40K. In I came with my $1,500 15.3H paint.
I've always been sensitive about my size, relative to Boca. To be honest, I don't really feel all that comfortable on giant horses. My favorite size seems to be around 16-16.1h. At 15.3, Boca is just under that. Coupled with being a bit downhill and with a short neck, I've always felt that I look too big for him. It's probably the one thing I feel a little self-concious about.
Too Big?
From the perspective of Eq land, where everyone rides 17h+ horses, I was on a midget, and Instructor K zeroed in on it. She was not unkind, but from the first lesson, she let me know that she thought I looked too big on my horse. As we worked, from November through February, comments would slip out about getting me on a fellow student's retired Modified Adult Eq winner. And preparing Boca 'in case' he ever did short-stirrup 'down the road'. I tried to have a conversation with her about working with what I had, but it never seemed to sink in. I told my fellow lesson mate that it felt like being told your child was ugly.
Right before the X-Rays were taken, I had pretty much decided that, despite the good basics, I was done with Instructor K. Despite trying to discount the comments and the not so subtle steering me towards another mount, it wasn't fun having your partner being counted out.
Having the surgery came at the perfect time and gave me the perfect out with Instructor K. I understand what Boca is. He may not be big or fancy, but he has earned his place in my life.

So, post-rehab, I'll be looking for a new trainer. Who knows, maybe I'll go be an eventer. My new slogan... "Size Doesn't Matter".