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.


  1. Completely agree with both treating for ulcers and changing the conversation. Also it might be worth it to have people groom him where he DOESN'T have to work afterward. That way he doesn't always associate it as a preface to working hard, because he's developing a lot of new skills right now that are hard for his brain and his body even though he might be behaving super well under saddle.

  2. I love this concept of changing the conversation. And fingers crossed that treating him for ulcers is just the thing to get him feeling good again!

  3. Changing the conversation is key. Or as I call them, brain reinstallation days...
    Fingers crossed that the ulcer treatment works!

  4. omg yes - "changing the conversation" has been my #1 mantra too!! also. yes. better living through chemistry. whether it's a little horsey margarita and also those liquid gold ulcer meds, whatever can help you help Crimson over the bump is a step in the right direction imo.

    for a long time with isabel (whose host of problems was somewhat different), i saved our major grooming and cross tie time and whatnot until after the ride. the pre-ride routine was as streamlined and efficient as it could possibly be (without imposing any feelings of rushing), bc i noticed that isabel was remarkably more relaxed *after* the ride. so that's when i would groom her etc.

    really it's like you say - figuring out what balance of routine and process helps Crimson be most likely to succeed and be a good boy and enjoy himself!

  5. I too spend more time grooming post ride and keeping the first part quick.

  6. Treating ulcers can be relatively inexpensive - I treated Fiction with the omeprazole paste from Horse Prerace. Cost me about $300 for a month of treatment.

  7. I'm totally romancing my horse on the ground pre-ride and he seems to chill out a lot more... until we start jumping. Then all bets are off

  8. It sounds like you have a good plan. We use ace quite frequently to give horses a good first experience or are struggling with relaxing. I figure that being stressed, tense, or frantic will cause a lot more damage than a small amount of ace will. I hope that Crimson gets back to his old self soon!