Sunday, July 31, 2011

July Summary - Getting Back in Action

After slowly starting to get back into action after mid-month, I managed 13 rides in July - 5 each on Pie and Drift and 3 on Dawn, bringing my total rides in 2011 to 138.  June was about the same - I rode 14 times,  including the trail ride where I was injured coming off Pie on the 11th, bringing my riding to a halt - 5 rides on Pie, 6 on Drift and 3 on Dawn.

I think we're all close to being back where we were at the beginning of June, training-wise.  Pie's Pie, although he does need to do more arena work to develop his softness and way of carrying himself, and I need to work on regaining my confidence on the trail.  Drift is back where he needs to be - we're back in our program of just moving at the trot and canter for him to develop his balance and way of going.  Dawn and I are working on trotting and trotting some more, to develop our mutual confidence and "allowing".

Not too bad, considering.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Video From Courtney King-Dye On Wearing a Helmet

Here is a video  by Courtney King-Dye, who was the Olympic level dressage rider who suffered a devastating brain injury 16 months ago when the horse she was riding tripped and fell.  She was not wearing a helmet at the time.  Watch the whole thing - it's very moving.  Two things she said really stuck in my mind:
  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Safety has nothing to do with skill level.  
Any rider can fall, at any time, riding any horse, even when not doing anything risky.  Wear a helmet - every time - it could save your life or save you from a devastating brain injury.  I was wearing a helmet when I had my accident 7 weeks ago - the helmet was badly damaged and I believe saved me from being more severely injured.  Don't make excuses - just do it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Dragonfly Attack! and Two More Good Rides

A couple of days ago, Dawn and I had an odd experience.  She and I were taking a break, standing still on a loose rein for a moment in the ring, when suddenly, two enormous dragonflies flew up and started having a fight right in front of her face, rattling and banging into one another and then flying up and then crashing to the ground and then flying up again, battering into one another.  Dawn was so surprised that she didn't have time to spook or do anything else before they were gone - dragonfly attack!

I managed to ride Drift two days in a row - I'm trying to ride him with some consistency.  He now stands still for mounting. Yesterday we had to work through a bracing issue going right - it could be that the stiffness in my left shoulder was affecting him, but we got it done and ended up with a little bit of trot work. Today he was nice and soft at the walk, his halt transition was good and his backing was fine, so we managed some trot work.  It was hot and he's out of shape so there were a number of attempts to stop trotting, but we worked through it and by the end he gave me some really nice trot in both directions.

When I was done riding Drift, Charisma's owner had come to the barn and I got Pie ready so we could go on a short trail ride with her - I rarely have anyone to ride with so took advantage of this - we went out for about 20 minutes, some of the time with Pie following and some of the time with him leading - he did great, although we did elect not to go by the house with major construction work (saws, generators, etc. in the back yard).  Pie was doing a very nice, long-strided walk - the best he's been walking - could be the better fit of the reflocked saddle, could be that he's feeling good.  Whatever it is, I'll take it.  When we got back to the barn, I took Pie into the arena for some brief trot work and Charisma left to do another trail loop - he wanted to go with her and was whinnying for her - I think there's more trail in his future.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Easing On Down the Trail, and Remembering Noble

I managed a brief ride on Pie this morning between rain showers.  He was very muddy, but at least it was dry mud - not as bad to clean up.  We went on our first, very short (couple of hundreds of yards in a loop) trail ride since my accident, including going right by the area where I fell, past a number of downed tree trunks and branches from the storms we've been having, and a half-collapsed plastic hoop house used by the neighboring farmers.  As you would expect, Pie was great.  I was nervous but managed.  Nothing bad happened, so there's one small good experience to build on as I try to regain my confidence.  Riding in the arena doesn't worry me too much; riding on the trail worries me a lot.

* * * * * *
Today I've been remembering Noble - we lost him a year ago today at the age of 30.  Here's his memorial post, which has some links to a couple of birthday posts with more stories and pictures about the grand old guy, who is still very much missed.  Here's my favorite photo of him - I think it was taken when he was about 27 years old or so:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Change of Plans

I spent some more time this morning watching Pie and Drift interact in turnout.  When I turned Drift out, Pie was grazing with Scout and Fritz.  Drift drove him off, but Pie didn't go too far away - that didn't look too bad.  That happened a few more times.  If that'd been all that happened, things would have been OK.  But next thing, Drift started leaving the group of geldings and aggressively running Pie at high speed down the fence line to the far corner - Pie has an unfortunate habit of sticking to the fence line nearest the barn and then allowing himself to be trapped in the corner (I hate pastures with right angle fence lines as they're dangerous, but's that what our barn has).  Thankfully, once Drift had Pie pinned in the corner, Drift would only threaten to kick him rather than actually kick him - if he had kicked there wouldn't have been much Pie could have done about it trapped in the corner.  Every time Pie would try to come down the fence line towards the gate, Drift would run him down again.  This also meant that Pie wouldn't have been able to reach the water tank. By the time I intervened, Pie was standing in the corner, looking stressed and not grazing.  I managed to grab Drift - who didn't want to be caught - and took him out of the pasture, and put him in a separate pasture.  Pie went back to grazing with the other geldings.  Pie's up to 4 1/2 hours of grazing, so he isn't out at night with the other geldings yet, but he should be soon as his feet seem to be coping well with the grazing.

For now, Drift will be having solo turnout - he's in sight of other horses and can even sniff noses with the mares under the electrified fence.  I can't explain it to him, but if I could I would tell him that if he wants to act like a stallion, he can be treated like one, and at this point solo turnout is best.  Not ideal from my point of view, but we can cope and Pie will be a lot happier.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

All Mine!

I spent some time this morning trying to figure out what was actually doing on with the herd dynamics in our gelding herd, where Drift is chasing Pie.  Part of the issue with our herds is that they're very small - 3 mares in one herd and 4 geldings in another herd.  Numbers that small can be very problematic when horses leave or join a herd - the dynamics tend to work better when the numbers are larger.

Before Drift arrived at the end of March, Pie and Scout were best buddies.  At that time, Fred was still with us, and he and Fritz were a tight pair.  When Drift came into the herd, he clearly and immediately established his alpha status - Fritz was a pretty weak alpha before that - but all the horses hung out together, although Fred, who was very feeble, did get picked on a bit, mostly by Scout.  Scout and Pie continued to be buddies.

Later that spring, Pie had to come out of the pasture due to a bout of mild laminitis, and we had a very wet spring which meant he couldn't go back out until things dried out.  When he went back out with the gelding herd, Drift started chasing him, particularly when Scout's owner came to take him out of the pasture and feed him mid-morning.  I wanted to see if I could figure out what was going on.

I don't generally interfere in pasture herd behavior - there's really no point in trying to keep the horses from doing what they're doing.  But I am willing to manipulate things a bit to see what happens.  This morning, I put Drift in a separate pasture and turned Pie out with Scout and Fritz.  Pie hung out with them and was grazing pretty close to Scout.  Then, a couple of hours later, I turned Drift out.  He quickly galloped off to where the others were grazing (some of these photos were taken into the sun and are greatly enlarged, so apologies for the quality, but they show the dynamics) - that's Fritz to the right and Scout and Pie are out of the frame to the left:


Then Drift started chasing Pie away from Scout - that's Pie on the left and Drift on the right and Scout's out of the frame to the left:


Pie took evasive and self-protective action and headed off to another part of the pasture - that's Pie kicking out, Drift to the right and Scout's unconcerned face at the far left inside the (intruding) post:


Drift said that Scout was all his, and kept a good eye on Pie:


Pie continued to graze by himself, probably 50 yards off, but kept an ear on Drift:


When Scout's owner came to get him out of the pasture, all the horses - mares and geldings both - came to the gates.  I expect this has been happening every morning.  Drift was in the corner near the gate with "his" mares:


Pie was at the gate, wanting out:



Pie yawned a few times, I expect to release some tension:


Drift kept an eye on Pie, but didn't do anything else - the gate Pie was standing by is not far from where Drift was camped out close to the mares:


Pie greeted Fritz - that's Pie on the left and Fritz on the right:


Drift wasn't too sure he liked this, but didn't do anything aggressive except stare at Pie - that's Drift to the left and Fritz to the right, and Pie's out of the frame to the right:


Now Pie demanded to come out of the pasture:




So then I did something a bit counterintuitive - I took Pie out, put him a separate one-acre pasture and then put Drift in with him.  Drift doesn't seem to have a problem with Pie except when Pie interacts with other horses.  So I took away the other horses - my hope is that Drift can come to accept Pie as a result of spending time with him, and than perhaps they may even become a pair as often happens with two horses that spend a lot of time together.  When I came to get Pie about an hour later, he was as close to the barn and as far away from Drift as he could get - I don't think Drift had chased him as he wan't breathing hard or sweaty, but he was certainly happy to get away from him.  I don't know yet whether I'll continue to put Pie and Drift out together with the herd or not right now - I'll have to think about that one . . .

Monday, July 25, 2011

Two More Rides and an Experiment with Drift and Pie

I managed to get in three rides today.  After my ride this morning (prior post) on Pie, I rode both Dawn and Drift this afternoon.  Now mind you these rides aren't that strenuous - none of the horses nor I are remotely fit, so we mostly walk or do a bit of trotting.  My ride on Dawn was excellent - her walk work, including transitions, was about perfect and we did some trotting - alternating laps of trot and walk.  She was very forward at the trot, and I worked on allowing her to both move and find a release.  It was an enjoyable session.

Drift was up next.  I got acceptable but not perfect mounting on the third try - every day it's a bit better and pretty soon the issue will go away.  He was very distractible and even a bit nervous - we got one spook/scoot when the goat started rattling his pen behind us - Drift's having to get used to the goat all over again.  His backing was pretty soft, and his walk work was good as long as we stuck to figures involving turns and circles.  On the straightaway, he would try to push down and brace and when that didn't work - I kept my hands still - he would invert and try to get a release by going above the bit.  I made sure not to give him a release for going up, and after some work we were able to put together some good sequences of straight walking with softness.  We worked for quite a while, and I kept asking for his attention back whenever he would get distracted.  We didn't trot today - the walk work wasn't where I wanted it to be yet and we've got all the time in the world.

After feeding time I tried a little experiment with Drift and Pie before all the horses were turned out for the night (see the prior post for the issue of Drift chasing Pie in turnout).  I put Pie, then Drift, out in a pasture that's about one acre.  No other horses were out.  Pie showed no concern and other than Drift nose flipping at him once and Pie taking a few steps away and then grazing again, nothing happened.  We upped the ante by putting Charisma in her paddock - nothing happened.  Then we turned out Dawn and Misty in the adjacent pasture.  Although there's electric on both sides, the horses can sniff noses at the gate, and Drift did some nickering and Dawn did some squealing and striking.  Pie kept grazing and Drift ignored him.  End of experiment - Pie went back in his paddock for the night (he's up to 4 hours of grazing) and Drift went out with the boys.  It's clear that Drift isn't that aggressive towards Pie in general, just in the context of what's upsetting him in the morning - it seems to be the other geldings being taken in from the pasture to eat breakfast that's aggravating him.  I'm not sure what to do about that, but tomorrow I'm planning to put Pie out after breakfast with the geldings (I feed my horses much earlier than the other boarders do) and keep Drift in a separate pasture until the other geldings are fed, and see if that makes a difference.  It's awkward and time-consuming, and there's probably nothing I can do to eliminate Drift's aggravation that he takes out on Pie, but it'll be interesting to see what the horses do.  I may also keep turning Pie and Drift out together for a bit in the evenings to see if they become more connected.  Horse politics . . .

Mystery Solved, Fatties and Pie Ride

I found out why Pie has been wanting out of the pasture even though he's only been out for a few hours to graze.  One of the boarders mentioned that when she's taking her horse and Fritz out of the pasture in the morning to feed them (I've fed mine several hours earlier), that Drift starts chasing Pie, running him around the pasture in a big circle for several laps - she's seen this happen several days in a row.  Drift is faster and more agile than Pie, and apparently sometimes cuts him off and then swings around and kicks out at him before chasing him some more. This is why Pie's been sometimes out of breath and sweaty when I come to get him.  The odd thing is this only happens sometimes - most of the time Drift ignores Pie or is fairly friendly, sniffing noses without incident and grazing side by side.  The behavior seems to only happen when someone comes to get a horse out of the pasture - at least as far as we know. One time when I got Pie out when he was panting and sweaty, Drift was standing a ways off just resting with a hind leg cocked, not looking or acting aggressive at all.  This behavior is similar to what Drift did with Fritz when Fritz rejoined the herd - Drift would run him down the fence line if Fritz showed interest in the mares.  But the behavior with Pie doesn't seem related to the mares - they weren't even nearby this morning - it seems to be more a matter of "herd control" - herding Pie away from the "his" geldings when they're near the gate, or "gate control" - not wanting Pie to stand near "his" gate.  So far Pie's had the good sense and sufficient speed and agility to stay out of the way.  I expect Drift'll settle down once Pie's been out there for a while - at least I hope so.  It seems that Drift is quite the jealous, possessive type, and not just about the mares.

Pie's at a normal weight, but Drift is getting fat and Dawn looks like she's pregnant. Despite our near-drought conditions until recently and the heat wave, there's still a lot of grass out there - our acreage is quite large for the small number of horses and the pastures are profuse.  The horses are staying out longer as well due to our addition of night turnout.  More grass equals more calories equals fat horses.  So today I brought Drift in to the large dry lot (which does have grass, just not as much as the pastures), and put Dawn in a small paddock with fairly skimpy grass.  On hot days they can come inside their stalls under their fans.  Of course Dawn and Drift have been out of work so that hasn't helped either. It isn't a bad idea to give Drift some "solo" time right now anyway - I hope it helps reduce his attachments.

I rode Pie this morning after I rescued him from Drift.  We started by doing some in-hand work on his backing.  My objective was for him to back softly - which means with his head and neck not dropped between his knees, which has been his default when backing.  This backing wasn't soft, despite the curled up head and neck, lack of pressure in my hands and backwards movement - in fact his whole body was stiff, he was on the forehand and not using his hindquarters.  By keeping my hands fairly high on his neck, I was able to help him find the soft spot where he relaxed his head and neck, giving at the jaw and poll, but without ducking.  It took a few tries, but he got it and the back became very nice.  I mounted up and we worked some more on backing - it was my job to be sure the soft spot was in the right place which also meant I had to be careful not to give him a release for ducking.  By the end of our backing work, it was very nice, and as we rode I would stop and ask for back from time to time and he was consistently able to do it while using his body properly.  We also worked on his softness at the walk, walk/halt transitions and softening at the halt (without backing).  He did really well, and we did a bit of trotting at the end.  We also did a lap around the outside of the arena, which certainly wasn't a trail ride but was the next best thing (trail riding is a bit of a worry for me since that's where I had my accident).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Back In Business!

Today was an exciting day, and a big milestone for me six weeks after my accident.  Although it was still pretty warm this afternoon - mid 80sF - I was ready to ride, so I did - both Dawn and Drift - it was too hot for Pie.  And this time, unlike the two times I rode Pie more than a week ago, I didn't feel tentative, or weak, or worried.  In many respects, I benefited from the enforced time off due to our week-long heat wave - for the past few days I've been pretty much feeling normal and my energy level's pretty much back although I'm certainly far from fit.  All three horses got thorough groomings, and when I was done grooming Dawn I saddled her up and off we went.

I'd set some cones in the arena (freshly dragged thanks to my husband), and Dawn and I did a bit of in-hand and leading work before I got on.  She stood pretty well (not perfectly but we'll refine it) for mounting, and we did a bunch of walk work, confirming her softening at the walk - her head position is now perfectly stable after my work on allowing at the clinic.  Then we did a lot of walk/halt transitions and also some backing, as well as some stretching down.  Very quickly, everything we'd had was back - she'd had only one ride in the past 6 weeks (my daughter rode her while she was visiting) - she was soft and responsive, despite Scout and Fritz deciding to run like maniacs in the closest pasture.  We then did just a small bit of trot work - both posting and sitting - Dawn was great but I wanted not to shake up my head too much so I stopped there, and Dawn's not fit at all - I sure wanted to keep going but that was enough for our first outing.  I was by myself at the barn when riding Dawn (wearing my helmet and cell phone of course) and had no concerns about this at all - this is how I usually ride and with our small number of horses and people I need to be comfortable doing this, and I am.

Then I groomed and saddled Drift.  We also did a bit of leading and in-hand work before I got on - I'd waited for our p.m. barn lady to bring in Scout and Fritz so he wouldn't have running horses to deal with.  Everything was good, so on I got.  We first did some confirming work on his standing still on a loose rein for mounting - it took three tries to get acceptable but not perfect standing.  Then we worked on confirming his softness at the walk and in the walk/halt transition and in backing - it took a few minutes for him to remember,  but once he did it was all there again, although he was prone to being distracted.  We didn't trot yet, because I want more consistency in his walk and walk/halt work first. When I was done I dismounted, and then led him back to the mounting block and got on again - he stood like a rock on a loose rein!  I got right back off and put him away.

I was delighted - I didn't lunge either horse before getting on and they both remembered every bit of their training - it took Drift a few minutes but then he was back with the program.  I'm tired, but I feel really, really good.  More riding coming up soon . . .

Pie Wants In

The past couple of mornings, Pie's done something a bit odd.  He's been going out to graze with the gelding herd before 6 a.m., after eating his breakfast.  He's up to 3 1/2 hours of grazing, and the other geldings are out all night, so you'd think he'd be more interested in grazing than they are.  But no - when I come to get him in when his time's up, he's at the fence, pacing up and down, and this morning he was sweaty and breathing hard - it seemed that he'd been running.  No one seems to be harassing him - Drifter was a ways off, dozing with a leg cocked.  I'm not sure what's up with him - he seems to really want to come in - and he doesn't want to go to his paddock, either - he wants to go into the barn and into his stall, although he's the only horse in at that point.  We're on what I hope is the last day of our monster heat/humidity wave, and perhaps he's anxious to get under his fan, being wise enough to know that he'll overheat as the temperature rises with our shadeless pastures (he seems to overheat much more easily than the other horses when it's sunny with high humidity).  I just don't know - he otherwise seems fine and was happy when I hosed him off and put him under the fan.  We'll see what he does when the temperatures and humidity fall . . .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Not a Crypt

Just got the results of Drift's blood tests - with a very high degree of certainty, he is not a cryptorchid.  This is what I had expected, based on his behavior with horses and people - he's just a very studly gelding who is very interested in mares, and he's also a dominant personality in the herd and with people if they let him.  I'll just keep on doing what I've been doing with him already - requiring excellent ground manners and helping him refocus his attention when he's distracted, and he'll do just fine.  Just a sweet little chestnut guy . . . nice to have that test to confirm so we can go about our business without any doubts.

Dings and Dents, and Wonderful Rain

One good thing about group turnout for horses is they get to interact with other horses.  One bad thing about group turnout for horses is they get to interact with other horses . . .

After I left Pie and Drift peacefully grazing together yesterday morning, they must have had a bit of an altercation.  Pie has a superficial scrape on his chest that could be due to a nip or a glancing kick.  He also has a big bite mark on his loin.  Drift came in with two matching scrapes and some minor swelling on each side of his chest - it looks like he may have bitten Pie and Pie then double-barrelled him.  They have to work out their relationship and I think it'll be fine - Pie was probably so focussed on grazing that he missed a signal from Drift to move out of his space.  Just dings and dents - the times when new horses join a group or a horse rejoins the herd after a long absence are when these mostly occur.  Some Novalsan and SWAT should do the trick.

Despite the risks of group turnout and although some horses do fine when only turned out solo,  I strongly believe that it's very important to equine mental health for horses to have the chance to physically interact with other horses, including the interactions that are part of establishing pecking order in the herd.  Horses are made to move - 24/7 if possible or the closest approximation that can be achieved - and they're made to live in herds while eating forage continuously.  Dings and dents come with the territory.  This morning, Pie was careful to move away whenever Drifter approached - with luck they'll be no more wounds to treat.

* * * * * *
Overnight some thunderstorms with heavy rain moved in, and it's supposed to rain heavily for most of the morning.  Usually, I'm not a big fan of rain - we have no indoor so it keeps me from riding - but this time I'm delighted.  It's been several months since we've had any significant rain, which is very bad for our part of the country especially with the very high temperatures we've been having.  We're supposed to have hot temperatures through the weekend - heat indices in the upper 90s, but it looks like Monday it'll be a bit cooler (maybe a ride?!) and the drought has broken.  It's raining, it's pouring . . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

And So On . . .

Yesterday the heat index made it up to 115F.  The horses did fine in the barn under their fans, although it was certainly hot in there.  I gave them another hose off at around 5 p.m. At around 9 p.m. when they went out, the heat index was still in the 90s but the sun was down and there was a breeze, so even Pie was OK - I checked on him later before I went to bed.

The humidity is already oppressive this morning, and I expect I'll bring them in before 8 a.m. for another day under fans.  Pie is out grazing with the gelding herd again for a couple of hours, and when I turned him out Fritz and Scout went over to him and grazed with him.  Fritz did one little squeal but that was all.  When I put Drift in after he ate his breakfast in the barn, he went right up to Pie and sniffed noses.  There was no squealing, and Pie just took a step away from Drift and then they were grazing right next to each other.

Today the heat index is supposed to get to 105, but then we're supposed to get some relief this evening.  Here's hoping . . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Early and Pie Goes Out With the Boys

Today's supposed to be a doozie - the heat index is supposed to be 110F - I can't remember it ever being so hot for so long.  We had a brief, intense thunderstorm in the middle of the night last night, so if anything the humidity is even more oppressive than before, although we certainly needed the rain - we've had barely a drop of rain in the past month.  I expect the horses, who were out, appreciated the rain as well.

This morning Pie went back out with the gelding herd - he's been out of the herd for several months waiting for the grass to dry up sufficiently so he can graze again.  He's up to 4 1/2 hours of grazing in the large dry lot - it does have grass but not as much as the pastures do.  So this morning I put him out with the geldings in the pasture for 2 hours - a.m. grasses are lower in sugars (but with our heat and drought, grasses may be high in sugars even in the mornings as the sugars accumulated during the day aren't used as they should be for growth in the nighttime). But our grasses are looking pretty dried up right now, so I expect it'll be OK.  When I came to the barn, Pie was lying down in his paddock - it was very sweet to see his head and ears poking up when he saw me.  He was delighted to get out in the "real" pasture and headed off by himself to graze - he showed absolutely no interest in the other horses despite having been separated from them for several months - apparently grass took priority over socializing.

I was interested to see what Drift would do.  He can be aggressive with newly introduced horses until they've fallen into line, and when Fritz went back in after a time in a small paddock due to an injury, Drift did some striking and kicking out.  Drift's fine with Fritz now unless Fritz shows interest in the mares, then he herds him away. This morning Drift basically did nothing - he saw Pie grazing, looked at him with some interest but didn't really do much else.  When I went to get Pie, he was grazing near the other geldings but was happy to come in with me - he knew it was going to get uncomfortably hot soon, I think.  Drift tried to approach us at the gate while I had Pie on the lead, but I easily shooed him away - for safety, I never let loose horses approach a horse I'm leading.  I like non-events, and it looks like Pie's going to fit right back in the herd.  Pie has almost no interest in mares, and I expect that keeps him off Drift's worry list.

This morning I brought all my horses in earlier, by around 8 a.m.  They had had their fill of grazing, the flies were terrible and the temperature and humidity were unpleasant, although not dangerous yet.  The geldings were standing near the gate waiting to go in - Pie was still grabbing grass - and the mares were nearby.  Everybody got a rinse and scraping off, and they're in under their fans for the day.  It's supposed to stay very hot right into the evening, so it may be quite late tonight before the horses can go out again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Pie

Hot, hot, hot, hotter, hotter, hottest.  Today didn't seem so bad - the temperatures were up in the high 80s by the time I went to the barn to check on my horses at around 10 a.m.  But the humidity was horrible (relative humidity of 74%), and there was little wind and the sun was beating down - our barn has no shelter or shade in the pastures. Dawn and Drift were somewhat sweaty, but poor Pie was absolutely dripping with sweat, panting and close to being seriously overheated.  I brought them in and cold hosed them and then scraped them off so the remaining water would be a thin layer that could evaporate from their skin and cool them further, and then put them in their stalls under their fans.  I gave everyone a scoop of electrolytes in their feed pans - Pie ate some out of my hand.  It took a lot of hosing to get Pie cool enough that the water didn't immediately heat right up again on his skin.  After I put him in his stall, I got some ice packs out of the freezer and held them on both sides of his neck on his jugular veins, and also rubbed him all over his neck and body with the ice packs - he let me do this despite the crinkling plastic of the ice pack containers (which he was initially worried about) so it must have felt good.

After I did the ice treatment, he felt good enough to start nibbling some hay, which was a good sign.  After I was done hosing Dawn and Drift, I took Pie out and hosed him some more as he was still a bit too warm.  Getting him cool enough that the water on his skin stayed cold didn't take as long that time.  After I scraped him off and put him back in his stall, I took his temperature and it was about 101F, which was fine considering how hot he'd been - he was much more comfortable at that point.  It's clear that Pie's just not a hot weather kind of guy, particularly if the humidity levels are high.

Tomorrow and Thursday are supposed to be even hotter with heat indices over 105F.  The horses will have to go out later and come in earlier.  Hoping for some relief from the heat soon . . .

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blasted Hot and Cryptorchid Tests

At 6 a.m. it's already 80 degrees F, relative humidity over 80% and a heat index of 87, and we're heading to a high in the mid 90s with a heat index over 105.  Since our pastures have not a shred of shade, that means horses are out at night and in during the day under their fans.  I've been taking my horses out about 9 p.m. and then going over around 5 a.m. to bring them in and feed them breakfast and then turn then back out again with some fresh fly spray for a few more hours of grazing.  Then I bring them in between 9 and 10 a.m.  This heat will be going on until at least the weekend.  Tomorrow's supposed to be a bit cooler, so I'm hoping to get a ride in on Pie tomorrow morning.

This morning the vet is coming to do some blood tests on Drift to once and for all determine if he's a cryptorchid or not.  As many of you probably already know, a cryptorchid is a male horse with either one or two testicles retained in the body.  These retained testicles produce testosterone, leading to stallion-like behaviors, but such horses are usually not fertile because of the temperatures inside the body being too high for viable sperm.  Apparently this condition does occur with some frequency in QHs, and it also tends to run in certain lines so there's probably a genetic component.  Here is a good article on the condition.

We're doing two separate hormone tests.  The first is two blood draws for testosterone.  The first one is for baseline testosterone - cryptorchids usually have a higher baseline testosterone than geldings although there's a wide range.  Then the vet administers some human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), waits a period of time and then does another blood draw for testosterone - if the horse has retained testicular tissue, the testosterone levels will rise whereas they will not go up if the horse is a true gelding.  This test has about a 95% accuracy.  Since the vet's doing blood draws anyway, we're also testing for conjugated estrogens, which are also higher in horses with testicular tissue - this test also has about a 95% accuracy.

I'm still inclined to think that he isn't a cryptorchid, but rather just a studly gelding, but the tests will give us better information for a fairly minimal cost.  He does exhibit a lot of stallion-like behaviors, which intensify when the mares are in heat.  He makes stud piles of manure to mark his territory on the fence lines near the mares, he herds the other geldings away from the mares, and he's obsessively interested in the mares - nickering, calling to them if they're nearby and screaming for them if they aren't.  He's also quite the alpha with the other geldings although he's by far the littlest horse in the herd.  His behavior with a newly introduced gelding can be quite aggressive.  But then once past the introduction stage, he's quite accepting of the other geldings if they're not near the mares - standing and grazing together with them and engaging in mutual grooming.  He's never shown much if any overtly sexual behavior even when the mares are in heat and I'm able to ride and handle him near mares, although it does take some care to keep his attention on me.  He's also not aggressive with people and isn't mouthy or nippy with people at all - this picture captures his basically very sweet and curious personality:


If he turns out to be a cryptorchid, we'll have the offending object(s) surgically removed, both to improve his behavior and also because cryptorchids are at higher risk for testicular cancer.  There is now a laparoscopic surgery for this which has a much shorter recovery time, and I expect one or both of the vet clinics within an hour or two of us will have this available.  If he's not a cryptorchid, then we'll just continue on with our training - I've been working with him as if he were a stallion - that's to say working with him just as I would any other horse and expecting the same from him as from any other horse.

I don't know which outcome I'd prefer - if he's a cryptorchid and we do the surgery, he will be even easier to work with and he's already a fine little horse - if he's not then we just keep on with our training and save the cost of the surgery . . .

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dawn and My Daughter

Dawn is actually my younger daughter's horse.  My daughter is home for a few days, and has visited Dawn and rode her yesterday.  They have a very close bond and have been together since Dawn was 5 and my daughter was 12, more than 9 years ago.  Our wonderful p.m. barn lady took a few pictures that show how close they are - they're very sweet together - my daughter said Dawn wouldn't let her groom and insisted on snuggling instead:



Five Weeks - Downs and Ups

It's five weeks since my accident, and while things are slowly improving, I'm not fully back to normal yet.  But my body takes care of itself - the day before yesterday I was very active, taking a long walk and having my first ride again on Pie.  Yesterday I was very tired and felt like a limp noodle and also had a headache, so rested most of the day.  Today I feel much better and have done some walking and managed another ride on Pie.  I'm expecting to continue to have these downs and ups for a while and don't worry too much about it - I do what I'm able to do and that's enough - there's no point in getting frustrated about it.

I think Pie's name should be changed to Saint Pie - there aren't too many 5 year old horses who would be so perfectly well-behaved after almost 5 weeks off.  Once again he stood completely still as I got on and didn't move a muscle until I asked him to walk off.  He halts and stands for as long as I want, anywhere I want.  He walks just as I ask him to and never picks up the pace unless asked. He's a very special horse and I'm lucky to have him, particularly right now.

We walked around for about 10 minutes, throwing in some halting and some backing, and lots of turns and figures.  I'm starting to work with him on his backing - he backs well and immediately, but he's not particularly soft and tends to put his head down almost between his knees - I expect this was how he was taught to back.  I'd like him to be a little more relaxed and soft about it - he tends to rush backwards - and to carry his head in a more natural position which will allow him to lift himself with his hindquarters rather than drag himself backwards on the forehand.  We're also starting to work on our softening at the walk as well - might as well take advantage of the walking we're doing!

We're supposed to have extremely hot weather for the next week - I'll be turning my horses out in the late evening and bringing them in the morning before it gets too hot so they can spend the day in their stalls under the fans.  And my rides will have to switch to early morning, as it's going to be too hot to ride any other time of day.  Here's a good post at Equine Ink on how hot is too hot to ride, depending on such factors as air temperature, relative humidity and wind speed - I've printed out a copy to put on the bulletin board at the barn for reference.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Day 34 - I Rode!

I've been waiting for this day - I've been anxious to get here but apprehensive as well.  I walked about 3 miles this morning, at a better pace than before and with fewer rest breaks - I'm still slow but improving.  Then this afternoon, I groomed (including picking feet) and saddled Pie and took him to the arena.  The footing in the arena is pretty bad - hard and packed - but we made do.  I led Pie around for a few minutes, and then got on.  Pie stood like a statue for me to mount - my leg strength isn't up to par but was enough for me to get on.  Then we did a bit of work at the walk, for about 10 minutes or so.  Good Pie!  We'll keep working at the walk until I feel up to trotting, and I'll start riding Drift and Dawn once I'm feeling stronger riding Pie.  In the meantime, Dawn can lunge and Drift and I can do some leading and possibly some clicker work.

Here are a few pictures my husband took.  Pie is ready to go - am I?


Some walk work - I didn't ask very much of either one of us:



Pie gives us the Pie face to let us know he isn't impressed:


I'm very grateful to have made it to this point and to have this milestone behind me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Whistling Up the Horses and Some Lungeing

Yesterday when I went to get the horses for the farrier, the gelding and mare herds were at the farthest ends of their pastures - almost 1/3 mile from the barn.  I went to the top of the hill in the mares' pasture and called Dawn's name and whistled until her head popped up.  Then she spun and was galloping towards me, bringing the mares, and then Drift and the gelding herd in their pasture, with her.  There's something exhilarating in calling a horse at that distance and having them leave grazing to come to you - it's magical.  Of course Dawn and the mares ran right by me and headed for the gate - I headed back there at a walk and met them there.

I gave all three horses a thorough grooming yesterday, although I didn't pick feet as the farrier had just been.  Dawn and I also managed a brief lungeing session - she's the size of a house and in need of work and it was my first work session, other than leading Pie on brief trail walks, since the accident.  Dawn and I did a bit of leading work and then some work at the walk, trot and halt on the lunge - she was very responsive to verbal commands.  At one point when going left she wanted to canter, so I used that to work on her "canter" command - and a lovely, round canter it was.  Otherwise we stuck to walk and trot - she's pretty out of shape and so am I - I don't stand still in the middle to lunge but rather move with the horse so I got some exercise too.  It was a delightful first work session and she seemed pretty pleased with herself, and I agreed.

This morning I managed the full 2.5 mile walk, still with some brief rest breaks, but I finished better than I started out so that felt good.  This afternoon I'm hoping for an in-hand trail walk with Pie, some more lungeing with Dawn and perhaps a bit of in-hand work with Drift if I have the energy.  Still working on leg strength and getting some muscles back in my left arm - hoof picking is still a challenge, but I'm getting closer . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Storm and a Farrier Visit

Yesterday we had a huge storm blow through at about 8 in the morning - the maximum wind gusts were 80 mph and the rain was sheeting down for about 20 minutes.  There are over 500,000 people in the area without power - we lost our power for almost 8 hours, and there are many still without power.  Many large trees and limbs came down - our area doesn't have that many large trees but areas that had older trees had big losses.

The horses were out during the storm and did fine - our pastures have no trees so no trees or limbs blowing around.  It's been very hot and very dry, so immediately after the storm, all the horses took turns rolling in the large mud puddles that had appeared - they were slathered with wet mud, which I expect helped with the flies as the temperatures climbed up into the 90sF again.  In the afternoon, I brought my three mud puppies in for a rinse off with cool water - even Pie and Drift are getting used to this and seemed to enjoy it a bit because of the heat.  My shoulder's a bit sore today because, as I was taking Drift out of the pasture gate, Scout decided he'd had enough of the flies and was heading to the barn, and forced his way between Drift and the gate post - it's a narrow gate - knocking Drift and me to one side - Scout is a good 6 inches taller and several hundred pounds heavier than Drift.  I was on the other side of Drift and was about to get squashed against the fence so kept my left hand pushing on Drift's neck to buy a little room.  I'm a little surprised Drift didn't kick Scout - Scout squeezed right against Drift's butt and side.  Scout headed off to the barn at a trot and Drift, despite the excitement, continued his good behavior as we led in.  Today when I took Drift out of the pasture, I was careful to firmly shoo Scout well away from the gate before taking Drift out.

Today was farrier day for my three - Dawn was reshod in front and Pie and Drift had trims.  Everyone, Drift included, was extremely well-behaved.  I'm very glad that all my horses are now good for the farrier - and my farrier's happy about that, too. All feet look in good condition.  Pie's up to 2 1/2 hours of grazing and continues to walk well, even over stones after his trim.  And I'm up to 2+ miles of walking, although I still have to stop and rest from time to time.  Getting closer . . .

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Four Weeks and Good Progress

Today is four weeks since my accident and I made a bit more progress today.  Early in the morning, I walked about one and one-half miles at a normal walking pace without too many stops, including walking up some small inclines.  I love being out in nature again - at one point on my walk near the small lake there was a bush that was just full of bluets - a type of damselfly - I didn't get close enough to identify any of the them as they are very small - mostly about one inch long - but it was delightful to see them. Then a bit later I groomed Pie and took him for a walk on the trail.  He was a bit alarmed by someone using a chain saw to cut up some tree branches, but settled down once he could spend some time watching.  We walked about one-half mile total I would guess.

Another first, although it wasn't one of my horse-related goals.  I had the energy and stamina to make lunch - just a stir-fry with brown rice, kohlrabi, broccoli, snap peas and some garlic and onions.  It's the first time I've cooked a real meal since the accident, and I was able to do the chopping and prep work as well as the cooking.  I really enjoy cooking and it's nice to be able to do that again.

In the afternoon I groomed Dawn and Drift and picked all three horses' hooves (!).  My shoulder did fine, although my neck and head weren't fond of the bent-over position required to pick feet.

So some progress towards my goals!  The long-suffering husband is planning to drag the arena either Sunday or Monday, and once it's dragged I plan to do a little lungeing with Dawn - another goal - and some leading and in-hand work with Drift.  And I'm going to continue to gradually increase my walking distance until I make it to my 2.5 mile goal - I think pretty soon I'm going to be back on a horse again!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Minimal White

Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by horses' face and leg markings.  At our barn right now, we've got an interesting set of markings, or rather lack of markings.  There are 8 horses, 4 mares and 4 geldings.  There are three bays - Dawn and Charisma are both red bays and Sugar is a seal bay.  There are three chestnuts - Drift, Pie and Fritz - they're all red, with Drift being the darkest, Pie fairly dark and Fritz the lightest.  Then there are the two buckskins - Scout and Misty.  That's not too odd a distribution of colors.

But it's the markings that I think are somewhat unusual, at least in their scarcity.  We have three horses with no white markings on either face or legs - Dawn, Charisma and Scout.  There are two additional horses with some white on their faces - a star in both cases - who have no white on their legs - Drift and Sugar - so 5 horses out of 8 with no white leg markings.

The three horses with white leg markings - Misty, Pie and Fritz - have only one leg with white and in all three cases it's the same leg - the left hind.  Fritz has the least white on his leg - just part of his pastern; Pie's white extends partially over his pastern joint and Misty's white extends a bit up onto her leg.  But that's all, only three legs with white out of 32 legs - I'd guess that's a pretty low percentage except in breeds that often have little white, like Standardbreds.  But all of our horses are either TBs (Dawn) or QHs or QH crosses except for Charisma who's a Morgan.

Even when it comes to face markings, we're pretty minimal - Drift, Fritz and Sugar all have stars and only Pie and Misty have white farther down their faces - Misty has a narrow blaze and Pie has a narrow stripe and also a big snip in addition to his star.

Sugar's star looks a bit like a heart to me:


Fritz's star is irregular:


Drift's star looks a bit like South America to me:


Misty's blaze is irregular but pretty:


Pie's star sometimes looks like a letter F up close, and his snip always fondly reminds me of Noble, who also had a big snip as well as a star and stripe:


Just part of the wonderful variety that's horses!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Mile!, Doctor Visit and Some More Goals

This morning I walked a whole mile, including some smallish hills - had to stop and rest from time to time but it felt pretty good.  I went to the shoulder doctor.  They took some more x-rays and everything looks like it's staying put pretty well and healing up - I'm always going to have one piece of my collarbone sticking up but it doesn't seem to be causing a problem so we're leaving it alone.  The doctor evaluated my mobility and said I'm doing really well for less than four weeks out, and now I'm supposed to work on extending my range of motion, using pain as a guide to when I'm doing a bit too much.  I asked the million dollar question - "when can I ride?"  He said that I know better than he does what my riding calls for in terms of shoulder and arm mobility and forces applied, and said I was the best judge of that (!!), but there's no reason I can't ride pretty soon (!!!), although the ribs are likely to continue to be some trouble pain-wise as I move more.

So I'm edging closer to being able to ride, which is very exciting!  I've managed to achieve one of my goals that I've set myself before riding - grooming all three horses.  I still need to be able to tack up, including tightening the girth, and need to be able to walk 2.5 miles comfortably and do some in-hand and lungeing work, using both hands, with Dawn (who's gotten amazingly fat in the short time she's been on vacation) and Drift.  I've also added the goal of picking all 12 horse feet, which requires using my left hand and arm - particularly for Pie, who's a "leaner" with his backs.  Getting closer every day . . .

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grooming Times Three, Pie Grazes and a New Helmet

This morning I drove to the tack store - it's about 40 minutes each way so the longest outing I've made since my accident.  I took in some rain sheets to be washed and rewaterproofed, and bought some Eqyss spray for Pie's odd fungus looking patches on his hips.  But the main purpose of my trip was to buy a new helmet - I can't ride yet but I'm beginning to get my hopes up.  I ended up getting a Troxel Spirit helmet in basic black - I liked it for its good ventilation.  To improve the fit, the tack store gave me some glue-on strips for the sides - the fit is now very good once I adjusted the straps.

Pie has started a bit of grazing again.  Our grass is pretty dried up now since we haven't had any rain in quite a while.  He had 20 minutes yesterday and 40 minutes today.  Yesterday I put Scout in with him, but when Scout went to say hi, Pie bucked and kicked out and went right back to grazing - I guess socializing takes a back seat to grazing right now.  I'm keeping an eye on the temperature in his feet and his digital pulses, but I'm expecting he'll be OK now.

And I managed a new milestone today - I light groomed all three horses, including brushing out their tails using Show Sheen.  I was pretty pleased by that!  I was also very pleased with Drift's behavior - we worked a bit on his leading when he came in from turnout and he quickly recovered his proper behavior.  When I put him on cross ties to groom, he was directly in front of Sugar's and Dawn's stall - they're both in heat.  Dawn was squealing and kicking and Sugar was nickering and peeing.  Drift nickered a couple of times, but stopped when I asked him to and stood perfectly still for his grooming.  I think he liked the attention - he hasn't had that much for a while.

Tomorrow I see the orthopedic doctor again.  My shoulder/collarbone is doing better, although there are still certain motions that are painful.  I'm walking about 1/2 mile in the mornings and hope to increase that.  The only issue I'm having is that the more I more normally, the more my upper back, neck, back of shoulder and ribs on the left side hurt - there was a lot of bruising there and things are pretty sore.  The fatigue is getting slowly better, but I still take a rest in the middle of the day.  For less than four weeks since my accident, I think things are going pretty well!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Story About Para Equestrian, and Some Goals

Katie at Equine Life has done a wonderful interview with a talented and determined para equestrian dressage rider - read her post here.  I am always humbled and awed when I read stories like this - they're very inspirational.

* * * * * *
I'm starting to improve enough, 24 days after my accident, that I can begin to, very tentatively, set some goals for myself.  My headaches are pretty much gone and are now mainly due to tension from the strained muscles in my shoulder, upper back and neck.  My shoulder is improving a bit every day - I can mostly go without the sling, can move a bit more freely although the motion is restricted/painful in certain directions and for a brief time yesterday I even forgot that the shoulder was injured.  The ribs still hurt a bit, but that's because I'm moving the rest of my body more freely and taking deeper breaths. Balance is back to normal.  Energy level is improving - I'm finally starting to be a bit restless and the deep fatigue is pretty much gone. I was able to walk for 1/2 mile yesterday and also did the 200 yards back and forth to the barn later in the day - I did have to stop from time to time to rest for a moment but could go much farther without stopping.  1/2 mile isn't much, but for someone who had trouble getting out of bed two weeks ago it's big progress.

So, onwards and upwards!  My goal is, of course, to ride again as soon as possible, if only at the walk.  There are some preliminary things that have to be in place, though, before I can do that.  My shoulder has to be in good enough shape that I can tack the horse myself, including lifting the saddle and tightening the girth, and use both reins effectively if need be - Pie does go on a loose rein and neck reins but I do need to be able to use both arms.  My leg strength and stamina have to be adequate to ride effectively at the walk, and mount and dismount, and ride through any unexpected moves - none of my horses are bombproof.

I've decided that, before I ride, I need to be able to groom all three horses in a single session and do some in-hand work and lunge line work with Dawn and Drift, as well as continuing to hand walk Pie on the trail.  I also need to be able to walk about 2.5 miles (once around my development) without significant fatigue.  That's pretty minimal fitness, but enough to get me back in the saddle at the walk.  So, I'm working on gradually increasing the walking, doing more strength exercises and moving/using my shoulder - I see the orthopedic doctor again this week and hope to get some exercises.  Every day gets me closer to my goal . . .

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Three Weeks

It's been three weeks since my accident, and although progress is very slow, it's there.  I've been having some post-concussion symptoms - primarily headache and fatigue - but those are starting to do better - apparently sometimes these things go on for months although I'm hoping for things to improve more quickly that that.  It was very hot today - up into the 90sF with the heat index, and my three spent some time in their stalls under the fans.  Before it got hot, I had another nice session sitting with Pie in his paddock.  Tonight is the closest town's fireworks, and I'll be spending some time at the barn in case the horses need some reassurance - Pie and Drift both come from rural areas and may not have ever experienced large fireworks and Dawn doesn't like them - I actually dislike the 4th of July holiday because of the official and unofficial fireworks that scare so many of the horses and also many dogs as well.