Saturday, May 31, 2014

Creeping Up . . . to 6 Minutes of Trotting

Red and I have been working diligently on his rehab plan.  We've ridden every single day for over three weeks, starting with walk work, then adding 5 minutes of trot, having to backtrack to two minutes of trot after a day of walk work, and then working our way up to 5 minutes of trot again, doing that for a week, then taking a day of walk work, and now adding a minute of trot two days in a row - 6 minutes of trotting!  That may not seem like a lot, but it's enormous. First we do 10 minutes of vigorous walk work.  Then we trot - Red starts out at the trot a bit stiff - the leg is usually still a bit stocked up - but after a few minutes he loosens up and the trot is wonderful.  We trot 2 1/2 minutes in each direction - in our tiny indoor, that's about 5 laps, take a walk break, then do 5 laps in the other direction, another walk break, and then one more minute of trotting - one lap in each direction with a change across the center.  Then 10 more minutes of walking.

After riding, I ice his leg for 20 minutes with the ice boot, which he now tolerates well.  After riding and icing, the leg looks significantly less swollen than it does during the day - I expect the circulation of fluids is a bit impaired from the surgery so things back up.

This week, we'll gradually creep up on 10 minutes of trot work.  Once we're there, we'll do a week of that.  If all goes well at that point, we can start to do more.  That should take us another two to three weeks.  Once we're there, we can think about introducing herd turnout - he's still in a pen with Pie as a "babysitter". Very slowly, one step at a time . . .

One thing I was remarking on while I groomed and rode Red was how completely balanced and symmetrical he is.  He stands absolutely square, and when riding his hind feet track up exactly over his fronts.  His body is loose and swinging - he practically sashays.  What an absolute delight he is to ride, even with our limited work program.

Pie's neck and shoulder have gotten extremely sore again, after being a bit better for a few days  - he was threatening to bite my head off when I went in his stall today.  I didn't groom - that would have hurt him - and didn't ride, but did some light massage, which he tolerated, except for his left shoulder, which he wouldn't let me touch - he made faces and started pawing as soon as I put a hand on his shoulder.  My vet/chiro is looking at him tomorrow - there may be some underlying problem.  He's sound, and his feet are fine.  We've ruled out Lyme, and the next thing to check is EPM - Pie has a history of atypical EPM symptoms.  Poor fellow, I'm sorry he hurts, and we'll see if we can put things right for him.

Dawn has a mild strain of her medial right hind suspensory ligament - so slight that there's no obvious swelling, but it is sensitive to palpation.  So our last several rides have been 20 minutes at the walk.  She has her dental surgery Wednesday, and we won't be riding for a while after that.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chattering Mind

It's seemed to me lately that one of the biggest things that gets in the way of effectively working with horses is what I'm calling "chattering mind" - the human mind and the way it tends to operate.

A step back - I try to do a session of meditation every morning - simple stuff, just paying attention to the breath and noting when the mind wanders or does something else.  I'm what you would call a "baby" meditator - I'm not very experienced at it and I can't do it for a long time - 20 minutes is about my limit.  But even in my beginning meditation practice, it's abundantly clear that my mind is a buzzing, churning, constantly darting around series of random thoughts and feelings, and that the result of this is that I'm only rarely "there" - in the present moment.  My mind is full of memories, and plans and thoughts and worries and . . . and . . . and . . .  One of the benefits of meditation practice is that it really exposes how cluttered and chaotic the human mind really is, if only we pay attention.

But one of the benefits of meditation practice is that it helps teach me that none of that "chattering mind" is evil, or negative, or to be rejected - it just is.  And paradoxically, acknowledging/noting what the mind is doing is the first step towards being able to not be caught up in it.

For me, "chattering mind" is a good summary of how we often are with our horses.  Our minds are full of: "will he spook at that?" . . . "what am I going to have for dinner?" . . . "the kids have an event tonight" . . . "my horse didn't pick up the canter when I asked him to" . . . "what is that kid doing with her horse over there?" . . . you name it, we think it, in a constantly churning stream of thoughts, memories, wishes, desires, worries, and guilt.

Is it any wonder our horses often struggle to be with us - or perhaps to even find us to be with?

And we think horses are easily distracted . . .

I believe horses don't have the same chattering mind that most humans do.  They don't plan, or calculate, or extrapolate, or scheme or plot.  They are almost entirely in the present - they do have memories and learned/repetitive behaviors (many of which are taught to them by humans - any behavior they show with a human is almost always one they have been taught, either intentionally or unintentionally).  They are intensely visual beings, and so are we, but they interpret their visual world from the perspective of a prey animal - any change or anything that is uncertain may be life-threatening.  They don't apply a rational mind to their perceptions in the way we do.

But they are very, very smart about being horses, and surviving as horses.  Their bodies are the physical expression of their thoughts and emotions, and there is rarely much if any gap in time between them forming a thought or experiencing an emotion and it showing up in their body.  Their reaction time is much faster than ours - it has to be if they are to survive - and they are much more in tune with their environment and each other - both physically and mentally (almost in a spooky way) than we often are.

I think, in order to work more effectively with horses, we need to be much more present - in our own bodies and in a sensory way with the world around us and the physical/mental contact we have with our horses.  Being in our minds, and in the chatter that consumes us, distances us from the horse and the mind of the horse.  I'm sure our horses often find us frustrating and overwhelming - like dealing with someone who's always chattering away, often about things that are past/future or unimportant - we're very noisy mentally unless we make a special effort to quiet our minds.

But if we can quiet our minds, if only for a moment, we'll find the mind of the horse there waiting to make a connection with us . . . and that's where the magic truly is.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Red Update at 6 Weeks after Surgery

It's been 6 weeks since Red had surgery to remove the lower half of his outer splint bone (displaced and fractured) on his left hind leg.  The first two weeks - bandaging and stall rest, neither of which he tolerated very well - were very difficult, but once he started hand walking and then got some pen turnout, his attitude improved greatly.  He'll still be in the pen for at least several more weeks, and is wistful for the pasture and his herd, but Pie is next to him and he seems fairly content with the current routine.

I get to the barn before 6:30 a.m. and turn Red and Pie out into their pens.  The other horses are already out.  I do the turnout myself, rather than having the barn guys do it, because Red is fairly up and requires careful handling - if there's a problem or accident I want it to be my problem or accident rather than one of the guys.  I also understand Red and can handle him quietly even if he's excited.  I also only live about 5 minutes away, so it's easy for me to get there.  Once Red is back to regular work and getting some herd turnout, the guys should be able to handle him without a problem.

In the afternoon, we ride.  I've ridden Red 19 times, starting when the vet cleared us to walk ride.   We've creeped our way up to 5 minutes of trotting, and we're now riding without sedation - he sometimes fusses a bit when we start trotting but settles well.  He sometimes starts out a bit stiff - the leg continues to stock up a bit - probably poor circulation after the surgery, as there's no heat or tenderness.  He also will likely have a permanent "bump" below the end of the reduced splint bone, and the incision is healing with a white hair line.  By the end of our 5 minutes of trotting, his trot is even, engaged and fluid - just wonderful.  I continue to ice for 20 minutes after riding (he now tolerates the ice boot - I guess it feels good), and to put on arnica gel.

I'm planning to give him a walk ride "day off" tomorrow, and then resume trot work on Friday.  If he's moving well, I'll increase the trot time by a minute or two for another week.  Slow and steady wins the race . . .

Sunday, May 25, 2014

First Ride on Red without Sedation

Today, five and one half weeks out from his surgery, Red and I had our 16th ride, and our third in a row of 5 minutes of pretty sound trot work.  And a milestone - today was the first day we rode with no sedation.  It helped that the ring was fairly quiet today, with only one other horse working.  Red was extremely well-behaved, although quite feisty - he offered to canter a couple of times, and shook his head once, but came right back to me when asked.  Once we can put together a string of 7 days of 5 minutes of sound trot work, then I can begin to slowly increase the time he's trotting, working up to 10 minutes of trot work for another consecutive 7 days.  Once we're at that point, things should progress more rapidly, and once he's in more full work he can start having more normal pasture turnout, but we're in no hurry.  I'm hoping by the end of June that things will pretty much be back to normal, but he'll tell me - Pie has to stay off the grass until then, so can continue to "babysit".  (And Red actually kept his ice boot on for more than 10 minutes before he started trying to kick it off - easier for me than kneeling on the stall floor using both hands to hold the ice on his leg . . .)  I'm also continuing to use arnica gel on his leg after I ride and ice.  The leg's looking pretty good, although somewhat consistently a little stocked up - this may be its permanent condition due to scarring and changes in circulation.  And the hair at the edges of the incision is growing in white, so we'll have another visual reminder of his surgery.

We're both just happy to be working again!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pie Gets Chiro - Desperately Needed - a Photo Essay

Pie has been increasingly grumpy and sore lately.  The sorest areas are the left side of his neck and his left shoulder - he objects strenuously (ear pinning, threatening to bite, head shaking, glares) to having those areas groomed except with the lightest of touch and softest of brushes.  And since he doesn't want to be groomed, he also doesn't want to come out of his stall to be groomed and tacked for riding.  Yesterday he came very close to biting me when I went to get him out of his stall - he didn't connect, and I made it very clear that biting was never acceptable and that I understood that he hurt.

He doesn't seem to object to saddling or being ridden, although I expect having to relax his top line may hurt as well, since he's been much fussier with his head lately than is normal.  So for the past several days, we've just done very light rides at a walk around the pastures, which he's seemed to enjoy.

Fortunately, my vet/chiropractor was coming to the barn today anyway, so we were able to book an appointment.  As I suspected, he desperately needed to be worked on.  Now a word about chiro - I used to be a skeptic until I saw how much the horses appreciated it and how much of a difference it made.  That said, there are good chiropractors and many not so good ones - anyone can call themselves a chiropractor - pay attention to recommendations, if possible use a chiropractor who is a member of the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (excellent training and every member is also a vet), and above all, pay attention to your horse's reactions - your horse, together with your own judgment, will tell you if the chiropractor is any good or not.

Pie desperately needed work - his entire neck, from poll to withers, particularly the left side, was a mass of knots and muscle spasms.  At points during the work, his entire left side, particularly his shoulder from the withers down to the elbow, was twitching and spasming.

My chiropractor is very insistent on listening to the horse and paying attention to their reactions as the work proceeds - she uses this as a guide.  And, once the horses learn that she will listen, they have lots to say.  She also usually allows the horse to freely move its body, both to show her where the horse thinks work is needed, and to be sure that the horse is comfortable with what she is doing.

Here are some photos, with minimal commentary from me, showing some of the work, and some of the interactions between Pie and the chiropractor.  Scroll through - I think you'll see some interesting things - pay particular attention to Pie's ears and eyes.  In all the photos where he's bending his neck around, this is his choice, not something the chiropractor is doing.

She started with areas on the edges of where he was most sore - in the middle of his neck on the left side.  She did a lot of work on his nuchal ligament area, starting with the poll - even his temples were tight, and working down his neck:






In this photo, you can actually see the huge amount of tension in the muscles of his neck:




He's a little worried here:




And even more worried here - this is one of the sorest areas:


But he was very grateful when things started to release and feel better - the lipping and licking were his way of saying thanks:








Now he wanted more pressure on the sore area:


Notice how much more relaxed his neck is than in the earlier photo:




He was uncomfortable here and told her about it:





More thanks: 





A little sore here:


Tail pull - she also did some work on his withers and his sacral area, but no photos of those:


Happy Pie with a neck that is much more relaxed:


Tonight I applied arnica gel to his neck on both sides - he was skeptical but once I started he was cheerful about it, and tomorrow we'll do carrot stretches within his comfort level, and he's getting today and tomorrow off from riding.  He'll have another chiro treatment on Monday - she didn't want to do so much that he got sore from the treatment.  It's likely that the soreness is a result of his series of spring vaccinations, many of which he got in the neck - the tissues got irritated and the numerous muscles could no longer slide against one another freely - hence the cramping - from now on we'll do all his vaccinations in the strap muscles along the back of his hindquarters.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Red!

Red is 13 today.  He's pretty proud of that - in fact he's pretty much proud of everything that relates to His Redness.  I like that about him - he's feisty, and proud, and full of himself, mischievous and a trouble-maker.  He'll also try very hard to do anything I ask and is without doubt one of the most responsive, sensitive and physically talented horses I've had the pleasure to ride - he's just amazing.  He's also very sweet and affectionate, which is pretty darn nice too.

So, on his birthday, here are some photos of His Excellent Redness.  Here he is last summer - you can see his naturally wavy, dark tail - that's Pie in front:


Here he is, in a bad cell phone photo, attempting to teach another horse to play "stick":


Beautiful, isn't he?:


This shows his curious personality:


And here are some photos of him in his paddock this morning - that's Pie in the background.  In the first photo, you can see that he's lost muscle as compared to the photos last summer:


But not too bad for a horse who's only starting back to work:


Watching me lead Dawn in from the pasture:


Happy birthday, Red!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

From the Inside . . . a Mark Rashid Post

It's interesting how much of horse riding, and training, often devolves into mechanics - do this with your leg/seat/hand and produce this result with the horse - but all of that is on the outside of the horse, and in our head.  Take a read of this post by Mark Rashid - puts a different light on things.  I'm nowhere near where Mark is with his horsemanship, but I can see glimmers  . . .

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Horses Have Staff . . . and Ice Massage

I turned Red (he says MY blog, all about ME - he's that sort of guy) out without sedation again this morning, and he was very well behaved - there were no aerial maneuvers and he just went about the business of eating hay.  He did try to say hi to the mare in the pen next door but she was having none of it . . .

Pie's Lyme test came back negative - nice to have that ruled out.  His crabbiness and muscle soreness probably warrants a chiro visit, and I'm keeping him on UGard paste for a while to keep ulcers at bay.

Dawn and I are continuing to have lovely early morning rides in the run up to her dental surgery on June 4 - after that she's going to have 4 to 6 weeks off since no riding with a bit is allowed and Dawn just isn't a bitless sort of girl - plenty of horses might be, but not Dawn.  She's getting some extra Ultium right now to add some calories and allow her to put on some weight before her surgery - she's far from fat but at least her ribs aren't as obvious.

Red and I have trotted three days in a row, and today he did a total of 5 minutes of trotting.  He was pretty chilled - I reduced his oral ace to 1 3/4 cc, which isn't much, but he was still rather groggy - tomorrow I'll reduce it more - I expect he won't need any sedation pretty soon.  It was pretty hot - about 85 degrees - and the leg was pretty swollen when we started, but he was sound.  Tomorrow, we'll take a break and just walk for 30 minutes and resume trot work the day after - no point in rushing things. Afterwards, I iced his leg for a while.

Now, a normal horse, you put the ice packs in the Ice Horse boot, and you put the boot on the leg, and you ice.  Not Red, no.  If you put an ice boot on, no matter how tightly, within minutes he will kick and kick and have it around his ankle - same thing applies with standing wraps, it just takes hours instead of minutes but he'll get it off, trust me.

Whoever said that dogs have masters and horses have staff got it about right.  I spent about 15 minutes kneeling in Red's stall with an ice pack in each hand, holding the packs on his leg.  I actually used the packs to massage his leg, rubbing and rolling them across the areas that were swollen or where there was lumpiness - not the incision itself.  He stood there very quietly, not eating, the whole time - he seemed to think this was a very good idea.  Ice massage . . . a new equine service . . .

I'm a big fan of disassembly, and taking things and making them work.  I take ice packs out of ice boots and use them in whatever way seems best.  I take the inserts out of Mattes pads and use them as shims, fanning and spreading them to get the best fit.  I combine Western and English tack, and I ride dressage using both a dressage and Western saddles (it helps that my Western saddles are designed to duplicate a proper balanced seat dressage position, which is not true of most Western saddles).  I use endurance reins with my Western headstalls.  You name it, I take it apart and recombine it.  Whatever works . . .

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Boring (and Therefore Very Good) Update

Today was pretty warm - mid 80s.  Dawn and I had a lovely ride in the morning, after I turned the boys out to their paddocks.  Today was the first day I didn't sedate Red before turnout.  He led well, and only jumped around in his paddock for a moment - some head shaking and one buck - before settling down to eat hay.  His leg was still oozing a bit from the scraping he gave it yesterday, so I cleaned it up with some saline spray, put on some more Nolvasan, and put some stripes of Swat next to the incision line.

Dawn and Pie both got cool water rinse offs in the afternoon.  Red and I had a very nice ride - there was another horse trotting and cantering in the arena while we were in there and he stayed pretty chilled - he'd had 2 cc of oral ace, but that's not very much.  Our instructions were that if he came out sound, we could do two minutes of trotting in each direction, after our 10 minute walk warm up and followed by another 10 minutes of walking.

Sound and happy - that's what I like.  When Red's sound, there's nothing better in the world than the feeling of riding him - he's uphill, and forward, and soft, soft, soft, and the power from behind - even in a horse who's out of shape - is amazing.  We happily did our 4 minutes of trotting - there was no head shaking or any other stuff.  As was the case yesterday, his leg was less swollen after our ride than before - a good sign. After our ride, he got his first bath of the season - he'd missed out on the earlier bath session that Dawn and Pie had due to his incision not being able to get wet.  After we were done, I cleaned the incision area with Vetericyn spray, wiped it down with a gauze pad, and put on more Nolvasan.

Keeping fingers crossed the soundness continues . . .

Monday, May 19, 2014

Two Minutes of (Sound) Trotting

I conferred by phone with my vet.  She agreed that taking Red back to walk work only for a few days had been a good idea.  She suggested that today, after our walk warm up, we do one minute of trot work in one direction, followed by one minute of trot work in the other direction, and then finish with more walk work.  If he comes back sound tomorrow, we can add one minute in each direction over the next several days and see how he does.

Today there was no one at the barn as I was getting ready to ride Red, so I had my husband come over and sit on the mounting block while we were riding - I often ride alone, but not when a horse is coming off stall and pen rest and has to be sedated for riding.  He also was able to time our trotting, which helped me with the time.

We did 10 minutes of walk warm up, followed by our two minutes of trotting, followed by 10 more minutes of walk work.  Red was great - there was no fussing, not even a head shake, and his trot was sound and felt very good.  Keeping fingers crossed for tomorrow.

I'd noticed when grooming that the lower end of his incision had the scab scraped off - perhaps from rolling - and was oozing a very small amount of blood from the surface.  After our ride, I sprayed it with saline spray to clean it, dabbed it with a sterile gauze pad and put on some nolvasan.  Then I applied more arnica gel to the leg, which looked less swollen after our ride than before - always a good sign.

Just another day in rehab - but a good one.  Oh, and I also rode Dawn and Pie today, and they were both very good - they say they've been neglected lately due to Red monopolizing the blog.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Red Update

I somehow managed to ride all three horses today - it was a wonderful thing indeed.

Red's leg doesn't look any worse today, either in the morning, afternoon or before my ride.  He continues to walk very well.  We had a really excellent walk ride this afternoon - he was very relaxed despite only having a small amount of ace.  I did lots of massage of the leg before and after my ride, and there was no heat or sensitivity to touch - in fact he seemed to really enjoy the massage.  After our ride, I also put on some more arnica gel.

It is likely that our brief trot work on Thursday, combined with the farrier manipulating his leg on Friday, broke up some scar tissue/adhesions - hence the soreness on Friday.

Red seems to have decided that life is now OK, or at least more OK than it was.  He's out almost full day in the pen next to Pie, and getting lots of attention.

During our ride, another rider put out a bunch of cones, and Red was very interested in them and insisted in working around them - we did circles, leg yields, serpentines, lots of fun stuff - he seemed happy about this.

And the time to give him medicine by mouth is down to a few seconds, with every time being better - I walk in the stall, hold out the tube, he walks up and puts his mouth on the tube, I dose the medicine, click/treat and we're done.  Sure beats the alternatives.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Rehab is Never a Straight Line . . .

Rehab from an injury, or in Red's case surgery, is never a straight line - it's often like one step forward, two steps back.  Yesterday, Red was completely and wonderfully sound for his 5 minutes of trot work.  Today, not so much.  His "offness" was very slight, almost not there - but there.  He was perfectly happy to trot, though, so it didn't seem to bother him much. Could it be the work from yesterday (stressing the leg)?  Could it be muscle soreness from not having worked for more than a month?  Could it be the farrier handling his leg this morning to give him his trim?  Who knows?

Anyhow, I called and left a message for my vet, saying that I was going to go back to doing only walk rides over the weekend and then see how his trot felt on Monday.  The fact that he was completely sound yesterday probably means that there is no underlying soft tissue injury to be concerned about.  It's likely that there are adhesions breaking up, and some soreness relating to that, as well as muscle soreness relating to coming back into work.  But taking it slowly isn't going to hurt things in the long run - his full recovery might be delayed a bit but that's OK with me.  I slathered on some Sore-No-More (mostly arnica, good for swelling/inflammation), and he appreciated the rubbing and massage.

One step forward, two steps back - that's rehab!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vet Visit - Things are Looking Up - We Trotted! and Pie Lyme Test

Red saw the vet this morning for his four-week check up after surgery.  She was very pleased with how his leg looked, and that his pen turnout and walk rides had been going well.  The remaining swelling should go down over time, although he may be left with some lumpiness at the surgery site.

So we're on to the next two-week stage of his rehab:
  • He can go out in the pen full day, with a little sedation before turnout.  I should be able to reduce and then eliminate the sedation soon.
  • No more restrictions on weather - he can get wet and mud isn't a problem in the pen either.
  • No more wrapping.  I can do some icing if I want.
  • Since the wound is fully healed, I can do some massage to help reduce the swelling and reduce any adhesions.
  • We can start trot work, starting with 5 minutes each ride and slowly working our way up over the next two weeks.  At the beginning, I'll use some sedation, but as work increases, I should be able to reduce and then eliminate the sedation.
  • At the end of two weeks, he can start herd turnout, starting with a limited time due to the grass and working our way up - I'll start hand grazing him soon in short intervals and increase the time until he's ready to go out.  He's never shown any sensitivity to grass either with his digestive system or feet.  On his first few turnouts with the herd, I'll sedate him slightly so he doesn't gallop around too much.
This is very good news.  And today, we trotted our 5 minutes - he was sound and willing, although even with sedation there was a bit of head snaking/shaking, but that was all - he was a very good boy.  I did a bit of icing afterwards - we'll see how the leg responds to the extra work.

Pie's spooky and worked-up behavior yesterday, together with his extreme crabbiness to touch and when being groomed, all over his body (not just his barrel would have made me think ulcers), got me thinking.  These are exactly the symptoms he showed when he had Lyme, and he's also been slightly footsore on and off although he's not on grass.  So, since the vet was there anyway, I had them pull blood for the Cornell Lyme test - we should have results in a week or so.  There have been a lot of ticks this spring already - apparently they survive very cold weather just fine.  If it is Lyme, it's easy to treat. Today when we rode he was still pretty keyed up, although we were helped by a fairly uncrowded arena and managed some decent work.

Pie has had sensitivity to grass each year, so the poor fellow may have to stay in pen only turnout through June - by July 1 the grass is generally a lot less rich.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Five Rides on Red, Vet Visit Tomorrow and Pie is Worked Up

Today was my fifth walking ride on Red, and the four-week anniversary of his surgery.  He's been doing very well - staying quiet in the pen for his turnout sessions and well-behaved for his walk rides in the afternoon, with minimal sedation.  Today was our fifth walk ride and if anything he was a bit on the sleepy side - I expect I can start reducing his sedation.

The leg still has some swelling, but there is no heat or tenderness, and he really likes me rubbing and massaging it.  Tomorrow morning the vet comes to evaluate how he is doing and his soundness to see what our next rehab steps will be.

An update on Red taking meds by mouth - now we're down to a few seconds - I hold the tube out to him, he opens his mouth and takes it in, I squirt the meds in, click and treat - no fuss, no muss.

Poor Pie has been stuck serving time as Red's babysitter, either in the stall or pen next to him.  Today, he'd had three days without riding and the lack of turnout time where he's able to run around was showing.  The ring was very crowded, with lots of children having lessons - and our ring is very small and was partly flooded from the very heavy rains we'd had a few days ago.  At one point poor Pie was startled by the sounds of a girl riding her horse into the sloppy area at the end of the ring behind him, and skittered sideways and forward as if the sound was going to kill him.

Pie and I ended up hanging around in the ring for over an hour before we could really ride - it's hard to work when kids are doing figure eight jumping patterns, taking the whole ring.  But the standing around allowed him to settle a bit, and when the kids (finally) left the ring, he was able to stretch his legs and did some nice trot and canter work.  Poor fella - it's hard on him being stuck as Red's companion, but considering the amount and depth of mud in our pastures, it's just as well he isn't out there right now.

We'll see what the vet has to say about Red tomorrow . . .

Monday, May 12, 2014

(Lack of) Learning on Ace, and Leg Crud

Red and I had our third ride post-surgery today - 30 more minutes of walking under saddle.  On our first ride, I gave him 2 1/2 cc of oral ace (less effective than injected ace), and he was very quiet, although responsive.  Yesterday, I gave him 2 cc of oral ace, and he was a bit keyed up and there was some bracing, although overall he was very good.  Today I gave him 2 1/2 cc again (our clicker work is really paying off and he is pretty easy to dose now).  The barn was very quiet and no one was there, so I had my husband stop by and stay for our ride.

Red was very quiet on the cross ties, but quite alert when I brought him into the arena - we had lots of cones and a few poles set up to keep us occupied.  I had my husband sit just outside the arena in one of the door openings.  Red saw him clearly as we got ready to ride.  After I got on, we went down to the other end of the arena, and when we came around towards the door where my husband was sitting, his head shot up, his eyes and ears locked on and he was extremely worried.  He thought hard about leaving, and we did a number of very fast small circles.  I called to my husband to stand up and got Red halted and got off.  I led him over to my husband and he was still alarmed but approached when I asked him to and sniffed my husband and his chair.  I had my husband move to sitting on the mounting block, and we had no further trouble and went on to have a very nice, relaxed ride.

It was very clear that, although Red had clearly registered my husband's presence, when we got to the end of the arena only a moment later, he had no retained memory of my husband being there.  I strongly suspect that this was an effect of the ace, which may affect the creation of memories, and hence learning.  His existing memories - how to do the various things I was asking him to do, including some lateral work, were perfectly intact. So all those folks at horse shows who school their horses on ace - don't expect your horse to be able to learn anything while sedated . . .

And, as a result of the heat and humidity and all the bandaging on his shaved leg - I've been polo wrapping Red's leg for his pen turnout to keep it from getting dirty and wet and to keep the flys off as I can't use fly spray on the leg - Red now has what I refer to as "leg crud" - scabby, scaly skin with flakes, and some rubbed places from the bandages - not scratches as it's not oozy or sore, but not nice either.  My standard remedy for stuff like this is an Eqyss Micro Tek shampoo bath - can't do that right now with Red as his leg can't get wet - or Listerine.  I just slather on Listerine - in Red's case, avoiding the incision - and it seems to work wonders for this sort of thing.  What remedies do you use for "leg crud"?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

First Ride Post-Surgery!

Today I rode Red for the first time since his surgery 24 days ago - it was more than a month since we'd ridden.  Our vet authorized ride walking once he was up to 30 minutes of hand walking in the afternoon, since even if he does have some soft tissue injury (which we hope he does not), the walk work would be good for that. I did give him some - not very much - ace by mouth - our clicker work is going extremely well, and although he doesn't like the medicine at all, he's willing to cooperate loose in the stall.  He'd had a nice 4 1/2 hours outside this morning in the pen.  I put a polo wrap on his leg so that when he rolled (which he of course did), the wet sand wouldn't get on the incision - it rained a lot yesterday and although there was no standing water or mud in the pen it was still plenty damp and the incision isn't supposed to get wet.

He couldn't have been better, and it was clear he was very happy to be back in work.  He's a horse who clearly cares about working and doing a good job - he's very conscientious.  I think the only difference the ace made was that when he would notice something, his reaction wasn't abrupt - he was more sedate about things. We did a little leading work before I got on, and then I mounted up.  He stood perfectly on a loose lead and then we did a half hour of work using cones and poles - lots of figures and turns.  When I halted, all I had to do to get a soft back was think about it - he was soft and very responsive and not at all dulled by the ace.  Every bit of his training was still consistently in there, and he's such a delight to ride - super responsive and moving very well.

He seemed delighted, and I certainly was.  We'll see how the leg responds to the work - he was carrying about an extra 200 lbs. with me and the saddle.  I'm hoping that we can repeat this every afternoon until the vet comes to reevaluate his leg on Thursday.

So happy, and I think Red is too.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Time to Get Serious - Clicker Training for Meds-by-Mouth

This morning, when, while I was attempting to give him his ace, Red whacked me hard on the side of my head with his (large, very heavy) head, I decided it was time to get serious about getting this fixed.

So I decided we would use clicker training to fix things.  I don't use clicker often, but have used it very successfully on a number of occasions, including with Red on hoof handling (when I got him he would not allow his feet to be picked, and would stamp, strike and kick) and with Dawn on approaching scary objects like garbage bags.  So I went out and bought some of these - the perfect treats to use for clicker as they're very small - so you can use lots and lots of them - good tasting but not too tasty, and have no added sugar.  They come in various flavors as well.

I only feed treats by hand when doing clicker, so it makes doing clicker and getting the treats something special.  (Note: it's important to teach the horse first to move out of your space when asked so you don't get mugged for treats - clicker is actually a great way to teach a nippy horse to keep its mouth to itself and step back for treats.)

Red's done clicker before so I thought he'd catch on quickly.  I reminded him about the click/treat connection by clicking my tongue - no need for a separate clicker device - and treating a couple of times.  We worked in the paddock, with him loose and wearing no halter.  I used a UGard tube - not as gross tasting as ace but still medicine.

The first click/treats were for him allowing me to touch him on the nose with the tube.  I did a number of repetitions with each step, but things progressed pretty quickly. He got a click/treat only if he waited for me to remove the tube - if he removed his face then no click. Then touch the side of his face with the tube, then hold the tube against his face, then touch the corner of his mouth with the tube, then stick the tube in his mouth, then stick the tube in his mouth and give him the medicine - jackpot of treats for that one.  At no point did I restrain his head or hold him in place.  I went through a pocketful of treats and it probably took 5 minutes from start to finish.  By the end, he was actually opening his mouth for the tube, before I even touched him with it.

One thing I like about clicker for things like this is it's a great way to get the timing of the release (the click) exactly right - then you can fumble for the treat as much as you want - the important thing is the timing of the click that the horse associates with the treat.  It's great for precision - the exact thing you want - and for duration - extending the time the horse does something.

Pie was watching closely from the adjacent pen and thought he should get some of those treats too.  So after Red and I were done, I did some clicker work with Pie on meds-by-mouth (Pie's actually not much trouble to dose, but it would be nice to be able to dose him when he's loose.)  Pie's never done clicker before, but he got the idea pretty quickly.  At one point I went too fast with things - moved on too quickly from one step to the next - and he started leaving, so I backtracked to an easier step and did more reinforcement before moving on to the next step.  I think this was largely because Pie is a newbie to clicker - Red's already got the idea of looking for the next thing I'll be asking for, so I can move from one step to the next very quickly, whereas Pie was still figuring that out and needed more reinforcement at each step.  I stopped with Pie at the point where I was touching the corner of his mouth with the tube.

Oh, and it's really hot today - in the 80s - and steamy, so I'm not going to do my first ride on Red today, because he's not adjusted to the heat, and my head still is sore from this morning.  Instead we'll be doing more meds-by-mouth training, using clicker again, before his hand walk . . .

Update: this afternoon, it took less than a minute to give him his ace by mouth - loose in the stall.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bath Time Coming, I Sedate My Hand, and Tomorrow We Ride!

I see baths in our future - I very rarely bath my horses to preserve the oils in their coats, but tomorrow it's supposed to be in the 80s (80s! who would think that was possible . . .), so Dawn and Pie will probably get their spring baths.  Red can't have a bath yet since his leg isn't supposed to get wet.  That means tails can be washed and show sheened and brushed out - for the first time since last fall.  (I don't brush out tails in the winter to preserve the hairs.)

Today when I was giving Red his ace before our (now 30-minute) hand walk in the afternoon, I did a much better job of getting ace on my hand than I did getting it into Red's mouth - fortunately it doesn't really absorb through the skin so I didn't end up sedated.  We've been working on our meds by mouth, and he's getting better, but we aren't back yet to where he was before - no surprise after all the meds he's had to get.

We did our 30 minutes of hand walking in the arena as well as up and down the barn aisle.  He was certainly not as sedated as he could have been and was wanting to pick up the pace, particularly when horses cantered by him in the indoor, although he was very good.  We also took the occasion to do some more wash stall training, and after one try with some hesitation, he walked right in several times - good Red!

Tomorrow I'm able to start walking him under saddle - I'll use a bit more ace this time - and be sure to get it in his mouth instead of on my hand or up my sleeve . . .  Tomorrow we ride!

Monday, May 5, 2014

So Far, So Good - Red Update

Since Red got out of his tight, big, surgical compression bandage on day 14 after his surgery, his recovery has been coming along well.  It's now day 19, and the leg looks a bit better every day.  He's up to 3 1/2 hours of morning turnout in a small pen next to Pie, and we're hand walking 20 minutes in the afternoon.  Tomorrow he should get 4 hours of turnout, and if all continues to go well, we'll move up to 30 minutes of hand walking on Thursday - and if we want, that can also be done ridden.  I'm looking forward to that, and I don't think Red will mind either.

He's on no meds now except for some ace before turnout and before his hand walk, and some DMSO on the swelling in front of and behind the incision.  I've been able to reduce the amount of ace a bit each day, and I expect we may not need any pretty soon.  He's been very good in the pen - he walks around quite a bit but there's been no trotting or cantering, which is good.  Having Pie there keeps him calm, and due to the location of the pen he can only interact with Pie over the fence, which keeps him quiet.  Being in the pen has made him much more settled mentally. His hand walks are better each day - he's been very well-behaved and enjoys getting out, and we do figures, using cones and poles, to keep us entertained.  We also walk up and down the barn aisles so he can sniff noses with his herd mates.

Here's how the leg looks today:


The mark from the kick impact that we think resulted in the splint bone fracture way below is the "ding" several inches above and slightly to the right of the incision line.

Here's a close-up of the incision - the top and bottom sutures were cut but the rest of the sutures are being left to dissolve - I'm no expert but the suturing of the incision looks very well done to me:


There's still some residual swelling, but it's a lot less than it was even a few days ago:



For less than three weeks out from the surgery, it's looking very good, and Red continues to be comfortable moving and completely sound at the walk.  I'm unable to keep a standing wrap on him, or to ice his leg using a boot, as he kicks off anything applied to his leg as quickly as he can.  So I ice by hand, and leave his standing wrap on for only a few hours at a time - Red continues to have opinions . . .

We've stopped the Reserpine, as it was giving him looser manure with each dose - he had diarrhea with the last dose.  The ace seems to be doing the trick anyway.  I have started him back on a herbal mix - chaste tree for his tendency to be a bit aggressive with other horses, and vervain, chamomile and passion flower for calming.  My vet is on board with those, and says they won't interact with the Reserpine still in his system or the ace.

The vet will be back at the four week mark to take a good look at how things are healing and to evaluate his soundness.  So far, so good . . .

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mark Rashid Post on Respect

Here's Mark's latest blog post - A Matter of Respect - about the whole respect/disrespect approach to horses that is so rampant in the horse world.  I think you'll find Mark's perspective interesting.