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January 17, 2021

Belly-cosity: Dealing With Troubled Tummies

About a week ago, I went out around 11 pm to give the guys their "midnight snack," a winter routine where I take them warm soaked alfalfa pellets to provide some comfort food when there isn't much grass to nibble on overnight.  As per usual, Solo met me in the shed with a nicker, well-knowing what it means when I come out the back door in the dark, & I waited for Echo to wander in, as he is generally off amusing himself in a farther corner.
 
He was slower than usual & when he did step into the light of the shed, I noticed that his general attitude was a bit off.  He didn't come all the way up to the front of his spot & he stood with his head down, pawing at the floor, which was also unusual - I watched him more closely.  As Solo dug in to his mush with relish, Echo stated he had no interest in his treat.  Then I noticed he was panting beneath his sheet & I was fairly certain of my answer at that point:  he was feeling colicky.
Some random pics of when he's feeling better
My Colic Protocol
 
The first thing I do in response to any equine condition aberration is run through a quick timeline of (a) when things changed and (b) what the possible variables are.  In this case:
  • Echo had cleaned up his entire dinner at a normal rate about six hours earlier, appearing bright-eyed & bushy-tailed at that time.
  • He had not yet finished his hay in his net from dinner.  This isn't necessarily unusual by itself, but he had left a bit more than I would expect.
  • I had seen him take several good drinks with dinner & he is generally an enthusiastic drinker, so I didn't yet fear dehydration.
  • After putting him on x-ties, I walked his paddock with a flashlight & found some pretty fresh poo that looked normal.  Returning to shed, I saw he had also pooped in x-ties & that looked normal, so I didn't have immediate impaction concerns.
I took his temperature to confirm it was normal.  In a rare lapse, I didn't have my phone on me to time things (I like to keep it on me primarily for equine response needs), so I couldn't take a true pulse, but I was familiar enough with his baseline that I could tell it wasn't terrible, maybe just a tiny bit elevated. 
 
Normally, at this point, I call the vet to have him on the radar.  Here, I made an exceedingly rare exception, based on my past experience & knowing the horse.  I have a very long-standing relationship with Dr. Bob, so I was 100% (another exceedingly rare thing for scientist me, heh) certain of what he would tell me to do.  Presented with a horse showing obvious signs of intestinal discomfort -- poor Echo looked EXACTLY like I feel when I have eaten something that has gone horribly wrong -- with no other signs of infection, with poop functioning normally, not dehydrated, not sweating, not rolling around, he would tell me to give bute to ease the belly cramps & monitor.
So I had our phone call in my head as I made up a syringe of bute.  I've learned you can't get a horse who doesn't want food to eat it, so I put the powdered bute in a dosing syringe, mix it with water, & squirt it in their mouth.  You could also use applesauce to make the horse happier, I just didn't have any. 
 
At that point, it was time to just wait, there was nothing else to be done.  The least stressful thing I could do for him was leave him be in the quiet night, where he could hang out with Solo & let the painkillers do their thing.
 
Waiting
 
It's always a long stretch, staring at your bedroom ceiling, turning things over in your head while your brain imagines all kinds of nightmarish scenarios.  All I could do was just repeat to brain that we covered all the bases & patience was the only option.  I did send an email to vet, so they would see it first thing in the morning -- because of course this was a Thursday night before an ice storm, so if I did need any kind of service the next day, I wanted them to have the info.
 
As soon as it was light out, I went back out to check on Echo & found that logical brain was validated & emotional brain was once again vanquished -- Baby Monster was back to his normal, obnoxious self, clamoring for breakfast by chewing on anything that I didn't want him to chew on.  To be safe, I gave him only a reduced ration, made into soup with lots of water.  I kept an eye on him through the day, but he was fine, the passing cramps having thankfully gone away.
I'm not sure what triggered this incident; there was a big weather change, but both horses are generally pretty stable digestively with that sort of thing.  I did use a different cut of hay, I'd gotten a few bales to fill a gap while waiting for a new delivery, & while it didn't bother Solo, it's certainly possible that something irritated the more sensitive Echo.  But it's hard to say.   

Being Ready
 
It's pretty inevitable for any horse to have some colicky episodes; even Solo, my Iron Horse, has had a crampy instance or two.  Many of these will be relatively mild, but as we know, they can go unpredictably awry for innumerable reasons & this can happen with even the very best of care.  While there are never any guarantees, because horses, you can try to stack the deck for yourself by:
  • Learn your horse's routine -- how does he approach his food, what is his energy level, what is his normal expression?  This can help you catch things early, although I recognize that it's trickier if you are boarding, but you can still build a good staff relationship to help monitor these things.  
  • Familiarize yourself with his baseline vitals:  temp, pulse, respiration rate.  Learn the normal colour of his gums, his normal capillary refill time, & his normal water intake.
  • Talk with your vet in a non-stressful time to outline an appropriate general response plan that's right for you.  This is the time to ask questions about when your vet would like you to call them, data they would like you to have ready when you do call, supplies you should have on hand, & any other steps they would like to you to take.
Normal equine values from Horse Side Vet Guide

Hopefully, you won't have to use this plan, but if you do, I've found it improves my ability to mentally & emotionally manage the situation if I have a checklist & some sort of decision tree thought out beforehand.  Are there any other tips you would add?

December 24, 2020

To Build A Fire

Since there seems to be a widespread desire for projects one can do at home, I thought I'd share a recent one of mine.  Perhaps not directly horse-related, but I can enjoy it while looking at my horses so I say that counts.

I have some things on the farm that can use burning:  fallen branches, old rotten pallets.  A co-worker recently inspired me when she told me she'd built a fire pit in her backyard & I thought, "Well, that would make said burning much more enjoyable!"  So here is my step-by-step guide to create your own safe, easy, cheap fire pit & enjoy the crackling warmth of a cozy-marshmallow roast at home.

My pit o' fire holding
SAFETY FIRST (duh, y'all know me):  choose your spot carefully!  Check your local rules for your property, which may have specific guidelines for outdoor fires.  If there aren't any, you should be at least 25' from any structures & do not place your fire underneath trees.  Get to know your prevailing wind patterns, if you don't already & think about where sparks may be carried (this also will inform where you want to sit).  I used to be a wildland firefighter, so I spent a couple of weeks evaluating different spots on the farm & thinking about fire & wind behaviour.

Working a prescribed burn on a federal wildlife refuge
I perused the interwebz for design & materials ideas & decided to go with simple hardware store pavers, some of which I already had.  I used 12" square flat blocks for the base & textured retaining wall blocks for the sides.

I very cleverly decided to employ tractor bucket to carry the blocks for me so I didn't have to make a bunch of trips (it's been raining a lot & I didn't really want to make ruts driving the truck all over).  

Reason #457 longbed truck is awesome
And then once I got all the blocks unloaded in my desired spot, naturally, I promptly changed my mind about where I wanted it.  But I didn't feel like getting tractor back out, so I just carried them all by hand anyway.  Net effort saved = 0.  Because this is how I roll.  Apparently.

I weedeated the grass down as short as possible.  I did not want the ground to be level, so it would drain, so I did minimal raking.  Then I set the 12" pavers for the base in the center.  I left a small gap between these pavers for sand, which will help prevent them from shifting & provide a barrier between fire & ground.  I ended up changing the arrangement after the initial picture to make them fit inside the circle.

The most thrilling photo ever
Next, the retaining blocks went in a circle for the walls.  Plan on plenty of fiddling in this step.  My ring is approximately 36" wide.  I just set the blocks on top of each other, with the 2nd layer set slightly to the inside because they have a lip on them.  I did not use any mortar or anything because that would cost more money & take longer.  It's not like concrete blocks are going to blow away.  I filled in the gaps around the edges with rocks that I collect in my pastures & pile around fenceposts for later use.
Other people cut square pavers to fill the gaps, I felt that was too much work

Final step:  add a bag of paver sand.  I dumped the whole bag in there & started with my hands, rubbing it back & forth over the seams to push it into the gaps.  I followed up with a broom, sweeping back & forth again to allow the fine silica sand to pack in & then pushed the rest to the edges.

All done!
And that's it!  In another "of course, because it's a Me project" feature, I ran out of wall pavers, so I have a, uh, "handicap accessible" gap in case I have any visitors less than 8" tall.  I originally was going to pick up another block at the store to fill this, but for now, I am finding this is kind of a useful spot to lean over & start/tend to fire, making it a little easier on my arthritic back.

So far, I have made two smokey fires, because everything is saturated & it's raining again today.  But it worked REALLY well & provides nice peace of mind that everything is contained by blocks.  After a fire, I do spread out the coals on the base before I go in the house so it will cool faster (doesn't take so long in Dec) & I go back & check them when I give the horses their late night snack.

Delicious & delightful
The whole thing took me maybe 2 hours and was less than $70.  Since I have to burn some things anyway, having this safe spot to do it is definitely worth that & then some & now I also have a nice activity to enjoy, say, while I watch The Great Planetary Conjunction (which was pretty neat)!

November 30, 2020

Rehab With A "Porpoise"

In this case, the porpoise defeated the purpose.  

I've been sticking to very light work with Echo as his feets continue to heal, alternating between longeing & walk rides; we're not working every day.  Saturday morning was lovely & he was looking pretty comfy in his paddock, so I decided to ride & add a little trot to the mix.  Thursday & Friday had been drizzly & overcast, so the ground was soft, making things easier.

It went like this:

Me:  Ok, Echo, starting at walk, let's make sure we still remember how to go & turn & stop nicely & in balance.

Echo:  Gots it, no problem!
 
Me:  Good boy!!  How about leg yields & bending & moving shoulders & HQ separately?
 
Echo:  Simple basics, let me show you how easy they are!
 
Me:  Excellent job!!! I don't really feel any limping either.  Let's see how a little trot feels, it doesn't have to be anything big.
 
Echo:  WHOOOOOO-YEAAAAAAH, I'M SO OVER WALKING, HOW 'BOUT LET'S GALLOP!  OR LEAP AROUND!?? OR BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!!  I'M  HEALED, BRING THE NOISSSEE!!!  
   
Me:  A little less would be fine...

Oh look, I did get it on camera...
I tried to convince the Baby Monster that bucking like a porpoise was not what the vet had in mind & would no doubt be regretted by the end of the day, but kids never listen.

Lest you are wide-eyed at the thought of having to hang on to an exuberant 6 yr old bronco, I can assure you that Echo's own impression of his wildness far exceeds reality.  One of the great things about this horse is that he doesn't have it in him to really be naughty, so while you sit on top of the smoothest mini-bucks I've ever felt, you just...giggle.  
 
Then you say, ok, STOP.  And he stops & goes back to walking on a loose rein.    Reason #4,957 why a good, safe brain is my top priority in a horse!

Naturally, afterwards, he ripped off one of his front shoes (at least not the broken foot), because Echo...
He just couldn't wait THREE DAYS for farrier appt

November 21, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part II - Finding My Seat

Next came Hunter -- in his late teens (I think?), this rangy 17 h TB sets a new bar for quirky.  I don't have a picture of him right now, but just picture a tall dark bay with solid bone, no white, & a truly noble face.  He ended up giving me something very valuable.  First, some background...
  
Hunter is another of TN's personal horses.  Most of her horses, Rocky being the exception, come to her because everyone else has given up on them.  They have been labeled "unrideable" or are rife with physical issues.  TN truly has a gift for these horses, no small part of which is her seemingly endless patience (seriously, I am in awe of this woman's capacity for calm).

I only know bits & pieces of Hunter's story:  he did event, has done some dressage.  He's a sensitive horse, particularly emotionally.  He has definitely had some rough patches in his life.  As a result, he had become volatile, which is understandable as I got to know how particular he is.  So he carries baggage, which I certainly don't begrudge due to my own familiarity with the concept.  You can't put the reins over his head from the front, you probably can't catch him if he doesn't know you, you can't carry a whip around him, & if another horse canters up behind him in the ring, he might tuck his butt & scoot.  And as we recently learned, a brand-new, stiff saddle pad is akin to torture & he will be unable to trot & will carry his back somewhere around his navel.

Hunter is Special.

Despite this, he has a deeply kind & patient nature.  He likes to be ridden a very specific way, but as long as you don't get aggressive, he will wait for you to figure your shit out.  Even if you are a slow monkey like me.  Thanks to TN's years of work with him, generally the worst he'll do is give a kick out if he thinks you have used too much spur or asked something unfairly, which I have no problem with.  When you do finally sort it out though, he'll give you a nice, respectful contact & a delightful canter.
Some days I feel like this...
As I mentioned, I was looking forward to the opportunity to work on my seat.  It's workmanlike, I think, but I know there's a lot of room for improvement.  It's something that is difficult for me, in large part because I have facet joint arthritis from about L13-S1, so things stay a little stiff, lopsided, & creaky in my lower back/pelvis region.  I never could convince the PT to take up residence in my spare room, sigh.
 
To get to the point of a story which is in danger of rambling out of control, Hunter showed me how to really sit the canter.  Of course, I have long been able to sit ON a canter, but I never felt like I really mastered that supple, following seat which just flows with the saddle inseparably.  It really frustrated me for years because I just couldn't put my finger on why I was failing at this.  I knew it was one of those things that you have to feel to understand, but I didn't know how to stumble into that feel.
 
Enter the gift that Hunter held.  TN was talking me through our initial ride as I learned what he liked & what he didn't.  One of TN's other strengths is a fine-scale eye for body alignment & feel.  She had me put Hunter on some 10-15 m canter circles, where he found his cadence & gave me a soft, receptive back to sit on so I could focus on following his motion with my inside hip.  And "suddenly," there it was -- my hips were part of his back, with no intermittent gap between ass & saddle, with the two of us completely, finally, moving as one.
 
I put "suddenly" in quotes, because as I'm sure many of you know, that was actually really hard work.  I've had to learn what I call "Hunter Time," which means "Super Slow & Patient" because Hunter does nothing in a hurry & gives nothing away for free.  Of course, me being me, I yelled out, "OMG! THIS is what sitting the canter is supposed to feel like!!  This is what I've been looking for for YEARS!!!"  I figure TN can at least have some free entertainment while she's on crutches.    
On that day, it felt like this
I've kept working on this in subsequent Hunter rides whenever he is cooperative (he doesn't always agree that anything which might outpace a snail is necessary nor should he indulge your tiresome human whim to continue at the canter).  And I've found that I'm able to carry that feeling, that seat, to other horses now.  It's not perfect, but a HUUUUGE leap forward for me & I'm really excited about it.  
 
At present, I can't break it down into words & I don't have any magic analogies for you, I'm really sorry about that.  I will keep thinking on it & if I come up with something, it's yours!  But I can say this:  when you have the opportunity, ride different horses.  You never know what gifts they may give you.

To be continued...

November 17, 2020

The Meanwhile Rides: Part I

I think we can all agree that there is never a good time for your horse to hurt himself.  However, throughout the course of Echo's travail, there have definitely been some aspects of timing serendipity.

Normally, spring/summer/fall means lots of work travel for me, chasing wildlife across 1/3 of the state.  Which would have exponentially ratcheted up the stress of having to care for him off-property (yes, next-door, but still another place I needed to be).  But the pandemic meant drastically less field work due to logistical difficulties & virtually no overnight travel.

It also turned out that Echo wasn't the only one who needed me around.  In one of those in-a-flash mishaps that horses excel at, Trainer Neighbour (TN) broke her leg.  Luckily, it didn't require a cast, just six weeks of crutches, but that really puts a kink in your ability to feed a boarding facility -- & ride your training & personal horses.  I finally got a chance to feel like a Really Useful Neighbour: not only can I give a horse a schooling ride without constant supervision, I can schlep feed buckets around with the best of them & thanks to Echo, I was there every night anyway.

I actually started picking up the occasional ride before TN got hurt.  She had a full schedule & needed some help keeping her lesson horse in shape & I needed to not lose all my riding muscles to sadness & atrophy.  The bonus for me was that said lesson horse was Rocky:  the kind of horse who makes it impossible not to smile.

Only Rocky pic I have - during which he took a nap
Rocky is a 26 yr.  old Quarter Horse & reminds me in some ways of Solo

  • He has a long back & a big spring in his trot.  
  • When you ask him to canter, you can feel him go "yippeee!"
  • He will attempt to convince you that his butt is only there to hold his tail on.
  • Nothing makes him happier than a jump (or something he can pretend is a jump...like a puddle)

And just like Solo, he is a kind chestnut with a big heart who will never stop trying for you.  He has a sweet, pocket-pony personality & he makes the most adorable treat face you ever saw.  Yes, he is a priceless gem.

You might have read "old QH who is the primary lesson horse" & thought, oh, that sounds like a dull ride.  You would be completely wrong.

Rocky makes you smile just by being precious when you are near him, but once you start riding, that smile becomes a grin.  Because he is wonderfully responsive to light aids & can give you as much forward as you may desire.  And since he is 26 & honest, you have the option of letting him do his thing so you can work on yourself.

This allowed me to do things like spending an entire ride focusing on riding turns & bends off my outside aids.  Or making tweaks to my position or balance without having to remind the horse to keep going.  Or experiment with different corrections to see which gave a better result.

Bc riding Baby Monsters sometimes doesn't include perfect equitation, lol
It also allowed me try different exercises to tune up areas where Rocky tends to get sloppy, like falling out of the canter into a racing pile of forehand or snatching at the bit when asking for halt.  Playing with my toolbox & finding new pieces to add.

And of course, this was all re-tuning me, rebuilding lost muscle, & with his trot suspension, kick-starting my core re-development.  Which prepared me for the horse we added next -- a horse who actually cares what you do with your seat & just might buck you off if you don't listen, a prospect which both interested me & dismayed me, because seat finesse is what I have the LEAST of.  Similar to Solo's belief about his butt, I feel that my HQ only exist to hold my legs on.

How it went comes next...