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We Are Flying Solo

August 31, 2011

Remembering To Be Lucky

It is hard not to let the heartbreak take over.  Solo does not feel good, despite my plea with him to make the hock injections magically fix everything, despite what logic says. 

I almost cried riding him tonight; I have finally gotten him where I want him. He is trained. As long as I stay in a long frame, he can do a lovely, round 20 m circle with consistent bend on a steady, round contact. Down the long side, he steps easily into shoulder-in which we can then shift immediately into a strong leg yield. Back to a cadenced sitting trot on the short side, then springing out into a bright extended trot, flipping his front feet out (extended gaits are his favourite).

His canter is balanced & he can stretch down & still hold a metronome of a rhythm. I can create & change strides to a jump or pole, jump at angles, & make balanced, focused turns.

And the second I try to shorten his neck & really engage his back, I can feel him go, "Sorry, mom, but that part is very sore." No more A game.

But I am still lucky.

I am lucky that I can walk into the barn & wrap my arms around his muscular orange neck, inhaling that beautiful scent that is his alone.

I am lucky that I can lean against his shoulder while he rests his nose on my thigh & I can feel the energy, the bond between us in that quiet moment.

I am lucky that I can still ride him, albeit lightly, but we can still explore some trails & we can still canter through the last, most beautiful day of August.

I am lucky that we can still hop over a few jumps; they are small, but they still make Solo's ears prick & lock on as he gets taller and brighter with happiness.

I am lucky that I have a great circle of supportive people in my little horse world, especially a fantastic mom who is always a million percent supportive whenever we need help, no matter what.

I am lucky that I ever met Solo & all his untapped energy & heart which were just waiting for someone to open the door.

I am lucky that we will get a tomorrow, even though it may not be the one I expected or planned or wanted. It will still be another day to cherish the inexplicable, indescribable relationship which has changed my life & has come to define what my center really is.

That, my friends, is lucky indeed.

August 27, 2011

Soggy And Somnolent

It's a rainy day as Irene hugs the NC coast on her way north. Good for over-thinking, exaggerating, despondency, rallying, napping, and compulsive eating.

I want to say thank you to all of you who took the time to say a kind word. To say it is meaningful is cliche, but no less true. My job exists because of the crimes all people commit in the name of selfishness, greed and laziness, so human kindness always catches me by surprise.

Solo will do what Solo will do, as always. Anyone who knows me knows that I will move heaven and earth for him. I would sell everything I had (all $14 worth!) if it would make him better (it won't) and I certainly will never give up on him. He has given me immeasurable gifts, awed me with his heart, and taught me a lifetime's worth of wry wisdom. Special, unique, they don't do him justice, and I have known a lot of horses. So, hell or high water (hmmm, both in existence today!), I will see him through and we will not be lessened or defeated or cowed in the face of it.

With that battle cry out of the way...

Having spent the last, long several days chasing fish in the rocky shallows of a piedmont river, I have not yet had a chance to visit the farm and check on things. I am sure Solo has been happily partaking in his daily pond swims, where, submerged up to his eyeballs, he has perfected his hippo impression.

Meanwhile, my front yard is perfecting its riverine impression and I think I hear some chocolate calling my name. Stay safe, stay dry, and give all the ponies a hug.

August 25, 2011

In Which Dr. Bob Breaks My Heart

Someone once said to me, "Treasure every ride, every run, because you never know when it might be your last one."

And I always have, because if I have learned one thing about horses and about eventing, it is that the sucker punch is inevitable.

I took Solo in to Dr. Bob on Tuesday for his fall hock injections, but I also wanted his back investigated some more. He has been doing relatively well until about two weeks ago, when suddenly the soreness escalated to the point where on some days, he wouldn't let me pick up one of his hind legs. Concerned, I was.

Dr. Bob poked, Solo protested. Dr. Bob said, "Hmmmmm...." and stared thoughtfully. My blood pressure turns into a geyser when Dr. Bob is stumped. Dr. Bob is never stumped.

He proffered several possibilities, each of which was tough to diagnose. He talked about xrays where they hang the horse by his back feet from the ceiling after cashing your $2000 check. I heard the words "ossification," "restriction of vertebral movement," and "then he could only jump crossrails." I think my brain shut down at about that point. :Please stop telling me about impossible things," I begged. I am sure he could read the yawning chasm in my soul quite plainly on my face.

This is the best I can gather - best case scenario, since I have worked out most of the knots in the injured muscle, the whole hip area is very loose and the muscle has to rebuild itself and will do so. However, in the worst case scenario, the body will attempt to stabilize that area by laying down bone around the vertebrae, at which point mobility goes away. Which means Solo's career would be over.

All I can think is that had I simply listened to my gut reaction and scratched that Sunday morning in Virginia, none of this would be on the table. One small wrong decision can bring that house of cards crumbling down around your ears when you least expect it.

For most people in this sport, they could simply pick up a prospect and let the healing take its time. I can't seem to figure out a way to make the money magically happen though, so I am just as stuck as Solo is, everything on hold while his body decides what to do. That event in October I've been looking forward to all year? Probably not going to happen. Fall season? Not looking good. Spring season? Oh, if there are any universal powers out there, please let good things happen.

August 23, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt II

Disclaimer Again: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

He leapt and spun and dug in to a scrambling gallop. I called him a not very nice name that started with a b-a-s and ended with a t-a-r-d, but otherwise, remained impassive, holding the end of the lead and letting him tear around his melodramatic circle. When he began to slow, I lifted the end of the whip slightly and asked him to continue, which propelled him into a new frenzy of drama.

When I was ready, I asked him to stop, an opportunity, he gladly seized, licking his lips and begging forgiveness. I patted his head and we turned to the trailer again. He assumed his position on the ramp again. I prepared to ask him for another step again. I was presented with a view of his front ankles again.

So he found himself on the circle after he was done twisting and bucking away.

"You're doing this to yourself, you know," I informed him as he scrambled madly around me. I was not chasing him with whip or rope. I kept my body quiet and still, simply following his circle. He knew what I wanted. He simply didn't want to do it and was using all the tricks he knew to end the dance.

We repeated this a few times. It was hot and he quickly worked up a heavy sweat. I stayed quiet and kept the directions clear: you can walk nicely into the trailer and hang out in the shade or you can stay out here and work in circles and be hot and unhappy.

I'm not usually a proponent of the circling thing. I'd rather use a tap as a forward cue and a simple pressure and release approach. But to tap, you must be able to touch the horse with the whip. Which you cannot do if he is standing all hi-ho-Silver at skull level. You could touch him, tap him, with the whip all day long anywhere else, but on the trailer ramp, abandon hope all ye who enter.

So we circled. And we approached the trailer again. And he stood up again. As I looked up at him, I saw pinned ears, flat against his head, and I saw his anger as he turned his head and glared down at me. I had called his bluff and he was pissed.

We circled some more and stopped again. He was hot. I was hot. A fit young TB, he could probably keep it up all day, but I did not want to push him into a black rage OR heat stress.  I never hit him, I never hurt him, I never chased him, but his penchant for drama might write checks that neither of our bodies could cash.

"Take him for a walk for a few minutes, let him have a mental break." I handed his lead to his owner and sat down to nurse a drink and ponder.

I knew he knew what I wanted. And I knew he knew I knew he knew. I also knew he had not yet conceded that apes should get full respect; that was a much longer, deeper project. He was an intriguing mental puzzle, one I longed to unravel. He was not dangerous in that he would intentionally hurt you -- had he wanted that, I would have been finished 30 minutes ago. He would just rather not toe the line unless you made him. But it was not a physical battle (we'll always lose those in the end), it was a mental one, which is what made it so interesting.

He and his owner came wandering back. "Ok," I said, "put him on the trailer."

She walked him to the ramp. He stepped on, hesitated for about five seconds, then sighed and walked in. In the shade, they stopped and he licked his lips and lowered his head. Lots of pats and finally, a rest. After that, he proceeded to unload and load a few times, then we were done.

Over the past week, he has continued to march on readily. When the rope halter goes on, his body language changes and he becomes alert and obedient. I would love to keep working with him, but he is not my horse, so I must respect those boundaries. But I think he got the message, at least for the time being. Will it stick? I hope so, but I feel certain he will need reminders, although they will undoubtedly be far easier than the first drawing-of-lines-in-the-sand.

Sweet though he is, he is smart, fit, energetic, young, red, and easily distracted. A challenge for anyone. His owner is an excellent rider and an experienced horse owner, strong and intelligent, just a little out of practice on the groundwork. Her horse, as all of ours attempt to do (and often succeed!) has found a few small openings in her armour and made the most of them. Fortunately, he will soon be hopefully back on course and continue on his way to becoming a well-trained, mannerly eventer.

He is lucky enough to have an owner who understands the bad manners lead to other problems, that eventual caving in to bribery does not equal trained horse, that you must have the body AND the mind to succeed.  Because of this, he will get to lead the happy, well-adjusted life of a horse who is obedient and safe.  And his owner will get to enjoy her horse with a little less frustration every day.

August 21, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt. I

Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

I watched as she tried to load her horse on the trailer.  He stepped willingly enough onto the ramp until his back toes met the edge.  There he stopped, craning his neck inside, but refusing to move his hind feet to any point of committment.  She coaxed and tugged and bribed and begged, he looked around, pointedly ignoring her requests in a show of subtle defiance.

After 45 minutes of this, he gave in and wandered into the rig with a sigh. His handler fumed with the frustrated fury any of us have felt when thwarted at that critical loading moment.

"I need help," she told me.

"I hope I have some to give," I answered.

And so it began.

"You don't have a trailer problem," I said. "You have a leading problem and you have a respect problem. He is not afraid, he just doesn't feel like cooperating on any terms other than his own, if he can help it. He IS a redhead."

We talked about leading, about controlling the horse's feet, about never letting those feet stop. The key to trailer loading is a reliable forward cue and a commitment to seeing it through, as well as NEVER EVER EVER losing your temper.

"Ok," I started, "Give it a go and make sure, whatever happens, he is not allowed to stand still. If he backs up, let him go back without pressure, but as soon as he stops, move him forward again."

I was interested to see how he would respond -- not only was he a bit cocky, he was also on the sensitive and dramatic side. Much like Solo, he could NOT be forced into things unless you fancied yourself trampled into a human pulp.

He wore a rope halter and a head bumper, just in case. They practiced some leading away from the trailer -- she was confident and strong as always, he was obedient, but distracted.

Approaching the trailer, he quickly got wind of the plan and in an effortless shift, pushed her in a veering line off the left side of the ramp with his chest and shoulder. She turned him and came again and the second time, he was even faster in his re-direction.

After watching four or five times, it was clear he had little regard for the pink apes at the other end of his lead rope. He has never been a mean thing, in fact, he is very sweet-natured and gregarious. But like any kid whose boundaries have not always been clear, he knew how to take an opening when he saw one.

"Do you mind if I take him for a second?" I wondered how he would respond to a different-smelling ape.

"Oh dear god, please do!" She practically threw the lead rope at me.

Here we go, I thought.

I began by asking him to yield his hindquarters to my touch in both directions. Ok, good. Now lower your poll. Ok, not great, but passable. Ok, now move in a circle around me. Oh dear.

"Kindly move in a circle, please" was apparently translated by this equine brain as "race around at a speed trot bouncing off the end of the line." His head was cocked pointedly to the outside of the circle, most certainly not giving me the time of day.

We continued to circle until he began watching me and flicking an ear in my direction. My heart wept for our property's lack of a round pen. But you make do. We stopped and started and reversed and repeated until he was willing to walk the circle with considerably less frenetic energy.

Ok, let's walk to trailer. We get to the ramp and he assumes the position -- front feet firmly at threshold of door, back stretched out and hind toes against the base of the ramp. I have his lead softly in my left hand and dressage whip in my right. I begin to lift my right wrist to gently touch his haunch with my whip.

Did I blink? Because suddenly, he is standing on his hind legs, his front hooves dangling at my eye level. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing I had put on a helmet. For groundwork. 

To be continued...

August 15, 2011

Quiet As A Mouse, Still As A Rock

We always used to play that game with our babysitting charges when we were younger, trying to get them to stop moving and shut up, even for a short period of time.

It seems it is also a key to riding, or rather jumping in particular, that I stumbled on this weekend.

Solo and I had a nice little jump school, with some gymnastics and small single fences set up.  As I finished and dropped my stirrups to cool down my horse, I realized something:  the key to jumping well is just staying the heck out of the way.  Which sounds a lot easier than it is.

It's all about establishing your rhythm and balance and then allow the horse to work.  Point him at your fence and then wrap your legs around him and JUST SIT THERE.

What usually happens?  We fuss about our two point, omg is the angle right, omg is my heel down, omg.  We fuss about the horse's head, we fuss about the reins, we fuss about strides and distances.  And we get in the dang way.

Just stop.  None of that matters.  If you find a steady rhythm with your horse balanced and forward and you are over his center of gravity with your butt out of the saddle and soft hips and knees to absorb the motion and you stay out of his face, you'll get a good jump.  Of course, there are a lot of details involved here, but I'm talking about the essence of the thing.

Try it.  Prove me wrong.  Or better yet, prove me right.

August 8, 2011

It's A Bird. It's A Plane. Oh, Wait, It's SuperVet!

That's right, it's Episode 59 of Dr. Bob Presents.

It was time for fall shots (a perennial favourite of Mr. Orange Wimpy Pants) which is code for time where I stockpile all my equine questions in a marathon Dr. Bob Inquisition. Only there is no torture. Unless you consider me asking questions torture. Which he might. But I pay him. So too bad.

Question 1: I've noticed Solo's heels tend to underrun. Should I be concerned? Should I try to fix this? Can it be fixed?

Dr. Bob's Treatise On Feet (may be cropped to fit this screen and typing energy level): When a horse's heels get crushed by bad farrier work, they cannot always be fixed. Which is why I freak out when I see this happening. The heels will, over time, continue to grow at the new, undesired angle and you can cause more damage and spend a horse's whole life trying to fix it. What is important is that the heels are fully supported, the toes are kept short, the angles of the whole foot and leg are balanced, and the horse is comfortable.

Question 2: My massage fingers are paranoid. Is this part of his butt supposed to feel this tight and is this part suppose to twitch when I press on it and does his ass feel better?

Dr. Bob's Treatise On Equine Musculature (definitely abbreviated to allow for approaching bedtime): This muscle group goes this way and this muscle group goes this way (lecture on muscles and fascia commences which is fascinating, but too long to type). Yes, this part is supposed to feel tight and yes, that is supposed to twitch, and yes, he feels much better. Your massage work is excellent! (here I throw a self-congratulatory internal party)

Question 3:  I would like to bring Solo back to competition at Novice level in early October.  We will not go Training again until at least late November; I will not rush him.

Dr. Bob: Sweet. Sounds good. Thumbs up. (Hey, it's not all treatises.)

Question 4:  My friend's horse is a chunky, black, PerchieX and he has terrible anhydrosis.  He's been on OneAC for months and they are both miserable.  I heard a rumour about accupuncture helping -- can you fix him?

Dr. Bob's Treatise On Anhydrosis (I've already heard the accupuncture treatise): Sure, I can staple his ears; this commonly is very successful. I've had a horse start sweating within 15 minutes of staples going in. I've never had much luck with OneAC. Thyroid supplements also often help, but take about a month to start working.

From here, we launched into a discussion of the equine glandular system and feedback pathways throughout. I don't think it's good for business to let science geeks talk to each other, we have notoriously poor time management skills. In fact, Dr. Bob's lucky I don't have any money or else I would schedule appointments just to peruse his seemingly boundless collection of horse knowledge.

Your summary: Solo's healing. His feet and muscle look good and a comeback looks hopeful. I can begin adding more jumps to our rides while keeping up the massage. Solo was a week overdue on worming and his fecal was at a 2 for worms, so we obviously have undead zombie worms on the farm and I shot that wormer in as soon as we got home. Of course, he spit it out, so I scraped it off the floor and shoved it back in. He swallowed that time. PerchieX needs some ear staples and my bank account needs CPR. But it was worth it.

August 6, 2011

From The Horse's Mouth. Or Guts: Feed Needs

I have been horrendously remiss.  What with all the medical issues and whatnot, I have fallen behind on, well, everything.  Mea culpa.

Around about the time I was ever-so-gracefully kissing the dirt in Virginia, the folks at Woodruff Sweitzer and Zinpro Performance Minerals sent me a CD-ROM about horse nutrition and their 4-Plex EQ Performance Mineral line for my rambling genius review.  I finally managed to watch it!  It is in part a description of the Zinpro equine mineral line, but also a lot of information about equine nutritional needs.  I was actually quite surprised how thorough and informative it was!  They've done a good job condensing a very complex field (I know just enough to be dangerous) into some very useful highlights, focusing, of course, on the horse's unique mineral needs.

The disc was made up of four chapters, two focusing on your horse's nutritional needs, both generally and specifically. Included: fun facts (oh, they know my weakness...).

-The mature horse at rest drinks 5-8 gallons of water a day. On a 100 degree day, that amount will increase to 20 gallons. Put him in intense work, make that 25 gallons.

-While the energy needs of each horse vary, even very light work increases his need for fuel (calories) by 25%.

-The horse's small intestine absorbs proteins, sugars, starches, fats, vitamins and minerals.

-His large intestine absorbs (large colon) volatile fatty acids, B-vitamins, and (small colon) water.

-Minerals are generally considered in two classes:  (1) Macro -- phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, sulfur  (2) Trace -- zinc, copper, cobalt, manganese, selenium, iodine, iron

Each of these have different vital roles to play in your horse's body and many will have more than one job to do.  For example, calcium is needed for muscle contractions, bone structure, and milk production in lactating mares, while phosphorus is used in the nervous system, for energy transfer, and helps calcium on bone and milk duty.

Looking at trace minerals, zinc influences your horse's coat, immune system, skin & hoof function, muscle development, and appetite, just to name a few.

Now, before you go hurling things into your horse's feed pan, there are some important points to remember.  Chiefly, all things in moderation and you CAN have too much of a good thing.  Selenium toxicity is very real and you can watch your horse's hooves slough off.  Raise his zinc levels too high and he will be unable to absorb any copper, which he needs to run his nervous system, among other things.  The zinc:copper ratio should lie between 3:1 and 5:1 to keep one from blocking the other.  Which is why BALANCED nutrition is so important.

We as owners need to know what we need, too.  Where I live, selenium levels are highly variable and I am also on the edge of cobalt deficient soils.  If you really want to dig, check out your water as well; it can contain all kinds of minerals in differing ratios that are very much a part of your horse's diet.

I know, I know, you are already slavering about the mouth, "ZOMG, tell me where I can order a perfect mix of minerals so my horse will be a healthy champion RIGHT NOW!"  That's what I thought Zinpro was going to tell me, too.  Turns out, their Performance Minerals are already in many horse feeds and they do not sell them individually (quantities fed out each day would be ridiculously small).  Speaking of which, they can use the word "performance" because their product has passed a certain level of research, testing, and certification, so there is some measure of security there that at least SOMEone has checked the stuff out before chucking it in a bag.  Just as important though, these minerals have been formulated to be highly bioavialable to your horse -- meaning they have been bound to "carrier substances' which will allow the intestine to absorb the minerals.  Otherwise, Dobbin just craps it out with the rest of the stuff that doesn't make it through the lining of his gut. 

You, however, have to read your feed tag to find out if it's in your bag -- which their handy CD helps you do.  While you will not often see their logo on the bag, the ingredients will contain 'zinc methionine complex, copper lysine complex, manganese methionine complex, and cobalt glucoheptanate.'  Bite me, spellcheck.  

There is a great deal more information contained on the CD -- you can request a copy of your own at the Zinpro website listed above and I encourage you to do so if you'd like to learn more about what makes your horse tick.  It's got several great tools, including more feed bag label tips, a water analysis tool, and a link to some other health educational materials.

I'd like to thank Emily Stoutenborough for taking the time to contact me and send me the materials.  My sincere apologies again for taking so darn long to actually look at them.  You can be sure I'm going to wrestle down some feed tags tomorrow and start digging for information.

August 1, 2011

We're On The Bandwagon

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a trend hater.  If it's mainstream & popular & all the cool kids want it, I automatically don't trust it, don't like it, & don't want it; I'm going to approach said thing with very critical thinking & questions galore, because usually, said trendy thing ends up being ridiculous (giant sunglasses that make you look like a moronic alien, anyone?).  And I'm not going to call something great unless it meets some pretty high standards.  Call me contradictory, I'm ok with that.

So when I started hearing about Ecogold saddle pads, I kind of rolled my eyes & thought, here we go, another trendy saddle pad, the next magical Mattes pad that everyone just must have.

But then something unexpected happened. I attended our Area II Annual Meeting back in January & John Da Silva (who was a textile engineer long before Ecogold began) presented the Ecogold product line to us.  OMG, there was science.  Someone actually tested the product, used common sense & data & THERE WAS SCIENCE!  Yeah, yeah, I'm a science nerd.

I was intrigued & impressed & I started watching a little more closely. But the things weren't cheap & I wasn't quite ready to be convinced yet.

Summer came along & I was riding as I usually do -- with ThinLine pad plus baby pad plus (when jumping) sheepskin pad. Ugh. And the Thinline does. not. breathe. I needed to combine real shock absorption with breathability, as the more I learn about equine tissue, the more I realize the importance of keeping things cool when working. My mind wandered back to that wintery presentation.

I sent an email to Mr. Da Silva with an embarrassingly long list of questions.  Which he answered almost immediately & by 'answered', I mean 'covered ALL the bases'.  So I took the plunge & ordered a Secure Jumper pad.  I talked to the ever-helpful Patricia & she even checked on some material colours for me.

Oh, yeah. Crappy cell phone pic.

When I pulled it out of the box, the first thing that struck me was how lovely & well-made it looked.   I put it on Solo & it was definitely shaped with withers in mind!  The girth loops fell EXACTLY below my billets (almost never happens!) & the grippiness to horse & saddle felt great.  I ordered the XL as per the website since my saddles are 17.5 & 18" & it's a little bit big for both my saddles; in fact, it looks kinda silly with my dressage saddle (I can only buy one, sheesh, so I decided the jumping saddle was the priority to pad with grip & bounce) but fortunately, I have no qualms about looking goofy.

I have three rides on it now, one with the dressage saddle & two with the jump saddle.  I LOVE IT.  And I think Solo approved as well.  In the dressage saddle, we had some of our best long, stretchy trot ever & he was sooo consistent in the bridle, which he'll only do if his back is super happy.  In both saddles, the sweat marks were about the best I've ever seen on this horse & El Finicky Topline. 

I could tell air had been traveling through the material -- I didn't have to peel it off like a piece of tape (re ThinLine).  The grip kept the pad in place without billet straps too.  We still had a tiny bit of saddle shifting to the side, but given my current extreme lopsidedness (and Solo's), that is hardly surprising; there is only so much a pad can do!  I feel confident that once I get my left leg rehabbed to some semblance of normalcy, that will no longer be an issue.

So far, so great -- I've yet to really put it to the test of XC or a hard-core trail, but thus far, I can say that it's a great-looking, great-riding pad made by great people with a lot of potential once we get back into real work!

Does this mean people are going to think I'm trendy now?