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May 18, 2019

Progress And Setbacks

Because you can't have one without the other, at least when it comes to horses.

As I mentioned in my last post, Echo recently got a pretty big chiro adjustment.  Twice in a week, actually, because it didn't hold the first time.  I did notice some initial improvement, but there are some lingering issues that I sure wish would just quit.

He's still a little bit puffy around that side of his SI & when I was riding him last week, I could definitely feel that he wasn't quite comfortable back there.  The feeling would come & go at the trot, but was most noticeable when he swapped behind twice on his right lead canter, which he's never done before.  Nothing like a new thing to make it harder to wait & easier to worry.

See, not a waste
I talked to Dr. Bob & gave Baby Monster the rest of the week off, in combination with some bute for the inflammation & Dr. Bob's Magical Steroid Creme that he concocts.  We're supposed to give it one more week & if it doesn't improve, we'll reconvene. 

Yeah, yeah, mantra.  I still hate waiting.

I don't think it's anything huge, the adjustments were pretty dramatic.  It does bother me a bit that he still feels uncomfortable with certain things.  But I also know that the unevenness was going on for a while, so those are big muscles that have to be retrained & retoned to do their job in a different way.  I'm pretty squarely on the worry seesaw, so am trying to be patient & not imagine too many nightmarish scenarios.

Trying.

In positive news, y'all, this horse looks really good.  Finally!  He's 99% shed out & his summer coat shines like a new penny.  I can no longer count his ribs from any angle & am at long last able to reduce his rice bran helpings.  And...there are muscles!  And a neck!!!  The vienna reins are such a wonderful tool for this, if you aren't familiar with them, you can read our primer on them here.
Getting even sexier
Under saddle, he's now working easily for 40 minute stretches, sometimes a little longer, without brain dissolution.  Yay for aging (I don't get to say that very often)!  Our skillset now includes:
  • Working on a steady contact & able to bend (mostly) through our body both ways at walk & trot,
  • Up & down transitions W/T/halt are prompt & balanced, no bracing in bridle, back stays up,
  • Confirmed lateral aids for basic leg yield at the walk, they exist at trot, I think they'd be better if rider was a little more organized about them,
  • Turn on forehand (one step at a time) with minimal fussing (this was very irritating for him for whatever reason),
  • Picking up both canter leads correctly without a ground pole (I think, haven't had too many tests yet),
  • W/T/C in a steady rhythm with reasonable balance, while remaining light in the bridle,
  • Jumping small x-rails & logs with no rushing,
  • And we are dang ground pole champions -- with sproing!
Showing that ground pole who's boss
This may not seem like a lot for 15 months, but I'm pretty happy with it because (a) we had a lot of other body challenges to deal with & (b) this has been what HE was ready for.  I want to do a separate post on that topic, but it really is different for different horses.  I also work my horses in my top field -- there are slopes, uneven footing, clumps of grass -- but I welcome these challenges because it helps me a build a stronger, more balanced partner in the long run.  If he can maintain himself on a bumpy, downhill slope, he will find a flat, boring arena so easy, he won't even have to think about it.

I've also spent a LOT of time on basic details, having learned from Solo & Encore that any training holes will always catch up later.  Things like maintaining balance in the down transition to walk without me holding him together, like freeing up & gaining control of each individual leg so I can move it where I want, like making sure a half halt gets a clear & instant response in every gait.
Plus lots of this for strength & well-roundedness
Spending time on these not-very-exciting details now means that I don't have to backtrack later.  It means that if I need to leg yield out in canter to get a better line to a jump or rebalance a gallop on course or teach walk-canter-walk transitions, the building blocks are already there to make my life safer & easier.

Now I just need his bum (well, the top of it) to chill & be happy so we can get back to it!

May 11, 2019

Just Wait

I am trying to adopt these two simple words as my Equine Mantra. 

Sigh, the gaping chasm between "simple" & "easy."

As you spend time trying to get horses to do things or, you know, keep them alive & healthy, you soon realize that patience is indispensable at every step of the process.  It's a near-guarantee that if you attempt to rush something, be it healing or trailer loading or a jump, the horse deities shall be vexed & it will now take you twice five times as long.  Doubly so with young horses.  
I excel at vexation
I am not always great at patience.

To summon it, I need reminders that are easy to remember.  Bonus if they are something I can chant softly (or loudly, as the case demands) to myself, which forces me to inhale AND exhale.

Echo, still a 3-yr-old when he came to me, is both the youngest horse I've owned & the first I've gotten less than 30 days off the track.  As a result, we are both learning a lot.  And in the process of all these "firsts", which of course come with their share of stress, I am seeing over & over & over that if I can just take a breath & wait, if I allow time its own pace, progress will, well, progress.  

Example 1:

Echo has been painstakingly slow to shed.  Dull, ugly, fuzzy winter hairs clung stubbornly to his withers, back, & sides.  Solo has already completed his transition to his slick, shiny(er) summer coat.  I glared at Echo's offending fur as I scraped & scraped with the shedding blade & the grooming block & the Tiger Tongue & the curry comb.

Maybe his thyroid is all messed up!  My brain effortlessly channels my old friend Anxiety Girl at the least opportunity.  Maybe he has freakishly early Cushings!  Maybe he has some weird glandular tumour!  Maybe I need to get him tested for All The Terrible Things?!!  

Just. Wait.

A few weeks later, with the help of my trusty Slick N' Easy, he is finally blowing out the last of those dull hairs.  The sleek, bay shine underneath is a brand new first for us, thanks to 15 months of Triple Crown & rice bran.
Freshly rained on, with a few, uh, nibbles from Solo
Example 2:

Two weeks ago, Echo got his second chiropractic adjustment.  His sacrum was all kinds of cattywompus, the reason he'd been tracking short on his left hind for several months.  Dr. Bob did lots of stretches of his haunches, hips, & back, but it was still a big adjustment, with lots of mashing.  Some soreness afterwards was to be expected; not a big deal, I had to be out of town for work anyway.

After a week, he was still really tight in that whole quadrant & moving stiffly in the hip.  I had been massaging & stretching, but... There were some improvements, but some things seemed almost worse.  I should probably just wait, but just in case, I'll call Dr. Bob & ask.  Guess what he said?

Just. Wait.

Today, another week later, he is more fluid in that hip & stepping under himself better with that left leg.  He's more willing to bend left through his body & stretch the tight right side.  Both trot diagonals now feel pretty similar.  I bet he'll feel even better a month from now & that's just exciting.
More of this, please! Except without my leaning.
I could list at least 87 more examples.  Hooves could probably be a treatise in themselves.  But you get the idea.  Sometimes, many times, things just take time.  Not the time that we WANT; in my experience, part of my brain nearly always expects things in an unreasonably short time.  Often, digging out just a little more patience can carry us through to the other side.

I'm not going to say, "Don't worry!"  That would be laughable -- if you have a horse in your life, worry is practically a job in & of itself!  It would be nice if they didn't feed our neuroses by fulfilling them quite so often. I can dream. And of course, waiting is not always applicable, use of judgement is required.
Truth for all vet things
But I can honestly say it is helping me to worry a little tiny bit miniscule amount (hey, baby steps) less in many equine situations by giving myself this simple, even if not easy, assignment:  before unleashing apocalyptic reactions...

Just. Wait. 

You just might be pleasantly surprised.
It's all good (for now, heh).  Just slightly blurry.

April 29, 2019

A Muzzle Saved My Relationship

Hmmm, that title could be true for so many scenarios, however, in this case, I am referring to a certain Baby Monster.  Who is basically a mouth with legs.

Echo has learned that human parts do not go in his mouth.  He even abides by the rule, with occasional exceptions when life is just too exciting to process without MOUTH ON ALL THE THINGS.  However, one loooong exception has become nearly insufferable:  trail rides.

I am currently ponying Echo out on trails while riding Solo.  Echo, at just-turned-5, still funnels all his curiosity & energy through his mouth.  Which translates to nipping Solo's neck, nipping Solo's rein, nipping Solo's bridle, nipping Solo's shoulder...every 2 minutes.  It's maddening for all of us. 

I have tried all manner of scolding, cursing, rope-halter-snapping, with the end result of discovering that Echo can react faster than I can possibly hope to move while attempting to smack his naughty nose.  I can see that he knows he's not supposed to do it, he jerks back so quickly he's scolding himself, but 90 seconds later, he does it again.
But mom, he's RIGHT BY MY NOSE!
It's an energy outlet for him.  He is walking next to a horse who is slower than him & while he politely matches the pace, he has all this life & inquisitiveness fair to bursting out & it finds a channel at the end of his adorable but infuriating face.  He alternates with sucking on & playing with his tongue, but apparently that is not sufficient.

A couple weeks ago, I got fed up with spending the ride scolding my horse & tired of rope-bruised hands beneath my gloves.  And I bought a muzzle:  Tough 1 Easy Breathe attachment.

I wasn't sure how it would go over.  I recently tried a fly mask with an extended nose on Echo - he decided it was trying to suffocate him & frantically rubbed his face on the ground until I removed it.  But I picked one with special big nostril holes & strapped it on just before we headed out.

Meet Horse-ibal Lecter: he's not enthused.
There was an initial period where he attempted to rub his face on things to get it off, but without the panicked edge of the fly mask.  And then...

We had a lovely, calm ride.  He walked & trotted nice as you please beside Solo with his face completely relaxed.  He could still take a big drink at his favourite water crossing.  He kept snorting occasionally, as if to reassure himself I wasn't trying to smother him again, but his conclusion seemed favourable.

His whole body was more relaxed & I think removing that nip-avoid-punishment cycle allowed him to find that place on his own in a way that we couldn't before.  Instead of having to resist the temptation to bait Solo into Nip-Tag, the option was never even on the table in the first place.  It's much easier for me to direct his choice towards "chillax" when there's fewer choices to begin with.
But...this face must be EVERYwhere...
The muzzle itself feels nice & sturdy & has a pretty big hole in the bottom, I quite like the design.  I added the extra velcro straps thanks to reviewer tips & they helped keep it in place.  I really really like the big nostril holes!

I'm dealing with some big problems right now (not horse-related), but this was one I was able to solve.  Not only was I happier, Echo was happier, & Solo was definitely happier.  Win win win.  I know Echo will grow out of the mouthy phase someday (omg, please let it be so), but until then, the muzzle is painless, easy to use, & at $20, doesn't break the bank.

How about you? How have you dealt with your mouthy babies mouthing the world?

April 21, 2019

Capital Improvements: Farm Edition

Any farm is essentially a never-ending project & mine is no exception.  Should a farm-owner feel that they have completed all projects, have no fear, something will break/flood/fail & voila, new project!  I am too poor to pay people to do things for me, so Flying Solo Farm is also a very slow project.

Two big improvements I've managed in the past year:

1.  Stabilize & fill run-in shed (July 2018).

This was the most critical & I've included some of the steps here in case someone else is looking for ideas.  This shed is our operations center, with half for the horses & half for me/farrier/vet.  The basic layout hasn't changed much since it was introduced here, although it now has half-walls on both sides for the horses.  However, runoff was undermining one end & too much dirt was migrating from inside to outside.  By last summer, I knew I had to do some sort of retaining wall/fill before hurricane season brought the next round of torrential rain.

The corner in the background was even worse
I spent my usual extensive time on considering design, materials, anchoring, & cost minimization.  I generally don't have any help, so I have to be able to lift & manage any materials I get.  It was a little tricky since the base of the shed is steel on cinder blocks, so the retaining wall would have to be independently anchored.  And yes, my planning phases always involve Googling "how to..." because there are inevitably helpful tips on details I might not think of.

After leveling the ground for installation (which involved plenty of sweating since of course it was packed rock hard, with a zillion actual rocks), I ended up using treated 6" & 4" x 6" beams.  The bottom row is anchored with 24" rebar at even intervals.  These were super fun to drive into the ground with a hand sledge in July.  But those things aren't going anywhere in my lifetime!  I anchored the second row with galvanized landscape pins.
One of the galvanized pins
Thanks to Google tips, I put in a strip of drainage rock inside of the wall before I backfilled.
The one easy step:  dump rocks out of bags
Then it was a "simple" matter of adding 9 tons of limestone screenings.  Yes, it was literally 9 tons.  Tractor required.  Plus 1 more that I used to even out the crosstie area.  I originally wanted to just use fill dirt.  My go-to hauler did not have fill dirt, but he had screenings & $300 for 10 tons was cheaper than I expected.  Pro tip:  if you fill a wheelbarrow with stone screenings, you will not be able to lift or move the wheelbarrow.  Because stone.  I know this now.
I hope I never have to do this again.  But it is awesome.
I had not planned on buying any more mats, because they are expensive.  However, Echo found the screenings delightful to dig in & enjoyed his new sandbox far too much.  So now I have four more mats in the middle part of below pic.  Bad horse.
He dug a hole & rolled in this 30 mins later.  :/
I finished it by cutting the corners off at an angle where the horses would step over & sanding off the edges of the lumber.  This whole project took me two solid days, working all day.  I was afraid to stop because I was certain that if I did, it would be way too painful to start moving again.  At the end of the second day, I discovered that guess was correct. 

The shed is SO MUCH NICER now, though.  The drainage works perfectly (I also added a water re-direct, you can see one end by Echo's nose in the pic) & I can hose a horse in the crossties without flooding the shed or washing out the floor.  The horses have a dry place for their feets no matter what the weather.  And oh yeah, now the shed won't collapse & roll down the hill.

2.  North windbreaks/gates (November 2018)

This project was much cheaper & easier!  I never want a completely enclosed shed, since we are in the South & airflow is critical in the summer, but we can get some pretty nasty, cold north winds in wintertime.  Once again, I considered lots of options, including hanging plastic strips like you see on walk-in freezers, which I still might do in the future but are too expensive currently.  The front of the shed is 24' wide & I already had ~7' of half-wall on Solo's side, along with posts.  I decided to build a 5' scrap-wood gate on that side.
From the inside; pre-existing wall to left
This part only cost me about $20 & two hours.  Since I already had the lumber in my "salvage" pile, along with 2 hinges, I only needed to buy 1 more hinge & a brace cable.
From outside, after a coat of paint
For the remaining 12', the simplest option ended up being a standard gate.  I didn't have THAT much lumber, & even if I did, it would have been insanely heavy.  My neighbour helped me set that post, because I am very strong, but I cannot lift a 16' long 6' x 6' post & square it without probably crushing myself.  He also made the clever suggestion of leaving a human gap on the end so I can squeeze through without opening gates.  Um, I love this feature.
Both new gates + gap for me
If you're saying, uh, a wire-filled gate is not a very effective windbreak..., well, you are correct.  Which is why I wrapped it in a tarp.  It's not pretty, but it IS effective & it allows me to keep things nice & open for the rest of the year.
The winter version, complete with "rustic" weights
I remain really happy with both of these investments.  The horses definitely appreciated the windbreak this past winter, it was much cozier in there.  And I just took the tarp off two weeks ago.  The 5' gate can also be latched open & horses have plenty of space to lead through either side.  This also provides another layer of security, so if for some reason they were to break through the tape gates, they are still contained by these new gates.  That did happen once, I found horses outside the kitchen window last year -- I think it was a freak incident, but just in case...

April 14, 2019

Baby's First Lesson & Other Stories

Echo the Baby Monster has been busy -- sometimes even with things I actually want him to do.  More often, eating, more eating, finding ways to annoy both Solo & I, then eating some more. 

In mid-March, though, he survived his very first lesson!  It was a casual affair -- since I was pole-limited, I asked Trainer Neighbour to set up a variety of gymnastic exercises for us so I could continue building that hind end strength.  She created series of grids for him, including a couple of crossrails.  I'd been introducing him to some baby obstacles, so this was a nice next step for him to see some more colorful things.

Not sure we got enough engagement behind...
 He was surprisingly...slow.  I'm not sure if it was just the new scenarios or he was just very chill that day, but I've never before had to ride him with Solo-levels of leg.  He was very willing & attentive, though, & stayed soft the entire time.

I'm still counting this as uphill movement, LOL
My favourite part was watching him think & try all these new-but-not-quite-new questions.  This horse is so...earnest about this process, it makes me smile.  I apparently did TOO good a job teaching him that trot poles are for trotting, because his solution to the crossrail was this:

I couldn't stop giggling.  Neither could Trainer Neighbour.  Echo's little ears were flicking around going, What? I trotted your trotty poles, that's what they are for, right??!  If you want to see the whole "course," as demonstrated by sloowww baby horse, while humans cruelly laugh at him:

I really was very proud of him.  He was definitely exhausted by the time we got home, after that 30 minutes of intense training, hee hee.  But he continues to get stronger.

And we have sproing now!  After this lesson, I broke down & expanded my pole collection.  I hadn't found anything good in a ditch in a while, so I went to the hardware store & picked up 8 landscape timbers for just under $40.  A little white paint to maybe slow down the termites for four seconds & voila:
8' long, I like shorter poles to keep my steering honest
I'm calling it Echo's birthday present, he turned five on March 29th.  I continue to be glad I have taken it so slow with him, it really seems to be working for him.  Now that he actually has some muscle in the caboose, I can do things like trot down a slope without fearing for my life or teach him to do downward transitions without dumping on his nose.

We're still keeping sessions fairly short, too, as is key for baby brains.  I think we've had 2-3 rides in the past month which got to 40 minutes & I could tell we were at the absolute limit.  Which for Echo means the mental focus really deteriorates, he gets sloppy with his feet, & he just gets a little cranky.  Nothing dramatic, I get some angry ear twitches, head tosses, bit chomping, & dirty side-eye (rear-eye?).
Guilty party avoids eye contact
I appreciate his communication & I try very hard to respect those limits, balancing that with the incremental requests for progress I discussed in the last posts.  There is plenty of room to ask for more while staying within 30-40 minutes:  we're increasing the amount of trot work, asking for better quality transitions, engaging the topline, introducing lateral aids.

And of course, because variety is essential to prevent the souring of bright young things, I'm trying to take him out at least once a week on our trails, along with a couple days off weekly to rest muscles & prevent overwork of joints which are still developing.  Solo is loving the opportunity to get out on trails again, I feel him brighten as soon we step out.  I do too.

Ridiculous child loves the splashy
Solo sees your taunting...& he forgets nothing...