SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 




We Are Flying Solo

Enjoy Our Instagram Feed!

November 16, 2019

Sometimes Refusals Are OK

Green horses are going to refuse jumps.  It's part of the learning process, as they develop skills like how to read questions & how to organize their feet.  Eventually they learn to do both of these things at the same time, but they don't start out that way.

Case in point:  about a month ago, I took Echo next door for his second official jump lesson (the first one was back in April) with Trainer Neighbour (TN).  He was growing much more confident with my single "jumps" in schooling, with far less drunken approaches & less hesitation at the base. 
We'd mastered a whopping 18"
I had just started introducing canter poles to our rides the week before.  I wanted him to see some different colors & shapes, as well as work through some more simple gymnastics, which are more challenging for me to do alone since my ground person is, uh, me.

Echo, being all legs & distraction, is still very green in terms of figuring out where & in what order the limbs should go to create a jumping effort.  I try my best to get him very balanced on approaches, stay in the middle of him, & let him sort out the rest on his own.  He is an unfailingly earnest trier & really wants to please, making my job of directing him to the right answer much easier. 

Easier, but also often hilarious.  For example, as we began working the lesson gymnastic, he had definitely retained the lesson about "poles are for trotting over."  A little too well.
Exceptional pole trotting
We paused that & worked over a few canter poles to get him thinking about bringing his hinds together underneath him & pushing over an obstacle in a true jumping motion.  As I mentioned, he'd only done canter poles a couple times, the week prior, so it took a few tries over these larger ones, but he finally figured it out:

Figuring out takeoff - uh, ignore my leaning, sigh
We went back to the gymnastic to try & translate that motion to the jumps.  TN suggested we try some extra trot poles in front of the first jump to see if we could encourage him to step closer to the base.  She also added an empty flower box to make it look a little more like an actual obstacle.  I suspected this might be a bigger complexity jump than he could process all at once, but we'd give it a shot. 

My suspicion was correct.  Echo's little brain (much of which he had apparently left at home that day anyway) went, "Oooo, look at all the new things, waiiiiit, I must inspect!!!"  He was sucking back hard by the time we go to the first trot pole & despite my squeezing, he came to halt in front of the fence.

In years past, I might have gotten upset.  I might have grabbed a crop or, at the least, considered it a failure.  But I have learned a lot about nuances in training since then.

If a green horse has what I call an honest stop, that is, they don't understand the question or they truly don't feel comfortable in their ability to complete the task, I'm ok with that.  They're not trying to get out of work or communicate pain or simply be contrary, they're just trying to figure it out.

What's more, I would rather be on a horse that stops when he's unsure than one who hurls himself thoughtlessly into anything.  I think both of us are safer in the first scenario - a little self-preservation is an important thing.  The nuance lies in what the horse tells me & how he responds to what comes next.

I also want Echo to enjoy jumping as a positive experience.  I don't want him to jump something just because he's afraid I might hurt him if he doesn't.  I want 100% of his focus on doing his job safely & well, instead of having 50% distracted by fear or anxiety.  I'm sure I'll need that extra focus at some point when I need to rely on his footwork & balance to get us out of trouble.
Soft, relaxed, focused
This doesn't mean I'll never give him a solid kick or a pop with a stick.  It just means I'll only apply those things if I am certain that I have asked a question well within his confidence & experience levels.  In this particular lesson, this particular stop clearly said to me that he wasn't completely sure of what he needed to do, but he was thinking hard about the question.  He was trying to learn & I absolutely don't want to punish him for that. 

After a brief examination (& some giggling at his adorable baby-ness) of things, I just calmly circled him around to try again.  He was still hesitant, but with encouragement, gave it a shot.  The third time, the light bulb was beginning to glow.  Here's the series of attempts.  Giggling commentary included.


He was also beginning to figure out how to make a jump jumpy.  The canter pole translation was happening & it was getting significantly easier for me to follow his motion as it became more predictable.
Less trotty, moar jumpy


And through it all, Echo was trying & learning, all while his ears stayed pricked & his attitude positive.  This is what I want for his foundation, along with a clear understanding in him on exactly how it all works.  I want him to learn how to jump over things, not how to demolish them with this legs in an uncomfortable scramble (although I'm sure we'll inadvertently practice this too). 

Gears turning
He does have to learn to keep his feet moving WHILE he thinks, this was an important tenet of jumping training I learned from past lessons -- but that's not the same as keeping the feet moving WITHOUT thinking.  And that's a journey of more than one step.

In the meantime, I sure am enjoying getting to spend more time on what I have discovered is a lovely canter.
Want infinite amount of this

October 14, 2019

Good News And Better News

The good news:

On Friday, Dr. Bob got to give me a happy report.  He did not see anything concerning stifle-wise with Echo, no signs of injury.  What I saw/felt was due to loss of condition from a month off on a leggy young horse.  Prescription:  "Ride lots to rebuild strength." 

Huge sigh of relief from me.  And that is my favourite prescription.   

The better news:

We've been working for months on easing Echo's sacrum back to level.  A lot of months (like, here's the update from May).  It's not something you can, or more accurately, should, do in one big pop.  If you try that, it will just pop right back out again thanks to sore, tight muscles who are loath to give up a habit.  Which is why it's also important to incorporate muscle work in your chiropractic regimen. 

His last adjustment was in late August & we did finally nudge it the last little bit back to level then.  Both Dr. Bob & I held our breath & he suspected it may try to sneak back out again.  I continued my focused SoreNoMore massage on the hip knots I've come to know well & kept staring obsessively at it.
You can see the last remaining bump on the left in early Aug
Under saddle, I pleasantly discovered continuing improvements in Echo's right lead canter - he could now keep the lead on a slight downhill turn without swapping behind or using a half-buck to unload the weaker leg.  Standing behind him, I could see his HQ muscling becoming more even.  I hoped, but cautiously.

After more breath-holding on Friday as Dr. Bob professionally poked that sacrum, he announced IT STAYED!  Yes, I realize Echo probably heard me type that & is hard at work to undo it, but I'm still taking the win!  Dr. Bob also said he wanted to hire me out for muscle work -- I told him that I doubt I'd get many clients who were interested in having their horses massaged for 15 minutes at a time when my arms get tired, as it'd take me a month to do an entire horse.

We're long overdue for some good luck, so I'm going to enjoy a nice long exhale for now.    

October 10, 2019

Afternoon Project: Build Simple Jump Standards For Cheap (Or Free!)

In a fit of delusional optimism on Sunday, I decided to use some of my hoarded scrap lumber to build a set of proper jump standards.  This would be an upgrade from my previous scrap standards, which have now disintegrated since I never got around to sealing them & I gave up on them after Encore got hurt.

Said optimism was obviously misguided, since I am taking Echo to the vet tomorrow.  He displayed a very sore stifle last night with some odd characters.  I am hoping it's just a "young, growing horse" thing or some other mild sprain, but I want it checked out right away since I am EXTREMELY gun-shy on stifles after Encore.  Not like I need another vet bill, but the alternative is giving myself 47 ulcers over the weekend, sigh.

Anyway.  Buildy thingies.  Also excellent for distracting the Monstrous Voices Of Overthinking.

Quick How-To Guide For Simple Standard Construction

These actually cost me $0 to build.  I had an eight-foot 4" x 6" left over from another project, my pile of "scraps salvaged from house construction dumpster" five years ago, plenty of paint from painting ground poles, & I always have a tub of deck screws around.  It didn't take me long, about 2-3 hrs including sanding & a quick coat of paint on the bases.  

Standard Preface from the Safety Nazi:  Tools are awesome, but don't mess aroundWear your safety glasses, close-toed shoes, ear protection when necessary, & pay attention.  Horsewomen are badasses, but work smarter, not harder.  You can do most anything you set your mind to, but make sure you have been properly instructed, know your equipment, & always plan ahead.

My materials list:
  • 8-foot 4" x 6", cut in half to make two 4' standards (I don't need anything taller & shorter = lighter)
  • Eight 12" (or somewhere in the vicinity, some of mine are a little longer) long boards for feet; you can use a 1" x 6" or mine are leftover deck planking boards
  • Deck screws, 3-4 per foot board
  • Paint or stain to seal (after staining the shed footers was such a pain in the ass, I opted for paint, so much faster & dries quickly)
Tools I used:  Circular saw, drill, impact driver (I won't lie, I use this for everything), 1/2" speed cutting bit (for pin holes, you could also use a spade bit), tape measure, pencil
All my junk & my sophisticated work table, don't know why photo is dark
I started by cutting the 4x6 in half.  Yes, most standards are made with 4x4's but as long as you have a 4" face to fit a standard jump cup, it doesn't matter.  I think the extra 2" on the long side may be a stability bonus in the end.  I purposefully didn't make the cut exactly straight so that water will drain off instead of sitting there & rotting the wood from the top.

Then start attaching your legs.  Attach the first one flush with the bottom of your post & work around, attaching legs in a pinwheel fashion.  I put 4 screws on legs on the wide face, 3 screws on the narrow face, since it was a tight fit.
Attaching my mismatched legs (just like my actual legs)
Screwing tips (yeah, maybe I just wanted to type that):  (1) set your screws about 1" in from the edge of your board to prevent cracking.  (2) Drilling a pilot hole will help with the same, I did this extra step because my leg scraps were dry & old & it successfully avoided splitting them.
Pilot holes in the first foot
Measure out your pin hole centers.  I started at 18" from the ground & proceeded in 3" intervals up to three feet.  I did check how the cups would sit & confirmed that the top of the poles would be even with the pin hole centers, so that would be a true jump height.  Measure a second point from the edge of the post however far back your cups extend (mine are 1 and 5/8"), which will give you a target to center your big drill bit on.
I'll drill where the lines cross
Drill your pin holes.  Some types of cups demand straighter holes than others.  I'm trying out the Dapple Equine one-piece cups (I technically did spend money to purchase these, but as they are not part of the standard itself, I'm still calling them free standards), which allow for some slop.  So I eyeballed it & the ones that weren't quite straight were easy to shave a little extra off of.  Drilling treated posts requires power & a sharp bit - have a spare battery handy if using a cordless drill/driver.  I love these SpeedBor bits, they chew a big hole efficiently & don't require crazy torque like a ship auger does.
Drill w/ SpeedBor & completed holes
That's basically it, you now have functional standards.  I knocked the edges & rough bits off with a sander to hopefully reduce my splinters when I grab them.  I threw an initial trademark UAPJ (Ugly-Ass Paint Job) on the bases since the sun was setting & I wanted an extra coat there.
The finest UAPJ work
They now have two more coats on the posts themselves & I plan on putting another coat on the bases on Saturday.
Just waiting for that mythical creature, Sound Horse
If you want to add some decor using more leftover lumber, click for directions on how to throw together some even easier "Poor Person Flower Boxes."

I haven't gotten a chance to even set them up yet.  If you have any spare good luck to send our way, I could definitely use it.  I'm trying hard to hope that Dr. Bob will give us not-completely-terrible news tomorrow & I can use my pretty new standards soon...

October 5, 2019

Wound Wars: The Battle Of Proud Flesh

Proud flesh:  the nemesis of wound care.  When you have any open wound that can't be stitched (which seems to define nearly all horse wounds), you have to wait for them to fill in on their own with granulation tissue.  However, this tissue has a serious overachievement problem & inevitably multiplies into a cauliflower-esque explosion of cell growth that protrudes well above the skin surface.  It then blocks the migration of healthy skin cells that would otherwise move in to close the wound.

It is particularly problematic in areas of poor blood supply & high motion, like the lower legs.  Where 100% of my horses' wounds were.  Of course.

If the wound in located somewhere you can apply a pressure bandage, like a standing wrap, you can prevent proud flesh.  When those cells can't push outward, they seem to just give up & pout, giving the good cells room to do their magic.  This was awesome for 25% of our wounds, specifically, Solo's skinned cannon bone.
You can see by mid-Sept the bone is once more covered by a sub-layer & as of this weekend, new skin has covered more than 50% of the original area.  I'm keeping a non-stick pad coated with Dr. Bob's Magic Red Sauce + standing wrap on this until it's filled in more, as one less place I have to fight the evils of proud flesh.

Solo's hock has been the primary battleground.  High motion, impossible to pressure wrap, with a horizontal cut destined to pull apart - it was inevitable, really.  The Magic Red Sauce (I don't know all the ingredients in this concoction) is supposed to help both retard proud flesh & encourage epithelial cell growth, but its magic definitely has limits.

I was scrubbing madly with my dilute betadine, but it wasn't enough, so mid-Sept, I called Dr. Bob.  He knows I do surgery on endangered species (& they live), so he gave me permission to get aggressive.  Really aggressive.  I dunked the knife & scissors on my multi-tool in the beta-water & charged back into battle.
 
The one good thing about proud flesh is that it doesn't contain any nerves, just a zillion blood vessels.  So it will make an unholy mess when you hack (very carefully) away at it but your horse won't feel a thing.  This wasn't a super fun addition to the twice-a-day cleanings & it made them even longer, but Solo dozed patiently while I chopped off endless tiny tissue nodules, just trying to keep it roughly even with the skin surface.
Front
Looking good today (white is Corona)
Lateral side
Today's view, still a little proud flesh, but the skin will soon swallow it
After scrubbing, I would alternate between polysporin & Magic Red Sauce.  I am happy to say that after several weeks of battle, not only is the proud flesh on pouty retreat, but the front hole has finally closed, meaning no more diaper wrapping & ending the 2-roll-a-day vetwrap suffering!  There is still some fill in that hock, so it gets hosed daily, but has drastically reduced with today's cooler weather.

Echo's return to work was delayed by the fact that it took me an hour to do Solo's bandage when I got home from work, after which it was basically dark.  He is now back under saddle, though, for the past 10 days.  He is almost completely healed.  The friction burns on his chest have vanished under his new winter parka-in-progress, you can't even tell they were there.
Top is Sept 3, bottom is Sept 27
Proud flesh did rear its ugly head on his knee, so it also got the knife & is now gasping its very last, tiny breaths.  A few more Red Sauce treatments & it too will vanish.  The cut on the outside of his cannon is a small scab hidden in fur.

My knife hasn't been needed in several days.  Both boys are sound & happy.  So much so that my next story for you involves a lesson (OMG, a lesson!!?!) in which Baby Monster is making some very exciting progress.
Coming soon...

September 19, 2019

Tricks of the Equine First Aid Trade

Since I am currently using nearly all of the equine nursing tricks I've developed over the years, I wanted to share a few products I've adapted from the human world.  In many cases, this is much cheaper than buying "horse" labeled products, as we all know that's an automatic 300% markup. 

Horses & humans may both be mammals, but are NOT interchangeable, so product transference should always be done with caution.  I check with my vet before I try anything new.  And Dr. Bob himself has suggested several of them!

In my wound care kit right now:
  • Generic wound wash from CVS -- a mix of antiseptic & lidocaine, this stuff has become the first thing I grab for cuts & scrapes.  Dr. Bob first mentioned something like this when Solo got staples in his head last year, as the lidocaine reduces itching so they don't rub on everything.  I squirt on a clean cloth to apply & a bottle lasts me a long time (uh, usually).
  • Non-stick wound pads (biggest size available) -- fabulous for things on legs that get wrapped.  In the last post, you can see one sticking out of the wrap around Solo's cannon scrape.  I've found that if you leave a little sticking out above the vetwrap, it helps prevent the pad from sliding out the bottom.  They absorb without peeling off healing tissue when you change bandages.
  • Nitrile gloves (altho medium is of course too small for my giant man-hands) -- not sterile, but cleaner than my fingers & saves me from having to wipe 5 different kinds of goop off my hands.  I also like that the blue is easier for me to see when I drop it or it blows out of a trash bucket.
  • Polysporin -- a long time ago, a dr. told me that 10% of people develop allergic responses to Neosporin, so polysporin was a safer choice.  I don't know if this is applicable to horses or not, but I've used the poly ever since on full-thickness cuts & it works well.
  • Colored duct tape -- I always tape wraps/standing bandages that are worn unattended.  I try to get tape that is a different color than my standing wraps so I can easily see from a distance if it's still there, but I had blue left over from something else, so oops.  
  • Gorilla tape -- I usually only use this for hoof wrapping, for which it is a godsend, but I was about to run out of duct tape, so have also used it on standings.  It has not left a residue or caused any damage to my standing wraps.
The discolored gladware with 3 little syringes is my wound lavage kit.  NCSU vet school taught me this method when I had to clean out Solo's healing head-holes.  Add a little Betadine to water, so it's a diluted mixture, about the colour of weak tea or lighter.  Use the syringes to flush out the wound.  Syringes allow you to control direction & pressure of stream pretty well.  Because Betadine is cytotoxic, you never want to use it full strength on an open wound & even dilute, use only when needed to prevent infection/flush out debris.  It will stain whatever container you put it in, so pick something you don't plan to eat out of later.

Finally, the big fat syringe is just a dosing syringe with the tip cut off, making it easier to give dissolved stuff like SMZs without losing 1/3 of your dose stuck in the plastic tip.

What about you?  Do you have favorite products you've adapted to equine use?