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We Are Flying Solo

May 31, 2012

Diagnostic Geek-Out Imminent

After I left Encore at the NCSU Equine Hospital on Wednesday night, things proceeded roughly like this (italics are me):

Wednesday night:

He's not lying in his stall, whinnying in anguish.  He is not lying in his stall, whinnying in anguish.  Dr. Newman said he would call on Thursday when Encore was going into his bone scan tomorrow, so I will just try and breathe deeply till then.


Did my phone ring?  How about now?  Now?  How about now?  Ahh, I have to pee, I'm taking my phone with me.  It still didn't ring.  How about now?  Well, I guess they would call me if he died.


10:30 am; Dr. Newman calls with results of bone scan -

"Overall, he looks pretty good.  There are three hot areas, in his left stifle, left hock, and the spinous processes of his thoracic spine.  So I would like to do radiographs there, unless you prefer to try blocks first.  I'm not sure if it's just his back or if there are any surgical lesions on his hock or stifle"

When looking at bone scan images, darker areas indicate where there has been greater uptake of the radioactive isotope into the bony structures.  This can mean a potential problem area, but keep in mind, that it is only an indicator to help zero in on spots, because it will show you EVERYTHING.  Dr. Newman said almost all horses will show up hot in their sesamoids, withers, and some elbows.

A nice matched set of knees.
Pretty  matchy scan on the hind feet too.
 ZOMG, you said the "s" word.  No problem.  I'm totally not freaking out right now.  It's only $600 more, radiograph away, my friend!

11:00 am:  Dr. Newman informs me that Encore is going into radiology.  At this point I realize my horse has basically just gotten to be high for two days and I start to feel less bad for him.

11:30 am:  Dr. Newman calls with the results of radiographs -

"His hock and stifle are lovely and clean, so I suspect there is just some bone bruising there or bruising at tendon/ligament attachments.  His neck and cervical spine are beautiful and some of the cleanest we've ever seen.  What Dr. Redding and I feel is causing the problem are the arthritic changes between his vertebrae from about T15 to L1 and we'd like to inject those."

Look at that hock -- pretty darn clean, I can't ask for much more than that!

Left stifle.  Radiographs fascinate me.  But you can see the joint edges are pretty dang clean and smooth.

So no surgery?

"No, no surgery."

OMG, my horse and I are a perfectly matched pair.  This is the same procedure I got last year, only I didn't get to be doped out on xylazine.  Go get 'em, vet-man.

Shortly after that, I was able to pick Encore up and take him home for three days of pen rest, after which I am slowly bringing him back to work over the next 2-3 weeks.  If there are any lingering issues at that point, we can poke and block and see if we can chase them down.  Dr. Newman also sat down with me when I arrived to rescue the pony and went through the imagery with me.  It was easily apparent (if your entire career has been training to look for small differences in details) where the problem was.

Bone scan of happy withers.  Notice the spinous processes above the vertebrae are clearly defined.
Now compare that to his thoracic spine (back of the saddle) -- the processes are dark and indistinct.
Radiographs confirm -- see the nice spaces between the processes at his withers?  Happy withers.
Back to his thoracic spine and you can see the uneven edges of arthritic change and that the spaces between vertebral processes have shrunk.  Very common in riding horses, especially short-backed horses.
Four injection needles inserted and position checked prior to injection.  This one gave me shuddering flashbacks to the horrific pain of my own injections but Encore got sweet sweet drugs, so the vet said he didn't even flinch.

So, best case scenario, I bring him back in 3 weeks, he is fixed, I jump up and down and I never have to talk to you again?

Dr. Newman:  "LOL, yes, that is the most likely outcome."

Now, my goals are Training Level long format events, which are 3'3" jumps.  We're not asking for Rolex, but will he have a problem with this?

"No, he should do just fine."

If I didn't have massive personal space issues, I would hug you right now, but I do, so let's just pretend.

Is it just me, or did his laugh sound relieved?

May 29, 2012

Unscheduled PSA: Don't Be An Idiot; Don't Kill Your Horse

I know you have earned an Encore update, but I have some amazing images to upload and organize first.

At the moment, however, I have something to say.  I preface by saying that, in the National Forest where we spent the weekend, there are a variety of equine campgrounds, ranging from a gravel lot with no electricity and no permanent equine enclosures to a lovely bathhouse, cabins, grassy campsites, multiple barns and pens, and washracks.  There is a reason I pay extra to camp at the latter, although even it is not immune to idiots.

If you travel with your horse, even if you are "only" trail riding, you have the following obligations:

-Your horse must have a safe place to stay overnight, with clean and safe footing, free of hazards, where he can lay down and rest after hauling your butt up and down mountains all day.

-Your horse must ALWAYS have water to drink.  Yes, really, always.  It is your responsibility to check his bucket periodically to make sure it stays full and clean.  I don't care if the bucket is heavy, your arm will not detach.  You can always use several smaller or half-full buckets to top it off.  If we have to fill your horses' empty buckets when it is 90 degrees and they slurp down the entire thing in one go, they have just told on you.

-After you have ridden, I don't care how hot you are, how many beers you want to drink, how long you want to practice your redneck yells, which of your handguns you want to play with, or which of your shirtless neighbours you want to flirt with (all of which I saw when we rode through aforementioned other camping areas).  Your first responsibility is to make sure that your horse is hosed off, cooled out, his feet and body are checked over and returned to safe place where he can rest with water.  Only after all this is completed may you attend to whatever else it is you want to do.

-Even after you have put your horse away, you must go check on him 30 minutes to an hour later; he may have guzzled his bucket of water after hauling said butt up said mountains and need a refill.  Or he may be showing delayed signs of heat stress or colic or other problems.  It is your job to know and respond.

-If your horse's back is shaped like a U, his pelvis is rotated on the end of his spine, and the top of his rump sits 4" higher than the low point of his back and all of his back muscle is completely atrophied, leaving a ribby, dangling belly between normally muscled shoulders and haunches, for the love of cod, your saddle does not fit, your horse's back has a major problem and you should not be plopping yourself up there without addressing it.

-If you have failed to do these things and I have to ride through your equine ghetto of a campground and see your dead/dying horse lying in his shoddily constructed "enclosure" of ancient tape around trampled manure and mud while you peer at him from 20 feet away and then wander back to your trailer without a peep and if I have to wonder whether your potbellied shirtless neighbour is actually going to try and shoot your horse with the 9 mm handgun he is playing with on the other side of me, it is going to take every ounce of willpower within me not to leap off my horse and push you in front of the next passing logging truck.  Or possibly attempt to stab you to death with the dull knife in my saddle bag.  If I have to ride away as quickly as possible, praying I don't hear gunshots behind me, I am going to wish upon you the worst karma I can think of and then I'm going to get even more creative than that and wish that.

The horses don't get a choice (although I would be deeply gratified if they trampled you the next time you came in the pen); therefore, you don't have one either -- you must attend to their safety and needs before all else.  Then I don't care how many beers you drink or how little clothing you wear as long as it doesn't wake me up.

End PSA.

May 25, 2012

Horses Are Horses And There's Not A Damn Thing You Can Do About It

I've been posting running updates on Encore on the TFS Facebook page, but I wanted to talk a little about the underlying issues.

I know there are people out there who will say, ha, I knew it, all OTTBs have issues and I will never buy one.

Well, you would be missing out.  Because you want to know the 100% honest truth?  You can never predict which horse will be sound throughout its career (pretty rare) and which horse will have issues on and off and which horse will have to be retired prematurely. 

You can buy a beautifully perfect two year old warmblood with impeccable bloodlines who has never been touched and it can try to reach the wrong clump of grass and break its silly neck in the gate.

You can buy an 18-year-old campaigner who's evented through Advanced and been working since he was 3 and he can never have a problem and you can show him until he's 30.

I know (well, online "know") an excellent breeder/owner who produces beautiful eventers and raises them exactly the right way.  They start out with road work and cow work on all types of terrain, they build their bones and soft tissue, they don't start jumping till they are four or five, I mean EVERYTHING right.  Yet one of her horses still suffered a catastrophic bone shatter on course after reaching the top levels of the sport.  It's a cruel and horrible thing, but there is no insurance that says your horse will never have a problem.

Horse ownership is a risk, plain and simple.  When you start to compete, you (exponentially, I have concluded) raise that risk as you ask more from the horse and his body.

Encore raced steadily for three years and 26 races and as far as I know, did not have issues.  Parklane Hawk, who is currently taking William Fox-Pitt on a run for the eventing Grand Slam, raced 144 times and is insanely athletic and brave and takes on the biggest, baddest jumps there are and keeps on winning.

Some of it is heart, some of it is luck, and the rest is just...horses.  Each one is unique and (if you are a pushover like me) each one is special and has something to teach. 

So my advice to you is to never walk away from a horse just because "it's an OTTB" or "it needs a hock injection" or "it's over 10" or any of those types of reasons.  There are so many great diagnostics and treatment options out there and OMG, BUY INSURANCE and when you find a horse that you click with, give him a chance to be the best he can be and I promise that you will have time of your life, even when there are speed bumps.

May 23, 2012

Horse Hospitals Are Even Slower Than Human Hospitals

Hard to believe, isn't it?

Remember the Flying Solo Test Of Horse Ownership Preparedness?  Oh yes, we're at it again.  Actually, when I called my insurer to give them a heads-up on what was going on, I swear I heard them sigh in despair when I said NC State.  They just sent me the kick injury check last week.  They are not thinking I am a good investment at the moment.

All surfaces hoseable...
Since Encore was NQR (Not Quite Right, for the uninitiated) at our lesson, I followed David's advice and so today found us meeting with the head orthopedic diagnostic guru at NC State University's veterinary hospital.  He and his flock of undervets and minions flexed and jogged and watched Encore under saddle and videoed and scribbled.  Oh, and this was all around 1:30ish.  Our appt and arrival time was at 10:30 am.  Ha.

I had given Guru a strict lecture -- I am a state employee and Encore IS insured, but there is still a 30% copays for diagnostics.  Guru turned to his head undervet and said, "what would you recommend for this horse?"

Undervet replies as dreaded:  "Bone scan.  But I think it's going to be a hard sell."

"Why is that?" asks Guru, "Just because it's money out of her pocket?"

Gee, thanks, man.  Oh well, just fix my horse.

The equine version of those little bracelets
Guru did agree with my assessment that Encore's limbs were fine, but there was something going on higher up.  And he wanted to scan his whole body since that pesky little LF limp step was showing up -- it's been there since the beginning, but I figured it was a bad foot thing and it goes away after a few minutes of warmup.

I did tell them that I already have radiographs of his front feet and his hind leg where he was kicked, so there's something...and I just paid his insurance deductible thanks to the lovely kick injury.

I wasn't alone though -- a girl just a bit younger than me was handgrazing her horse on the front lawn as I walked by and asked me beggingly, "Please tell me good news!  I just need to hear someone has good news."

"Sorry," I sadly replied, "I have none.  Horse ownership is pretty much a period of dealing with issues punctuated by brief interludes of bliss doing what you actually love."

We sighed together.

So Encore must stay in the hospital until Friday and will be released once he is no longer radioactive.  If you are curious about bone scans, you can read the layperson version here or the total science nerd version here.

I had read about bone scans and the procedure, but I suppose I hadn't really processed that I would have to leave him there and drive home with an empty trailer.  Undervet apparently recognized the blind panic on my face and suddenly became a great deal gentler.

"Don't worry," he said, "We'll take very good care of him and we will call you with any updates and before he goes in for scanning."  He took down feeding notes and had I been a bit younger, he might have patted me on the head.

Do not like.  Take home now, please.
I went to say goodbye to Encore, who kept trying to sneak out the door in a nervous lunge to please not stay here, mum!  I gave him a hug and told him to be a good boy and promised I was coming back for him (ok, maybe I cried a little, but no one saw it so it can never be proven) and took a deep breath and walked away.  It was a very loooong walk back to the trailer, with a brief pause at the checkout to give away a massive sum of invisible money.

They tell me images will be available on Friday morning, so we will know more then.  I have fearful suspicions, but hope that they are very wrong.  I do want something to show up though, because if it doesn't show up on a bone scan, that means it's soft tissue, which is far harder to pinpoint and treat.

All around though, I can assure you, hospitals still suck no matter what species you are.  At least in a person hospital, it's just me that's nervous.  In the horse hospital, I am nervous, Encore is nervous, then I am trying to be not nervous so he will not feed off my nervousness, then I get nervous that he looks more nervous...really, they should just give out Xanax at the door and be done with it!

May 19, 2012

All Work And No Play

It's not really like me to sit around and sigh for long when I can't ride my little project.  It's not as if there is ever a shortage of things that need tending to!

I always work very hard to make sure that I keep my BO's happy no matter where I am.  While Solo has become a very easy horse to take care of, Encore practically needs his own wait staff.  With five kinds of food, a wheedling plea for better hay, and constant adjustments to try and get back all the weight he dropped in the farm move, I want to simplify and contribute as much as I can to the farm.  I will bend over backwards and work all day long to make my boys' home the best it can be.

Feeding spreadsheet duct taped to bins on waterproof paper?  Check!
Supply my own shed for all my eventing crap so I take up zero barn space?  Check!
Prepare the next feeding myself whenever I am there so the next feeder has life easy?  Check!
Perform archaeological dig in shed, cleaning it, and add some gravel and stall mats to stabilize the floor?  Check!
SmartPak it up so there is no supplement scooping or buckets to fill up the shelves?  Check!
Cap all the t-posts?  Check!

I even go further.  Given that the boys are now on full pasture board and the pasture horses are fed via gator feed transpot, I provided colour coded buckets with their own labels thanks to SmartPak's ingenious covers (seriously an awesome invention)!  You can't tell in the picture, but yes, their names are embroidered in TFS powder blue.

 And while I liked my shed, divided neatly in half so I could imprison Solo and Encore could eat his dinner in peace, its open sides meant it only really provided shade at oh, noonish, and only was a rain shelter if the rain came straight down with no wind (pretty much never).  So while the BO had offered to enhance the shed construction when he had more funds in a few months, I decided to take an afternoon and give the boys some sunblock on their western wall.  The BO can consider it his early Christmas present. 

Of course, I had forgotten that sheets of treated plywood weigh 47,000 lbs, so everyone in Lowe's got to see me fall flat on my face when one dragged me over.  Oh, and also that lumber costs a gazillion dollars.  And I invented some pretty interesting rock climbing moves to get the top crossbeams up.  But I conquered it all myself except the two top sheets of plywood (yeah, you try it!) so I roped in one of the women who works at the barn (horsewomen are awesome and can do anything) to help me lift and screw in the top sheets and cover boards for the seams.  Four 4' x 8' sheets of plywood, four 2 x 4 x 10's, a box of super-magic treated lumber screws, and a lot of acrobatics and "magic words" later... 


After.  The prisoner entreats in futility.
 These horses better freaking love me.

May 16, 2012

When Is Naptime Again?

There are so many things I want to write for you, so many "almost ready" posts to breathe life back into the blog.  I am just trying to figure out how to do that while trying to be four people at once. 

I am, for some reason, expected to show up at work in order to get a paycheck (entirely unreasonable, I think), so there goes 40 hours.  The horses, well, who knows how many hours that is. 

Dealing with life itself, that can't even be counted in hours.

If you haven't already clicked over to Facebook to follow Team Flying Solo there, I am putting up extra content for you to have fun with because it's just a little bit faster. 

Everything Encore is pretty much in slow motion until a thousand million seconds pass and we meet with the Equine Sports Medicine Man at NCSU.  And after tonight's ride, I know we'll have to keep it slow until then.

Which means I have some time to get on Solo again; Solo, who has reduced from hippopotamus to normal horse size since the move, which is nice (unfortunately, Encore has been subject to the same phenomenon, dang TBs) so a little work has been done for me. 

So I think tomorrow, we'll put his boots on, I'll swing a tired leg over his back and settle into my favourite home for a very familiar ride. 

I can't wait.

May 13, 2012

Full Stop

It was madness on Friday.  Dashing 100 miles from our last field site of the day home, changing bags, changing trucks, only to dash again to the farm and pick up Encore and wind our way up into the Blue Ridge of Virginia.  We made it to our friend's farm around 9:00 pm, I tucked Encore in in his pasture, then passed out shortly after.

I played video and pole girl Saturday morning; it was interesting to watch the lessons I taped.  The first, especially was tackling the same problems I was having and I laughed as she finished, "I think you just got my lesson!"

We had a quick lunch with David and I was excited to saddle up Encore and show off how far he'd come.  We started our typical Warm Up Circle of Death, but as soon as we got to the canter work, I knew something was wrong.  Encore was falling out hard behind and kept doing a strange hop step with his hind feet on his left lead.  David watched carefully and said, "I don't remember this horse doing this before."

"No," I said, "he's been uneven but this is the worst it's been."

He put us through a low bounce gynmanstic.  After we did it for the fifth or sixth time, I knew he was concerned.  We never work through a gymnastic line that many times.  We tried a couple of small courses, but every jump was odd.  I stopped and said, "David, I can't see anything, it doesn't feel right, I feel as if I've suddenly forgotten how to ride, there's nothing there?"

"That's because there is nothing there, you have no canter," he responded.  My heart sunk.  "You know," he said, "I had a whole plan for this horse today but as soon as I saw the canter issues, I had to throw it all out the window."

It was like a knife to the heart but I knew he was right.  And I couldn't say it was a total surprise either.  I'd been watching Encore for a few months, not sure if it was strength issue or something else, as horses are often uneven behind until they get stronger.  But as the work got harder, the issue became more pronounced.  Our dressage trainer noticed his left hind didn't flex as well as the right and even Dr. Brian asked if he'd ever had stifle issues.  David was just the one who came right out and said, "You have a mechanical problem."

"I've just been really hoping he just needed to be stronger," I pleaded.  "I've been gun-shy since the Solo Incident."

"I completely understand that," he said, "but there is nothing to be gained by being an ostrich.  Go do your diagnostics, pinpoint the problem, then you can fix it and move on with the myriad of treatment options available today."

I was disappointed, yet at the same time, very grateful for his direct assessment and the recommendations he offered.  It gave me a concrete game plan to step forward and address the issue and his eye gave me credibility to take to the diagnostic center.

Sorry, mom.  But I wanted to make sure the insurance was worth it!
My money is on the left stifle and I am hoping it is something simple.  I've known several other horses with similar issues and a simple stifle injection or something similar had them back on track.  Well, I am really hoping it is nothing, but anyone who's been in horses long enough knows they are horses:  it is not if but WHEN you be looking sorrowfully at your lame partner.  It doesn't matter what breed or type -- they are all walking suicide machines (except for Shetland ponies, but I believe evil sustains them).

On the plus side, he is not out of riding commission, so we can still work on things and do fun rides, but we cannot step forward in training until we resolve this and he is able to even up behind.  At the very least, our spring eventing season was done anyway, my summer work schedule is picking up, and we had no horse trial plans until the fall.  So I suppose if any timing is ever right, this one is.

Tomorrow morning, I shall consult the Batphone and we shall see what there is to be seen.  This, indeed, is why I insisted on insurance for the first year!

May 8, 2012

Just A Few Notices

(1)  I have finally broken down and made a Facebook page for TFS.  I admit, the curiosity got the better of me, even though I don't use Facebook much anymore.  But there are often quick things I'd like to post and it offered a faster medium than writing a whole blog post, so there will be extra content, fun pictures, videos, polls, and more -- so find the link here or the permanent link in our sidebar and have even more dorky ridiculousness in your life!

(2) I still have some times for sale on the "Sale" tab, so check them out.  Thanks to those who have purchased and I hope you have fun with your new Solo karma!!

I do remember these books though!
(3)  I NEED YOUR HELP!  I am clearly a moron and suddenly am incapable of remembering to turn on my helmet cam in the XC start box.  Help me come up with a clever solution that even an amoeba could remember and post it in the comments!  I thought to sharpie it on my arm, but that requires remembering the sharpie and remembering to write it.  I did have a sharpie with me, but did not remember to use it.  Life stress really reduces brain function!

You do get extra internet karma if you test your solution on an amoeba and it works.

EDITED TO ADD:  Pictures from Encore's run at the Carolina Horse Park this weekend are up for your entertainment.  Although he was tense in the dressage test, he still had some good engagement behind.  He definitely still jumps like a greenie, but he looks damn cute on XC!  You can view them here.

May 7, 2012


Yes, I am lax in my posting.  Field season pulls me away 2-3 days per week and I've been gone every weekend.  I never want to drive again.

I am also a moron because I keep forgetting to turn on my helmet cam.  This weekend, I did remember at jump 3 and made a valiant attempt to turn it on there.  Unfortunately, Encore had just settled into full TB gallop and those jumps just aren't that far apart at that speed; one handing the XC course did not feel like a good idea.

I know, no cam, what's the point, right?  But we did get some good mileage.

Lesson:  Encore is great in the dressage warmup; I am finally learning what works for him and I had him soft, responsive, supple, and ready to go.  Then we left the warmup ring and entered the dressage arena at A, at which point Encore threw his head up, startled that he was suddenly alone and stared at, and I was unable to unlock his jaw for the next five minutes.  To my aghastment (it's a word now), we still scored a 36.09.  :-o  It felt more like a 45.  But baby needs a lot more mileage so he can get comfy and relax his topline in the arena and we will be hitting the dressage schooling circuit this summer, instead of the schooling HTs I had originally planned.  Not as fun, but cheaper.  The boy already knows how to jump, I'll save those jumps for the fall.

Lesson:  I was starting to figure out a few things in the SJ warmup.  I kept my leg on all the way to the base of the fence and over, hooking a finger through the martingale strap so there was no mouth catching, and we got some LOVELY jumps.  Once we got in the arena though, any place where there were two jumps in a straight line, he charged like a bull and I was left to try to half halt and be soft at the same time.  I think I have at least partially created this problem.  Basically what happens then is I end up trying to hold him to the base of the fence instead galloping through it, which will almost always mean back rails get pulled behind, and I forget all about keeping my leg on.  Hopefully, David will fix us this coming weekend.  If there is a turn or corner to use to balance, we do fine and I can focus and get him back.  A friend was nice enough to catch the rail bowling jumping round on her phone for your entertainment (I would recommend full screening and maxing the resolution)!

Lesson:  Encore is getting more confident on XC, yeah!  And WE JUMPED THE LAST JUMP.  Oh yes, the bright rolltop nemesis was defeated with a holler and a smack.  I don't think I would change a thing about his course.  It was the same funky course as Longleaf, which I still think doesn't work well for Novice horses in several places, but it made my coursewalk much easier.

The point of SCHOOLING horse trial is SCHOOLING and I am very happy with the experience we got.  Encore feels a little more sure of himself each time out and the horse trial itself did its job of showing me where our weak spots were.  So to the drawing board we go, to come back in the fall with a big fat BANG!