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We Are Flying Solo

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?

September 9, 2019

A Healing Update - It's Never Simple

The first week post-carnage went fairly smoothly.  The Horse Gods saw this & felt it necessary to remind me that this is an unacceptable premise.  As if I need reminding.

Both horses were wrapped for the first week & I was pleased with their progress.  Then Friday morning, I came out to feed breakfast & Solo was suddenly non-weight bearing on that hind leg.

He is a seriously stoic horse, so my panic level shot to maximum while I coaxed & pleaded him in hobbling hops back to the shed.  I took his temperature (normal), pulse (slightly elevated at 44 bpm, but not extreme), & unwrapped his bandages to check for any signs of infection.  Nothing appeared to be any worse than it had been 12 hours before.  Solo was eating & drinking & pooping with a happy face, he just did not want to move that leg.
Doing fine the first week
I called the vet & parked the hose over Solo's hock.  There was still a fair amount of swelling around the hock, but it's a pretty ugly wound, so that's not unexpected.  Dr. Bob talked me off the ledge (he's getting way too much practice at this).  He agreed infection was unlikely & thought Solo had probably just tweaked one of the many bruised tendons/ligaments sometime during the night.  He increased his SMZ dose to be cautious & if we didn't see improvement by Monday, we might try a heftier antibiotic.

I hadn't thought of that possibility, but I now think he is probably right.  Solo could have slipped or torqued it getting up.  I'm glad to say that he is improving -- he's walking, albeit slowly, as well as standing on it, including resting on that leg, which alleviates many of my concerns about the joint.  I also think, based on how he moves, all that delicate healing skin on a high motion area is pulling, especially as it dries & gets tighter, which probably doesn't feel great & he's protecting it.  I know he didn't run around, Solo is a careful guy.

The cuts are healing very well.  Everything is closed except for a small hole at the front, which is good for drainage (only a small amount now).  We're sticking with the SMZs - after Solo had TWO resistant bacteria show up while he was at the vet school in 2017, I am uber-conservative with antibiotic use in all circumstances.  Well, plus, I'm a biologist & I know better.  Only when prescribed, only when truly necessary, & the lowest level possible, as appropriate to the situation.
Front view, this morning, before hosing - WEIGHTBEARING!
Side view this morning (day 9), base layer is closed
It will take a while for the cannon bone scrape to fill in completely, but it has clean margins & it doesn't worry me.  I will keep wrapping until the hock is closed & dry since flies are still out in force.  Why not, I've already purchased my body weight in Co-Flex/VetWrap since one bandage job takes a whole roll.
This is what is under the standing wrap
Echo is doing just fine.  Well, aside from making me crazy by trying to stick his nose into every. single. damn. thing while I'm tending to Solo.  Children.

He's been wrap-free & bute-free since Friday & his last dose of SMZs is today.  The cut on the outside of his leg is pretty much closed & his chest is all healthy skin again except one stripe which will soon be done.  Nothing on his chest actually cut the skin, these were friction burns & they were not sore after the first day or two.
3 days ago; today it's now all healthy, normal skin
3 days ago, that one stripe is still healing
The scary-looking hole behind his knee filled in very quickly.  I'll have to stay on top of proud flesh since I can't pressure-wrap the area, but it's not painful at all.  No swelling & he should be back in work this week.  I just keep Dr. Bob's Magic Red Sauce on it & slather Corona & Swat on the rest to keep the bugs out. 
2 days ago, drying out & filling in
Thanks to everyone for your well-wishes, as always, they mean a lot!  I know horses are experts at mangling themselves no matter what, but I'm going to be angry at myself for a long time for missing that jumper wire.  I did a lot of modifications to the fence when I moved in & thought I had removed all of those, but I was wrong.  However small the odds that the horses would hit the fence at that corner, out of all the corners -- it happened.  Shame on me, but it won't fool me twice.   

I'm cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind us.  Thanks to Erica for helping me finish the last of the fence repairs yesterday!

Cross all the things for us & hopefully the next update will have NO ooze or vet calls. 

Hey, let me have my dream.

September 2, 2019

Emergency Vet -- A Two-Fer

I was working outside on Saturday when I heard the fence wires suddenly start jangling in a bad way.  I had just put the horses in a small side paddock to munch on some fresh grass while I worked on their fields.  I whipped my head around to see Echo flailing about as the top wire dropped (it has breakaway points for this reason) & both horses took off to the other end of the paddock.

Since I only saw the end of the action, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but my educated guess is that Solo kicked out at Echo while he was up against the fence.  Solo got a hind leg over the top wire & Echo somehow got one front leg over it.

As soon as I caught them, I saw that I needed an immediate Dr. Bob inspection (of COURSE, it's a weekend, that's how horses do).  I was cautiously optimistic there wasn't anything catastrophic, as both were trotting & walking around in proper mechanical order (albeit full of adrenaline), but with ugly things - & these were definitely ugly - around joints, I am always very cautious.

To make it more fun, I don't know if you've ever tried to do first aid on two horses while trying to keep a phone in the good reception spot so the vet could call you back.  Well, it's impossible.  A HUGE thanks to Trainer Neighbour who came over & helped me juggle all the things until the vet arrived!

Both horses were really damn lucky.  Warning:  photos follow. 

Echo put a gnarly hole behind his left knee, but it is in a "safe" valley between vital structures.  We can't wrap it due to location, but it is already filling in rapidly.
Right after it happened Sat
He has a full thickness cut on the outside of his cannon, but it is just skin, I will wrap until it closes just to keep it clean as well as to reduce swelling there & below the knee.  Some wire chafes on the tops of both forelegs look bad, but no cuts there.  Thanks to youth, he's not even stiff.
Keeping Corona & Swat in business
I am so very grateful it is not Sacred Leg which doesn't like touching, otherwise I would be far more miserable.

Solo's right hind got the worst of it.  He exposed a chunk of cannon bone above the fetlock, which looks dramatic, but those usually heal up pretty well.
I really never wanted to see my horse's bones...
The front of his hock suffered two full thickness slices while pulling the wire down, but all the tendons are ok, just bruised.  I don't have fresh pics of those, we were too busy tending. 
Side view ~14 hrs later (Sun am)
A blood vessel got nicked & ruptured when I initially hosed it, so I was reminded yet again that horses have a lot of blood.  I think I could have done a transfusion when I rinsed out the initial bandages (below) in the bathtub yesterday.

This morning, those cuts were already nearly closed & all the tissue looks healthy so far.  My main job is to keep everything clean to prevent infection & try to keep the bugs off where I can't wrap.  Both will get a full course of SMZs along with bute for swelling.  Dr. Bob had me put some of the green Epsom salt gel in Solo's hock bandage, to try to draw out fluid into the diaper wrapped around it.  I've never used that on a wound before, just feet -- I'm pretty impressed!
Front view Sun am, healing up
What Went Wrong & What Went Right?

It was mostly a freak accident in just the wrong place.  My property came with hi-tensile wire fencing, which my neighbour built very well.  I have lined much of it with a strand of HorseGuard tape, but this section was not lined.  I'm glad it wasn't, because I think added tape might have made things worse in this case.

The wire itself is heavy-gauge & as I have learned during a couple other times Solo has bounced off the fence, this is an important safety feature which helps it roll off before cutting.  Unfortunately, just about anything will cut when you put an entire horse's weight on it.  I have seen horrific injuries from wood, electrobraid, PVC, mesh, thin tape -- horses are just way too good at carnage.

One of the multiple breakaway points did give when it was supposed to, which created the slack needed for the horses to get out & undoubtedly prevented much worse injury.  However, one point that should have released didn't & I found afterwards that there was an old jumper wire hidden in a bush that I had missed which prevented that release.  That's on me, as I'm sure that led to Solo's hock cuts.  I cut that off & reinspected all the other connections so it will never happen again.
It finally stopped bleeding, still tweaking my bandage setup
Despite the emergency bill & the stress of double first aid, I'm very grateful that things weren't worse.  No one needed stitches or sedation.  Both horses are sound, will heal fully, & are experienced at letting me clean & poke & wrap sore parts without kicking my head off.  After I do my penance of a couple weeks of nursing, everyone should be well on their way. 

Go hug your horses & check your fences.  Don't forget to look under the bushes.

August 27, 2019

Echo's First Outing - Plus Bonus Solo

Last weekend, we had some really lovely weather with temps in the mid-70s, so I pounced on the opportunity to take Echo on his first real adventure.  Temperature was an important factor, because a critical component for success was Echo's Emotional Support Animal, heat-intolerant Solo.

Destination:  the multi-use trails of Umstead State Park in Raleigh

Benefits: 
  • wide trails that are almost entirely wooded (so plenty of room to pony Baby Monster alongside)
  • rolling hills for excellent soft tissue strengthening
  • no additional fees for trail use
  • doesn't get muddy
  • great exposure to Weird Human Activities, as the trails are shared with lots of bikers, hikers, strollers, & all kinds of fascinating & oddly-shaped wardrobe items
Challenges:
  • Trails are shared (& heavily used) with lots of bikers, hikers, strollers, & all kinds of fascinating & oddly-shaped wardrobe items
  • Trails are now almost all gravel (were just screenings a decade ago when I started going there), like #57 road gravel, so can be challenging for barefoot horses (I put front hoof boots on both)
Prep Work

Echo didn't have a long racing career, having failed miserably in four puny races, but that DID mean he made it through training, probably without killing anyone, & broke from the gate & ran the races in the proper direction.  That means I feel comfortable assuming he has seen a number of Weird Human Activities & things which make odd noises.  Nonetheless, bicycles are the most frequent encounter on the Umstead trails & can be sensory twins to a horse-eating cheetah:  swift, nearly silent, & approaching with no warning from behind.  I wanted to be reasonably certain Echo wouldn't respond by trying to kick any heads off these spandex-clad cheetahs.
It's on the internet, therefore, it could happen...
I took my old bike out to the horses' paddock on Saturday & stuffed my pockets with treats.  I started out simply walking the bike next to me in the paddock while the horses were watching me.  Solo immediately pranced up with flaring nostrils & arched neck to inspect (like he hasn't seen it a million times), a cautious, but overwhelmingly curious Echo in tow.  I dispensed treats to both while they sniffed.

I soon graduated to riding the bike away from them (I felt this was least threatening).  They stood & watched with interest, but since they didn't startle, I turned around & rode towards them.  Echo jumped a bit then, not sure what to make of the fact that my motion had suddenly changed dramatically.  I stopped & held out treats in each hand, encouraging him to approach.  An inveterate food whore, he quickly did so.

It took him about four minutes to figure out that bike-mom was definitely not scary, rather she was AWESOME:  this mutant produced delicious noms (I almost never give him treats due to Young Horse World-Goes-In-Mouth Disease) & should be followed closely to ensure none were missed.  Success!

Ride Time   

Sunday morning, I loaded up the boys.  This also meant Echo got to practice wearing ALL FOUR shipping boots.  I know I owe you the story of Sacred Leg still, but short version is he HATES things touching Sacred Leg (right hind) & this has been an ongoing project.  He wanted to make sure I understood that this was definitely cruel & unusual punishment.
Protest noted.
The ride itself...was excellent.  The most exciting part of it -- well, aside from the fact that I can't remember the last time I got to take one of my horses somewhere for fun, that was pretty damn exciting -- but the OTHER most exciting part was that it was completely & totally uneventful.

Echo watched the humans & dogs & miniature humans & bikes & tiny human carriers with bright interest, but remained calm & self-assured.  He never flinched at any bikes whipping past, or coming towards him, he didn't even consider them particularly note-worthy.  It's not like I expected high drama from him, he's fairly sensible, but I hadn't dared to hope for complete acceptance of everything!  He didn't even have to wear his Horse-ibal Lecter muzzle (I brought it just in case, but there were enough interesting things to look at & Solo was walking fast enough to dissipate energy).
I still kept an eagle eye on that nose tho & it transgressed a couple times
I was so proud of him & I definitely think our regular ponying outings on our home trails paid off in spades.  Of course, it was a huge help having his (mostly) wise mentor demonstrate that everything was fine.  "Mostly" because Solo did decide at the very end that some decorative boulders were probably trolls lying in wait to eat him, in need of some very snorty eyeballing from a standstill.  Echo hilariously looked at boulders, looked at Solo, shrugged & just waited for said mentor to get over it.

Even better -- I know, I didn't think it could get better, I still feel a bit nervous over this many good things at once -- Solo was thrilled.  Like overjoyed, excited, soooo happy to be back out adventuring in the world with me.  My warm fuzzy cup runneth over.  It's been a long time since I felt that much bounce in his step.

It was certainly hard at times for him, especially on the steeper downhills, where I felt his shoulders mincing some (his right shoulder gets sore easily due to his old DDFT injury).  Fortunately, the hills aren't long.  I kept trying to get him to take little rest breaks, but he wasn't having it, he was enjoying it far to much to just stand around (his words, ha).
Even did "scary" bridge with wood decking
We ended up walking a little over 6 miles, more than I intended for Solo, but a loop I'd wanted to use was closed so we had to backtrack.  To my surprise, as I was sure he'd be beat, he still trotted out to his field after dinner when we got home & looked perky & fresh on Monday morning!

Walking 6 miles in two hours is not anything big in the grand scheme of things.  But this was the first trip I've gotten to do in several years.  Echo showed me he can take new things in stride & behave like a good citizen.  And I don't know how many rides Solo has left in him (we never really know with any of them), but after all we've been through, well, the value of each one is approximately invaluable.

All of which means that for me, those two hours were pretty darn huge. 

Thanks, guys.  

August 17, 2019

Riding The Rail: Baby's First Bareback Ride & Learning Some Laterals

It might surprise you that I haven't gotten on Echo bareback yet, but more than anything, I was waiting until he had a little more body mass & there was less chance of, you know, him splitting me in half, LOL.
Dec 2018 - not a wide horse!
About a week ago, I was pretty tired when I got home from work & it was humid enough that the thought of putting on pants was akin to torture, so I decided to give it a shot.  My mounting block is only one step, so I opted to use my truck tailgate to get on instead -- I have trained Echo to stand still for mounting, but he is still quite tall & I wasn't sure he was ready for my usual bareback mounting routine.  Which consists of me throwing my body across in a completely ungainly fashion.  Tailgate makes it so much easier.

I am glad to report it was completely uneventful.  He does have some more mass than he did a year ago, but he is definitely still a narrow horse.  It felt pretty much like I had just mounted a 2" x 10" board at the hardware store.  And not on the 10" side.    

We did a few laps of the hills in my lower pasture to keep building the hind & back muscles.  Then I moved up to the top field to practice some lateral work.

I really like working the lateral stuff bareback -- I can feel the horse's back & legs much more easily & I am also more in tune with my own (lack of) straightness, which lets me correct it faster.
I failed to take a pic, so here is (way more comfy) Encore modeling my awesome pad
I have a decent amount of control over Echo's shoulders at this point, having worked a lot on getting them laterally mobile since pushing them in or out is his primary straightness evasion.  So I started with some shoulder-fore, just asking him to hold the bend coming out of a corner.  I didn't really care what he did with his head so long as it wasn't Llama.  I just wanted to feel his shoulder on a different track than his hips & he did it fairly well.

Now I decided to try a leg-yield down a long side with his head facing the wall.  I have taught him turn-on-the-forehand & his haunches are very mobile from a halt, but we haven't mastered the whole "moving haunches while other legs are moving" trick yet.  We have done leg yields from side to side at a walk, but they were very basic in that I just wanted him to move sideways off the leg & it was fine if it was mostly from the shoulders.

This time, I was looking specifically for the haunches to step over on their own track when I applied my leg behind the girth.  I didn't really care what the front end did as long as it kept moving & again, didn't resemble a llama.
Here's a random pic of us trotting
This was really hard for him, as he wasn't sure what I wanted.  So our conversation went like this:

As we walk, I shift my outside leg back an exaggerated amount so it's clear & ask his butt to shift over.
Echo:  Faster walkies?
Me:  Nope, just move your butt onto another track. (I try to slow down the leading shoulder with my inside rein & gently jiggle my outside ankle to emphasize I want his butt to move away from it)
Echo:  You sure not faster walkies??!  Leg squeezing means faster!
Me:  Nope, just shift your butt over. (I hold same aids & try not to move anything else, I try tipping his nose a little towards the rail to give his body a hint & enable that hind leg to step over)
Echo:  Follow nose into the fence tape? This seems weird.
Me:  Nope, just shift your butt over. (I gently thump my ankle on his ribs)
Echo:  Uhhhh, this doesn't really make sense, that thumping is annoying, I'm shifting my butt away from that...
Me:  YAYYYYYY!!!  GOOOOD PONEH!!! (I release all aids)

He didn't really get that last successful step until maybe the third time we tried it.  The most important part was for me to keep the aids on & to wait him out.  I basically needed to create the doorway for energy to go through & then wait while he blundered around off the walls of the room until he found the doorway himself.  Then make sure he realized that going through the doorway was a positive experience & way more comfortable than running into walls.

Boy, that analogy sure sounds like my experience of life. 
Echo's favourite drinking strategy: why do things the easy way???
Anyway. 

Once he figured it out, I repeated it one more time to make sure he was clear on the connection.  I've learned that for him, that is usually sufficient repetition on learning a basic concept like this; any more & he will get annoyed, because he already did it correctly, which is fair.

I let him walk a few more slopes on a long rein, asking nothing more than a nice, forward walk, just to let him stretch out any kinks.  Then we were done - I was very happy with his efforts.  I will keep bringing those exercises in to our warmups under saddle, where he will find the doorway a little faster each time, until he remembers the path & doesn't run into any walls at all.

August 5, 2019

Introducing Whips To The Sensitive Horse

In case you missed it, Echo is Sensitive Horse.  Alert to everything HE thinks is interesting or surprising, but without being scary about it.  I need to stay aware of where his attention is, but I don't have to fear being run over or run away with.

This feature is, I have discovered, mostly a really awesome thing:  it makes him a pretty light ride & allows me to train more nuanced responses with less effort.  While teaching him to longe, I didn't use a whip at all -- it was too much pressure for a horse who responded to a wiggle of the line's end.

Whip tools are just that, however:  tools, valuable extensions of my body that, when used correctly & thoughtfully, help me explain my requests to my horse.  In addition, I am a firm believer in teaching a horse to accept many things that I may never use, so that he isn't afraid of them.  I want responsive, not reactive.  So when we advanced to a point where I really wanted those tools, I knew I had to put some thought into how I brought them in.

Cause we be starting to get some muscles!
Phase 1:  Dressage Whip

Some people may hate me, but I purposefully spent some time un-sensitizing Echo to my legs in the early phases.  Or as I call it, "Ammy-proofing."  I need him to take a joke if I am clumsy when mounting or lose balance after a jump or just lose track of my limb function (my innate lack of coordination is strong), enough so that he doesn't freak out & scoot out from under me.  Or, should the need arise, someone else.

He learned there was a difference between "my leg moved in a way that means I'm requesting something" and "oops, sorry."  And in the way of all horse training, or at least my horse training, the needle was creeping a little too far the other way & I needed the whip to remind him that legs do still mean something.

I know by now this very smart horse does best when you explain things to him, break it down into bite-sized pieces & give him a chance to think about it & explore it.  So I began on the ground.

I plan-ily (it's a word now) set aside an afternoon to devote to this lesson.  I used an old whip which had the (possibly) scary tassel end broken off so it was really just a stick.  I let him sniff it & proceeded to touch & rub it over his entire body on both sides.  I had treats stuffed in my pockets just in case I needed bribery.
Similar exercise with pool noodle last winter
Echo stood stock still, ears waggling at the gnats, watching me do Weird Human Things with curious eyes, but absolutely zero concern.  It took five whole minutes.

I moved on the next day to holding a fully intact dressage whip in lots of positions while I tacked him up in the crossties, letting him get used to seeing it out of both eyes, from all angles, including across his back.  I did the same thing on the mounting block.  He couldn't care less.

So I hopped on & let him walk around while I switched the whip from hand to hand, reached it up to rub between his ears, & rubbed the top of his butt.  Echo was more interested in what those squirrels could possibly be doing in that tree that sounded like so much fun.

Always watching something

It was time for the last step, actual tapping.  Despite his uneventful prior reactions, I still sank all my weight into the saddle, made sure I was sitting up straight, & wrapped my leg beneath me just in case.  I inhaled, exhaled, & tapped.

Nothing happened.  Not even an ear flick.

I thought maybe I hadn't actually touched him while trying to be careful.  So I flicked it a little farther just to be sure it reached him.

He did cock an ear back, but I could almost see him shrug.  I laughed aloud, as it was certainly not what I expected -- silly me assuming racehorses knew whip language & assuming Sensitive Horse would be sensitive in the way I expected.  I was going to have to up the ante to make sure he understood that requests weren't really optional, while making sure I fairly explained the tool.
Don't know what this is about, but it's awesomely weird & I have so many questions...
I had to give him a couple of pops with it, which he definitely rather resented, & he STILL didn't increase his speed.  He finally, with a rank head shake & a grunt, gave me the right response after some more insistent rapid fire taps.  The key is to STOP, releasing, the SECOND they give you that forward.

We're still fine-tuning that (work's been nutty, so schedule is sporadic).  I don't necessarily intend to ride with a whip all the time, but it's a valuable reminder tool & I want to also be able to use it if I need it to train more advanced things from both the ground & in the saddle.  So he needs to know how it works.

Step 2:  Longe Whip

Echo is MUCH  more sensitive to pressure on the longe.  So I puzzled for a while on how to bring in this one.  He is now confident enough on the line that I felt he could handle it & I wanted my extra line length back now that we were doing more complex work.

I  knew from past experience that dangling, dragging things can be initially scary, as it is obvious that they have designs on gnawing on pony legs with dripping fangs.  We work on it.  But a longe whip's lash is long & it loves to get snagged in blackberry sprouts or weeds & then pop free in surprising ways that I didn't feel would end well for either of us if I just sprung that on him.

It took me much longer than it should have to realize I could just use it with the lash wrapped up, converting it to just another stick.  Like so:

And he was fine with it.  I  now have my arm extension back & I will unwind the lash in stages so he gets a chance to absorb it.  Every time we finish longeing, I make sure to rub that whip all over his body as well, inside legs, under belly, & crossing over back.  He was a little leery of it touching his hind cannons at first, especially on his Sacred Leg which does not like to be violated, but by the second session, he understood it meant no harm.

Hopefully, this is a step back towards revisiting long-lining, which I had to abandon as it was Too Much Pressure & I didn't want it to turn into a thing.  In a long series of baby steps for Baby horse Monster.

July 11, 2019

How To Add Suspension To Your Dressage In Five Minutes

Are you wishing you could add some more spring to your horse's trot in the dressage arena? 

We've all spent countless hours trying to lift our horses' backs & generate more impulsion by using a certain plane of the ankles while precision-scootching seatbones into a receiving hand & holding the muscles between your 5th & 6th rib at 45 degrees of tension. 

Or something like that.   

Last weekend, I found a much easier solution.

I present to you Exhibit Echo.  As voiced by Echo. 

We are trotting around at Trainer Neighbour's, everything is pretty normal.  Until...

Why HELLO, Interesting Bear-Doggeh, WHAT R U?
BEAR-DOGGEH! I CAN HAZ A PLAY!?!! 
TAA-DAAA!  Look at that supension!  So uphill!  All we needed was an Interesting Dog in the arena!

Of course, Echo didn't stop there.  Interesting Dog apparently looked like a super-fun playmate:

We do like this, Bear-Doggeh, first u prepare...

...then u lift feets like this...
...then u WHEEEEEEEE!!!
Ah, the steps of riding a Baby Monster.  Who is 5 going on 2.  But since he is a good Baby Monster, two strides later, he was right back to a normal rhythm.  Sometimes the WHEEEE just can't contain itself, but he is so darn cute & completely non-threatening about it, it just makes me giggle.

Interesting Dog (appropriately named Grizz) never moved.  Maybe he's into playmates with fewer sharp edges.

June 30, 2019

Make Your Own: SmartPak Edition

On a somewhat lighter topic, Cob Jockey posted about her solution for reusable supplement containers.  I have also recently begun doing this, so here is another easy option I found.

A bit of background:  I find it somewhat amusing, but encouraging, that the horse community is slowly going back in this direction after a heavy transition to SmartPaks.  I myself have used SmartPaks for a long time -- they were very convenient, particularly while boarding, with clear labels, & I never had to worry about torn baggies or mis-measured feeding during my frequent work travel.

However, as many of you know, I am also a conservation biologist, so I am hyper-aware of the breadth of issues disposable plastic involves, from manufacturing to transport to disposal endpoints.  SmartPak wells are technically labeled as recyclable, but now that much of Asia has finally decided they no longer wish to be responsible for our trash, much of the "recycling" in the US is not actually being recycled at all

Even without this change, I was becoming more & more uncomfortable with the amount of plastic waste generated each month by SmartPak containers - which also come wrapped in plastic wrap with what looks like foil lining on top.  I spend many of my work days in streams & rivers & it is rare that I don't see assorted plastic flotsam littering banks, bridge crossings, & root tangles.  It blows out of trucks, off barges, or is just plain thrown in the ditch.  I find animals with plastic wrapped around appendages, trapped inside discarded containers, & worse.
I couldn't find my pic of dead turtles wrapped in monofilament, so here's one that was thrilled to see me -- you're welcome
It was while eating lunch one day that I stumbled upon a solution that has cost me $0 extra & is saving me money on the supplements themselves too.  I still purchase the supplements in buckets from SmartPak, which is cheaper on a per day basis & I still get free shipping, along with the great service they have always given me.  I'm excited about the bonus of extra buckets -- if I reach capacity at the farm, I can always use them at work, where we convert buckets into traps for burrowing crayfish species.

Down the road from my office is a KFC where I sometimes grab lunch (I am well-known for my healthy food choices).  In the $5 box meals, they have begun using small reusable containers for sides like mashed potatoes -- they are even helpfully labeled "REUSABLE," although I'm sure many people still throw them away, sigh.  They also come with a cookie.  Win.
Sunglasses provided for scale
These are the perfect size for a couple equine supplements & I've begun amassing a collection.  I like that they are compact (4" diameter by 1.25" high), so they stack easily in my SmartPak drawers & I can shove them in my pockets.  The lids have little tabs so they are easy to open, even with gloves on, but still snap shut securely.

I have 8 so far (we've been doing field work a lot lately, when I pack lunch), so I can load a week at a time.  I keep the big buckets in the house so they are climate-controlled.  It takes less than 2 minutes to load them up, then I take them to the feed shed next time I go out.

I haven't labeled them since I'm just using them for Echo so far, but you could easily sharpie them or make tape labels if you wanted something less committal.  So far, I have dropped them, sat on them, & stepped on them (my clumsiness is so useful for product testing) & the lids have stayed on & dents have popped right back out. 

I ran them through the dishwasher initially to get the potato & gravy smell out, but haven't washed them since as I'm putting the same thing in every week & it's dry.  I've just been putting Echo's TractGuard in them, but am now switching both horses' SmartHoof pellets over to these containers & both supplements fit with room to spare.
TractGuard + SmartHoof pellets = not full

Now Solo will need a set -- I guess I better eat some more potato-flavoured slop!  I am trying to resist the temptation to raid the KFC dumpster...

How about you?  Have you repurposed a container that you love?   

June 22, 2019

The Other Reason Solo Lived

Some of it was just plain luck.  There were so many places things could have gone further awry & they didn't.  Luck is blind, we didn't earn it, but I am grateful for it nonetheless.

But the other big reason Solo is here today is...because he is Solo.  Because he LET us help him. I wouldn't have blamed him if he didn't.

He spent weeks in a stall, with daily harassment by vets, students, me, all staring, poking, treating, injecting (thankfully, IVs reduce this).  Yes, he went for walks, hung out in the round pen, & enjoyed baths, but there was a lot of standing around too.  Those drainage holes had to be cleaned & debrided in stocks daily.  He had frequent oral exams & scoping.

All of this could make any horse pretty darn angry & resentful.  Heck, it would make ME pretty darn resentful.  But Solo never got angry.  He always pricked his ears when someone entered his stall & stood quietly while they inspected him.  He walked obediently into the stocks every time.  He let me clean & flush the holes in his head un-sedated & accepted his vital meds.

A week before discharge - clearly (not) suffering
Solo remained the gentle, forgiving horse he has always been, the horse who is always optimistic that the next time will be better (a quality his owner fails at).  This really was a key element in his survival.

To be honest, it wasn't an angle I had considered in great detail before this, but it definitely will be a conscious question in decisions about ANY horse's care in the future:  is this horse mentally up to working WITH me through whatever challenge he is facing?

We don't always know for sure, & of course we can't predict everything that's going to happen but I feel a responsibility to give a hard, honest look at the question, to the best of my ability.  I.e., I would absolutely not ask my 5-yr-old uber-sensitive TB to deal with something like this.

This issue has also been incorporated into my training.  I am spending purposeful time with Echo, working on skills specifically related to vet care.  For example:
  • Practicing wrapping ice packs & other strange feeling things onto each leg & foot -- particularly with his hinds, which he is super fussy about
  • Putting my hands, empty syringes, shining flashlights, into his mouth (& teaching that it's different then him putting his mouth around my hands, LOL)
  • Standing in buckets (we haven't gotten to this yet, shame on me)
  • Working around him in the dark wearing a headlamp & dropping or tossing things, having phone timers/alarms going off
  • Standing in the cross-ties when Solo has wandered out of sight (he's gotten surprisingly good about this)
These little things become such important skills, as you all know if you've ever had to be an equine nursemaid.  I'd taken them for granted because Solo has always been pretty cooperative.  Seeing how much my buddy's life depended on them opened my eyes.

Solo has a long history of being subjected to strange things by his owner...
I wrote these three treatises in hope that they help someone else if faced with something similar.  I had to make a lot of decisions without much information, which makes it even more difficult.  As I've stated before, this is NOT something I would do for any horse -- the final bill, well, I can pretty much guarantee it was higher than whatever you might guess.  That still paled in comparison to the investment of energy, heart, & time this all took.  None of it was undertaken lightly.  The right decision for you & your horse may be different than mine, but I hope at least you have a better idea of what the options might look like.

Epilogue

These days, Solo & I go for a trail ride about once a week, exasperated accompanied by our Baby Monster.  We move slower than we used to, but that's just fine with Solo, who firmly believes that all of life should go at the pace HE chooses.  The small lump of his tracheostomy scar, barely there unless you're looking for it, is all that remains of his ordeal.

Spring 2018
Every time those orange ears are framing my view, my heart overflows.  With disbelief that we made it through.  With love for my best friend.  And gratitude.

For an incredible team of vets, including residents, students, & staff, who went above & beyond & literally came running in the middle of the night when he needed them.  I was at the hospital every single day, except for two days I had to run an unavoidable work project; I was always treated with respect & included as an integral part of the team.

For all of you, who followed our story & sent well-wishes, which meant so much & still do.  I'm sorry I wasn't better at chronicling in the meantime.

For the support & assistance of my mom & Erica.  We wouldn't be here today without you.  For my neighbour, who helped me take care of Encore while his friend was away. For kind friends who picked up my slack at work & for my boss, who was far more understanding than I expected.

And of course, for Solo.  My one, true heart.  Thank you for fighting & thank you for staying.  I know one day, we will have to say goodbye, & I know I will never be ready, but I am so grateful it's not today.

You quite literally saved my life, buddy.  I'm overjoyed that I could finally return the favour.

June 15, 2019

Solo's Aftercare

When we got home from the vet school, Solo & I still had a lot of work to do.  The catheters keeping the abscess tracts draining had to be cleaned & checked several times a day.  He also needed his metronidazole (antibiotic) & misoprostol (for the colitis; also, this stuff is crazy expensive) at eight hour intervals.

What It Entailed

The catheters needed to be secured to something so they wouldn't get pulled out, so we used a fly mask & elastikon to keep them close to his head & positioned correctly for draining.  I finessed the taping pattern with time to reduce the amount needed.

Also cut the throat strap off this halter
NCSU also gave me a great elastikon-saving tip:  a new roll of elastikon is stretched way too tight for safe use on most horse applications, so you need to unroll the whole thing & re-roll it with less tension.  When you do this, go ahead & cut it in half long-ways -- now you have twice as much of this expensive tape!

The whole rig needed re-doing once a day, what with all that delicious goop draining out.  It went pretty quickly once I got it down.  I'd remove all the tape & mask, wipe off any drainage goop, put fresh vaseline on his chin to protect it from scalding, then tape it all back together.  Thankfully, Solo was very patient about all of this.

Patient but not above dirty looks
His medication was a much bigger production.  Long-time readers will recall this horse is incredibly picky & won't eat powdered drugs in his food.  Metronidazole is foul-tasting stuff & we were worried we weren't going to be able to get it in him, as he was refusing to allow straight oral dosing as well.  However, this is when it is worth having an army of vet students.

Meds + chaser (right)
Before he came home, his vets & I put our heads together.  His favourite treat is candy canes & in a pinch, very sweet peppermints (not regular peppermints for his highness).  I found an enormous tub of the latter at Walgreen's & brought it to the hospital, where they proceeded to bribe train Solo to accept his medicinal torture.

When he was discharged, they showed me what they had achieved:  he would now turn his head to me & take the 2 med syringes (meds + peppermint), which was then followed by syringe #3 of all-peppermint chaser.  That was worth the bill right there.  Genius.

To keep track of all this, I built a database in my phone (hey, I'm a scientist, what did you expect), which turned out to be an awesome tool.  I found an app called Memento which is extremely simple to use & made a datasheet to track my tasks, including pulse & temp.  It allows you to add photos & export the data, so I could print & show it to our vets at follow-up visits.  

Timeline

July 29 to August 4 (six days post-discharge): Catheter care & meds.  I usually did these about 7:30 am, 3:00 pm, & 10:30 pm.  My home vet came every 2nd day to debride & flush drain tracts & replace catheters, as per NCSU orders.

August 4:  First NCSU follow-up.  Catheters removed, drain packed with antibiotic-soaked gauze, which I am to remove the following evening.  Scoped guttural pouch & drainage tracts, all healing well.  He has extremely restricted range of motion on left side of his jaw (he can't yawn normally, does a weird sideways version), likely from scar tissue.  Solo & I are both thrilled to be done taping his head together. 

My flushing syringes set up
I now need to flush the tracts once daily with diluted betadine until they are closed.  I am issued a handy little catheter tube for this after I pass my skills test.  It's a delicate business as you don't want to squirt too hard & disturb healing tissue & I'm definitely glad I've had practice doing tricky procedures on small, sensitive animals.

August 7:  Our home vet does one last debridement & check, things look good.

August 11:  We are done with metronidazole, woohoo!  Solo has been eating very slowly, even when I wet his food, but he has a good appetite & grazes happily.

Almost healed, minimal drainage
August 18 (20 days post-discharge): Drainage tracts now healed, leaving only a small surface cavity.  Yay, no more flushing!!

August 21:  Second NCSU follow-up.  No signs of tracts on ultrasound (woot!), tongue ulcers are still healing but doing well.  Weird mass still in guttural pouch on scope, we biopsy again (still just granulation tissue & goo).  Range of motion in jaw slightly improved, but not much.  We begin physical therapy of biting apples.  I started with the smallest ones I could find.

August 26 (28 days post-discharge):  We are done with misoprostol, no more drugs!!!  Apple PT is slow going, I can only do it every other day at first because he gets sore easily.  Chewing is fine, just opening & stretching that scar tissue is soooo hard.

Moar apples & slurpy noms plz
Apple PT continued into December -- and it worked!  Today, Solo yawns normally & crunches anything he wants with no concerns.

We had our final NCSU follow-up check in January 2018, five months post-discharge, at which point the mystery mass in his guttural pouch was finally gone.  Everything is completely healed, his tongue is ulcer-free, his albumin levels are normal, & his jaw is ~90% normal range of motion.  There were a lot of smiles in the exam room that day.

Summing It Up

This aftercare was a solid month of multiple-times-a-day, hands-on care, plus four more months of PT follow-through.  I consider myself a skilled caretaker & I have a very high comfort level with detailed & sensitive procedures - I do surgeries on endangered fishes at work (they lived).  It was still a lot of work & success required every ounce of my attention & organization.      

Setup for my phone database
I am also very lucky to have Solo living with me.  It's a lot easier to just walk out the back door when you have to give meds at 11 pm.  I did have to leave for four days in August to run yet another unavoidable work project, during which time I was doubly lucky that I have a wonderfully kind & equally skilled trainer neighbour who flushed out Solo's hole-y head pus & gave him his meds.  She didn't even make fun of me for leaving her a data sheet to fill out.

We did have minor complications, including an additional vet call.  I am forever grateful for the support of Dr. Bob & our NCSU vets who let me call & email all sorts of excessive details & questions.  Their support was generous & kind.

There is another major factor which contributed to our success, but this post is already very long, so it shall be continued...    

Aug 2017: Home, healthy, tape-free, & oh-so-content