Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another Year

2016 is well and truly over, which is a little hard to believe. And part of the reason for my silence on this blog is things have been tough going for us as far as the horses have been concerned for the last many months. Looking back at my stats, I spent only about 100 hours on horseback this year -- by far the lowest number ever since I've been keeping track. This was mainly because, of our four horses, three have been having major issues. Those issues have been pretty varied, but can be summed up quickly enough.


Piper still isn't reliably sound. We've got a good farrier who is working with us, and she's much, much, much better than she was. But we're coming to accept she just might not ever make it back to 100%. So we're trying to digest that and figure out what to do with regards to finding her a life where she can thrive as much as possible given her limitations.


Laredo has been struggling with an intermittent yet persistent cough for the last year or so. Multiple different vets and a long haul to a fancy clinic in Ames so he could get scoped and have lots of bloodwork done have yielded very little by way of concrete information on how to improve the situation. The problem comes and goes, which makes it hard for us to ride him consistently. The vets in Ames diagnosed him with a very early case of heaves, and recommended he not be on a round bale. That's not possible for us. So again, we're looking at making some tough decisions as far as trying to give him the best possible life going forward.


Nevada bucked me off in September. I landed badly, leading to trauma to my lumbar spine and three weeks during which I couldn't even really walk. Once I was kind of up again, I returned to light rides on Steen. But it wasn't until late December that I was able to do much of anything without having to be super careful. Now I'm more or less back to normal, but neither Brian nor I have been on Nevada since the incident. Of course, these things are never the horse's fault. She's young and extremely athletic and despite having so much positive time with her under saddle last year, she still has these explosions every now and then that so far we've had a hard time tracing to an underlying cause.


The good news of the year, however, has been Steen. He continues to be my bombproof goofball. He's a horse I can crawl onto and feel safe on even when I can literally barely walk, a horse that's great for the cold because I can just set my reins down and stick my hands in my pockets and ride all around, a horse who is, impossibly, 17 this year but still acts like a foal sometimes. Let's hope he stays that way for a long time to come.

Anyway, I miss this blog. I miss writing about what we do with the horses. But even more than that, I miss having a record to look back on after the fact. It's been hard to want to write about all the bad news. But hopefully we'll get some of these issues sorted out, I can get back in a better blogging habit, and 2017 will be the year things turn around.

Horseback Hours YTD: 1:30

Friday, August 12, 2016

Writing about Riding

I find myself struggling with this blog lately. Not due to lack of material. We've got plenty going on at the barn lately. This week, we've gone out a couple of times after work. On Tuesday, I rode Buttercup and Brian rode Stormy. Yesterday, I rode Stormy. Brian worked with King and his owner.

King? Buttercup? Stormy? I have not mentioned any of these horses here before. They are not ours, but we're doing some work with them. Which is a bit ironic because we've never set out to position ourselves as expert horsemen. I know my level of skill at riding and handling horses is light-years behind the true masters of horsemanship I aspire to learn from.

And yet, it seems we frequently meet people who are struggling with their horses, and the things they struggle with are things we can easily help with. So we end up helping. And suddenly Brian and I both have multiple students, and we're putting time into horses that aren't ours.

In many ways, it's great. Every horse we can work with is an invaluable opportunity for new learning. And any person we can teach to get along with a horse even just a little better is a net gain to all. What's tricky is I don't necessarily feel comfortable writing publicly about the details of what we're doing. I don't want to say anything a student might read and misunderstand.

Because, really, that's the crux of it. It's so hard to talk and write about horses in a way that conveys the meaning you're after. This is true with teaching also, of course. It often takes multiple attempts and analogies to get an idea across the student. But with a student, you are there with them, in the same place. You've got a living, breathing horse providing instant feedback. You both know where you're starting from, and what your goals are.

The internet is a mushier place. It seems I often write or post things people misunderstand.

So much of it is context. It's like reading ads about sale horses. Perusing the classifieds, you'd think every horse is the same. "Very quiet. Soft on the bit. Moves off the leg. Good for the vet and farrier. 100% sound." And yet, anyone who has ever shopped for a horse knows the high probability of showing up and discovering one or more of these classic sale ad statements not to be "true."

The problem isn't that all horse owners are liars. The problem is "soft on the bit" is a subjective statement. What is soft? What is light? What is quiet? What is good? I know what these words mean to me, but there's no way to convey my understanding of them to another person through language alone.

So basically, I'm finding it impossible to say anything at all about a horse without leaving the door open for someone to come in and point out how my choice of phrasing is incorrect or inaccurate, or I'm not doing justice to the horse because I'm pigeonholing him by defining him with a certain term, or how if I did X differently, Y wouldn't be a problem anyway. This, of course, always comes from people who have never even seen me handle or ride a horse, much less observed the situation I'm writing about. And the vast majority are responding to what they think I mean, which is often light years off from what I'm actually trying to say.

The result is lately I feel stuck and exhausted the moment I sit down to blog. I find myself rereading every sentence I write for how it might be twisted into something I don't intend. After a while, I lose motivation to dodge my way through the proverbial minefield, and just don't post anything.

I started blogging about Steen all those years ago because I felt like I was learning a lot. Recording my experiences felt both fun and useful.

I still feel like I'm learning a lot, but increasingly I'm finding the things I learn very difficult to put into words.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Navicular Diagnosis

When I started Piper in early 2015, she was sound. However, as we moved past the first few rides and got going a little, at times I felt she was a little off at the trot. It was always really hard to pin down, or even be sure of. Some days it was maybe, maybe there. Some days it definitely wasn't. It was never anything as distinct as a limp or a head bob. It was just this feeling I had that her movement was mildly inhibited, or a little hitchy at times. I could always come up with a plausible explanation. She is small, and wasn't yet used to carrying a rider. The sand in our arena is a little deep and uneven in places, so she had to work harder in those spots. She can get tense in new situations, and that leads to choppy or uncertain movement at times.

So, the spring turned into summer. When I started riding Piper outside the arenas, exploring the grassy pastures we like to ride in, she seemed much better. I thought she'd gained strength and confidence and whatever had been maybe a little wrong was a thing of the past.

Then, in late November, one day she was suddenly mildly but definitively off in the left front. We couldn't find any evidence of why. No injury, heat, bumps, swelling, sore spots, stone bruises. Nothing. We figured she'd strained a muscle or a tendon, and decided to give her some time off.

All through the winter, the problem would come and go. In January we had a few good rides with no sign of the problem. A few weeks later, I got on her back and felt it - this hitch in her step. So I got off again two minutes later. We tried TheraPlate treatments, massage, linament rubs. Nothing made any difference.

Finally, about a month ago, the horses got turned out into the bigger pasture. And suddenly Piper was limping even at the walk, even without a rider, even on grass. It seemed to get worse by the day. We still couldn't find any sign of why. We had the farrier look at her. He was perplexed. We called in a vet. And yesterday, Piper was diagnosed with navicular syndrome.

The causes of navicular are unknown, though there are plenty of theories. Piper is not a classic risk case. She wasn't even started (much less ridden hard or jumped) until she was five, and we rode her very lightly. She's a small horse, with good-sized feet that aren't excessively upright or narrow. But she is a Quarter Horse, and some Quarter Horses get navicular.

Navicular cannot be cured, but it can often be successfully managed. Looking back with the clarity of hindsight, I see that stickiness I felt on and off riding her last spring was probably the earliest signs of the condition. She's a textbook case. What starts as mild and intermittent offness progresses into a horse that's in constant pain.

While this is not good news at all, I feel oddly relieved to have a definitive answer and explanation for what's been a protracted and confusing situation. Now, at least, we can make informed choices about where to go from here. Fortunately, a shoeing strategy that lifts the heel to reduce pressure on the navicular bone can often help. So our next step is to get back with the farrier.

Horseback Hours YTD: 48:30

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