Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Looking for Life

Laredo's shoulder appears to be healed, so I've had two long rides on him.

Although at first it seemed like the weeks off didn't have much of an impact on his training, after a few rides we've seen some backsliding. Our biggest challenge with Laredo is lack of energy. I don't think it's physical energy. It's more emotional energy. Laredo is soooo laid back, which is awesome in a lot of ways. But the trade off for the great ground manners and ability to encounter new things without even batting an eye is a sort of laconic attitude towards stimuli of all kinds, including training cues.

I've been spending a lot of time the last month or two livening Laredo on a lead rope. He has a tendency to drag his heels when he's being led. He's been making good progress since I've been focusing on it, so I thought this week was a good time to work on it under saddle as well.

I started off my first ride looking for a good walk. Whenever Laredo's energy level dropped, I'd bump him with my heels until he picked things up a bit. This worked really well for the first portion of the ride, and things started to feel really good. He was maintaining an energetic walk for long periods, and he was also soft to stop and turn.

Then I got a little overly ambitious and tried to play cow with Brian and Bear. This was clearly too much after the vacation. Laredo went into overload mode. He switched from stopping and backing and moving out nicely to getting stuck during his backs and stopping poorly at the walk. Stopping him from the trot was so horrendous I stopped trying it with two reins and switched to one rein stops.

We abandoned the game, but I had a lot of trouble getting Laredo livened back up, so Brian and I went for a little turn about the fields. That worked to get his interest back up. But it worked a little too well. Once when we were trotting Laredo shifted into the lope, and I went with it because it felt nice and I wanted to see if he was even on his shoulder. He was. The lope was great, and he came back fine.

Later we picked up the trot again, and again he felt like he wanted to lope. This time I didn't let him though and his trot escalated and got increasingly forward. I tried to double him a little to get him slowed down and back on his haunches. I found he was not interested in giving to the bit laterally, and when I pulled harder his motor stalled and he started kicking up behind. I stopped him with one rein, and we tried again. We went through the same sequence of events four times before I decided I'd ridden through enough bucks for one day and we would be better served going back to the barn and working on trotting there.

Laredo walked back on a loose rein, totally quiet, and when we got to the strip was happy to trot around like an angel, though his stops were still bad. I worked until we got a few good ones and then called it a day.

The second ride was similar. It started off well. I worked on life at the walk, lots of simple turns and transitions, and things were great for a while. Then it was like Laredo just decided he was hot and tired. I was having to engage my legs a lot more than I like to to keep him responding to my requests for more energy, and by the end we were both a bit tired and frustrated, though we did get a lot done.

So, I'm in the midst of developing some new strategies for getting Laredo interested and engaged and energetic. We're going to a Martin Black clinic this weekend and I'm sure we'll learn a lot there.

Horseback hours YTD: 133:45

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Vet Visit #3

Although I am by no means an expert in managing leg wounds, it has seemed to me the last five days or so Steen's wound has not been healing. It hasn't been getting any worse, but it hasn't been getting visibly better either.

On Monday temps swung upwards and we've had unseasonable warmth. I also noticed increased swelling and heat in Steen's leg under the cut. Telling myself it might just be the weather, I gave it a thorough washing and hosed it down with cold water, which seemed to help. But by Tuesday evening it was hot enough that the sponge I used to clean it was coming away warm, even though it was wet and full of cold water. I had Cathi take a look at it, and she agreed there was likely another small infection taking place. She speculated that another round of Uniprim would likely be ineffective if the two he's already had did so little, and offered to give him a shot of penicillin.

Cathi knows a lot more about caring for injured horses than I do, but with how complicated this injury has been, I said I'd rather talk to our vet before taking any steps, and went home worried. On Wednesday I had a busy morning with work, but around 1:00 I called our vet, Jim, who answered and immediately launched into saying something along the lines of, "Yeah I gave him a shot and left a spray with Marissa and you should spray the wound once a day but otherwise I think it's healing fine and nothing to worry about."

Naturally that confused me a little, but eventually I figured out Jim had been going to come by our barn anyway, and Cathi had him check on Steen while he was there. So it was a big relief to know the professional opinion is things are progressing as they should. Jim said wire wounds tend to be very slow to heal but commented that Steen is not lame and is in good spirits. It's just going to take some more time.

Brian and I headed out to the barn after work, and found Steen's leg looking much better. The shot Jim gave him was another round of serious antibiotics and anti inflammatories, and the swelling and heat were already almost entirely gone. So hopefully this last boost will be enough to get us over the finish line.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Photoshoot

Today we went out to shoot some photos of our friend Jean and her new horse. He's a Lusitano gelding, imported from Portugal. I was happy for the opportunity to expand my horse portraits collection.

Catchup: Steen

We've fallen a bit off the blogging habit lately. It's been one of those stretches where everything seems to be going wrong at every opportunity, and every time we have had to make a choice in response to things going wrong, we've chosen poorly. It's been very stressful trying to juggle work and getting out to doctor Steen every day, and since the barn is my primary source of stress relief, turning it from a stress reliever to a stress creator does not do good things for my overall emotional state. I've been a bit too bummed to blog about all the gory details. We've had so many changes in weather and setbacks in the healing process. It feels like it's been ages since we just had a normal trip to the barn. However, I do think Steen is on the mend again. He's off his second round of antibiotics and happily installed in the outdoor arena with Bear and Litefoot. In spite of all the rain, he's keeping his leg quite clean, and I've vowed not to change anything about how I'm caring for the injury until he's totally healed.

All the changes have been hard on Steen too, and the fact that he got picky about his meds and had to be coaxed to eat them with sweet feed has got him rather convinced that people = treats. So we've definitely seen a bit of backsliding as far as manners go. But I don't have the heart to get on him too much. I figure once he's healed we'll have plenty of time to sort out the bad habits.

I'm posting a series of "catch-up" blogs, detailing my work with the various horses I've been riding while Steen's out of commision.

Catch-up: Laredo

One of the downsides of the whole Steen saga is my little sprint to and from the pasture appears to have gotten my old foot injury reaggravated, so I've been a bit laid up just like my horse has. Yesterday Brian very kindly went out in the rain to catch Laredo for me, to save me from a hike out into the pasture.

Since Bear's been staying in the outdoor arena with Steen and we've been trying to give Laredo plenty of rest to let his shoulder recover, we haven't seen much of our three-year-old lately. I was actually a bit surprised at how happy I was to see him when a dripping Brian led him into the indoor arena.

He's as goofy and teenaged as ever, but Brian told me how he left the running herd to come to Brian, deftly maneuvering himself through traffic to walk up and accept the halter. Maybe he missed us too.

On Friday I rode him in the indoor arena. I was expecting a bit of backsliding, but there really wasn't much. He's still super duper soft to the bit. I don't even get past the slobber straps before he's dipping his chin. I did groundwork with him before I mounted and he wasn't favoring his shoulder at all, but still I wanted to keep the ride light.

We spent 55 minutes dinking around the indoor. We got to experience some excitement, from other boarders bringing cones out to the four-wheeler and manure spreader driving through. He was great for all of it, and although I think his responsiveness to the legs has decreased slightly, all in all the ride was great. We walked circles and figure-eights, backed half circles, moved the front around the hind, disengaged the hindquarters and worked on holding the soft feel for multiple consecutive steps at the walk.

Today I rode him on the strip. We again kept things light and only at the walk, and although he was soft to the bit he was a little more distracted. Once he got curious about a piece of farm equipment and started trucking off towards it. I had to remind him that I was on his back and he does not, in fact, do the steering when I'm riding him.

After some work on the strip, Brian and I did a little jaunt around the soybean fields. Laredo was quite happy to head out. I think he missed our little excursions. It felt great to be on his back again.

We got back to the strip and let Laredo and Bear graze for a while, then I went back in to grab Steen so he could join in the family bonding time. It was pretty fabulous to hang out with our three guys in the sun.

Horseback hours YTD: 127:45

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Catch-up: Bear

During Steen's convalescence, I've been riding Bear a bit more. And this is good because I do think Bear and I are getting to know each other better. He's more and more Brian's horse as time goes on, but it's nice to feel our last few rides that he's capable of leaving Brian for a while and getting with me.

Bear's in good shape right now, and he's very very soft to the hackamore, but his back does still get tight at times. Our first ride he was good until we tried loping, and then got pretty agitated, so I think he was sort of sore. We had a lot of good walking and trotting on the stirp, though, and although he got a bit antsy after loping to the right we recovered and went on to do more relaxed work at the trot.

Our second ride was in the indoor arena. I hadn't ridden Bear indoors in ages, but he was good for me. We had some good work at the walk and trot, followed by some very easy, balanced circles at the lope. He's also backing like a champ lately, really digging in with his hind and pulling. And I still just can't get over how soft he is. We worked on holding a bit of collection at both the walk and trot, and he's getting great with that.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Catch-up: Rowdy

With Laredo's sore shoulder and Steen's cut leg, I've found myself a bit horseless. Of course Brian is more than happy to share Bear, but Bear is just so much Brian's horse. And of course me riding Bear means Brian doesn't ride him. It feels like stealing.

But one day when I went out to clean Steen's leg I ended up chatting with Marissa, who is Cathi's daughter and the barn manager. She has a horse named Rowdy, who she inherited due to a death in the family.

Rowdy is a 12 year old Quarter Horse gelding, and he's a little out of shape at the moment. And by out of shape I mean fat. Marissa has been riding him some, but when I lamented my lack of horse to ride she said, "Oh. You should ride Rowdy. He could really use the exercise."

I'm not always up for riding other people's horses, but Marissa is casual in how she rides, and knows me well enough to be comfortable being 100% hands off. She's fine with me using my own tack, and my own methods. Which meant I could ride without worrying about teaching or unteaching something that would make her life difficult.

So my next trip to the barn I hiked out to the feed lot and came back with Rowdy in tow. He's an interesting color. I guess he's just brown. But it's that sort of brown that seems almost black sometimes, and fades to a lighter brown on the mane and tail. He's also blind in one eye (the blindness was caused by an injury) and that makes handling him a little different. He has a bit of tendency to crowd me going through gates, but I figured out this is because he can't see me once he passes a certain point, and he gets close trying to keep track of where I am. I switched my method to keeping a little bit of light pressure on the lead rope to guide him around the gate and keeping my elbow out to poke him if he got too close, and he quickly started to get better about the crowding.

Under saddle, he surprised me. The first ride I was prepared to spend more or less the whole time working on just getting a passable soft feel, but he actually gave to the bit within seconds of me putting pressure on the reins. So after a few flexes and backs, we started off with walking.

He responds to the legs fairly well, but he does have a higher energy level than both Laredo and Bear, though not quite as high as Steen's. Our first ride started out so well I got a  bit overly ambitious during my first ride and asked him for a little too much, and he did start to get nervous at that point. His main method of misbehavior is trying to spurt off towards the barn or back towards his pasture, and when he gets agitated he starts looking for support elsewhere. I brought him back to me with some gentle short serpentines. He strikes me as a horse that needs a bit of extra support from his rider. But he does look for support from his rider, which means he is willing to be guided if you can convince him you're worth following.

I rode him twice, and the second time was even better than the first. The blindness does affect him. He has a harder time bending to the right than to the left, and his head is always cocked a bit to the left side. But he's very willing and sweet and I honestly had a lot nicer time with him than I expected to. A couple of other people at the barn have had trouble with him, and I guess I can see why. He's the sort of horse you need to be firm with sometimes and soft with at others. I was pleased though, riding him, at how easy it was for me to sort out when to support him and when to correct him. By the end of my second ride I was already feeling pretty comfortable.

Marissa was as grateful to me for riding him as I was to her for loaning him to me, and it was so interesting to spend a bit of time getting to know another horse. I plan to keep riding him on and off as Laredo's shoulder continues to heal.

Still Not Better

I wish I could say I haven't been blogging because I've been riding. Such is not the case. I haven't been blogging because Steen's injury just isn't making progress and it seems depressing to post negative updates all the time. The antibiotics and bute seemed to help a lot for a few days, and I thought we were almost out of the woods. Then we had a big storm roll through. The side pen was not sheltered enough, so we had to decide to either put Steen back in the herd or put him a stall. Steen HATES stalls. He doesn't kick or call or do anything bad, he just stresses and drops weight on a daily basis. We opted to put him back with the herd, which was a mistake. The next day he'd torn the wound that looked almost healed into something larger than it was when it was brand new, and it was back to being hot to the touch and gaping open and closed with each step.

So at that point we had no choice. Steen spent 24 hours in a stall with a leg wrap. He took it even worse than usual, apparently starting to pace every time a person came into the barn. Usually he's not quite that bad, but I think the stress of this saga is getting to him too.

Finally by Monday night the outdoor arena was at least mostly dried out. We turned a visibly thinner Steen out with Lightfoot and Bella. We're calling the arena the Broken Paint Pen, since the other two horses in there are both dealing with long, persistent injuries as well, and are both Paints too (though they're both solid). Lightfoot and Bella went straight for the hay, but Steen kept walking around, not settling. So finally we brought Bear up from the pasture to keep him company, and Steen finally stopped walking around and started eating.

Today we went out to treat the wound. Being in the outdoor arena didn't make it any worse, so that is something. But it still looks absolutely awful. We're probably weeks away from full recovery. We're supposed to get more rain in the next few days. Seriously, we go all summer desperately needing moisture and just when it would make my life a whole lot easier if it would just stay dry, we get nothing but storms.

Laredo's shoulder continues to be sore too, though he does seem to be healing. So he's passing his time putting on weight for winter and hanging out with friends.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Back in the Side Pen

On Sunday when we put Bear back in the pasture, I noticed Steen was favoring his wounded leg for the first time since the day of the injury. This didn't make me happy, but I told myself he could have just tweaked the scab or something. In the last two days, however, things have gone from looking like they are healing fine to looking not so good. There is a lot of granulated tissue growing over the one deep spot, and every time I wash it lately it seems this area is larger.

Today I rode Bear (more about that in a minute) and after my ride I brought Steen in. His favoring of the leg was considerably more pronounced, and the inside of his leg was very hot to the touch. He was flinching away from my hand in a way he never has before. Needless to say this had me pretty worried.

In an utterly wonderful coincidence of timing, it just so happened our vet arrived for another horse about the time I would have been calling him. His immediate reaction upon seeing Steen was, "That does not look good."

So, Steen got all the hair trimmed off his leg around the wound, the last staple pulled, a very, very thorough cleaning, a shot of antibiotics and bute, and now he's back in the pen next to the barn for another five days of Uniprim and Bute paste. Jim thinks a minor infection is causing the heat and sensitivity of the skin, and that the limp is being caused by underlying damage to the extensor tendon that happened during the tangle with the fence. His theory is that as the cut has healed, Steen has been using the leg more, which has caused the injured tendon to become more painful.

Not an ideal turn of events, but Jim doesn't seem overly alarmed, so I'm trying not to be either.

But, in better news, I had another great ride on Bear today. We flip-flopped roles, and Brian gave me a lesson. It was quite fun. It's really different to ride with someone else calling all the shots. We worked on all sorts of things, mostly at the walk and trot. These last couple of rides on Bear I've been focused on  being positive and encouraging, and as a result he seems a lot less inclined to be stiff and distracted when I ride him. Brian has been having some trouble getting him started with leg yields, so I worked on that a fair bit. We got some really good ones at the walk pretty easily, and then I worked on getting one at the trot. It took quite a few laps around, building it up piece by piece, but I did finally get a quality movement with both the front and the hind, so we called it good and moved on to other things.

The only thing that didn't feel great was loping to the right, but that's Bear's bad direction and though he didn't seem sore today, he also wasn't inclined to bend that way at faster paces. But we got some good loping to the left, as well as quite a few other good moments.

Brian brought Laredo out of the pasture after his several days off, and we were pleased to see he's no longer off on his leg/shoulder. Still, we see no reason to push him back into work too fast, so Brian mostly used him as a mobile vantage point to sit on while he gave me my lesson.

Ride Time: 1:10
Horseback hours YTD: 123:45

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Two Laid Up Horses

It hasn't been the greatest little stretch with the guys. We headed out for a ride on Friday, only to discover once we got to the strip that Bear's back was sore and Laredo was showing signs of lameness. Brian had been going to ride Laredo, and he noticed the problem during groundwork. I watched for a while and we agreed the issue seemed to be in the left shoulder. We're not sure when exactly this started, but looking back we think it might have been sore on and off for a while, and perhaps might have been the cause of some of the little behaviors we've encountered with him lately (like not wanting to walk down hills, or kicking out when asked to lope in the indoor).

So, Brian didn't even get on. I rode Bear around for about fifteen minutes, but it was cold and his back was clearly bothering him, so we called it quits quite soon. I brought Steen in and washed his leg and we headed home.

On Saturday I gave Steen's leg an extra long and thorough cleaning and rewrapped his tail while Brian rode Bear on the strip. Today in an attempt to find creative ways to have fun at the barn with only one rideable horse, I gave Brian a lesson. We set out cones and I directed him through many different exercises. This ended up being surprisingly fun for me. I haven't taken an hour to just watch Brian ride Bear in a long time, and I was able to provide feedback on a few things they were trying to refine.

Ride Time: 0:15
Horseback hours YTD: 122:35

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Loping Circles on Laredo

Between Laredo's fatigue and Bear's tight back (and Steen's ripped up leg), we thought it would be best to give everyone a couple days off. Monday I went out on my own to clean Steen's leg. All three of our horses came to me as soon as they saw me at the gate, leaving the bale just to say hello. Then when I put Steen back later both Bear and Laredo came to me again for a little more attention.

On Wednesday I rode Laredo again, and while it was still warm and he still wasn't exactly bursting with energy, he was much much better. We had one of those rides that leaves you smiling for hours afterwards. He was just great. It felt like a number of things we've been working on clicked into place while he had his mini vacation. He was great about bringing his front around his hind, finally figuring out that if he rolls his weight back onto his haunch to do this, he can take multiple consecutive steps.

We also worked on backing half-circles around Brian and Bear, and for the first time he was moving front and hind in unison, instead of floundering through the exercise one leg at a time.

And he was so so light on the bit. I almost can't  believe how light. He was tucking his head for a soft feel before I could even get to the slobber straps, and he was holding it at the walk for five, six, seven steps no problem.

Brian and I also worked on an exercise where you  back your horse five steps, then jump him in the trot. This was tricky. The idea is the offer the horse a chance to go by releasing your hands from the back and rocking your pelvis forward. If the horse doesn't go, you come in with your legs and "make it happen." The first time I asked, Laredo didn't know what I wanted, so my (light) kick surprised him. But after that he was better, always giving me some kind of departure, though rarely right into an energetic trot. I often had to speed him up a bit after we got going. This isn't exactly how the exercise is meant to work, but it seemed unjust to get too picky about it with him, considering I'm still working on getting these motions down myself.

At any rate, it did wake him up, but the beautiful thing was our trot to walk transitions. The first couple times I brought him down, he got a tad bracey and leaned on the bit. By after the third one he got it, and after that he would collect when I picked up on the reins. I'd ease him to the walk and he'd go on in a soft frame.

Later on, we played cow. This went well from the start. Laredo was stopping like a champ, and rolling immediately into backing, then bringing his front through with energy. After a few rounds with Bear loping around us, I decided to see if Laredo could lope a circle. He picked it up quite readily, but after a few good strides started to feel just a teeny bit wadded up. I gave him some extra leg and a pop with the inside rein when his head started to go down. He straightened out and moved on. Turns out he sure can lope a nice, balanced short circle already. And he can stop from a lope too. It's about the only thing he was doing with as much energy as you could want all day. :)

We finished up with a cool down around the bean field. On the one steep hill we encountered, Laredo hesitated just a bit going down. I gave him just a little nudge and he went on without trouble. We had one final lope up the strip back to the barn. He went nicely the whole way.

Ride Time: 1:05
Horseback hours YTD: 122:20

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