Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Good Start to a Long, Long Day

We had quite the barn Sunday. It panned out in three segments: Ride One, Ride Two, and Unplanned Vet Call. And I'm afraid this post is going to end up rather long.

Ride One

We were excited to get out to the barn today and see how our new girl is taking to her new environment. (We're still on the fence about a name, so forgive the awkwardness of my attempts to write about her.) The barn's owner was out in the pasture doing some minor fence repairs when we arrived, and she was near him, watching with curiosity. So we thought we might be able to walk right up to her. I approached, and she let me near, but then walked on. I put a little pressure on her as she departed. She trotted off a few steps, then turned to look at me. I looked away and backed off a step. She looked away, I put pressure back on, etc. It only took maybe two minutes before she let me approach her and slip the halter on.

We took her and Bear to the tie rack. She stood better than I expected her to, considering she's used to cross-ties. Other than being a bit sub-par with her feet, she was pretty awesome for grooming. But we know the saddle pad is an issue for her. I brought it out to see what would happen. She started shying and stepping away. Soon she ran out of room to move over, at which point I could put the pad on her back with no reaction beyond flinching, but in my experience confining a horse in order to get something done teaches them nothing.

So we went to the indoor arena. I draped her rope over my arm and approached her with the pad. Her reaction was not huge at all, just a slow step away and some shaking when the pad touched her. I just went with her, quartering her to keep her front end near me, and kept bumping her with the pad, with rhythm, until she figured out she could stop moving. Then I gave her a break. We did that until I could flip the pad up onto her back from either side with no flinching or movement.

I enlisted Brian's help for the saddle. His extra height makes it much easier for him to be smooth getting the saddle on and off. We did the same thing, and the second time he approached with the saddle she managed to hold still. We did it one more time for good measure. She held still again. We called it good. She wanted to walk while I snugged up the cinch, but I just quartered her gently until she decided standing still was easier.

I did some groundwork with the flag and saddle. She was flinchy about the flag in certain places, but not overly reactive.

She is soft and responsive, but not inclined to turn inside-out about things. This strikes me as a pretty winning combination.

After a few minutes of groundwork, I traded halter for bridle. She took the bit with no trouble, but wanted to walk off when I prepared to mount. I again quartered her gently until she figured out how to stand still. I got on and she held still, but then as soon as I shifted my weight she wanted to go, so we worked on disengaging the hindquarters until she could stand still.

We went on to have a very pleasant ride. I didn't do anything too demanding, mostly just felt her out. We did mostly walking and a good bit of standing and getting used to the idea that sometimes we move in ways other than forward. We also did a few laps at the lope, which were sloppy and unbalanced but nothing too crazy.

I was pleased at how much less she was seeking contact today than she was during our test ride. She still had a tendency to get heavy on the forehand, but I just bent her when that happened and she showed herself to be remarkably capable of rocking back and engaging her haunch. I ended up riding her for over an hour, and she was just totally pleasant to work with. She has a lot of try. Even when she doesn't understand what I'm asking for, she makes an effort.

The only bad thing about the ride was Bear. He's seemed off the last few weeks. We've thought it was a sore back, even though he doesn't really have any sore back symptoms. He's just seemed distracted and uncomfortable under saddle, and today he was unresponsive and seemed depressed. Brian did very little with him.

Ride Time: 1:05

Ride Two

We put Bear and the new girl back in the pasture, and got Laredo and Steen. I decided to ride Laredo in the snaffle again. I was curious to see how he'd respond to it after his several months in the hackamore. We tacked up and went to the strip.

I have to say, switching from the new horse to Laredo provided a somewhat unflattering contrast. She's had only two months of consistent training, but it was evident she was trying so hard to get along with me. Sure, Laredo is considerably more educated at this point, and when he decides to put effort into things he can be amazingly light and precise and wonderful to ride.

The problem is he does not always put that effort in. In fact, a lot of the time he gets away with being pretty lazy about things. For me, since I switch from Steen to Laredo and back, I guess I am always cutting Laredo some mental slack because Steen is just light-years ahead of him in both training and maturity. I don't want to hold Laredo to unreasonable standards.

But today, having just gotten off our brand new little mare, I realized the main problem with Laredo is not what he knows or doesn't know, it's his work-ethic. Shortly after mounting I asked him to step his front over. He pointed his ears back towards me, and did not move. He didn't shift his weight, didn't make any effort of any kind to find the answer to the question I was asking. He just stood there.

I have always ridden sensitive horses, so Laredo is a special sort of challenge for me. I don't like to use much muscle, but I have discovered over and over again that a reminder that will put Steen on his toes won't even register on Laredo. So, I set out to work on calibration.

Usually when I ask for a movement with a horse, I want something precise. I think riding with precision is very important. But today, for a while, I let that go with Laredo. I would start out asking for something specific. I'd ask for it once very, very softly, making sure that his attention was on me first and not off somewhere else. Then I'd ask with just a tad more energy.

If I got no try at all, I'd abandon whatever I'd been asking for and just up the pressure until Laredo tried something. I didn't care what he tried. As soon as he made any kind of effort to respond to me, I released all pressure and gave him a short break. Then I asked for the same thing again.

It was a hard ride for both of us, I think. I had to concentrate very hard to make sure I stayed demanding but fair. (As Buck says, you can be particular, but you can't be picky.) Laredo started out disinterested, progressed into sullen, and finally came out the other side into reformed. After about fifteen minutes I couldn't believe the change in him. Instead of blowing off my small asks he started responding to them, and most of the time he did exactly what I was asking. This confirmed that it's not a confusion issue here.

The second half of the ride was pretty fantastic. I switched regularly between things that were challenging for him and things that were easy for him so as not to get him discouraged. I also worked on addressing his tendency to root his head. I recently watched a snippet of a Buck clinic that reminded me how big a problem this is, and how firm Buck is about blocking a horse from dropping his poll below his withers. I started doing the same thing to Laredo. I think a lot of his impulsion problems come back to head carriage.

By the end of the ride we were loping beautiful and energetic(!) circles, and he was moving out off of an opening of my legs. Brian commented he could see a big change in Laredo's expression and overall attitude. (He had a great ride on Steen, so that was excellent.)

Ride Time: 0:50

We were pretty much done riding, sitting on Laredo and Steen, talking and looking towards the pasture when we saw our new girl get up from where she'd been lying near the bale and walk over to the waterer. Bear was standing in her way. She approached him. They sniffed noses. He put his ears back. She pulled her head away, then put it out again. He pinned his ears again. They did this several times.

Suddenly, she spun around and pointed her butt at him. Bear did not react, and she backed up to him and kicked him solidly in the neck. He still didn't really move off, and she kicked him a couple more times before he extricated himself and wandered away, bobbing and shaking his head, clearly in pain.

We were shocked. Not only because what we've seen and been told about our new mare indicates she is not at all dominant, but also because usually Bear is the head of the herd. I've never seen another horse point a butt at him, much less follow through.

We untacked quickly and went out to check on Bear. He had a sizeable swelling on his neck and some other hoof marks on his chest. She only got him in fleshy, well-muscled areas, so that was something. He hadn't wanted to eat his senior feed earlier, but we tried again, thinking its anti-inflammatory agents would help with the swelling. He wasn't that interested, but I got him to eat about half of it by holding the pan up for him.

The new mare approached while we were inspecting Bear. Brian shooed her off, and when she turned away I saw she had a huge V-shaped chunk of skin torn open on her haunch. We could see the exposed muscle fibers sliding up and down as she walked away.

Unplanned Vet Call

We decided we needed a closer look at new girl's butt. Catching her was a little more work the second time. She was agitated, and we had to drive her around a little before she consented to be caught. We were at least pleased to see she was moving fine.

We took her to the tie rack and inspected the damage. I had hoped to convince myself that it was no big deal and it would heal on its own, but really it was pretty bad. I didn't think to take a photo before it was stitched closed, but it was nasty. It also clearly was not super fresh. We'd thought it happened during her altercation with Bear, but now we think it must have happened right after we turned her out post-ride.

I called our vet and described it to him, hoping he'd say it sounded like it would be no big deal. He said he'd be over in a few minutes. We decided since the vet was going to be there anyway, we might as well have him take a look at Bear too. So Brian went out and brought him in.

The vet arrived and looked at the tear. He said he thought it would heal without complications, but wanted to stitch it shut. He already knows the horse, as he was her vet for several years before we bought her. So that was nice. We sedated her, cleaned the wound, stitched it up and applied a silver spray-on bandage. I have to say she took it all very well.

Then the vet looked at Bear. He was not concerned about the kicks, though said he thought Bear would be stiff and sore for a few days. Then we described his recent strange behavior, and the vet started to seem more concerned. He drew some blood to run some tests, and took his temperature, which turned out to be 105.

At that point, the vet's whole attitude changed. He is a pretty laid back guy, and tends to take things that alarm me totally in stride. But this was clearly a different category of problem. He said 105 is high enough to be dangerous. 106 is when organs start to shut down and fail.

He gave Bear some probiotics and a 5 day shot that he said should bring the fever down and give him a boost to hopefully start to kick whatever he's got. He told us to take his temp in the morning and report back.

He said both horses would probably be best off back with the herd, so we put our two battered babies back out. We drove home having been at the barn for seven hours.

So, definitely not the note we expected to end the day on. The only thing that makes me feel pretty lucky is if the new girl hadn't gotten her tush ripped open, we would not have called the vet, so never would have figured out Bear had such a high fever. Definitely a lesson for me. I didn't think to take Bear's temperature because he had no symptoms other than general malaise and lethargy. I will not make that mistake again.

Horseback Hours YTD: 55:35


  1. Just found your blog, looking forward to reading more.

  2. Hi L! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I really like reading about Zoey. I like her. Sorry about her rump and Bear's fever really explains why he didn't back down to her warning to him, doesn't it.

    There is some nasty respiratory stuff going on around here. Fever, cough... I had planned to camp last weekend but backed out at the last minute. So glad I did as one of the horses at that camp got sick on Sunday and another 3 days later. The first who got sick was exposed to a show horse in his herd and there has been some of this going around at shows. We leave for SD in 3 weeks so I can't risk any of ours getting sick now so we won't be camping at public places until then.

    Good luck with the herd. You are doing an awesome job with them all. Love the pic of Steen in the most recent post.

  4. Thank you Tammy! I like Zoey too. She is very rewarding to work with.

    It was really interesting to see how the fact that Bear was feeling bad ended up leading to a misunderstandings with Zoey. We see a lot of little dramas play out in the herd, but that one was just totally not normal. It is a relief to know the reason.

    I've heard from a few people since this happened that there are some nasty horse bugs going around. No one else at the barn seems to have picked it up, so we're not sure where Bear got it. I hope yours stay healthy!


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