Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Phantom Itch

I was hoping to start 2016 with a clean slate, leave all the hiccups of last year in the dust, and get back into a better pattern with the horses. Unfortunately, that's not quite how things have gone.

Right before we left for our holiday travels, Steen came up itchy. And I mean really, really, really inexplicably itchy. Like, you basically could not touch him without inducing "I need to scratch so bad" spasms that involved contorting in half and nearly knocking himself over.

Our vet looked at him, gave him a few big shots, and prescribed antibiotics and antihistamines. We then had to leave for our holiday travels, and were gone for two weeks. Our barn owner gave Steen his meds while we were gone. She seemed to think he improved in our absence, but we got back about two days after the meds ran out and I was dismayed to find he was just as itchy as before, if not more so.

I called our vet only to discover he's having health issues and isn't working. My barn owner did manage to get in touch with him via text. He prescribed two more weeks of the antihistamines at a double dose. It then took me over a week to actually get my hands on the meds (that's a long, massively frustrating story that's not even worth telling). In the meantime, Steen rubbed large patches bare on his haunches.

At this point I set about eliminating everything that could have changed recently from his life/diet/environment. Unfortunately, that wasn't very many things. Steen has been at this same barn for seven years, eating the same hay (which they grow themselves in surrounding pastures), living in the same lot, and rarely leaving the premises. The one thing I did do was wash our winter blankets with a different detergent this year. (Rambo blanket wash.) Ironically, in years passed I always just used the same stuff we use to wash our own clothing.

Friday the 15th, I put him in a brand new blanket. The next day, we finally got the new meds and started those. We visited the barn morning and night for two weeks to give him the pills. He was still itchy. Very, very itchy.

The blanket swap.

Things I knew at this point:

  • his blood work came back normal
  • he had a clear fecal shortly before the itching started
  • there are no other itchy horses in our herd or at our barn
  • he has no symptoms that match up with any parasite known to the internet, other than itching
  • his environment and diet have not changed in years
  • antihistamines might help a little, but not much
  • dexamethasone does not help
  • the itching is everywhere, but he reacts strongest when touched on the hocks and in the groin area
  • his appetite is good, temp is normal, and his overall attitude and energy level are good
  • his skin is not dry or flaky 
  • there is is no rash, no bumps or lumps, no swelling, no physical indicator of a problem
  • his coat is shiny and healthy and full, other than the areas he's rubbed off
I got in touch with another vet, but she was on vacation. In sending her an email about his case, I wrote up a detailed timeline of everything that had happened. Reading it, I became increasingly convinced it had to be the blanket. I found a couple forum posts about people whose horses reacted to detergents and blanket washes. Several said it took months for the horse to fully recover.

I couldn't bathe him because it was too cold and I couldn't turn him out without a blanket for the same reason. (Steen, never inclined to carry much padding to begin with, drops weight at an alarming rate when not blanketed in harsh conditions.) So I had little choice. I kept waiting.

Fortunately, on Wednesday the weather took a turn for the warmer. I pulled Steen's blanket. He's been naked for a few days, and already he seems much better. Today I was actually able to groom him without causing him to shake and shudder and tie himself in knots.

Fingers crossed we're on our path to an itch free future. After seven weeks of dealing with this, I'm hesitant to believe it's really over. I suppose time will tell.

A photo posted by Robin (@aridingrobin) on

Horseback Hours YTD: 8:10

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The State of Piper

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Piper came into our lives. Having her this long wasn't totally the plan. My plan was to get her started in the spring, ride her a ton in the summer, and most likely sell her in the fall. If I kept her this long, I imagined it would be because I was enjoying having a younger horse to refine and and ride a bit harder than I can ride Steen these days.


The good news with regards to Piper is she's a total doll. Her ground manners are impeccable. She's sweet and soft and likes being around people. She's green still, and can get tense in certain situations, but she handles her own anxiety well and calms down quickly given a little space and support.

The bad news is I put a lot less time into riding her last year than I intended.

But really, it's not that the situation is bad. My reasons for not riding Piper have had little actually to do with Piper herself. Starting her was smooth. Every time she's gotten a few weeks (or months) off because life got in the way, getting back on has been no big deal.

The same was true of yesterday when I climbed onto Piper's back for the first time since November 1st. It's crazy it had been that long, but first she had a minor shoulder strain, and then we were traveling. Since we've been back it's been brutally cold, and I've had other horse issues to worry about (more on that soon).

I was ready for Piper to feel pretty rough around the edges. She didn't. The first thing we did was walk some circles. Brian's comment watching us: "I guess she's been practicing those without you."


We went on to some figure eights, and she was fabulous with those too. From there the ride continued to go well, though I could feel she lacks fitness and was a bit tight in the hind from standing around on ice in sub zero temps these last weeks. So we kept things short and non-challenging. My plan is to get her back in regular light work and build her strength back up so we're poised for lots of good long rides when the weather breaks. Then I'm hopeful we can find the perfect people to take over her education some time in the summer.

That's the plan, anyway. We'll see how things pan out. Fingers crossed 2016 will be a little more conducive to following through than 2015 was.

Ride Time: 0:30
Horseback Hours YTD: 4:10

Piper is feeling a little disheveled after her first ride of 2016. #themane #palomino #horsesofinstagram

A photo posted by Robin (@aridingrobin) on

Friday, January 22, 2016

2015 in Review

I'm more than a little late on my year end post, which is pretty much indicative of 2015 as a whole. For me, it was the year that somehow happened without happening.

I realize that makes no sense. It's not that nothing went down in 2015. It's that so many of the things that did happen seemed unplanned or off track somehow. It was like everything I experienced or accomplished somehow canceled itself out in some way. Mostly, the year just felt so fast - like I simply didn't have a chance to get focused on the things I wanted to focus on.

The Numbers

I suppose it was bound to happen, but after quite a few years of a steady increase in saddle time, 2015 led to way, way fewer hours on horseback for me:

Total saddle time in 2015
130 hours, 55 minutes

Here's my chart of each year since I've been keeping track:

Here's my breakdown by horse:


I'm keeping my goals for 2016 modest. I'd like to get Piper going again in earnest and find her a good home in the summer. Meanwhile, I hope to keep Steen is good condition. He'll be 16 this year. I want to do everything I can to keep him healthy and happy as he gets older.

I'm not sure what my blogging goals are. I keep going back and forth between feeling like I should get back to this blog in earnest and thinking I might be done with the medium for a while. I guess we'll just see what happens.

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