Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: the year I was broken and put back together again

January began with a wicked cold snap that made it hard to do anything with the quarters. Finally, mid-month there was finally a break and I decided to try longing Gwen. It was disaster, and I broke a finger by letting the longe line get wrapped around my hand. Obviously what I was doing wasn't working so I scoured the web for help. I happened to run across this post from April Reeve where she suggested using treats with nervous, flighty horses. I tried it, it worked, and was reminded of a book I had read on clicker training horses. The very next day I tried it and made more progress gaining her trust and cooperation in 10 minutes than I had for the previous 6 months. I've stuck with the clicker training since that day and I haven't looked back.

February was the month of snow, lots and lots of snow. I took advantage of another brief temperature hike to introduce a bit to Coriander. He took it in stride but was a little annoyed at how difficult it was to eat hay around it. Oh, and it snowed.

In March, clicker training was going so well that I started saddling Gwen, after a little anxiety over the girth, she decided she was okay with the whole process. She did so well that I screwed up my courage and slid on her bareback for the first time about mid-month. She was totally fine with it. A few days later I went to get on her again and the *&%$#%^ mounting blocks tips over and I fall on her. That wasn't good. I did manage to get her back over to it and slide on, but after that day she wouldn't go near the mounting block again. I make the brilliantly moronic decision to mount her from the ground using the stirrup. I end up on the ground with a busted leg.

I spent the month of April on crutches. I still saw my horses nearly every day but I couldn't handle them. Gwen and the barn owner's mutual hatred grew exponentially. My frustration with the barn owner also grew exponentially.
In May I dropped the crutches like hot potatoes and resumed handling my horses as soon as I possibly could, Gwen was immensely relieved. The barn gets a massive wave of new boarders, I went from having the place to myself to having to coordinate with people just to get my horses out of their stalls. I attend my first clicker training clinic with Alexandra Kurland and meet Kate G., who continues on as my clicker training teacher/mentor. I also meet Marjorie Smith and decide to take a much closer look at her website Barefoot for Soundess.
In June, after being unhappy with how my horses' hooves were chipping one week after the farrier came and trimmed them I decided to take their hoof care into my own hands. This is an ongoing process. I ride Coriander again for the first time since the accident and successfully use clicker training to help Gwen accept the flymask, walk over ground poles, and be wormed.

July was wicked hot and I end up having to hose my horses off nearly every day to try to cool them off. Coriander has a mystery lameness (I found an abcess hole in his left fore a few weeks later, go figure) so I don't ride him for most of the month. Gwen is introduced to the western saddle and doesn't seem to mind it at all. I finally reach my breaking point with the barn situation and decide to move my horses. The day I decide to move them I find a Craigslist ad for pasture board and, a week and a half and a crash course in trailer loading later, the quarters are moved to their new home.
In August, Coriander is introduced to trail riding, which he thinks is the greatest thing ever, and we get our first canter under saddle. We go on our first group trail ride and he acts like he's been doing it all his life. I just about bust open with pride. Gwen proves that all she ever wanted was a herd and her anxiety about her brother leaving disappears. I am immensely relieved.

In September I try a new tactic to help Gwen with her herd boundness, CAT, which works out very well, Gwen is happy that I'm listening to her and I'm happy that she's gaining some self confidence. I take my first vacation since getting the quarters and travel to New Mexico. I have a rather bad ride on a lesson horse and gain an important insight about having all your wits about you when riding mares. The quarters get a new sidepull and Coriander gets overly excited in the pasture and stomps on my foot, cracking a metatarsal (ARGH).

In October I attend another clicker training clinic and everybody wonders if I'll ever attend a clinic when I'm not broken. I meet a fantastic barefoot trimmer that does consulting and a dressage trainer that does distance learning. I finally find a pair of boots that fit Coriander, I find ticks on my horses, and Gwen continues to prepare for our eventual next mounting attempt. Coriander and I ride in our first show and get a blue ribbon!

In November, Gwen proves once again that horses do everything better with company as she does very well going on trail walks with her brother and Rocky. I am grounded due to back pain (Which I finally figured out came from my new orthotics, bye orthotics.), I learn that Coriander has thrush, and I introduce Gwen to more weight on her back via kitty litter. I remark on the passing of the Greatest Arabian Ever.

In December I realize Coriander's thrush was much worse than I thought and get schooled by the people at No Thrush, he wears boots for a week because he's dead lame but is on the road to recovery, his frogs should grow back better than ever now. I learn about scratches (Still trying to clear that darn stuff up, I'm giving it till next week and then I'm trying the Animalintex.) I do even more work to get Gwen ready for mounting (last night I leaned about 90% of my weight on her back, during which all she said was, "mmm, this hay is good." That's what I want to see.)

And that brings us to today. My thanks to everyone reading for all of the support and knowledge that you've shared with me this year. I had no idea when I started blogging about my horses that I'd have the pleasure of meeting and learning from so many wonderful people.

Goodbye 2010, even with three broken bones I had a great year, I can't wait to see what next year brings (though I can do without the breaks, 2011). I'm off to see my horses now. Catch ya later!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hay balls

The problem with having your horses live on pasture during the winter is how best to feed their hay. The easiest way to feed is to just drop the hay on the ground in piles. The problem with this is the hay a) blows away and b) gets pooped on. Even at $3 a bale, hay is just too darned expensive to waste that way.

There is a hay feeder in the pasture that looks sort of like this:
Too much metal
The problem is that it's WAY too small for four horses and it's made of metal, not to mention that it forces the horses to eat with their heads in the air- not what I want for Gwen. We had a similar feeder when I was younger and it rusted out, creating nasty edges for horses to cut themselves on. I don't even want my horses near something like that.

Because of that, I decided to experiment with slow feeding this winter. The idea behind slow feeding is to simulate grazing by limiting the amount of hay the horses can get in their mouth at one time, minimize hay wastage, and make the hay last longer. Ideally this way your horses have hay at all times. There are a bunch of options for slow feeders, many of which I found really interesting, but given my current situation, boarding, I decided to go for the easiest option possible: Haybags.

I found some fairly inexpensive bags with 2" holes to try. Unfortunately there aren't as big as I'd like, they can only fit about 4 flakes of hay and I was really hoping to be able to fit a half bale in them (I'll keep looking to see if I can find some larger bags), but they still seem to do the trick. I fill up the bags every night and 24 hours later there's usually hay left in them (Mark feeds loose hay in the morning). I call them hay balls because that's what they look like:
Gwen is concentrating
Nom nom nom
Rocky and Butch chowing down
It took them a few days to get used to the bags. Interestingly, the mares went for them much sooner than the boys did. Coriander gave me some ugly faces at first. I've been using them for a few weeks now and they all seem to have accepted the bags. Sometimes they'll even choose them over loose hay on the ground. They must like the challenge.

If you're considering slow feeding there are a TON of options out there, even for round bales. If you are concerned about hay wastage it's worth it to check them out.
A bagged round bale
Here are some links I found helpful:
One last thing: my horses and Mark's horses are barefoot, haybags on the ground might be an issue for those with shoes.

    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Neigh-y Christmas

    Coriander says that he hopes everyone out there gets everything they wanted this year.

    He'd like a treat now!

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Thrush epiphany

    The friendly people at No Thrush just advanced my understanding of thrush by leaps and bounds in three sentences. Here is part of their response to my pictures:

    "The original photos tell the whole story. The sulcus and lateral groves are so deep, and the frog is so narrow, and there is such a concentration of thrush in there, that once the thrush and disease begin to get under control, that top layer will almost always shed. It is not unusual for the entire V to come off if the frog is extensively infested with thrush/disease."

    After I read that I went back and took another look at his before photos.

    Just ignore the uneven heels for now

    This is the view I should have been looking at. Just look at how deep those cracks go into his feet, all the way to the hairline! That is all from thrush. Look at Gwen's non-thrushy foot below for comparison, no deep crack there.

    Now lets take a closer look at the pictures I posted last time.

    This picture proves that the No Thrush WAS working. See how the tissue is filling up what used to be a super deep crack? That was why it took so long for me to see results, his frog had a LOT of recovering to do from deep inside the hoof capsule. There was also the issue of me not knowing what to look for, though I think I have an inkling now.

    Since I'm feeling a whole lot better now that his feet are on the road to improvement, I can go back and cogitate on the other signs of thrush he was exhibiting. Right off the bat I want to say that there was NO stink and NO black ooze in his feet. Don't let the lack of those symptoms fool you like it fooled me. Other than the clues my eyes should have given me when looking at his feet (and will from now on) I should have noticed other symptoms under saddle. For instance he was very footy on rocks, even little rocks. He had also started being a total slug in the arena which, in hindsight, was probably because the footing was getting up in those cracks and irritating his feet. It's a testament to his stoicism that he wasn't lame all the time.

    I'm posting this in the hopes that I can help somebody else with thrush issues. If I didn't know this then I'm betting that there are a lot of other people who don't know it either. I encourage everyone reading this to pick up their horses' hooves and look at those heels and frogs. If they look anything like Coriander's then TREAT THEM NOW! Your horse will thank you.

    I just stumbled on this post by an endurance rider that confirms my new understanding of thrush: Thrush does not always smell and it is not always obvious.

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    Coriander's frogs

    Ugh, I've been sweating bullets over his feet for a few weeks now. At the recommendation of my trimming consultant, I used a specific product to fight thrush in Coriander's feet.

    Here are his frogs before I used the product, you can tell that all was not well in Frogsville.

     Here are his frogs about a week after I flipped out about how his frogs had disintegrated and decided to stop using that product. The pictures make his frogs look better than the reality. The flaps next to his heels weren't attached to anything and there was nothing between them, I could stick my whole pinky down the central sulcus. Holy Freaking Crap, what had I done to his feet!

     The last photos are after I started using Pete's Goo a week ago (a mix of antifungal and antibacterial creams). This week has been a little hairy. Once the rutted ground in the pasture froze up, Coriander went DEAD lame. Thank goodness I have the Cavallo boots because he's been living in them since Monday. That is so NOT ideal since I worry about nasty crud breeding the boots but he couldn't get around without them. Fortunately it looks like he's finally getting some frog growth again. I cut out the flaps at his heels since they were doing more harm than good and I think that's made a ton of difference in making him more comfortable. Comfortable enough to leave the boots off today, I'll have to see how he's looking tomorrow, but I've got the boots ready if I need to stick them back on.

    I contacted the company this week, basically telling them that their product appears to have destroyed his frogs. Here's the response from the president of the company:

    "Thanks for letting us know about your horse.  We would love to see the 
    pictures!  I have personally seen and heard of this development many times. 
    And believe it or not, it's entirely positive. It sounds like your horse's 
    feet were quite diseased.  When the [product] dries out any diseased hoof it 
    looks like the frog has been "eaten" away - in actuality, that part was most 
    likely mush before you dusted it, once dried out there is nothing there. Now 
    that the you have made the area inhospitable to thrush/disease, the new 
    healthy frog has a positive environment to grow back.  So, I know it may 
    look dramatic, but I believe you're on the right track!"
    Um, really? A little warning on their website would be nice. I sent them a document today with these pictures. I'll have to wait and see what they say about what happened. I'll decide about revealing the product name until after they've responded to my photos. At this point I don't know if their product really did the trick or if it was the switch to Pete's Goo. All I know was that I didn't see any improvement in frog growth until after the switch.

    I'm just super relieved that he seems to be improving!

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    Conformation question

    I would like to start Gwen free jumping in the spring once the ground softens up but I'm a little concerned about her front legs. I think I see a conformation flaw in her front legs that would effectively end her jumping career before it even starts.

    My question is: Does anyone else see it? I'm going to be honest and say that I hope you don't, which is why I'm not saying what I think I see, but if most people see it then I'll have to change my plans for her. I don't want to risk her longterm soundness for a bit of fun.

    This picture just makes me laugh
    For the record I know she's sickle hocked but that doesn't concern me too much. She's almost seven and has had zero wear and tear on those hocks so they should hold up under a normal workload.

    So what do you think? Safe to try a little jumping or no?

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Catching up

    A bunch happened this week and nothing happened this week all at the same time. I had to call the vet out last Saturday because Gwen's hind legs were swollen. Comes out she has scratches, awesome. I've been scrubbing her fetlocks with Nolvasan as per doctor's orders and she's been really tolerant of it, which is really good of her considering the temps are usually around 15F when I can get out to do it. Brrr. Fortunately between the scrubbing and some injected antibiotics she seems to be recovering well.

    I hate you so much right now.
    Not so happily, Coriander has something really wrong with his hooves. Something is eating up the frogs on his front feet from the inside out. About a month ago my hoof consultant told me his feet looked thrushy and to treat for it, so I have been even though I didn't think he had thrush, there is no smell and no black, slimy gunk in his feet. Well a month later his feet don't look any better. I don't think the issue is thrush, I think it might a fungus infestation. Worse, I think it's contagious. Both of his front frogs look like heck and now Gwen's left fore looks eaten away. I blame my hoofpick. Really I blame myself because I should have known better, but since I can foist the blame onto an inanimate object I'm going to.

    I'm changing treatment tactics and giving Pete's Goo (a mix of antibiotic and antifungal creams) a try. It can't hurt and it should cover all my bases. In the meantime my hoofpick is getting a nice, long bleach bath. Take that you traitor!

    In other news, I had a rather exciting lesson this week full of equipment fails. I was assigned a rather round haflinger pony (Dudley) that my saddle didn't fit at all, but since I was running late I decided to just go with it. Of course that pony decided at one point that he needed to bolt right while we were turning left and I suddenly found my left stirrup about a foot lower than my right. Whoops! I got off and put my saddle back on and managed to convince Dudley that he did, indeed, want to continue to the left instead of bolt right. A little later I sat up after going over a jump only to find that the left rein had come loose in my hand! Since we were cantering away from the jump all I could do was hold up the flapping end of rein in my left hand and hope Dudley would stop when I said whoa. The most interesting part? The rein wasn't broken!

    Other than that the quarters have been busy getting really fuzzy. They look adorable right now.

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010

    Ignorance is bliss- a public service announcement

    The problem with educating yourself about hoof form and function is that the more you know the easier it is to find examples of bad hoof care. Everywhere.

    I can't even look through catalogs anymore without seeing hooves that make me sad. But there is one photo in particular that I can't get out of my head. Check out the feet on this poor bugger:
    This photo is supposed to be selling splint boots but I can't drag my eyes away from those hooves long enough to see them. I would bet money that this horse is a model because (s)he is too lame to do anything else. I would also bet they are paying a fortune on those shoes and that the farrier would punch you in the face for questioning him/her. Does anyone else see why these hooves are so depressing to me?

    Sigh, sometimes I long for the days when I could look through a catalog and just shop.

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Butch at work

    I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but the quarters new home is on/around/next to a Christmas tree farm. Now that it's the season, the place has been hopping on the weekends with all sorts of people coming in to find their perfect tree.

    While this does mean that Gwen is on a forced hiatus- it's not safe to take her out when there are small kids around- it's a chance to see a draft horse at work. Butch only works for a month a year, sure he goes on rides every once in a while for the rest of the year, but Christmas tree season is the only time he does what he was bred to do.
    Butch was made to pull stuff and boy is he good at it. Somebody came by yesterday and picked out a really big tree, it had to have been about 20' high. Mark hooked Butch up to pull it out to the guy's trailer and all I can say is that I wish I got it on video. Butch built up a head of steam and charged  out of the field with that tree. Actually he didn't want to stop, he would have taken that tree all the way into the pasture if he could. It was at that point in time that Mark decided a bit was in order for Mr. Steamboat. The whole thing was a sight to see, let me tell you!

    In other news, Gwen has scratches :-(

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    The holidays are on their way...

    Or: Shannon helps you spend your money.

    It's coming up on "that time of the year," gift giving time! If you've got a few horsey people on your list you might want to check the Whoa Horse Artists Group on Etsy. In case you haven't been there, Etsy is an online marketplace where artists and craftspeople can sell their handmade goods. I LOVE this site, you can find a little bit of everything there and the best part is you deal directly with the maker. I don't know about you, but I love to support starving artists. In fact, even Natalie from The Un-Retired Racehorse sells hand painted ornaments on Etsy (sorry Natalie, I lost the link to your shop).

    Here are just a few pieces that caught my eye- I could never put up everything I like or this post would never end. The captions are links to the sale page for each item.

    An awesome sculpture that I could never afford:
    An incredible commissioned sculpture

    Adorable earrings:
    I own a pair of these
    A watercolor painting:
    This is an interesting perspective
    Black and white photography:
    This photo has a great mood

    You name it, Etsy has it. If you're trying to find gifts for the horseperson who has everything, give it a try, but don't be surprised if you find yourself doing a little shopping for yourself :-)