Monday, January 30, 2012

Gwen's first abscess

Gwen tried to kill me this weekend. Seriously, I'm still trying to put my heart back together.

The footing here in NY has been awful this winter. We've gotten quite a bit of rain which turns the pasture to mud, which the horses then slog through and rut up. Then we get a hard, hard freeze and all those ruts get frozen solid, making it very difficult for the horses to get around. There were days when Butch, the belgian boss-hoss would just stand in the run-in all day waiting for me to bring hay to him because the ground was simply too difficult for him to walk on.

This brings me to last Saturday, I'd just spent the morning struggling with a draft horse who really didn't want her feet done, when I went out to spend a pleasant afternoon riding my two lovely horses. Unfortunately Gwen came up to the gate hobbling on three legs and acting like her left hind was broken (Kristen, I'm feeling ya right now). She stood around without any weight on it and when she walked she just stabbed her tippy-toe into the ground, holding as little weight as possible.

I immediately picked her foot up to see if something was horribly wrong with it, there was a small flap on her frog sticking out, it wasn't enough to cause her so much pain, but I cut it off anyway and stepped back to see her reaction. Just the same. Then she very carefully lifted her hind leg up and to the side, took her little muzzle and pointed to her hoof, "it hurts there, fix it please," she said.

My heart promptly broke and fell all over the ground.

I put some bute in her feed and went to text my vet. Vet said check her for scratches, put her in a stall, cold hose, feed her bute, and check her temperature, call back in two days if she hasn't improved.
  • Check for scratches: check, no scratches.
  • Put her in a stall: anti-check, not going to happen
  • Cold hose: anti-check, hose has been put away due to freezing winter temps
  • Feed her bute: check, already done
  • Check her temperature: anti-check, I don't have a thermometer- add buy a thermometer to my mental wishlist
  • Call back in two days if she hasn't improved: enthusiastic check!
Well guess what? On Sunday morning that darn mare was 70% better! At first sight, she was weighting the foot with only a slight limp. Upon hoof inspection I found the smallest drop of draining fluid coming from the tiniest hole in her medial heel bulb. All that drama over the most miniscule abscess ever?

Seriously, it's like she's taking up scaring me to death as a winter hobby...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Liebster Award

Big thanks to Story at All Gear No Skill and Kristen at Sweet Horse's Breath for nominating me for the Liebster Award. Of course this means I have some work to do...

5 Up-and-Coming Blogs You Should Read:

Um... I've been a little busy at work and in my personal life (trying to buy land from my husband's family has turned into a major soap opera. Back taxes, unfinished mortgages, multiple lawyer visits- OH MY!) so I haven't been on the lookout for new blogs lately. I am well aware that new blogs that I'd love are being born everyday, just waiting for me to find them. Here is what I have found lately:

  1. Adventures with Shyloh  (I know you've already gotten this but...)
  2. Just Horses
  3. I Can Haz
  4. Memoirs of a Horse Girl (your blog still counts as new, right?)
  5. Reflections on Riding 
If you've just started a blog you'd like me to read, please leave a comment and I'll come by for a visit  :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A mid-winter walk

The worst part of winter is feeling cooped up, at least it seems that's what my horses think. They have almost 15 acres of pasture to roam all day every day and they are bored to tears of it.

Are we going to do something interesting today?
Without enough daylight to play with them during the week, and the last two weekends being bitter cold I really haven't done much with my Quarters lately. Last weekend they told me they'd like some more to do, thanks. You see on that beautiful 7F degree day, they decided that after they ate - while I was filling hay bags - they were going to go exploring. Cue me spending the next twenty minutes in the freezing cold chasing them around the fields at a fast walk while they took a looksie around the joint. Rotten beasties.
Gwen sporting her new marehawk, I kind of like this look
Fortunately, today the temps rose above 30F (gasp, heatwave) so I haltered them up and we went for a walk. It was cold, and a bit windy, but the sun was out and the skies were blue. For January, it was a beautiful day.
Coriander would like to know if my plans include food
So we went into the back fields, and it was such a nice day that I decided to sneak into the neighbor's back field (Coriander's favorite place) and let them graze a bit. As soon as he realized where we were heading he took off at a trot up the hill, eyes keenly trained for the little deer trail across the hedgerow. Have I mentioned that field is his favorite place?
Gwen made this eating dinner
There's nothing like spending some time with your horses in the snow to help you appreciate their cold weather adaptations: their hooves, totally impervious to the fetlock deep snow; and their clever lips, dusting the snow off the tender shoots of grass closer to the ground. If it weren't for how poorly I'm adapted to the cold, I'd probably still be out there with them now.

Someday, when I'm much older and much grayer, this is the kind of day I'm going to remember - companionably sharing time and space with my horses on a beautiful day. It doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I oppose SOPA

I'm sorry to bring in politics, but this is important. If you oppose Internet censorship then send a message to Congress. You can do it through Google here, through Wikipedia here, or Mozilla here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pathological hoof: What I see

Good call everyone! All your comments about how long this hoof was, the state of the frog, and the atrocious angles were spot on. I saw a couple of other things on top of that I'd like to point out. Before I get started I do want to say one thing: I'm not telling you this with the expectation that you're going to go out and start trimming on your own, I want to give you some more tools to use in assessing hoof health so you can know that the person you're paying to take care of your horse's feet is doing a good job.

Okay then, let's get started. You can click on all of these photos to get a larger view.

I'll start as I would if this were a new client of mine: First of all, I'd look at the length of toe, in a healthy hoof the toe is 3 to 3.5 inches long. This foot looks much longer than that. Obviously I can't measure it, but in this case I feel I can trust my eyes. Now check out that crack, which is in a very odd spot. Typically, hooves crack in two places: if the quarters are long they will crack along the sides at the quarters, if the toe is long it will crack straight down the center of the hoof. But this crack doesn't correlate with either of those scenarios, it makes me suspicious that something sinister is happening inside that hoof. Let's look past the crack for now and look at the hairline- can you see that hump along the medial edge? That's excess hoof wall pressing up the flesh, notice how there isn't a hump on the outside. From the front of a healthy hoof, the hairline should form a line parallel to the ground.

Now check the hairline from the side. In healthy hooves the hairline is a straight line that angles down to the heel from the toe in a 30 degree angle. This hairline is nearly ground parallel and distinctly arches upwards in the quarters, showing that the hoof is much too long in that region. Now look at the heel purchase, can you see that the heel this horse is standing on is nearly in the middle of his foot? His heel purchase should be at least a half inch further back, he's got a pretty good case of forward foot syndrome going on. And by pretty good, I mean pretty bad. Fortunately his heels haven't collapsed, which says good things about the strength of his hoof wall. All overly long toes will show a toe crease like this guy, where the hoof wall gets too long and creases under pressure. In hindsight, I wish I'd put another arrow above that dip over his toe, that's where I think his foot should actually end.

Many of you mentioned looking at this horse's diet, I'm assuming you all thought that because of the rings in the hoof wall. Personally, I'm not sure this horse is laminitic (which doesn't mean he's not) because this hoof isn't flaring outward, it's contracting in, which says good things about the integrity of the hoof walls and laminae. Instead, I think the rings on the hoof wall are caused by concussion from the ground. The hoof wall is so long that most of the rings you see are actually past the lamina, since that excess material isn't really attached to anything it's much easier to distort. Think of the hoof wall as being closer to a liquid than stone, it's more malleable than you think.

Let's take a closer look at those heels now. You could all tell that those heels were WAY too long, so let's ignore that for now. What pops out at me is that his hairline isn't parallel from side to side- his heels are sheared. This photo also shows you that this hoof isn't just contracted in the heels, he's contracted all the way around. Look how his hoof is narrower at the ground than at the hairline. Because of that contraction all of the structures inside his hoof, like the coffin bone and corium, are being severely pinched. There's no way this horse has proper blood flow in there.

Here's another view of those sheared heels. What you can also see from this angle are his lateral cartilages- not only have they been pushed way up into the fetlock, they've been pushed up asymmetrically from the inside by this horse's badly overgrown bars.

Heel contraction in this hoof has two causes: 1.) thrush, 2.) badly overgrown bars. He also has a sole that is just jam-packed with at least a half inch of dead material. That's part of why his hoof is so long from the front and side. As anyone who lives in a desert will tell you, dry, hard ground tends to have this effect on hooves that have compromised hoof mechanism. If the hoof isn't flexing, it can't pop out the excess material. His hoof also gives a bit of an optical illusion, because the heels have pulled so far forward the toes don't look that long. But if the heels were trimmed down to where they below you'd see that toe is at least a half inch longer than it should be.

Thrice weekly oxine or white lightning soaks are necessary for this horse, but this hoof will not decontract until those bars come out. The thrush came first, shrinking the frog down to a slit, but then the bars grew around it like a concrete wall, holding that contraction in place. Removing those bars will take months, especially since they've jammed so far upward into the hoof.

So what would I do if this were my client?

First I would warn the owner that this horse is going to get worse before he gets better. All that pinching contraction had damaged the internal structures so much that, once this foot frees up and starts flexing again, he's probably going to start abscessing pretty badly. It sounds awful, but it's necessary, abscessing is the only way the body can get rid of dead and damaged tissue. I would also guess that this horse has some muscle and tendon issues from walking around like this, he's going to be quite stiff and lame for a while. I would say that this horse can be helped, but it will take time and patience.

Then I'd do my trim and hope for the best.

If you have questions, please ask. My brain isn't being very cooperative this morning and some of what I've written probably doesn't have the clarity I wish it would.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pathological hoof: What do you see?

Here's a fun exercise for a cruddy, stormy day: These pictures were posted online to one of the list serves I follow. I thought it might be fun for you to take a look and share what you see and what your trimming recommendations would be for this horse. I'll follow up with my thoughts in a few days.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Something's up with Gwen

Gwen gave me a scare last night. I was almost through my nightly feeding routine: the Quarters had eaten their feed and supplements, I'd take a bale of hay out to the feeders, and I was busy filling the slow feed bags to hang in the run-in.Normally by the time I'm half done filling the bags, my horses come over and start grazing a bit on the hay I've got out. It keeps them occupied until I can get the bags hung and then I escort them back into the pasture.

Well last night, Gwen wandered over and started eating. I was bent over a bag, stuffing in hay, when suddenly flakes of hay started flying around me. Then a bale flew by! What the heck?

There was Gwen, madly pawing into the hay and flinging it behind her like a wake, looking TICKED OFF! I rushed over to her to see what was wrong and she opened her mouth and half chewed hay fell out. She reached down for another mouthful, and then angrily spit it back out. At that point, I freaked out a little- the only time I've seen that was with a 38 year old pony with no teeth. I was thinking, "OMG, my mare lost her teeth!"

Have I mentioned I'm dramatic?

I got her halter on and took her into the pasture so I could examine her head. There was no swelling, no heat on the outside. I reached inside her lips to feel her front teeth (she wasn't too keen on that) and they were all fine and I didn't see any evidence of blood. I reached in over her bars and felt the tongue and that was alright. At this point, I took her halter off and hung up one of the hay bags to see what she'd do. Of course she commenced eating normally, looking at me quizzically every once in a while as I hovered over her for the next ten minutes making sure she was okay. Apparently a big mouthful of hay was a problem, little bites from the slow feeder bag were okay. (Same bale of hay, btw, I did initially think that something could have been off with that bale.)

The only thing I could think was that she could have a sore inside her mouth that made big mouthfuls uncomfortable. I called my vet just in case and she agreed with me, saying to just keep an eye on her. Gwen was okay this morning but she'll be getting the raptor treatment for the next few days- I'll be watching her like a hawk.

Horses, the world experts on making your heart jump into your throat...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hunka, hunka burnin' love

I'm pretty sure that most, if not all, mare owners have wondered what would happen if they bred their girl. I have to admit I've wondered about that myself. Not seriously, of course. I'm NOT EVER, ever, ever breeding Gwen. I love her but she's not breeding quality. But in the land of make believe you can do whatever you want, like pair her with a thoroughbred stallion like this one standing oh so close by.
Pick Six
Isn't he a handsome gent? His L/S joint is perfect, he's fairly level balanced, and his front legs are slightly bucked- which could offset Gwen's calf knees. For a Dynaformer son, his cover fee of $2000 probably isn't that bad.

Or, since this really is just dreaming and never going to happen I might as well aim high. Like Quality Road high.
Quality Road
Not only is he eye-popping gorgeous, but I hear he's got a personality to match. My vet worked with Quality Road at the track and loves him to pieces, which says good things about him. His stud fee is $35K, I could swing that, right? Hahahahahaahhaha, moving on...

What about a warmblood?
Royal Prince
Compared to Quality Road, this hanoverian's cover fee is a steal at only $2200. He's got a super nice shoulder with a 90 degree angle and enough room to pull his scapula back to give him clearance over fences, not to mention a long humerus. I might get a jumper if I crossed him with my girl.

How about a warmblood with glitz and glamor- who lives about ten miles from where the Quarters were born?
This KWPN is downright cheap at $1000 a cover. Between him and Gwen, I'd almost be guaranteed a copper chestnut with lots of white. I don't necessarily need the bling, but I'm a sucker for redheads.

You know, quarabs are generally thought of as a nice cross too. What about this arabian stallion?
This is a racing stallion, apparently if you want an arabian with bone you should look into the racing lines, there's no flimsiness in this horse at all. He's $2000 a cover but he looks worth it, at least I think so.

Again, this is not going to happen, this is just stuff I daydream about when I'm bored at work and want to look at pretty horses. Rationally if I wanted to get a foal from one of these stallions I'd be much better off buying someone else's successful gamble than to try to breed my own mare. Especially one with legs like Gwen.

I decided to take a look at their get for sale, and guess what? Everything I could find from these boys started at $10K (This is Quality Road and Parcival's first year at stud, Quality Road's get might take millions at auction.). Most of us cannot afford to pay that much for a horse who could break down at any time. Think weddings: the more expensive the wedding the shorter the marriage lasts.

Which seems like the better deal at first glance? Two thousand a cover or $10K for an already existing horse? Looking at those numbers I can understand why some people would want to breed their own, despite the long range costs whether you get the foal you want or not. Personally, I'm not going to risk it. Maybe I'll start perusing the web for an OTA (off track arabian), the Quarters might be in need of a companion by the end of the year...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More fun with the friesian

Here's the actual horse with his former owner on board. He looks bigger than this in person. Or maybe I'm just short.
I had an awesome lesson on the friesian this week. The trainer tacked up her own friesian, who's schooling grand prix, and brought her out as a lesson aid. Let me tell you, it helps a lot to see how things should be done before trying it yourself!

After warming up, I worked on shoulder-in. She demonstrated first, describing the aids and angle as she went, and then I got to try it. If you don't know already, let me tell you: it's surprisingly easy to ask for too much and get a four-track instead of three. But when you do it right- boy does it feel cool.

We spent most of the lesson working in canter though. I still have issues sometimes with the cue, part of the key is to get him organized and bent into shoulder fore with my inside leg at the girth and then add a "moment of stillness" before I give the aid with my outside leg. If I do it right he strikes off immediately, if I do it wrong I get extended trot. Anyway, after I got him into canter, we started preliminary work on collected vs. extended canter on the right lead. It was SO COOL! I could feel his hindquarters come down and his withers rise, his fore legs tucking in a little tighter. It probably wasn't exactly a collected canter but it felt brilliant anyway.

Then the trainer suggested extending the canter. Well, moving from collected to extended is harder than it looks, you can't just release the aids like I tried to do, that made him fall down to trot, you have to ease him into extension. I don't quite have the hang of it yet but I can't wait to try it again.

Unfortunately the left lead didn't go so well, left is his "bad" side and I spent too much effort just trying to keep him from cutting into the ring to really play with the gait. We'll get there. Still, it was a good ride. I'm happy I made the decision to take lessons at this barn for the winter, I'm learning exactly what I was hoping to learn.

On a slightly different note- I've noticed that my first post about riding the friesian has jumped to the top in my stats. Apparently there's a lot of people out there googling "friesian" and finding that post. I'm not sure how I feel about that, it's good that people are finding my blog, but I wish they hadn't landed on a post about failing and frustration.

So, for those of you who find my blog hoping for info about friesians here's a little I've learned:
  • they are gorgeous
  • they are very comfortable to ride
  • they have sweet, gentle personalities
  • they are terribly inbred and suffer from many health issues because of it
If I were looking to buy a friesian, I would not buy a pure bred. I would go for hybrid vigor and look for a cross instead. That way I'd get a healthier horse for (probably) half the price. At least that's my opinion, for whatever that's worth.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: The year of epiphanies

What a year, eh? I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's end-of-the-year wrap-ups, but in the meantime here's mine.

In February I sucked up my courage and sat astride my mare for the first time since my ankle was broken.

In March I had my first epiphany of the year: A diet of hay and forage are not enough, Gwen and Coriander were showing signs of mineral deficiences. My hunt began to find a diet that would keep them at their best.

In April I got my first trimming client, Zippy, a horse whose hooves continue to fascinate me.

In May I had another epiphany, this one was about the sensitive nature of Gwen's eyes, explaining her fear of everything white and bright.

In June I realized that I had been letting Coriander get away with too much under saddle, resulting in a horse that decided he could run off at any time. We had two weeks of awful rides before we got the running off sorted out and I finally figured out that the real solution was to keep him on his toes- to be a rider instead of a passenger.

Later in June I made a bad decision and got bucked off of Gwen. Fortunately I wasn't hurt but it did make some holes in her training glaringly evident. We commenced with ground driving which turned out to be fantastic for both of us.

In July it was hot, hot, HOT and I did a lot of hand walking my horses, getting Gwen more comfortable with the outside world.

I also figured out that I had missed some things clicker training Coriander and set out to teach him some new skills and make sure he understood the process.

In August I went to trimming school and well and truly learned how to trim hooves the right way, it was an awesome experience. Plus- donkeys!

In September I received my beautiful Ansur saddle that I am completely in love with. It's been on five horses so far and they've all liked it. It is amazing.

Unfortunately it also showed me something I had been trying to ignore for months- that my old Crosby was hurting Coriander, which he tried to tell me by running away every time I went to put it on his back. He still tenses up to run sometimes when I bring out the Ansur, which makes me really sad, but once the saddle is on his back he breathes a sigh of relief. He'll never wear the Crosby again.

In September I also got back on Gwen after the bucking incident and reaped the rewards of all that ground driving. It made a huge difference!

In October, I made an interesting discovery about impacted bars and decided that I needed to further my education so I can teach Coriander to carry himself correctly.

In November I started taking dressage lessons on better educated horses than mine so I could learn about contact and how a horse in self-carriage should feel. This has contributed to my last and ongoing epiphany of 2011- contact is important, and I'm learning how to use it correctly.

Also in November, I made the decision to put Coriander on vacation and focus on Gwen. Unfortunately, them living on a Christmas tree farm put a bit of a damper on my plans to ride her on the weekends but in the past week we've made a ton of progress- she trots under saddle now!

Sure it took 11 months to get from mounting to trotting, but life is in the journey, not the destination right? And this year was quite the journey. I can't wait to see what happens in 2012!

Also- not a bone broken, that's an improvement on last year :)