Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My first ride on a friesian

I started taking dressage lessons at a local-ish barn a few weeks ago, I've been feeling like I need to get further along in my education before I get on Coriander again and start asking him for more. Fortunately the barn where I test rode an Ansur saddle offers lessons.

For the first three lessons I rode an appaloosa cross, the same horse I did the test ride on. All was going well, I enjoy riding that horse and his trot, I got to try a training level test, I got to feel what it was like to ride 'on the bit.' It was very cool.

For my last lesson though, I rode a different horse. A friesian. A friesian that is much more specially trained than the appy cross.

Now when you imagine riding a friesian you like to think it will go something like this: You are sitting on a magnificent black beast with flowing hair all over the place. You whisper to the horse with your legs and he strides boldly forward, long black mane caressing your face. You merely suggest a direction with the reins and he willingly follows. When you want to canter, all you do is think it and the horse lifts into the smoothest, roundest canter you've ever ridden. It's like riding a shiny, black dream.


It was more like falling to pieces. We were fine until the trainer told me to ride him on the second track and that's the point when the steering went out. You know what that means- the steering was never there to begin with. Plus he was kind of lazy so I had to use a lot of leg, but I didn't keep my leg long like you're supposed to- no, I curled it towards my bum which the horse didn't understand at all. The worst was when she asked me to canter and I.Could.Not.Get.That.Horse.To.Canter. I just fell apart, lost the contact, lost my balance, and curled into the fetal position trying to get the leg aid as he just rushed into a faster and faster trot.

It was horrible and awesome at the same time. Horrible because the ride highlighted everything that is wrong with my riding. Awesome because it laid it all out there in front of the trainer. Here I am, here are my issues, help me learn.

Fortunately the trainer was very nice about it, she said most people who are good riders on lesson horses have this problem. Lesson horses will kindly fill in the gaps for you, the better trained horses won't because of their expanded repertoires- they can't guess what you're asking for because you could be asking for so many things. That's exactly the kind of horse I need to be riding right now, so I can learn finesse and balance and transfer that knowledge to the Quarters.

I feel like Humpty-Dumpty, now I just have to learn to like the feeling of being put back together again.

(no fear- I'll get back to the laminitis posts now)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Laminitis: Diagnosis and treatment

Here's the hard part: How do you know that your horse has laminitis?

The first signs include:
  • shifting the weight from foot to foot
  • pounding digital pulse
  • heat in the hooves
  • reluctance to walk in a circle
  • lameness or stiffness of gait
Side comment: Some of you may remember that a while back Coriander went lame and a possible diagnosis was laminitis. Thank goodness it was just an abscess, but it presented much the same way, he was lame with heat and a pounding digital pulse. Sometimes different problems have very similar symptoms.

If you know the horse has had an event that would trigger laminitis, is displaying the signs, and you've caught it within 24 hours of onset you need to ice the hooves. I'm not talking about cold hosing the legs for 20 minutes 2 times a day, I'm talking fill a muck bucket or tank full of ice water and have the horse stand in it for 48 hours straight (keep replenishing the ice).

I'm not kidding.
Chris Pollitt did a lot of research with cryotherapy (ice) and proved that prolonged exposure to the cold works really well to stop laminitis in its tracks. The theory is that vasoconstriction caused by the cold slows down the activity in the hooves enough that it gives the body a chance to right itself before more damage is done.

Now for those of you worried about your horse getting frostbite, Dr. Pollitt says this, "fortunately, cold-induced pain is not a problem in horses; they seem to lack cold nociception in their distal limbs. Horses in the current study showed no cold-induced injury or any clinical signs attributable to cold-induced pain, despite extremely low ice boot and tissue temperatures. Continuous aplication of ice and water to the equine distal limb for 48 h seems safe, effective, and well tolerated by horses."


I've also heard good things about For Love of the Horse's MMP Stop Solution, if given within 48 hours of the trigger it has also been known to lessen the damage from laminitis.

While you are icing or using something like MMP Stop you also need to treat the cause of the laminitis. If the horse is IR you need to restrict their access to sugar, that means putting the horse on a dry lot, using a muzzle on grass, and soaking your hay if you know it's high in sugar. If you don't know if your horse is IR but you suspect they might be, get them tested. It's a lot better to know now, before they have issues, than to find out later when they do.

If the laminitis was caused by SODS then the horse probably has an infection that will need to be treated with antibiotics and a bunch of other stuff that only a vet can help you with (Always feed probiotics if you have to put your horse on antibiotics- they kill the gut flora.)

Unfortunately if your horse looks like this:
classic laminitis stance
it's already too late to ice or use the MMP Stop, the damage is done. Now you'll need some heavy duty pain killers and anti-inflammatories along with a pretty strict maintenance regimen to get that horse feeling okay again.

At this point in time you'll start hearing about rehabilitative shoeing, but that's for the next post...

If you've seen any other laminitis symptoms please let me know in the comments, if I get enough I'll make another post putting your experiences together. For instance, Kristen said this about when her horse was affected: Laz's laminitis was caused by Potomac which lead to endotoxemia...his sheath was SWOLLEN too during his high fever which is a clue to look for fyi.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Laminitis: Three different paths

One cause of laminitis is physical strain on the laminae due to trauma/injury leading to the horse's weight physically tearing the laminae. This is what happened to Barbaro, his laminae gave out due to excessive weight strain. Personally I think that horseshoes can lead to chronic low-level laminitis since they force all the horse's weight on the laminae (Remember when I said the laminae aren't designed to hold up the entire horse?). I think Dr. Bowker says it best, "any weight-bearing responsibilities the laminae have should be considered their secondary role."

There are two more mechanisms that are found in laminitis that I would call chemical based, one affects the anchoring filaments and the other affects the MMPs. Both have the same result but the causation behind them and how they work is completely different. (Refer to my last post if you don't know what these are.)

Glucose overload- most people know about this cause of laminitis, a lot of them think it is the only cause for laminitis. It isn't. Glucose induced laminitis only happens to horses that are insulin resistant (IR). The horse consumes too much sugar so the body freaks out and shuts down all its sugar uptake mechanisms (similar to diabetes in humans).  Remember how I said anchoring filaments  that attach the hemidesmosomes back onto the basement membrane are made of a glycoprotein molecule? Well the body can't make any if the uptake of sugar (glucose) has been inhibited. That means that the MMPs are still doing their job of popping off the hemidesmosomes but there aren't any anchoring filaments to glue them back on, resulting in the separation of the epidermal laminae from the dermal laminae.

There is another, much more sinister, mechanism for laminitis. This one can be caused by anything that results in an inflammatory response: colic, carbohydrate overload, endotoxemia, septicemia, prolapsed uterus, retained placentas, heat cycles in mares, potomac horse fever- basically anything that ends with -itis and messes with the balance of the hindgut can cause this other kind of laminitis. This can also be referred to as SODS- single organ dysfunction syndrome. When there are bacterial toxins in the bloodstream (which often begin in the hindgut) they activate white blood cells, these toxins and white blood cells eventually migrate down to the hooves and into the lamaella, where they cause the MMPs to go haywire and start popping off the hemidesmosomes at a rate too fast and furious for the anchoring filaments to keep up with, resulting in a separation of the laminae. This action can also result in the death of the secondary epidermal laminae cells. (It's a bit more complicated than this, but I'm trying to make it easier to understand.) Unfortunately, in this case, there is usually some pretty nasty damage done to the basement membrane. 

In the case of IR, it's the failure of the anchoring filaments that lead to laminitis, in the case of SODS it's the MMPs that lead to laminitis. The important thing to remember is that even though they both have the same result they are not caused by the same thing so they cannot be treated the same way. If your horse has laminitis the first thing you need to find out is what caused it.

The hoof wall gives evidence of damage to the basement membrane. It might be the characteristic "rings" that most people think of, but it also looks like these two pictures below. In the case of founder (chronic laminitis) horses will often create a "founder ridge," a place where the hoof wall appears to bunch up. I think the cause of this is damage to the basement membrane, basically the hoof wall cannot be moved down because the foundation that it would attach to is non-functional.

References for this post include Chris Pollitt, Jim Belknap, Rustin Moore, Robert Bowker and Debra Taylor.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Laminitis: Hoof wall growth

The first thing you need to know about the hoof wall is that it is actually composed of three different sections:

  • the distal hoof wall/pigmented wall/stratum medium, 
  • the water line/unpigmented wall/stratum internum
  • the white line/epidermal lamellae
To understand hoof wall growth we also need to focus on the lamellae, of which there are four types:
  • Primary Epidermal Lamellae (PEL)
  • Secondary Epidermal Lamellae (SEL)
  • Primary Dermal Lamellae (PDL)
  • Secondary Dermal Lamellae (SDL)
The lamellae from the epidermis (outside of the hoof) interlock with the lamellae from the dermis (inside of the hoof) by means of a basement membrane. "The basement membrane is a thin, unbroken sheet of extracellular material, partitioning the dermis from the epidermis (Pollitt)."

Each one of the SEL (the little fingers hanging off each PEL) is attached to the basement membrane by a hemidesmosome through anchoring filaments. Anchoring filaments are composed of a glycoprotein molecule called laminin-5 and a protein called BP-180.

Following along so far? Okay...

The coronet band is constantly creating new cells for the hoof wall, which means there needs to be a mechanism to move the already existing wall down towards the ground to make room for the new cells. To do that, lamellar remodeling enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) come through and pop the hemidesmosomes off the basement membrane (not all at once, mind you), tissue inhibitors called TIMPs then turn the MMPs off, and the loosened cells then move downward and reattach lower on the basement membrane by the anchoring filaments.

This process happens constantly in order to keep up with the growth from the coronet band. The MMPs, TIMPs, and anchoring filaments are always working in a very delicate balance to keep the hoof wall growing and replace material lost at ground level.

And that's hoof wall growth in a nutshell.

Upon further examination, Bowker's theory of hoof wall growth doesn't differ terribly from this, he just posits that the PELs actually contribute cells to the stratum internum to increase hoof wall thickness closer to the ground. For the purpose of understanding laminitis that isn't terribly important (just interesting).

All the info in this post I learned from reading the work of Chris Pollitt, I'll provide links later on. You'll notice that I've made a few words a little more "obvious." Try to remember those, they'll be important later.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekend update

I'm working on the laminitis posts, here's a heads up that there will be multiple ones and some of them will be pretty technical, there's no way around that. I'm going to start with a post on how the hoof wall grows but I've still got to wrap my mind around Pollitt's theory vs. Bowker's theory. They aren't the same, not at all.

In the meantime, here's a video showing that bum squeeze I was telling you about a few weeks ago. The only thing I was doing was squeezing my cheeks, I wasn't doing anything with my hands or my legs except get him organized.

Gwen did some really good work today. I put two cones up and we worked on walking to a cone, turning around it and then walking to the other cone. She did pretty well, the steering got a bit wacky at times (she was very interested in the barn for some reason) but we eventually ended up where I wanted to be. We even finished up by walking in a circle around a cone, I was pretty pleased with that. She's getting to be a riding horse, by golly!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writer's block

I haz it. I can't think of anything I want to talk about that would be interesting. I just got Pete Ramey's very expensive new book and part of me wants to snark on that, but I just snarked on AQHA and too much snarking gets old fast.

I could talk about our latest nocturnal training sessions, but talking about training for ground tying, pose and leg lifts also gets mad boring without any visuals to explain what I'm doing.

I could talk about my last ride on Gwen on Saturday, where she was really good until she decided she'd rather graze than move forward and so decided backing up to stay in the grass was the better option. Unfortunately she backed my helmet right into a tree branch and scared herself when it made a sound (which only resulted in a 3-step spook, good for her!)

I could talk about my last lesson where we worked on leg yielding and I innocently pretended I didn't know what I was doing so I could pick her brain on the aids. But most of you know how to leg yield so that's not too interesting either.

I could talk about how I trimmed Zippy again last weekend and it looks like I've finally come to the end of his impacted bars. YAY! The owner lunged him before I worked on him and I was delighted to see that he was completely full of beans, bucking and kicking- horse felt good! Still lame, but a lot  better than he has been. I did uncover some disease pockets in his right fore though, that was a little worrisome.

But nothing seemed to be entire post worthy all on its own. Anyone interested in what I have to say about laminitis? I've been meaning to do some more research on that anyway.

Ah well, I guess you'll just have to look at this strange photo of Coriander eating dinner last night. Hopefully I'll come up with something interesting to say soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In the dark

Daylight Savings day is my least favorite day of the year, it marks the beginning of three months of darkness for me. Three months when I only see my horses in the light on the weekends or holidays. Ugh, winter.

Anyway, this year I'm going to try to make the most of it. I asked Mark to set up a light on the front of the barn so I'll have a place to work in the evenings and I plan to pick up all the projects that fell by the wayside this year. That means head lowering, pilates, standing on the mat, leg lifts, and working on balance in small circles (AKA picking the shoulders up and out instead of falling in on them).

I plan on trying to ride Gwen on the weekends, I'm hoping that when the snow covers the grass she'll be able to focus better, while Coriander is basically getting the winter off from riding. In the meantime I've started dressage lessons so that when Coriander and I get to work next spring I'll be better prepared for our next step in training.

Speaking of that: During my lesson we worked on walking and halting "on the bit." She had me squeeze my buttocks to get the horse to lower his head and lift his back, then I got him to go long and low by squeezing my cheeks while he walked. I went and tried it with Coriander later that day and it worked, he arched his neck down immediately.

Why does that work? Is it a pressure point on their backs? I would be afraid to rely on that trick though, does it teach the horse anything about carrying their bodies or is it just a physical response? I want a little more than just a reflex to get my horse stretching over his topline (not to mention that my tushy gets tired and it makes me feel like I'm perching on top of the horse). I'll have to ask her about that during my next lesson.

Dr. Kellon's nutrition course started this week too. I mentioned I'd give out little tidbits that I've learned along the way, so here's one for week 1: You almost never need to supplement vitamins A, D, K, B-12, and C in your horse's diet.

Wow, that seemed like an incredibly random post. Might as well keep adding to it then- I added another video to my last post. I'm really starting to wonder if the judges for AQHA are legally blind.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Really AQHA?

Apparently I'm on a video kick, cause here's another one.

Some genius AQHA judge said this horse was world champion quality and they proudly declared this on facebook:

2011 AQHA Yearling Stallions World Champion

I'm no professional show judge, but I would have DQ'd this horse immediately. Anyone else agree? Already lame at one year old and fat as a slaughter-bound pig to boost. Wanna place bets on this horse's future?

PS- is the lip chain really necessary? I thought the ideal quarter horse was supposed to be calm and easy to handle (Gwen notwithstanding). Even the stallions.

Edited to add a video of AQHA naming yet another lame horse world champion, this time the performance halter champion. This is even worse, horses are supposed to earn points under saddle to qualify for performance halter. Was this horse lame for all his under-saddle classes too? What is wrong with these judges?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Always remember...

It's about having fun!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A real ride

Honest to goodness, I had an actual ride on Gwen today.

First of all, I took her over to the mounting block and got on without putting a flake of hay down first. She stood like a stone until I was mounted and she was rewarded. Brilliant.

Then walked up the hill around the barn, and she halted when I asked her to before turning into the Christmas tree field. Excellent.

We turned into the field and hit a bit of a snag- I wanted to turn around and head back, she wanted to graze. Grazing wasn't on my agenda, so we had to do some hip yielding until she decided to just stay in the direction I pointed her. Points for me on sticking to my guns.

Then she walked down the hill and turned toward the barn when I asked her, and halted again when I asked. Awesome.

Oh, and guess what? She backs under saddle! I asked her on Sunday and she just glided backwards- there was no pushing through the reins or trying to slide left and right, she just stepped back. So cool. I asked her again today with the same result, flowing backwards. All of our ground work has really paid off.

We've now got go forward, turn, halt, and back. The building blocks for making a riding horse.

It was a simple, short ride by most standards, but considering how far we've come I had to crow about it!