The Ugly Truth

It’s been pretty quiet here for the past couple weeks. Other than joining in on the evening activities when Emma came to San Diego, I haven’t done much worth reporting horse-wise. Emma was awesome and great to meet; I hope it’s not a singular event. It was also nice to see the local girls again. I’m really glad they included me in their plans and hopefully we get together more often!

I’ve been spending a lot of time doctoring horses which is nothing to write home about. Ben with his weird bed sore, Aria with these awful hock sores that are on top of her hocks (not even sure how that happens), and Catalina with physitis. I’ve weaned Catalina, which should help reduce the inflammation in her knees but baby moose is just so big that there’s no way to avoid the growing pains she’s going through other than to slow her progress as much as possible.

Valeria seems to be pretty happy about not having a parasitic terrorist at her side anymore. She’s dried up a lot quicker than I thought she would but I guess it’s to be expected since she never had a large udder anyway. That does mean that work will be starting very soon for her. Especially since my end goal is to sell her.

As I’ve spent a lot of time on trail rides rather than arena work, because that’s where my head space is, I’ve been contemplating my horsey goals. I only have so much spare time in a day to focus on my horses and with four, inevitably someone gets the short stick. I’ve mentioned many times, though perhaps not on this blog, that I need to get down to two horses. While it’s very easy for me to put Valeria on the chopping block because I purchased her with the intent of not keeping her the second selection has been difficult.

Not because I don’t know which horse to rehome but because I feel like the decision is a failure in some way. I haven’t ridden Ben but a handful of times in a decade out of fear. Once when I was chatting with L she said “green + green = black & blue”. That pretty much sums up my history with Ben. While I’m a much better rider now and I have successfully ridden him a few times in the last year, to include tackling my fear of cantering on him, I don’t enjoy riding him. I don’t relax when I’m on him.

Additionally, he’s an older boy. Twenty-one isn’t a death sentence to a horse and he hasn’t slowed down by any means (possibly part of the reason I still don’t feel comfortable on him). I feel confident, barring any serious injury or health issues, he should have several more years of quality riding in him. I’m not going to give that to him, but he deserves it. Much more than he deserves to sit in a stall day after day.

There is associated guilt with the idea of rehoming an older horse though. Even though in my current horse ‘career’ I know that I want to show and I want a very specific type of horse that Ben will never be, that doesn’t remove the sting or concern that I have for where his path may lead once he leaves my hands. I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ dumping an older horse because he no longer serves a purpose.

I did a disservice to him when I didn’t sell him ten years ago. I held on to him for sentimental reasons. The more time I spend riding, the more I realize and come to terms with the unescapable truth that Ben and I were never a good fit and never will be a good fit. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

I will come to terms with my decision in time but I have to be decisive in my actions or the chance of another decade passing is very real. What’s your opinion on this? Should a horse be a lifetime commitment ‘till death do we part’ or is it kinder to move along and let them have a shot with someone else?

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Scratch That Itch

Allergies. Not mine, which I’m lucky enough to not have, but Aria’s. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog but I’ve never really elaborated on what a pain in the ass it really is. I will even go on record saying that I will never own another horse as high maintenance as her. She is one in a million, truly.

The general rule of thumb is that allergies never come in singles. I learned this from a doctor and when Aria started to rub herself raw and look like a plague victim because of the flies, I knew I needed to call my vet. At the time I was browsing several Facebook equine groups daily and had read many posts asking for fly solutions that often had someone mention allergy testing. When I asked my vet about doing an allergy test, she said she hadn’t done one before but thought it was a good idea and would be more than happy to find a facility to ship the blood sample to.

Red weeping eyes from flies and dust.

The allergy test is fairly simple and there are two methods now for testing. The one I did was to draw blood and send it off to lab to be tested. The other method is, like humans, to test potential allergens directly on the skin. There is some discussion on the accuracy of testing blood and I tend to agree that the second method will produce better results but shaving a huge portion of my horse and having drops of allergens pricked (scraping the surface of the skin) onto them seems like a special kind of hell for an already itchy and sensitive horse.

Chewed up legs from flies and scratching teeth.

It’s also a very cheap test comparatively. My vet used Spectrum Labs. Two weeks later I had a packet with information about Aria and her allergy therapy program. I also received three color coded vials that were meant to last me a year as I went through the various stages of the program. Initially it was a lot of shots. It started 0.01cc every 3 days, then 0.03cc every 5 days, on to 0.05cc every 10 days. So on and so forth until I was giving 1cc every 30 days which is the maintenance mode.

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Sorry, not going to share my vials because it has all my info on it! 😀

On top of the shots you also get a print out with all the allergens they tested and which will be in the vial of serum, minus the food allergens of course. It gives a great overview of what to keep away from your sensitive snowflake. I found out that Aria was allergic to everything I was feeding her.

To begin with I moved Aria to timothy hay because she scored lowest in Pasture (mix). I had her on it for about 10 months and during training to make sure she was getting a good quality hay all year round. Recently though I’ve moved her to bermuda because she wastes less and eats more (she’s got a layer of fat to prove it), leading me to believe she didn’t really like timothy all that much. Fine by me baby horse, my wallet thanks you!

Flies and rubbing making her look moth eaten.

In some cases there isn’t much I can do to keep her away for her allergens. Barn dust will always be around. Certain weeds and trees are out of my control. Luckily shavings out here are all pine but I am a little sad that I can’t use Cedar Rest anywhere on the property. Even though her test says she can tolerate cedar shavings she scored a very high 375 for Juniper/Cedar. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I have a hell of a time finding grain she can eat when 98% of feeds are based on alfalfa or wheat. Nutrena Empower Boost is a rice bran based feed that has been working really well for her so far. Bonus: it smells amazing. I do enjoy breaking feed rep’s brains when I I ask if they have a feed that accommodates Aria’s allergies. Acceptable horse treats are a bit easier to find. Beet Treats are wonderful and the local feed store chain, Kahoot’s, has a horse cookie made of smelt flour which she doesn’t appear to be allergic to. They double as a good human cookie too.

Her shoulders and chest used to look much worse than this.

Nothing is better than going into the feed store and asking for feeds that exclude XYZ and then following up with ‘my horse has allergies’ and getting That Look from people. I’ve pretty much come to embrace how ridiculous it sounds and actually try to use as many millennial buzzwords as I can now. Aria is gluten intolerant and bermudaterian. We all get a laugh.

The one responsible thing I did after receiving the allergy test results was to ask the feed store if they had any medical alert dog tags. The associate was very excited because they did but had never made them before. Aria has a dog tag with the medical alert symbol on her halter that says “I HAVE ALLERGIES. NO ALFALFA. BERMUDA ONLY.” and my contact info. With all the fires we get every year, I think taking a couple precautionary steps is a good idea in the event she is evacuated when I am not available.

The final downfall of allergies is all the scratching can cause injury and leave scars.

I do think the allergy therapy has helped immensely. The pictures here are not even half as bad as she used to look. I can tell when the 30 day mark is rolling around though because Aria will flare up to fly bites (these were taken on shot day). They recommend getting retested to improve results and I think I will because now we have a new baseline. I just have to figure out when is the best time seasonally. Overall the cost for her comfort is relatively low, a couple hundred bucks for the year. I still have to practice good manure and fly management (I should buy stock in Cashel and Pyranha) but now I only have to load her up with Benadryl a couple times a year when the flies are at their worst.

A Solo Aria

Alternate title: Duet? No, This Aria is a Solo.

Sunday was very busy and I had packed my schedule so tight that I actually woke up at 5:30am from the anticipation that I would sleep in and blow up all my plans. I laid in bed for a while to kill some of the extra time before getting dressed and heading out to load Aria into the trailer. It was very cool and we had a nice layer of fog (some very delayed June Gloom hanging out in August). A perfect combo for a brisk morning ride.

*Crickets.*

This would be the first time I took Aria out on trail solo. There’s a little bridle path near the public arena that we’ve ridden solo before but it doesn’t offer anything trail related being a groomed loop to warm up or cool down on. She’d been on this particular trail 3 times before and I didn’t anticipate any issues other than some misgivings about ‘uneven terrain’.

I liked the idea of a very early ride. There would be a few people in case I had an emergency but it wouldn’t be packed like it usually is on the weekends. I wanted to keep a pretty fast pace on trail because I was limited on time. Waking up early didn’t do me any favors in that regard because the grassland preserve doesn’t open until 8am.
When I rolled up there were already a lot of cars in the parking lot and some people were leaving. Now that I know they don’t actually padlock the gate anymore, I’m kicking myself for not heading out there earlier. Lesson learned!

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Do you see that sign? It could be dangerous.

I had groomed Aria at home to kill time so it was just a matter of throwing her tack on. I checked the girth 3 times to make sure there wouldn’t be a repeat slip off. Amazing how it’s never on your mind until it happens and then it becomes your new obsession. I still kept the girth pretty loose but not enough to show daylight by the end of the ride.

I mounted up and we headed off. We were the only ones (I wrote ‘people’ initially XD ) on the trail and I think that made Aria just a little uncomfortable but I shortened my reins and rode her with connection and she calmed down. She’s still not 100% about the loose rein business and often looks for my support, which I am more than happy to provide. It’s amazing how contact and a praise turns her into a little lion full of bravado. It also makes me laugh because she can be such a weenie.

There are two coyotes in this picture. I swear.

This particular trail starts and ends on the same path but splits about a mile in to create a huge loop full of switchbacks and hills. As we approached the split we were greeted by two coyotes. They didn’t mind us and Aria didn’t worry about them. Just two ships passing in the night. Lol. However as we headed down the split we came across a huge great dane and that gave Aria some pause. Can’t really blame her when the dog is barking and almost as big as you are!

Once we passed them I asked for a trot and we worked on making her feel confident. While she will walk out with purpose on trail it became immediately clear she was not comfortable picking up speed. When we approached the area where we had come across cows last time she got nervous. She really was expecting a big lumbering black mass to pop out from behind some bushes. I let her walk that stretch of trail to show her there was nothing ready to ambush us.

We did run into the cows a little further down the path but none of them moved and at our brisk trot, Aria didn’t seem to notice them all that much. Go figure. I did have to slow to a walk a few times as we crossed paths with hikers, joggers, and dogs but eventually we got to a few places where I could ask her to canter. What a sticky ride. If I thought she had sucked back at the trot she really put on the brakes when I asked for a canter.

The fog was just starting to burn off towards the end of the ride.

This was all new to her so I expected some resistance. Half way through the ride she began to understand what we were doing and started to enjoy herself. We even tackled trotting downhill which I had some concerns about because she’s very clumsy but her hoof placement was very solid. The second half of the ride was excellent. We managed to clock that whole ride in at 45 minutes when normally it would take 1.5 hours. I definitely want to use this trail as a conditioning ride since it has so many hills and switchbacks but the next time we do it we’ll just walk. I don’t want her to assume we’ll always run that trail.

The very last thing we did as we left the trail head was to go through a gate that is always clipped closed because of the cows. I’ve been working with Aria on gates but it’s been a real struggle. I didn’t want to end on a bad note but I also wanted to try. She walked up to the gate well, let me unclip with no issue. She got a little stuck trying to turn around so we could open the gate but went through and stopped when I asked. She also backed up and let me clip the gate, not without a firmer aid from my heel though. Overall a good improvement to the last time. That’s all I can ask. As I was pouring on the praises a kind gentleman with two Great Pyrenees that was standing nearby let me know he would have let me through the gate if I had run into problems. It was nice of him to hang around even though he was done with his hike. That’s what I love about my small town.

And that was Aria’s first solo trail. Fun and uneventful. Just the way I like it. I’m so proud of her.

Big Red Beastie

On Friday I had my vet out to check on Ben because his bed sore (that’s what we’re calling it because that’s what it’s become) on his knee had not healed after 3 weeks of wrapping and he had developed a new sore from the bandages AND got the well-known soft tissue swelling that accompanies too much vet wrap. Normally I’d doctor this on my own but the sudden tenderness around his knee sent up a little red flag.

We gave him some laser therapy and debrided the wound to promote healing. It was decided he should go without a bandage for a while which sent me to the feed store for lots of fluffy shavings. My vet also prescribed exercise. Yay! He’s been on stall rest this whole time and has been going batty. He’s also lost all his topline and looks too embarrassing for public. Maybe I’m being dramatic but I’m not happy with his condition and can’t wait to get him moving around again to improve it.

Hanging out with Rocket.

The humidity went away for the most part by the weekend and I could tell because I got home on Saturday around noon and even though it was 90 degrees out it felt perfect for a ride. I threw Aria in the trailer and then in a spur of the moment decision I also add Ben to our activities. No one is ever at the public arena, so I figured he’d be fine to hang out in there while I worked Aria.

I was partially right. While I was tacking and lunging Aria, Ben rolled around and walked a few laps but when I got up on Aria suddenly it was a follow the leader game that involved a lot of ‘drive-bys’ accompanied by kicked up heels and farting. It was nice to see him running around and feeling good but it was impossible to get any work with Aria done. Haha.

Strutting his stuff Spanish Walk style and promising to end Catalina’s world.

After a few good movements from Aria, in between using my whip like a sword to fight Ben off, I decided to get control of the big red beast. For a 21 year old horse he sure acts like a 2 year old all the time. So I clipped a lead line to him and decided to pony him on trail.

It turned out pretty well but took quite a bit of effort because:

  1. Aria has never ponied a horse before.
  2. Ben’s stride is way bigger than the stride Aria prefers to take.
  3. Aria is kind of an alpha bitch and wanted to eat Ben.
  4. Ben didn’t care and wanted his face as close to hers as possible because he’s a nice guy like that.
  5. Why do I do this to myself?

They did eventually settle but they never got into a leader/leadee (not a word? Don’t care) groove. Next time I may need to ride Ben instead. Haha. Although, they’re probably better than Valeria and Catalina will be when I finally get them on trail.

Summer Rain

Over the weekend I made a goal to get on Valeria every day this week. I should have consulted the weather report because I didn’t factor in for 93-95 degrees with 45-75% humidity and thunderstorms. My horses and I are all delicate desert flowers and absolutely zero riding or work has been done all week. Which really sucks because I had just geared back up for riding with 3 very solid, very good rides on Aria. V will have to wait until I can go outside and not get instantly soaked with sweat.

It does look like it’s going to be a bit cooler this weekend (I’m lying. I’m lying so hard but I need the fake hope to motivate me) so the plan is to get outside early and work our butts off to make up for the break. I had a lesson last week with Aria and P after over a month of not seeing either trainer. We didn’t do too badly and I was able to address a few issues I had developed while riding Aria.

Things like how to deal with her rooting. Now any time she roots I immediately ask her to back up in a 10 meter circle. It has done a pretty good job of shutting down that behavior and as a bonus is building up her back end. Alternately I also have to work on dropping her head when she’s ignoring the cue to collect and drop. This one is more difficult because I have to bring her head set up as high as it will go without putting any pressure on the reins and get her to collect enough with that we move at the smallest half steps possible. After a few moments moving like that she’s more than happy to drop her head for me when I ask. Granted these techniques are only needed when she’s really ‘hot’ from having a few days off because 98% of the time she’s a good baby.

She was a little stiff at the beginning of the lesson so we really worked on getting her to stretch and loosen her back. It was some walking and a far bit of trotting but the main focus was getting her to relax and work at a good swinging rhythm. We spent most of the lesson on a 20 meter circle working on shoulder in to shoulder out. Mentally it was a tough lesson for both of us.

It took me longer than I care to admit to get the timing and proper position down so that we weren’t running into fences as I transitioned. I was riding too deep into the corners before the shoulder out and it was pretty ugly for a while before I finally figured out how to time it all. 20 meters doesn’t feel very big when you are making a point to get a few strides of straight forward movement in between shoulder in and shoulder out to make sure your bends are good quality bends.

Before I knew it I had used up all my time (I was so spoiled by ambiguous lesson lengths!). I’m really looking forward to working on the things we did during my lesson, but until this humidity is gone, I think we’re going to stick to trail riding. 🙂

Back In The Saddle

Wow. It’s been a while. Things got a little crazy between the 100+ degree heat, getting whatever cold/flu was circulating the office, and falling into a bit of a funk because half of my horses were injured (Ben is still living life in a full leg stacked wrap because he’s feeling delicate but that’s for another post).

The first horse Catalina has ever made baby faces to.

Looking at my old posts, I’m really behind on updates. Heck, I was behind before I took my little hiatus. Let’s see…where to start? I left off with Catalina and Valeria, so I’ll update with Aria.

Reminds me of that white horse Bugs Bunny rides in Flight of the Valkyrie

Having her home and riding has been so, so good for me. Granted I didn’t ride when I was sick and I didn’t ride when it was over 95 degrees, meaning there was about 2 and a half weeks were she either sat in her stall or was turned out/lunged. In that short time she managed to lose some muscle and pack on fat. Which, isn’t a horrible look for her and means I can finally keep up with her (it’s a bad thing that I want my horse less athletic, right?).

Before she started packing on fat.

We are definitely focusing on getting miles over any real work which is fine for now because I’m really enjoying our rides. Some days we ride patterns and work on geometry and some days I only care that she goes the speed I ask so I can work on my seat. We are focusing on rhythm and timing. Mostly my timing because my cues are not as refined as Aria is used to. It’s good for both of us. I’m learning to cue more clearly and she’s learning to fill in the blanks when I’m not 100% on top of things.

Wearing the finest Bermuda grass fashion.

We’ve been on 4 trail rides! She’s very mellow and level headed on trail, which is a bit contrary to how energetic she can be in the arena. Our first time out was in a large group and she ended up being a supreme bitch to all the other horses, hikers, cyclists, and dogs on trail. It made me laugh but only on the inside because it’s not cool to cackle like a villain when your horse tries to eat a child on their bike. I can confidently report that was a singular incident and she has kept the raging mare caged on all subsequent trail rides.

First time on trail. We did a lot of trotting because of excitement.

Admittedly on our third trail ride I came off. Aria has an issue with uneven terrain. I can’t explain it any better than that. Any slight ruts in the trails or shallow channels created by rain send her into a tizzy and she cannot comprehend how to navigate these vast Grand Canyons. You can watch her start to fall apart when we near any ground she considers questionable. She’ll give it a hard look and try to walk around it. When I don’t allow her to walk around it because I want to stay on the trail and not bushwhack through the surrounding foliage she’ll stop forward movement but won’t stop her feet and we begin to mimic a Paso Fino. It reminds me a little of a toddler stamping their feet in a tantrum at which point I start pony club kicking her to get any forward movement possible.

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This is what she loses her mind over. Seriously.

Most of the time she’ll scramble over. I understand she’s a very clumsy horse and I think that might play into her concerns. The time I came off we were tackling a rut in the trail that was worn in by all the horses that ride it. We had some poison oak questionable vegetation on our left and a large tree on our right. I should also mention it was very humid and we were at about our 6th mile. Guess who didn’t check their girth once? So Aria is doing her little song and dance and I’m trying to boot her across this 2 inch deep, 10 inches across rut and just as I feel her lift up to get over it she decides at the last minute to scuttle to the left.

Permission to eat the bicycle?

Normally I have no issues with a horse that wants to change directions like that. My seat is pretty good in that regard. Even with a loose girth, which I am notorious for riding in, wasn’t an issue. The huge tree trunk coming at my face was very much an issue though, so in my infinite wisdom of self-preservation I leaned right. Aria continued left. See where this is going? At some point time slowed down enough for me to realize I was riding on the side of my horse, not on top of my horse. I noticed the ground was close enough that I could put my arm out and touch the ground, so I kicked out of my stirrups, let go of the reins, and nestled into the f***ing rut. LOL.

I got up, dusted myself off and stood looking at Aria with my hands on my hips. She’s trained to come back to her rider if you fall, so she’s standing there looking at me with a very worried ‘wtf’ and I reply out loud with ‘wtf horse??’. It was a good way to break the tension because clearly she wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next. She was a little unsettled by that whole event but after I fixed the saddle and walked a bit down the trail until I found a stump to mount (because we were both so sweaty I couldn’t get a grip on anything, I tried twice) she settled and we continued down the trail like nothing happened. It ended up being a very good experience!

We’ve been out on trail once more since and she’s getting much better about uneven ground. She still wants to put on a whole show but now when I give her the boot she goes forward instead of sideways. I guess she learned her lesson. Haha.