Thursday, November 16, 2017

Updates

     Hello again all. It's been a minute. I am no longer working at my previous job and I don't start my new one until after Thanksgiving (I gave a vacation to myself) so I've not been on the computer lately. Mort is still struggling with being his normal self. We've done a couple of light lunge and bareback hack sessions. I don't want to really work him until we get whatever is bothering him figured out. Our next route is ulcers since his little head bob went away.

     Ulcers makes sense since studies have shown that about 80% of competition horses have them. Mort is on an ulcer supplement, but obviously most of those don't really have scientific studies behind them. We started noticing his changes soon after our show in the beginning of October, which could have been the trigger. Who knows?

     I've got a couple of tubes of Gastrogard on order. We'll give him a quarter of a tube/day. If his behavior goes back to normal with that masking the symptoms we'll have a good idea that ulcers are bothering him. Then I'll dish out a million dollars for a full treatment and research management for helping prevent future troubles.

     Other than that Mort is living the life of a spoiled pony. He gets cookies and love more than anything else. I've been super enjoying my time off with lots of pup and pony and TV time.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Search Continues

     So I had our vet out to take a look at Mort. She gave him the once-over looking at his legs, vitals, listening to his lungs--all the good things. She didn't see (or hear) anything too troubling so we pulled some blood. Blood work came back looking great. All wonderful and great and my horse is still acting weird. She did suggest that he could have ulcers causing some performance issues which is a totally viable possibility. He is on an oral supplement but most of those don't really have a lot of scientific studies behind them.

     We also discussed the possibility of the cold weather causing some flare-ups in his wonky legs. It would explain the not laying down and performance issues if he hurts just a little bit. I've definitely felt him being not his normal self under saddle, but I haven't felt any specific lameness. He's definitely not been head bobbing. After feeling his legs, and finding no heat or swelling, and saying that I haven't noticed any lameness we decided to just do the blood work and not a lameness exam (for now). Fam, don't do that--if the vet is there you should just do all of the things.

     Out of my own curiosity I threw him on the lunge after the vet left. We started tracking left and while he started out short/stiff on the front end he did work out of it after some trot and a little canter. That's totally not unusual for him. I switched directions and we picked up the trot. He was moving better than when we started but there was a bobble. It only presented itself when he was going downhill on the very slight slope outside. It only presented itself while tracking right. It was a small and inconsistent enough bobble that I even had another boarder come out to watch and make sure I wasn't imagining things; I wasn't. Shit.

     So yesterday he had the slightest of bobbles while tracking right. He did run around like a madman in turnout this weekend because there was some shifting of turnout pairs. It's entirely possible that this happened then and he'll work out of it in a day or two. It's also entirely possible that it was minor enough that I was compensating for it in our riding and only felt it as "meh" effort rather than an actual lameness. I 100% never saw or felt a head bob while riding, but I do think that it's so minor that I could have covered it up accidentally.

     I told the vet and she suggested doing a Bute test--giving him Bute to see if it goes away while on pain meds. It's a pretty simple and inexpensive way to find out if pain is the issue. I'm going to see what he looks like on the lunge today. Wednesday are his days off. We'll take another look on Thursday. Could be a tweak from being a dummy. Could be that it's time for some joint injections. Could be that those suspensories are angry.

     If Mort isn't feeling better by Thursday, I'll definitely put in another call to the vet. We may also end up going to the vet school for further diagnostics/injections. Eventually we'll get my boy figured out.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

When to Call a Vet

     Horse friends are the best friends. I had people reach out to me about my blog post yesterday. I also reached out to horse friends (and my mom because you're never too old to ask you mom for advice). It's good to have friends tell you to trust your gut and you're not just a crazy overprotective horse-mom. I really appreciate all of the advice and encouragement to my second-guessing. It can be really hard to know when it's time to look further into things that are "not quite right".

     In the end, I do know my horse. The BM knows my horse. We both agree that he's not his normal self. So it's time to have the vet out. We'll start with simple things like blood work, a chem test to check some organs, and a fecal. Best case scenario everything will come back normal and he'll get back to normal on his own soon. Worst case scenario we'll find something serious, but I'd rather find something serious before it's showing serious symptoms.

     Trust your friends. Trust your gut. Trust your horse. Then hope they're all wrong and everything is OK.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Struggle of "Not Quite Right"

     So Mort has a strange lump where his foreleg meets his chest. It popped up about 3 weeks ago. It's not the first time this has happened and he has a lot of scar tissue in the area so I usually chock it up to that being an issue. About a week after it popped up he started to be reactive about it and acted like it was painful Since that was a new thing I went ahead and had the vet look at him. She wasn't too worried about it, but one of her theories was that since he has so much scar tissue there that his lymph nodes in that area may swell more than normal when he's fighting a bug.

     I'm leaning more and more toward the idea that Mort has some sort of bug. His eyes have been watery and a little angry in spite of it being winter and we haven't been having any fly issues for a bit. The BM has heard him take some deep breaths when he's been sleeping/dozing that are unusual. He also usually stinks up his stable clothing in the winter from lying in his pee at night and none of his clothes stink--pointing to him not laying down (or he learned how to avoid his pee but that's less likely). Our rides have also just been so-so lately. He's not been terrible by any means but we've been struggling with things that haven't really been issues for a while.

     I could totally be making things up in my mind. His lump has gone down a tiny bit (I think, it's hard when you inspect it every day). We gave him a 1/2 tab of Bute a couple days ago and I've been putting ointment in his eyes. They're still runny, but less angry. He's got a great appetite and is drinking fine.

     I'm going to try and give him a few more days and see how things go. I'm going to back even further off on our riding and not really ask him for anything. I want to check his temp, but I imagine it'll be normal. He's most likely totally fine and is maybe just adjusting to winter hitting us quickly. Or the painful lump is just scar tissue that he's uncomfortable with enough to affect riding and laying down but not enough to be unsound. Or he's fighting a little bug. If I still have suspicions next week (or he develops actual symptoms) I'll give the vet another call. It would sure be nice if they could talk to us.   

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Be a Tortoise

     Last night had some good and bad moments. Overall he wasn't that bad--fairly good in the connection and he's getting better about straightness now that I haven't been forgetting that it's a thing. He's gotten a fun habit of leaning on my inside leg on the far side of a circle or corner--by far side I mean side that is furthest from the barn. Obviously he's just cutting in some because barn = life. It's not a huge thing and it's certainly not an unusual thing. He only barely does it. But annoying.

     I think I'm going to try to set up some cones or poles to play with some square exercises. I'll most likely also spiral in and leg yield out because it's a real winner as well. I like that four cones can be a square or a circle depending on what you need. Not having to set-up a bunch of crap is always a win. I am also going to experiment with dropping him down a gait (or two) on the far corner. I can make him do it at the walk. I can usually make him do it at the trot. I cannot make him do it at the canter. I think if I just drop him down a couple times he'll understand it in "easier" gaits and hopefully it'll translate.

     I've just been having more meh rides than great rides on Mort lately. We'll have good and bad (and obviously I focus on the bad because my mind is my enemy) moments. We'll work through some stuff. It just isn't coming as easy as it was a couple months ago. I'm certain it's a combination of colder weather and not being as consistent with our rides. I've been riding about as often, but we've had a lot more rides with less dressage focus. It's not a bad thing as I wanted to give him a bit of a break after our show. I think it just means I need to be a little slower bringing him back than I wanted to.

     It's so much more mental for him (and me) than it is physical at this point. Slow and steady. Soft hands. Encourage a longer neck. Aka--more basics less second level. I get it dressage gods; it's not supposed to be easy.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Weekend Recap

     Mort and I had a fairly good weekend. Friday blew in with a 40 degree drop in temperatures. The wind was biting and the sky was cloudy. In spite of this, Mort and I were going for a ride. We started in the indoor for the beginning of our walk warm-up. It was significantly less windy in there so it gave us a chance to get the blood flowing before heading out into the wind. We did some more walking out there--focusing a lot on getting better leg yields.

     Our trot work slowly improved throughout the rough week last week and he was fairly good on Friday. We did a lot of changes of direction and leg yields; I really tried to focus on straightening him out before asking for a new bend. He was a touch more animated than normal and still sorta stiff to the left, but it was cold and I really do think he was doing his best to listen.

     I threw in some canter work. I tried to focus on some counter canter and some square turns to really get him more even in the reins. Straightness has definitely been the name of the game lately. We did a few canter sets each direction before letting him have a long rein walk break. I think he was finally really warm and starting to think. I decided to work on our walk/canter transitions since he was so happy and forward thinking.

     He's really starting to get these. We're not really show-ready; especially since second one asks for so many in a row in the three loop serpentine, but they're happening. He struggles more with the right lead than the left. He picks it up and almost gets stuck in a shuffle for a stride before he really gets going in a canter. He is very good at going from right lead to left lead with not much walking in between.

     He was feeling so good with that that one of the times that I was on the right lead and we were counter-cantering on a straight side, I switched my seat bones and lightly asked for a flying change. I honestly just wanted to see what he did. He felt uphill and light and definitely was giving me a good quality canter. He swapped over with absolutely zero drama. He wavered a bit but mostly stayed straight. I was very happy with him. I admit that I'm not sure I could get it to happen again so easily, but it's good to know he listens to my seat (and that I haven't forgotten to use it sometimes). I don't plan on really putting his changes on until next winter, but every once in a while it'll be fun to throw one in.

     We did a few more walk/canter and a little more counter canter because I don't want a horse to have auto changes out of the counter canter. I know one change won't do it to him but I'm going to really, really make sure that he knows to wait for me. I also finally got a good left lead canter to trot transition. He'd been tense in these all day and finally relaxed into it--which I immediately rewarded with some stretchy trot. Two strides of happy left bend after canter definitely warranted the end of the hard work. We did some more stretchy trot. I've been touching on haunches-in at the walk in every ride, so we played with those some too. He's getting them now, but he does still think that they're pretty hard (which they are). We did our final cool-down walking inside out of the wind before fully calling it a day.

     Saturday was even frostier than Friday, but with much less wind. I opted for a bareback ride to help keep me cozy. We started out with a walk along the fence line wrapped in a cooler. The pasture horses were all running around so Mort was a bit bouncy, but he stayed under control for me. We mainly worked in the trot and he was really good. When I did canter his trot after was amazing and bouncy in the best sort of way. He was really good and just flowing through transitions in bend and gait like it was second nature.

     After a particularly good trot set all of the horses started bolting from the back of their turnouts toward us so I just opted to hop off and call it a day. He wouldn't have taken off, but he would have required some more work to get him back to me, and since he had been good so far I didn't think it was necessary.

     He got Sunday off because I had other life things to do. Hopefully he's good today for our lesson in spite of it. The weather is crappy and misty (again) so we may be stuck inside anyway.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Unorganized Thoughts

     Yesterday was a gorgeous day. We had that perfect sunny and 75 with a breeze. That breeze was blowing in cold temperatures for today, but I chose to ignore that fact. After helping with some barn chores and grooming a somewhat muddy Mort it was time to get going.

     He started a bit behind my leg. Even in his loose rein walk he was pokey. Since we've been struggling a lot with straightness I wanted to play a lot with leg yield in a stair step pattern. Essentially, I'd ask for leg yield for a couple strides then straighten for a couple strides, then leg yield again and so on. He started off very sticky and tense so I did my best to reward the small efforts. It's sometimes (oftentimes) hard for me to drop my expectations to match the ride but Mort is teaching me that if I do that at the beginning of the ride and just slowly chip away at things we'll end those rides better than we would have if I rode like a drill sergeant.

     With our straightness struggles we've been having more issues with uneven contact and head tilting. I did my absolute best to almost ignore his head and just focus on what his legs were doing. I definitely have the tendency to get too busy with my hands trying to fix the symptom instead of the underlying problem. He kept trying to bend left instead of cross his hind legs for me while asking for him to move off my left leg. It wasn't a bad answer since we've been working on bend so much lately, but apparently I broke the sideways while doing that. We'll have to spend a few more rides working on those leg yields.

     After getting some mediocre (but mostly relaxed and non-explosive) work at the walk and trot I started adding walk/trot/walk transitions into our lateral work. I'd sometimes ask within the leg yield and sometimes I'd ask at the beginning or end to let him go forward for a stride or three before asking to yield again. He did a lot better in the upward transitions than in the down. There is still a part of him who thinks "legs on" means forward. I think I've let him train me (for the worse in this case) on that too.

     I got two awesome canter transitions and cantered about a circle each direction. The canter was decent and our walk and trot were still meh, so I left the canter for another day. I threw in lots of figure eights and some shoulder-in off the rail in our walk/trot work as well. By the end of the ride he had improved a lot. Still not our best day but I was glad we could work through some things and the ride mostly got better and better as we went. Small victories.

     I'm not sure why, but the days when it feels like he's reverted back so far in our training really frustrate me as a human. I know logically that horse training is not a linear progression. I know we have to enjoy the journey. I know bad days will happen and that I need to brush them off. I know this is something I really need to work on as a rider. Yet, I still find myself getting frustrated on some of these days (like on Tuesday).

     After a really bad, frustrating ride I always ride the next ride better. I come out with the slowest and most methodical approach. I can ignore the "bad" stuff and just work on improving it. In spite of this, there are still days where I accidentally allow myself to get frustrated. I need to look at the bad days as a learning opportunity because they usually highlight our problem areas wonderfully. I can't skip over something that is just OK. Hopefully the more aware I get the less I will let frustration into my rides; I'm sure Mort feels the same way.

     This is probably my biggest struggle as a rider; I'm crooked and have uneven hands but frustration only makes it all worse. Got to fix my problem and then work on any remaining symptoms.