Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Fall Colors Between Rhio's Ears

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Yellow Goo = Happy Tummy?

Tonight was Cricket's third dose of ulcer medication, and the first time in a couple of weeks that he licked his dinner dish clean!  The definitive "test" for ulcers is endoscopy to actually visualize the stomach lining, which is expensive, not available in the immediate vicinity, and I don't think really warranted in his case (though if I had a super-power, xray vision would be a nice one to have - I'd love to know for sure that I am right!)  So, I am using response to treatment as my diagnostic test for ulcers.  At this point, all the evidence is pointing in the same direction, right at ulcers, so I'm going with that.  He'll be getting this acid-reducing medication twice a day for a while, and I am also planning to start him on an acid-neutralizing supplement in his feed.  He is already eating a small amount of alfalfa, which is good for buffering the stomach acid (lots of calcium in alfalfa - like a natural equine version of Tums), so I'll try to increase that a bit as well.  I think with a little bit of tummy care and seriously reducing his stress by moving pastures, he should come around nicely.  He had ulcers 6 years ago when I bought him, and seemed to recover fully with treatment.  I have seen no sign of them until recently, anyway.  I do feel like a bit of a dolt, though - if someone else had described his set of symptoms in their horse, I would have thought "ulcer" right away, since it was my own horse, however, of course it didn't occur to me until a week after the symptoms started.

And in other news - Rhio gave me his first buck of 2011 today.  Ok, so it was not REALLY a buck, but more a little hop to signal his displeasure.  I wonder why some horses are "buckers" and some are not?  Last fall I met Rhio's breeder, who also did some of his initial training, and he indicated that he remembers Rhio's propensity for bucking.  Great.  We are doing some schooling in the arena, because the entire world seems to be covered in ice right now and there is no where safe to ride outside at all, and Rhio is less than thrilled with it.  We are working on cantering.  We love to canter, and do it a lot on the trail, easily and effortlessly, and always on the left lead.  In an enclosed space, though, we are a train wreck when it comes to cantering.  We don't have a right lead canter at all, and we can't canter in a nice circle (or any circle, really, though we did do a somewhat rounded ameoba shape today!).  I think it might be 90% rider issue and 10% horse issue, though, as I can't canter Red in an enclosed space, either.  I was hoping to use Cricket to work out my rider issues, as he has a marvelous, lovely, wonderful canter and goes nicely on a circle  -- but he's had a hitch in his left hind giddyup since the fall, so I am not asking him for any serious effort until I can get that figured out once warmer weather arrives.  I presume at 29 he has some arthritis acting up.

He's such a good boy about taking his medicine via syringe! He kindly doesn't smear the yellow goo all over me, either.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Trouble in Paradise

My old man Cricket has been with the same pasture group for quite a while now - 2 geldings and a mare.  He is the lowest horse in the pecking order in this group, but things have been peaceful for many months. Cricket gets to eat (not always the prime hay pile, but it's all the same hay anyway,) drink, and move about with the group.  He may have to linger on the fringe of the shelter instead of being snuggled all the way inside it, but I wasn't concerned about him.  He got to come into the barn on the worst of the winter nights, and his weight has been steady all winter.  In the last month or so, he has started being pushed farther out of the shelter and being forced to go the long way around to the farthest hay pile to eat.  The tail flap on his heavyweight blanket was "mysteriously" missing, and there are many tooth marks on the rump of said blanket.  In the last two weeks, he's become a picky eater, leaving a goodly portion of his twice-daily beet pulp-alfalfa pellet-senior mash instead of just leaving the big chunks of beet pulp that he doesn't like (he loves the fine shreds of beet pulp, but has always left the chunks in the bottom of his pan.)  He's also become exceedingly reluctant to go back to the pasture after being in the stall to eat a meal, culminating in a flat-out refusal to move a couple of days ago.  I turned him around to go back to the barn, and he walked just fine.  Turn toward the pasture, and he was planted to the ground.  Ok, ok - I get it!  You've obviously been trying to communicate that you are stressed, and I haven't been paying attention.

[a side note: it is the mare that is harassing him, biting him, chasing him, etc]

That evening, I put him into Rhio's pasture, which also includes 1 other gelding and 1 mare.  Of course there was the usual sniff-squeal-chase stuff as the group was disrupted, but Rhio and Cricket have known each other for many years and lived together most of those years.  The mare and other gelding are very mild in the pasture, and they all settled right down to eating.  The next morning, Cricket and the mare were in the shelter, Rhio was standing in the alleyway, and the other gelding was out in the pasture (normal distribution for this group.)  Ah!  All is well... until I bring Cricket into the barn for breakfast.  He didn't eat a single mouthful as he whirled and screamed in the stall, even banging on the door (this is SO not like him!).  And the mare was calling back to him.  Uh-oh.  Forgot about that!  Old man Cricket l-o-v-e-s the ladies -- at least some of them.

Performing a self-inflicted forehead slap, I realized two things - 1) Cricket has likely developed another gastric ulcer from the stress in the old group - I say "another" because he had ulcers when I first bought him, from living alone for several years, and 2) he gets velcro-attached to mares if they like (or even just tolerate) him and none of the other geldings care.  So am I helping one issue (stress-induced ulcers from being harassed in the other group) but creating another?

What to do???  I much prefer happy horses, and Cricket's not a very happy horse right now.  So far, he's still in the new group and things seem to be calming down a bit.  Tonight, in fact, he's in a stall in the barn due to the wicked east wind, and the mare is still outside.  He's eaten well today, and is perfectly content in the stall tonight with a gelding in each adjoining stall.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Love-Hate Relationship

Mental age: 3
Actual age: 16 in April
Oh, my boy Red.  It was one of those days, wasn't it?  All I desired was a happy little ride, just to enjoy the day and the amazing weather in the 50s on February 16 in Duluth! I didn't think that was asking too much. Apparently I was wrong...

I knew as soon as Red & Rusty "The Instigator" wheeled and took off after coming to me & receiving their baby carrots that I was in for it today.  There are approximately 3 days every year when I cannot catch my horse.  I usually have no idea they're coming, and there hasn't been a pattern or trigger that I can tell.  Today was Day 1 for 2011.  The snow is still over hock-deep in their pasture, and its pristine expanse attests to the fact that they have been sticking to the compacted areas and not wandering around much.  I guess if you're not going to let me catch you, you can get a nice workout by trotting & cantering & galloping through that deep snow.  It was a great theory which I presumed would lead to efficiently obtaining control of my pony.  Not so much...  He and Rusty managed to cavort, kick up their heels, show me the whites of their eyes, froth & sweat, and generally flip me the bird for at least 15 minutes, at which point they were both breathing through hugely flared nostrils, sounding like monstrous bellows.  Red took one last half-hearted romp into the pasture from the paddock, realized Rusty wasn't following him, and then turned and walked right up to me.  Yep, that's my boy.  Ridiculous, really - and, I admit, kind of fun to watch them run.  Of course I had left my camera in the car at this point.

Once I had my sweaty horse in hand, I thought I might have a nice ride, since he'd already expended so much energy.  Oh, was I wrong!  I saddled (yep, SADDLED, BRIDLED, and used his MARTINGALE), walked to the end of the driveway, checked the girth, and hopped up (oh! what a stretch!  one side effect of riding in the bareback pad all winter, with which I require an elevated mounting device to get on, is that my legs aren't used to the  s_t_r_e_t_c_h  to get up to that stirrup.) We set off down the paved road, as it was mostly clear, and I wondered how the ride would go, given that Red has issues with "splashing" noises, as from cars driving through the melted snow puddles.  Well, splashing didn't even register on his radar today... but seeing a horse in the distance sure did!  Mind you, this is the same horse that has lived in the same pasture the entire 7 years that Red has lived at this barn.  Today, however, he slammed to a stiff halt, threw his head up as high as it will go, and snorted for all he was worth.  Alarm-snorted, over, and over, and over again.  He refused to budge.  Those hooves were absolutely glued to the ground.  I quickly realized that asking, telling, and demanding that he go forward was utterly pointless, so I dismounted, unclipped the martingale and reins so I could use the reins as a lead, and lunged him right there on the stinking road.  Useless exercise in this case, but it vented a little of my frustration with him so that I could proceed to hand-walk him the mile to my farm.
Here we are frozen as if by an alien ray-beam as he alarm-snorts and stares fixedly at a horse in the distance. Yes, a horse. In fact, the same horse that is ALWAYS here! The same road, pond, & pasture which we traverse countless times every year, for the past 7 years.  Really.  
Once we got past the freakishly scary HORSES, the gravel road was still solid ice, so I stayed on foot for safety's sake.  Once at the farm, he got to lunge in the arena for a while, until he was sweaty and huffing yet again.  Then, we set off through the deep snow toward home.  The snow is the texture of mashed potatoes (thanks, Christine, for that analogy - it's perfect!) and quite passable, though requiring a lot of effort to do so.  He was willing to move at this point (going home attitude), but also used the thinnest of excuses to rush, bolt, spook, and punctuate it all with yet more alarm-snorting.  We did make it home, unscathed.  I wish I'd had the heart rate monitor on him to know which got his heart pumping fastest - his pretend spooking at familiar things, or surging through that deep, wet, thick snow.
Ok, I love this view between my horse's ears even on a "bad" ride day (is there really such a thing?  At least I was out there!)
I love my horse, really I do.  I trust that he's not going to misbehave in a dangerous way.  I love 54 degrees in February with the sun shining.  But I hate these spring rides with a mentally unstable horse, and often iffy footing conditions that really require obedience and attention to one's hooves.  Trying to get his head screwed on straight while keeping us both safe is not exactly fun and certainly not relaxing. I'm exhausted.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What a Treat!

Oh boy - the open trail! He was so light and animated beneath me, ready to roll. 
It's a mid-February thaw, and we took advantage to hit the local snowmobile trail.  It was above 40, sunny, and very windy.  We hoped that a Tuesday afternoon wasn't going to be a popular snowmobiling time, and we couldn't resist the prospect of open trail.  We pulled into the parking lot, only a few miles from the farm, and saddled up as the sun was getting pretty low in the sky.  We heard a few sleds buzz by on the main trail, but they were long gone before we were ready to set off.

Safety first! Just call me the queen of visibility :) 
The trails have an incredible base on them this year, what with all the snow we've received.  The conditions were perfect for horses: firm, packed snow with a slightly soft top layer for grip.  I've ridden spring snowmobile trails often, usually in late March when they aren't in good enough shape for the machines anymore, and they vary from passable to frequently either ice/snow under a layer of frigid water to so soft that the horses sink as if in sand.  Neither of the latter two are any good for moving out, and today was absolutely perfect.  

I am very, very cautious around snowmobiles.  When I did regular vet work, our practice had to euthanize a horse that had been hit by a snowmobile (on a road, not a trail) and had broken its femur.  Not good.  I really do try to only take minimal risks with my horses, despite what it may seem from the tales I tell!  I know that the snowmobile folks do not expect to see horses on "their" trails, and that they are mostly traveling quite rapidly along them.  Also, this trail is full of hills and turns, so there are not long sight distances.  We have the advantage that they are noisy, so we know they're coming usually for quite a distance, though sometimes they are speeding along enough that even hearing them way off isn't enough time to locate a safe spot to stand where they will see us.  Also, in this situation my white horse almost completely blends into the background, especially in the low light of late afternoon, so I outfitted him with his blaze rump rug just for visibility.  And, I realized today, I have never had Rhio around snowmobiles.  They make a distinctive high-pitched whine as they pass us, and I've seen several extremely road-safe/traffic-safe horses freak out over snowmobiles.  Well, despite all this, I couldn't resist the opportunity to get my boy out and TROT!  
We're all loving it! Smiling Kelso with happy "up" tail, Paco & Gesa following along, and Rhio's wild windswept tail.
So trot we did - we had about 50 minutes until sunset once we were both mounted, so I kept a close eye on my GPS for time, and we set off at a nice clip.  The boys were extremely willing, to say the least!  It is always exciting to let those hooves fly after a winter spent mostly hanging around in the boring pasture, or struggling through the snowbound farm trails.  There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of the wind whipping my horse's mane & tail while our shadow tries in vain to catch us.  
The sun is near to setting at our turn-around point.
At the 25 minute mark, we'd gone about 2 1/2 miles, and we turned around.  Now the boys wanted to race, which added a little more "spice" to the return journey.  Both boys behaved, and made their wishes to run all-out pretty clear.  Rhio's MO is head tossing - so violent that he throws us off balance and veers off the trail.  Paco's MO is bucking - luckily not major bucks, but, still, BAD HORSIES!  We heard sleds on the return trip, but did not meet up with them on trail (whew!) - and hit the parking lot at 48 minutes ride time and 4.8 miles.  Not bad for February 15 and the ever advancing dusk! 

The sweaty ponies got to wear their fuzzy polarfleece coolers home, and after a little cool-down hand walking, Rhio spent an hour in a stall to finish drying before going out to his pasture buddies. I'd like to think he found today's ride as thrilling and wonderful as I did; if his luminous dark eyes tell me anything, it's that he loves it, too.  
Oh, yeah. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thin Skinned?

Ready to go, Mom! 
It is ridiculously wishful thinking to even contemplate that the current thaw is actually the beginning of spring.  I know better than that.  But I have decided to thoroughly ignore any forecast past Thursday, since between now and then every single day is above freezing!

It will come as no surprise that I spent a lot of time with horses this weekend.  Yesterday Becca & I took Rhio and Kaos out back through the deep snow, and ended up making it into a loop walking gingerly down the edge of the road.  It was definitely doable on the road - yay! The dogs, Kelso & Bowser, accompanied us and got to play with Jack when we met up with Dave doing some firewood gathering in the back woods. We chatted some, then backtracked to the hayfield to allow him to get back down the trail with the tractor & logs.  We did a loop through the deep, deep snow with the ponies huffing and puffing, then came back through the trails only for Becca to notice some blood on the snow.  In Rhio's next step, she realized it was coming from him - his right front to be exact.  When we got to the plowed part of the trail, I hopped off to assess the wound.  It was bleeding freely but wasn't painful, and was a nice clean slice.  I assume he caught the wrong side of an ice chunk.  It was on the inside heel bulb but thankfully above the coronary band.  This boy is so prone to wounds!!!  Especially on his legs.  Grrr!  

The classic mounting block - the tailgate!

Kelso, and Bowser sporting a jacket,  enjoy the hayfield

Becca & Kaos breaking trail and showing just how deep that snow really is

We finished our ride, and the bleeding had stopped by the time we got home.  I decided to close the flap, although it probably didn't really need it.  I numbed it up, then tried to suture it with standard suture material.  Unfortunately, it is Rhio's worst foot for allowing me to hold it up.  Ever since I bought him, he is terrible about holding his right front foot up and will yank it out of my hands repeatedly even when I am just picking his feet.  I have not been able to correct this behavior, so despite the fact that the skin was numb, I just couldn't get a period of stillness enough to place the needle.  As always, I did have a plan B and it was time to utilize it!  My very favorite tool - the surgical stapler.  These things are awesome!  I did have to place 3 staples to get two where I wanted them, as he was still yanking his foot away (at precisely the wrong instant, of course), but it is so quick and easy.

Fresh wound on trail (blood is SO dramatic on a white leg!)

All stapled up!  (I'm holding the hoof and you can see the shaved area & 2 staples in the middle of the photo)

Today it looks great - no swelling and no lameness.  I'm avoiding any more work in the deep snow until it is healed, so I took him and Cricket out for a mile+ hand walk this morning.  Then I went to Jodi's and rode one of her horses this afternoon, and tomorrow will be Red's turn.  We are all desperate for some freedom from this interminable winter.  (actually, I really do love winter...but this one is feeling SO long already!)

It's been MONTHS since we've been able to ride down the road! 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

All the Naked Horses

Feb 5, 2011
Temp: above freezing!  Man, it's been a cold winter and this is the first thaw we've had so far.

Winter blankets all-in-a-row

This morning while feeding horses, I was so hot & sweaty that I stripped not only my polarfleece hat but my parka as well.  I was outside in a single layer of fleece plus my Carhartts, boots, & gloves.  It was nearly balmy.  If I was comfortable sans hat & jacket, the horses also would be comfortable sans their winter blankets, so I started stripping blankets on nearly everyone as I fed out grain.  Unfortunately, our horses have been pretty much locked into their blankets 24/7 since early to mid-November.  It turns out, I am "anti-blanket," despite the fact that two of my horses regularly wear them.  I don't think blankets are good for their skin, their necks & backs, or their range of motion.  I wish my horses weren't wearing them.  But, Rhio and Cricket have both been in blankets nearly continuously since November.
Cricket in his back-up winter blanket

Cricket is almost 29 (birthday next month!) and has no extra weight to speak of.  He is happy & healthy and grows a respectable winter coat, but without an extra fat layer (his body condition score is a 4 on a scale of 1 - 9) he expends too much energy to stay warm in our harsh winter weather (which we've had more than usual of this winter!) and would lose weight without extra help.  He gets help in two forms: extra calories and a winter blanket.  He also is the lowest ranking member of his herd of 4, and as such is rarely allowed in the shelter (although there is ample room for at least 6 horses in there!).  Cricket has a wardrobe of garments for different weather conditions, including a waterproof but unlined rain sheet for use during wet but warm weather (around 40 and above), a midweight blanket (also waterproof) for use during mild cool temps (his spring & fall jacket), and 2 heavyweight blankets (1 several years old with the accompanying wear & tear as a back-up, and his main blanket which is in its 2nd winter) for winter wear.
Rhio sporting his layers

Rhio is young, healthy, and the "top dog" in his pasture, but this winter he, too, has required a blanket.  I believe this is due to his athletic condition prior to winter starting and to our earlier-than-normal onset of a colder-than-typical winter.  He is also a body condition score of 4 on the 1-9 scale.  He was in top shape at the end of October for our last endurance competition, very lean & fit.  Winter pretty much started immediately after that ride, and he did not have a chance to put on a little insulating layer of fat before the cold set in.  I resisted blanketing him as long as I could; he has a history of abusing blankets severely and wiggling his way out of them unscathed if he doesn't want to be wrapped up & cozy.  In the past, he has only worn a blanket during the most severe winter weather (windchills and/or air temperatures well below zero).  Early this winter, however, I would find him nestled in the shelter while his herd was out eating their hay.  He was choosing shelter over food.  I didn't think that was a good thing, so I gave in and started blanketing him.  I knew he welcomed his "binkie" when he stood still as stone, unhaltered in the pasture, to have it put on.  I was doubly sure he liked it when it was still on and intact the following morning!

Rhio's wardrobe also consists of a waterproof sheet for wet weather, a midweight turnout blanket (all he has worn even in the coldest temperatures in the past), and now a "system" of warmer layers for the cold weather.  He wears an insulated stable blanket for warmth, plus the waterproof sheet over the top for wind & damp protection.  Recently he has developed a rub on his chest from the binding on the stable blanket, so I have also added a base layer of lycra to prevent rubbing.  My "tough" endurance horse looks like a stall baby this year (how embarassing!). But, he is warm & dry and doesn't hide in his shelter anymore.  He still looks as trim & fit as he did in October, so the blanketing is maintaining status quo.

I was thrilled to have the horses go naked today - they & their blankets both had a chance to air out a bit in the 30+ degrees.  They seemed pretty thrilled, too - especially Rhio who spent quite a lot of time cavorting and playing while unencumbered by his outerwear.  I was dismayed, however, to discover Rhio's new hue - purple!  His black lycra chest protector has dyed his white hair purple, so he is now tri-colored with a yellowish-tan head & neck (dirt/manure), purple chest & shoulders (lycra protector), and white barrel & rump (clean & protected by his blanket).  Boy it's a good thing he's not a show pony!  (Will the purple shed out with his winter fur?  Or sweat off in purple streaks running down his legs when we start seriously conditioning this spring? Or will I have to actually bathe my horse with shampoo to restore him to his natural state?)
Yep, that's my tie-dye pony!