Tuesday evening - what better way to enjoy it than from the back of a good horse. Rhio and I did a little solo hill workout and he was a sassy boy! We went up the big hill at a trot, then instead of repeating that hill due to traffic, we did some hill sets on the gravel road, trotting up and doing schooling moves like circles, side-pass, and backing (uphill) on the way down. Rhio "knew" we were headed home each time we were going downhill, and wasn't happy about being made to work, and behave. We were both sweating by the time the light was fading enough to send us home.
I love to ride with friends, and have been fortunate enough to have ample opportunities to do so this summer. But, it does mean that sometimes I forget how great it is to be out alone with my horse. Rhio goes alone, but not happily, and it is a stressor for him. We need to keep practicing our solo rides to build his confidence - we used to ride alone the majority of the time, when I did not board with fellow distance enthusiasts.
My little Rhio is a stressed out boy, despite outward appearances of calm, cool collection. I have been struggling since winter to put just a few more pounds on him - he has been running about a 3 - 3.5 out of 9 on the body condition scale, which used to be the preferred body condition for an endurance horse. I have never been happy with him at this score, and there is now good evidence that endurance horses with higher body condition scores (4 - 5) do better on the longer rides, as they have more reserves to draw upon. At any rate, I have been increasing calories and mindfully giving him plenty of rest all season, without seeing much change in his condition. Using the weight tape, which isn't entirely accurate but is a good measure of change over time, he weighed in at 874 lbs on July 22.
After Mosquito Run (July 13-15), I realized the significance of his not-quite-licked-clean food dishes at home. This had been routine for him for most of the summer, but when I stopped to consider this fact, I realized that this was highly abnormal for him. His food dishes normally look like they've just come out of the dishwasher - and he offers to provide the same service to any and all available dishes that the other horses haven't quite cleaned to perfection. I think because I'm not the one feeding him, and the change came on so insidiously, its meaning hadn't registered with me. (Insert forehead slap here)
Rhio, my anxiety boy, is likely very prone to stomach ulcers. They are rampant in performance horses, and even in pleasure horses with any changes in their routines. I have not had Rhio scoped for definitive diagnosis, but I am convinced that he at least gets stomach irritation, if not outright ulcers. When we go to rides (and I know he's stressed), I put him on an antacid supplement, but I've been letting him go without it at home. I also switched his electrolytes this year, to Dynaspark made by Dynamite, well known, at least anecdotally, to be gentler on the stomach. I finally put it all together, and realized that Mr. Rhio has been battling stomach issues/ulcers for much of the season. His signs are so subtle that I'm trying not to feel guilty about missing them for the past 2 months. Classically, horses with ulcers refuse grain and preferentially eat hay, or show colic symptoms after eating grain, or have decreased appetite/poor performance/non-specific malaise/weight loss, or even chronic mild colic symptoms. In foals, they grind their teeth and spend time rolled up on their backs with their feet in the air (like Kelso likes to sleep).
You may wonder, since his signs are relatively mild and perhaps could be explained by other things, why I am so sure ulcers are his issue. Well, I started him on his antacid supplement daily and within a few days he was licking his bowl clean again. And, today, when I measured him, he scored 904 lbs on the weight tape. So, in less than 3 weeks of being on the supplement, he's finally gained some weight for me! And, I noticed tonight as I was tacking up, how delightfully rumbly his gut sounds are. One of the first things I noticed about Rhio when I bought him, different from my other horses, was how audible and active his gut sounds were - no stethoscope required. Yet another thing which I hadn't realized had changed, but as soon as it was normal again, I thought to myself, "well, duh!"