Posts tagged: one day at a time


So, once again, bad blogger. A lot’s happened since my last update…

First, I rode in a clinic with David DeWispelaere in April. I really enjoyed it, and intended for a long time to write about it — but less than a week after the clinic, Poe came out of the pasture lame. NOT HAPPY. I’d taken him out back for walking and trotting hill work on Tuesday and had a really nice jumping lesson on Wednesday. He felt a bit sluggish by the end of the lesson, so he got Thursday off. Then Friday, lame. LAME. I called my friend Lennie, who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable horsepeople I know, and she graciously came out to the barn to watch him jog. It was definitely left hind (my eye for lameness is terrible, but this was pronounced enough even I could see it). He didn’t seem to want to place the foot, so Lennie felt it was an abscess brewing, and best thing for it would be chuck him back out in the field and wait.

The next Wednesday he was still about the same, maybe a touch better than that first day. The vet was coming out to float his teeth anyhow, so I called ahead to ask that he watch Poe jog, throw the hoof testers on him, etc before doing his teeth. The vet kindly squeezed it in. He saw the same left hind lameness, but couldn’t find any reactivity with the hoof testers, no heat, no swelling, no difference in pulse between the legs. He didn’t have time for further diagnostics and couldn’t tell anything based on what he’d seen. So I set up an appointment the following Monday (soonest I could get someone), and put him on a couple days of bute.

Monday the second vet watched him jog on and off the lunge, did the hoof testers, and did some flexions. Poe was a total brat about flexing his left stifle. He wasn’t fantastic about his right either, but worse for the left. No real heat or swelling, and no difference in the jog before and after the flexion, but he also wasn’t able to hold it all that long. Inconclusive. We were set to do nerve blocks next, but Poe was a bit fried and refused to have the twitch put on, and reacted rather violently to the vet’s attempt to get the needle in without the twitch, so we scrapped that. He is usually an easy horse to handle so the whole exam was a bit disheartening. Much moreso because we were no closer to an answer than we’d been last week. The vet advised I give it another couple of days, and set another appointment if there was no change, possibly bring him in for x-rays.

By Wednesday there was no difference. I don’t have a truck and trailer, so hauling him up to the clinic was not a great option. A third vet was able to schedule to see him on Saturday. He’s the one who usually handles emergencies so they don’t schedule him, but I was very flexible about when I could see him so he worked me in. He repeated everything we’d done Monday, with a bit better success on the flexions, since Poe was feeling more cooperative. Same result: he flexed fine. Back in the barn the vet pulled out the hoof testers — and voila! Tenderness in the left hind. It was the first time Poe had reacted to them, but there was a definite, repeatable reaction. Probably a stone bruise. And a huge, huge relief. The vet had also brought out the thermography camera, so he had a look at both of Poe’s back legs with that. Really cool little device — and also a relief to see no difference in heat between the legs. The vet felt there was a small amount of swelling in the left stifle, but nothing super alarming.

He prescribed a 3-week course of bute (2gm twice a day for three doses, then 2gm once a day for 10 days, then 1gm once a day for 10 days), and said I should ride him. Nothing super strenuous, stick to large figures, no jumping — but he felt the bute would address any inflammation, and that moving would help him strengthen/loosen whatever he’d tweaked, and things would either improve and be fine or get worse so we might have a clue what else was going on. We discussed other options too — injecting the stifle, taking him in for x-rays — but we both felt this was the best next step. So, after over 2 weeks out of the saddle, I got to climb on the pony-face again! It was a fantastic feeling just to walk and trot him around the arena.

That was mid-May. I honestly feel like we’ve still been getting back into work since then, which is kind of pathetic since it’s been 2 months and he wasn’t out of work that long. I feel like he’s had good days and bad days, though. He’s consistently more comfortable on the footing in the indoor, but sometimes he feels pretty great in the outdoor too. We went back to jumping a month ago. We haven’t done a lot, but he is SO so excited and happy every time we do.

I’m still freaked out that my horse is secretly broken, though. Every tiny bobble and misstep scares me. I’m terrified I’m doing wrong by him somehow, that I will ruin him. So, I’m trying to take things in baby steps. Baby baby steps. I’ve launched Operation: Super-Stifle! and am walking him up and down the hills out back at least once a week. It’s something we can do even in this insane heatwave. (A couple weeks ago we had a heat advisory all week, with temps around 100 and insane humidity — so that was a week of a lot of baths and zero riding, which hasn’t helped the feeling that we’re woefully unprepared for anything right now.) This Sunday we’re going cross-country schooling at Steepleview. I’m prepared to quit the minute he starts feeling tired. I’m also using it to gauge whether or not to sign up for their recognized show over Labor Day weekend. Some moments I feel like it would be the most fun thing ever and we just have to go do it — and other moments I remember how showing leaves me wanting to vomit the entire week beforehand, and pretty much every moment during it that we aren’t running cross-country. Still, if I never show the nerves will never get better.

To that end I did a little ride-a-test schooling thing a few weeks ago at my barn. You could pick any test, ride it once for the judge, get feedback and a mini-lesson about how to improve that test immediately, then ride it again. I had the best score ever, and while I was tense I did not entirely lose my mind when we hit the ring, so it was an improvement. It helps that the judge was Jodi, who I used to train with. And she had some awesome advice for us, and some really concrete specific thing we should be working on. Namely: shoulder-fore at the canter, especially on the right lead. Do not let him trick me into hold his head up with the inside rein to that direction. Use the long walls instead of circles until he’s more balanced. We have not been doing this enough — I know it will help us enormously, and need to start busting it out now that the weather’s broken.

Okay, this was a really rambling catch-all, but I think I hit all the highlights of the last couple months. Oh! Except the saddle! I bought a dressage saddle. Update for another time.

Poe walk, July 2012

2011 Season

Wow. So obviously I fail at blogging this year. And now the season is over, almost before it began… Behold:

In mid-September, Poe came in with a weepy right eye. A lot of horses had been bothered by a sudden plague of pollen and ragweed, and a proliferation of burrs. (I’m actually surprised there are any left in the pasture after the amount Poe’s brought in via his forelock — but he keeps managing to find them…) I consulted with the barn staff. Verdict: fly mask. It had cleared up other horses’ weepy eyes overnight. (I tried one on him last year, but he quickly started getting rubs, and after discovering several flies actually inside the mask, I gave it up.) So, fly mask.

The next day he seemed no better, and had some cloudiness around the edge of the eye, so I called the vet. He came out and stained the eye, revealing the lovely bright green spot you can see in the picture above: an ulcer. Probably caused by a bit of debris getting in there, and then being rubbed against the delicate surface of the eye. So he got a bunch of meds, and orders to dress as a pirate (to protect the dilated pupil from sunlight).

pirate pony

With one eye covered in strong light, jumping was off the table. We were given the go-ahead for flat riding, with the caution to stay out of dusty conditions. So we concentrated on flatwork, and actually had some really nice rides. I’d gotten lax about leg-yielding, something that was a regular part of our repertoire this spring, so I added that back in the mix. I schooled a lot of simple changes. We continued to improve our transitions down to the walk. When the vet re-stained his eye after four days of meds, he predicted it would be another 4-6 days before the eye was healed. I was optimistic about still being able to attend the October 8-9 Robeke’s Run show at Schweiss Stables. We did a schooling BN show there last year, and I was excited to have another run around their cross-country course.

Unfortunately, at two weeks from the original injury, he looked better but not good enough:

The vet advised against signing up for the show, and I agreed with him. There was no way of knowing how he’d respond between closing date and the show — and absolutely no reason to take any chances. I (hopefully) have decades ahead of me with this guy; we’re in no rush.

I feel like we got off the farm so much in 2010. We did tons of baby shows, schooling, clinics, and heaps of trail riding. By contrast, this year has felt like a long conspiracy against productive work: bad weather, personal upheavals, more bad weather, trailering woes, yet more bad weather, and now the eye. We did fit in one recognized show at the beginning of September, however, and it was an awesome experience. We had our usual tense, tense, tense dressage, which landed us in second-to-last place; a fantastic cross-country (double-clear, go pony go!), which moved us into second (which made me want to puke on my boots); and a spotty stadium round, which landed us in third. Which was good enough to help my group take first in the BN Team Challenge!

I was SUPER proud of him overall. The areas we really sucked at were known trouble spots, and he continues to impress me with what a willing, sensible guy he is. We had lots of green baby moments, but that’s to be expected. We did have an uncharacteristic stop at the second fence in stadium. He was unbelievably tense and nervous going into the ring, giving the bug-eye to the speakers, announcer’s trailer, all the fences… It was an honest run-out from a long ways off that I just couldn’t get a handle on, and when I gathered him up and re-presented he went right over it. After that I rode him more forward — which is something we’ve been working on, but which also let him get a bit flat and strung out, so we took a rail late in the course. (Sorry this recap is all over the place. I’m a bit sick and perhaps getting a little incoherent; I should just delete it and do a proper write-up of the whole show, but given my record on posting so far, I think it’s safer just leaving it a bit scattered…)

We still have the Hunter’s Pace and a foxhunt on the calendar for this year. The vet is coming out to have another look at Poe’s eye tomorrow, and I’m hoping we’ll get the green light for both of those. Have to defend our Hunter’s Pace trophy!

first time for everything

We had our first outing of the season on the 11th: a derby over at Steepleview. It’s kind of a cross-country stadium hybrid, and we ran it last September. Then he was a little sticky then but went over everything, and I was super proud of him:

You can see me pulling him back to the trot after the second fence. The ground was very slick: two horses before me wiped out on the turn between the second and third fences, and there was another fall in warm-up. You can see he was a little leery actually going over the ditch, but I think he’d committed to it before he realized how deep it was? I don’t really remember — the moment didn’t stick out in my mind at all when we were on course. I remember the whole thing felt very uneven; we never settled into a rhythm.

Similar story this year, but worse. He’s been schooling so well at home, and we ended the season so strongly last fall, that it was strange to be sitting on him feeling so incredibly backed-off. I was really proud of him through the water, but everything else felt more or less like a disaster — particularly the ditch, where I took my first tumble off him. I had to fight him a little for the trot before it; I was ready for him to take a good damn look at it and had my leg on. It felt like he was going to go, but at the last second he dropped his head and spun to the side and bounced me right off. Stupid fall — at least I landed pretty lightly! (Didn’t get the whole thing on video unfortunately.)

The video doesn’t have the first three fences on course (I was the first in my division, and they didn’t make an announcement that I was starting) — Poe took a look at them but went. Honestly the whole thing felt a lot worse than it looks (including the drive-by on the ramp; I thought about circling to re-do it, but just was not up for another fight).

So, it was a pretty disappointing day. I left feeling discouraged and unprepared to compete: the XC was a disaster, our dressage lessons at home usually feel like monumental struggles, and our stadium is a mess. I’m still feeling pretty fragile in my personal life, and I need this to be fun. So I have mentally wiped the rest of this year’s competition calendar. We’re going to go school a couple places, see if we can get our groove back, and reassess after that.

Yesterday I took him out in the back field for a little fitness work. I want to start doing trot sets but didn’t have my mp3 player ready, so I thought we’d just do a little introduction, make sure he hadn’t decided everything out there’s going to eat him. He was pretty excited to be out and very, very forward. When I first asked him to canter, he decided that meant he got to gallop at any old speed he pleased — so we had a few discussions about that. He came around to my way of thinking, more or less, and finished his work a happy, sweaty mess.

So much of our work lately has left me feeling like a failure, but just being around him is still pretty damned awesome. He’s been especially cuddly the last few months, so sometimes we just stand for ages with our faces pressed together, or breathing into each other’s noses, and there is nothing else on earth like that feeling. When I am going out to get him I always sing his name as I round the corner, and it’s a beautiful thing to see his face poke out of the shed, ears pricked, before he walks over to say hi.

Birthday Boy

Today Poe turned 5 — happy birthday, little dude! I completely forgot to bring my camera to the barn, so only have a few bad cell pics. I took him up to graze in the trailer parking area after our ride, and he was way more interested in stuffing his face than holding still and looking glamorous.

The weather’s been kind the last few days, and the back field has dried out enough that we were able to go trot and canter (!) along the highest areas. The middle stuff is still pretty soggy, and I didn’t even venture toward the lowest points. He was really excited to be out there and, all things considered, a very good boy. He only took off on me once — not sure what prompted it, but he tucked his hiney under and blasted off. I circled him around and scolded him, then continued trotting. He broke to a canter and we had a pretty big discussion about how that’s Not Allowed — and after that he was pretty wonderful. He still gained speed quite a few times, but he listened pretty well to my reminders, and kept his head together. We did lots of trotting and cantered the length of the field three or four times, always going away from the tractor road. I didn’t feel we were quite ready to be cantering toward home yet.

I’ve still been struggling with motivation. I love being out there, and something about being in the saddle triggers this sort of amnesia. I don’t even know to appreciate it while I’m riding; everything else just *goes away* so completely that I’m not even aware it’s gone. It’s pretty amazing. But what’s left is still often frustration with myself for not being better. We’re on a bit of a flatwork plateau right now and I just can’t find it in me to push through it. So I wimp out and meander up the road. I’ve been looking a bit listlessly at the competition calendar — we just haven’t had a chance to school anything, so it’s hard to feel prepared or excited. So, I’ve been sort of taking it easy on myself, and telling myself it’s okay not to be In Training. That it’s okay for right now to let this be about trying to find some peace. That maybe it’s better to let this be the one safe, easy thing in my life. It doesn’t have to be a drive or an ambition to be a balm.

Though saying that — I have to admit I am also staying open to that feeling coming back, and a big part of me hopes it does. I would like to be able to lose myself in hard work — just not if it’s going to feel like one more chore or frustration.

Luckily I don’t think Poe cares at all. He doesn’t have any competition goals, or timelines, or heartache. He is loving his buddies and the new spring grass and the sunshine; I am striving to follow his lead.

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