Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Blog Hop: Supplements

I'm late to the supplements blog hop party, but I've wanted to write about it for a little while because it's something I'm agonizing over right now.

Tristan has been on various regimens in the past, and here's what he's getting right now.

1/2 quart of Blue Seal Carb Guard, AM & PM

Basically nothing, basically cardboard. He's been on this since his Cushings diagnosis. It does the job of making him feel like he's getting grain, serving as a vehicle for his meds, and giving him at least some very, very basic nutrition that he's not getting out of hay or grass.

1 gram of pergolide, AM, ~$0.50 per day

Cushings meds. Non-negotiable. They keep him alive (or, at least, from progressing in a nasty degenerative condition). He's held quite well on 1 gram, but we test regularly and keep a close eye on him. I expect that this will increase at some point in the (hopefully distant) future. I've toyed with the idea of Prascend, the name brand tablet version, but can't talk myself into it since he does just fine on the compounded powder.

200mg of cetirizine, AM & PM, ~$3.00 per day

Summer allergy meds. Not cheap. But they prevent the hives, and they are seasonal - roughly 2.5 months out of the year. So this is more like an annual expense of $500 or so than an ongoing monthly cost.

6mL Pentosan, IM, every 4 weeks, ~$15 per dose

Tris does fantastically well on this, and I have zero intentions of changing it. It's far cheaper than Adequan or joint injections, and I can feel the difference in our rides in the week after he gets a dose. I'm actually considering moving him to every 3 weeks.

In general nutrition terms, he's also out on grass and eats about 4 flakes of hay a day.

Now, the part I'm thinking through hard.

Right now, he's on SmartVite Perform Senior, 2 scoops or about 100mg a day, and 10,000 mg of MSM a day, also through SmartPak.

As anyone who has ever fed SmartPaks knows, they are convenient and terrific...and expensive. Tristan's run me about $45 per month, and I am staring down the gullet of several thousand dollars in vet bills between his hijinks and then the dog's.

If I saw a clear, obvious, discernable benefit from the supplements I would not be having this conversation. I'd find a way to make it work.

But I'm not entirely sure he's eating them. I think he's powderizing the supplements and picking out his grain. He's definitely leaving a lot of mashed up formerly-pellet powder in his grain bucket. I need to do some definitive tests to be sure it's the supplements and not the grain he's leaving behind - and vice versa - but he's done this before with other supplements.

If he's truly not eating them, then I have two options: just cancel them and let him be on what he's eating now, or find something else that he will eat.

He's on the SmartVite because I wanted, essentially, a multivitamin. Time on grass is limited in Vermont, and he gets so little grain he's certainly not getting the full benefit of whatever might be in that. I wanted to cover up any gaps he might have in his nutritional profile with the feed-through equivalent of a band-aid, which I admit is a bit lazy of me.

But do I really need to do that? Is there something I could be doing better? Is he really not even eating the supplements and I'm spending $$ on powder that gets dumped from his grain bucket? I'm a bit nervous about dropping the idea of a vitamin supplement out of his diet entirely.

Anyone have consoling thoughts for me? Suggestions of other vitamin supplements or ration balancers?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weekly Blog Roundup

Trivia Trail Ride with the Harvard Fox Hounds from Hand Gallop
I love this idea SO MUCH.

Tongue Tension from Not So Speedy Dressage
HUH. File this under "things I need to think about a lot more."

10 Tips for Your First Hunter-Jumper Show from Fly On Over
I know next to nothing about hunter-jumpers, so this was useful for me!

Qualifying from Ambitious
The idea here is that it's the quality of rides you put in, not necessarily the quantity of time; it's a philosophy I've always found particularly useful.

The Experiment: Introduction from Wait for the Jump
This is not quite horse related, but it's awesome. Follow through for the rest in the series. 

Adult Camp Adventures: Windurra from 'Fraidy Cat Eventing

Cattle Sorting from DIY Horse Ownership
Another dream of mine!

Barn Shopping for Baby from The $900 Facebook Pony
I've done a fair bit of barn shopping in my life, but never for a baby.

Let's discuss alternative therapies from House on a Hill
Everyone has Opinions on these, and it's good to see a thoughtful conversation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Series: The Black Stallion

The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley

Let's start with a summary, shall we? Everyone knows the plot of this one, but I suspect these will come more in handy as we get into the more obscure entries in the series.
So: teenager Alec Ramsay is returning from India via ship, along with a mysterious black stallion. When the ship sinks, he and the stallion swim to an abandoned island. There, they survive together and develop a bond. After they are rescued, they return to New York, where the Black catches the eye of retired jockey & racehorse trainer Henry Dailey. They begin to secretly train the Black to race, and with the help of a sports reporter, enter the Black into a match race against the two best horses in the country.
First things first: I realized halfway through this umpteenth re-read that the entire book makes perfect sense if you think of Alec as suffering from a raging and untreated case of PTSD. It doesn't help that all the adults in his life are absolutely shitty at...well, everything. How else to explain the weird mix of naivete, monomania, suicidal tendencies, and unpredictability that basically sums up Alec's entire character? Yet, everyone else in the book exists only to enable Alec's least whim. Literally everyone, from Tony the racist caricature right to the owners of Cyclone and Sun Raider to his MOTHER.

That being said, I still adore this book. I am full of contradictions, I know.

Let's start with the Black, shall we?
White lather ran from the horse's body; his mouth was open, his teeth bared. He was a giant of a horse, glistening black - too big to be pure Arabian. His mane was like a crest, mounting, then falling low. His neck was long and slender, and arched to a small, savagely beautiful head. The head was that of the wildest of all wild creatures - a stallion born wild - and it was beautiful, savage, splendid. A stallion with a wonderful physical perfection that matched his savage, ruthless spirit.
One of the nice things about reading this on the Kindle is that I can do things like search for how many times Walter Farley uses the word "savage" in this 275 page book. The answer is 17 times, or roughly every 16 pages. Three of those instances are in this paragraph. Most of the time it's a description of the Black's head. I fail entirely to understand how a horse's head can be "savagely beautiful."

(For fun, other statistics. "Wild" gets 47 instances, "Scream" gets 32, and "stallion" gets a whopping 370, or 1.3 times per page.)

On the one hand, this description of a horse makes no sense. On the other hand, it also neatly establishes the Black as the mythic creature he is. He is not so much a horse as he is a collection of inchoate adolescent yearnings given form. He is everything that teenaged Walter Farley would have dreamed up for himself, and be honest with me: probably a lot like your childhood imaginings of the perfect horse, too.
With the days that followed, Alec's mastery over the Black grew greater and greater. He could do almost anything with him. The savage fury of the unbroken stallion disappeared when he saw the boy. Alec rode him around the island and raced him down the beach, marveling at the giant strides and the terrific speed. Without realizing it, Alec was improving his horsemanship until he had reached the point where he was almost a part of the Black as they tore along.
In my re-read of this book, the island scenes made the least sense to me. Based on that paragraph, how long do you think Alec spent on the island? Would you be boggled if I told you nineteen days? Remember, he didn't start riding the Black until a couple of days in. So let's say two weeks. TWO WEEKS for Alec to tame this wild horse and become a bareback riding master.

Then they're rescued, and can we talk about this for a second? I had totally forgotten that the ship that rescues them takes them to Rio de Janeiro first. An entirely different CONTINENT, you guys! And they send Alec's parents a message via radio and they get a telegram back: "Thank God you're safe. Cabling money to Rio de Janeiro. Hurry home. Love, Mother and Dad."

Alec's parents thought he died in a shipwreck and that is their response? Honestly, of everyone in this book, they are the most baffling. I realize that this is a YA book, of an era that had to write parents out in order for the kids to have adventures but WHAT? In fact, Alec's poor mother is basically full-on Stepford throughout this book. Despite being their only child, they're mildly puzzled that he returns and sort of quietly content, instead of ecstatic that he miraculously survived.

They're also totally chill with him bringing home this totally insane horse, but it's fine, he knocks on his neighbor's door and they have a stall and he'll just hang out there.
"What are you going to feed him tonight, Alec? Did you think of that?" his father asked.
"Gee, that's right!" said Alec. "I had forgotten!"
And then they just feed him...whatever grain old Napoleon gets. Oats, or something. Which settles it: the fact that the Black did not die of colic 5 pages into this book is the real supernatural storyline.

Then Alec wakes up the next day:
He was glad his father had told him he wouldn't have to go to school today. "One more day won't hurt," he had said, "and it'll give you a chance to accustom yourself again."

It's a good thing Alec doesn't go to school, though, because the Black jumps out of his pasture and lives all of our dreams, galloping loose on a golf course. This to me feels like one of the most realistic moments in the entire book. Of course he ditches his pasture. He's a wild horse. You tear up that stupid golf turf, Black!

Thankfully, Alec gets back in time to eat the breakfast his mother has set out for him like it's any other day and she apparently didn't notice that he was gone? Also, his father left for work without saying goodbye? LOLLLLL. I'm telling you: all of Alec's adults are the WORST.

Henry Dailey appeared the first night they brought the Black home, and he is of course the second most important human character in this entire series after Alec, so here's our description of him.
Finally he showed up - a short, chunky man with large shoulders. He came toward them walking in jerky, bowlegged strides. His white shirt tails flapped in the night wind. He wiped a large hand across his mouth.
I don't blame Henry for anything that happens in this book. He is carrying around his own baggage. He wants to get back into racing, which his wife forced him to give up, and he is arguably still traumatized from losing Chang, his horse of a lifetime. He also gives us some of the nicest moments in this book and later, in the whole series.
Henry paused as he carefully turned a corner. Then he continued, "Y'know, Alec, horses are kind of like the sea, you'll find out - once you get used to 'em and learn to love 'em, you can't ever give them up."
<3, Henry. I totally buy him as the guy who sees a chance to relive his best days and highest dreams, who arguably manipulates the shit out of this teenager because he sees a path back to the thing he loves the most. His motivations are the clearest and easiest to understand in the whole book, after maybe Alec's, but then Alec's motivations are basically "be the very most special!"

(No but seriously does Alec actually have a personality? Not in this book, for sure. He's...resourceful, I guess? And tough? Because of the island and also he survives like eight million concussions and learns to ride the Black properly?)

After schooling the Black at what I think is meant to be the Aqueduct (I don't think it's Belmont? Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but they don't ever mention the name) things start to move more slowly: thankfully, we get the literary equivalent of a training montage, as Alec spends all winter getting the shit kicked out of him while they introduce the Black to saddle and bridle, and then start properly training him on the track.

They want to race him, but, well...
"You see," Alec said, "we had planned to run him in some big races. I was going to ride - but we weren't able to get his pedigree. We wrote to Arabia trying to get it, but it was impossible. We didn't know much about him, only the port where he got on the boat. And you can't run a horse in a race without his being registered."
"Yeah, that's right," muttered Joe, "and while the Black looks like a thoroughbred, he is certainly too wild to have ever been brought up like one."
This may be the most head-scratching sentence in the entire book, and that's saying a lot. Let's parse it out, shall we? First of all, Joe, who is a bigshot racing columnist, agrees with Alec that a horse only needs to be "registered" (with whom? as what? it's a mystery.) in order to race. Second, in what universe does the Black look like a Thoroughbred? He's from "Arabia" (not a thing, even in 1941), and he's pretty explicitly described and recognized by multiple characters as looking like an Arabian. Third, "too wild to have ever been brought up like one," what the actual fuck does that mean? All Thoroughbreds are magically well-behaved on account of...I don't even know. Joe is the worst.

Not that racing is a great idea, because, well.
Alec grasped the reins still tighter and leaned over until his head touched the stallion's. He knew full well the danger that was his every time he rode the Black, especially when he let him loose on the track. The stallion would never hurt him knowingly, but once he got his head he was no longer the Black that Alec knew - but once again a wild stallion that had never been clearly broken, and never would be!

Tell you what, let's all of us try galloping our horses with our heads touching their heads. Report back on how that goes!

Joe manipulates public sentiment into a) demanding a match race between Cyclone and Sun Raider, the East & West Coast champions and then b) introducing a mystery horse into the mix as a ploy to get the Black invited to race. Why does anyone go along with this? The other owners, the racetrack owners, the betting public, and oh yeah, the adults in Alec's life:
"But, Henry, it's such a dangerous race for him to go into - and on that wild horse!" [said Alec's father]
"Not any more dangerous than what he's faced many times since that boat went down in the ocean. I've grown to know your boy pretty well within the last few months, and I can honestly say that he's different from any of us. He's found something we never will, because we'll never go through the experiences that he's had to."
Like mental illness, Henry? God damn it.

There was never any plausible ending for this book but that the Black enters the match race and wins, coming from behind in a spectacular fashion, after getting into a fight with Sun Raider at the starting line. In a kind of neat touch, the story of the race is told entirely in the announcer's call. You just have to imagine what's going through Alec's head during all of it, which really boxes him in neatly and sustains that myth of the boy and his horse conquering all. It's like after a whole book of being on the inside now we're on the outside, and we'll never know what it's really like. I can't decide whether it's intentionally clever or I'm reading too much into it.

The movie version gets this perfectly, interspersing scenes of the race with flashbacks to Alec and the Black alone on the island.

The book finishes triumphantly, with Alec insisting that everyone is going to be seeing a lot more of the Black, everyone who ever doubted him proved wrong, and a bright glowing future ahead of them, somehow.

So, with all that snark? I still love this book. Maybe it's because I've read it so many times I have practically memorized whole chunks of the text. Maybe because there is something enduring behind all the absurdity - the ultimate horse crazy kid's dream. Some of the most emotional bits hold up, even as they are ridiculous on the surface - like Alec refusing to leave the Black behind on the deserted island. I still got a pang when I read it. They fight for each other, in a way. They epitomize that bond that we all wish we had with our horses - an unspoken, unbreakable partnership.

Did you re-read it along with me? When's the last time you read it? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tristan's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

First, before I say anything else, I have the best barn in the world. Almost five years ago, when I was looking for a barn, my biggest factor was quality of care and specifically attention to the detail of that care. I have been blown away over and over and over again by how incredibly good everyone at the barn is and have been amazed again these past few weeks. I cannot possibly thank them enough, though I intend to keep showing up with bottles of wine and baked goods for some weeks to come.

Before I start to tell Tristan's part of the story, please know at the outset that he was the third horse in the barn to come down with this mystery disease, and - KNOCK ALL THE WOOD - is so far the last. We don't yet know what it is/was, or even its vector, since the horses had zero contact with each other and obsessive quarantine measures were begun with the first horse and maintained right on through.

So: we start the story last Sunday, when I came out to do a short road hack with Tristan before I headed out to a work even in the southern part of the state. By that point, he had been getting twice daily temperature checks for three days, along with every horse in the barn. That morning, his temp was fine. That afternoon, about 3pm, I held him in the aisle before heading out so the barn worker could do his temp and I watched her face fall as the thermometer kept rising.

I swallowed bile and tried to fight back my fear; he's never run a temperature, to my knowledge, in the decade plus that I've owned him.

The vet's protocols called for a dose of banamine at 101.5; the barn worker and I decided that he was close enough, and gave him a dose. I put him back in his stall and started running through "but what if it's nothing?" scenarios in my head.

I put the barn manager and vet on alert, and went to do my work event. On the drive back, I checked in with the barn worker, who we'll name as L. for continuing blog purposes - she and I spent a lot of quality time together in the next week. She reported that his fever was up above 102: clearly rising. I called the vet (and my husband, and a lot of other people), and sped back up from southern Vermont. 

We all met at the barn at 9:00 pm and Tristan was pretty clearly not himself. His fever was holding just above 102 but he was listless and unhappy. We moved onto the next phase of planned treatment, following the pattern of what had worked with the other horses. We basically spent the next two days in a blurred cycle of that same treatment.

The vet did a catheter for an IV drip, and that night he got a dose of tetracycline in 5L of fluids along with another dose of banamine. Before the vet had reached us, L, had already done his first alcohol & cold water bath to try to keep him cooler; we did a lot of those over the next few days. The vet left us with several more bags of fluids, two more doses of tetracycline, a bottle of banamine, and several tubes of Gastroguard. She also pulled blood for a CBC panel and noted that his gut was hypermotile (ie really gassy) and seemed uncomfortable, though he had passed some relatively normal-looking manure.

I got home around 11:30 pm, got a fractured 90 minutes of sleep, and headed out for the 3am check, during which I took his temperature - still above 102 - and iced his front and back feet.

He was so miserable. He had no interest in food, he was dull and uninterested in anything, just stood in the back of his stall occasionally flicking his ears. It was really hard to see. :(

I got home at about 3:30, and then at 3:45 my dog jumped on the bed crying pitifully and scratching so hard she was shaking the whole bed. When I reached down to pet her and comfort her, I discovered that nearly every inch of her body was covered in hives. She'd shown no signs of that the day before, and this was the first time she had ever done anything like that. She was also miserable, so I got up, gave her a long, cold bath with the oatmeal shampoo I had on hand, and wrapped her in a towel to snuggle and dry. None of that helped; she continued to cry and started shivering violently, even when wrapped in the towel. So off to the emergency vet we went, where she got a dose of benadryl and dex. She would spend the next seven days on benadryl as we tried to chase the allergic reaction; I won't write about that more but it's in the background of all of this and as I write that allergic reaction has given way (or transformed into? unclear!) a nasty staph infection that has blossomed into an infected lesion on her nose. So I am on round 2 of vet bills this week.

Anyway: on my way back home, I got word that at morning check Tristan's temp was down below 102 and he was a tiny bit perkier after his morning banamine, so I got another 90 minutes or so of sleep, then headed back into the barn.

That morning temp check was the best point of his Monday, because he started a cycle that went for the next 36 hours of ramping his temperature up until the next banamine dose, while we tried to help bring it down in other ways. About every hour or 90 minutes he got another cold alcohol bath and I iced his feet, front and back, both to help with temperature and as a preventive measure against laminitis.

In his better moments, I took him out for short walks after his baths, because the road was shady and there was a little breeze and he seemed happier when he was moving. 

At his worst, he went up to 104.3 right before his afternoon banamine dose, which is pretty darned high. The other horses who got this had gone as high as 105, so we had our fingers very crossed that was the worst of it - and thankfully, it was.

He was so, so tired through the whole thing but he was wobbly enough that it was hard for him to lie down, so it was actually progress that he laid down for a short nap.

He still wasn't eating or drinking on Monday, so he got another 5L of fluids. Even though he showed no outward signs of dehydration - his skin was popping back just fine, his capillary refill was good, his gums were a healthy pink - he clearly started to perk up and feel better about halfway through his bag. He got another dose of tetracycline that night, and I chatted with the vet after; she was concerned about his total lack of interest in food, which was VERY un-Tristan-like. So we tried to take him out for handgrazing, 20m at a time; he was interested, but not enthusiastic. He spent chunks of time staring into the middle distance and biting at bugs rather than attacking grass - again, very not like him.

I did the 3am check again, and temp check went fine. I also took him out for more handgrazing and he started to seem a little bit more like himself. I brought him back in, iced his feet, fussed over him, and then did my first solo flush of his IV line. I'd been instructed how by the barn manager and had done it supervised by L. in the afternoon. It's a simple enough procedure, the kind of thing pretty much anyone could do.

Well, at that point I'd had maybe 5 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, and the wheels came totally off the wagon. I am not sure if I didn't tap the syringe of fluids out enough or what, but I saw two small bubbles go into the IV line from the syringe. I finished the flush, closed the line, my hands shaking and totally numb, and had a complete and total panic attack. Everything caught up to me at once. I called the barn manager who assured me that two tiny bubbles were not going to cause a problem. I called my mother, who is a nurse, who asked flatly "did he drop?" She said if I had actually gotten enough air to be problematic in the line, he would have dropped fast and hard, and by the time I called her it had been 20 minutes since I'd done it. After another 20 minutes I convinced myself he was going to be ok.

I got halfway home and became convinced I hadn't closed off the line properly. Cue another panicked call to my mother. I turned around while talking to her and she assured me that there was a plastic stop on the line, so even if I hadn't closed it off in the correct order (before taking the needle out) air could not have gotten in the line. I went back to the barn anyway and took a picture of the line closed up. I went home again, and laid awake trying to work my way through the aftershocks of the panic attack.

I probably got another hour or two of sleep, baked a gluten free cake for the barn manager, and headed back to the barn, where his temperature had finally, finally started coming down and staying down. I did some more handgrazing with him, and he got more fluids in the afternoon, but by early afternoon his temperature had held normal so consistently we held off on his banamine dose. He got one last dose of tetracycline that evening, and I was relieved from the 3am check for everyone's sanity.

Wednesday, I spent a good chunk of the day washing and disinfecting everything: all his brushes, all his tack, all his blankets, all his saddle pads. I also washed all of our own bedding and the dog's bedding in an attempt to eliminate an environmental trigger for her hives. I did 12 loads of laundry in about 36 hours.

The bar was still under full biosecurity measures, which meant that after every one of his alcohol baths I had scrubbed down the wash stall and then sprayed it with bleach. Every time people went in and out of his stall, they stepped in bleach; ditto the barn itself. The farrier kept all his tools in bleach and the aisle was scrubbed down after every horse. The barn staff also scrubbed everything they could find - every bucket, every flat surface, every blanket, everything. There were antibacterial hand washes hanging everywhere and every time I touched Tristan I scrubbed my hands, as did everyone else. I didn't touch any other horses or even go near stalls, and I washed the clothes I wore during the day every single night.

Sick pony station: cooler for ice, box of fluids, grain, trash bag with sharps container, flush fluids hanging on door, clipboard with hourly notes, bucket with miscellaneous things, stool for sitting on during fluids, bucket of bleach, bucket with sponge for alcohol baths.

Thursday morning his temperature was holding down still, and he was interested in and excited by food again, not just grass - he was absolutely attacking grass, but he started to work on his hay in earnest, and that night he was happy for his grain again.

Eating and drinking meant that he also started to pass more manure. He'd never stopped, but so many of the symptoms of whatever this was also mimicked colic that it was really worrying to see how little manure he was producing, even though there was a logical reason for it: he just wasn't eating enough.

He also got his IV line out on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday morning he got more blood pulled. The only thing the first bloodwork showed was that his white blood cell count was in the basement - not entirely surprising, given the vet suspected something viral.

This Tuesday, 8 days after he came down with his first temperature, he started going back outside again, in a small isolated paddock, and he's continued happily and well since then.

I don't know when I'll put him back under saddle; maybe this weekend. Unfortunately, the dog is now worse, so I've refocused my attention and worry on her now that Tristan is stable and happy. He has visibly lost weight, and is still very tired; it clearly took a toll on him, so I'm just as happy to give him more time to recover before I sit on him again. Probably he'll get a week of light, easy work, too.

So there you have it: a very long, very miserable, and still somewhat unexplained week that was made better by the best barn staff and the best vet in the whole world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

House Post: Willpower Breakdown

I haven't really been sleeping, and next week it's projected to get into the 80s, maybe even low 90s. Stop laughing; that's about as hot ad we get here!

So at some point while I was making a supply run for Tristan, I broke down.

Both house animals are very pleased right now.

Side note: I had no idea how complicated and anxiety-inducing installing an air conditioner is. All those dire warnings about breaking your window and what happens if it doesn't drain properly!