Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tristan's New Year's Resolution

...well, his first resolution is to get sound again already, but he also has a more traditional one.

Last week, I pulled him out of his stall to groom and fuss and work on banging his feet with a hoof pick to keep him on his behavioral improvement track for the farrier. I looked at him in the light of the aisle and my heart stopped: was he getting bloated?

I checked gut sounds, I checked gum color, I checked his water and hay, I checked his general demeanor.

No. Not bloated. Just fat.

Soooooo, starting this week, my easy keeper little mustang will have his grain cut back. He'd continued his feeding based on what he was eating at Flatlands, but he's definitely added weight. I'm sure it's a combination of smaller turnout + not walking around in said turnout as much due to being alone + possible differences in the hay.

I'd like stick to cutting grain instead of cutting hay, as the grain gets inhaled in a matter of minutes and the hay keeps him occupied for longer. We'll see how the diet plan goes in the next few weeks!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No news news

Well, there is some bad news, which is that Tris is quite lame on his right front. It could be aggravation of the abscess holes. It could be the poor shape of the foot from being left to grow for so long. It could be that he has strained some of the soft tissues and tendons in the foot.

The cure for all three will be time, so for now we are waiting. The real litmus test will be after his next farrier visit, at the end of January. The foot has grown enough that the bottom hole will be almost to the toe by then, and miiiight even open up with the next trim. We'll see.

In the meantime, he's happy and I get to see him every day. I've been easing him on to his new Reitsport Senior, and he'll be on full doses by Saturday. He has a turnout buddy, whom he likes enough to do some playing with. He's even getting a little fat, so we may be easing off his grain a bit. I'm glad we're in a place where I'm happy to keep waiting, nervous as I get sometimes.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Make that ten steps back...

So. The report from the farrier.

As I suspected, Tristan's hoof was grown out to the point where its flare was putting additional pressures on the hoof wall, separating them even further. This would be exactly why I asked the farrier in MA to trim him before we left.

The farrier will work on Tris in the morning. The holes are expanded to the point that he fears there is a very real chance that as he defines to trim, a chunk will fall away entirely. If that happens, he will have to rebuild with epoxy or by casting the foot.

I have my fingers crossed that his naturally good hoof strength will help him here, and the wall will hold. I don't know whether that's a pipe dream or not. After a day spent on the edge of my seat waiting for a diagnosis, tomorrow might be even worse as I wait to hear whether Tris still has all if his foot or not...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Two steps forward...

Saturday night, Tris got a massage from a dear friend, and she found and worked through some nasty tight spots from his right front. Sunday, I hand walked him for a bit to get his kinks out, and did some stretches with his right front leg.

Today, he came in from turnout really quite lame on that &$&)€}% right front. He did not loosen out of it with a turn around he indoor, so I cleaned out his foot and soaked it. I am holding off on despair until the farrier looks at him on Wednesday, an event I will hopefully be able to attend.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Voice Commands

When I started Tris, I focused on ground work exclusively for about six months. He didn't trust people, was aloof and hard to catch, was headshy in the extreme, and was not yet confirmed in basic things like standing to be groomed, picking up his feet, and so on and so forth. I put a lot of time and effort into his manners and his handling from the ground, and it has really paid off. He is generally a pleasant, obedient horse to handle.

There are a few voice commands that I have instilled in him over the years, through a combination of praise and repetition. We re-visit them every few months, starting with me standing at his shoulder and proceeding to him out at the end of a lead rope, and last night was one of those times. He was so pleased and interested to work with me that I'm going to try to install a few more over the coming weeks, perhaps with some clicker training. He's so smart, and it's so nice to be close to him once again.

Here are his current voice commands:

"whoa" - usually a long, drawn-out "hooooooooo" in a low, deep voice. This means stop in your tracks. I use it mostly in hand. The #1 rule for this is that he can. not. ever. throw his shoulder in to me when he halts. It has to be a square halt, not leaning into my space, not reaching over for a treat. He doesn't get praise until he stands square, in his own space, and not turning his head toward me. If he turns his head or shifts his weight I make him step over and we start again.

"walk on" - means start off again, at a walk

"step up" - means take one step forward. This is an especially useful one for getting him on the trailer. It's confirmed enough that it will go through his brain even when he's being stubborn, and often getting him to take that first step forward puts his feet on the ramp. I keep a clear distinction between this and "walk on" - I will use multiple instances of "step up" in a row but never let him take more than one step once I've given him that command. If I want him to keep moving I use "walk on."

"easy" - long and drawn out and a little bit low, "eeeeeeeeasy." I use this most often under saddle; it's his cue to calm down, re-focus on me, and not go haring off. I put it on him when we were first learning about riding in the open; he would go into a jackhammer quick trot that was wholly unproductive. It can backfire on me and make him too slow, but it's too useful to be able to bring him back for me to worry about that too much.

"back" - the usual: take a step back. This is by far his worst one, and he doesn't do it well in hand or under saddle. I've worked on it a lot over the years, and the only place I get it consistently is when he's in his stall: he always has to back before I give him hay, grain, or a treat. He knows to "back" and stay back until something is in his bowl. In hand or under saddle he doesn't give a straight back, or he will ignore the first few. This is one I use a lot to re-focus him when we're doing in-hand. Sometimes when I'm doing something as simple as leading him back to pasture I'll stop and make him back, then go forward again.

"ssssss" - a hiss like a snake; his all-purpose "cut that out" noise. Usually a quick "sst" is enough to make him stop what he's doing. For some things, like his pawing, it usually takes multiple attempts.

"trot" - the obvious

"trot on" - c'mon, actually properly trot forward, mixed with clucking

"canter" - higher tone of voice, usually "can-TER!" and mixed with a kissing sound.

"walk" - when it's just walk it means slow down, long and drawn out, "waaaaaalk."

I also do a noise that's a sort of tsking mixed with a clucking, with my tongue against my top teeth, that's his "hey, pay attention, I'm over here" noise. I use it when I first enter the barn, when I'm getting his attention out in the field, etc. He can pick it out from pretty far away, and he always looks up and around for me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Talking About Horses

I recently read an article in the Chronicle of the Horse that gave me pause. The article, No Boundaries Has Helped Put Eventer Erin Sylvester On the Map, contained several examples of a trend that really frustrates me when writing about horses.

Simply put: I wish there were a better way to describe the shades of training a horse is getting, and to do so in an honest, straightforward way that doesn't make me think you're kind of an idiot. I don't mean to single out Erin Sylvester in this, who I'm sure is a lovely and accomplished person, but several of her statements in the article really annoyed me. I've seen dozens of similar ones. I wish I could say I've seen it everywhere, but I haven't: it seems to be particular to eventers.

Here's an example:

“[Phillip Dutton] sees talent and potential in them to be really great riders, and I was, for lack of a better word, a bit of a hooligan. I didn’t have any concept of counting strides in between fences or seeing a distance. I knew how to sit up and kick and hold on and get stuff done. I was lucky to be on catty horses until I got there. It was definitely a work in progress for him when he first started working with me, just having the patience to [teach me] some really basic things that I should have known before I got there and that I’d kind of gotten away with not understanding.”
The previous paragraph describes how she took a schoolmaster through Intermediate. Intermediate. In one breath, she's going Intermediate - admittedly on a well-trained and forgiving horse - and in the next, she's a "hooligan" who "didn't have any concept of counting strides...or seeing a distance."

Here's another example:
Around the same time, Sylvester was bringing along another project horse, No Boundaries. Originally bought by Christine Price as a dressage prospect but bred to be an eventer, “Bucky” decided that life inside a white rectangle was not for him, so Sylvester took the Thoroughbred on as a resale project. “He seemed to move well enough and jump well enough a fair amount of the time. Honestly, I really didn’t believe in him that much until he went to a two-star,” Sylvester admitted.
There are two stories at play here: the first, that she wasn't really a very good rider (even though she'd gone Intermediate); the second, that her horse was wild and uncontrollable and she wasn't sure he would "make it" until he completed a two-star. I've seen this narrative elsewhere. So-and-so didn't know anything, even though she'd managed to kick on through a few Advanced runs, until she finally "made it"; such-and-such a horse couldn't even go on the bit until he was running regularly at the three-star level.

It's similar to a very pervasive narrative that runs particularly through the COTH forums, and is two sides of a coin: any horse/rider can make it to Training, and you're not a proper eventer (you haven't really "done it") unless you've gone Training. There is the tendency to discount anything before that as not quite polished enough, and even then there are people who talk about runs at Training on green horses as a "test."

Let's be clear. If you are riding at Intermediate; if your horse is starting a two-star; if you have brought a horse along to Training; if you are seriously contemplating a regular show schedule of any recognized events: you are a skilled rider, and you have a competent horse. Period. You can walk, trot, and canter with an independent seat, you can jump and gallop in the open, you can read related distances in the showjumping ring.

Are you a really good rider? Maybe not. Maybe it's not polished, maybe you are not clicking along like a metronome on that cross country course, maybe your dressage test could use more submission, but you are there and you are doing it.

So people who say that they didn't know anything, or their horse was wild, or any variation on that, and yet are running at high levels - they need a better precision of language. There needs to be a better way to talk about the grades of finesse in between the levels. You are not "wild" if you're running around Intermediate. You may need some polish, you may still have a lot to learn, and you may still feel inexperienced at the level, but you know what you're doing.

I get that it's difficult sometimes to really thoughtfully describe all those shades. I can ride a Training level dressage test, my trainer can ride a Training level dressage test, and Lauren Sprieser can ride a Training level dressage test, but there are worlds of difference in the nature and quality of the tests we ride, and it takes careful language and thoughtful self-assessment to really describe those differences. I just wish more people would take the time to work at that language.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Pulling the wrap off Tristan's foot had mixed success. I mentioned before that I hadn't taken the frozen ground into account and sure enough, within 48 hours his leg had blown up and his hoof was warm.

I freaked out a little bit, flushed his foot carefully, and soaked it. I gave him a gram of bute right away and left a note for him to get more AM and PM for the next few days. He was still bright and cheerful at least!

The next day the swelling and heat wet down some; I soaked again and devised a wrap of Elastikon and duct tape that coveted the jokes but not the sole. Then I left for Boston for Thanksgiving. When I checked on him Friday night there was no heat and the swelling was nearly gone, and as of today the leg is tight and clean. Whew!

Here he is this afternoon in his side paddock, happy to be out in our first real snow of the season.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Small Business Saturday

I am not much for supplements. Tris has been on and off a few different ones over the years. As he ages, however, I have been making a more conscious effort to support him, especially with joint options.

One constant in the supplements I have tried is that I have always, always been happy with HorseTech's products. They are a consistently high quality, have flexible options, superior customer service, and always make a difference, especially in his coat and hoof quality. I've used several different products with the same success.

Tomorrow, for Small Business Saturday, HorseTech is running a 10% off sale - just enter the code SMALL10 at checkout. If you're a US Rider member, you can also take 10% off wig the code USRIDER10. (Just be sure to include your membership number in the comments field so they can verify.)

I will definitely be taking advantage of this sale to stock back up on my current choice, TriSport, and I'll be adding some of he new ReitHoof to help keep his foot growing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Places, New Faces

I moved Tristan up to Vermont on Sunday, quite uneventfully. We got a bit of a later start from Flatlands for the best of all possible reasons - visiting Lindsey Epstein Pottery's new storefront and eating cookies thanks to an incredibly thoughtful send-off - and arrived at the barn after dark. Tris was a little snorty but settled down great and ate hay and then grain quite happily.

His stall in his new barn is smaller than at Flatlands, and that first night he did a lot of circling around to try to get anywhere new in the stall, but by the time I visited him again Monday night he had figured out the dimensions and how he could back up and turn around without circling and pacing.

He went out a half-day his first day, and should be going out a full day today; the barn typically does half-day turnout but will just be swapping his pastures so he can stay out the full day. Stupidly, I pulled his foot wrapping on the first day thinking "the ground is frozen solid up here, there's no mud to get into it!" and then realized a) it softens during the day and b) he has had that sole covered for 3+ months now. I'm not as worried about the sole - he'll have to toughen it up again sometime - but tonight I am going to do a thorough flush of the holes and then see if a bit of duct tape across the holes will cover the adequately.

Speaking of the holes in his foot, everyone up here is duly impressed. They've grown down nicely, and there's a good 1.5" of hoof above the holes back to the coronet band. It is not perfect hoof - there is a small bulge still - but it is solid and growing. Now, just to keep it going.

My biggest concern right now is that though I asked the farrier to re-shoe him before leaving, he apparently did not do so, and his toes are getting fairly long, which means the crack in the RF has re-appeared and overall the shape of the foot is not good. The barn manager will be letting me know when their farrier is next due to come out; it may be that we can get him out soon after Thanksgiving, which would be ideal to get a consultation, put a pad back on that RF to help the sole, and trim all around. I'm going to pitch the idea of pulling his shoes for the winter - we'll see.

That should sum it up. I am LOVING having him only 20 minutes away from home, and only 10 minutes from one of the museums I work at. I have checked on him twice a day without any difficulty, and it will be heavenly to get home at a reasonable hour after work.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Last night was my last night at the barn, and stupid Sandy ruined it.

There was no power, hence no lessons, hence hardly anyone around. I saw and said goodbye to a few people, but am missing many more. I had to pack all Tristan's things in the dark, consolidating everything and making sure his foot wrapping supplies were handy, packing all my saddle pads away. I wanted both to keep clutter out of the barn aisle in my absence (not that I am ever messy, but sometimes things fell off my trunk, and I wanted to avoid that) and to make sure that everything was snug and secure so that when I return to pick him up, I'll just be able to hitch and go with a minimum of fuss.

It took about an hour and a half, all told; it would've been less if I hadn't had to keep picking up and putting down a flashlight to check on zippers and comb the floor for anything I might've dropped. It was also pouring rain, such that it made every trip from trailer to barn to car a misery. Figures. I battened down the trailer, closing all the windows tight, making sure nothing was leaking and everything was packed in a tupperware or trunk.

Finally, I put my flashlight in my pocket, grabbed a brush, and groomed Tristan in the pitch dark. I'm not sure I could have done that with just any horse, but I kept one hand on him and one hand on the brush, and talked or sang softly to let him know I was still there. I ran my hands over every bit of him, the swoop of his withers, the scar on his left hind, the bit where his mane falls on both sides of his neck. He paused eating his hay every so often and stood quietly and tucked his head in toward me, letting me trace his blaze and kiss the softness of his nose and fuss with his ears the way I used to when I was teaching him not to be head shy.

Then I gave him some peppermints in his feed pan, and latched the door, and sobbed for the first 15 minutes of my drive home, great big wracking sobs that hurt my throat and that I just couldn't stop. Leaving good places is never easy, no matter how good the next step will be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I realized recently that I have good progressive photos of Tristan's feet throughout this whole debacle. Things at least are continuing well - no sign of re-infection, he's comfortable and happy, and the foot is clearly growing out just fine, with no weakness or scarring in the new hoof from the coronet band. It still looks awful, but it's more cosmetic than anything else.

He'll get a vet check before we move to Vermont, and I'm on the fence about getting more rads done at that time. We'll see. The good news is there are excellent farriers at the barn in Vermont, so we'll continue to get great care going forward.

Without further ado, here are the pictures.

8/16/12: Abscess bursts. Note the crack at the toe.
9/13/12: Second abscess holes below the first, which was dug out. Crack still at the toe.
10/18/12: Growing down quite nicely - new growth from the coronet band, toe crack almost gone.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vermont or bust!

So I can finally announce my exciting news: Tristan and I are moving back to Vermont!

I've been saying for years now that my life goal is to move back to Vermont and buy a horse farm, and now I have half of that goal accomplished. I've accepted a new job with a history organization up there, and my last day in the Boston area will be November 2.

I'll be going up next weekend to find a barn for Tris, but our tentative plan is to put him out to pasture for the winter, let the foot grow out, and then re-condition with lots and lots of trail riding in time to get back in action for the spring.

The good news for me is that board will be significantly less expensive in Vermont, so I may finally be able to start to rebuild the finances that have been wrecked by this summer's vet bills!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

All the Wild Horses

This article from Pro Publica is one of the most depressing things I've read in a long time. It exposes precisely what wild horse advocates have been saying for years: the current round up system is overloaded and broken, and thousands of wild horses are simply being taken from the wild with no clear end goal in sight.

It's bad enough that there are now more mustangs in holding pens than in the wild, but this article offers incotrovertible proof that the BLM is turning a deliberate blind eye to at least one man who is buying horses wholesale and selling them to slaughter.

Here's the thing: I have no fundamental problem with horse slaughter as a concept. They are livestock animals that are difficult and expensive to keep, and ending their lives in a quick manner is far kinder than letting them waste away in pain for years. However, the way slaughter is often done - shipping on overcrowded trailers, using the captive bolt system which has been proven inhumane for horses - is not okay.

What's even worse, however, is the logic of the current wildlife management system the BLM is pursuing. Think about it: does the federal government round up deer and put them in holding pens? Is a sensible wildlife management policy one that simply rounds up wild animals and holds them en masse? The argument is that they'd die in the wild; well, yes, they would. That's what happens to wild animals, sometimes horribly. It's life. It makes me sad, but it's a reality that the BLM would be better to go along with rather than thwart.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In which I provide pictures, finally

Nothing really new on the Tristan front. Flushing and wrapping. He is sound as a bell to the left, even on a tight circle, but still a smidge off to the right at the trot and canter. It looks clearly like a concussion sting, as the farrier and the vet both predicted, from the foot just moving a bit. He looks fine at the walk and is obviously comfortable enough to bear full weight and go for turnout. I could probably walk him on the trails without consequence but I have discovered over the last few weeks just how fragile feet can be, so I am erring on the side of caution and giving him time to grow and get more stable before I stress things.

In the meantime: the vet emailed me the rads of Tristan's feet, hooray!

First, from June 7: clean foot for comparison.
And now, with holes. You can see the top hole, and the bottom hole, and the track all the way down to the sole.
And the top-down view of the hole, showing its width as well. Eek.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lesson Notes: Sea Changes

So I finally sucked it up and put in a request to ride a school horse in my lessons going forward. I was worried and maybe a bit scared - I haven't ridden any horse but my own (other than to hack out at the walk!) - in years. Close to three years, I think. I can't actually remember the last time I did. I can make a decent guess, but that's it.

That's not exactly the way to get good as a rider, and certainly even five years ago I got on other horses with regularity, but my role has never been the get-on-and-ride-anything type of rider. I want to do well by the horse I have, and form a partnership with him, and I'm happy with him.

But I digress. I got to the barn and flushed Tris's foot and rewrapped it; all is proceeding as planned, and he behaved well. Then I checked in with T. and got a little Appaloosa lesson horse named Charlie.

I had a ridiculous amount of fun. There were a few moments when I felt guilty, actually, I was having so much fun. I had...maybe not forgotten, but I had been so out of touch with the idea that a properly trained horse, who has the buttons installed, who has a willingness and a base of athleticism, is magic.

First things first: Charlie, though he looks a bit on the stocky side, is surprisingly narrow to sit on, especially for someone with longer legs. The effect of this was to seriously unbalance my seat for the first 20 minutes or so as I tried to figure out the geometry of it all, which pleased T. to no end as one of my bigger flaws is my tendency to let my leg swing. Tris has such a large barrel that it took up leg even when I didn't have it right where it needed to be. Take away that barrel and I was floundering.

Then he got on me and worked hard on me for about 10 minutes on a circle and about halfway through it clicked: oh yeah. I can do this after all. And then I was deep in the saddle and keeping my leg on and connecting to the bit through my core. Not all at once, and T. nagged me for another 10 minutes or so when I started slipping, but by the end of the lesson - as he told me afterward - I was snapping back on my own.

I hadn't ridden a horse on the bit in the canter in years. Which is depressing as hell to admit out loud, but I didn't even realize it until after I'd gotten Charlie warmed up, and I asked for a canter, and all of a sudden he was soft in the mouth and I could half-halt and hey, there were his hind legs, and I could adjust the canter, and it was awesome. Sigh.

I admit to feeling a bit smug, maybe? I have watched this horse in lessons for years and years, and I had formed the idea that he would feel a lot like Tristan. I couldn't have been much more wrong. He put up only token resistance to the ideas of bending and going round, and then tried to cross his jaw - which T. said was, for him, a sign of the next level of resistance, but once I learned the feel it was easy enough to wiggle him out of - but when I put leg on properly, he was there, and when I stabilized with the outside rein, he went into it. We were looking and feeling terrific by the end of it, and he looked in the mirrors as good as I've ever seen anyone ride him, and I felt awesome and then I realized I was feeling superior to 10 year old lesson kids and adult re-riders so I should get the hell over myself already. But it was still a nice boost in confidence.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

And the verdict is...


After extensive physical examination, four or five different views on the rads, jogging up and back, and a consult with the farrier, the verdict from the vet is that my gut was right. Tristan just has a whopping big hole in his foot from the abscess.

It was kind of freaky to see on the rads, honestly. You don't like to see holes in your horse's foot. But we were able to clearly see that there was no involvement whatsoever with the joint capsule or the coffin bone, no hint of a keratoma, no pedal osteitis, and the big lump above his coronet band is just a particularly nasty bit of scar tissue that will need to grow down.

The farrier's opinion is that another 4-6 weeks of growth will make a big difference in his comfort level as the holes will grow down far enough to make the foot much more stable. Probably the holes won't grow out entirely for another 6 months at least. For the foreseeable future he'll need to be flushed and wrapped regularly to make sure no new debris gets caught in the tunnels in his foot and re-start the abscess.

Farrier put a shoe but no pad back on so that the foot can continue to flush properly. The vet tranq'd him for the shoeing so he would behave, and he was pretty stoned and pathetic. He got about 2/3 of the way through his soaking before he started to wake up, and since he couldn't have hay, he was pissed about the soaking. It was an adventure.

I'm glad to know that nothing truly dangerous is going on, though, even if it will be a while before we're back in action. He's losing muscling across his back, and it hurts to see. We should be back in serious work just in time to be stuck in the indoor for the winter, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The New Normal

I had a dream last night about galloping my horse, really giving him his head. It was a nice dream.

The farrier took a look at Tristan yesterday and determined two things. First, he has a drainage hole on the bottom of his foot, too, on the toe in line with the other holes. Not a huge surprise and even a bit of a good thing as now there's a clear entrance and exit for flushing.

Second, he is so sick of being fussed with that he behaved incredibly poorly for the farrier. So poorly that the farrier could not get a shoe on the RF even with help from barn staff. I was not pleased; it's important to me that my horse behave politely for the professionals in his life. Back to remedial pony school for him.

I got to the barn last night to see that the antibiotics had been delivered, huzzah. We've got the routine down, now. Flush with betadine and hot water with syringes with very thin tips, disinfecting the length of the hole. Then soak with his new soaking boot (more on that later) for 30 minutes. Then mix up the antibiotics, pack the hole, cover with gauze, cover with vetwrap, cover with duct tape. The whole process takes about an hour and a half.

The vet's coming back out soon-ish to check up and to take an x-ray. Tristan is only a tiny bit tender on the foot, which the farrier is convinced is simply some movement of the hoof wall from the sheer size of the hole. If he were more lame, I'd be worried about bigger problems. I'm still concerned enough to want the x-ray, but it should be more of a confirmation than a surprise. Resectioning is still a possibility, but something the farrier is firmly against.

I finally asked about a schedule, and pending the vet visit, it looks like another shoeing cycle will make a big difference in Tristan's comfort level on the foot. He just needs to grow out more foot to be more stable. So another 4-6 weeks, and maybe we'll be back on track.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Area 1 Scholarship Program

I'm part of the Area 1 Scholarship Committee, which awards four people each year with a small grant to pursue educational opportunities in the sport of eventing. It's all Hannah's fault, really; she emailed me with instructions to talk her out of volunteering to help create the program, and that ended up sucking me in too.

It's been an amazingly rewarding experience. I was deeply humbled by the applications we received: so many dedicated, brilliant, talented people who shared their lives and their dreams with us. I cried at more than a few.

As Hannah just posted, our first two recipients have written up their experiences [PDF]. We have our two fall applicants picked and confirmed. It's well and truly off the ground and I couldn't be prouder. Eventers helping eventers: awesome.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Never anything halfway...

Apparently the vet said something like "oh, wow" when confronted with Tristan's foot today.


The infection is pretty bad. He's off at the trot. The protocol going forward is as follows:

1) Keep soaking, epsom salt + betadine + warm water. There may indeed still be a walled-off abscess above the coronet band that will need to burst.

2) Keep the hoof wrapped at all times. No matter what. Nothing can get in there.

3) Along with that, make sure the hole is thoroughly flushed and cleaned out whenever the wrap is off.

4) The vet is mailing me an antibiotic called metronidazole. This acts specifically on anaerobic bacteria, like he's got filling his hoof. When it arrives, I need to mix water with the powder and create a paste the consistency of toothpaste, then pack that in the hole(s), then cover with gauze, then wrap with vetrap/elastikon, then duct tape.

5) Probably he will be on stall rest, or at the least very limited turnout. This is not a function of injury per se, rather that I am not confident his foot will stay wrapped if he gets too active in turnout.

I'm trying not to be too worried. We'll proceed with this protocol, and then check back in with the vet next week. If the infection doesn't show improvement, we may have to talk about cutting away some of the hoof wall to expose the anaerobic bacteria. If that happens, we're talking about months of recovery time. :(

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supreme Mustang Makeover Video

Dear Tristan,

The mustang in this video was only adopted 90 days ago. Our seven year anniversary is coming up fast. Do you think maybe we could work on cantering on the bit sometime soon?

PS - enough with the abscessing, already.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review: The Horse Boy

The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son
by Rupert Isaacson

I've had this book on the shelf for ages, having been keenly interested in the subject matter. The first barn I ever rode at was also a therapeutic riding center, and I've heard about the incredible strides that autistic children are sometimes able to make on horseback.

I gather from the many thousands of reviews on GoodReads that this was a hugely controversial book. I don't know enough about autism to really analyze the book from that perspective. Was Rowan "healed"? Is it even fair to say that an autistic child can or should be cured? Were the shamanic experiences that Isaacson sought part of Rowan's incredible gains, or is that simply correlation without cause? Certainly the way Isaacson structures the narrative and tells the story means that he wants us to believe, as he believes, that this journey is what helped his son. I gave my copy of the book to a friend who is currently doing graduate work in special education and has a wealth of experience with severely autistic children; I'll be interested to hear his opinion if/when he gets around to reading it.

What I can comment on with some knowledge are the horse bits in the book, and they are...not good. Isaacson first discovers that his son, Rowan, responds to horses when Rowan escapes and sprints between the legs of a neighbor's mare, Betsy. Rowan sprints up to a lot of horses during this book, and Isaacson's theory is that there is some instinctive communication going on between the autistic boy and the horses. Specifically, he describes the horses' reactions as submissive. Here's a typical passage:
And there it was again, the horse's head going down, the licking and chewing, the voluntary submission. At least Rowan would be safe with the horse. (Chapter 9: Fits and Starts)
Okay: to my knowledge, no equine behavior expert has yet pinned down the licking and chewing reflex specifically to submission. It is displayed in tandem with other submissive behavior, yes. That doesn't necessarily directly mean anything. I've observed it in other distinctly non-submissive situations. My best understanding of it is that it means the horse is thinking about something and processing. I do tend to interpret it as a positive signal when I'm working with a horse on the ground, but the pure submissive/dominant interpretation of horse relationships frustrates me.

Isaacson claims a wealth of equestrian experiences - foxhunting, dude ranching, and he seems to have the basics of dressage down - but he often talks about horses in a way that make him sound like a complete idiot. Case in point:
Even so, when I did have enough money, it was only enough to buy something cheap. The horse had to be athletic enough to hunt and do shows, but at the meager price I could afford the only such horse would be a failed racehorse off the track. And these, as all horse people know, come with one fatal flaw - they are complete lunatics. (Chapter 5: The Adventure Begins)
No they aren't, jackass.  I'm not even going to bother to deconstruct this one. He's flat-out wrong, that's all.

Isaacson displays questionable horsemanship in several other situations - riding Betsy into a "lather" repeatedly by galloping her endlessly just to please his son, for example. He never once, in the entire book, mentions wearing a helmet. For that matter, since his journey with Rowan, he has started a therapeutic riding center for autistic children, and in one photograph that accompanies the book, has three kids piled bareback on a saintly-looking bay gelding that he's using a dressage whip what, exactly? Encourage into some kind of Spanish walk? The kids aren't wearing helmets. One of them is wearing Crocs. In short, it's a photo right out of an illiterate Craigslist ad.

Not all the horse stuff is bad. Some of it is just there, in the background. For every horse person there are at least two opinions on the right way to do something, and there were plenty of things that I didn't agree with but weren't disastrous. Overall, it really was a good, thought-provoking and occasionally touching read, and I actually would recommend it - just so long as you turn a blind eye to his horsemanship from time to time.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Queen Elizabeth's Saddle Pad

We interrupt this regularly scheduled horse blog to insert massive historical geekiness.

This blog post, about a saddle pad once owned and used by Elizabeth I of England is amazing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mixed Success

Long trail ride again Thursday night, and then today I took him out and put him back into a bit of work. We spent about 20 minutes at the walk, focusing on getting loose: bending, stretching, stepping up into the bit. All of it with mixed success. He was not thrilled to be on the bit (even a teensy bit) instead of walking the trails on a long rein.

I did two trot sets of 5 minutes each. He didn't feel great, though he evened out toward the end. I think what I'm feeling is mostly out-of-work stiffness, rather than unevenness. I picked up a canter very briefly, both directions, for just one or two 20m circles. Right felt fine. Left felt AWFUL but stiff and choppy awful, again.  Sadly, he was breathing a teensy bit after the second canter, near the end of the ride, which tells me that I will have some work in building him up again.

I did finally remember to take some pictures of his post-farrier foot, with a bit carved away to really make sure the abscess drained. I'm still flushing it after every ride to make sure it stays clean. I'll try to get some better pictures outside next time I go down.

You can see the first abscess hole, and above it the new hoof growing down (thankfully!), then below the second smaller abscess hole.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back in the saddle again!

YES. I got down to the barn Tuesday night and put Tristan on the longe line, after a report from the farrier on Monday indicated there was no reason the abscess shouldn't be on its way out.

Sound at the walk, trot, and canter, both directions, even on the relatively small circle I used!

So I jumped on bareback and we had a 45 minute hack through the woods. He was so happy - charging right ahead, sometimes too fast as he took me onto side trails that hadn't been cleared in some time. I did a lot of ducking and grabbing mane. Nice, big, swingy walk and happy horse.

After the ride, I flushed out the abscess holes with hot water + betadine. The farrier had dug around a bit in the hoof to make sure it was clean and open, so his hoof looks pretty awful right now. The good news is that the hoof is clearly growing out more or less ok from the coronet band again; there's definitely a rim of new hoof above the abscess hole. It'll probably take a few months to clear up completely, but there should be no lingering abnormalities. I wrapped his foot with an Animalintex poultice pad just to be

I'll do the same again Thursday night, and then Saturday morning I'll put a saddle back on and start schooling again. He's been off for about four weeks at this point, so we'll take it easy with lots of walking and loosening up and a few trot sets.

Monday, September 10, 2012

King Oak Fall Horse Trials

I had every intention of taking photographs with which to illustrate this post, and...forgot. Ah well.

I scratched Tristan from the Beginner Novice, but still had friends going, and already had the day off, so I helped pack and load ponies on Friday, then drove out to King Oak. We arrived in plenty of time to do the course walk, and my heart did hurt a little bit - we could've handled it just fine.

In bed by 10pm after some pizza, and by "in bed" I mean an actual bed! For the first time in years we weren't sleeping in the truck, thanks to R.'s very generous offer of sharing her hotel room. It was lovely to have air conditioning and a proper bed and a shower. Unheard of for horse showing!

I helped clean tack and hold horses until my jump judge briefing at 8:15, and started to get a bit nervous during the briefing - the wind was picking up, and it was quite cold and cloudy. I told my jump partners that I'd walk out and meet them there, and went back to the car for my jacket.

I was sitting with two young girls and their babysitter, and so ended up doing the recording and radioing in myself, explaining eventing to the non-horsey babysitter (who was very nice and interested, and really picked up on things through the day) and answering questions for the girls. We were at a decently large Training fence for the morning, a sort of squared off stacked logs rolltop with some airy spaces in between. Fairly straightforward. It jumped just fine all morning, as it was soon after the water and usually by then horses were going.

Problems started when it started raining. Basic rain - not so much a problem. I mean, it was wet and miserable and the girls were not thrilled, but so it goes. I mostly kept my sheets dry and during a break ran to put my bag with my Kindle and cell phone in a dry car, and then resigned myself to getting soaked. The girls headed off, leaving me to judge the Beginner Novice fence with another set of jump judges, and at the end of the first BN division it started getting ugly. We heard thunder in the distance, and the wind and the rain picked up, and they called jump judges in when the radar showed a big, nasty storm cell close by.

I ran up to sit in the truck with J. and whew, the skies opened up. We waited an hour, and then they called off cross-country for the rest of the afternoon due to the forecast. I walked back up to the volunteer tent to drop off my things and stayed for a bit to help sort through forms to get them ready for tomorrow, then checked in to find that they were running BN in the morning, and R. was staying over in order to run her horse. King Oak was able to provide stabling, so huzzah for them!

I hung out at the volunteer tent and ate dinner waiting for that decision, and then was able to get back to the barn, soak Tristan's foot, wrap it up (more on the wrapping adventures later), and be home and in bed by 10:30. Whew.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Soaking, soaking, soaking

Not much new to report. Tris is now off at the walk as the abscess processes. He's definitely draining - if not always visibly, there's always a stain on the hoof to indicate goo. It seems to be coming both from the coronet band and from the newish hole a bit below the coronet band.

I'm soaking with epsom salt and betadine. Two days ago, I poured epsom salts, betadine, and hot water into a diaper and then did a wrap of that diaper, vetrap, and duct tape over the two holes. Last night, I did a sugardine painted directly onto the holes followed by the diaper, vetrap, and duct tape, and dried off the hoof and tried to get the duct tape to attach directly, in the hopes that it would last longer.

I did chat with the vet the other morning, and despite my valiant efforts to get him to spend my money, he said there was nothing to do but wait it out. Sometimes abscesses just hang around in the hoof and keep channeling around. I forgot completely to check in with them about the gassiness, too, in the hopes of preventing future colics, so I will have to call back this afternoon and at the very least order another tube of banamine for Monday.

I also want to check in with the farrier to see if he can just put eyes on Tris's foot during his regular rounds on Friday, and call Smartpak to see about doing a digestive supplement. Most of them look formulated for hard keepers or nervous horses - neither of which is a good description of my horse! We'll see what they have to say.

Tomorrow is a day off to make a Smartpak run to pick up some Animalintex poultice to wrap Tris's foot with, some assorted supplies for friends, and then to pack up the ponies and head out to King Oak. I am sort-of grooming for Hannah on Friday, then volunteering at King Oak all day Saturday. A bit bittersweet that we won't be running after all, but with the continuing problems I know I made the right decision, and I have plenty of friends to cheer on.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Chosen By a Horse

Chosen By a Horse: How a Broken Horse Fixed a Broken Heart
by Susan Richards

My mother lent this to me a very long time ago, and now that I am no longer in graduate school, I've been working through my backlog of loaned and long-ago-purchased books. I picked this up to head off to a long weekend at a house in the White Mountains, and it suited lazy hammock reading nicely.

Richards has a very straightforward, simple writing style. Probably about half the time it worked for me, and the other half I felt frustrated that she was clearly describing things far too plainly. I can tell there's a good, knowledgeable horsewoman in there, but several times I spotted her dumbing down her descriptions or analyses for a broader audience.

The story of Lay Me Down really was touching, and well-told. The mare sounds like she was utterly wonderful, with loads of personality. I'm not sure she "fixed" Richards; as another reviewer pointed out, the battles with alcoholism and abandonment were in Richards' past by the time she adopted the mare. If there was some more profound connection between the mare's story and Richards moving to a new phase of her life - I didn't get it.

The only parts that truly annoyed me were some of Richards' horsekeeping decisions. More than anything else, her decision to enclose her barn inside her pasture and then...leave the stalls open all day, let the horses wander in and out of stalls seemingly at will, and feed them wherever they hung out, sometimes in the aisle, really, REALLY grated on me. I'm not sure what she expected would happen with an alpha mare and a small enclosed space. That's an accident that should NEVER have happened, and from descriptions later in the book she really had no intention of fixing the problem.

Anyway. Those reservations aside, this was a pleasant enough read. It didn't change my life, but I also found it quite readable and read to the end - something of a feat for me and books recently.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Again. Some More.

So, my horse has an abscess.

No, another one.

Or maybe the same one.

Do I sound like a broken record? I feel like one.

I was away for the weekend, and left anticipating that all I would hear was that my horse had some lovely walk/trot sets to ease him back in slowly. I was thinking, maybe I'll ride him in the lesson on Tuesday, even if we just do a bunch of trot stuff.

Then I got the text that he was off at the trot and there was some discharge from his foot - that same right front. #@!@!%$#%@

I got to the barn tonight to see a nice lump about 1/4" below the coronet band, quite hot, with a pinprick hole or two in it. He'd been soaked by awesome friends over the weekend, and I bought more epsom salts and betadine on the way to the barn to keep going.

I was frustrated, riding the tail end of a long weekend, and we had some bad moments early on in the soaking but I took a deep breath and apologized to him. We both stood and sighed for a moment, and he behaved from then on.

I'll call the farrier and the vet in the morning. Farrier just to take a look; vet to try and talk them into getting me some antibiotics and then coming out to see him on Monday the 10th when they're looking at another horse in the barn. I'm not sure it will work, but I can always hope. At this point, I don't want to chase this around anymore with soaking; I worry about it going more systemic.

He'll stay in tomorrow and be good and mad at me for soaking tomorrow night, but hopefully after talking to the vet & farrier I'll have a better plan of action. I'd like to be done with this already.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Here we go again

This post was supposed to be all about how I trotted my horse last night, and even bareback around the ring for a few minutes it felt good, and he's sound, and we're going to ease back into work, and so on and so forth.

A few minutes after I got off, though, he pawed at his hay a little bit. Okay, I thought, he's begging. Then he pawed some more, and when I got back from putting his bridle away, he was laying down. Then he got up and circled his stall and pawed some more and wasn't eating his hay.


So I started walking him, and a helpful friend went to check on the possibility of some IM banamine. No dice, so we dosed him with half a tube and started walking, and walking. About 15 minutes later he really started getting that peaked colic look: hunched and yet distended belly, labored breathing, worried face. His gums were quite pale.

I had my hands on the phone to call the vet when T. came out and watched him walking and reassured me. I had in fact seen him pass some manure not long after I rode him, and he had gut sounds, so there was clearly some movement. We kept walking. Another 20 minutes or so and he started easing up a little bit at a time: his walking became more natural, his breathing a bit easier, his gums a teensy bit pinker.

It still wasn't fast enough for me so we gave him the other half of the tube and kept walking. All told, I walked him for about an hour and a half. I let him stand quietly when he wanted to. He sniffed the ground quite a lot but never quite offered to roll. When he started mugging me for treats again when we paused, and T. went back up into the house, I put him on the crossties in order to strip his stall - I didn't want him adding anything to his stomach, and wanted to be able to see every bit of manure he left.

He pawed up a storm on the crossties but it was already starting to look pissed off instead of painful. I put him in his stall and he started rooting around for hay, getting little wispy bits but not much more. He stood in the open stall door and pawed and pawed and glared at me, clearly furious that I'd taken away his dinner before he finished. Within 30 minutes of being back in his stall he'd pooped, peed, and passed copious amounts of gas. Just a little over three hours from first noticing symptoms to being totally comfortable with his recovery.

This is not new for him, unfortunately. He's a very gassy horse to begin with, and when he adds anything to that mix he can get colicky. I wish he didn't, and it terrifies me every time, but he has clear and recognizable symptoms and I always keep banamine to hand for precisely this reason. Next time the vet is at the barn I'll get another tube, and we'll talk about some maintenance things to help him out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Obsessive Organization: Tristan's Medical Binder

Given that we're currently wrestling with a medical issue, it was fitting that I spent time on Sunday going over Tristan's medical binder and getting it ready for the next few years to come. Yes, years.

I have a system. It is meticulous and yet simple, and I love it. I spent a lot of time creating it and tweaking it to suit us just right, and I am quite proud of it. Here it is, in a nutshell.

The main tool of the system is a three-ring binder. Within that binder, years of medical records are separated by tabbed dividers. I usually keep the current year and 1-2 years previous as well as 1-2 years upcoming, which means that his current medical records sit in the middle.

Each tabbed section contains two parts: overall calendars and specific invoices.

At the beginning of each section are twelve monthly calendars. I use for just a basic, no-frills blocks calendar. Behind these twelve months are all of the invoices for all of Tristan's care, in chronological order. If an invoice (say, for a farrier bill) is smaller than a page, I tape it to a blank page and then three hole punch that.

Whenever he gets any treatment, I write a quick note on the day of the treatment itself - something as short as "vet - spring shots" or "farrier - trim." I usually include the name of the professional as well, just to keep track of our help through the years. Each type of visit is color-coded: green for the vet, blue for the farrier, so on and so forth. I made myself a key to the color-coding that lives at the front of the binder so I don't forget. I color-code by highlighting the first word - "vet" or "farrier" - of the entry. If there's an invoice, I then file it behind those initial sheets.

Now I have both an at-a-glance overview as well as an easy way of finding more information. Every two years or so, I take out a few years from the back of the binder and file them in my larger filing cabinet, again by year, and then print out another few years of at-a-glance calendars for the binder.

There is also a folder at the back of the binder that contains some miscellaneous things not necessarily date-related: copies of his radiographs, feed labels, his vitals.

In the front pocket of the binder I keep my current boarding agreement as well as five or so copies of his current Coggins. Whenever we get a new Coggins, I always file the original pink carbon copy as well as one clean copy in the back part, and then make many copies to go in the front to use up as needed, replacing the ones I keep in the trailer, tack trunk, etc.

I've used this system successfully for three years now. It was a bit of a pain to put together - backfilling all those records - but it's worked brilliantly going forward. It provides a good visual reference for how recently he's had his feet done, or had a massage, or when the vet did spring shots last year, and it gives me the confidence that I have all the information I might need right at my fingertips.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Slowly, Slowly

Last night, I put Tris on the longe line: sound at the walk and trot, a bit stiff at the canter but in a way that suggested to me he was just unbalanced and out of work, rather than hurting. Huzzah! He was also fresh  - well, for him - and kept picking up a trot when I'd asked him to walk, and even gave me a little flourish in his transition into the canter.

The abscess site looks like it's healing well. I scrubbed it with betadine and soaked it, then iced his leg while getting my trailer ready to haul this weekend. The leg is still a bit spongy, but after chatting with J. I agree with her that it needs to be worked off at this point.

So, he will go back under saddle at the walk and have something of a rehab schedule, working up to trotting and cantering again slowly to make sure the leg clears up as we go along and he doesn't get stressed too much.

I'll keep soaking his foot through the weekend, and probably then hold off unless I see signs of a renewed problem. The abscess looks to be cleared up at this point, thankfully.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Onward, Upward

Tristan's slowly, slowly getting better. The leg is down a bit; the hoof is a bit more stable, but still draining. Per the vet's advice, I put him on the longe line: sound at the walk, iffy at the trot to the right (when he had to put more weight on his RF).

I soaked for an hour (two 30 minute sessions with water as hot as I could get it), then iced the leg and gave him a gram of bute. I'll do the same tonight. I can see the path and the destination, but I don't quite know how long it will take to get us there.

I sent in my withdrawal to King Oak today. I'm holding off on a decision about Valinor until Thursday; I still have hopes that we'll be able to go and do a dressage test, though I may just cancel it altogether and focus on something like, say, the October Beland schooling show. There's also the possibility that the barn will go to the October Hitching Post schooling show, where we had such a good run in the spring, and there's the Groton House Fall Classic. Then there will be a multitude of hunter paces for experience in that regard.

New goal: finish the fall on a high note, getting him out and running around, and re-focus on some specific improvements that I want to see over the winter in our dressage. I have half-seriously said in the past that he will probably never canter on the bit, but I would like to improve his canter, to improve our transitions, and overall get him more consistent in the bridle.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Best-Laid Plans

Things have been happening so quickly I haven't updated. To recap: last Thursday Tris was a bit off. I blamed the crack in his RF, and scheduled him to get shoes on Friday.

Wednesday morning, he came up quite lame in the RF, and stayed inside. Thursday night, I went down to check on him/ride, and he was very VERY lame - and leaking copious amounts of pus from an abscess that had burst through his coronet band, in line with the crack. His leg was also quite stocked up. I am about 99% sure this is the same abscess we dealt with some months ago, that just never quite blew out before.

Friday morning, the farrier saw him, put shoes on, and said he was getting near to done draining, but to keep soaking his foot. So I've been doing so. There has been some reduction in his leg, but it is not cool and tight. The area around his coronet band where the abscess blew is still open, still hot, and I believe still draining a bit. He's also still got a clear pulse in the leg, so: still working through.

He went back out for the full day on Sunday, and I was hoping the leg would go down with some walking. No dice. It also didn't get worse overnight, so there's that. I checked in with Mass Equine, and they weren't worried just yet. Tonight, I'm to put him on the longe line and see what he looks like at the trot, and bute him for a few days to help resolve things. I'll check back in with him for a few days.

I don't feel comfortable putting him back into work with his leg blown up like that. If it continues through the middle of the week, we may have to scratch Valinor this Saturday. With everything that's been going on, we've fallen behind on our prep. If his leg isn't magically better tonight, tomorrow morning I'm going to scratch from King Oak.

I'm an odd mixture of heartbroken and zen. I am pretty clear on my options, and pretty clear in that I don't think we're ready for King Oak, and even if he were magically better tonight we'd be hard-pressed to get ready. Scratching tomorrow, on the closing date, gets me a refund to re-direct toward hunter paces and schooling shows in the fall. Then, who knows? The possibility of getting to a recognized event diminishes greatly if I scratch King Oak, but it doesn't vanish. We'll keep working.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

200 Situps

I've felt for some time now that my own physical preparations for riding were lacking. My schedule was so crunched, however, that there was no time I could scrape out regularly to exercise more. I would go to the gym with my boyfriend, using his pass, when our schedules lined up, but other than that, not much on top of riding.

While away on our road trip, my sedentary lifestyle and road food meant I gained a few pounds. I don't really have body image issues, but I noticed that with that extra weight came a bit of a tipping point of lethargy. I've been losing energy for some time now but this was my signal that something needed to change.

I've instituted two small things that will help turn around, and in the coming months might visit the idea of getting my own gym membership and making sure I carve out time to use it.

The first is that I've downloaded the 200 Situps app for my iPod Touch. I followed the program for a few weeks a few years ago, and liked it. So far, I've found the app is a good way to keep track of where I am with the program. It was only $1.99, and it should help my core strength. I'd love to add the squats program too, but I doubt my knees would take it.

The second is that I've redoubled my efforts to eat better. I've always been vegetable-averse but I've let that slide the last few months into generally unhealthy eating. In the past, I've successfully and happily made healthier lunch choices. Time to go back to that. Lunch today was melon, cottage cheese, some whole wheat crackers, and water. I've packed some protein granola bars for snacking to stave off the temptation to grab fast food on the drive to the barn.

It's late in the season to be pushing hard on this, but if I can get myself back into better habits and carry them through the winter, next summer will be much better.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Welcome back, have a crisis!

I was already a bit nervous about being away for two weeks on a road trip. It had been a complete mental vacation: certainly I missed Tris and I missed riding, but we were so involved in what we were doing that I wasn't planning and fretting constantly like I usually do, so I felt behind the ball.

My nervousness was not helped when I pulled him out of the stall and looked at his RF. He's had a small toe crack there for a little while now; I've been keeping an eye on it, and had asked the farrier to come check it just before I left. He did so, and took the toe down pretty far, but there was some crack left. While I was gone, the crack moved aggressively. There was some flare on the right side of the hoof, and a bit of a bulge at the coronet band in line with the hoof. None of which I was a fan of.

Crack in RF, with a bit of flaring all around, worst on the outside.
Side view. If you look closely, you can see a bit of a bump near the coronet band, about where my car's tire is.
He was reluctant to go to work, but not off, and he is reluctant to go to work on the best of days. I did not ride particularly well, and was second-guessing myself quite a lot, wondering if I should pull him up. He took some off steps, but he was never lame, and when I pushed, he moved quite nicely.

Nevertheless, as soon as he settled back into his stall I called the farrier. We've had this conversation before, when he had his abscess: he's working with more intensity than ever before, and wearing down his feet much harder. The quality of hoof is still great and rock-hard, but the quantity is lacking. I'm sure that contributed to the aggressive growth of the crack. He's certainly chipped away at his toes before, but he's never had a crack move like this before.

It was pretty clear to me that the crack wasn't going to heal without help. After almost seven years of going barefoot (save for one cycle in which we tried to support his heels with absolutely no difference in his way of going, so pulled the shoes), he'll get four shoes all around on Friday, with pads & packing in the front to support. I am a bit sad; I really though we could make a go of it. Perhaps somewhere I could control his turnout environment completely, and check him every single day, and work with a farrier who specialized in barefoot trimming, we might've. I can't help but feel like a bit of a failure - either because I've pushed him too hard or because I haven't managed his gorgeous feet well enough. All those conflicts are internal, though. I've always said that I would get him shoes when he gave me signs that he was no longer comfortable barefoot. We're there.

He was pretty pleased to get some extra hand grazing time while I got my camera.
The cherry on top was the call this morning from the barn that he was sore on his RF, probably from riding last night. So I feel rotten about that. He'll be on stall reset until Friday, when he gets his shoes. I'm not quite sure what to do about the XC school we have planned for Saturday. It may be that he just needs the support of shoes, and he'll be totally sound. It may be that he needs some time off to adjust.

Going forward, however - we are entered at Valinor on Saturday following, and King Oak after that. King Oak closes on the 21st of August, so he needs to show significant improvement by then or I might consider scratching him. I'd be heartbroken to get so close to our goal of going recognized and have to cancel it, but - that's horses, I guess.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lesson Notes: #$#!@ Outside Leg

Balance, balance, balance: between forward and supple, between solid in my aids and position and soft and forgiving, and of course the good old-fashioned kind.

Some nice moments, but overall inconsistent. We touched on consistency a few weeks ago, and haven't climbed back up that mountain. He'll swing and get soft and round...and then fling his head up and lose it five minutes later. I'll lock in with my seat and have soft hands...and then he'll jut his shoulders out and I'll get a bit out and it spirals down from there and ends up with a rock-hard and static left rein.

I'm fighting some unevenness in my own body right now, too. There's something slightly odd going on with my left hip that I need to overcome that's making it more difficult to keep my left leg really wrapped around. I can't quite nail the feel of a solid outside rein while tracking left.

In all? Productive lesson. Good lesson. Once again more proof that if I could just ride, if I could just be in the right place and give the right aids, he would be going so well, but when I break up my own fluidity it just...disintegrates. It's like juggling fifteen fresh eggs and as soon as I drop one the rest go splat, and then I have to walk all the way back to the fridge and start the juggling routine again, one egg at a time, before we approach that level again.

Tuesday night was my last ride for nearly 2.5 weeks; I'm away for two weeks for a long-awaited and long-planned-for vacation. I arranged for the best barn kid ever (which could so honestly apply to half a dozen kids at our barn, which is amazing) to sit on him during that time, and deeded over my two missed lessons to her. Probably I'm going to have to eat crow when I come back and she's improved him dramatically in just two weeks, but - I'm okay with that.

When we get back, life starts to fly fast and furious: XC again at Scarlet Hill, followed by Valinor at Elementary, followed in short order by King Oak. Home stretch!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This was never going to be a week conducive to rest and relaxation. I'm leaving for a long-planned vacation/road trip on Friday night, and there are dozens of small details I still have to arrange before then. Work is work. I'm facing up to some major changes in my life going forward.

However, two things right now are particularly heartburn-inducing.

The first is that I just mailed my entry to the King Oak Farm Fall Horse Trials. This is it. This is what we've been working toward all summer: our first (and likely only) recognized USEA horse trials. I've obliterated any semblance of budget I may have had as well as a few savings accounts to get us to this point, fretted and stressed and worked hard in every single ride I had available to me, shunted all other commitments to the side. After all that work, I'm still not sure we're ready. Oh, we'll be safe. Tris will go around. We certainly will not be competitive, but then my goal was always to complete, not to compete. But will it be a good, positive experience for both of us? Will I embarrass my friends and my barn and my trainer? (I worry a bit as well about embarrassing myself, but I'm more or less used to that.) I wish I didn't feel so sure that this is our one shot, and I wish I didn't feel such pressure to do it right. I wish I could be one of the many hundreds of people who surely enter willy-nilly and without carrying so much baggage.

My secondary panic is tied to the above: I'm stretching every bit of financial give I have. I had planned out the summer carefully but not allowed enough of a buffer, and I've had to dip into some savings accounts to round out the edges, and that stings. Last month there was the vet bill for the abscess; this month, my jump saddle needed billet repair, the truck needed new brake calipers & hoses, and my car insurance came due and increased in price. I spent the first three weeks of July running under budget and in the last week went $1k over. I am by nature a financially cautious person, which is at odds with being a horse owner. There are plenty of internet jokes about the expense of horses, but the hard truth is that owning a horse? Is a really, really poor financial choice. That becomes apparent to me in very dark moments when I realize that many other life possibilities are closed off by horse ownership, especially when I rely 100% on myself for all of my plans - buying a house, having kids, doing any sort of traveling that doesn't involve my tent.

Most of the time I cope. This week, on top of all the other planning and figuring out and anticipation, it's got me nearly constantly on the edge of a panic attack.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Volunteering at Fitch's Corner

Fitch's Corner is one of my favorite events of the year. It hosts the Area 1 Championships alongside a regular horse trials, right on up through Preliminary. That particular area of upstate New York is especially gorgeous, filled with farms and old houses, and the rolling hills and valleys make the drive scenic (and slightly terrifying for those of us with trailer driving panic attacks). For the second year in a row, we camped at a lovely little state park about 25 minutes away, saving on hotel costs and giving me an excuse to break out my beloved tent.

We arrived Thursday, and on Friday, as last year, I took the day to do some sightseeing. Last year I went west, to Hyde Park; this year, north, through the Hudson River Valley to hit a few museums and combine business and pleasure. I also had lunch at the Eveready Diner which was tasty if a bit overpriced (much fancier than the "diner" label would suggest...).

Saturday, I fence judged for cross-country. Briefing was at 6:30 a.m., which worked out well since Hannah had to feed & prep Tucker for their 8:08 start time anyway. Fitch's is a fabulous, really high-end event, and their attention to detail is phenomenal. They don't have the organization of King Oak - which remains my gold standard for military-like precision in the running of its XC - but they have style and are incredibly generous. For my services, I got a great new hat, good food all day, and an insulated lunch bag.

I spent my first shift at Training fence 14, a big hay feeder that jumped well all morning. After some years of totally uneventful fence judging, I had to stop someone for the first time. A rider had clipped a flag earlier on course in such a way that she hadn't actually jumped the jump, which meant she was eliminated when she jumped the next fence. I was asked to hold her up and take her off course. It went well - there was a nice big gallopy stretch leading up to my fence that I could stand in to flag her down.

My next fence was a Prelim coffin, offset and while not huge, quite technical. I enjoyed watching that one, as you got a clear sense of the different styles and techniques involve in navigating it. I also picked up my second hold of the day when a fence later on course broke and I had to stop a rider after my fence, complete with timing. I stopped the rider, started my stopwatch, and then realized it was Bruce Davidson. So that was a moment! It was only a few minutes of hold and then I sent him on his way and reported in the time of the hold. New experience, nice adrenaline rush, but I was glad that it went perfectly.

Third fence of the day was a v. straightforward Novice rolltop before a bank, and for that I got to sit under some shade for the first time. I lost my radio as the fence judge after me reported for the whole bank complex, and it was by far the most relaxing of my fences. I didn't have a BN fence, which worked out neatly, as unfortunately Hannah and Tucker had retired on course earlier that morning and we ended up going home Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday.

I love being a fence judge, especially when I'm stationed by myself. It's low key but very important, and it lets me be in control of my own private kingdom, ordering my things about my chair, taking down information, listening in to the activity around the course, and doing some reading and relaxing, all while watching horses go cross country. Perfectly lovely way to spend a day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

Last Saturday, Hannah and I took the boys to Scarlet Hill for another cross-country school. We got there a bit late - my fault, I had an hour in my head as the travel time and it was closer to an hour and fifteen - but tacked up quickly and were over and warming up by ten minutes after our start time.

We shared our lesson with a woman on a big, powerful, brave Dutch mare that looked like a tricky ride - very eager! Not my kind of ride, I think, but clearly quite athletic. She and I ended up doing many similar patterns and courses.

Tris and I followed up on our work from the last school: land and go, and work on setting a pace between the fences that would help us to build confidence, jump fences out of stride, and maybe not get overtaken at our next event. After some of our galloping practice in the back fields at home, I was feeling more confident about pushing him for more speed.

We started with a few big loops of straightforward soft BN fences, and I urged Tris forward after every landing. He felt great right off the bat - clicking in with me, going when I asked him to. We had one squirrely moment at our second fence of the first course, a fairly straightforward coop. It wasn't anything to do with him looking - it was just my lack of focus on the center of the jump. Once I locked in, he did too, and jumped it just fine. D. suggested that for the first few fences on course, I actually sit back down and bring him back earlier than I would otherwise - as many as ten strides out instead of five or six - just to make sure I had his attention.

Really, I was thrilled with him the whole day. The only rough spot was when we did some slightly more technical work, slicing some fences and then coming back to do them as an in-and-out. We're not great at related distances anyway; Tris has a shorter stride, especially when I haven't really gotten him forward. Our first run through gave us an awkward 3.5 stride with a launched takeoff in what should have been two. We resettled and sliced a few more times, and then were tasked to run it again, then turn left and go up a decently steep hill and jump a BN house fence at the top.

This time, we did it in a nice smooth 3 strides, and I really pushed him up the hill. He dug in for an extra gear and got to the top of the hill chuffing and excited, and once I found the fence, he shot right toward it and jumped it in style. It was probably our best bit of the day.

We had one more big loop run, which had some pieces I wasn't thrilled with; he was getting tired, I think, and I slacked off on the land-and-run imperative. We finished over a ditch, and he jumped it nicely though I need to work on my form over the ditch.

We stood while Hannah and Tucker jumped some very impressive, very large jumps in style, then cantered through the water a few times, then home! Exactly what we needed: confirmed our previous lessons learned, and built in some confidence going forward.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Beland Dressage Schooling Show

On the whole, I was really, really happy with how we both did.

I got to the barn Saturday night and rode. Remembering my day-before ride from Groton House, I really pushed us both to get to a place I wanted - supple and forward. I may have pushed a bit too much, as it was hot and humid and he took a long time to get his respiration back under control. Then I hosed him off for a long time, killing many awful greenhead bugs, and spot-scrubbed with shampoo. I packed up the truck and went out for a sub for dinner and spent a lovely evening snug in the back seat of my truck, reading and relaxing.

I woke up bright and early the next morning to see everyone else head out for a XC school, then had a leisurely breakfast and finished packing the trailer, hitching it up, and getting ready. Tris was cranky and nervous when I arrived at his stall so close on the heels of breakfast, especially with all the other activity - he knew something was going on, and he didn't want his Sunday routine ruined. He paced his stall, and whickered, and wouldn't stand still for me to groom him.

We ended up leaving quite a bit earlier than planned, and made good time getting there. I settled in by checking with the secretary and laying out all of my clothes and his tack, and then ran into another friend who used to board with us, who was there coaching one of her students. I watched her and her student and explained some things about the show to the student's parents, and then it was time for me to get ready.

One thing I would change was that I got ready way too early, especially with the temperatures as high as they were - mid-90s all day, with minimal shade. I was doing mostly okay, but Tris's energy was not great, and there was only so much warmup I could do I got him where I wanted him, but we were way too early, so we went over and stood beneath a tree and rested for about 10 minutes, then did a few canter circles to get revved up again.

First test We hadn't settled back in like I hoped, and I completely and utterly blew the left canter. Botched the lead twice, and as a consequence blew the whole geometry of the figure. He just didn't have enough oomph for the transition, which is in a tough place in the ring for us anyway. We did much better with the right lead, and I was really pleased with a couple of points, namely our stretchy trot, which has come a long way.

We walked back to the trailer and pulled off his bridle and shucked my show coat. He drank nearly an entire 5-gallon bucket of water, which for him is HUGE. He's not much of a drinker off-property. That told me a bit about how hot he really was, and for the rest of the day I offered him water every time he stood still. We rested for a bit and chatted to the people in the trailer next to us, who were very nice and knew of T. and Flatlands. Tristan fell asleep - actually asleep, closed his eyes, cocked a hind leg, and jumped when I went over to put the bridle back on.

I waited longer to tack him up for our second test, and after a little bit of trotting and making sure our bending was still accessible I stood up off his back and urged him into a bit of a hand gallop. Beland has these big gorgeous fields to warm up in, and it was late in the day, so there was plenty of space. I did get some stares, but opening him up did exactly what I wanted it to, even made him a little hot. We stood still for a few minutes, then opened up to trot around again when the person before was finishing her test.

This test went much, much better. I had more energy, more accuracy, and felt better overall. We nailed both canters. The stretchy trot wasn't quite as good, but the free walk felt great. I was pleased with several of my transitions, and with my ringcraft - knowing when and where I could look less than perfect but be more effective in getting him back together. The judge smiled and asked what breed he was after our test, and he was tiiiiiiiired walking out of the ring, happy to stop and stand still when I dismounted and chatted to a woman after the test who was really, really excited to meet a mustang. I gave her some advice about picking one, and gave her the name of Tristan's rescue to go check out for some more gentled ones.

Tris wanted very badly to eat grass, but I wouldn't let him, not as close to hard work as he was. He drank another half bucket and got sponged off, then a bit of a walk around the parking lot area to make extra sure he was cooling out appropriately. He went back on the trailer with a relative minimum of fuss. I've tried a slightly different technique to load him by myself: standing on his right side and half-walking on the trailer with him, then sending him up the rest of the way and doing the butt bar with my left hand, standing on the right side of the divider. That seemed to work rather well.

Then there was a whole lot of hanging around, reading a book, eating a few handfuls of animal crackers (no food vendor meant I hadn't eaten since a bagel for breakfast!) while he ate hay. It took forever for our class to finish and to get pinned, and then we headed home. 5th in Training 1, 7th in Training 2, but I was especially pleased to see a 61% and change for the first class, and a 66% and change for the second! Exactly what I was hoping for.

The drive home was tedious, because everyone and their cousin was driving home from the Cape and 495 was bumper to bumper. Rather than overheat Tristan by standing in that, plus getting home even later, I took semi-back roads and got a little more stressed by constant red lights than I wanted. Then settling him in, unpacking, cleaning out the trailer, parking the trailer (about which more later), driving the truck back to my parents', throwing in a load of laundry and taking an incredibly long shower, ordering half the menu at McDonald's, and getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic...didn't get back to my apartment and in bed until 10:45. Whew.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Holy Cushy Times, Batman

I am wavering between confidence - I am an adult! I have been handling horses for many many years now! - and nervousness - I've never shown 100% on my own before - about Sunday. It's too late to rope in a barn kid. The boyfriend has expressed his lack of interest in ever being at the barn. It's just going to be me and the pony, with possibly a friendly neighbor's helping hand if he flat out refuses to self-load.

I just got a shot in the arm when I checked the Beland Stables website to find my times - Training 1 at 2:12 p.m. and Training 2 at 3:32 p.m. Wow! Maybe some kind of karmic repayment for being the first person to go all day in my ring at Groton House?

This is much, much better. It means I can leave at a semi-reasonable time in the morning and still have plenty of time to groom and tack up at the show itself, without feeling rushed. I figure I'll plan on getting there about noon to allow the butterflies to settle, to really lay everything out and get it done slowly and methodically instead of rushing.

We had a good prep lesson on Tuesday night, as Tris gave me another reason to love him when he didn't bat an eye at the neighbor's fireworks party. We ran Training 1 and T. liked it, giving me a few good pointers (if I think I'm over-correcting for the bulge of his left shoulder down the center line, then I'm right on) and pronouncing it overall a fair representation of where we were. Which is really what I'm aiming for. I figure there's not a huge need to ramp up a training schedule for a straight dressage show. I, like many people, shed months of work when I go into the ring, and cramming the last few days won't change that.

I do have a goal for Sunday, beyond not screwing up, and that is to be braver/more forthright about my warmup. To date, I've gotten nervous about really putting my leg on in the warmup ring, and allowed his nervous flailing to substitute for forward, which then (predictably) fizzles out when we get into the ring. I'd like to bring more of our actual training level into the ring. We'll see!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Death in the Wild

Life with Tristan continues apace. Dressage school last night in the back field, working on keeping a good forward rhythm no matter what, and controlling the shoulders in the canter.

Today I'm thinking about another horse-related project that has been brewing in the back of my mind for a long time. In my day job, I'm an historian and museum worker, and just completed a Master's degree in history and museum studies. I study military history, and made the switch to nineteenth-century American when I did my graduate work. My thesis was about the early days of the First Dragoons, and in doing that I became fascinated by the patterns and intricacies of life in the American West.

My next project - to begin in earnest in the fall, after giving myself a summer of from school work for the first time in years - will be about perceptions of the mustang through history. I'll be documenting that blog at my other history/professional blog, Amblering.

In that vein, I read a blog post today that fascinated and touched me and reminded me that there is so much more going on inside my little mustang's head than I will ever really know about. He was four when he came off the range; he'd lived a rich and varied and intense life. Someday I'll post a picture of the scar above his right hock, perfect teeth marks on either side of the big tendon there.

Barbara Wheeler is an equine photographer who specializes in mustangs; I've loved her Facebook updates for months now, and she wrote this detailed account of the death (euthanizing, more properly) of a herd stallion, and the social dynamics among the herds that accompanied his fall.

I'm not sure I agree with the actions she and others took to humanely euthanize this stallion - life in the wild is cruel, and painful, and I have never been one to cry over the plight of mustangs living a perfectly natural, if violent and short, lives. What's done is done, however, and I appreciate the keen observation she brought to the situation.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Galloping Practice

I have been pondering my XC run at Groton House Farm, and asked J - who had a good vantage point for a large-ish sweep of my run - whether I had been going too slowly, or whether the person following me was going too quickly.

She confirmed that I need to add quite a bit more pace to get around, and also added that in order to get and keep that pace I'd need to get up and off his back more. Which I knew, so here's confirmation that it's my next focus.

T. did chip in that going clean comes first, then you add pace, but we seem to be more or less okay with that part (pending exposure & experience, of course), so I was ready to work on pushing him in the gallop last night.

I looped my stirrups (note to self: stop being lazy and punch more holes, already) and we headed off out back. He warmed up a bit sticky at the walk and trot, but was clearly pleased to be out of a ring. Once I had him moving out at the trot, we added in a bit of light cantering around one of the jump fields with me off his back, asking for forward but not reaching for much more than that. I worked hard on keeping my leg on, staying connected, and occasionally tapping him with the crop when he backed off.

Then we added in some more speed, and I worked on not just maintaining but urging him forward from my galloping position. I had a few heart-in-throat moments, which proves to me that a) his steering, especially left, is still not entirely confirmed and b) I still have some getting over myself to do in regards to riding at speed. Particularly downhill.

We weren't out there terribly long, but we were out long enough for my calves and thigh to start to burn, and when I pushed through that, we got to some really good stuff. He was really reaching for the bit and using himself better, picking up speed but without going completely unbalanced. We had a moment or two turning left, and I chose to sit down on him and bring him to a canter in some circles to get him off my left leg and more supple that direction, then sent him forward again.

(It's another symptom of our age-old differences between right and left. Tracking left, I get more power and straightness, but he is supple as a brick wall. Tracking right, he is wiggly and supple all over the place, but when I try to add in power and straightness, he drops out from underneath me. We cycle between those two sides every few weeks or months.)

We finished with a good hand gallop up and down the track, then walked back and had one last gallop up the track, and he was getting both a little tired and a little fresh. There was a moment when he put a foot a teensy bit wrong, and bobbled, and was so mad that he launched himself out of it without any urging from me, digging in for another gear and absolutely flying. When we reached the top of the track it took me several strides to bring him back and he practically pranced along the trail to cool out, he was so pleased with life.

The real lesson here is that he does have that gear in him, and when I can find it, he likes it. Now we have to be able to access it sooner and more consistently. Not only that, but earlier - we're not going to have the time or energy for that much running around in order to get there at a show. Part of it is definitely a fitness question, so that's the first we'll address, and hopefully in keeping up these sessions I'll unlock that gallop earlier.