Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tristan's Eye Problems

As I've posted before, it's not unusual for Tristan's eyes to get weepy and itchy during the summer. He's had that challenge for as long as I've owned him.

This summer, however, we just can't keep on top of it. Our most recent bout meant a vet call; he got his tear ducts flushed, went on oral antihistamines, got steroid ointment in both eyes, and had an initial dose of banamine to get the swelling down.

About 10 days after that vet visit, his left eye started getting goopy and a little swollen again. Back on the oral antihistamines he went, and we started up regular flushing with saline solution. That was last Tuesday. Then he ran out of the oral antihistamines and the vet is having some trouble getting him more, so he went on a lower-powered one that the barn had around as a stop-gap.

Here's about what it looks like right now; photo taken on Thursday after flushing.

He's now wearing his fly mask 24/7, and has been switched back to the last few bales of the old hay. He actually seems to be making some progress on that regimen. The swelling is down slightly, as is the discharge. We've actually eased off on the regular saline flushes, which is happier for all concerned as he is a jackass about them. (I can't really blame him, honestly.) I'm examining the eye closely on a regular basis and the red irritation is easing. There's never been the slightest sign of cloudiness or any problems with the eye itself, both per the vet and my own continued monitoring.

The only thing I can think is that the Cushing's is depressing his immune system and leaving him more susceptible to eye problems. Probably he gets them slightly irritated from his normal allergies, and then rubs and rubs to itch them, and then escalates the problem. Hopefully as he settles in with the medication his own body will start to fight back a little better.

Blog Hop: Horse Clothes

I am so very far behind in this blog hop that I totally missed the official code for it, but I was folding laundry the other day and thought "self, you have a really embarrassing number of horse-related shirts, and you need to share that with the internet."

Aside: does anyone else mentally separate clothes into work clothes, barn clothes, civilian clothes? I think I wear non-work, non-barn clothes mayyyybe once a week. Possibly I need a life.

Fancy technical shirts for riding on days when I need to dress up. On the left, from the Bromont CCI3*, which I've blogged about before here; on the right, from my old barn.

Get it? I ride a mustang? There are a surprisingly number of mustang-the-car themed shirts and other gimmicky things that I feel tempted to own.

The two left I got at an Equine Affaire; the right suits my mood sometimes...

One of my all-time favorites, a gift from a dear friend, and a discontinued design on Threadless. The ponies have, from left to right, a stick of dynamite and a six shooter on their butts.

Remember when Life is Good made equestrian t-shirts? This is still a favorite of mine. I deeply regret not getting the eventing & dressage ones when they still made them. (If you can't read, it says "Hold Your Horses" and the little stick figure is giving the horse a hug.)

Sorry this picture came out so poorly, but: Rolex! I picked this up for, no joke, $12 at the clearance tent on the way out after showjumping. It's a men's small, and has only fairly recently shrunk with washing to look not ridiculous on me. It was the only t-shirt I saw all that weekend in my colors (gray & black) and I had to have it.

Volunteering t-shirts! Left and right are Vermont Dressage Days from different years (so in love with the new one I got this year, on the right!). Center is King Oak; for all the many times I've volunteered for them I usually take pens. This is the only t-shirt I ever took.

College stuff. I went to college in Vermont. T-shirts would not cut it. LL Bean quarter zip fleece on the left, LL bean insulated jacket on the right. These are both approaching 12 years old and I wear them constantly and I am probably going to have a small breakdown when they finally wear out. I should call up my old coach and have her put me on the next order...

I think I am missing one of the other My Little Pony t-shirts, but you get the idea. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972)

HELL YES this movie is on its way to me. Expect a review when it arrives. In the meantime, enjoy epically bad 70s hair pretending to be colonial.

Long[er] Slow Distance

Starting to push the boundaries a little. Tris recovered just fine after this ride too; pulse of 50 while eating his post-ride hay. Probably 75% of this ride was on grassy hills, and the remaining 25% on the road. He started off slow like molasses, but the last mile was a bit of a faster walk. We had one very short spurt of trot toward the end just to see what he would think, and he thought he wanted to GO HOME, NOW, so I posted very defensively and let him trot huge for 50 yards or so, then brought him back before he grabbed the bit and just went.

So this was Thursday night; I followed it up on Friday night with 12 minute of longeing. Yes. 12. I got stuck late at work and then realized I did not have nearly as much time as I thought I did to get back in to town to meet the fiance for our new cricket class. I threw myself a small pity party, and then decided that some work was better than no work, slapped a longe line on Tristan's halter, and did 3 minutes of walk and 3 minutes of trot each way.

The plan for Saturday night is about 2 miles, and then projecting the week ahead to do 2 more long rides like this one, interspersed with longeing. Sunday he gets up to his full dose of pergolide, and I'll start scrutinizing his overall demeanor and recovery even more closely.

Friday, August 29, 2014

New poll: longeing or lunging?

New poll! Visit the blog main page to vote.

How do you spell that thing you do where you attach a long line to your horse and then fly it like a kite in a circle?

Do you longe?

Or do you lunge?

Vote now!

Longeing Regimen

In addition to Tristan's long slow distance hill rides, I've been longeing 1-2 days a week.

Whole lotta gear. Half pad, surcingle, elastic thingy, longe line, chambon, side reins.

Typically we start out with a walk both directions with the chambon and the elastic thingy. 

When I first started back up with the longeing, I tried out the side reins, to see if they worked for him now that he had a better idea of self-carriage.

NOPE. I don't have pictures, but he basically inverted his neck and braced against them and never once softened and in fact was clearly building strength in all the wrong ways. Back to the tack box, side reins.

I do really like the chambon, though. It's firm but gentle, and it reinforces the things I want, namely, don't keep your head at a 90 degree angle to your body. It does not do anything about his nose, simply encourages a lowered poll.

Clearly we have some work to do, both on my photography skills and on his tendency to fall on the forehand in the trot when I'm not nagging every step.

See what I mean about the chambon, though? He is, yes, a bit on the forehand but he's actually doing a little bit of coming up through his back thanks to not having his ears in the rafters.

All's well that ends well!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Poll Results

Last week, I posted that I was starting to ride in half chaps more and more often, and asked you all what you chose to ride in. The poll closed yesterday, and the results?

Surprisingly split, with an edge toward half chaps. Thank you all for participating! I'll have the next one up soon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Internet: An Appreciation

This is just to say thank you. Thank you all for existing, and being awesome, and supportive, and clever, and kind.

I've so appreciated every comment I've gotten about Tristan, all the encouragement and sympathy and helpful advice. I treasure every one. I'm sorry if I'm perpetually behind in responding to them!

I was thinking about what an amazing thing the internet is, that it would connect all these people from different places and different backgrounds, and I thought about the friends I've made. All those late nights typing and laughing and reading and watching things together. I came up in fandom before I ever horse blogged, and it's so wonderful to have those bonds over the horse part of my life, not just the geek part.

So, thank you - yes, you - for being you.

Announcing: New Equine History Project

I am an historian by training, preference, and profession. I've been looking for a good research project for a little while - something with the right mix of potential and possibility, something I can accomplish and remain interested in.

The longer I've lived in Vermont, the more amazed I am that no one has researched and written a good history of the first Morgan horse, Figure.

So, here we go. If you'd like to follow along on my research and writing adventures, follow the new blog: Figuring History. I'll talk about American history, equine history, politics, genetics, exceptionalism, the horse-human relationship, economics, early print, and so much more.

I will only occasionally update on the project on this blog, so if it's something you'd like to follow I encourage you to check out the other blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

(In)formal Blog Hop: Transformations

Inquiring minds want to know when a blog hop moves from informal to formal? Is there a tipping point number? Regardless, Niamh at Life of Riley proposed we show transformation photos.

Alas, we are not much further along than we were a few years ago, nor do I have all that many photographs showing when we did make progress. I do have something that promises to be hilarious, though.

Behold, the first dressage test I ever did with Tristan. August 2006. He had been under saddle for about 4 months.

Here is a BN dressage test we did at Hitching Post Farm in May 2012.

So not huge improvements in self-carriage, etc., but hooray for staying in the ring!

Misty Morning Ride

I am exhausted and sleepy and lazy, so here, have some pics from my early Saturday morning ride out. 2 miles exactly in 36 minutes, some pony picked up his feet much better on his way back to the barn where breakfast was waiting...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pergolide, Day 1

This is just to say that this morning, Tristan got his first dose of pergolide. I'd been reading a lot about the "pergolide veil," and the nasty side effects horses can have when starting the drug, so I designed a very careful tapering system for him based on the advice from the ECIR group. Today, he starts with 0.25 mg, and he'll be up to the standard 1mg per day in about 10 days.

I'll longe him tonight. Last night, I dropped the pergolide off and gave him a thorough grooming and couldn't stop looking at his topline and neck and getting teary. He does not look good right now, and I can't believe it happened so quickly. Here's hoping that he'll pick right up soon.

Book Review: Black Gold by Marguerite Henry

Black Gold
by Marguerite Henry

Otherwise known as, god damn you anyway, I wasn't doing anything with that heart, you go ahead and shatter it into a million pieces.

So for various reasons that I will talk about in a little while, I found myself at the town library seeking out Marguerite Henry books. I had zero intention of re-reading Black Gold, but there it was on the shelf, in the big hardcover edition, with Wesley Dennis illustrations. I couldn't not. (There oughta be a law about publishing Marguerite Henry books without Wesley Dennis illustrations: I'm looking at you, current crappy paperback editions.)

Black Gold is one of Henry's YA re-tellings of a true historical story, which actually sums up most of her canon, now that I think about it. It has the requisite boy who falls in love with the young horse, clever personalities, quirky details, and really wonderful writing. The real Black Gold was maybe not so mythical or personable, but in many essentials, the story is the same.

In summary: Black Gold is the son of the sprint mare U-See-It, owned by Al and Rosa Hoots and trained by Hanley Webb. U-See-It was banned from the track after Hoots refused to give her up in a claiming race, and so the decision was made to breed her to Black Toney.

Black Gold proved to be an excellent racer himself, and won the 1924 Kentucky Derby, among other stakes races. He was groomed and ridden by J.D. Mooney, who went on to be a celebrated jockey on other horses. Black Gold was retired for soundness issues, but proved to be a dud in the breeder's shed, so he went back to the track at age six. He broke down in a race in New Orleans: "on three legs and a heart, he finished the race."

Of all the things I had forgotten about Marguerite Henry - and it's been quite a while since I re-read her books - her writing was what surprised me the most on this re-read. It's not an easy story; while there is charm and sweetness in the early pages, the last third of the book is a heartwrenching story as Jaydee (Henry tells the story primarily through the lens of a young J.D. Mooney) recognizes Black Gold's soundness issues and has to make the painfully adult decision of stepping away from the horse. Hanley Webb is determined to race him and Jaydee can only watch as the horse is basically run into the ground.

In many ways, the final chapters of this book are incredibly adult for the audience. Hanley Webb's very real weaknesses and foibles take center stage and Black Gold's story becomes, clearly, a canvas for human frailty. His is not the story of the superhorse who retired to pasture, but rather the hard campaigner who tried and tried until he finally couldn't. In a softer story, Jaydee would have gotten through to Webb, and Black Gold would not have run that final race. Henry certainly pulls her punches in other historical stories (Justin Morgan Had a Horse stands out in particular) but not this one. The horse dies as a direct result of obviously poor decisions by people who should've been looking out for him.

As I said: not an easy read. But a really, really beautiful one. For example, here's Jaydee thinking about going back for Black Gold at the end of the book:
His eyes were set far off. He was thinking that all he'd be able to do for Black Gold would not be enough. He could sit bird-light on the little horse's neck. he could cluck to him with heart and soul. He could threaten him with the whip. But two things he knew - it would not be enough and it would not be fair.
In short: recommended, but have tissues handy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Scientific Trail Riding

Last night, I saddled up and we went for a longish hack. I'm working on three operating theories;

- I need to ride more, for my sanity and health and for Tristan's health;
- All the reading I do indicates that metabolic horses need regular, consistent exercise;
- Long slow distance is the right kind of work for Tristan right now: low-impact, muscle-building, and when it's done outside, good for his brain.

All those three things pointed to long hacks as our new standard ride, with occasional short ringwork 1-2 days a week.

So last night was the launch of some new metrics for our rides. I've used Endomondo before to track our rides, but last night I paid particular attention to distance and speed. I wanted to know how far it is all the way around the big hay field, and what Tristan's speed would look like if I rode him on the buckle the whole time.

So there's the answer. The big hay field is just about exactly 1 mile around. It's about a quarter mile away from the barn. Last night, I cut off part of the field because I wanted to hold him closer to 2 miles, but now I know we can go 2.5 miles just by leaving the barn and walking around the big field twice. (It also occurred to me we could do a 50 miler by trotting the big field 50 times, and then I thought about how unutterably boring that would be.)

Tristan was spot-on 3mph, or a 20 minute mile, for our first mile, in a really pretty lazy meandering kind of walk. At almost exactly one mile in, he blew out, farted, and eased into the work quite nicely, picking up the pace ever so slightly, still of his own choice. Our second mile was just under 19 minute, still at the walk.

Keep in mind that practically every single inch of this ride was on a hill of some kind: up, down, laterally. The only flat surface at our barn is in the ring. So he worked reasonably hard, in a good way. He was ever-so-slightly warm, and had about a 1" square spot of sweat directly under the girth. That speaks jointly to the technicality of the ride and to his muscle loss right now. I know it's nothing like the miles and pace some of you log while conditioning for endurance, but we all have to start somewhere, right?

On an impulse, I stopped by Walmart on the way to the barn and found myself an iPhone armband on clearance for $10. Score! None of my breeches have pockets, and my old cell phone holder is sized for a flip phone and doesn't work for the iPhone. So I'll be able to track his rides going forward more easily. I hope to build some statistics as he continues this work and as he starts on the pergolide.

On a personal fitness note, the last quarter mile, up the big long galloping hill, I did entirely in two point. 1/3 of the way I started to feel it. Halfway there was definite burn. The last 100 feet or so were agony. Good for the soul.

The Grieving Process

So, Tristan has Cushing's. I'm reading, and reading, and reading as much as humanly possible.

Today, I came across a new piece of information that I hadn't had before.

Pergolide is listed as a banned substance on the USEF medications list. It can be considered a "therapeutic" drug, which means that it can be used under certain conditions:

- it must be used for a legitimate therapeutic use only, ie directly for treatment of a diagnosed illness;
- it must be withdrawn within 24 hours of competition;
- it must be stated with a report documenting therapeutic usage.

As best I can understand, this is because pergolide mimics dopamine in the equine system, which is what horses with Cushing's are missing. Here's an excellent COTH article outlining the biology at work.

I know that my chances of making it to a USEF/recognized show with Tristan were slim, but this dashes them entirely. I'm not willing to withdraw him from the medication in order to compete. There is an outside chance that I can rig the medication so that he gets it say 25 hours before a class and then immediately afterwards, or I can just show on it and keep my fingers crossed that he's tested, but neither of those options is a good one.

I'm sort of unexpectedly heartbroken, all over again. I'd been slowly accepting that my hopes to show him were fading with age, opportunity, and my own funds, but it was nice to have that out there, to think that someday I might take him to a USDF show for the heck of it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Half chaps or tall boots?

I mentioned in a recent post that I have been riding in half chaps occasionally.

The half chaps were a gift from the same person who gave me the breastplate for free, and they are a very snug fit. They're older Ariats. I mostly took them because she was trying to get rid of her stuff and I thought "why not?" My previous experience with half chaps hasn't been great; for the past 6-8 years I have been a 100% tall boots rider.

I'm really, really liking these, though. I pair them with my Ariat Terrains, which I have long loved for trail rides, and they're light and yet still a bit grippy. They're ideal for the hill walking we're doing right now.

After a few people commented that they love half chaps, I decided to investigate my options for polling and it turns out that Blogger has a gadget for that now!

SO! Visit the blog page, look on the right-hand side, and cast your vote. Do you prefer half chaps, tall boots, a little bit of both, or neither? Comment on this post if you have some specific additional feedback to give.

New Challenges: Cushing's Diagnosis

I feel like this blog could just become a neverending round of "hey so here's another vet visit!"

I've been sitting on this announcement for about a week, because while it does help me with some answers, it's also kind of heartbreaking and difficult for me to process.

Two weeks ago, when the vet was out to take x-rays of Tristan's RF, she took one look at him and wanted to draw blood for a Cushing's test. More accurately, she wanted to test ACTH levels, which are indicative of a malfunctioning pituitary gland, which is the cause of Cushing's Syndrome.

Bloodwork came back last Tuesday. Normal ACTH levels are 9-35; Tristan is at 47.8. Definite positive.

I've been swinging wildly back and forth since then. On the one hand, it's a low positive, and he only has some mild symptoms that are very recent. He's still relatively young at 19, and he has a very good chance of responding positively to medication and being eminently manageable. Right now is typically considered a "high" time of year for ACTH levels, and they're usually more elevated than is typical, so even a low positive will be lower over the winter.

On the other hand, he's 19. Cushing's is typically an old horse disease. The very idea of Tristan as an old horse sends me into a horrible tailspin of anxiety, depression, and terror. I can't even touch briefly on the idea that maybe someday my life won't include him. My brain shuts down.

I've taken the first steps at management, emailing back and forth with the vet. We've switched his grain to Blue Seal's Carb Guard. For now, he's on limited grass and we've made no changes to his hay. His pergolide is on order, though it is delayed.

His biggest outward symptom is muscle wasting. With that in mind, I've been rethinking my riding program. I need to ride more often, and I need to focus more on long slow muscle building. I'm pushing to get out and walk the big hay field almost every day, which is about 40 minutes of hills, either up or down. Hopefully a balance of that with some longeing and dressage mixed in will keep him mentally with me (usually he burns out pretty quickly on a more intense schedule) and will let him build muscle. Once he gets on the pergolide, I hope we can give him the support he needs to really get it back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Horseback Balloonist from 1798

Here, have some absurdity on a Tuesday morning. From Wikipedia:

Pierre Testu-Brissy (1770 - 1829) was a pioneering French balloonist who achieved fame for making many flights astride animals, particularly horses.

Testu-Brissy made his first balloon ascent in 1785, and the first night ascent on June 18, 1786, in a hydrogen balloon. He made the world's first electrical observations on June 18, 1786, as he ascended into thunderclouds, and said that he drew remarkable discharges from the clouds by means of an iron rod, carried in the car.

Testu-Brissy's first solo ascent was on September 18, 1791 from Paris. He subsequently undertook more than 50 flights in his lifetime, including the first ascent on horseback on October 16, 1798 from Bellevue Park in Paris. He and his horse made more than fifty of these documented flights.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday Hack

Quiet-ish hack on Sunday, snuck in between rain showers.

Love this field.

Summer working students on ponies, plus dog.

I...have no idea what exactly all that is. Tris was confused too.

You know you're an eventer when! So much stuff.

Dipping my toe into the half chap world. I've never worn them consistently before.

Fall is coming.

The redheads.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Is My Horse Forward?

If you've been reading my blog for even a tiny amount of time, you may have picked up that one of my biggest struggles with Tristan is to get and keep him forward. He is a naturally behind the leg horse who feels quite firmly that unless there is a mountain lion behind him, he should be saving his energy for the moment when that mountain lion appears. (Corollary: unless there is an actual mountain lion actually chasing him, then yawn. No spooker at shadows is he!)

So, forward. There are all sorts of classical definitions but at its heart "forward" means that the horse is willing and engaged and holds in himself the energy to do what is asked of him.

How can you tell if he's forward?

If you're like me, and you a) have a naturally lazy horse and b) actually like having a more laid back horse because you prefer not to get run off with, it can be tricky. You get used to a certain rhythm and speed and even a tiny deviation upward from that feels way forward! Even if it's not.

(Important caveat: forward is not synonymous with fast. Light-footed, speedy horses can be behind the leg as well. You'll see why in a moment, hopefully.)

Here are a few ways that I've been taught, over the years, to help figure out forward and that have all proven useful to me.

- Can I take my leg off my horse - completely, 100% off, daylight seen between my leg and the saddle - for a significant period of time, say an entire long side, and still have him move out with the same rhythm and energy?
- Can I feel the seeds of each gait within the other - ie, do I feel like I could transition from walk to trot, from trot to canter, and back down again without significant setup, kicking, sourness, etc? Once you think about it this way, think about feeling the trot or canter that could develop from your walk, it's actually a startlingly neat thing to have in your head.
- Is my horse willing to work with me - does he feel energized and ready for what's next, is he with me, do I have possibilities at my fingertips and is he at least open and accessible to my aids, if not always spot on?
- How am I using my leg? Am I nagging, or keeping it completely off? No extreme is good. You should be able to keep a good firm leg on without constantly kicking OR being afraid your horse will blow up. That firm leg should feel like part of a solid foundation.
- Is it easy to post - is the horse's movement and energy pushing me up and through so that it takes less effort to move my own body, as if I were sort of riding the wave of my horse's energy? Is it easier to sit deep in the canter if I keep my hips open - can I follow a steady, even rhythm, or conversely, keep that rhythm without major course corrections?
- If you're watching from the ground: what's the overstep like? Is your horse at least touching his hind hoofs to the edge of the front hoofprints? Does that overstep increase as your horse warms up? Have a mental gauge of your horse's average overstep: your goal in working is to increase suppleness to increase that overstep, but unless you keep those feet moving you'll get nowhere.

Anyone else have any tips, tricks, or questions they ask themselves to help figure out whether they're really forward?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Barn Car is Dead; Long Live the Barn Car!

First, a story. The last time I went car shopping, I dragged my mother to half a dozen different dealerships and sat in probably twice that many cars. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I kept saying "I'll know when I've found it."

Then at the end of the day, I sat in a 1997 Geo Prizm (in 2005). It had 70k miles on it already and on paper would not have been the right car. I saw it across the lot, thought "hmmmm," and went and sat in the driver's seat. I knew instantly that this was my car. Formalities were observed: we took it on a test drive down to the local library and looked up the Consumer Reports, negotiated with the dealership, but it was all a foregone conclusion.

I named her Callie, because I had just started watching Battlestar Galactica, and she was a far, FAR better car than she should have been. I put studded tires on her and drove her through ridiculous snowstorms when I lived in a town in the mountains in Vermont, population 831. I drove her to my first real job. I got in my first accident with her (minor rear-end, but still). I drove her to and from the barn after I got Tristan, long cold winter nights often crying the whole way because he had reared and bodyslammed me and on and on. I drove her so many hundreds of miles in stop and go traffic when I had Tristan at my old barn, parked her on practically every side street in Boston and Cambridge and Somerville. She was the car I had to stash when I stayed at my boyfriend's apartment that had NO parking. She was the car that suffered when our downstairs neighbor keyed her and poured glue in the locks and spat on the windshield and broke off the antenna and on and on after deciding that we made too much noise. (Examples of too much noise: dropping a quarter on the floor at 6pm on a Sunday; having 4 people over for brunch at 11am on a Saturday; opening a rolling closet door at 7pm on a Tuesday. It's a long story.)

Taken from this angle you can't tell that she has no clear coat and a dent on literally every single panel.

Whew. If you've made it through that sentimental wall of text, I applaud you. I've also done some burying of the lead. Yesterday, I brought Callie to the dealership and left her there, and came home with a new car. She'd been declining precipitously for a good year and a half. Parts were failing faster than I could keep up. She caught on fire twice. (Well, not actual flames, but HUGE clouds of smoke billowing from under the hood within seconds; close enough!) For the first time ever, she left me stranded on the side of the road and had to be towed to a mechanic. I opted out of the substantial work she needed to pass inspection and parked her starting in April. After 9 years and 157,000 miles together, it was time.

I'm not saying I didn't cry like a baby when I was driving away, knowing she was going to be broken up for parts. I get sentimental about these things. When I was 10 or so, my parents traded in the family van I had grown up with. I had to be forcibly removed from the car, I was sobbing and had my arms wrapped around the seat. Maybe not my proudest moment.

There, that's a truer representation...

Old on the right, new on the left. Molly is a 2011 Honda CR-V, chosen because I live in Vermont and the barn is many miles of dirt road away. Also, there is an actual policy on the part of the state to plow less in order to force people to drive more safely. Yes, really. It's not at all uncommon to have several inches of snow on the road and just go about your daily business.

So, welcome to the family, Molly! You'll be hauling bags of grain in no time. I've already moved the milk crate of essential supplies to her trunk, and in my world, essential supplies means a spare halter and lead rope. (I have used it on two separate occasions to catch loose horses that I found in the road, no joke.)

Arya approves, though it may be some weeks before I'm willing to let muddy puppy paws on the freshly detailed upholstery.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Vermont Moonlight 100: The Rest of the Story

A few weeks ago, I wrote my wrap up post on crewing for the Vermont Moonlight 50.

For those of you who wanted to hear the story of the ride itself, which was not mine to tell, Hannah has written it bravely and beautifully. I'm proud to call her my friend and glad I was there that weekend.

We interrupt this blog...

...for me to flail around with a nasty summer cold.

I have mostly had energy only to stay on top of real-life commitments, and even with that, spent a day home sick flopped on the couch with the puppy watching Dead Poets Society.

I have things to write about, but they will have to wait. Maybe tonight.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scribing at Vermont Dressage Days

I spent this past Sunday scribing in one of two rings at one of Vermont's bigger recognized dressage shows, Vermont Dressage Days. I'd been to the show in the past, when I lived in Vermont before, but this year I was asked to volunteer. One of the longtime organizers is a former co-owner of my barn and a friend. I said yes, of course - I am a sucker for any kind of horse volunteering, and scribing is close to the top of my list of favorite things to do. (It's probably a three-way tie between scribing, jump judging, and ring stewarding.)

Tools of the trade: order of go, tests, blue and red pens, water, tea, watch, and the wrapper from my breakfast burrito.

I was coming down with a bad cold, and it was a very long day: tests right from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. I've never scribed so many tests above Training level in my life, and once you get past Second level those movements come fast and furious. I had to take several breaks to shake my hand out.

What an absolutely phenomenal day, though. I have never scribed for a better judge, on so many levels. She was right on top of the game, and I can count the number of times I had to remind her to give me a score, or got mixed up because she gave too many scores at once, on one hand. I've never scribed for such an efficient, knowledgeable judge.

She also knew those tests cold. Many other judges I've worked with have had to take a minute or two when we switch test. Not this judge! All I had to do was give her the test, she flipped to her spot in the binder, and bam, we were good to go. Amazing. She gave a full range of scores (first time I've ever written a 1.0!) and I loved how she adjusted her expectations for the test in front of her. It was definitely the first time I've ever written "poll too low" on a Training level test!

I was also impressed and thrilled when a judge in training approached and asked to observe for the day. So not only did I get the judge's comments - which were insightful and spot-on - but I got the conversation between the judge and the student after and sometimes during each test as they compared the scores they had given. I also learned a TON about the inside track of becoming a USDF judge. Fascinating stuff.

Lunch was fabulous, and the show had rented an RV so that judges and officials could have a quiet place to relax. I got to eat lunch with the judges. Spoiled. Not only that, but there was a cooler full of cold beverages and a basket full of snacks at our booth all day and I got an awesome t-shirt. (Photo of that forthcoming.)

I'd volunteer for them again in a heartbeat, and I'm glad I did this weekend. What an absolutely incredible learning experience!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Eyes Have It

What do the the eyes have? My bank account, for starters.

I posted about how Tristan's eyes went from drippy to swollen and goopy.

I called the vet on Saturday afternoon, and she talked me through initial treatment: dose of banamine, flushing them out, cold compresses, and aspirin in his grain for a few days.

Banamine + aspirin + flushing + compresses helped on Saturday but everything was right back on Sunday, so I texted the vet an she agreed to squeeze him into her schedule on Monday. (LOVE a vet that texts!)

PSA time: This is a known pattern with Tristan. I was in touch with the vet quickly and monitored his eyes constantly. If your horse comes in with a swollen and goopy eye overnight and those symptoms are out of the ordinary for him CALL THE VET IMMEDIATELY. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. I can't stress this enough. Do not mess with eyes. Suck it up and pay the emergency call fee.

So: Monday rolls around. I am traveling for work an can't be there, but chatted with the vet after she saw him.

1) Both tear ducts were almost completely blocked. Vet suspects his allergies kicked it up a notch, he started rubbing his head, and created a cascade effect of swelling and irritation. So she flushed his tear ducts, which he was not a fan of.

2) She gave him another dose of banamine and left steroid/antibiotic ointment for his eyes, which both have a bit of conjunctivitis, the left more than the right. He will get that once daily for a week.

3) She also left an oral antihistamine for him, which he will also get all week.

That screaming you hear is my bank account.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Raining, Pouring, FFS, can I catch a break?

Tristan has had issues with his eyes for as long as I've known them. They get irritated very easily; they swell up a bit, they drip tears, and they seem to always be itchy. He wears a fly mask to keep him from blowing them up too badly on a regular basis. I've had his tear ducts flushed and it makes no difference.

Part of it is the way he rolls: he always griiiiinds his head into the ground, and isn't allowed on sand or arena turnout because he will immediately come up from a roll blinking and dripping tears after he's worked something into his eye.

This week, his eyes have been a little drippy and irritated, but nothing to the level of concern. Starting Thursday, we flushed his eyes with saline. Friday again. Today, barn manager reports that they are swollen and goopy and did not go down after flushing last night and turnout today.

So, vet call it is. GRRRRRRRR.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What the Vet Found

You may remember that about three weeks ago, my farrier raised some concerns about the way Tristan's RF was growing out and healing. Based on his experience, he felt very strongly that Tristan had a keratoma growing within his hoof.

Yesterday, I arranged for my vet to meet my farrier at the barn, and we did a full workup on Tristan. I also had a list of other concerns; I was worried that his topline wasn't building the way it should, and wanted to ask about supplementing with alfalfa cubes, and had a few other miscellaneous questions. (The most important answer: yes, you can add bute while a horse is on Pentosan.)

Waiting for the vet.

We started by longeing him, and I explained that I felt he was actually moving pretty well: lazy, but evenly and without obvious hitch. Slightly stiff, and tracking ever so slightly behind on the RH, but nothing that would even rise to the level of concern. We walked, trotted, and cantered, and then tested the trot/canter transitions. Then the vet took him in hand and spun his hind end to watch how he crossed over.

We did not flex. I can practically guarantee that Tristan would not flex clean, and to be strictly honest? I don't need him to. He is functionally sound and comfortable in the level of work he does. I'm still not sure if he'll jump again, and he certainly won't ever get to the level of dressage work that would require the carrying and thrust that would start to trouble him.

The vet agreed with me that he looked pretty darn good in his movement. Certainly he was just fine on that RF.

What's the catch? Well, when I asked about his topline, and we brought him out into the sunlight, the vet was immediately concerned. Keep in mind she saw him in March for spring shots, and before that in the fall, and then the previous summer and spring every 2-3 weeks for surgery follow up. She knows him pretty darn well, and she's a brilliant vet with an excellent diagnostic eye.

She didn't even hesitate. "I'm pulling blood right now, and we're going to test for Cushings. Even if he doesn't test positive, I'd like to start him on Pergolide. He looks terrible."

Keeping in mind that my vet is very blunt! Tris does not look like the picture of your typical Cushings horse, but he is 19 and he has a distinct lack of muscling on the topline. When we tossed the idea back and forth, other things fit with the picture. He's been urinating much more than usual over the last 6 months. He's been coughing more often in warmup over the last 2 months.

It's very early days yet, and Cushings is a very manageable condition. We should have results back next week. If his levels come back totally normal, the vet wants to pull more blood for general CBC panel and make sure everything else is adding up for him.

PSA moment: yesterday was a perfect example of why you should have a vet take a look at your horse once or even twice a year. I had a vague, pit-of-my-stomach feeling that things were not trending well with Tristan, but it took the vet who hadn't seen him in 4 months to immediately recognize the changes that had occurred in those 4 months. She had passed him with flying colors in March - even making a point of saying he looked terrific - and was able to clearly compare the horse in front of her with Tristan from March.

I admit, I was reeling a bit from her immediate diagnosis and all the research I was going to have to do to start managing him, and then we moved into part 2 of the day's fun and games.

The farrier and vet first conferred about why the farrier suspected a keratoma: the bulge in Tristan's hoof, and drainage holes at the toe. Farrier pulled the shoe, and we set down to work to take some x-rays.

Farrier had these super-nifty lifts rather than the vet's blocks!

We spent a good 20-30 minutes taking shots, looking at them closely, and then taking more shots from different angles. Vet needs to take a good long look at the x-rays at home, but on initial examination, everything looks clean.

Here's the neat thing: the farrier was 100% correct in what he detected. What he did not realize (or did not remember - since I had sent him the surgery x-rays before) was that Tristan's coffin bone was already compromised, that it had been carved up quite a bit during the surgery. The farrier was absolutely spot on in recognizing the subtle changes that came in Tristan's hoof once he was missing a piece of his coffin bone. I already knew I really liked the farrier, but I am HUGELY impressed.

What we'll have to do is compare the x-rays the vet took with the immediate post-surgery x-rays to make sure there is no additional bone resorption or remodeling. Vet and farrier both agreed, however, that if a keratoma really had formed at the coronet band and traveled down to the dark spot on the x-ray, Tristan would be very lame, and he's just not. 

VERY good pony getting his shoe back on.

The one remaining question mark is the drainage holes in Tristan's toe. They definitely shouldn't be there. They are tiny, but they are there. I offered to soak, and vet and farrier thought that wouldn't do much good. The farrier ended up packing the toe with Magic Cushion and putting the shoe back on. Vet said that if Tristan does come back positive for Cushings, that would explain why the drainage holes aren't closing - his immune system is compromised. 

So here's the takeaway:
  • his foot is almost certainly fine, whew
  • he almost certainly has Cushings, in the very early stages
    • bloodwork will come back next week, and then we will start him on a low dose of pergolide
    • I'll take an in-depth look at his diet and most likely switch his grain. Right now he's on Blue Seal Sentinel Senior, which I mostly like - but which according to some internet sources is fairly high in NSC, which he'll have to stay away from. Look for research posts about this in the future.

How Should I Feed My Horse Salt? Part 2

In Part 1, I looked at the different ways to feed a horse salt, and the pros and cons of each.

Here, in Part 2, I'll go over what I've done for Tristan in the past, and what I plan on doing forward based on my research.

Not long after I brought Tristan, home, he started displaying one of the classic signs of mineral deficiency: coprophagia. It was winter, he wasn't on grain, and he was out 24/7, so boredom was not really a factor. After a few days of reading and talking to people, I added a salt block to his field - a red trace mineral 50lb block. The coprophagia vanished overnight.

When he came inside to a stall part of the day about 9 months later, I scaled down to a 3lb block in holder. One of these:

It lasted about two weeks. Then he ripped it off the wall. I spent an hour sifting through the shavings to find the screw and put it back up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Soon enough, I decided that the convenience of a wall-mounted salt block was not worth the stress of worrying about him stepping on a screw. I tossed it in his grain bucket.

This worked most of the time, until he got to the end of the salt block. The little ones go faster, and break up into small chunks easier. It broke up so quickly that half his grain bucket was red salt, and he went off his grain because it probably tasted like nothing but salt.

After that, I turned to the Himalayan salt licks for reason of expediency: they came on those convenient tie ropes, and I could just tie one to the bars of his stall and not worry about a salt block holder.

But jeez, they were expensive, and he went through them about once a month - or sometimes much less time. They were usually the first thing to fall off the list if I had an unexpected vet visit or farrier bill. Eventually they became an occasional treat. He always loved them, but I was buying them at the rate and price of a good joint supplement!

Enter our move to Vermont. He started again with the coprophagia in his stall, and armed with my previous experiences, I went big: 50lb salt block, with a holder, in his stall. I picked red because of the added iron, and anything I can do to get more energy into him is a bonus in my mind.

Honestly, I just bought whatever was available at Tractor Supply, and there are some other options that might've been better as holders: some that hang over the side of the stall, for example. That would save me time fishing it out of the shavings in the back of his stall on a regular basis. But then, they wouldn't hold the small chunks at the end as well, so it probably evens out.

Since I've started doing this, he's gone through three blocks at a rate of about one every 6-8 months. I pay about $10 for them at Tractor Supply, depending on sale prices. Very affordable! But is he getting enough salt?

Let's say it's the inside number of 50 lbs in 6 months. That's 180 days, so on average 1/4 lb a day, or 4 ounces. Per my math, that's actually a little more than the approximate amount of salt for a 1,000 lb horse in regular work of 2.4 ounces. All things being equal, Tristan gets probably a little more salt than he should!

He does not, however, get enough to cause toxicity, and the amount he eats per day is highly variable. I'm going to assume he regulates himself.

So after all that, what am I going to do about his salt intake?

Absolutely nothing, actually. I set out to find out if the red, or added mineral, salt blocks were ok to feed him, and they are. I wanted to know if he was getting enough salt - and he definitely is!

Here's the only thing I might change: I might invest in an electrolyte supplement to add on days when he sweats more heavily in the summer. I'm talking very occasionally - once every two weeks. He's not much of a sweater, thanks to his desert heritage. 

So that was a lot of work and reading for no change, but I feel better overall about my decisions. They were admittedly made on guesswork and instinct, but they turned out to be ok. (Not always the case!) And I hope that going through it all on the blog helped someone out there make decisions too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Should I Feed My Horse Salt? Part 1

I've been wondering about this topic for some time myself, so I decided to do some research.

The basic premise is that sodium and chloride (the building blocks of NaCl, salt) are essential to a horse's diet. This article on minerals from The Horse suggests that a horse in no work should be receiving 0.25% of its diet as salt, and a horse in full work, sweating regularly, should receive closer to 0.75% of its diet as salt.
So, let's do the math: a horse should consume 2% of its body weight per day; for a normal 1,000 lb horse, that's about 20 lbs a day. 0.25% of 20 lbs is 0.8 ounces, or approximately one tablespoon of salt. 0.75% of 20lbs is 2.4 ounces, or approximately 1/4 cup of salt. So if you have a draft horse in the summer in regular work, your horse might need as much as 1/2 cup of salt a day!

It's tough for horses to overeat salt, especially if they have access to water - excess minerals will just pass through with urine. It is possible, though, for horses who drink briny water (in the absence of fresh, clean water) or flat-out eat a salt block. Symptoms include colic, diarrhea, and weakness of the limbs. Most people believe that horses will self-regulate, eating as much salt as their bodies need. Some horses may lick dirt or rocks, or eat the roots of plants and grass, in order to get at extra minerals when their bodies are lacking them.

(For fun again, here's the math. A lethal dose of salt for horses is considered 2.2g/kg. That works out to 2.2 lbs, or a little more than 3 1/2 cups of salt. Your horse would basically have to eat most of a 3lb salt block in a short time period.)

Horses get salt through their regular food intake: processed grain, hay, and grass. Most of the time, though, these food sources don't add up to enough, especially if the horse is in any kind of work and sweating. Salt is a key part of the electrolyte balance that allows a horse to function - see this article, again from The Horse, for a fairly long and complicated explanation of the role electrolytes play in equine biology. (You can do a quick Google or take a look at your grain bag label to see how much salt is in the grain, and you can almost always send your hay out to be tested for the same information, if you really want to get down into the weeds for this information.)

In short, you almost always need to supplement salt in your horse's diet. But how do you do that? Here are the most common ways, with their pros and cons.

Loose Salt

Exactly what it sounds like: loose salt, added to your horse's feed. You can add this in a couple of ways. Some people dress grain with it, much like a supplement, a tablespoon or two at a time. Some people leave out a bucket of loose salt for the horse to eat as it chooses.

Pros: Easiest to eat, practically guarantees a daily salt intake, doesn't take up room in a horses's stall or field
Cons: Salt might turn some horses off grain, overeager horses will eat too much, must be fed in a stall, could get expensive, might get skipped if you're boarding (like any other supplement)

I found argument both ways about exactly what type of loose salt to use: iodized salt for people? loose bagged salt for livestock? something in-between? No really clear answer here.

Salt Blocks: White

These blocks come in various sizes, from the small 3lb ones that you put on a wall to the large 50lb block that's pictured here. 

Pros: Inexpensive (usually $3-5 for the 3lb blocks and $10-15 fot the 50lb blocks), last a long time, can really take a beating, provide an entertainment value alongside nutrition
Cons: There is a school of thought that believes these blocks are meant for cattle, and a horse's smoother tongue cannot lick long and hard enough to get enough salt off the block. This school of thought argues that horses often resort to biting the blocks, which can cause TMJ and other jaw irritation and then lead to breaking off large, unhealthy chunks that can cause salt poisoning. They also take up space in a stall, whether on the wall or on the floor.

Salt Blocks: Trace Minerals

This is a fairly wide category; if you search at Tractor Supply on "salt block" you'll return a few dozen variations with different trace minerals. I've put up photos of the two most common here. On the left, a salt block with added sulfur; on the right, one with added iron. You have to look at the ingredients list for precisely what proportions of what minerals are represented. Each color typically reflects a different mineral composition. For the sulfur and iron blocks, they're about 95-97% salt and 3-5% other mineral.

Pros: Much the same as a plain salt block, these are inexpensive (maybe a dollar or two more than plain salt), durable, and slow a horse's consumption down
Cons: Same as above; are these really meant for cattle?

There is an interesting additional con to consider, however, and it's this one that sent me on my original research quest. Are the added minerals bad for horses? I did quite a lot of reading, and the most reputable sources pointed out that these are still mostly just salt, and that a horse would really have to consume a LOT in one day to reach any kind of overload on the minerals. That said: there are some that really should not be eaten by horses, so avoid anything that's specifically formulated for other animals like sheep or goats. (There are some minerals that can be overconsumed, selenium being the first among these.)

Some anecdotal reports suggest that feeding the sulfur blocks can be a sort of natural fly repellent, much like apple cider vinegar. There's no scientific evidence to support this. Sulfur is a necessary component of a horse's diet, but a tiny one, and they pretty much get what they need from their regular feed.

Horse-Specific Mineral Blocks

The variations in this category are endless. You've definitely seen these, and they are often marketed with various flavors as "treats." These provide quite a lot more in the way of basic minerals and nutrients.

For example, here's the nutritional analysis for the Dumor Horse Block:
Crude Protein (min.) 16.00%, Lysine (min.).60%, Crude Fat (min.) 2.00%, Crude Fiber (max.) 10.00%, Calcium(Ca)(min.) 1.50%, Calcium(Ca) (Max) 2.00%, Phosphorus(P) (min.) .60%, Salt(NaCl) (min.) 10.00%, Salt(NaCl) (max.) 12.00%, Sodium(Na)(min.) 5.00%, Sodium(Na) (max.)6.00%, Copper(Cu) (min.) 55.00ppm, Selenium(Se) (min.) .60ppm, Selenium(Se) (max.) .70ppm, Zinc(Zn) (min.) 150.00ppm, Vitamin A (min.) 10,000IU/lb, Vitamin D(3) (min.) 2500IU/lb, Vitamin E (min.) 250IU/lb, Animal protein products-free.
That's a LOT more stuff than is in any of the other salt blocks!

Now take a look at the ingredients for that same block:
Wheat Middlings, Cane Molasses, Salt, Dehydrated Alfalfa meal, Cottonseed meal, Ground Milo, Sunflower Meal, Calcium Carbonate, Bentonite, Ground Soybean Hulls, Rice Bran, Cracked Corn, Dehulled soybean Meal, Monocalcium Phosphate, Dicalcium Phosphate, L-lysine, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Sulfate, Vitamin A supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Manganous Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Magnesium Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Mineral Oil, Sodium Selenite. 2.000% Ground Soybean Hulls.
See #2? Molasses.

Pros: These really are the only salt blocks that are 100% meant for horses. Horses love them. They do provide quite a lot of nutritional kick to them. If your horses are pastured 24/7, on range, or do not get any grain, these can be a great supplement.
Cons: Molasses! Any horse with sugar sensitivities should stay far away from these blocks. Many horses, in fact, will go after these until they are gone because they reward licking with great taste beyond just satisfying a salt craving. They're also not really salt blocks: only 10-12% in the Dumor block, as opposed to the 95%+ of a typical salt block. They are way more expensive than a plain salt block, easy 2-3x as much.

They also have a lot in them, most of which is supplied by processed grain. So if your horses is on any kind of grain, they probably don't need what's in these blocks. Note that many of these blocks also contain selenium, which is dangerous in large quantities.

Himalayan Salt

The newest and trendiest way to feed salt. What is "Himalayan" salt, exactly? Rock salt, or halite. Most of the pink stuff that's mined and marketed as Himalayan comes from Pakistan.

Here's a selection of claims about this salt: "it contains the full spectrum of 84 minerals and trace elements just like Mother Earth intended," "The Original® Himalayan Crystal Salt® is more than salt, it's a way of life -- or more precisely, a way of approaching aspects of living your life well," "a pure, hand-mined salt that is derived from ancient sea salt deposits, and it is believed to be the purest form of salt available."

Does anyone else have the same knee-jerk reaction to fads that I do? Sigh.

Himalayan salt does contain other trace minerals beyond just salt. What, exactly? We don't know. It depends. On a lot of things. It's really not clear whether any of them are beneficial or not. Certainly it's not analyzed before it's sent out to stores. So believe whatever you want about its human benefits, here's what it does for horses.

Pros: much harder than the processed salt blocks - can last much longer, often comes on a neat rope hanging thingy, your horses will look cooler and more loved than all his friends with his trendy pink salt lick
Cons: those extra trace minerals, super expensive, that same hardness might work against it (see above for arguments about effective salt intake)

Electrolyte Supplements

Last but not least: since we are feeding our horses salt primarily to aid in their water intake and exercise resources (here's that article again from The Horse for the technical stuff), you can also substitute or supplement your horse's salt consumption with electrolytes. (Here's a good recent thread from the Chronicle of the Horse forums about salt v. electrolytes.)

Electrolytes never contain just salt; at their most basic, they have sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium. These are the basic minerals that help a horse to process heat & exercise and to sweat appropriately. There are endless variations in electrolyte supplements. Smartpak currently (August 2014) carries 15 different varieties, and interestingly enough, they list basic salt as one of them! 

In the reading I've done, here's the consensus: most horses do not need a daily electrolyte. If they're in average work, they'll replenish what they need from salt, hay, and grain. If they're in heavier work in the heat, they may need a general supplement on that day, one dose or so. Horses in intensive work, such as endurance rides, may need electrolyte supplementation during that work. Basically, if they're burning through it faster than average eating can replenish. It is, however, all too easy to overdose on electrolytes and cause a general system imbalance, so you shouldn't just pour them down your horse's throat. It's important to know and watch your own individual horse if you're doing high-exertion exercise. (And even then, you can get into trouble, unfortunately; horse sports are not without risk.)

The purpose of this blog post, though, is to consider ways to get salt into your horse, so with that objective in mind:

Pros: electrolytes provide a full-spectrum replacement alongside salt, which can be great
Cons: your horse probably doesn't need them, so this is NOT the main way you should plan on getting salt into his system; examine labels carefully to make sure that the minerals you need are there, and that it's not loaded with added sugar.

SO. Whew. If you've stuck with me through that, congratulations! Those are the basic ways to get salt into your horse's diet.

In Part 2, coming soon, I'll discuss what I have used in the past for Tristan and what I'm going to do going forward based on this research.