Friday, June 4, 2021

And then?

 I've spent the last few weeks trying to just get stuff settled into a sustainable pattern.  Shoes, supplements, stabling, training, all of it.  And I seem to be just about done with that.  Theo is working regularly, all of his needs are being met, and he is on his way to being fit again.  I'm riding part time and enjoying it.

He's so darn pretty

And then?

That's kind of the trick question right now.  As emergency mode fades away and I start to think long term I stall out.  What the heck am I going to do with Theo long term?  What makes sense for us?  I need him to be happy and well but I also need to consider how this will work for me.  I just got accepted to a doctorate program.  I didn't think I'd have a horse in my life so I intended to continue my education.  Awkward.

There's also the part where I can't do a lot of things.  I know from experience that a fit Theo that's doing big boy work can be a handful.  I distinctly remember him dancing the dance of his people around the ring while learning his changes.  Opening that can of worms is a non-starter for me.  Once he's learned something he totally doesn't care but I certainly can't be the one to teach him this stuff.  I need all four on the floor.  And let's be honest, his collected trot is a nightmare to sit even for people that actually have discs between their vertebrae.  

Theo has opinions about my bouncing during his trot

I'm too goal oriented to just show up, brush the pony, and ride around the arena.  I need to have something to work on, a goal to measure our progress, lessons, structure, all of that.  My old goal was the Bronze but the chances of me sitting the trot work in a Third Level test?  Pretty dang low.  My body may surprise me and from what I understand of my situation, technique may save the day.  It's all about minimizing the compressive forces.  But reality is that I'm not going to be working a mid-level dressage horse full time if I want to have a functioning neck 10 years from now.

Western dressage is good for keeping Theo chill and his collected jog is actually comfy to sit.  Not that I've tried it yet but even when I couldn't sit in my dressage tests I could sit his jog.  That could be a solution.  I'd still need to get a change on him but that would be a small change, more like a swap that you see in reining.  A bigger change would be even better but a small one might be easier for me to cope with these days.  Western dressage could give me something to work toward, I still haven't ridden a Level 3 test.  

Being the weirdo even at the dressage barn

It comes down to my time and my body's ability to take abuse.  Both are in shorter supply these days and it wouldn't be fair to either of us for me to take Theo on full time.  I love having him near me and riding 2-3 times a week but I already know that he won't have another partner after August.  I have to plan ahead for when his teen goes to college and it's just me.  He won't be safe for me over the winter with just a couple rides a week.  I'm going to need to find him a second rider.

Hacking out with his new friend

I'm currently thinking that I'll be one of those posts on social media asking the local horse groups if anyone wants a half lease on an experienced dressage horse.  I have to accept the fact that I can't do this on my own and I need to find someone else to help me keep him in work.  Ideally, someone that wants to be his primary partner and just accept that this middle aged ammy with a wonky neck likes to ride sometimes when he's feeling lazy.  They can focus on dressage and show him as far as they can go while I jog about on my riding days and maybe, just maybe, go to the occasional show.

Theo thinks that sounds suspiciously like work

He's very happy now with his teenager, my friend, and me giving him attention.  He's doing once a week lessons with a local dressage trainer and putting muscle back on.  Everyone is on the same page and working on making him less lazy and more fit.  He'll be back to being a real dressage horse by fall.  And then we start hunting for a new dance partner for him.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

New friends

 While Theo and I were away, the barn changed a lot.  The name changed, the owner changed, and the clientele changed.  It used to be primarily h/j with me as the one weird DQ and my friend as the one weird eventer.  Weekly lessons with the resident h/j trainer were required.  

Nowadays there's no resident trainer, everyone is pretty much doing their own thing.  Several trainers are coming in to teach and Trainer Z is on the list of trainers that can come and give lessons.  Almost all of the riders are dressage focused.  I don't know how it happened but the barn is now a dressage barn without actually saying anywhere that it's a dressage barn.  How do I know?  When I dropped off Theo, two ladies were discussing whether or not someone should stay at Second considering she just barely squeaked a 60% in Second 1 and that was with an infamously generous judge.  Yeah, these are my people.  One of the riders is working on her Second level freestyle so they have a Bluetooth speaker set up in the indoor so she can work on movements while controlling the music from her phone.

Of course I'm weird for a dressage rider since I have zero focus in disciplines but at least I'm not the weirdo with the strange equipment anymore.  When my double arrived with the h/j riders, everyone was confused and fascinated by having two bits.  What the heck is that for?  Do two bits even fit in one mouth?  When I was unpacking last weekend and put Theo's double away with the dressage crew hanging out in the tack room, the reaction was quite different.  First the conversation in the room actually paused as everyone noted that the new horse has a double.  Then came the questions like 'sooooo what's his story?'.  It's wasn't about what the heck is that bridle for, they already knew that.  A double means one of two things:  I'm utterly clueless and over bridling my horse or my horse is further along than they thought based on him standing in a paddock or plopping around on the lunge line.

He can dressage, we promise

The double is actually here in case he decides to test my left shoulder like he does about once every six months.  We'll just nip that kind of behavior in the bud these days, kthx.  One ride with a curb will usually end that conversation rather than letting it escalate.  Safety is important these days and an emergency brake system is a lovely piece of safety equipment.  He sure as hell isn't fit enough to actually work in it.  Neither am I, for that matter.  But I'm finding myself thinking about 'one day'.  One day he'll be working his changes and need the extra refinement.  I won't be the one in the saddle but might as well have all his equipment standing by.

It's not a group of fancy dancy dressage horses, they're mostly stock horse types that are transitioning over from other jobs as their owners decide to focus on dressage.  There's a pair of OTTBs that are learning the low level dressage ropes.  Lots of First and Second level with one working on Fourth.  Theo is still one of the taller ones so you know there's not a lot of WBs trotting around.  Legs is still the fanciest thing in the barn but then again Legs would be the fanciest thing in a lot of barns.

Good gravy, mare

The new crowd has opened up some new opportunities.  No one is looking for a ploppy cross rails partner this time.  With the usual 'so and so is hurt' going on, there's a couple riders looking to get in some saddle time and having an experienced dressage horse drop in has caught their attention. Theo got to meet a potential new friend in the form of a teenager that had her lease horse go lame just as summer was getting started.  You know, like they do.  

As far as meet and greets go, it was perfect.  I insisted she lunge first because he got a day off.  It was . . . uneventful.

So, so very wild.  And the ride was just as uneventful.  After about two minutes I put my little roller spurs on her so Theo would actually trot on.  She walked, trotted, cantered, did some little leg yields, and even tried out his walk to canter once so she could get a feel for how he's different than the other horses she's ridden.

Theo quite liked her eagerness to tell him he's clever, pet him, and stuff treats in his face.  I like the fact she's got soft hands and a quiet seat.  She's in regular lessons with a respected dressage trainer so it works out well.  She has a horse to lesson on that can show her the ropes and Theo has someone that will dote on him and ride him in a correct way.  She is a First Level rider and Theo is perfect for that right now.  He's very solid at that level and can let her try out some of the fun tricks at Second over the summer.

I'm really enjoying not being the lone weirdo for once.  I will enjoy this summer surrounded by similar weirdos.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Serviceably sound

 I had a consultation with my chiro that I see every week for treatment.  After the neurologist blew me off with zero answers I've been relying on her to help me deal with this situation without going straight to surgery.  She's armed with x-rays (has her own machine) and my MRI.  She's also been treating me for over a year and tracking the changes in my posture and symmetry.  I get pictures taken every 3 months to evaluate progress and I always, inevitably, wear something very unflattering.  I will not be sharing.

If I were a horse, my injuries would be called 'old, cold, and set'.  I have bony changes in my neck, sad wonky discs, and the remnants of at least one traumatic event in my soft tissues (probably more, let's be honest, I've been riding a long time).  I would not pass a vet check and sure as hell would look lame after a flex test.  Range of motion in my neck is diminished and I would struggle with collected work.  But, following the analogy, there's no reason to put this old campaigner out to pasture just yet.  I need maintenance and a thoughtful training plan but I'm serviceably sound.  I just have to make good life choices and listen if my body says that it's too much.  I'll be looking to get a PT referral from my primary care to help me strengthen my neck and core.  I need to be careful but this is more degenerative than acute.  Which isn't good but hey, take what I can get?

via GIPHY

Things look better than they did a year ago.  What's left is the stuff that isn't going away.  We're actually right on time for our goal of letting me try to ride again to see how my body does after a year of treatment without regularly beating it up.  It's not going the way I expected but hey, horses never go the way we expect.  As my chiro said, I'm no longer at an increased risk of paralysis so I might as well live my life.  I know the risks.

Twice a week rides is my current goal, starting at 20 minutes in the saddle and working up from there if it goes well.  No jumpingNo sitting trot.  Those are important and part of the agreement between me and my chiro.  There will be lunging or someone else getting on him before each ride until he's settled into his program again and even then it might continue.  That one is the agreement with my husband.  

I rode for 20 minutes last night after my friend worked him for 15.  10 minutes walking, 10 minutes rising trot.  I felt fine this morning outside of some rarely used muscles being tight.  It's going to be hard to not over do it since it feels like coming home.  It took about 2 minutes for me to go from 'oh my gosh I'm riding' to 'dude, this is my left leg, get off of it'.  Theo is about as out of shape as me so he was being a bit peevish about having to go correctly.  And having a second rider get on when he'd just finished having to do canter transitions with the first one!  He started to curl and get behind the bridle while stomping his feet.  Ah, yes, memories.  Kick, kick, kick the pony and get him back out in front of my leg while giving him a nice long rein so he can stretch.  He blew through his nose a couple times once he relaxed and I knew we were good again.  And then my Fitbit alarm went off and I realized my time was up already.  UGH!

My friend was watching and commented 'you ride him better than me'.  What can I say, Theo is not your typical dressage pony and I've invested a lot of years into getting him unlocked.  

Fancy, fancy pony

So we have a plan.  6 days a week is the goal for Theo, 2 days a week is the goal for me.  It's going to take a lot of help to get us back in action but help is coming.  My friend has volunteered for the weekend shifts and Theo has a meet and greet on Thursday with a teen looking for a ride this summer.  With three of us coordinating around his schedule, my gorgeous, wonderful asshole of a horse should be getting all the love and exercise he needs.  And so long as he's getting what he needs, he can play school master for his mommy while she sees what her body is up for.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Perfect

 It's been a month since I got word that my horse's behavior had gotten so bad that he was considered a liability and had to leave.  He couldn't be used for the lesson program because he was bucking kids off and bucking with the trainer.  Today, my brave friend swung into the saddle to check out what is going on.  We set her up for success with days of consistent lunging work and starting out today with 10 minutes on the lunge line.  My friend saw him trotting around on the lunge like a lead line pony and got on with zero concerns.

Somebody thinks they're fancy

Turns out she was right.  Theo didn't put a foot wrong.  He tested her, of course.  He wanted to see if she was serious about him traveling with his haunches in the same zip code as his shoulders.  Once he was done testing, I swear that pony was genuinely happy to get back to work.  He licked his lips, arched his neck, and worked his overweight booty off.  He's barely First Level fit but he at least offered the behaviors and looked very pleased with himself.


This was him at the end of his work out when I finally took a breath and realized he wasn't going to spontaneously transform into some sort of demon.  As my friend reminded me, I let her borrow Theo when she was recovering from surgery because he was so safe.  He's getting daily attention and spending 24/7 outside.  Apparently that's all he needed.

We've got a lot of work to do.  He's weak over his topline and in his hind end.  Not a surprise.  His old stifle stumble is back so we know where to start.  Transitions and pole work for days.  He looks surprisingly sound considering he's been off all of his supplements and shod wrong behind.  Give him a couple weeks of consistent, quality work on nice footing with his good shoes and I think his hind end will look much better.

I found out Trainer Z is going to be visiting a lot this summer since there's a lady that needs a lot of help with her horse.  Score!  We'll see what I can arrange.  My friend may ride him, I may ask Trainer Z to ride him, maybe I'll even take a lesson.  After all, I did get on him today.


Once he'd been worked for about 40 minutes, I put on my helmet and got on for a couple minutes.  He's always been good about taking care of me when I'm not at my best and today was no exception.  He trotted around like an old school pony while I tried out posting.  It felt fine so next time I may actually put on my breeches and ride for more than two minutes.  Baby steps.

I don't know where this is going to go but I did dig out my riding clothes that I'd bagged with the intent of giving them away.  After observing Theo's ride today, I've actually got several volunteers that want to help keep him in 6 days a week work.  If he's going to be getting six rides a week from experienced dressage riders, Good Theo may be here to stay and Good Theo?  That's a horse I can ride even with my diagnosis.

Fingers crossed but my summer is starting to look a lot more horse-centered. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Quality time

It's really weird being the one coming back from injury.  Usually it's the equine that's coming back from time off.  This time it's me taking baby steps because I'm not 100% sure how my body is going to respond.  Theo is totally fine and ready to work.  His mom?  Not so much.  I was limping a bit after a 5k on Sunday where I over did it and my upper back was all tight and unhappy.  I did not want to be dragged around by a bucking bronco but the vet wants him getting consistent movement to help with the circulation in his sheath.  Sigh.  Vet's orders, Theo, you've got to move that body.

I'm starting to get back into my routine.  After work, I buzzed out to the barn.  I spent some quality time getting his mane and tail back in order.  His mane needed to be up in braids before he did any work to prevent overheating and his tail was actually touching the ground.  Not ideal for ground work where he'll back up repeatedly.  His tail was a tangled mess but with enough Eco-licious and patience I got the whole thing brushed out and trimmed to a respectable sport horse length.  He got dressed up in a surcingle, full boots, and a snaffle headstall.  

I noticed a shift as soon as I put his bridle on.  He was fussing at his bit and being a bit impatient where he'd been almost asleep before.  I took him to the arena and walked him in hand while some other riders were finishing up.  It gave me time to make sure his brakes were fully installed and his attention was on me.  At first he was being pushy and impatient but as nothing interesting happened, he settled in.  I popped him on the lunge to verify the verbal commands were still in place.  We had a very boring ten minutes of trotting with some canter mixed in.

Super clever dressage pony is proud of himself for 10 minutes of work and only tripping once

He looked good in his body.  With a bit of coaxing he dropped his head for a good stretch over his topline while trotting.  Next time I'll pop on the Vienna reins to see if we can get him really working over that back.  I was pleasantly surprised to see him tracking up at the walk and picking up his hinds in the trot.  He's definitely got some extra energy in the tank right now.  I didn't get to see his right side since that's the side he bolts on and I wanted to end with a calm, positive experience to build on.  For both of us.

Overall we worked for about 40 minutes with manners and getting him settled into working mode.  I know the land porpoise is lurking under the surface and I had his side reins on to keep him from being able to really get creative if he decided to bolt.  Just a little head shake and some tail flicks this time.  I was grateful.  He got cookies for being such a good boy and following all of my commands promptly, then he went into the wash stall to have his still rather swollen junk cold hosed.  He did not like that much.

RUDE!

This was his expression and pose for most of that 20 minutes while he tried to figure out why I was hitting him in such a rude spot with cold water.  Poor baby.  It did look much better after 40 minutes of power walking/trotting and some cold hosing.  He's also getting 1g of bute a day to help things along.  The barn owner is hosing him for me today so I can get caught up on work from the past two days.

Theo seems delighted with all of the attention, even the cold water bits.  He's the new horse in the barn so everyone wants to stop and say hi, give him a pet, and coo over how pretty he is.  He has almost immediately gone back to his habit of reaching out to touch anyone that passes within range of him.  Just to make sure they know he's there and available for ear scritches.  All reports are that he is being a complete gentleman in his paddock and when he's brought in for things like vet checks.  It's like he never left.

I'm going to try to coordinate so that he can have someone on him by this weekend.  He's in decent shape and if I can get the bucks out of him, he should be ready for an advanced rider to figure out just what we're dealing with.  But how do you ask a friend to get on a horse that is 90% likely to rip some big bucks and bolt?  Hm.  I may need to get some bribery supplies.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Reboot

 I love my farrier.  When I saw that Theo didn't have back shoes, I shot him a text and begged him to squeeze Theo in.  Today Theo got his new dancing shoes.  When I asked why he didn't get hind shoes before, Trainer D asked the old farrier and was told Theo didn't have hind shoes when he arrived.

I just . . . yeah, I'm going to go sit down now.  Both of them swear Theo showed up with no hinds.  Which is crazy since Theo burns through hinds faster than fronts so he has to wear hind shoes.  Which also means he's probably been in fronts only since August 2020.  Great.  I'm sure that's been fantastic for his hind end.

My farrier also found marks from him blowing out an abscess on his left hind, probably over the winter.  Which no one seems to recall seeing.  He was last shod around Feb 10.  Yeah, you read that right.  Look at those underrun heels.  I'm over here rubbing my temples and trying to figure out why people seem to think I'm an overreactive owner when my horse went about 10 weeks without getting shod and 9 months with no back shoes.  And no one told me because apparently he showed up like that?

That's not what they're supposed to look like

Anyway.

New shoes are on and the farrier should be able to get his hind feet back in balance with the next trim.  Right now his shoes are providing the support and protection so the outside wall of his hinds can catch up with the rest of his foot.  Which should make him a lot more comfortable behind.  I can't imagine what his hips have felt like.  I know how I feel when I don't have the right shoes for running, I'd probably buck too.  And that's without an abscess.  He's cleared to go back to work but everyone is keeping an eye on him because changing angles on the back end may make him more sore before he feels better.  The abscess appears to be done and doesn't need anything done to it, just a mark on his hoof to show where it blew out.

I slathered his junk with his special ointment, I'll spare everyone pictures.  The swelling is already starting to go down.  Everyone swears it wasn't swollen when they last saw him so it somehow magically blew up just before I picked him up.  Since he was kept in that day it's possible (apparently there was an emergency that day and no horses went out?).  He's being good about getting his swollen bits cleaned and treated so at least it's not a circus dealing with it.

I did my shopping and got him a new halter, new brushes, new boots, new fly mask, and a new fly sheet.  With giraffes on it.  It made my day better.

If you're not embarrassing your horse, are you moming them enough?

I didn't get to lunge him today as planned since I burned all of my horse time getting him sorted out.  I had to miss a half day at work to meet with the farrier and get his new fly gear and slather yellow goo on his junk after giving it a quick wash.  Lunging will have to start tomorrow.  He seems quite happy in his paddock so at least he's getting some time to relax and just be a horse.  We'll see how the lunging goes after his couple of chill days.  I'm hoping for lazy.  Really, really hoping for lazy.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Not okay

 New tires on the trailer?  Check.

All the updates on the truck?  Check.

Indignant rage about my horse's lack of care?  Check.

Chunky monkey on the trailer?  Check.

What did you call me?

I'm sorry, I draw the line when I hear that my horse's shoes were not done on time.  What?  WHAT?!  I couldn't get there to pick him up fast enough.  Don't work him, fine, but his damn feet will be done on time.  I might still be angry about that revelation.  Just a bit.  And when I picked him up I discovered that someone decided he didn't need back shoes.  Which answers the question as to whether or not he's been in work.  Theo's feet don't hold up under work without shoes.  Theo's farrier should see him on Monday to fix this.  Also his sheath is about the size of my head and has marks from him biting it.  Ready for pictures of my horse's junk?  Because it's that time.

Horse ownership is frequently taking pictures of your horse's junk to share with others

This is not okay.  This is NOT OKAY.  I tried to tell myself it was okay, that someone would miss that or that it was because he was in a stall today, but even my husband says that it's not okay and he only knows how to pick out feet.

All those nice brushes from Haas that I collected?  Gone, disappeared into the school horse program I'm sure.  The important items were found, I have my saddles and bridles back.  Judging by the SHAVINGS stuck to my horse's girth, he's been worked without even being groomed properly.  They did body clip him this week so he looks pretty good in that respect but his tail is going to take me a couple hours to fix.

At least his lovely mane has been left alone so I don't have to start over

When I went to pick him up he was inside on a beautiful day, just like all of the other horses.  I have no idea why.  He saw me and the trailer and started whickering and dancing around in his stall.  Someone thought he was on his way to a show.  I had my gloves, a chain shank, and my dressage whip just to be sure.  All the reports were that Theo has been almost dangerous to handle so I went in expecting the worst.  I opened his door and he pushed forward.  I said 'Back up!' and he did.  I held out his halter and he put his head in it.  He wanted out of that damn stall.  I walked him out and he was a total gentleman.   Up on his toes but respecting the lead.  I walked him to the trailer, said 'Uppie uppie', and he walked on like the old pro he is.  I just . . . . huh?

His new paddock is pretty much the same one he left last summer.  I turned him out expecting some dramatics but it was so anti-climactic.  He said hi to the horse next to him, rolled about 10 times, and then got to work on his hay.  I got an update at 7pm and he was still happily working on his haynet.  Out of control?  A liability?  Not so much.  He just wanted out of that damn stall.

Fresh air, sand to roll in, and a full haynet.  Theo's definition of heaven.

I don't know what I'm going to do with him but he's back.  There's a lot of emotions going on.  I'm happy to have my boy back.  Let's face it, our bond isn't based on his good behavior.  The fact he can be an absolute ass is part of his charm.  I am happy to have him back to visit, to groom, to fuss over.  I spent quite a bit of time just rubbing his ears and scratching his crest.  He was so happy for the cuddles.

I am an absolute ball of rage about the lack of care he's experienced.  I understand that I am a bit extreme in terms of my horse's care but I thought I was leaving him with someone that would advocate for him.  Turns out I was wrong.  No one was advocating for him.  When he was less than useful, he was pushed aside and forgotten.  No one tried to figure out what was wrong or even let me know that things had gone wrong.  I feel gullible and betrayed because I truly thought he was going to have a great opportunity and trusted that everyone had his best interests in mind.  But, as my bestie said, hindsight is 20/20.  I had no reason to believe there was a problem.  

Rage aside, I need to get him back to work and that's very intimidating right now.  He seems to be very much himself, just bored and desperate for attention.  But I have to be very careful.  I will not be the first on him.  He needs to be back in regular work and content to be his lazy self before I can take the risk.  I really am itching to get in the saddle but I have to be smart about this.

First I get to go shopping.  I have a bunch of credit saved up from consignment sales and I didn't use them during the pandemic.  His leather halter is currently held together with a loop of baling twine and he doesn't have a fly mask.  He needs those and I can go buy all the fly spray and things I need.  I'll be looking for a caveson to use for lunging since I'll be doing a lot of ground work.  I've always wanted to teach him to ground drive and this seems to be the right time.  I can make him tired while not putting myself in danger of getting launched this way.  Even if he's not tired, I need to get him back into the pattern of being tacked up, heading to the arena, and doing a job.  

He's back and I can't say I'll be eager to let him out of my sight again any time soon.  Once bitten, twice shy.