Tag Archives: ottb

Being In Love

I must be fickle, because I always fall for whichever horse I happen to be working with – I loved Klondike because he was fun and responsive.  Rosie because she was simply magic, Afton because he was so confident to fences, Archie because of his sweet nature and how amazing he was to ride once I figured him out, and Mikey because… well who couldn’t resist Mikey?

So I shouldn’t be surprised when a new horse comes along and I find myself her number one fan.  I adore everything about Candace (or as I’ve taken to calling her, Miss Moneypenny – don’t ask why, my brain is just wired strangely).  Over the first week of riding her my primary goal was just to get her moving forward.  She was slow and quiet, and keeping her going was a real struggle. 

I am pleased to report, though, that we now have a “go” button.  Now that she is going more forward, it’s much easier to ride her – I can use my legs to get a better quality walk or trot, or move her over laterally, rather than constantly just trying to keep her going.  I think front shoes have helped and she is more comfortable stepping out, but she’s also gotten more confident and as a real tryer, she is happy to oblige as soon as she “gets it.” 

As she is weak behind still, I’ve been focusing mostly on really making her use herself behind, and travel straight.  She tends to carry her hind end to the left, regardless of which direction you’re going, which is a little hard for me to figure out.  I’ve learned that attempting to push her rear end over with my left leg sort of works, for a few steps, but then she just moves over more with her shoulders, so I’m having to learn to balance where my leg is and stay really consistent with the outside rein (basically asking for a right bend) to just keep her straight.

As she gets stronger that has improved a lot – thankfully our indoor here has mirrors at every end so I am able to visually keep tabs on things (and because I often feel straight/correct when I’m not, the mirrors are my #1 tool right now to make sure I’m not screwing her up).

Taking my cues from Jess, I’m also riding much more on contact and forward than I usually would at this stage.  And I’m using my neck strap. 🙂  This week she seems to be learning a little bit about stretching forward and down – though I don’t get a lot of it from her we’ve had some really great moments where I can feel her back come up as she starts to stretch, and it feels really lovely.  For a horse as petite as she is (she is not short, but she is definitely built like a baby and is quite svelte and petite bodied at the moment), she has a really big stride when she starts to engage, and it feels great.

I have cantered her a few times but because she really needs to strengthen her hind end I’m focusing a lot more on good forward trotting.  I will say, though, that her canter is to die for.  I have no idea what it looks like, but I LOVE to ride it.  She’s very fluid and smooth in her canter, with a nice natural rhythm (especially now that she is more responsive to leg) – it just feels easy and effortless.

Today was supposed to be her first trail ride, but all the rain the last few days made it quite muddy and I’d rather go out without slippery footing as an added variable.  Just from leading her through the field I’ve noted she doesn’t like mud (little princess!) though she will happily go right through puddles in the ring when you’re riding her.

She’s also picked up some weight, which makes me happy.  Some of the horses we’ve had here have been difficult to get weight on (Archie took a while, for example).  She is already broadening and filling out over the back and butt, and I think will be looking much better in another week or so.  We’ve been giving her extra feedings with added rice bran pellets and soaked alfalfa pellets, and I think that’s all she’ll need to continue rounding out.  Since the only picture I’ve posted of her so far was taken while she was still racing, I have to post one to show what she actually looked like on arrival.  They look a little different after they lose all that muscle and racehorse glow, haha!

She has the greatest attitude – nothing seems to phase her at all.  Walking up the driveway today all the boys came galloping across the field, tails and heels in the air, and she didn’t bat an eye.  All the mares are in heat (including her), but her big “acting out” is to whinny under saddle.  She’s learning to respect my space more (she can get a little gung ho about going through doorways and in/out of the barn, so I had to get after her to not get ahead of me or run me over, but she learned that pretty quick!).  She’s been ridden in all three rings here, and is easy in all of them (outside she is more distractable but quite good!).  She has earned many compliments from people on her attitude, they just cannot believe she’s three!  OK, so she’s 4 now by jockey club rules, but her birthday isn’t till March, so she’s still 3 to me!

This one is going to be a superstar – I love riding her, and she has the attitude to go far!  The stronger she gets, the prettier she moves, too. I can’t wait to post an “after” video in a few weeks because I know it will be amazing to see the difference from the earlier video!

And if all that wasn’t enough for me to love her, she sort of has a head like Rosey’s, with a “brain bump” 🙂  I love that.

i am important

No, *I’M* not important, I just looked in the blog stats and got quite a chuckle out of the fact that searching that phrase apparently brought someone to this blog.  I’m going to have to make that a tag.

Anyway, the last couple days have been challenging for me, emotionally speaking.  Without getting into specifics, I’ll just say that horses are always good for a little heartbreak, and with lots of emails and scheduling and vet stuff flying around, I needed a weekend off.  I am very fortunate to be seeing someone who’s good at reminding me of that fact, and so I spent the actual weekend doing fun non-horse related things (despite the last post which listed the horse-lovers weekend itinerary).  I went to the air show at Andrews Air Force Base, and then Sunday a wine festival in nearby Columbia.  It was pretty awesome, and just what I needed.

Of course, that meant Monday hit me like a brick.  Got into work to find out one of my bigger projects was all kinds of messed up, batch testing hadn’t caught some pretty significant issues, and I was going to be having fun all day getting things fixed and re-run.  Too many emails to sort through, both from work and CANTER-related.  All kinds of things I have to look into and check and remind myself of so I can get back to people later with requested information, etc… ugh.  And of course bad personal news too.  So all in all, I needed last night to go well!

Someone is scheduled to come see Archie this afternoon (I do have to check that – the weather is icky and since she wants to see horses out at the layup farm too, which is awfully weather dependent), so I wanted to ride him yesterday and make sure things are all good with him.

Things started on a good note when he was right by the gate when I went to get him – for once I wouldn’t have to slog my way through calf-deep mud! Unfortunately as he came out of the gate he dove for grass to his right, which meant his butt was swinging straight towards my face, and I was completely at the end of the lead rope with the horse in my left hand and the gate to my right.  Determined not to let go of Archie, and to remind him that this was completely unnacceptable, I had to actually let go of the gate. 

At the same time, Archie’s very herdbound companion realized he was leaving, and she came galloping towards the now wide-open gate while I struggled with getting him turned around.  I’m not sure how I managed it, but apparently me standing in the middle of an 18 foot wide open space waving one arm and growling was sufficient means of getting her to stop. Got the gate closed, got Archie reminded (a bit) of manners, and headed up the driveway. 

From there everything was fine until he turned his head at me while girthing up.  Also not acceptable.  Bad Archie! I corrected him (a bit strongly, I’m afraid) and he was then perfectly polite.  When I went to get on, he also started walking before I really had even started to swing up, but I was able to correct him very easily and he backed up and waited politely for the second attempt.

Once on, we had a fairly lovely ride in the indoor.  He is making fewer faces at his reflection in the mirror, but largely because I’m trying to keep him thinking/occupied.  We started at the walk just working on serpentines and figure eights, while keeping his neck and shoulders as straight as possible.  He does seem to have started coming behind the bit or below it, so while working on this I also spent a lot of time with leg on and really emphasizing forward from behind, to discourage.  A couple times I had to practically boot him forward so that he was using himself better. 

Up into the trot and we worked on the same things.  I also spent a lot of time on circles in the middle of the ring, where he can’t depend on the wall so much (he tends to fall inwards through the turn and then bulge his body out towards the wall as he approaches it).  Staying off the wall as much possible, I just alternated direction and started practicing large circle-small circle-large circles.  The next step would be a little more bending work and spiralling in and out, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. 

When I went to work on the canter I found it’s actually much easier on both of us to act from a reasonably organized walk.  On the right lead, you can get a fairly clean transition from the trot but I find everything feels much better from the walk.  To the left, asking from the trot doesn’t really get me anywhere – we keep picking up the wrong lead and he wants to rush, and the second he gets at all disorganized you give up any chance you had at the left lead.  Even from the walk we had substantial issues with that lead, though we eventually got it and maintained it for a few circles.  I think as he gets more strength this will all get much, much easier, but part of me is impatient and wants everything better right NOW! 

When I started getting frustrated about the left lead canter I slowed down, took a breath, and went back to working at the trot.  I figure the canter is hard because he’s weak behind and still somewhat inflexible through his body.  So I went back to the trot, and started working a bit more on bending and lateral movement (not too much, he’s a wiggle worm!) , and more transitions to build up that rear end strength.  We finished on a really good note – I did a series of figure eights (well, more like coming across the diagonal over and over) trying to really encourage him into a more forward trot with impulsion (and straightness! haha! This is the big key to riding him). and really trying to encourage him to stretch his head down and out (he likes to get behind the bit and avoid contact, as I mentioned earlier).  I eventually got what I was asking for – for about ten strides to the left his head went down, but I could feel weight in my hands at the same time, and he kept his forward impulsion.  So we quit with that and called it a night.

Physically he has finally lost the vast majority of his weird hair and is developing a nice shiny coat.  Still needs more weight but things are slowly filling in, and you can see some cover developing on his ribs (finally!) .  Can’t wait for an opportunity to get new pics and video!

Veterinary Nerding

Yesterday I left work early to go meet the vet for a couple of coggins tests and to scope white-nose face.  This is something that has been on the schedule for ages but has taken us a while to get done – typical communication glitches with answering services (“well, you said it wasn’t an emergency!”) and stuff has meant some delays.  Either way, it’s about time. 

So here’s the horse I call Noseface:

"topper" or "haagen dazs" or "Wheezy McSnoresalot"

He’s cute right? So cute we actually get a reasonable amount of mail about him, although he will not be available until after his surgery to repair his respiratory issues.  Scoping him yesterday was the first step in getting him fixed up – getting an idea of the extent of the problem so we can find out what kind of surgery is best (less expensive and faster recuperating laser surgery vs. the more invasive scalpel), and what kind of prognosis he has for recovery, etc.

As a warning, I sort of live for this stuff.  I find veterinary technology amazing, love playing with the equipment, and usually have a lot of fun assisting where necessary.  Even after my first euthanasia last fall, I stuck around to watch the dissection of the bad hoof, because I really wanted to get a good feel and understanding of what was going on.  While scoping a horse is hardly that invasive or oogy, I’d never watched it before and was very curious.

So after a couple hits of sedative and a steroid shot, out came the scope and we went in to see what was going on.

What we kind of already knew:  Topper has had previous tie back surgery.  You can see the scar on the left side of his throat, and through the scope you could see where the one flap had been pulled back.  However scar tissue in the area has impeded the airflow probably as much as the paralyzed flap did to begin with.

What we didn’t know:  The flap on his right side is also fully paralyzed.  So the total obstructed area of his windpipe is pretty large.  Like, if his airway is supposed to be the width of my clenched fist, the actual space he’s breathing through right now is about the size of one of my fingernails.

Additionally there is an area of his throat where there seems to be some pretty extreme muscle wasting.  Which led the vet and I to theorize about possible nerve damage to the area from the original surgery – this is especially noticeable on his right side – which is not the side that had the initial tie back (and where it’s actually pretty rare to encounter this problem).

So, for nerdery’s sake, here’s some images to try and describe what we saw.  Be warned that people who are walking by may not understand that these are pictures of a horse’s larynx, as they look somewhat similar to, um, something else which shall remain nameless.

From the Merck Veterinary Manual Online

Above is a horse whose left flap (the right when looking at the picture) is paralyzed (I use the word flap, they are actually called arytenoids but that’s a big word).  Usually, if anything is paralyzed or problematic, it is on the horse’s left side.  Apparently this is due to the odd configuration of the major nerve running through that area, which is situated in a different way than the left one and making it more prone to damage.  At least, if I read this page correctly (and I do recommend going to that link – they do laryngeal scoping while galloping horses under saddle, and have lots of neat information).

Here’s another image from the above link – a normal larynx vs. one with paralysis on the left (the abnormal pic is zoomed in quite a bit from the normal pic, if you’re wondering):

Normal vs. Left Side Paralysis

Now, imagine the above picture with the OTHER flap also in the same obstructive position.  If anything, in Topper, that right flap is almost more in the way as it wasn’t pulled/tied back in his previous surgery.  If I had to come up with a number I would say about 85% of his airway is obstructed just by the arytenoids.  (I know I’m botching this all up, not being up on my technical wording, but there you go).

In addition, Topper Wheezerface has some scar tissue and stuff in there further obstructing things.  As well as lymphoid hyperplasia (I had to have the vet spell that.  heh).  Basically, if I’m reading the Merck site properly, this is essentially inflammation of the scattered lymphoid follicles (instead of a mass of centrally located lymphoid tissue like people have with tonsils, horses have these follicles essentially scattered about their throat), a sort of immune system “event.”  Apparently it’s relatively normal in young horses, but in a 5 year old maybe not so much.  But as it might represent a response to irritation, etc, it would make sense if it was contributing to the worsening in Topper’s symptoms, as it’s spring, it’s suddenly gotten quite hot, and there’s a lot of allergens and irritants in the air right now.  Steroid shots can help with this, but it’s pretty much the most minor of his problems.

I’ve been trying to find pictures of a post-op tie back operation, and one that has developed scar tissue, but no luck there. 

Either way the next step is surgical consult, and then actually getting it done.  We should be able to help him out tons with surgery, the only real question is the level of improvement we’ll get, and what his future as a riding horse holds.

This is definitely the kind of thing that those interested in purchasing horses off the track need to be aware of.  As tie back surgery is relatively common, later complications from that surgery can also be somewhat common.  If you’re going to look at a horse at the track, always remember to ask about any breathing issues, and if you are getting a prepurchase veterinary exam, make sure the vet is paying attention to that area as well (if you are really serious about that prepurchase go ahead and spring for a quick scope).  Make sure to find out if the horse has had prior tie back surgery, how long ago it was, and if he’s had any other problems since.  Look up the horse’s race records and read the comments.  Often, horses we’ve run into with breathing issues are described as having “stopped” at some point in their last few races.  That said, the vast majority of amateur owners looking for pleasure horses and low level show horses don’t need to worry too much about this stuff.  Most horses with past tie back are pretty much fine for everything you’d want to do, until you start talking about high level competition, or disciplines where breathing noise is considered an “unsoundness.”  It’s just good to know – information to file away in case something comes up later.

This is also where it pays to pay attention to the racing industry a bit.  There’s one race owner in particular who goes ahead and gets throat surgery done pretty much on every horse in the operation, whether they need it or not.  This is the myectomy, not the tie-back surgery, which is done for different reasons (the epiglottis being entrapped by the soft palate – here’s an article from the Thoroughbred Times that goes into more detail).  The reason myectomy is important?  A lot of the effects are unknown, and there seeems to be evidence that it can sometimes result in problems in others parts of the upper respiratory tract. 

Either way, it pays to look over a horse’s racing history and ask these questions when you’re going to look.  None of the above mentioned stuff would stop me from buying a horse, but it’s just really good stuff to be aware of.  Most of us are not going to be pushing a horse to the limits of his physical capability, so even some breathing obstructions are unlikely to become a problem for us.  But it’s always good to know as much about your horse’s history as possible.

As a quick side note, dear friend of CANTER Mid-Atlantic Lynn Reardon, of LOPE in Texas, got the spotlight in the New York Times’s “Rail Blog” – go check it out and give her a little comment of support 🙂  And if you haven’t already, run, don’t walk, to your neighborhood bookseller and get a copy of her “Beyond The Homestretch.”

In other tidbits, keep your fingers crossed – two of our harder to place mares may be going to a new home this weekend.  If this works out it will be like hitting the lottery! 

Also, please continue to vote for us daily at the Pepsi Refresh Project.  I know it’s sort of a pain but it’s a super easy way to help us help more horses.  You also get ten votes daily and there are plenty of other worthy projects on there (my favorites?  Helping hospice patients keep their pets, Baltimore after-school projects, and a project to convert boring old lawns into usable and productive gardens)