Mr. 211 in 2020

I celebrated Christmas 2019 in traditional fashion with a festive holiday ride. Bravo was still riding the bench healing from his latest hoof abscess and also too young to be reliably counted on to participate in such a wild event. My friend graciously offered her retired dressage pony, Duke, and he made a perfect Max to my Grinch.

 

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With a big smooch on the leaf, I bid Bravo a warm farewell right before the holidays so that I could spend ten glorious days with the rest of my family a few states over. His Christmas gift to me this year was to remain abscess, illness, injury, and trouble-free for those entire ten days. THANK YOU, buddy, I really needed that. Of course a solid portion of my trip home was spent thinking about Bravo but, in contrast to my trip home over Thanksgiving, none of it was spent worrying about him.

Despite 2019 being my first year as a horse owner, it was rough. I arrived back in Indiana eager to welcome 2020 and instead promptly got clobbered by a sinus infection/cold the second I stepped off of the airplane. I spent my New Years Eve snoozing on my couch rousing briefly from my cold med-aided slumber during the countdown.

I’m emerging this week feeling much better and finally ready to start 2020. This year will be BIG and there are some major changes afoot. I can’t elaborate as my defense mechanism prevents me from getting excited about things that can fall through, but regardless, change is inevitable and young horse development is always exciting.

Bravo is continuing to thrive and looks so much better than when I got him, but winter has presented a few challenges when it comes to sticking with training. The weather this year hasn’t been particularly cold but the constant rain and mud has not been helping. The fields are complete mud wallows and the horses don’t move around much during the day in the slop. Add that to an unusable outdoor arena and water logged round pen, and it means all of the boarders at my barn are sharing a 60X150 arena. Not exactly conducive to training a young horse. I have to try and avoid lesson times and busy riding times so I end up closing down the barn at night a lot. For a while I got a smidge of seasonal depression and made mental plans to just restart him again when the weather got nicer and stop beating myself up over not feeling comfortable riding him in the arena with 5 other horses. I’m feeling a little better about things now, and I’ve started working with him more during off times. Rider traffic and wet weather are still ever-present hurdles.

 

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In other news, I gifted myself a FeedXL subscription so that has been a lot of fun. After noticing that Bravo has been spooky and hot lately as well as catching wind that he is starting to get a bit of a reputation with the staff for being difficult to handle, I’ve been overhauling his diet.

These are the current facts:

  • He is no longer underweight
  • Slippery pastures mean he’s moving around less during turnout
  • Abscess recovery, weather, holidays, and arena traffic has equated to a two month long break from work
  • The barn feeds a very high alfalfa content hay
  • He has been on a rice bran supplement for weight gain
  • AND he was getting about 5lbs of grain a day

To summarize:

Bravo has been getting roughly 150% of his energy requirement everyday and doing no work. No wonder he’s hot and amped all the time.

 

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Momma! Look! I’m 5! Look, Momma! Look what I can do!

 

I stopped the rice bran and trimmed his grain down to 3lbs per day but he was still getting waaaaay too much. I am going to be trying him on a ration balancer and getting rid of most, if not all, grain especially for the rest of the winter.

He used to get:

  • ~18-20lbs 70% Alfalfa/Timothy and some mixed grass hay
  • 5lbs of Tribute Kalm n EZ
  • 2lbs of Max-e-glo Rice Bran Pellets
  • 2oz of Vitalize Alimend
  • SmartDigest Ultra
  • 2 scoops Farrier’s Formula Double Strength

He’s going to get:

  • ~18-20lbs 70% Alfalfa/Timothy and some mixed grass hay
  • 2lbs of Tribute Alfa Essentials ration balancer
  • 1-2oz of Vitalize Alimend
  • SmartDigest Ultra
  • 1 scoop Farrier’s Formula Double Strength
  • mayyyybe a Mega Mag or SmartVite vitamin supplement, if he’ll eat it

So we’ll see how he adjusts to that. Hopefully he will eat it. FeedXL is fun but definitely makes you feel like you’re a horrible horse owner when it displays your horse’s folic acid level as woefully in the red. I think some important things to remember are that many of these “daily values” are estimates and unless you are testing your hay or pastures on a continuous basis, the rest is just an estimate as well. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole. I do think approaching a minimal grain diet would potentially be a good thing for this horse. Everyone must evaluate their own horse’s needs. We’ve dealt with a lot this year and I’m still trying to find the best formula for us. If this new diet works for him, it SHOULD help balance out the extreme excess of energy and hopefully level off some of that excess hotness and spooky behavior. We will pick back up with work as soon as we are able!

Bravo thinks that my next post should talk about the overhaul that needs to happen with MY diet 😉 Don’t worry, I’ll spare you dear readers those details, but rest assured Bravo buddy, we’re in this together!

 

 

 

 

 

Bravo’s Abscess Obsession

Should we take bets if Bravo will make it a full sweep in one year? He has now produced abscesses in front left, left hind, and right hind hooves so all that’s left is front right and we….win?

Before I brought Bravo home I had never encountered or had to treat a hoof abscess. Sure, I had heard about them and several of you fellow bloggers have posted about them over the years but I thought they were a fairly rare phenomenon that seemed to only be an issue for thoroughbreds. I specifically shopped for NOT a thoroughbred for no other reason than they seemed to be higher maintenance creatures and I wasn’t all that skilled in horse doctoring. I patted myself on the back when I found Bravo because although he is a big boy, he had what I thought to be nice big legs and big hooves. When I got him home to my barn and got a better look at the work I had in front of me to re-feed his underweight, still growing body, other people at my barn would even comment that “at least he’s got good hooves.”

Joke’s on me, I guess, because he isn’t a thoroughbred and although his feet are large and decently shaped, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface and it’s too soon to tell if this going to be a chronic issue for him or if better care/nutrition can make the difference.

Every horse owner should know how to wrap a hoof so at least I am now quite adept. My vet even commented on the high quality construction of my handmade duct tape boots. Bravo came up hopping lame on Monday, November 18th. I was slightly perplexed because I had ridden him on Sunday evening and we had what I thought was a pretty good ride. He stood quietly at the mounting block and acted like a pro despite a very full arena. Sure, he was a little behind my leg and balky- that seems to be his thing starting out but we worked through it and he was going around just fine. We definitely don’t have power steering yet, but we didn’t look half bad. Some of that reluctance to go forward could have been that brewing abscess all along.

 

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My barn owner managed to drag him back in from his field and I came out that night to poultice and wrap his hoof. We DON’T soak. He barely lets me futz with it enough to wrap it and loses his mind if anything resembling a bucket, water, or a bag go near his back legs. I filled a diaper with Epsom salt, warm water, and a splash of sore-no-more sauce and very quickly wrapped that on him. After a couple days of re-wrapping and poulticing, he was still barely willing to put weight on it, was all stocked up, and feeling pretty sorry for himself so I called and made an appointment with the vet.

This vet appointment was freaking traumatic for both of us. As soon as the vet hit a sensitive part of his foot with the hoof testers, Bravo started to lose it. He just wanted to peace right out of there and didn’t care if I was holding him or what else he would be plowing through on his way out, he was just DONE. It was all too much for his baby brain. Four days cooped up in his stall, the scary vet who makes his foot hurt- nope. bye. The vet had to sedate him. And then it wasn’t enough so he had to sedate him again. Meanwhile, by this time he had dragged me around the barn, nervous pooped and then trampled it with his freshly dug out abscess foot, knocked over a bucket of water the vet was going to use to clean his shit foot, tried to kick the vet, and nearly brought down the barn careening into walls to get away. It was unpleasant…

The vet proclaimed Bravo to be a big baby considering the abscess he found and drained wasn’t very big. We got it poulticed and re-wrapped and I gave him some bute while the sedation was still wearing off. Our pastures are mud pits right now but he needed to move so I had him turned out the next day. He came in without the wrap, hoof coated in mud, but in a much more sane mood. I washed, disinfected, and re-wrapped his hoof for five straight days. I figured we were in the clear- the fill in his leg dissipated, he was serviceably sound again, and the abscess site wasn’t draining anymore. I stuffed some hawthornes sole pack in the cavity on that Tuesday and left town for Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving I got another dreaded text from my barn owner that Bravo was hopping lame again on the same foot. uggghhhghh I asked her to keep him in until I got home. I was supposed to fly back home on Saturday morning but then I got stuck in the midwest snowstorm and had to change my flight to Monday. He mostly stayed in until I got back on Monday and I went straight to the barn from the airport. I arrived to this:

 

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Monday, Dec 2nd

 

Well that explains the very short-lived “recovery” and probably also explains most of the theatrics from the vet visit. Is this horse a pansy or maybe was this massive gravel in there the whole time making things rather uncomfortable for him? I cleaned him up and started the process of poultice and wrapping all over again. I took photos to see the healing progress over the week.

 

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Wednesday, Dec 4th

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Thursday, Dec 5th

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Friday, Dec 6th

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Monday, Dec 9th

 

Tuesday night after I rinsed the mud and picked the hoof, I notice the original abscess hole on the bottom of his hoof has re-opened and was draining again. Sigh… The coronary band blowout is looking much better and with fairly little maintenance seems to be healing alright. I don’t know whether this abscess tract is through and through or if these were separate pockets, but now I’m back to flushing the bottom cavity with banixx and then packing it with dry animalintex. Needless to say, the past four weeks have been exhausting. I really hope my buddy comes through this tough abscess so we can start back over with training, again, for like the hundredth time.

Word Wednesday

I basically need this tattooed on my forehead in order for it to sink in. I am settling for keeping this passage available for reference at regular intervals especially during tough times in training or moments of anxiety. Time can either be my greatest ally in this process or a source of pressure- the choice is mine.

 

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-Jessica Jahiel, The Horse Training Problem Solver

Chiropractor

Bravo has now seen the chiropractor three times and each time he has had similar issues to address. This last time though, was the first time I feel I can say that he needed it and it helped significantly.

I jumped on the bandwagon of the veterinarian chiropractor who comes somewhat regularly to my barn after a discussion with our head trainer about a new treatment the chiropractor was recommending for her horse to address allergies. Bravo struggled a little over the summer with…well, it seems like just about everything…but allergies were definitely on that list. She, and the other trainer routinely rave about the work this guy does and the effect it has on their horses. I was skeptical but not totally against trying it. I have had chiropractic work done on myself a few times back in college while I was heavy into rowing season. Several of my teammates went to the chiropractor and though I didn’t have any significant complaints other than what seems like a standard low-level of discomfort that comes with competing nationally in a sport like rowing, I thought maybe it would provide some relief. It didn’t really, and at the same time there wasn’t much to address, so I stopped going. I didn’t leave feeling like it is all complete garbage, but it didn’t do much for me.

I think a lot of these “treatments” can really help, but I also think it is very individual. If something works for one horse but you try it and it doesn’t work for your horse- I think we shouldn’t be so quick to label something as useless. Also, evidence that a treatment IS effective is still not a guarantee. I definitely fall more on the evidence/science-based side of the spectrum when it comes to forming opinions about these things. If you want to change my opinion about something, I am open to looking at data. I just don’t believe that YOUR anecdotal evidence cancels out MY anecdotal evidence. I also think placebos are useful and very legitimate forms of treatment.

Bravo’s first appointment with the chiropractor went pretty well overall. I didn’t quite know what to expect but the chiropractor explained what he saw right away as I walked Bravo toward him in the main barn. We were right in the midst of recovering from his big hind foot abscess so I knew I probably wouldn’t get the chance to feel any benefit from the saddle, but I hoped Bravo might be more comfortable. He was out a few places along his back and near his SI. His C7 was out causing/contributing to some of the other misalignments. This chiropractor uses B12 injections and mallets to correct these alignments as well as some limb/neck manipulation. He also noticed a soft tissue knot on the right side of Bravo’s neck that he massaged to break up. Bravo was pretty surprised and concerned about every hit with the mallet but seemed to react happily after the more significant issues were treated.

 

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Do these things even get misaligned?!? Does smacking them with a mallet put them back??

 

The chiropractor was complimentary of Bravo’s temperament and said he was excited to see him develop. He gave me some suggestions for things to do in our warm-ups and rides to help Bravo keep the corrected alignment. At the time, Bravo was being turned out but not quite sound enough on that hoof to be worked. I tucked the suggestions away for later, gave Bravo some treats, and headed back to work.

As predicted, Bravo took quite a while to heal from the abscess so by the time we were back to work, I couldn’t tell if the chiropractic work had done anything at all- at least it didn’t seem to have hurt him. The second appointment proved to be similar- he was out in a few different places but still that C7 displaced to the left. This time his right elbow was out which I thought maybe could be attributed to some less-than-balanced jamming on the brakes he was doing upon my request. Sorry bud. Your trick is cool and I’m proud of you for listening, but maybe I could refrain from whistling you to halt from the canter. But yet again, I couldn’t really say that it made a big difference. I still wasn’t riding much and this time I was in the midst of another round of ulcer treatment.

 

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When the trainer texted that the chiropractor was coming back in early November, I once again opted in to have Bravo seen. Leading up to this appointment we’d been doing a lot more riding, had our saddle professionally fitted, and he’d been quite sound. A few days before the appointment I lunged him in the arena to warm up and had planned to ride but he was a little off. He had also been grumpy on the ground- biting at me often. As I get to know him better, it seems to be his MO when he is hurting or uncomfortable to act aggressively. He is normally such a sweetheart and kind soul and I’m starting to get the memo through my thick skull that anytime he behaves that way it’s my job to try to figure out what is hurting. I didn’t end up riding that night and then I gave him the next night off hoping maybe he was just a little sore. The chiropractor came that next morning and felt again like the C7 misalignment was the major culprit. Bravo was more reactive this time around and fought the adjustments more but the chiropractor wasn’t concerned. It was a pretty cold morning so I let Bravo marinate in his Back on Track mesh sheet and neck cover before and after his adjustment. I turned him back out and went to work.

 

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That night I came back and tacked him up to ride. I noticed right away that I had my gentle sweet boy back on the ground and he didn’t snap at me once while grooming or tacking. On the lunge line for a quick warm up he was suddenly completely sound and no longer cutting in and grumping at me for asking him to move out. Our ride was excellent, we are making progress now every time, even if it’s slow or seems like basic stuff. Sure, it could be a coincidence- maybe his soreness from the other day faded on its own with rest. I think it was the chiropractic work that made the difference. Third time was the charm for us. He was loose and easy in his work and much happier. I think for me, chiropractic work will always be on probation- if I ever feel like it is not making a difference it will be the first thing on the chopping block.

Does your horse see a chiropractor? What other kinds of treatments have you done that worked but others thought were snake oil? What seems to work for everyone but didn’t help your horse at all?

 

 

 

Bringing up Bravo: Fiction

Once upon a time, a not so young adult amateur maiden took her very green, oversized, five year old warmblood into the indoor arena for an evening ride. She lunged him both directions while other horse and rider pairs were running around him at various speeds. He listened intently to her quiet commands as she tried not to disrupt the lesson that was going on. Playful and young, he let out one adorably small buck and and kicked at nothing in particular when asked to pick up the trot but otherwise cruised around feeling good and trying hard to please his lady. One of the other riders marveled at his special trick of halting from any gait with the lightest whistle from his person. The maiden told her fellow rider that she wasn’t sure how she managed to teach him that particular trick, but she decided having an e-brake on a horse could be a really valuable thing. After the young steed had warmed up, completed several changes of gait, and released his youthful exuberance, the maiden swapped beating sticks and set off toward the mounting block to start her ride.

The castle that the maiden and her steed call home is also home to two resident sorceresses. One of these sorceresses has extremely powerful magic and rides a giant dragon. The dragon this sorceress rides is an exceptionally sensitive and complex ride. This dragon is so particular that if the slightest thing changes in his indoor arena he breathes fire. The sorceress all but demands that everyone in the realm abide by her strict instructions especially when it comes to the mounting block. If the mounting block is moved even one foot off of the arena wall or is turned a different direction, her dragon threatens to take down the castle. Never wanting to end up on the sorceress’ bad side, the maiden knew she would be responsible for teaching her young steed to follow the rules of the realm.

 

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As the maiden approached the mounting block, the young steed followed dutifully behind her and stopped when she asked him. He was a little worried, though, because before when the maiden rode on his back it was kind of uncomfortable- the saddle pressed into his back in odd places and the whole process usually meant a lot of work. She would push her calves into his sides and then, to top it all off, she wouldn’t even let him choose where they went! The young steed was unsure if he wanted to do what the maiden was asking so when she grabbed the base of his mane and climbed up on the mounting block he took a few tentative steps backwards. The maiden cooed to him and stepped back off the mounting block.

“Maybe that was it!” he thought, “all I have to do is step backwards and she’ll decide not to ride me.” “I’ll be the best lunging horse in all the land and we will just show off the tricks she’s already taught me.” Emboldened that he might have learned a new trick, the young steed followed the maiden eagerly until… wait a minute! he found himself back at the mounting block. She had simply circled him, lined him back up, and was stepping up to try to ride him again. “Okay,” he thought, “this one is easy, I will give her the same answer because she is asking the same question.” The steed took a few steps backwards. Undaunted, the maiden asked him to step forward and tried again. The two went on like this for several rounds before the maiden decided to try teaching a new trick instead. She brought him up to the mounting block but this time did not get on the block. She said the word “stand!” loudly and firmly. The steed was already standing nicely so when his lady gave the command, he wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted. She walked around him and patted him in various places but didn’t get on the mounting block. Then she gave him a peppermint, for what, he wasn’t sure! The maiden said the command again, “stand!” and this time took a slow step up the mounting block. “That’s my cue,” the steed mused as he took a few steps back and casually swung his hip away. The maiden tried again and again to teach the steed to stand. He liked the peppermints very much, but he still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do to get them.

 

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Twenty minutes had gone by since the maiden had planned to start her ride and she was no closer to being in the saddle. Her resolve wavered for just a moment when she remembered how moving the mounting block so the steed was between the block and the wall had always worked in the past. The powerful sorceress wasn’t in the castle tonight anyway, what’s the harm? She brushed away the invading thought, “No! this is an extremely important lesson, no short cuts,” she lectured herself, picturing the sorceress’ wrath. She took a breath and tried to think of other ways to help the steed understand what she needed him to do. The maiden had heard tales of a wizard from a far away land who tried to help teach lesser magicians understand how to work magic using guiding principles. The maiden tried to understand the situation she was in and how some of the principles she had heard of from this wizard might help her work some magic on her own steed.

She was worried that her application of these principles might not be correct, after all, she’s no magician. She was tired of fighting with the steed and starting to come close to losing her patience- the LAST thing she wanted to do in the situation. Encouraged by the innocent expression of her steed, she found a few more threads of patience within her to grasp for support and tried a new way. She broke the problem down in her mind. “I can’t explain to him that his saddle fits him much better now and won’t be as uncomfortable as before. I can’t convince him that if he just learns this skill I will dismount and be done for the day and nor can I promise him that that would always be the case.”

“The problem is that he wants to move his feet.” The words of the foreign wizard echoed in her mind: “make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy.” She told the steed to “stand!” and slowly stepped up the mounting block. This time when the steed stepped backwards the maiden said to him, “okay, you want to move your feet? Let’s move them, then!” Calmly, but insistently, she backed the steed quickly for several steps and then flexed him and made him disengage his hind end several times in both directions. The steed thought the flexing was pretty tough! He half-heartedly resisted a few times but the maiden was swift and firm in her corrections. A couple of times when she tapped him with her stick he gasped and grunted, completely aghast that his lady would do that to him. But he kept his cool and tried harder to please her and puzzle out how to make the pressure stop. Finally she took him back over to the mounting block and commanded him to “stand!”. He gulped and took a deep breath. She stood still for a while, then patted him and he lowered his neck. But, old habits die hard and when she went to step up the mounting block he swung his hips away again. Feet wanting to move again- wrong answer- but it’s your choice. She kept the steed moving and took him back out in the arena insisting that he flex and yield his hind quarters and shoulders around her several times in both directions.

She returned him to the mounting block, asked him to “stand!” and then just breathed with him quietly for a minute. He seemed to be starting to sort things out. This time she was able to step up the mounting block without him moving his feet. She gave him a scratch and stepped back down. She climbed the block again and grabbed the base of his mane. He shifted his weight and took a half step back.  A couple more times she made him work really hard every time he stepped away from the mounting block. Each time, though, the maiden would bring him over to the mounting block and she wouldn’t ask him for anything there. “Oh, okay,” he finally conceded, “I’m beginning to think that just standing here has got to be easier than all of that work I just had to do!” And so the steed planted his feet at the mounting block and stood like his maiden had asked. She mounted from the mounting block and still the mighty steed remained like a statue. The maiden beamed. She stroked the steeds neck and purred praises in his ear. She tapped his neck and reached down to give him a peppermint.

 

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With one final scratch to his withers, the maiden and the steed set off on their ride. The maiden was calm and quiet asking only that the steed walk on a long rein. He marched around the arena loose and swinging with an even rhythm. The maiden was grinning from ear-to-ear because even though she only got to ride for 15 minutes, she fell in love with her noble steed all over again. She realized that the 15 minute ride was the most relaxed she had felt on a horse in years. Despite him being young and unbalanced she was able to breathe deeply, swing along with him, and try to get back the feel of her own seat. Eight months off of riding takes its toll. For the first time since she bought the steed, she felt at home in the saddle with him. The maiden had to marvel over the amazing things she and the steed had accomplished that day. She was proud of him for being so well behaved on the lunge line; for keeping a cool head and not reacting aggressively when her corrections were firm and she put a lot of pressure on him; and also for not shutting down from the pressure- he stayed present with her in the moment and tried to listen to what she was asking. She was also quite proud of herself for not losing her patience and keeping negative emotions out; for working through a problem and being fair but firm; and for being able to see the beauty of the moment.

Intent on ending on a good note, the maiden decided to leave all other plans for another day. She halted the steed and softly dismounted. Giving him a scratch on the wither and a kiss on the nose, the two walked side-by-side out the back gate into the starry night and they lived happily ever after.

 

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