Tuesday, May 23, 2017

On Falling Short

Kind of a grim topic today, so I'll try to distract you with beautiful photos of Courage as a western horse. 
together
My excellent photographer friend took these gorgeous shots while we played western horse on Saturday. She was supposed to come back out Monday and do some fun dressage pictures because girlfriend freaking rules the world of trotting pictures with an iron fist.

But I rode Courage Sunday just to see how he'd go, now that he's injected and X-rayed and acupunctured and rested.

Some parts of that ride were phenomenal--he turned right like a champion. He was a whole different horse in the contact. His body was adjustable. His back didn't disappear underneath me.

And no matter what I did, his stride was two inches long and he freaked out when I tried to get it any longer.

I could try to play it cool and be like "yeah totes got off and made a plan and was 100% professional about it", but that would be a straight-up lie.

I resisted the urge to immediately cry or call the vet, but I really wanted to both simultaneously while sitting in the parking lot drinking a sad beer. (Possibly did buy 5 pizzas on the way home, but who's counting?)
he's something special to me
It kills me that this little guy is trying so damn hard to do the right thing and he's still hurting.

I know intellectually that there are still options on the table. All this means is that what we've done so far isn't enough.

I know I'm working with a good team and have a great support system. I'm even lucky enough to be in a place where I can throw money at this (not like I'm shelling out for lessons or shows or clinics, right?)
such class
The harsh reality of the situation keeps smacking me in the face.

Courage is 12, which is not old, but it's too young to retire. I can't in good conscience push him through what I know is a pain response. The idea of just mucking around not riding for the next decade makes me want to die inside.

Hopefully the wear and tear on his body hasn't progressed beyond where we can get him comfortable.

Hopefully we can find a way to manage it. Hopefully we have a plan. Hopefully things will stabilize and we have many years of happy adventuring yet to go.
that neck tho
That doesn't make the present easy.

Monday, May 22, 2017

So That Happened

Because I am an eminently rational and emotionally stable person, I possibly had a full-on "omg my horse is permanently broken and will never horse again might as well give up now and just do trails" meltdown.

While on eBay.

You can probably see where this is going.
pretty.

I made a lowball offer on a western saddle that I thought was pretty. I did have a couple western friends including Alyssa) sort of eyeball it and say it might not be utter shit. Because like. I know NOTHING about western stuff. Nada.

I thought the seller would sit on it for a day and then turn me down.

But instead I had a totally reasonable counter offer within about ten minutes.

Did not see that coming.
well now it's in my house

Fortuitously, a good friend and sometime western rider was coming in to town this past weekend.

Which is good. Because you don't just slap a western saddle on a horse. You need all kinds of western shit like a latigo and an off billet and a sweet ass felt pad. Oh and it's mega hard to tack up without a cinch. WHAT SIZE OF CINCH. How would I know.

I dragged said friend to the western-y store and probably killed a lot of her brain cells figuring out what I actually needed (actual quote "so you put the penis thing in the hole? HOW DO SLOBBER STRAPS GO ON")
STRAPS

That got expensive quickly.

And um. Possibly we were feeling up much fancier western saddles and now I'm like "don't want cheapie want real thing", but that's another problem for another eBay meltdown.

Anyways I dragged friend and all the newly acquired shit out to the barn and took waaaaay too long trying to figure out how to put it all on. I mean. I have put a western saddle on before, but let's be real, it's been a while.
totes put a curb on so he'd look badass. totes did not ride in it lulz.

I did a quick lunge for Courage just in case he thought the saddle would eat him or something, but homeboy was fine.

And then I gracelessly flopped into the saddle, realized my stirrups were way too long, almost fell off the side trying to fix them, and finally got them to a different length that is hopefully closer to right.

My horrible hunter perch is bad in a dressage saddle and worse in my western saddle, but Courage was fantastic and western friend yelled at me enough times that hopefully when I get pictures back, not all of them are terrible?

Haha.

Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stick a Needle In It

I am not a hippy dippy woo woo person. You start talking about vibes and energy and my eyes have crossed if I'm even still in the room. 
I R BITE THE THING
But the vet said acupuncture might really help C and since dumping bushels of money down a rabbit hole is basically the description of me owning a horse as an adult, I figured what the hell.

Full disclosure: many years ago I rode a horse that someone paid for acupuncture on. The horse fell asleep with the needles in, but I noticed zero change in performance. That is my entire history with acupuncture.
that purple padding tho
This is the same vet who did Courage's chiropractic appointment a couple weeks ago. She rechecked him and said that his previous pain hotspots already felt much better and that he just looked better generally since his shoeing changes and injections. Then she asked what I expected out of an acupuncture appointment.

I managed to leave "hippy dippy woo woo" out of my response and said I wanted to try and change muscle memory of pain and help Courage realize he felt better. She came back with two things that were very interesting.

1) Horses in general are very honest about what hurts and doesn't, which is why we can do nerve blocks on them. They don't just sit around thinking about pain.

2) She doesn't really buy in to the "energy" stuff around acupuncture. She said that more and more, they are finding out that the meridians through the body actually follow fascia lines and very little is understood about them. In her mind, the acupuncture is more about stimulating the fascia and the resulting electrical response, which is why it helps the horse.
needles!
Then it was time to stick needles in him! She used points that were correlated with his various pain issues--a couple in his neck, his coronet band, lots in his SI area, and some down through his stifle. She also stuck one in his head. I thought probably there should be a couple more there, but I was trying to pay attention and be non-distracting instead of turning it to the SB show.

When I say "stuck needles in", I do mean she carefully felt for correct points and had a very deliberate process and everything was symmetrical--one in this side means a matching one in that side.
IS LAPTOP COOKEE
Then she let him "cook" for a while while she made notes on what she'd done in his file for future reference.
pokey needles

Courage stood quietly for part of it, then got restless and started moving around, so she carefully pulled the needles out. Per her instructions, he gets the next day off, then back to work. She warned me he might be fine and he might feel REALLY GOOD, so be alert, haha.

The vet mentioned she gave me a slight discount (for reasons?), so I paid the same as a regular chiropractic adjustment, which wasn't horrible.
so wet

And that was kind of that. It wasn't all magical and woo woo and I don't really know what I think of it. I'm excited to see how he comes back in to work and if I notice any changes.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Everything is (Not) Awesome

We have officially reached the NQR step of "wait and see what happens'.
but this pic is awesome
It is not my favorite step.

I do not like it Sam I Am.

There is just so much in play--scary x-rays and shitty joints and muscle memory and oh yes my horse is a super reactive princess. Oh and my own post-rehab status means sometimes I get excited and DO ALL THE THINGS, which ends up being a bad decision from a human pain management perspective.

But hey--managing my own pain levels helps me be more in tune with his. So like. I get that even when you take away the source of the pain with injections and shoeing changes, there's still the muscle memory of the pain. And the pain from compensating for the pain. And the fear that the pain will come back.

And those things all super suck. But someone needs to alternately hold your hand and kick your ass until you get past it and find what works.
he needs a ninja goddess
The irony here is probably that my technically-non-verbal horse is probably more communicative with me than my stoic self was with my own therapist, but let's not overthink that.

Instead, let's think about the delicate balance this is. I have to give Courage the space to react and express himself and let him figure out what hurts and what doesn't.

BUT

That does not mean abdicating my role as trainer in this relationship.

Just because he can react doesn't mean he gets to tune me out.

So that's complicated.

And then there's things like how he looks freaking phenomenal on the lunge line to the left, but kinda fair-to-middlin' to the right. He's definitely starting to trust it more and look better as we move away from the appointment, but it's not great. I rode Saturday and he turned right like a champion TWICE. That's 200% more times than he's done that highly skilled maneuver since like... March?

But as long as we're overthinking things, our Monday ride was the reverse--tension, constant spookiness, ZERO coping skills or ability to turn right. Does that mean he feels better (hence the spooking) or he's trying to change to subject because he hurts (hence the spooking)? Or even. Does it mean he's starting to feel sore in new places because he's using his body differently and the spooking was just the big storm blowing in?

I have no fucking clue.
that makes both of us
Deep breath.

There are several pieces of good news.

The first is that I feel like shit, so he's not working super hard. We do a couple exercises and call it a day. That works out to letting him get comfortable in his own skin and figure out where he's at.

The second is that he's seeing the acupuncture vet this afternoon. She's great and should be able to give me more feedback about what direction we're headed.

The third is that there is no timeline. By all accounts, injections take a while to hit maximum effectiveness. It's not as if there's a magic pill that will reverse the damage that's done and management will take time to sort out no matter what. If this round doesn't do enough, there are plenty more options to explore.

And we have time.
impressionist art by iphone

Friday, May 12, 2017

Just Call Me the Halter Girl

I have a thing for strap goods. ( you uh... might have noticed). Quality leather speaks to me, and if you think I've a bridle snob, you've never seen me around halters. Which I own a lot of. For reasons. 

I mean, I'm not sure Courage was even home yet when I ordered him his custom halter. Ocala Tack Shack, cob size, havana with stainless hardwear, english chin.
halter #1 Ocala Tack Shack
It's a great halter--fantastic leather, triple stitched, whatever. Big problem: when I was ordering (like almost 4 years ago), I forgot to specify I needed a throat snap. Hence they didn't put one on. Hence it's annoyed me for probably the last 3.5 years.

However, it's my halter and you don't ride in halters and what the hell, right? It's an $80 halter. I'll suck it up and deal with not having my $2 snap that I forgot to order. 

Of course, then there was the little incident where someone decided trailer loading was a Courage-optional activity and I watched Alyssa flail around for an hour+ with my horse in a flat halter. 
this r how we dressage

And if you've ever used a flat halter, you know that it's an imprecise tool at best. 

Next purchase was the "Bad Boy Halter", aka a knotted rope halter with one of those weird natural horsemanship lead ropes that's uber long.
all 'tude
To me, this halter is a tool. The knots are designs to put pressure on the sensitive parts of the horse. The rope is thin and stiff with some bite to it. This halter says PAY ATTENTION. (also imho given these things, it's ignorant/mean to crosstie in a rope halter and put the weight of the ties on the bridge of the nose where there are knots sitting, but I'm a hater and lots of people do it so ymmv). 

It's not pretty. I don't brag about this halter. However, if I want to do training on the ground or have more control when I travel, this is my #1 choice. Oh and since we're doing some comparison pricing, I think this set up cost me $40ish and came from my local western tack store. 

Things can never just be easy, so next step was when Courage decided that being caught in the field was also a Courage-optional activity. 
And while I agree there's nothing funner than chasing your idiot horse for an hour+ in the hot sun and then walking up to him, only to have him spin and fly away the moment you pull a halter out, sometimes that's not fair to the barn workers who handle him. 

So we snagged a turnout halter with one of those insta-breaking crowns. 
and a fancy nameplate
Again, this halter is a tool. Courage went on an eight week bender of pretending he'd never been caught before in his LIFE and this halter let you just snap a lead rope on him vs playing the OMG WILD MUSTANG STALLION MUCH AFRAID OF HALTER game. (That game is only fun if you're the stallion, btw. Trust me.) 

Then eventually he started letting people catch him again and this halter got stowed in the bottom of my trunk "just in case". For the eight weeks we needed it, it was $25 well spent at a local feed store. 

You'd think that would be enough halters and you'd be right.

Unless your two year old nephew goes to a tack store and picks out a purple nylon halter for your Christmas present. 
why yes that is the cutest thing i've ever seen
Plus. In addition to being literally the cutest thing ever (and super sweet by my SIL), the purple halter made me smile and while it also did not have a throat snap, at least I hadn't paid $80 to not have said snap. 
in the interest of uniformity
Cost=priceless. I adore this halter. 

However. I also despise winter hair and Courage despises grooming, so he gets clipped. I don't know if you've ever tried clipping in a standard halter, but it is a PITA. I've done it. Several times. For I dunno, a couple years now, I've had my eye on a convertible grooming halter, so the horse is normally restrained, but then the throat/chin section completely clips out. CWD makes one, but I wasn't $200 interested. Plus Renate has some choice words about the quality of that product. I've whined about it on and off and never found one that I liked enough to pay for. 
ok
But digging through a bin at Rolex, Leah ran across one and then when I was like "yeah but do I $30 want it" she was all BUY IT OR I SLAP YOU QUIT YOUR BITCH ASS WHINING. 

So that happened. It was $30 well spent. It's double stitched, which makes sense for what it is. It's Perri's leather, so it's acceptable but not incredible. It's brand new and not broken in, but I want it for clipping a few horses a few times a year, not daily use. It'll probably last the rest of my life and be fine. 

And again. That's more than enough halters. Many, many people would happily have one nylon halter for the life of the horse and call it good AND NOT BE WRONG.

Where's the fun in that? 


So Courage and I have been through a lot together and where we are is not where we were and I like having a nice leather halter and dammit that lack of a throat snap still annoys me, even if we've been without one for so long that Courage has forgotten halters can slide on and sliding them on prompts the WILD MUSTANG NEVER BEEN HALTERED response. It's cool. I can fix that.
purple stitching even omg <3
So I did.

That's a Peacock Leather beauty with a bunch of fun custom options, ordered at an excellent booth at Rolex.

AND THEN you would think I definitely had enough halters.

And you would be right.

But the morning after I got back from Rolex, I got a call from a Kentucky area code before the ass crack of dawn. A very peppy sounding lady from Kentucky told me I had won a custom leather turnout halter that I had no recollection of entering for. She even read me the custom options I selected and didn't ask for credit card information, so I figured it probably wasn't a scam and gave her my address.
d'awww
This bad boy showed up. (The halter, not the teeny).
pretty!
It's a cob size, havana leather, brass hardware turnout halter from Central Kentucky Tack and Leather.

That I won.

And I never win things, so that's super cool.
purple is for champions
And no, despite taking/uploading all of these pictures, I haven't totaled up how many halters that is. I just know it's probably more than I "need". 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reactions

Courage wraps up his post-injection stall rest this evening when I'm cleared to pull him out and lunge him. I've been hand grazing him every day and he's been a champion patient.

But you know.

Will he be ok? What is ok going to look like for us? Should I stress buy a brown dressage saddle?

Obviously, the #1 thing I'm concerned about is Courage's comfort level. Objectively, I know that we have just taken the first steps in terms of management. I know there are a ton of options left on the table. I know I have a fabulous team in our corner. I know that we weren't planning on showing this year anyways. I know that I'll make responsible choices for Courage.

But I wouldn't be an ammy owner if I didn't have a few he's-crippled-for-life-omg-im-the-worst-owner-ever meltdowns a day, you know?

So those have happened.
jumper show!

I also keep thinking about jumping. Which. Obviously. He will never do again. Part of me knows that we took jumping off the table a long time ago and bitching about that now is just weird. And part of me is glad to finally know why the horse always hated grids (pound those ankles, baby) and jumps (landing sucks) and why I could never get him to use his body correctly (hard pass. don't blame him).

But part of me is profoundly sad that it's gone. Because that is something I miss.

There's also the questions--when I tell people what happened, the first thing they say is almost always "so what will you do if you can never ride him again?"

Which is clearly melodramatic, because I rode him before and I'll ride him again and it's not the end of the world, though it definitely might modify our goals somewhat.

But you know. Just hit that nerve with a hammer, why don't you.
ass. poopy ass, no less.

Though perhaps equally bad is the "well many horses with much uglier legs do much harder things", which again, is true.

But like.

If Courage was one of those horses, we wouldn't be standing here right now. WHERE WE ARE CLEARLY STANDING.
or sitting. ymmv.

As the vet said about the structural stuff going on with Courage, "it's not a problem til it's a problem and then it's a problem".

So it's a problem.

And we're dealing with it.

And bay horses look kind of washed out in brown tack.

But if the right brown dressage saddle came along, it would look fabulous with my new bridle.
I mean. It's not like I need a jump saddle any more.

Monday, May 8, 2017

NQR, Responsibility, and Budgets: An Honest Look

You may have noticed that actual Courage-related content on the blog is sort of disjointed and infrequent.
bridle game strong

That is intentional.

Homeboy is developing well and his muscling looks great and he's getting pretty solid on the ground and blah blah blah. Lunging makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.

But something isn't right.

He'd get bodywork and then a week or two later, be just as bad as he was before. Under saddle, he'd walk for about 10-15 minutes and then it was just tension, Tension, TENSION AND SIDEWAYS INTO THE WALL. Didn't matter if I rode or my trainer rode. Didn't matter if we adjusted a number of variables. He wasn't "naughty" per se, but he'd get more and more and more upset.

Which is weird.
A+ there captain obvious

But hey. I get anxiety and pain and wanting to murder everyone in the room or running out the door and never coming back. I really do.

And all those things scream I'M NOT OK. Language transcends species.

And thus we begin down the NQR rabbit hole.

Step One:

Routine teeth + sheath with our regular vet and talk over options.
Cost: $150 (but also it's just routine maintenance so whatevs)

I know all the manuals say you should have a relationship with your vet, which is a scary idea if you're broke ass and avoid seeing them. But. Our vet is fantastic and was more than willing to answer questions and educate.

Step Two: 

Chiropractic appointment with acupuncture vet
Cost: $80

This step isn't required, but I wanted another set of eyes on Courage. I'm still so so on acupuncture, but the most valuable thing that came out of this for me was thoughts on where to look for issues. She said front feet and hocks lit up with pain markers.

Step Three:

X-rays and Hock Injections with regular vet
Cost: $290

Initially, I was all "must change one variable at a time like good scientist". But like. If there's pain in one part of the body, the other parts are compensating for it. I decided to do the 1-2 punch and go for it. My vet is consulting with our farrier. Vet also recommended adding in a vitamin E supplement for muscle recovery and Cosequin for joint support. (We can have a separate post for me kvetching about how much I hate feed throughs, but vet said try it, so damnit we will use it.)

Step Four:

Regularly Scheduled Farrier Appointment, now with X-rays
Cost: $80 (standard maintenance)

Once we knew what was going on inside Courage's feet and front legs, we were able to make some informed choices to change his shoeing. This is the great thing about having a solid team in place--the farrier listened to the vet recommendations, looked at the X-rays, and made the changes. He also brings a wealth of experience and presented me with some more options. Basically, we can try this, but if it doesn't work/is not enough, there are other things on the table without getting too expensive or crazy.

Step Five


See what happens.
Cost: free

The nice thing with this process so far is it's not like "OMG LEG HANGING OFF AT FUNNY ANGLE MUST FIX NAOW". We do something, see if it made a difference, and then try something else. Everyone I've worked with has been very upfront about costs and willing to work with me. I'm building my own knowledge base and learning to make educated guesses about my horse.

At the end of the day, I know my horse. I even like him. I know that the way he's acting isn't right for him and I want to know what's up. I get money problems (omg trust me on that), but with the ability to space things out and know prices in advance, I can plan for costs and mitigate them.

I don't know where that leaves us--round one of injections, X-rays, and shoeing is done. Let's see what happens.
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