Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Slate Cleaned

I considered just putting a big black square as my post today... to symbolize the clean slate that I clearly need.  Thank you for all your comments on yesterday's post.  You're all absolutely right, of course, I need to avoid over-analyzing and dwelling.  So, tonight I set out to put the bad rides of the past week behind us and have an enjoyable, light, productive flat session. 

First off, I set myself up to have a good ride.  I told Alicia that I would turn out Tucker's turnout buddies, Rodie and Junior, when I was done riding, so that he wouldn't spend the entire ride gawking at their field and wondering what fun he was missing.  I also rode inside, rather than out in the field.  We are getting new footing in the big outdoor ring this week (!), so as of today there are several large pieces of machinery and a huge pile of sand out there, and while Tucker isn't usually a spooky horse, I didn't want to set myself up for an issue this evening.

I tried to pick back up where I had left off in my lesson on Saturday afternoon with our flat work.  We worked on straightness, getting him to softly accept contact on both reins while traveling straight, and then accept the outside rein in the bend.  There were ground rails set up, a single one in the middle of one long side, and a line on the other long side.  I practiced traveling straight down the quarter line over the poles, accepting both reins, keeping his haunches tracking behind his shoulders (instead of swinging out) with a supporting outside leg, and then doing a shallow "s" over the poles, practicing changing the bend and getting him to bend through his middle and step under with the inside hind, so that he's fully engaged and bending through his whole body instead of just in front of the saddle.

Tracking right, he likes to curl himself to the inside, over bend and pop his left shoulder (which all goes back to him constantly seeking the left rein), so I need to be careful to keep him a little straighter with my outside aids.  I worked on some counterbending circles and thinking about turning him with my left rein and leg.  Tracking left, I have to be careful to keep the bend with my left leg, rather than left hand, which is tough because he really wants to balance off the left rein and often tricks me into holding him up on the left side.  He'll even twist his head a little, tipping his ears to the left and his nose to the right, in an effort to get more contact on the left.  This is all, of course, stemming from un-evenness in my riding, which I am working hard at correcting.  Mostly, carrying my right hand and keeping my right elbow at my side so that the contact on the right is soft and following (making it more pleasant for him to accept), and making sure, especially tracking right, that my shoulders follow his ears, instead of my left shoulder back and right shoulder forward, which makes me twist my hips and makes the weight in my seat uneven, further encouraging him to be uneven.

At the canter, I worked on straightness and collection and extension, using the ground rails.  I first worked on getting a medium canter, flowing but balanced, to the single rail.  I worked on turning out of the corner using my outside rein and leg, and then having him very straight, between both hands and both legs, all the way to and from the pole.  I noticed he wanted to drift back out to the rail upon landing, so I took that as an opportunity to get him accepting the outside rein and almost asked for a slight leg yield to the inside to keep him straight.  Once I had a good working canter and was happy with straightness in each direction, I worked on collection and extension by alternating between putting four strides between the two poles and then three strides, and then back to four.  Not surprisingly, the hardest part was getting him to collect and go back to four strides after doing three.  It was tough tracking left to get him to collect but stay soft and keep the impulsion.  The first two times he wanted to bounce off my hand and come above the bit, but the last time I really concentrated on closing my leg and pushing him into my hand as I asked for the collection, and that made it softer. 

I was overall very pleased to feel how adjustable he has become though.  A few months ago, we did a similar exercise with a line of cavaletti and I really struggled with it.  So, that's a significant sign of progress despite how discouraged I felt on Sunday.  For more on progress, visit Kate's blog, A Year with Horses.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Every dog has its day dog, but today dog just ain't yours

That would have been my theme song for yesterday's horse show.

Frankly, it was a bit of a disaster, and I had a nervous breakdown on horse back.  It wasn't pretty.  The day started off just like any other horse show.  He lunged quietly, Alicia warmed him up and he had a bit of a temper tantrum about a lead change in the schooling ring but he was good after that.  She did one round and he was good.  Then I got on, and it was brutally hot but he schooled fine in the schooling ring.  I had plenty of time to stand in the shade, learn my course, watch a few trips.  I actually didn't feel that nervous.

Then we went up to the ring and the jumps started looking big, which isn't unusual for me (they usually grow about a foot in the few minutes before I am about to jump them), but I thought I was going to settle down once I got in the ring.  And when I trotted in and looked around I actually felt pretty confident.  They didn't look as big once I was in there, the ring really is elevated and the jumps do look bigger from outside the ring (so they weren't just lying to me to try and make me feel better).

They were dragging the jumper ring behind our ring, and Tucker felt like he wanted to spook at the huge tractor driving around, but I tried to just bend him in and ignore it.  The first jump was a single diagonal going toward home (away from the tractor) and I told myself that once we got to that half of the ring he'd be fine.  Well, I must have been stiff and tense on the way to that fence because he landed and did his leaping/broncing/crow hopping routine which scares the bejeezus out of me.  I made a big circle and tried to get myself to calm down but I just couldn't get it together.  By the time I jumped the next fence I had myself so worked up that I couldn't breathe and I was trembling like a leaf.  So I gave up.  I just make a right turn out of the middle of the diagonal line (and got a beautiful lead change, go figure) and came out of the ring.  I think I saw a mixture of shock and confusion on the faces at the in gate.  So, I explained, "I'm just having a panic attack."

Alicia had to go walk the jumper course with Dana so I had a little while to regroup.  When she came back, we went to the schooling ring and I jumped a vertical a few times and it was okay, not great, I couldn't really get a canter that I liked because I was afraid to send him forward and afraid to hold so I was doing virtually nothing on the way to the fence, and probably needed to be doing something (something, that is, other than sitting there like a zombie).  I actually felt like calling it a day right then and there but I hate when I wimp out like that, and I thought I'd feel so much better about myself if I could just go in the ring and get past this, so I forced myself to give it another go.  I walked in the ring and begged Tucker to take care of me.

It should come as no surprise that the second round was also a disaster, with that kind of pep talk.  The first fence was ugly.  It was a single diagonal vertical off the left lead coming toward home.  I had a crawling, going nowhere canter on the way to it and realized about two strides out that we were going to eat it, which we did.  Not exactly graceful, but thankfully he didn't land and lose it like he had the round before, so I thought maybe this will be okay.  The next fence was a single oxer up the other diagonal, off the right lead.  As I was coming to it, he was bulging so hard through his left shoulder that I could barely turn and couldn't get him straight to it, so I had to make a circle.  I came back around and got the same left bulge but was able to control it a little bit better, but he was still hanging on my left rein the whole way there.  He landed and I got him straight and asked for the lead change, which he did.  It wasn't soft and relaxed and he pulled me through it, but at least he did it.  Then the next line was an outside five coming toward home, off the left lead.  We jumped in quietly so I closed my leg and moved him up for five.  He drifted really far to the right though, which made the line even longer, and he jumped out over the oxer huge.  The next line was the diagonal six, going away from the in gate (the line I turned out of in the last class).  His head came up on the way in and his stride got a little shorter, so we ended up adding one more in than I had planned coming out of the corner, but I softened and moved up to get the six and although he was looking out of the end of the ring the whole way there, it was okay. 

Then at the end of the ring, someone was going by in a golf cart and Tucker lost his mind, again.  Leaping/hopping/spinning away from the bay-horse-eating-monster.  All I could think was that we only had two more jumps and I could get out of there.  I was trying so hard to be relaxed but there's just no way I'm going to stay calm when he does things like that.  I realize that on the scale of scary things horses do, this is pretty minor, but it terrifies me, nonetheless.  I made a circle, and headed to the last line, which was a two-stride on the outside.  I'm not really sure what happened because I was so nervous and scared that I wasn't riding, really just blanking.  We jumped from practically underneath the first fence, which meant my options were either to gun it out of there (likely causing an explosion on the other side), or try to cram three strides in there (which would make him jump straight up over the second fence, equal probability for explosion).  So I chose Option C, and pulled him out of the line (the humiliating option).  Trotted straight for the in gate, told Alicia I was done for the day, and walked back to the trailer. 

It's going to take me a few days to process what happened, figure out how to make it better next time, figure out why things went so very, very wrong after several good horse shows in a row.  Maybe it's outside stress that has nothing to do with Tucker, maybe it was sort of a spooky ring, maybe the only thing I did was get stiff through my arms on the way to the first fence and if I hadn't, the day would have gone completely differently.  Maybe my confidence was shattered from the start because he was fresh on Friday night, and did his leaping/hopping/broncing thing in my lesson on Saturday.  Maybe I shouldn't over-analyze it and just chalk it up as a fluke, a bad day.

On my walk back to the trailer I was feeling so defeated and had the following conversation with myself:
"Well do you want him to be a trail horse?  Do you want to just ride him around the backyard?" 
(frowning) "No." (sniffle).
"Well, then, you are going to have days like this." 
Big sigh.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Photos and Bareback Rides

It's ridiculously hot and humid today, though we did have a summer storm this afternoon which cooled things down slightly. And, just to prove that he really is a wunderkind, my boy headed straight for the stream to cool off when he was turned out for the night. How cute is he? (Excuse the bad cell phone pic, I didn't make it to the barn tonight but a friend was kind enough to share this with me!)

I also have some great pics to share from around the farm at home.  I've been taking Montel for bareback walks in the evenings around the hay field and around the permiter of the pastures, and he just loves it.  Pretty sure no one has ever ridden him bareback before, but he took to it immediately.  He's no longer sound enough to do anything more than walk, but he seems to really enjoy our little trips around the property.  I ride him bareback in a halter and lead, with his fly mask on, and I'm pretty sure even the halter is superfluous at this point because he knows our route and he's more than happy to march around.  I love that he seems so into his "job" even if all it entails is a trail walk. 

The cutest thing is that his attitude toward me has totally changed now.  Before, I was just some girl that showed up and delivered the treats.  He didn't know I could ride.  Now that I'm his rider, he's got a whole new level of respect for me.  He's even been more affectionate lately, which just amazes me.  The first time I rode him, when I got off he started licking my arms up and down (even though he's never shown much affection toward me before).  It was the most clear "thank you" I've ever gotten from a horse.  Although he's enjoying retirement, I think he's happy to feel like he's got something to do.  I'm sure, after being a show horse his whole life, that he really did miss being ridden.  Just to keep his mind occupied, once in awhile I'll ask him to leg yield for a step or two.  (He rolls his eyes at my simpleness, humors me, and complies.)  He even let me kiss his nose this evening, although probably only because no one was around.

So, when the evenings are cool enough, we go for our walks and then graze on the front lawn under the mulberry tree so we can both snack.  As his mother put it, he's a true German, and prefers to stay inside during the heat of the day, and venture forth in the cool of the evenings. 

Somehow, doesn't he even make a blue leadrope and a big black fly mask look distinguished?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Another good day at Monmouth County Horse Show

I do love going back to the Monmouth Horse Show, which is in the town next to where I grew up.  Brings back a lot of happy memories from the short stirrup and children's hunter pony rings on the grass.  I didn't exactly win all the time, but I definitely had fun doing it.  The first pony I showed was a little pinto pony named Puzzle.  Man I loved that little guy more than anything.  No more than I love my darling Tucker, however, who was an absolute packing machine on Saturday. 

We started off with our usual five minute lunge back by the trailer.  Tucker tried to be naughty and play on the lunge when a motorcycle went by us on the street, but then almost fell down and had to shake it off and pretend no one saw it.  My horse and I are so alike.  We are not cool.  Never have been.  We are dorks who play by the rules.  Neither one of us can pull off acting like a bad ass without tripping over ourselves.

On our way down for our warm up hack we had a drama-llama moment and I was suddenly navigating my way down to the ring looking between his ears.  Why are we wild?  But, as soon as I got into the schooling area he took a big deep breath and chilled.  I only trotted and cantered for about 15 minutes because he was absolutely dead quiet.  Such a confidence booster for me.  This was going to be a good day.  As I was wrapping up my hack I heard them announce that they had moved the division before mine to another ring, so I quickly headed back to the trailer to get my show shirt and jacket on and take off Tucker's schooling boots. 

Alicia was busy with another horse so we had a while to walk around before my division started.  When I saw that she was wrapping up I trotted around a little just to get Tucker warmed back up, then we jumped a few jumps and went to the ring.

My first course was okay, but we never quite got the pace we needed.  The first fence was a single vertical on the quarter line going straight toward the in gate, off the right lead.  We got a conservative distance to it, and then continued to the outside line going away from the in gate.  I jumped in relatively quietly and then asked Tucker to move up to get the five, which he did.  The next line was the other outside line, back toward the in gate.  We jumped in so conservatively that I made the decision to add and get five strides instead of four.  He actually balanced in five well, which is an accomplishment of sorts, even if it wasn't the game plan.  Then the next line was the diagonal six away from the gate, off the right lead.  I came out of the corner and again saw a quiet distance in, so made the decision even before jumping the first fence that I was going to add and get seven strides.  Again, he was happy to collect and put seven strides in.  He landed right, looking out the ring, and we only got the first half of the change and had to trot a half-step to catch up.  Then the last fence was a single oxer on the diagonal off the left lead.  Again, we weren't really going that forward but I took my time and waited for him to find the distance, which was a conservative one but he balanced himself to it.  Not a bad first course at all, and we actually ended up winning the class, but I knew I had to send him forward for the next round.  I was happy though, that even though I didn't have quite the pace I wanted, I was able to think and make a plan half way through the course so that it was still organized and consistent.

In the second class, I was careful to get a better forward rhythm right from the start.  This course started with the same single vertical on the quarter line toward the in gate.  Since I had a better pace, we had more options for distances and he jumped it well, right out of stride.  The next line was the diagonal six off the right lead, away from the in gate.  We got a better distance in and then I sent him forward down the line and we got there in six this time.  Unfortunately, he landed right again and we trotted for a few steps instead of just one to get the lead change, which was even less pretty.  Then to the single diagonal oxer toward home we found a perfect distance, but we landed left and again I had to trot for the change because he wasn't balanced, wasn't going forward, and was looking out the in-gate.  The next line was the five-stride outside line going away from home, and we easily made it in five and I actually had to rebalance and slow down a little landing from this line.  He balanced right back around the corner though, and then I left him alone as we got straight to the last line.  We jumped in and I had to press a little to get down in four.  Then, for reasons that remain clear only to Tucker, he jumped the oxer (which, mind you, was a plain natural oxer that was barely 3') like it was a 4'6" spread.  No joke, in my peripheral vision I saw black knees on either side of his face.  Alicia was doubled over with laughter in the in-gate because of the look on my face.

Then came the third trip... which has been affectionally dubbed "a whole new level of stupid."  The long and short of it is, Tucker needs a GPS installed.  I jumped the right first fence, but as you may have noted in the descriptions above, from there I could either go to the outside line or the diagonal line.  Guess who picked the wrong one?  Oh, and guess who chipped miserably into the wrong line, decided to turn the class into a schooling trip, circle through the middle of the ring, and then jump the wrong line again, only to get a little left behind in the air?  (Why I am admitting this to Tucker's international fan base I have no idea.  It is embarassing enough that everyone in the Monmouth County area knows I can't remember the order of eight fences.)  It was only upon landing from the second fence of the wrong line that I realized my mistake.  You should have heard Tucker on the way out of the ring!  "Do I have to do EVERYTHING?!  I find the distances, I figure out how to climb out of the impossible spots you get me into, I have to worry about looking cute and keeping my knees square and getting my lead changes!  All YOU have to do is point me at the right jump!  You had one job!  It is a good thing I love you, and there better be treats in that trailer lady!"   

After I finished laughing at myself, I had a drink of water and walked back in for my undersaddle.  He was wonderful in his hack.  Stretching down into a very loose frame, moving forward but very relaxed, and I was able to give him a loop in the rein but he stayed balanced.  We were 2nd, behind a horse who is a beautiful mover, so I was happy with that. 

Overall, we ended up reserve champion for the day.  Not a whole lot of competitors, and if there had been more we wouldn't have done as well given the mistakes I made, but I still got to take home some pretty ribbons -- can't argue with that!  I also ran into an old friend, who told me she's following the blog and was happy to see his eye is all better!  Tucker does love meeting his fans in person and it was such a treat for me to see her again. 

In other news... Tucker's fake tail arrived yesterday!  He's becoming a real honest-to-goodness fancy show hunter!  Now, to see if I can still braid well enough to hide it....

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy birthday Julie girl!

Today is Julie's 2nd birthday.  Happy birthday Princess!  It seems like only yesterday you were bouncing around trying to get used to those wobbly long legs. 

Since onthebit asked in the comments how Julie is doing, and Nicku asked me on facebook whether there's any Julie news, I figured that was quite enough prompting.  I can take a hint!  I know when you all are bored of hearing about the big brown horse and his various facial injuries and it's time to talk about my little spotted girl. 

As it turns out, I do have some Julie news!  First and foremost, the current plan with her is that she will stay in Florida through this coming winter (the nicer time of year to work a horse in Florida), and the trainers at Stones Throw Farm will put the basics into her: round penning, backing, and basic walk-trot-canter.  I talked to Celia and Larry today and it sounds like they have a great program.  They work the babies a few times a week, frequency depending on the horse, starting off with ground work in the round pen and then sitting on their backs.  After this, they give them two weeks off to go back out to the field and "process."  Then they go back to work a few times a week for a couple of weeks, followed by another couple of weeks off, and so on, until they are in regular light work by February. 

Then in March, Julie will come home to live on the farm with me at Paper Road.  We have a nice ring so I'll be able to work her a few times a week myself until it gets cold, at which point she'll have the whole winter off.  I'll probably do the same thing again the following year, which is exactly what I did with Tucker.  The folks at Stones Throw think I'll have no trouble working with her myself, since she's been very well behaved for them.  They said she's the first one to come to the fence when they go out to bring the kids in for their weekly grooming/bathing. 

I also just learned that Julie went to the Brandenberger inspection, passed with flying colors, and is now an approved Brandenberger.  In September (once fly season is over), she'll get a brand that looks like this. Very cool!  Her father, Raine Dance, is also now an approved Brandenberger stallion.

You'll note that one of my very, very favorite horses is a Brandenberger.  I know of another Brandenberger, named Balthazar, who is also a fantastic creature, extremely brave and willing, with a heart of gold and a penchant for tearing off his blankets in the middle of the night and driving braiders crazy with his midnight racket.  (But I love him dearly). 

Oh, and one more thing.  I've always wondered what happened to the dark bay mare that I ordered, with the white socks and the star?  Well, she arrived this year.  Apparently she was on back order?  Meet Julie's little sister:

That's Secret's pretty red butt in the photo to the right, and it makes me miss her so much!  This adorable little filly is a full sister to Julie and exactly what I wanted absolutely adorable, if you ask me.  In case anyone is having a particularly bad day and needs some additional cuteness, please go here and see all of this little girl's playmates.  Too cute for words!  It is a good thing I don't live closer to Florida, or I would quickly be accumulating a lot of young horses. . . . 
So, that' about all I have on the Julie front.  And for the record, reason number 1,578 that equine babies are better than human babies:  you can ship them off to someplace where they will be well cared for and happy until they are old enough to be useful to you.  Pretty sure they frown on things like that for human babies.  Except my niece of course, who is an absolute joy (just in case her parents read the blog).  I can't wait to buy her a pony.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I can see clearly now....

That's the song Tucker's been singing for the past few days.  He can finally hang out without his ridiculous fly mask (don't tell him it's ridiculous by the way, he thinks he's wearing "shades" and says that only celebrities and poets wear them indoors and at night) and the vet says she doesn't need to come back out to see him unless we see something we are concerned about.  No more banamine, just continue with the triple for a week.  I am happy to say that he finally felt back to normal during my hack yesterday afternoon.  Yay!

I've been doing little walk-trot loose rein hacks and long bareback walks for the past week, to give him a chance to stretch and get a little exercise but not stress him too much in case his eye really did hurt as much as it appeared to.  I can't imagine I'd enjoy running around with an eye injury, banamine or no banamine.  During these rides, he has been sluggish.  Like, 28-year-old school horse that has taught small children how to post for the past 15 years sluggish.  I've got a giant weight attached to my tail (no fat jokes please, I know I should probably cut down on the ice cream) kind of sluggish.  His movements were akin to the ones I make as I reach blindly for the snooze button each morning. 

But finally yesterday he felt back to his old self.  The first ten minutes or so I just trotted with my reins on the buckle and he started off just moseying along and I had to use more leg that usual, but then once he got into the ride all of a sudden I felt his pace pick up and suddenly he started feeling more like his graceful Dutch WB self and less like a Thellwell pony.  So I kept my leg on and started slowly reeling him in and actually got a nice working trot for about ten minutes.  Then we walked for a few (he did get a little out of shape not working for a week) and picked up our canter and his canter felt absolutely perfect.  I was up in a little half-seat and he stayed light and balanced and motored forward but not like he was in a hurry, just a perfectly balanced natural canter.  All I had to do was sit there (or hover there) and follow with my hands.  I love when that happens. 

I guess I have no way of knowing why he was so unwilling to work.  Could have been pain, could have been how banamine affects him (different horses react different ways, of course), could have been that he couldn't see that well or felt a little uncomfortable working in his fly mask.  Whatever the cause, I'm so glad to have my horse back to his old self...  a mixture of complete goof and incredible athlete.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Talk about insult to injury... (but good news!)

Vet came to check Tucker again today and she was very happy with the way his eye looks!  Yay!!!  It's healing very nicely now.  She's going to come back to check him again on Friday and he'll keep getting banamine for the pain and inflammation (Kate, to answer your question on the last post -- yes, he's been getting banamine all along... you've got good horse sense!) and triple antibiotic topically.  Since he's had a history of tummy trouble, he'll also be getting Ulcerguard for the next two weeks because banamine can be tough on their stomachs.  

The ulcer is much smaller today though, and she did not think there was any need to continue dilating the eye, which means we won't have to worry as much about light sensitivity.  He'll still need to wear a mask though, to protect it from dust and try to discourage him from rubbing it. 

Speaking of masks....  the one he was borrowing from Outsider met an untimely demise, as I thought it might.  I'm telling you, he feels it's necessary not just to remove it but destroy it so that we don't even think about putting it back on him, or anyone else for that matter. 

He does have a knack for destroying these things.  It's a good thing they aren't too expensive, and a good thing he has a high tolerance for bugs so he doesn't have to wear them all the time. I don't know what I would do. 

So, Alicia went ahead and got him a replacement.  The other masks in the barn apparently all rubbed against his eye, so she got him one of the bug-eye variety.  So, for at least the next week, he's going to look like this:

Yes, it's okay to laugh.  I burst out laughing when I received this on my phone.  I think he's officially healing well enough that we can find him a little...  amusing... in his state of recovery.  Laughter is, after all, the best medicine. 

In line with Jane's caption contests, anyone want to suggest a caption for this photo?

Worry, worry, worry

If only worrying could make them heal faster or hurt less.  My poor horse still seemed to be in a lot of pain on Sunday afternoon.  When I went into his stall to apply more triple-antibiotic to his eye he spun his butt to me, put his head in the corner and kicked out.  Not acceptable behavior obviously, I clucked to him and made him walk back around in another half circle til he was facing me before I put his halter on.  It just broke my heart though.  He never does stuff like that so he must have really wanted to keep me away from that eye.  Once I caught him, he did let me put more triple in but I could tell from his mood that he just wasn't feeling well. 

I tacked him up to get on and go for a little walk around the indoor, and he was literally wincing and shutting his eye as tight as he could when I went to put his bridle on.  More heart break.  We walked around the indoor and trotted a little on a loose rein just to get his parts moving a little but he wasn't himself.  I know he's a bit... dramatic... when it comes to pain, but I feel so bad for the guy.  Hmmm, perhaps he's learned to be dramatic because I then shower him with pity?  Who's training who?

The vet came out to re-check him that afternoon, and unfortunately said it's not healing as well as she'd like.  The ulcer was a little bit smaller than it had been, but she was hoping to see more progress.  So, she numbed his eye completely (at which point he finally perked up and started begging for treats and being his usual goof ball self) and then did some swabbing to (a) take a culture and be sure whatever bacteria is in his eye isn't unresponsive to the antibiotics we're using; and (b) remove some of the dead cells and stimulate healing. 

Naturally, I start doing a little online research and drove myself into a bit of a panic.  Have you ever googled corneal ulcers in horses?  You'll find articles that tell you that your horse has a 50/50 shot of going blind and/or losing an eye.  (To be fair, WebMD will also tell you that your sore throat is cancer.)  I learned that the cloudy appearance to his eye is a corneal edema, which could end up becoming a solid white spot and cause vision impairment.  I learned that some corneal ulcers don't respond to treatment at all, and I learned about something called a melting ulcer that just sounds, well, horrific. 

I've made the executive decision to stop reading up on this.  I thought maybe I'd do a little educational post on the topic but that exercise leaves me with images of Tucker with an empty eye socket so... you're more than welcome to do a little online research on your own but I'm afraid I can't be in charge of the lesson today. 

The vet's coming out to see him again today so hopefully she'll see some more improvement this time.  I'm really hoping this is one of those things I'll look back on and wonder at how worried I was over nothing.  Or, maybe it will be something more serious, but either way, we'll get through it. 

In the meantime, I'll have to work on a post about all the lovely horses I've been able to ride since my boy is out of commission.  It's been wonderful, and eye-opening. 

As they say on the COTH forums, send Tucker some jingles please!

Friday, June 4, 2010

I need a helmet...

... for my horse.  Yet another head injury!  This time, it was his eye. 

Alicia called me while I was at work this afternoon to report that Tucker's eye was tearing and swollen half-shut.  He had come in from the field this morning ok, but must have done something to himself in his stall.  We talked for a few minutes about it -- allergies?  anything in the eye?  other eye look ok?  Then we hung up so she could take a picture and send it to me (what did we do before camera phones?).  We were already leaning toward calling the vet, but the picture confirmed it...  Tucker displayed some serious light sensitivity to the camera flash, which probably meant it was something a little more serious than just some shavings or dust in his eye.

Tucker was apparently overjoyed to see his vet and immediately came toward her and rested his head on her shoulder.  "Thank God you're here!  I am in urgent need of immediate medical attention!  Look at me!  It's been two hours of this...  I was starting to think they weren't going to call you!"  (As I've mentioned before, he's not exactly stoic.)  We made the right call, because she found a pretty large, though shallow, scratch on his eye. So she dilated it for us, gave him banamine and left us with triple antibiotic, to be applied as often as possible.  We have to dilate the eye again tomorrow morning with Atropine and then she's coming back to check on it Sunday afternoon.  She thinks it will end up being just fine, but is treating it aggressively to be on the safe side.  It's a good thing that we caught it so early though, much less risk of infection or more serious complications. 

Tucker can be lightly worked indoors and continue with turnout at night, so long as he wears a fly mask.  Under normal circumstances, Tucker finds fly masks to be embarrassing and uncomfortable (and destroys them immediately once the humans are out of sight so they can never be used again -- he feels its his civic duty to prevent others from suffering similar shame and embarrassment).  I rode him (bareback) in it this evening, and he didn't seem too bothered by it.  He did spook at himself in the mirror though.  ("Well how am I supposed to know what I look like with a fly mask on?")  When we pulled out of the driveway tonight he was happily grazing with fly mask still intact, so we'll see if he's still wearing it tomorrow morning.  He may feel differently about it, now that he knows it's for medical purposes. 

My PSA for the day:  with a potential eye injury, it's always a good idea to call the vet.  It's impossible for us to see scratches on the eye's surface, and if caught quickly they can be treated fairly easily.  Without immediate treatment, the eye can become infected (not to mention painful), which can then lead to a more serious situation.  I actually know a horse who lost his right eye because of an infection that went untreated (thankfully, he has had a very successful show career and has learned to adapt quite well to jumping and competing with only a left eye.  Horses are marvelous creatures).

Hopefully Tucker will turn out just fine and (despite his dramatization of the events that unfolded this afternoon) he'll make a speedy recovery.  In the meantime, anyone know of an online retailer for Dutch-Warmblood-sized helmets?  Or perhaps safety goggles?  Could I just get him a giant lampshade collar like they put on dogs?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Take the good with the bad...

So it was one of those "take the good with the bad" kind of weekends in terms of my rides.  On Friday night, I was sleep deprived and cranky from staying up late a few nights in a row for work, and I figured I'd just make it a nice quick hack.  I was trying really hard to leave him alone but it seemed his every day normal things were about to send me over the edge.  Somehow I made him start walking backwards before a canter transition.  Then I heard myself growl at him for bulging through his left shoulder.  Something he does, oh, just about every ride.  He cocked his head back and looked at me: "Um, what's your problem? We do this every day.  Just put your outside leg on.  Sheesh."  So, I quit for the night after about ten minutes and gave him a pat.  Not worth it, not fair to him. 

Saturday was a great ride.  He flatted really nicely, great working trot, we played around with our normal working frame and a more relaxed, lower, hunter frame (but still tracking up from behind) and we got two perfect lead changes.  I was able to come across the diagonal, hold him on the current lead but change the bend (a true counter-canter) and then ask him to change his lead with my new outside leg, which he did in a relaxed, fluid manner in both directions. 

Then Sunday, the lead changes were a disaster.  Alicia thinks he was just out partying too hard the night before with the boys (night turnout).  She may be right.  See Exhibit A, to your right.  The left to right lead change was good.  Then the right to left lead change he'd come across the diagonal with not quite enough canter, and then when I'd send him forward he'd just throw his head up in the air and lunge forward but only change the front.  When he inverts like that his hind end naturally falls out behind him and then we lose the connection and I can't get the change back to front. 

So we took a step back and did some simple changes, making him hold the current lead all the way across the diagonal and not try to change.  We did that until he was quietly holding the lead without trying to do the lead change before I asked.  Alicia's riding him tomorrow so she'll talk to him about it.

The jumping on Sunday, however, was excellent.  We worked entirely on my position over the fence, getting me to stay close to him and sink down in my heels when the distances were short instead of standing on my toes and getting ahead of him.  We also worked on me keeping my back straighter instead of rounding my back over top of the fence.  This keeps my upper body back a little more and actually gives me a very secure feeling over top of the jump.  I also then land with my weight in my heels and am able to sit up and balance around the turns sooner.  We still missed every lead change landing from the jumps but we were jumping on a circle and turning through the middle where the footing is a little deep in our big outdoor, so I'm not going to worry too much about it. 

The best part of the jumping was the simple fact that I was able to concentrate 100% on my position, and not think at all about having to make adjustments to Tucker.  I think that means he's becoming a packer!  A year or so ago, my position was always important because it affects the way he jumps, but it was never something I could concentrate on exclusively because I had to think about his straightness, his rhythm, his pace, collection, softness, etc.  Now, all that comes so naturally to him that I can just think about me.  (Don't I sound spoiled?)

I can't help wishing that we were nailing down these lead changes though.  I know I need to be patient and they will probably just work themselves out the more Tucker horse shows and jumps, but I really wish they'd get a little more consistent.  He feels like he's on the brink of them being automatic some days, and then other days it's like he has a mental block (or maybe I have a riding block?).  All in good time, I guess.  And take the good with the bad.  Right now there's a lot of good, so I can't do too much complaining.