Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

After a week of relatively relaxed rides at the new-old barn. . . we had another not-so-great ride yesterday.  As you recall, I suspected a few weeks ago that Tucker may have been having a mid-life crisis.  Yesterday I had to get off and lunge the poor beast (on a really hot day, which I really hated doing to him), because he was spooking (at something that shouldn't have been quite that scary) so badly that he was becoming unsafe, for both of us.  (Read:  I do not trust my big clumsy horse to stand on his hind legs and not kill us both.)

As you know, these situations cause an immediate morph into Rider-Scientist Extraordinaire.  I'll walk you through my varied list of hypotheses as to the possible causes of this errant behavior, and show you where the Process of Elimination has gotten me so far.

1.  I went with the easiest solution first -- maybe it's just a little extra-special Spring Fever, and maybe he just needs a few pro rides.  Limited success there, I know the pro I was using had one very good ride on him.  Since he was spooking and occasionally acting like a moron (sorry Tucker, but it's true dear) even with the pro, though, I don't think that was the solution.

2.  Next guess was the grain, and this hypothesis definitely had merit.  When I switched barns, we also switched feeds.  He has been on Omelene 400, which is a grain that I love, for about 3 1/2 years now (he also gets beet pulp, but that didn't change).  It's low sugar, low protein (12%), and high fiber, and it's forage-based (beet pulp), not grain-based, which seems to be better for Tucker.  It also has the Amplify nugget built right in, which is a weight-gain supplement I had looked into even before I started this feed.  When we moved, we switched him to Triple Crown Complete, which was the preferred feed of the barn manager there, who is very knowledgeable about nutrition and feeding.  It's also beet pulp-based, and it's the same 12% protein level, so I figured it was comparable.  It is, however, higher in sugar and lower in fiber, and anyone who has ever been on a diet will know immediately that means more calories.  Since Tucker was high as a kite, I thought maybe the change in feed was making him fresh.  Long story short, he's back on the O-400 (has been for several weeks now), but the issue still isn't resolved.  So, the grain-switch may not have helped matters, but the buck (haha, pun intended) does not stop here.

3.  Though this one wasn't on my original list, it occurred to me after I moved that I might have been stressed out by outside factors (read: barn drama), and Tucker was picking up on the bad vibes and responding.  I've been blissfully happy since moving back to the new place, so I don't think that was it.  I am usually 100% willing to take the blame when things go awry, but in this case, I don't think it was my nervous energy causing all the problems.

4.  My next guess is ulcers.  The last time we had stomach trouble, it was after Tucker's first away show.  When we came home, he was cranky undersaddle, super-sensitive to my leg, and throwing temper tantrums in his stall at feeding time (pawing, pacing, slamming his sides into the walls).  We treated for ulcers, then put him on SmartGut, and the behavior stopped.  That was about two years ago.  This time, we moved barns, we switched grain, and I gave him a heavy dose of wormer right before the move (in hindsight, that was bad timing).  I've been gathering as much info as I can, searching the COTH forum, reading veterinary articles, talking to other horse owners, etc.  It seems a lot of horses showed signs of ulcers in the form of massive spooking.  Many riders described it as "Jekyll and Hyde" behavior, which fits Tucker right now to a tee.  Some days he is lovely (like our cross country day, and our hack in the dark the other night), and other days, it is like trying to ride a fire-breathing dragon. 

So, I talked to my vet's office today, and we decided to go through a round of UlcerGard.  I'm going to give him one tube per day for about ten days, and will see if he shows any signs of improvement.  If he does, we'll keep going for another 18 days (good lord that is going to hurt my wallet), and if not, I'll set up a physical with my vet and see if everything is okay otherwise.  (Spooking could be vision-related, or he could be having pain elsewhere, so the tension when he spooks could be increasing the physical discomfort, say if he's already got stiffness in his back or something).  Then again, if all this is inconclusive, he could just be going through a naughty phase, but I'd like to think better of him than that, for now.

Incidentally, FarmVet is having a sale on UlcerGard right now, $29.99 per tube if you buy twelve at a time.  Offer is good until this Friday... which gives me just enough time to transfer money out of my savings.  Sigh.  As quick as I save it, Tucker finds a way to spend it . . . .

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working Moms

Most of us horse owners aren't fortunate enough to spend all day with our horses, and many of us are stuck in an office all day, instead of covered in dirt and dust at the barn like we ought to be.  For those of us like me, who are chained to a desk most of the time, there are fewer joys in life better than seeing how our beloved horses are spending their time.  Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than getting a picture of my boy in the middle of my day.

Here's a little sampling from this week:

So sleepy....

"Hey can somebody open this so I can visit the girls?"

Just chillin' with Tigger

And here are a few I took myself last night, when I got to the barn.  There is something so rewarding about dragging yourself out to the farm after a long day at work, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch.  I always get a second wind as soon as I get there and kiss that velvety nose.

"Who's that?"

"Who, her?  That's just my mom."

"She does this a lot.  Just keep eating and try to look cute."

"Hmm.  Okay."

Had a great ride last night after I took these, just a long and low hack in the big outdoor ring.  We finished in almost total darkness, but Tucker didn't mind.  He sees better than me in the dark, so I let him lead the way back to the barn.  I think it makes him feel important.  Such a good boy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Devon Magic: Thursday Night

As I mentioned last week, I was laid up for several days with a nasty bug.  I had planned to go to Devon on Thursday night, to see everyone's favorite chestnut mare in her special retirement ceremony, but had to skip it.  Thankfully, my friend Elise was there, and she offered to do a guest blog post for me about Thursday night's festivities.  (This week may officially become known as Mclain Ward Week here at TTW.)  Enjoy!

Elise and Sapphire
 The Devon Horse Show. Just the name tugs at the heartstrings of every 12-year-old girl who has ever experienced the show. The name evokes thoughts of magnificent horses seamlessly cantering around beautiful courses in a legendary venue. One look through the program at the names etched into the trophies, and you know the Dixon Oval has seen all of the legends of the past 100 years of show jumping. The 2012 edition of the Devon Horse Show did not disappoint, and may have been just a little more special than it had been in years past.
This year’s horse show was an Olympic observation trial. This alone would have made Grand Prix night special, but the real star of the evening was Sapphire. McLain Ward and his team were officially retiring her before the Grand Prix.  Sapphire entered the ring and greeted her public. They loped around and then visited with the adoring crowd while the announcer told Sapphire’s life story, from her birth in Belgium through to her victories on the world stage.

McLain dismounted and removed the saddle and a beautiful cooler was placed over her back (at this point Sapphire looked a bit confused; as if to say, “Hey! I haven’t jumped around yet!!”) McLain then said a few words about his great friend and partner. He managed to thank all of the people involved with not only his horse’s career, but also his own. He was poised and composed. He then walked out with Sapphire.

Sapphire then stood by the entrance of the Gold Ring and patiently posed for pictures with her adoring fans. Professional horsemen, grooms, and children (old and young) stopped to pet, photograph and visit the great champion. Her caretaker, Erica, greeted everyone warmly. Finally it was time for her to go back to her stable and McLain to demonstrate his great composure and win the Grand Prix on Antares F.

Not every great horse has the chance to retire on the main stage at Devon. Sapphire’s retirement ceremony was symbolic of the honor most people wish to bestow on their great friends. Sapphire represents the greatness in all of our horses. They are our friends and partners. They teach us many life lessons. Watching McLain and Sapphire and his team, was a glimpse into the best parts of our sport and how fortunate we are when we get to spend time with a great horse. It is only fitting that her happy ending was part of the magic of Devon.

Guest blogger Elise Cook is not only a great friend of mine and Tucker's, but she also had her own Devon magic in 2012. Originally entered in the Local Hunters with Turtugo, they received “the call” on the Wednesday of the show and were invited to compete in the older Amateur Owner hunters.  In Elise's words, "A splendid time was had by all."  Congrats Elise and Turtle!!
Elise and Turtugo

Monday, June 4, 2012

Starstruck at Devon

Picture this - I'm standing at the in-gate just before the course walk for the Idle Dice Open Stakes Class at Devon.  I have a Press Pass (Sidelines has hooked me up!), and I am trying to play it cool, but internally I am bouncing off the walls.  I am literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Beezie Madden and Margie Engle.  Everywhere I look, I see Olympic greatness.  I stand at the gate, snapping photos with my pathetic, amateurish, digital camera, at the literal legends of our sport who are counting out strides just feet from me.  It feels like I'm through the Looking Glass.

Inside the Press Box, I stick out like a sore thumb.  But, I am almost just as thrilled to be shoulder-to-shoulder with real equine journalists (there are people who do this for a living, how cool is that!).  I quickly catch on that nobody really claps in there, and it's all very routine.  They take notes, snap photos, and idly chat about how long the winner interviews will likely take.  Once again, I find myself trying to play it cool.

The class ends, and I have taken dutiful notes on every round, where the rails fell, and which rides I liked.  I've tried to take photos, but once again the pathetic camera has utterly failed me.  (I vowed about a hundred times to upgrade that particular piece of equipment as the class went on.)  When I sat down to write this post, though, I realized nobody tunes in to Tucker the Wunderkind for class results and you've seen my photography skills.  Instead, go to Show World for the results, and check out the photos from Sidelines blogger Beth Harpham at Chasin' - they are fantastic.  And here's the good stuff, from my perspective.

Katie Dinan did something amazing at the beginning of her Open Stakes round that I won't soon forget.  She came to the first line, fences three and four (which, it goes without saying, were larger-than-life), and right in the middle of the line, her horse Nougat du Vallet let out a HUGE buck, about two strides out from the monster oxer that was fence four.  Katie just got him straight again and cleared the oxer with no problem at all.  They had just announced, moments ago, that she was Best Child Rider at Devon in '09.  Just in case anyone forgot that she's not only awesome, but also just a kid.  I was totally impressed, and vowed to remind myself of that moment the next time Tucker flicks an ear at a fly and I think it's a good excuse to make a circle.

After they gave Charlie Jayne his blue ribbon for the class (his ride was completely awesome, by the way), of course they called on my idol, Mclain Ward, to cover him and Antares F with ribbons.  I had already been cleared out of the Press Box (winner interviews coming up, real journalists with deadlines of that day only allowed -- and don't think for a second the lady didn't look right at me when she said that) and was milling around in the crowd, when I remembered that, watching the live feed on Thursday night, I saw Mclain give his ribbon to a little kid.  I quickly positioned myself by the kids at the rail, and waited. 

Sure enough, Mclain and Antares wandered over to the rail, and he handed his Leading Open Jumper Rider Championship ribbon to this charming young lady, Sophie King.  Just as I had done in front of my live feed two days before, I let out an audible "awwww," and looked up at Mclain.  And now I can tell all those meanies who told me that fairy tales aren't real and Prince Charming doesn't exist, that they are wrong.  Because let me tell you . . . he looked down at me from atop his big white horse, and smiled, and then . . . he winked at me.  And then he and his big white horse rode off into the sunset, or at least that's how I remember it.  It took a lot to snap myself back into journalist mode, bend down and get some photos of the incredibly adorable Sophie, and make sure it was okay with her parents that I put her photo in the magazine.  Starstruck is an understatement.

I had already decided that this was the Best Day Ever.  I sat in the press box.  I watched my heroes do the course walk.  My favorite Olympian gave his ribbon to a little girl, and I was there to see it.  And then we had a Moment (okay, so maybe I had a Moment, but I'm counting it).  Devon has always had an air of magic for me, even the years when I was there to groom for yearlings who really didn't want a horse show on their agenda, but this year had been particularly wonderful.

But,  apparently, the stars had even more in store for my inner child, because after the course walk for the High A/O Jumper, where Mclain was coaching some of his students, this happened:

If you can believe this, I managed to introduce myself, shake his hand, and explain that I work for Sidelines and would love a photo with him for the magazine.  He was very gracious, and polite, and even signed the Sapphire Breyer model that belongs to Amy's daughter Sophie.  And thankfully, also had somewhere to be, so that I didn't have time to gush at him or say anything foolish.  I'm blushing furiously in this photo, but let's not tell anyone.  We'll just say I got some sun that day. 

It's official. . .  Devon is magical.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Best Nest

When I was little, The Best Nest was my favorite bedtime story (ironic, given that I've grown up with an irrational, debilitating fear of birds).  If you're not familiar with the story, here's a run-down.  Mrs. Bird wakes up one morning and decides she's sick of the tiny little birdhouse she and Mr. Bird have shared for, the reader must assume, the early years of their marriage, and she's ready to move on up.  So she sends Mr. Bird out on the task of finding more suitable accommodations.  Mr. Bird, eager to please his young wife (who seems a little needy, in hindsight, if you ask me), tries out all kinds of alternatives in an effort to please her: a church tower, which is lovely until the bells ring, a pleasant tree, which becomes very unpleasant when Mr. Raccoon returns home. . . you get the idea.  Lo and behold, by the end of the story, Mr. and Mrs. Bird agree that their old birdhouse is, after all, The Best Nest.

Where am I going with this?

Well, as some of you will recall, I made the decision a few months ago to move Tucker out of the barn that I loved, where he and I had spent countless happy hours for about a year and a half, in favor of another barn, in the hopes that I'd jump more, since it's an H/J place, and I have friends there, fellow amateurs like me, and we'd help each other out with jump schools, etc. (not to mention, drink lots of wine in the tackroom).  The barn I moved to is really beautiful, the facilities are awesome (super clean barn, great footing in the rings, lots of trails, plenty of turnout), and the care is excellent.  Unfortunately, something I hadn't anticipated occurred.  I don't want to give it much blog space, because (1) it's somewhat ridiculous; and (2) I swore to myself I'd never publicly disparage anyone when I started this blog.  I think, though, that I can sum it up in two words, and you'll all know just what I'm talking about:  Barn Drama.  We've all been exposed to it, we've all probably been the victim of it at some point.  It comes in many different flavors, and suffice it to say, this was a flavor I found entirely unpalatable. 

So, I did what I always do in times of crisis, and called up a friend for a drink.  This friend was my former barn manager, and after a little begging on my part, she agreed to find some room for us in the barn again.  No, I'm kidding, actually she told me that everyone misses me and Tucker, and they'd love to have us back!  So here we are, back where we belong.  File this one away in the "If it Ain't Broke Don't Fix It" Category.  Even Tigger, who formerly convinced us all that Tucker's very existence drove him insane, gave the big man an enthusiastic nicker and spent the first twenty minutes of Tucker's arrival like this:

How two tall horsees say hello: 
There is a matching Tucker nose obscured from view
 on the other side of this wall....
Of course, because this is the way my life goes, the day after our arrival I contracted a nasty bug that has had me couch-bound, and Tucker pulled a hind shoe.  So it's been a slow news week.  But, I know Tucker is in good hands, and I hear he is getting along with his new turnout buddy Ace (who is adorable, pictures to follow), and other than being a little chatty (lots of old flames he has to get reacquainted with), he's behaving himself. 

Tucker says:
I love my house
I love my nest
In all the world
This nest is best!