Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eight Days a Week, I Rri-ii-ide You.

Well, ok, more like 6 days a week, at least. But still, might as well be 8.

It sounds like a dream prescription - ride the horse at least 6 days a week, no arena work if at all possible, no circles, figures or collected work. Gallop him 2 days a week. Lots of hacking out, keeping as many straight lines as possible. Poles, hills, and the like are also good, but mostly exercise, exercise, exercise.

Fall is fast approaching and this is the time of year when I most want to just have fun with a horse. Not worry about frame and rhythm too much, give them (and me) some fun time to explore, etc. Hack out lots, without the annoying biting bugs to ruin it.

So it would really be an ideal time to have this kind of veterinary advice. Except for the tiny little detail that is my full-time career. All I can think is "Welcome back love...I'm off to the barn."  But I'm game. And I've recruited some competent help. I told his owner last week that I suspected the vet would recommend working almost every day and I was right. Not sure I really wanted to be right this time, but it's better than if the horse had something seriously wrong!

I'll back track a touch. Willie's stifles started locking up again after 2 weeks of working poles, hills, etc. And the opposite stifle started to act as bad as the original left hind was prior to the new hind shoes with wedge pads, while the left hind was pretty good still. At that point, we called the vet immediately so that we could be sure of what we were dealing with and that I was moving forward correctly. I will detail the vet visit in a seperate post, it's worth it's own time!

The visit was yesterday and that's the main prescription I got. Again, I'm not overly surprised by this. Still, it's nice to have the official word so that it's not just my idea. This way, the owners have the assurance that I'm following doctor's orders. The vet also did an internal blister on each stifle, on either side of the ligament. It wasn't my choice or decision and my questions of the vet around this practice are why I need a seperate post (among other things).

And so, we work!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Light at the End (and other calamities).

At the beginning of the summer, shortly after Alex left, I was working on a post titled "The last seven days."  Several rather exasperating things had happened, as they always do when he's out of town. I thought I'd do one of these posts a week to give me a chance to vent and, more importantly, laugh off the ridiculous things that happen. Of course, I was too busy dealing with the things to write about them.

The rest of the summer has continued on the same path! In the last 2 weeks alone, I've had to deal with many things. One morning, I was positive I smelled gas at the front door. I was tempted to ignore it since I had so much work to accomplish before a big meeting last week. Fortunately I recognized how silly that was. The gas company was great and came about 40 minutes later. Sure enough, there was a small leak in the meter out front.

Then, last Tuesday, I had the crazy long meeting. We have these every month but this one was especially challenging for me because 2 of the main items on the agenda were my projects. I was basically "on" all day. Later that night, I was on the phone with my mom. I was telling her how I was extremely exhausted but had an awesome day - I rocked the meeting, made a great dinner, cleaned the kitchen spotless, and did some gardening. Just as I was finishing up describing how on the ball I was, I heard Hazel start to bark.

Now, Hazel rarely barks. When she does, it's typically a couple low "woofs" in warning. Very rarely, she does her hound bark. This bark barely sounds like a bark. It's more like a torturous-sounding combination of a yelp, howl, and bark. The first time I heard it, I thought something horrible was happening to her. Turns out it was the neighbour's cat who had once attacked Hazel for no reason (I swear, I have video proof somewhere).

So as soon as I heard that particular bark, I said "Oh, this isn't going to be good." Sure enough, it was a skunk. I spent until 3am washing her, walking her, etc. I was dead on my feet. Eventually I just didn't care anymore and the dog and I collapsed into our respective beds. The next day, I did a few more treatments, missed work, and tried to catch up on sleep.
Suggestion: don't scream in a panic for your dog to come when it's
confronting a skunk that hasn't sprayed yet.Try to instruct the dog forcefully 
but with something less than a crazed level of volume :-/ It might help avoid the spray.
Naturally, in the midst of bathing Hazel, I got a call from Alex. To say that I was not in the best mood would be the understatement of the year. On top of that, our connection was bad. I was so tired, I don't even know what I said. I do recall commenting how this is yet another freakin' thing I have to deal with on my own. Of course, I expect this just makes him feel wonderful. We had several more days of miscommunication, so that sucked.  Although I knew everything would work out fine, misunderstandings happen sometimes after being apart for so long and only having brief conversations, but my world is never right when there is tension between us. Finally on Saturday we had the time to hash it out. All was well.

In between all this, I had taken some time for myself on Friday (I had previously schduled the day off, for relaxation and pampering the dogs, since I was dog-sittung). With all the skunk stuff, I needed some horse time. I got to the barn and started grooming my boy but it didn't take long to realize his stifle, now the opposite one, was locking. No riding for me. Vet is scheduled, I'll keep you posted. 

Back to talking to Alex on Saturday. About a minute after I hung up, as I was preparing to take the dogs out (I was dog-sitting for my mom), I heard the carbon monoxide alarm going off in the furnace room. I went down and pressed the button that shows what the highest reading was. It said 32ppm, which is within the accepted range but still odd. Now here is the lesson that you should know your devices. I thought if I pressed the "test" button, it would give me a new reading. When I did that, it showed 224ppm and did the emergency warning beep pattern. While this isn't a death-is-imminent level, it is med-high and will make you sick. Since I had the a/c on, that meant I had a pretty closed system. So I shut down the a/c, opened all the windows and took the dogs for a long walk. The monitor says to call 911 if you get the emergency beep sequence, but I wasn't convinced. I figured I could do that if the problem remained.

Once back from the walk, I went back to the basement and re-tested (or so I thought). Again, I got a reading around 224. So I took the monitor and brought it upstairs. I tested each room, getting readings between 224 and 230. At this point I was suspicious. Why would it still be so high after the windows upstairs had been open for over 30 minutes? So I looked up the manual online and discovered two things: 1) they are not made to take the instant readings I thought I was taking, they monitor constantly and display the value and sound alarm at various intervals. The time between readings/alarms depend on the concentration of CO found, 2) The unit, for some unfathomable reason, is programmed to display a value "around 200" whenever you press the test button, and then it does the emergency beep sequence and returns to monitoring. So I was FINE but had an hour where I thought my night was going to really suck. Read your manuals, folks!

It seems simple, but a small misunderstanding
in the way things operate can cause lots of headache. 

The next day, I found out that one of the students my husband is co-supervising for her thesis was one of only three survivors in a plane crash that killed 12 people in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. He was pretty shaken, I think, as this time he had a face to the tragedy. While I am relieved she is going to be fine and am incredibly sorry for those that weren't so lucky, I don't think I need to tell you how it made me feel. 

So to say I am glad that I will, universe willing, have him safe at home in a week is another understatement. Although we've been doing this for years, it's much different to have your right-hand man away when you own a home and work full time, as opposed to being a student. I have to say I coped much better this year compared to last, since I socialized more, had more fun, and was more used to running the house on my own. But there were also more stressful events. His career choice has given me a few extra grey hairs this summer, that's for sure. Honest, I saw them this morning!

It's the light at the end of a very long tunnel, for me. I hope for a safe return. As much as I understand his passion for what he does, I'm finding it increasingly difficult not want to beg for more reasonable field seasons. But he's at the top of his game and there is no way I am going to clip those wings. If I'm honest, though, I wish he would trim them himself, just a little. On the other hand, I want him to fly as high as he can, I really do. I am so proud of him. Oh, love. It's never simple. And yet so simple.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Begininng Somewhat Stifled.

The first few weeks of my new horse adventure went very well. I like this horse quite a lot. As with any new mount, it takes time to really get the feel for them and I've been taking my time doing just that. It's been perfect to be able to do mostly light rides while the horse gets used to being worked more frequently. My weekly lesson is our "hard" day but we are still taking it easy and building basics. We both have the basics and then some, but not together, and he's mostly been ridden exclusively by my coach and his trainer. Although she's a believer in training so the horse learns how to think for themselves and not micro-managing every step, there is a difference between her riding and mine, I'm sure.

All was moving along well, until it wasn't.

One night I was grooming before a ride and when I went to pick out the left-hind hoof, something strange happened. It was like he couldn't straighten his leg. It was stiff and straight and seemed very tense. Then, suddenly, the leg snapped back so hard he hit himself in the belly. Ohh-kaaay. Next time I picked up the hoof, it didn't happen, but after putting it down, waiting a bit, and trying again, it was the same thing. I recruited another boarder to watch while I jogged him out. We tried up a gentle slope first...nothing. Then, at my insistence, I jogged him on the flat sand galloping track. He would trot great, tracking up nicely, then take a weird step. I brought him to a walk and turned around and at the point of walking off straight again, it happened. The leg went straight and it was clear he was trying to move it, but couldn't. He kind of dragged it in the sand for that step and then was fine again. I'd never seen anything like it (and was scared a whole bunch!).

I walked him to where I knew one of the owners was working. I told him about what I saw and we spent a fair bit of time walking, trotting, stopping, walking again etc. It happened several more times. In a way, it was a relief to have the owner witness it so they could fully realize the extent of the issue. Have you ever gone to a vet with a problem, only to have the animal be perfectly sound or otherwise fine? It's frustrating and not helpful in figuring out what's going on, so at least this was useful.

Turns out it's his stifle. Upward fixation of the patella, to be exact. I've spent the last week or so doing research in my spare time (which doesn't amount to much!). In very simple terms, one of the ligaments of the knee becomes stressed/pulled/stretched and slips over the knee cap, causing the momentary stuck straight leg.

I thought I'd have a picture but technology is failing me tonight. Bah! I'm posting anyway.

We think he probably did something while being a typical 5 year old playing in turnout. The prognosis looks good so far. He's been fitted with wedge pads in the back to help with breakover and ease stress on the ligament. That was done the next day and he hasn't taken a step wrong or locked up since. I've also learned his farrier has already been working towards improving his toe length/lack of heel, but that's mostly a front end problem anyway.

My plan is to carefully condition him to build strength and help the ligament heal. Currently, he is in turnout from about 6am to 9pm and then in a large standing stall (ugh, I know) overnight. I'd like to get him out of the standing stall to eliminate any unnecessary stress to that ligament. He's in there because it's the easiest way to feed him extra grain/supplements twice a day and also ensure that he's resting some of the time (he's a huge player in turnout) without occupying a box stall that a paying boarder would occupy. I don't think it's horrible in general since the horses are out so long, the stalls are large enough for side-to side movement, and the horses in there do lie down all the time. I don't love it either, though. 

So, we are discussing turnout options to maximize motility but that's a challenge because he needs to have his supplements and grain - he doesn't have weight to spare. Apparently it's not as easy as you might think to have someone feed him breakfast (between myself and my coach, we can handle dinner). We are looking at options to have the best of both worlds. I'm very happy with the way things are working with the owners, they are just as keen to figure out the best option for him. At this point, it seems that we will either get him a private turnout overnight (so that he can be fed in turnout) and then bring him to the "big boy" field during the day, or give him a big box stall overnight for a month or so.

Anyone out there with experience or knowlege about stifle issues, please comment! Especially with locking stifles, but I'd like to hear about it all. I'm trying to figure out what the best types of conditioning are for this and it's not something I've dealt with before. So far, I've been just doing a lot of walk/trot work and then some backing in-hand. I would love to hear some ideas!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Different Horse, Different Day.

I almost don’t even know where to begin. The last few weeks have been pretty crazy with discussing Brumby’s behaviour with his owner and trying to arrange something for myself. At one point I actually had the thought that I should just give up riding for a bit. I could remove myself from all the drama and save money! But then I’d lose my sanity…

Overall, Brumby’s owner was very understanding so I had no problem on that account. But then the lying and misdirected blame started. The blame wasn’t directed at me but I’ve heard my share of lies in the last two weeks! Why is it so hard for people to be honest? In this case, I think the owner believes her own lies…her reality seems to be radically different from everyone else’s. Even other people's version of what Brumby did while she was riding. Or she's just a liar. Or both delusional and a liar!

I don’t want to dwell on all that though. My next task was finding another horse. I knew I could lease the other bay gelding I’ve mentioned before but I wanted to at least see what else was out there.  I spent some time looking at local ads and there was very little in the way of what I was looking for within reasonable driving distance. I also really, really love the barn where I am and I know that is a rare thing indeed! 

So I’m trying out the little guy. I call him little but the owner and I sticked him on Friday and he’s a little over 16.1hh, so without shoes he’s a solid 16.1 and a pinch. He seems so little compared to Brumby, who I figure is 16.3 but is built bigger all around. Or maybe his personality isn't so big and imposing. I was given free rein to ride him whenever I want for the rest of the month while we work out money and conditions.

Looking cute in the new halter I bought him.

He’s had his teeth done (finally!) so I’m very happy about that and he clearly is too. I’ve been riding in a bitless bridle so as to not make him uncomfortable. I do like the bitless but find it hard to soften effectively with that particular one (which I borrowed).  Since this guy has a very soft mouth, I’d prefer to have something with better feel. 

We are currently negotiating who is going to do his farrier work because I am not happy with the state his feet are in right now. He is under-run, especially in the front, with no heel and long toes, flares etc. I know horses don’t always have hooves that are the same shape and even size, but his are so different I just can’t imagine that’s how they should be. I’m not an expert by any means, yet I can tell these are not happy hooves. On top of that, the cork holes don’t work – it seems like they’re too big, you can’t catch the thread even with the tap. And that’s with apparently new shoes.  It’s not just aesthetics though, he also trips a lot. 

We’ll see where this goes but the good thing is that his owners seem to be willing to address these issues and agree with me on the hoof issues.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fearing the Worst; Hoping for the Best.

This morning I had a big scare. I had a friend coming over at 10 who was going to help me with some yard work. At 8:45, I was almost out the door to walk Hazel when I got a call from my mom. She idly chatted and then asked if I had heard from Alex. She asks me this all the time so I offhandedly said we spoke Saturday morning and that I had expected his call last night but didn’t hear from him. This isn’t unusual and I don’t worry about it – it isn’t easy making calls from where he is, with the work he does, and the time difference.

Then my mom told me that she heard about a helicopter accident in northern BC. I don’t really remember what else we said, it was too much to process. I didn’t react much and she said she’d stop by later. Although I wanted to get online right away, I also had Hazel at the front door waiting and I told myself another 30 minutes wasn’t going to change anything. Plus I knew if Alex was going to call it would be around 9:30 and I wanted to make sure I was back by then. So I left.

I think the weight of the possibilities and the unknown began to sink in as I walked.  I literally felt cold, even though it was already about 30C(86F). If my stomach wasn’t already empty, I think I would have thrown up. My brain felt fuzzy and the ground was tilting funny.

I made it home and looked up the news. The article I read made everything worse. The details fit, to the best of my knowledge of where he was at the time. They weren’t releasing names because the family hadn’t been notified. I had been telling myself I would know by now, but that part about the families not being notified made me wonder if I really could find out about such a thing from a news story. I was sickeningly convinced of the worst and my tilted world had a hollow, surreal quality.

The story mentioned the name of the heli company, so I started looking up the documents about who my husband had contracted. Around 9:40, just as I had found the right files, the phone rang. I held my breath after saying hello, afraid the voice wouldn’t be my husband. But it was!  I instantly started crying my heart out. 

I was relieved but also was thinking that 3 family’s lives were going to be forever changed. I have a new understanding of what that could possibly feel like.  The rest of the day came in waves of recovery. My mom and I shared a good cry and I understood how hard it was from her perspective to tell me in the first place. She understands the amazing thing that Alex and I have found in each other.

Whew. Not a morning I will soon forget.