Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Working Equitation - Another thing that Reddums kicks butt at

This weekend, Reddums and I attended a working equitation clinic, just for the fun. Since a lot of the obstacles are similar to the medieval games that he’s very experienced with, I figured he’d be good at it and I could hopefully learn something new. Besides, it was located at a gorgeous facility with about 30 Lusitano stallions, many of whom are national champions at one discipline or another. Ok, so I did worry about being completely outclassed, so I tidied up Reddums, polished my boots, and got out my show pads. At least we wouldn’t look too bad!

If you’re not familiar with Working Eq, here’s a pretty amazing video of the guy who’s the best in the world:
We totally looked like this by the end of the weekend. NOT!

When we arrived, Reddums was given a ginormous stall. I’m pretty sure it was 14x14, which is perfect for all of their 16+ hh stallions, but for Red it was sort of like a luxury apartment. He actually had a hard time reaching the hay rack, and he was pretty confused about the grooms coming in every time he pooped to tidy up (a little privacy, please!).

Yes, this will do nicely. Where's room service with my massage?

As we were tacking up for the first ride, a dressage judge that I’ve met before came over to get everyone’s info and approximate level of expertise. I told her that on a good day we had first-level trot work, but he was gaited and so his transitions and canter needed a lot of help. To her credit, she didn’t make any disparaging remarks, other than saying she’d never met a Missouri Foxtrotter before and that he was “cute” (Sigh. Of course).

Absolutely, positively NOT CUTE.

The clinic started off with a dressage lesson. The head instructor apparently didn’t read the part about Red being a gaited midget, because he didn’t insult his size or his lack of ability. Instead, I explained what our issues were, and he approached things like with any other horse. How completely refreshing! He stuck to working on the ride I had, and didn't immediately dismiss Reddums. It was really, really nice.

There were two key take away points this weekend that made ALL the difference in how Red went:

  1. For EVERY transition, ask for 2-3 steps of leg yield before the transition. This engages the horse’s inside hind leg and ensures he’s in the outside rein. This works for both up and down transitions. We went from having dramatic, head-slinging hollow transitions to having amazing, smooth, tidy transitions. ER. MAH. GAWD!!! 
  2. Move the horse’s shoulders, not his hind end. This was another huge piece for us. If we are on a circle, Red often stiffens up if I half-halt on the inside rein to ask for bend. Even a tiny half-halt will do this if we’re going left. Once he’s stiff, he goes hollow, then he starts to gait, and then it’s all over. He also tends to pop his shoulder out, especially to the right (these two things are related, I know). So instead of asking for any bend at all with the inside rein, I pushed his shoulders around the circle with my outside leg in front of the girth. Inside leg remains supportive on the girth, inside rein releases (or at least doesn’t pull). And holy cow, I could suddenly turn Red in a 20 meter circle without having him be a hollow, gaited mess!
At the end of the first day, we had these fantastic walk-trot, trot-walk transitions, and somewhere in there I discovered a walk-canter, canter-walk transition too (!?!?!). When I remembered not to hang on the inside rein, our canter went from a running, hollow, four-beat disaster to a tidy, balanced almost-three-beat gait. I stopped having problems getting the left lead when I remembered to leg yield into the transition, sit up and ask (instead of throwing my body forward), and tip my pelvis up to give his shoulders space to jump up into. I also discovered that Red prefers I ask for canter with my outside leg further forward than I am used to. OK, buddy, if you are going to give me an amazing ride like that, I’ll do it however you want!

After those breakthroughs, the actual obstacles on the working equitation course were kind of a let-down. Red tromped over the bridge, opened the gate, jumped the hay bales (while I counted 1-2, 1-2, in my head so as not to rush him), and wove poles and barrels like a champ. We need more collection in the trot and canter if we have any hope of doing the poles and barrels at speed, but we definitely saw the beginnings of it this weekend. We finished up with two walk-canter-walk transitions both directions (with me grinning stupidly and how amazing those were), and I called it a day. I fed Reddums every single last treat I'd brought with me, and put him away.

I finished off my absolutely incredible Saturday with a trip to Charlotte’s Saddlery, where I had a gift certificate that Saga and I won at the LOPE show last October. My plan was to purchase a new pair of white breeches to replace the 15 year old ones I have with the blown-out waistband, but there I was in this amazing tack store and my Visa card just sort of jumped out of my wallet… and then my husband called to ask me to see if they had any men’s breeches, and what about a new helmet for him. So I left with white breeches, a new fleece sheet for Reddums, a new halter and lead for Reddums (his is 8 years old and sort of sad looking), gloves, a new helmet to replace my 10 year old helmet, and breeches for the hubby. My bank account is NOT going to appreciate that, but I really was replacing things that needed to be replaced. Or so I tell myself!

Sunday was slightly less exciting. We did another dressage lesson in the morning, but Reddums was not as good as the day before. It was a productive ride, and we were able to have some good moments, but it was just not as fluid and relaxed as on Saturday. We worked a bit more on canter, and the instructor said he couldn’t believe how nice our canter had gotten in just one day. Go Reddums! We also played around with going straight, which is hard because Red wants to go in one rein or the other, but not both at the same time. We talked a lot about how hard straight really is, and ended with some nice (for Red) trot-halt transitions. When I untacked him, I palpated his back a little, and sure enough, the area right behind his withers was sore. I checked my saddle and it was tipping a bit toward his shoulders, so I either need to change the gullet size or get a shim pad, or both. Poor guy, and he tried so hard for me even though his back was hurting. What a stoic boy!

I only got a few pics of the amazing facility where the clinic was held. It was overcast all weekend so the pics came out pretty dark, plus I was trying to be kind of surreptitious with my photography.

One of the gorgeous Lusitano stallions. I wanted to stuff him in the empty spot in my trailer!

 The covered arena. Ok, so I don't love the pink, but otherwise... WOW!

View of the arena from across the "lake" on the back of the property. 

So the upshot of all of this is that the dressage judge AND another lady in the clinic (who happens to be an instructor at the nearby eventing center that hosts USEA rated events) came up to me and told me how NICE Red was and asked me what level we were showing. I said that we weren't, and they both told me that I should. I pointed out the lack of a decent canter, and the judge was like, “Yeah, but it’s gotten so much better literally overnight, and you’re going to score 8s with that trot of his!” The instructor said that he was such a cute jumper (there’s that four-letter word again) and so bold over all the obstacles there, I really should take him eventing. 

So what the heck. We’re going to a schooling horse trials next weekend. Goldilocks level… because, you know, it’s not too big, it’s not too small... it’s juuuust right! ;)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Enough with the short jokes already

Ok, I get it. Red is 14.2. If he were a reining or Western pleasure horse, he’d be average sized. But when you do stuff like foxhunting, eventing, and dressage (ok, and jousting too), he’s kind of a midget. But dangit, he’s a CUTE midget, and he tries hard, and he’s a really good boy (most of the time).

And it may not have occurred to everyone out there, but we’ve owned Red for 8 years, and WE KNOW HE’S SHORT. Duh.

Case in point. We were foxhunting last weekend, and as we were riding back to the trailers, and one of the other riders says to me (from the top of her 16.2 hh ex-TB racehorse), “Is that what you’re down to?” I get that you’re trying to be funny, but really. Red had been rateable, polite, and spent the entire hunt right behind the second flight leader. If you have that kind of hunt horse, who CARES how tall he is?

And the new riding instructor – I know that he wants me to have something larger with a regular WTC, but if he says “We need to find you a REAL horse!” one more time, I swear Red’s gonna run him over. I mean heck, if he can face down an 18hh draft while jousting or doing mounted combat, some guy on the ground shouldn't be any problem, right?

Yes, I get that he’s gaited, and that his canter is flat and lateral and sometimes unbalanced. I know he’s not super fast, and he cannot jump super high. You’re right, I’ll never be able to take him to a dressage show (even though his trot work is starting to be first level quality) and we’d probably get thrown out of even the Green as Grass division if he foxtrots in the dressage test. But he’s one HELL of a nicer ride than the Hanoverian mare that I was offered to ride the other day – the one who kept trying to spin and bolt to the gate with me? That was super awesome. MY short little gaited pony moves off my leg, is soft in the bridle, jumps 3’ coops, and kicks draft butt.

Did I mention that he cuts cows too? Who knew?

So next time you see me out there making the best of what I have to ride (because, you know, I have one retired horse, I put my main horse down last week and my hubby rides our other horse), how about mentioning how nice his trot work is, or how brave he is over the hunt coops, or how great it was that he cut the cattle away from the horses who were freaking out about them? Save the short comments for someone who hasn’t heard them. Besides, I’m riding the Feerless War Pony… what’s under YOUR saddle? ;)

... and you DO NOT want to mess with the Feerless War Pony.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Starting to move on

Today was a good day. Not the best day ever, but I'm at peace. Looking back, it seems like I've known that yesterday was coming almost since the beginning of this injury. I feel closure now, and relief that Saga isn't in any more pain.

Thank you everyone for your wonderful, kind words. I haven't met most of you in person, but it's amazing how supportive the blogging community is. I apologize for not replying to your comments individually, but I don't have anything to say other than Thank You. Y'all are wonderful!

Cash is starting to settle in without Saga, although he refuses to eat much at mealtimes. For now he's separated from the others, so I can leave his food out for him to eat when he likes, and he has been finishing it in his own time. Whatever he wants to do is fine with me, as long as he keeps himself healthy.

My vet had asked if she could perform a necropsy on Saga's leg, and I gave her permission. I got the report today:

"Everything that we were starting to see on last radiographs with the cyst like lesions were real. There were two areas of cartilage damage within the joint with corresponding cysts that were breaking into the joint surface  The area would absolutely not be accessible arthroscopically.  The corresponding soft tissue structures were normal, with the exception of a very thickened joint capsule due to chronicity (that is what you were seeing get so big on the outside of the joint).  Also on radiographs, the joint was starting to show additional signs of arthritis."

I called her for an explanation in English further details. The bone cysts (there were two) were 5+ mm long, which is pretty big considering the location, and they were still active (getting bigger). They were in the middle of the joint area on the pastern bone, and would not have been accessible by surgery if we had wanted to try that option. In addition, the cysts were "breaking into the joint surface," causing massive swelling. There was also bruising on the bone itself, and my vet feels like they would see even more damage with an MRI. Basically, there was nothing anyone could have done to help him. I never had any doubt and did not need this confirmation that we made the right decision, but it is beyond doubt now. My only regret is that we let him go on as long as we did.

But Maddy and Artemis... they made me smile today. :)

Cats! In a box! How can you not love such cuteness?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

In memory of Saga

How do you start a post like this? The blank screen gives no clues. Everything I think of sounds like something out of a newspaper obituary.

We'll start with yesterday. It sucked. People kept telling me it was such a hard decision I was making, but it was actually easy. Saga was in pain, and there was no way to fix it. The kindest thing to do was to let him go. Acting on such a decision - making all the arrangements for both Cash and Saga - was surprisingly difficult. Having to tell the vet, the BO, my friends, over and over again what was going on - at work, no less - had me going through Kleenex after Kleenex. Telling everyone who had known Saga what was about to happen, just in case they wanted to say goodbye, was also hard. Writing yesterday's blog post was hard. I cried a lot of tears and went to bed early. Luckily, I slept the night through.

This morning, Fuzzypony took off work (bless her, I have the best friends in the whole wide world) and drove with me to get the boys from the retirement farm. We pulled in and went to get the boys. It was perhaps 300 yards from where Saga and Cash were out in their pasture to the trailer, and more than once I though we weren't going to make it. Saga would take about 10 steps and then need to rest, he was hurting so badly. I wished like anything I had something, ANYTHING to make him feel better, make the trip easier, but I didn't. Cash was the best, he stayed right next to Saga the entire time, with no halter or lead on him. If he got a few steps ahead, he stopped and waited for Saga. I was crying so hard I could barely see the ground in front of me, but seeing how much he hurt, seeing how bad it really was, made me realize again just how much I was doing the right thing.

By the time we got to the trailer, Saga was shaking and practically on three legs. I hadn't thought to bring standing wraps or any other support (apparently I wasn't thinking very straight at all), but we did blanket them for the trailer ride. We loaded Cash first to give Saga a break, and an extra incentive to get on the trailer. He had a bit of a hard time loading, but got on after a moment.

I drove slowly and carefully home, trying not to jostle the boys any more than necessary. We turned the trailer around, and with the truck still running, unloaded Cash and handed him to MC, who had taken the morning off work (bless her too, did I mention I have the best friends ever?) to pony-sit him while Saga was gone. Before they could start hollering to each other, Fuzzypony and I hopped back in the truck and left for the vet. It was the easiest way I could think of to separate them. I hope Cash forgives me for doing it like that, but how do you tell a horse that he'll never see his best friend again, and to say goodbye?

When we pulled into the vet, the tech that met our trailer was crying. My vet was sniffling too. We put Saga in a stall with some alfalfa, and I said my goodbyes to him. He was content, munching his alfalfa and watching the cows in the adjacent pasture. I'm not sure if he understood what was going on, but he was relaxed at at peace.

I've never had to put a horse down, and it was mercifully quick. He was literally standing there eating a carrot one moment, and gone mid-bite. I held his head and stroked him and cried for a while, waiting until the vet said he was completely gone. And then... it was peaceful. He was peaceful.

My vet told me that when horses are ready to go, they tend to go very quickly. Saga was one of the fastest she's seen. I never doubted that this was the right decision, but I'm glad that he was ready too.

It was good that MC was able to be with Cash when we dropped him off at home. She took him for a walk immediately after he got off the trailer, and he was good, but after they got back to the barn he was frantic, screaming for his buddy. I have no doubt he would have hurt himself if she had not been here, and I cannot thank her enough for keeping him sane when he was initially separated from Saga. This evening he was still pacing, but has started to eat a bit, and isn't frantic. Red is up in the stall to keep him company tonight - not that he's any substitution for Saga, but some company is better than none.

I talked to Cash tonight about Saga. I explained that he was free now, but he wouldn't be coming back. Cash let me rub his face and ears a bit in between his pacing. I told him that Saga had been a really good friend, and that it was OK to miss him, and that I would miss him a lot too. I wanted to hug Cash's neck and cry into his mane, but Cash has never been that type of horse, so I contented myself with a gentle ear rub. I fed him the half of the carrot that Saga didn't get to eat, with tears streaming down my face.

I brought my camera with me today, intending to take a few pictures, but I didn't take any at all. I realized that I didn't want to remember him on his last day, but instead I wanted to remember him on his best days. So I went back to the blog that I started, Saga Chronicles (it predates this blog, if you're really bored you can go read how we got started) and found some of my favorite pictures of him. This is how I will always think of him.

Our first show together.

 As Cash's BFF.

XC schooling.


 Our last show together.

That last picture, with him fit and sound and having just won the Ex-racehorse award? That's what I want to remember. The partnership, the teamwork. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. 

Rest in peace, my beautiful boy. You will be missed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's time to say goodbye

It is with a very heavy heart that I write this.

Yesterday afternoon, MC and I went out to visit Cash and Saga. I was concerned about Saga's fetlock, as the BO had texted me earlier to say that Saga was looking a little off.

Sadly, his fetlock is quite inflamed and hot, and he is limping badly. Cash came right up to us in the pasture, but Saga came slowly... one step at a time. He would literally take a step, stop, look, take another step, stop... it was heartbreaking to watch. He was bright-eyed and cheerful and ate all the carrots and alfalfa treats we brought, but he's lost weight and he's favoring the leg as much as he ever has.

I spoke to my vet this morning, and showed her the pictures of Saga's fetlock and also videos of him walking yesterday. We reviewed his radiographs and ultrasounds, and there are not a lot of options for Saga at this time. He has degenerative arthritis in that fetlock joint, along with bone cysts that are constantly irritating the joint. Our last resort of keeping him comfortable were the steroidal injections, which should have lasted about 6 months. He was injected on December 1, so it's only been 45 days - and the joint is clearly quite inflamed and causing him a great deal of pain.

I had hoped that Saga and Cash would be able to enjoy a long retirement together at the beautiful retirement facility, but it seems that is not to be. At this point I need to do the responsible thing as Saga's owner and take away his pain. I am truly grateful that he was able to have some time - even though it's been short - galloping through wide open spaces and being a horse.

I have also discussed with my vet what is safest for Cash right now. He and Saga are extremely attached and Cash is going to be distraught without him. She suggested that I bring Cash to my place for a week or so, so that he won't be alone but will be around a familiar setting. Once he's had a little time to adjust, I need to find him somewhere that he can be out with a small herd of very docile horses, where he can be fed separately. Perhaps this will be back at the place he's at now, with a new herd of horses, or perhaps that's at another place. Maybe it's home with us, I don't know. I want to do what's best for him, but I also need some time to decide. I'm a little overwhelmed by all of this right now and frankly it's hard to stay focused.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I will be picking both of them up - Cash to bring home and Saga to take to the vet. I don't want to say goodbye, but I know it's the right thing for him. It's an easy decision to make - there truly is no choice here - but it's a hard decision to follow through on. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New trainer

Finding a dressage trainer - a REAL dressage trainer, who nitpicks every stride, doesn't ride in draw reins, and says something more helpful than, "mooooore bennnnnnd.... goooood... annnnnd twenty metre cirrrrrclllll" - has been something of a challenge. Years ago, I boarded Cash at a barn nearly an hour south of my house, and got completely spoiled by the Grand Prix trainer there. These days, high-class board and $100/session private lessons aren't in the budget - and finding time for an hour one-way trailer ride has been a challenge - so we've been trying to find someone closer to home.

I ended up using good ol' Google to find dressage trainers near me, and found a barn not 20 minutes away - with a COVERED arena. The instructor rides Grand Prix, but was going to be in Florida for the next 2 months or so. However, she had an Irish gentleman named Brian who would be riding her horses while she was gone, and she suggested I take some lessons from him in the meantime. His background was in eventing and foxhunting, so we decided to give him a try.

Unfortunately, my rides with him thusfar have been less than stellar. I've been riding Reddums, who tries hard but at the end of the day is not a dressage horse. Brian's first words to me were, "You've been riding a while, have you?" to which I replied that I had, but for the last 10 years it had been rather sporadic. I rode for him for about 10 minutes, and he stopped me and said, "You have a lovely seat, nice leg, and very soft hands... and you need a real horse." Poor Reddums. I mean, I get it - he's small, he's gaited, but sheesh, I'm riding what I have and doing the best we can! I don't think Red lets such comments affect his ego though, and I'm sure to tell him he's my star Reddums pony often. :)

Fortunately, the second ride went much better - Brian kept commenting about how nice his walk and trot were. Of course his canter continues to be lateral and unbalanced, but it's been getting steadily better (for him) over the last several rides. We've been working on keeping the contact in the outside rein - especially the right one - and not hanging on the inside rein when Red sets his poll and jaw and starts to gait (because hanging on the inside rein makes it worse. Who knew?). I've also been working on laterals quite a lot, and they're getting much better at the walk. The arena has mirrors, so I can see when I'm getting enough crossover and when I've let his hind end start to trail. Hooray! Trot laterals still take a lot of delicate riding on my part so that Red doesn't get his legs tangled up, but are starting to exist. I have also learned that I point my toes out when I apply my leg, and it's SUPER obvious in the mirror! Doh! AND I have figured out why my right calf cramps up on me sometimes - apparently when I'm asking for more forward, I tend to pretend to step on the gas (like when I'm driving) with my right foot. Do it hard enough and long enough and volia! Calf cramps. Sooo many bad habits to fix.

The good news is that hubby's lessons with Brian have been nothing short of a miracle. In just three rides, he's got his leg under him, is posting 1000x better, is getting control over his hands in the canter, and has Oberon making transitions immediately on request. Maybe it's because Brain is male, and this is the first male instructor that hubby's been able to ride with, but things are really clicking for him. So even if my progress hasn't been all that great, at least it's working out super well for hubby. I'm riding Oberon in our lesson Monday (hubby is out of town) so I'm hoping that perhaps the change of horse will challenge me and I'll be able to get some more work (laterals, medium trot) done. Fingers crossed!

I have tried to take some pics and vid of our lessons, but the covered arena is dark so none of them have turned out. Just imagine both Reddums and Oberon looking awesome!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The big "C", times two. :(

This year has not gotten off to the best start, pet-wise. Last week, we took Freya into the vet because she seemed to be bleeding from the mouth. I thought that she had perhaps lost a tooth (she is a bit older, after all), but it turned out that she has cancer of the mouth. This type of cancer is very bad for kitties – it’s in the bone, and the only thing they can do is remove part of the jaw (um, no thanks) and even then the median survival time is only 7-8 months. We opted to treat her with antibiotics and steroids, but those are just stop-gaps to keep her comfortable for the time she has left – likely days or weeks.

She’s stopped eating her regular kitty food but is still happily devouring treats. She has never been one to eat wet food, tuna, shrimp, cheese, chicken... or any other delicious people food, so it's a bit of a challenge to tempt her appetite. Hubby and I have agreed that when she stops eating, or when her breathing becomes labored (the cancer is apparently affecting her left nostril) we will call it. We don’t want her to be uncomfortable or scared. For now, she’s happy getting lots of love and snuggles, and we’re playing the waiting game.

To make matters worse, this week we found a lump on Elias’ right ankle.  I’d noticed it before but it seemed to have gone away – I figured he’d knocked himself while playing. However, by Sunday it was noticeably worse. We took him in to have it biopsied, and while we are waiting for the results to confirm, the vet is almost positive that it’s a nerve sheath tumor. Unfortunately, these have a high rate of local recurrence. If it recurs, a second surgery (or limb amputation) is the recommended option; radiation is recommended if it recurs a third time. Elias did not do well coming out of surgery, and we definitely won’t do radiation.  Median survival time for this type of cancer seems to be 6 months-2 years.  We’re definitely hoping it’s more toward 2 years, as Elias is a huge part of our family.  

And of course there's the Cone of Shame to deal with too. Poor pitiful doggie.

I sure hope y'all's years are starting off better in the critter department than ours is. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First project of the new year - the kitchen sink!

Our house boasts the original enameled cast-iron kitchen sink and bathtub.  While enamel is one of the most long-lived surfaces for such items, it does eventually get scratched and lose its polish. There are about a million Google search results for how to re-enamel an enamel tub (this involves using enamel paint over the existing finish), but unfortunately the previous owners of our house apparently didn't do their homework before slapping on a coat of (some sort of) paint over the sink and tub.

You can see the paint flaking off, and the original enamel finish underneath it.

In addition, years of being wet caused some of the grout on the edge of the sink to fail, loosening some of the tiles.

We started the project by removing as much old caulk and grout from around the edge of the sink. A utility knife and a window scraper (straight razor blade) worked well for this job.

Next, we pulled out the (old, disgusting, loose) faucet. We considered replacing it, but couldn't find any faucets that would look nice in a 50's farmhouse kitchen, AND didn't cost an arm and a leg, so we just cleaned this one and replaced it.

Next, we used Orange paint stripper to remove all the paint on the sink. You can see here how it made the paint loosen and bubble up.

We chose this stripper because it's fairly mild, and we didn't want to damage the underlying enamel any more than it had already been damaged. We tested a small section to be sure it wouldn't stain or damage the enamel first, and then went to town. (P.S. wear gloves when you use this stuff. It's not as toxic as some but it's not something you want to get on your skin.)

After scraping off all the paint and orange goo,we wiped everything down with odorless mineral spirits (again, wear gloves!) and began reassembling things.

We used an adhesive caulk to stick the tiles back in place.

We caulked the rest of the sink with a tub and tile caulk. Hubby applies the caulking; my job is to go behind with the "magic caulk finger" and make everything neat. I advise using gloves and lots of water and paper towels.

After the caulk had dried for about two hours, we reinstalled the faucet. Then we went over any grout lines on the tiles with a sanded caulk - it looks like grout but works like caulking. A lot of the grout really needs to be replaced entirely because it's gotten flaky and "rotten", but without scraping it all out (and risk damaging the tiles), using the sanded caulk was the best we could do.

Ta-dah! The "new" kitchen sink! I still need to clean the grout on the backsplash and scrub some stains on the old enamel, but it looks about a million times better!

We had originally planned to refinish the sink "properly" with enamel paint, but it seems that even the best paint jobs (done by pros, using spray enamel) only last 3-5 years. After stripping the paint off the sink, we decided that the original enamel really isn't that bad - sure, it doesn't have it's original shine, but it looks like what it is - and antique farmhouse sink. We're good with that. :)

Next up: the bathtub!!!