Monday, November 27, 2017

Update 4 of 5: Taran's mid-life crises (all of them)

While this year ended on an amazing high, we almost didn't get there - several times. See, Taran has been plagued by one thing or another, and as a result I ate a lot of omeprazole and drank a lot of wine.

After our second-level debut in April, I noticed that he was a bit foot sore. It's been an on-off problem since fall of 2016, as he has flat feet and his right front toe has a tendency to run forward. I had tried glue-on shoes a few times, which he did great in, but he didn't seem to be able to keep them on for more than two weeks. I had my vet out to consult and take radiographs, and we were shocked to find that he had only 4.5 mm of sole depth. I opted to have the hospital farrier out (he made Brego's ginormous shoes) and we put a set of plain shoes on his front feet, with rim pads.

The first week in shoes was terrifying. Normally Taran never slips or trips, but in steel shoes he did both constantly. It was like he didn't know where his feet were. It was nice not to have to boot him to go for trail rides, but other than that, I lived in constant fear that he'd slip and rip a tendon himself, or get his shoe stuck in a haynet, or rip his shoe off and half his foot with it. Those of you have shod horses probably have nightmares about your horse losing a shoe... apparently I have nightmares when my horse is wearing shoes!

But Taran managed not to kill himself, and he was definitely more comfortable in shoes, so I felt like we'd made the right decision.  I put him on Reithoof, a hoof supplement with tons of biotin in it, to hopefully help him grow out some sole (it did). Things were back to normal, so I signed us up for another show in Houston over Memorial Day weekend. And then the week before the show, T started being ever so slightly off on the RF - and it got worse as the days went by. In a panic, I cancelled the show and called my vet for advice.

Shod RF, slightly swollen in the heel and pastern. Pass the omeprazole plz.

Long-time blog readers will remember that Taran stepped on a nail back in 2011, and it went through the navicular bursae and the coffin joint. During rehab, we struggled to keep his toe on that foot short enough so that it didn't put any stress on the damaged joints, and ended up having to reset the hospital plate that covered the surgical site every 4 weeks. My vet looked back at her records, and I looked back at the blog, and T was at exactly 4 weeks when the RF started giving him trouble this time. Bingo. We pulled the shoe, trimmed his toe WAY back, and presto - he was comfortable again.

Unfortunately, T doesn't grow enough foot to have steel shoes reset every 4 weeks, so we simply couldn't keep doing that. We decided to try glue-ons again, this time with a new glue, a couple of wraps of hoof cast over it for extra staying power, and bell boots 24/7. And that seemed to do the trick.

By now, we were into the heat of summer, and the spring show season was over. We focused on strength and fitness, and making him a really solid 2nd level horse. T even went to stay with my trainer while I was gone for 2 weeks, and came back very judgmental of my riding skills. The only thing was, for a horse working at the level he was, he didn't seem to have very much muscle or topline. He also seemed to struggle with the heat more than usual, and his overall fitness level seemed to be decreasing rather than increasing. I also noticed that he was chewing a bit oddly, so on a hunch I had the vet back out to look in his mouth. And guess what - broken tooth. It was so broken the vet literally just reached in an plucked out the broken chunk. Poor Taran! After a week of care he seemed to be eating better, so I figured we had averted another crisis.

Broken molar is in the foreground...

... and here's the piece the vet pulled out.

But despite having his tooth fixed, he never really wanted to eat his Senior feed. I started giving him alfalfa to supplement, which he seemed to prefer. We did a month-long course of omeprazole since we were concerned that the stress of traveling so much might have resulted in ulcers, but it didn't change his attitude or eating habits. T also seemed to be more and more lethargic. I compared his conformation pics from last year with now, and noticed that he was definitely losing muscle.

Then one morning I came out to feed after a short rainstorm, to find him wet and shivering in the barn - only it was 80 degrees.  I threw a fleece and a blanket on him, then jokingly texted his mum a pic with "You know he's a Texas boy when...".

Literally 80 when I took this picture. Not normal.

Still, it was odd. And then he had two very mild colics within 10 days of each other. Once again, I called my vet.

"So I have this long list of weird unrelated things going on with Taran..." I listed them out for her. I'd even sent them in an email since I didn't want to forget anything.

"Ulcers? Hind gut acidosis? Lyme?" I asked. The Internet is a dangerous place if you're an armchair vet looking for a diagnosis.

"Let's test him for PPID," she said.

I laughed. "He's only 15, and he's never had a problem shedding out. There's no way this horse has Cushings!"

A week later, she called me an hour before my first ride at Regionals with the test results. My vet is super optimistic, and I swear you can never tell what kind of news you're going to get from the tone of her voice.

"We got the test results back. The high end of normal is 110... and Taran is 987."

Click to embiggen. My fav part is the "test interpretation" - technical vet speak when what it really should say is GET YOUR HOSS ON PRASCEND STAT.

I sat down hard.

"I've seen numbers that high before... once." She laughed a little.

Mad props to her for figuring that out.  Not in a million years would I have guessed!

So. Wonderpony is now on daily Prascend, and looking better every day. His topline is coming back and so is his fitness and muscling. He acts like a normal horse, although I could do with a little less fire-breathing dragon. We've changed his diet (alfalfa pellets, fat supplement, Platinum Performance, and no more hard feed ever) and most days he's happy to slurp down his "soup". He does get cold REALLY easily (refer to his 400g fill blankie from nationals), so I check the weather forecast like 10 times a day and Taran now has a wardrobe that probably surpasses Valegro's.

My biggest takeaway from the whole PPID experience is to pay close attention to anything weird about your horse. Taran's PPID symptoms were not typical, and he's fairly young. I'm super lucky to have an awesome vet, and I'm glad I have this blog to refer to for past health issues. But I'm hoping that we've figured out the RF and the PPID and can keep him comfortably, sound, and happy. After all, we've got flying changes to work on and third level waiting for us!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Upate 5 of 5: A fairytale ending

No, I'm not dead. This blog might as well be, but everything at Wyvern Oaks is kind of awesome.

In case you're wondering where updates 1-4 have gone, I'm writing this in reverse order because I'm months behind. Whatever, you get the most fun stuff first.

If we're friends on Facebook, you know that the big news for me this year is that Taran and I qualified for and went to the US Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. Not only that, but we came away with something I didn't even dare to really hope for: a gorgeous, big-ass neck ribbon. That's right, T is top 10 in the nation for AA 1st Level Freestyle.

Victory lap in the Alltech arena. I only cried a little.

The entire experience of finals was like nothing I've done before. First off, before you show in the regional qualifiers, you have to "declare" your intent to go to nationals if you qualify for an invitation. There are two ways to qualify - you can either get 1st or 2nd place in your class, or you can get a wildcard score, which for freestyles is over a 66%. We qualified with a wildcard score of a 68.5%, with was 7th place. 

Once you qualify, USDF sends you an email "invitation," whereupon you log into their website and pay the class fee for whatever you were invited for. In our case, this was not only the freestyle, but we were also "in line" to ride in the 2nd Level AA championships, because we were 3rd place at regionals. If 1st or 2nd place had declined the invitation, we would have been allowed to compete (note, this did not happen).

After that it was a matter of signing up for the show. Kentucky Horse Park is a little weird because you get your classes through one site, your RV reservations through another, and stall/shavings/hay through a third. Normally all these are included when I sign up for a show online, so I found it a little challenging the first time round. Luckily, things were all in order when we arrived after a long-ass, two-day drive with an overnight stop in Little Rock (also, hell hath no traffic like I-35 northbound from Austin to Dallas when a semi overturns and closes the Interstate for 2.5 hours). 

Unfortunately, our first ride was at 8:40 a.m. on Friday, only 14 hours after we arrived. It was 30 degrees and quite windy, and poor T and I were both frozen. We had trouble finding the arena (it was a 20 minute walk from the barn and there were no signs) and so our warmup time was cut short. Luckily my trainer (who didn't go to Finals) had put me in touch with a good friend of hers, and he was on hand to help me warm up. Given that it was the first time he'd ever seen me ride (and uh, let's just say I'm pretty sure we didn't make a great impression), he did a great job jumping in and getting the job done. We rode a very stiff, uninspired, inattentive test for a 60.854, which was our lowest score to date. T stayed with me though and tried his best, but between the long haul, lack of warmup, and cold, I really didn't set him up for success. Lesson learned though - we really DO need a day to settle in if we're going to be competitive.

Pretty but completely frozen

After our ride, I noticed that T was not very warm under his 200 gram blanket, BOT sheet, and neck cover. I tried to find him something warmer at the show, but none of the vendors had blankets, so we ended up going to a local tack store and picking up a 400 gram turnout with neck cover and belly wrap. Within a few minutes of bundling him up in that, he toasted right up and started eating and drinking more normally. Note to self: Texas gear is insufficient for Kentucky temps. Also Taran prefers warm water.

Why yes my fully clipped Texas horse is bundled up to his eyeballs. Not shown: me also bundled up in my ski pants and parka. It was 23 degrees, don't judge.

Day 2 had us riding 2-3 again at 4 p.m. It was much warmer, and I was own my own for warmup. Well, except for my awesome husband who kept reminding me to let T go forward and turn my thumbs up. I was determined to put in a more forward, uphill, and relaxed test this time, so took plenty of time to warm up and really focused on breathing and staying loose in the tack so T could actually move. We got into the ring and every time I felt him get stuck I let out my breath, relaxed, and put my leg on... and he started moving again. Lesson learned! We had our absolute best mediums to date, and our canter work was SO balanced and round. 

Like, dayum. 

Does anyone remember when we could barely even canter on the left lead?

Uhhhnnnfortunately, we also put in more mistakes than we ever have before. We had a break in the canter, someone fluffed a giant plastic trash bag next to the arena so we bolted in a 10m trot circle, we did a reining spin instead of a TOH, and he was super convinced I wanted to canter down centerline. So our new score was ALSO the lowest ever... 60.061. But we squeaked the 60 and completed his 2nd level performance award, which was why we were riding it. Besides, it was probably the best test quality-wise we've ever done (he also offered 2 piaffe steps in warmup), and I was super stoked about that.

Seriously wish the pro photographer had gotten this one... alas, it's only a blurry screen cap of a zoomed-in video.

Our final ride was the Championships on Sunday morning. We were 4th to last in order of go (they do a draw by computer), so I had a fairly relaxing morning to prep. We had another good warmup (with coaching this time, woohoo!) and there was a scratch so we got to go a bit early. Overall the quality of the ride was not nearly what we had the day before for 2-3, but it wasn't bad either. We had two mistakes - we missed the first change in our line of 3 but managed to make it up, and he spooked at A when a hoof hit the arena wall (driver error, whoops). We got a little behind the music after those mistakes and I had to scramble a bit to catch up, but it worked out mostly OK. It definitely wasn't the super brilliant test I wanted it to be, but we got around and kept it together.

I had my back to the arena and was talking to my coach about how it went when his eyes lit up, and I turned around to see the scoreboard:

Hell yes I will take that. Also judge at B, I love you.

There was much frantic scrambling for phones to check how my score compared with the others (aside... did you know that iphones will brick when it's too cold? Just FYI), and I was sitting in 8th, with 3 riders to go.

And then two.

And then one.

And we managed to hold on for 9th.

I am so proud of this piece of satin it's kind of ridiculous.

I know we had mistakes, and I know it's only 9th place. But that damn ribbon couldn't mean more to me than if it said Champion on it and came with a fancy cooler. I am riding a tiny 15.1 homebred pony cross against warmbloods imported from Germany and holding my own. I've been told more than once that I'd need a fancier horse to be competitive... and yet, here we are. We have come so far in the last two years, and worked so hard for it, and we are not done yet

Taran not care about fancy ribbon. Taran care about friends OVER THERE.