Thursday, April 17, 2014

State of the Stifles

You are getting two posts in one day. This was supposed to go out a few weeks ago......

The vet came out two weeks ago this coming friday. At the time we got homework to do stifle strengthening and refrain from canter for two weeks. From there I am to let her know if he's getting better or if we should check the joint for something more serious. I have tried to avoid analyzing his muscles or overthinking. We just set to work doing lots of polework, walking over hay bales, rein backs, and even road hacking. Today I took at a look at those pesky quads and he sure looks bigger. It is actually shocking to me that you can make visible changes in less than two weeks. Trainer came today and was of the same mind to see if she could tell a difference. She noticed it too!! The left quads are better than the right but we both are bigger. She walked him to and from and his stifles seem more stable. He also much much straighter. It was like riding a shoulder in to keep him straight to the right. Today we rode some actualy shoulder fores at the walk. They rode like normal grown up horse shoulder fore. He's offering to stretch down more at the trot. He carries himself very upright and it moves into uptight easily. He's the first horse I have had where I think "Go on the forehand and poke your nose out!!! Anything, just get loose." He gets a really nice stretchy walk and I can actually feel his back come up. Our lesson ride today was very short because he was spot on right off. He had to use his brain a bit to get through one of the pole exercises but figured it out quickly. 

My friend over at Equestrian Journey is doing a really great series about stifle excercises. If you have a youngster odds are they could use a little quad work. The stifle is such a complicated joint it actually scares me. I would venture to guess more horses could benefit from quad work. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Perils of Balancing Life with Horses

This is kindasorta a horsey post so I apologize in advance for lack of Dickie antics. I have been feeling bad lately about how hard it is to balance my social life with horses. I have some amazing friends but the older I get the more scattered my friends are. None of my best friends from the same social circle. Some live on the west side of town, some on the east side. Some I met through work, some through school, some through activity groups. Some work day shifts, some nights. Some Mon-Fri and others are like me and rarely work the same days two weeks in a row. That would be hard enough as it is but I also have to fit riding in. It is a new thing for me to be balancing a non-horse life and horse life. I have always had an active social life but for most of my adult life my best friends were my horse friends. We could catch up on life on horseback. Or meet up for drinks before/after a ride. Then I hurt my hip, Bre needed to be retired. I now have many non-horsey and who never knew me when I rode everyday. 

 I work 12 hour shifts and it is impossible to ride on a work day. I get to the hospital by 630am and don't leave until 8pm (often later). It is 30-45 minutes before I get home. That means I pretty much have to dive in bed when I get home in order to get a full night sleep. I am a nurse at a very high acuity hospital so skimping on sleep to see friends or ride horses isn't even a consideration. I am left with four days to work my horse. If I take a day off of riding it is because I was swamped with homework, have a date with my very patient honey, or spent time with my family. Taking a day off riding it means I need to find a way for Dickie to get worked (costing $ I don't have). It isn't fair to expect a horse to perform at a high level when they aren't kept in shape. I even feel like just working him four days a week isn't enough and once he's older and I'm expecting a lot out of him I will need to get someone to help. 

My drive to the barn is anywhere from 30-60 mins each way depending on where I leave from. That means I might have two hours of commuting. I don't love the long drive but it is the only place I can afford that has lots of turnout, two giant arenas, and trails. If I even shorten my drive by 15mins that takes me to barns that are either slack on horse care or are missing one (usually more) of my must haves. It's at least a few hours by the time I ride, groom, clean tack, fill slow feed nets, etc.... That takes up a good chunk of my day. The rest of the day is filled with homework and my partner needs to take priority over the rest of my free time. With my schedule I might have one or two days a month I could fit in a social event and if my friends happen to be busy those days we are SOL. 

I wanted to vent to you all because there is no way for a non-horse friend to get "it." I don't blame them for being bummed for feeling neglected that I can't see them. If I were in their position I would feel the same. There is no way to help someone understand that taking another day off riding is a big deal. If he isn't kept in shape he is at risk for injury. Heck, so am I. I barely keep in riding shape as it is. When I have too much time off my hip hurts for days once I get back in the saddle. And how do you explain that a young horse needs consistency? If he was 15 and well trained having a few days off wouldn't be a big deal. At four if he has more than two days off we end up playing too much catchup. The more he is worked in a week the more confident he is. He's also a real bitch to handle for the barn help when he isn't worked. He's not a tennis racket sitting in a closet. He's a 1,200 lb people loving creature who will tear the barn down from boredom if he isn't handled. Missing riding days are just bad all around. 

Anyhoo there's my vent. I just thought a few of you would understand how hard it is to juggle horses with life. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing?

I love his little yearling face

Dickie has reached the baby horse age where his riders need to practice self restraint. When you first start a youngster it isn't as easy to overwork them. Dickie has the attention span if a gnat on meth so his brain wore out long before his body. Bre at age three was more focused than Dickie will probably be at age five so she was overworked before I even met her. 

Dickie now brings his grown up mind to the party everyday. Now that we've added more fun things (poles, cross rails) so his attention span is longer than his strength. Instead if convincing Dickie he can handle another 15 minutes even though he's bored I find myself stopping when we have more gas in the tank. He also looks very grown up. His chest has almost doubled in size. He's gone up a tree size in saddles. He's muscled out almost everywhere (he's only weak spot are the quads that keep his stifles steady). 

I have to admit it's really hard to quit when it's so much fun. He's turning into a fun fun horse. His stifle issue was a reminder that he's still four. He's got another two years if growing and filling out. There no such thing as a "fast maturing" breed. No matter how strong your horse looks his spine is still growing until six. If you are riding a youngster or bringing a horse back from inactivity find a way to hold yourself back. Whether it is a timer or sticking to specific plan each ride. Stopping 15 minutes early can add up to extra years of riding. It might even avoid a career ending injury before you make it to the first show. 

Mostly muscle but he's missing the mucle along his flank. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014


What we have discovered about Dickie is that he's an overall agreeable guy. It would be easy to chalk it up to have Appytude but when we listen it generally turns out sometimes this bothering him. When he was just a wee 2yo he would seem pissfied but is was usually after a growth spurt or I put an offensive texture on him (boots, fuzzy pad). I have also discovered that if his pee pee is grungy he doesn't like to move forward and will rub his tail or stomp his feet like a baby. In some ways he is tough (strong feet, crashes through water). In many ways though he is a total princess and the pea horse. I know horses need to tolerate a certain amount of discomfort. By discomfort I mean carrying a rider, the feel of water dripping on his legs (thinks that's torture), when the fleece half pad hangs over the back of my saddle pad, the vibration of clippers, etc...... When you have a sensitive horse it is a fine line between catering to their whims and disregarding a brewing problem.

Head over heels pissy pants.

When he had a really bad attitude it was his tummy. We added hind shoes and it made a world of difference. Once all that was fixed we were left with a mostly happy to move forward horse that still kicks out to the right. Mostly on corners when being asked to move forward and mostly just to the right. So rather than just assume it's appytude and get after him we decided to consult the vet. He's not lame but why not get input now rather than wait until there is an actual injury. Trainer suspected stifles.

Wednesday he had the hardest session so far. We didn't kill him or anything but we asked more of him than usual. The next day I didn't work him long but we did more turning than usual. We went through several dressage tests. We worked on centerlines which requires fairly tight turns for baby horse. Friday the vet came out to give input. Trainer and I described our issues and she walked right up to him pointed at the right stifle without even seeing him move. I felt kind of stupid that she zeroes in on it so quickly. She watched him walk down the aisle then WTC on the long. The verdict is loose stifles, more so on the right. She had me hold my hand over his stifle so I could feel it as he moved. He actually seemed a teensy bit off when he first started out (first time that has happened) but only for a few strides. She pointed out the muscles we wants to see get bigger. Trainer heard everything and didn't seem worried, it was actually what she suspected. Vet said to give him a few weeks off from cantering but keep at it with the trotting. Lots of cavalettis, hill work, avoid tight turns, trail riding, lots of turn out, steady work (minimize days off). All of that sounds good to me.

I am trying not to worry (I still am though). It seems like it's fairly common in youngsters. She said they have more problems during growth spurts. That fits because I've always noticed the throws more tantrums on the lunge just after he has grown. I get paranoid though because I went through so much with Bre. I remember what a talented young horse she was. She was everything. I still wonder if someone had listened to her instead of just pushing her maybe she would be sound today. 

Nice little article on stifles.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sunny Days

Last week trainer and I rode together. It went well and my rides since then have been fantastic. We have a long way to go but I'm actually fixing some position issues that have kept us from improving. Today I got on first. It was so nice to feel like we had improved over the week instead of just picking up where we left off (or going backwards). She rode after and took him over some cross rails. He was very good 

My friend came to video and we luckily had a break in the rain. It helps so much to see exactly what I'm doing wrong and right. I've gotten into a really bad chair seat. I'm well aware but I can't seem to figure out a trick for fixing it so I just go along with my feet braced in front of me. Cricket found a way that seems to be helping. She says "point your knees down" which is much better than the voice in my head saying "dumbass stop bracing your feet". I don't see the problem going away anytime soon but I feel like I'm making headway for the first time in years. 

My other big issue is crazy arms. I've never had bad hands and there was even a time when I would say I had good hands. I don't know when this crazy arm/hand thing appeared but it's here and it needs to go. 

No lessons and green/problem horses has made me an effective rider without being a pretty rider. And I could be so much more effective if my hands cooperated. I tend to ride Dickie with my hands far too wide and it throws the rest of my body off balance. The second I get my hands together I can feel my stomach muscles engage. My trusty trainer zeroed in this and had been tirelessly reminding me to keep them together. My friend got some video today which helped me realize when I think they are close they are actually still wayyyyy to wide. And when it think I'm touching them I'm really just doing piano hands w my thumbs touching. And apparently I can keep my hands together or bend my elbows. I cannot do both. Sorry Dickie. 

I can't wait to get back in the saddle. Between my lesson and the videos I feel like I can make some real headway. My canter work is a hot mess but I think it will fall together once I tweak a few things.