It’s oh so quiet

I am aware I am being quiet. Please do not be concerned. I will have words again for you at some point, although it might stay quiet here for at least a few weeks.

Drifter is showing infinitesimal improvements. Enough to be encouraging, not enough to make him usefully rideable. I think his calling in life was to be a dog. He would have made a lovely dog and the whole rideability thing wouldn’t have been an issue. But the weather is pleasant and he’s having a lovely time running around in the field, particularly when staff try to catch him, so I’d say he’s OK with being a horse.

In which we see the vet, and realise we sort of missed him

It was too long since we saw the vet. It was nice to see him again, although I hadn’t missed the apparently obligatory best-part-of-an-hour wait beyond our appointment time.

In terms of history I gave him the potted version of the last blog post, and we did trot ups. There was no lameness in the trot up, but I hadn’t expected there to be. Then we went back to the stable and the vet checked pretty much every joint in the back legs and his sacroiliac with bizarre (to me and D) flexions.

He confirmed what the physio and I thought – the wedge shoes that are really helping the bottom joints of the back legs are causing trouble in the joints higher up. And we need to get him off the forehand before his front legs give up too. So we need to do something different with the remedial shoeing; heart bars or egg bars rather than wedges. He’s going to have a think about the relative merits, then phone the farrier and have a chat about the best approach. He explained that as well as giving  a little more stability to the foot, bar shoes can change how the foot is positioned under the horse and how far under it reaches. I can’t say I fully understand the biomechanics of it, but to be honest, I pay a vet and a farrier to understand that for me!

Because we still have thrush in at least one of the hinds, that I’m really struggling to clear out, we may even have a temporary measure before we go into bars to maximise the chances of getting rid of the thrush. The vet is also sending betadine for the thrush, which will be a relief to have something vet recommended so that when the next in the long line of pet remedies is recommended by someone else in the yard, I can trump it with the vet card. So far we have tried hibiscrub, and two branded thrush treatments whose names I forget. I have not tried the peroxide favoured by at least one person on the yard because I cannot handle bleach smells. I want to throw up when I smell other people using it in the open air half way across the yard. There is no way I can hold a hoof up under my face and pour it in while it fizzes and I have to breath the fumes … [retches at the thought.]

So I’m pretty happy because the vet and the farrier are going to fix new legs on my horse, and then it might be able to do stuff again.

Hopefully the process of transition will be as smooth as possible, but I’ve been writing these posts long enough to know there’ll probably be bumps along the way! It’s a real shame Drifter couldn’t get on with the wedge shoes, because they seemed like a miracle when they first went on, but perhaps that itself was a sign that they were a bit too severe. Hopefully we’ll find a compromise that suits the whole horse.

The vet’s also going to get him something to help him build up muscle as he’s had limited opportunity to do anything constructive recently. Apart from the lack of topline muscling, he was very happy with Drifter’s weight, which I asked about specifically because certain people on the yard are asking pointedly when I’ll be feeding him up again. As I suspected, the vet thinks he is a lovely weight at present. On our yard, horses tend to the plump rather than the thin. My under-worked native is not plump any more, and nor is he thin any more. Certainly he isn’t looking skeletal any more like he was at the end of the diarrhoea times. To an eye used to looking at plump horses, and remembering how plump he was 18 months ago, he might look thin still. But if the vet says his weight is right for him, I’ll take that opinion above all others.

All in all, I was really pleased to have got the vet out, and really pleased that we have a path to go forwards on again.

 

 

In which shoes and saddle are thought to conspire

I’m afraid a lot of this post is recap,  but I’m putting the pieces together a bit differently so I wanted all the pieces together.

Drifter went into wedge shoeing months and months ago to help the lower joints of his back legs. They seemed to work really well for him. He had ordinary shoes with plastic wedges under them.

He came back into work. He hadn’t had a saddle fit for quite a while because he’d been out of work but I knew he was going to change shape fast and he didn’t seem to be having any issues with the saddle. Then he got diarroeah and changed even more, so the fit was postponed again.

As soon as we got the diarroeah sorted, I had a saddle fit. A week or so before the fit, he was found to be a bit sore in the withers by the physio. She also mentioned that he could be having issues with the wedge shoes. In case the soreness was caused by the saddle, I didn’t ride again until the fit. At the saddle fit we changed the Bates 2 gullet sizes and added a lot of foam flocking because there was so much less horse. The fitter explained how although the shape of the too big saddle had been OK for him comfort-wise, it had been tipping forwards over his withers and throwing my weight onto his forehand. After she’d made her changes I felt so much more secure and upright and realised how much I’d been thrown forwards. Drifter was very unsettled during the ridden part of the fit and refused to work soft and round, but I thought it was a combination of the   oddness and out-of-routine mature of saddle fit and the week off riding before hand.

The next day the farrier found thrush under the plastic wedges and had to swap to wedge metal shoes so that the sole could breathe. Whether someone told me they were bigger or whether I imagined that I don’t know, but that was the impression I got. I was worried this would make him sorer, and he did indeed get sorer fast, until he couldn’t  take any rein contact at all. We saw the physio again just before the next shoeing and this time he was sore in both withers and both hind quarters. I told her about the change of shoeing and she thought that was causing it. She said he was unable to take contact because he was unable to take weight on his back legs because the upper joints where at angles he couldn’t handle.  She said some horses just can’t handle wedges, but to give it another 6 weeks to see if he adjusted. I told her I was riding in walk and trot on the buckle and she was happy for us to continue.

Next I saw the farrier, who told me there was no difference in angle or height between the plastic wedges he’d taken off 5 weeks before and the metal wedges he was using now, so he saw no reason why there would have been any change in Drifter now – if he wasn’t handling wedges that should have showed up months ago.

It did not make me happy that my trusted professionals had conflicting opinions, but I reconciled them by seeing that the physio was saying “Do nothing for a few weeks” and the farrier was saying “Do nothing” and so I did nothing. I mostly stopped riding because he wouldn’t let me use reins at all, which ended up with him running off with me in trot one day when he was particularly sore. If I even twitched the rein he ran off faster because it hurt more, so all I had was voice control to ask him to come back to walk. He was stumbling and unbalanced and pain was overriding voice control and we staggered round and round the school in the world’s scariest trot before he finally understood that if he stopped I’d get off and he’d be comfier.

I was not keen to get on again. We handwalked, with the occasional walking lunge session with diagnostic trotting only.

It seemed like the wait and see approach wasn’t working. Yesterday I was reading horse blogs when I suddenly remembered that the problems were starting to show before the week with the shoe change, but ramped up fast afterwards. What else changed? The saddle. He is now in a well fitting saddle that puts the rider in a balanced position.

What if he was already struggling with the wedges but the badly fitting saddle was helping him cope? If he was struggling to take weight on the back legs, the rider’s weight being tipped over his forehand would help him. As soon as I was sitting back, he started fighting the contact because the only way he could counterbalance my weight was to put his nose to the floor and lean everything forwards.

I don’t have a solution, but at least I feel like I know what’s happening. We’re going to see the vet on Monday and hopefully he’ll have some ideas. The physio said heart bar shoes might be an option but I can’t see how they would help with original problems in the lower joints of the hoof/leg. If the vet fancies heart bars and can explain it to me, we might go that route. If it was the only way to make him rideable and the vet approved I would put him back in a too big saddle, but that would be a last resort!

I do have fears he may have to be retired from ridden life if we can’t get this fixed, but we’d cope with that if we have to. At the moment the yard’s occupancy has reduced enough that he gets daily turnout (weather permitting) which helps manage my worry and his activity levels.

A scale of “My nail catches on things” to “Tsunami!”

I’m not very good at keeping things in perspective. I have no trouble believing that for the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost. Although with me it’s usually more feeling along the lines that for the want of a clear policy on a very tiny issue, a university will be lost.

Many people have said to me, “It’s not life or death” when I’m taking a small issue far too seriously, or they have suggested I need to step back to look at the bigger picture, but it wasn’t until this morning that I read the advice to “rank where this issue is on a scale of 1 to 10 before reacting.”

I’ve been aware for some time that I catastrophize, so my instinctive feel is that most things I get upset about I would probably consider to be at the upper end of the scale, even if others disagreed. But there’s no point having a scale without measurements upon it – a ruler without markings is just a stick – so I started designing my own personal “disaster” measuring tape. First I defined number 1 with the irritating but inescapably minor issue of a fingernail with a little tear that catches on things, and number 10 as a tsunami. As we live about 125 miles from a beach, any tsunami that reaches us is going to be a 10 by anyone’s personal disaster scale. Then I just started slotting stuff in along the scale, starting with the scary end. And I realised that unless you need at least 1 member of an emergency service to deal with it, NOTHING ranks above a 7. So next time we have a systems issue at work and my reaction goes to an 8, my reaction is wrong!

Pretty much every work issue that sends my stress sky rocketing on a regular basis actually belongs in zones 2-4 (and remember that number 1 is reserved for total non-issues).

I created my disaster ruler at about 11.00 today. By 1.00 I had sucessfully used it to adjust my stress level about 3 times. I can’t believe how good it is. It goes like this:

Oh no, there’s a problem with the phone that belongs to the other team we share an office with! Panic now! Everything is broken!

No, wait. Is it a tsunami? No. Do we need emergency services? No. Is it interfering with the function of the team I work in? No. Oh look, it fits in category 2 and classes as a “minor inconvenience to a few members of staff.” So why would I worry about that? How lovely it is that the worst thing that’s happened this morning is only a 2 on the scale!

Hopefully I’ll internalise the ruler at some point, and recalibrate my reactions, but in the meantime I’ll be checking anything that arises on my scale of “catching finger nail” to “tsunami” and finding that most things sit nearer to fingernails than to tsunamis.

Pootling

Drifter is not comfy. It is not saddle related.

He was wearing plastic wedges under his ordinary back shoes. They were great in so many ways, until he got thrush under them. The farrier had to change them for metal wedge shoes which are a bit of a larger wedge.

It is not certain whether this is causing the pain in his withers. But he now has stiffness at the back end as well. Pretty much all the muscles that make up the great roundness of a horse’s butt are tight and uncomfortable for him right now. The physio saw him this week and said that it’s likely the shoeing that keeps him sound in other joints is tipping the stifle to an angle that doesn’t work for him.

He’s happy enough to have me on his back as long as I don’t do anything with the reins. And by anything, I mean holding them. Lay them on his neck and he’ll walk happily. Pick them up to even the longest warm-up length and he’s tense, hollow and unhappy.

I asked the physio what she recommended for his exercise and she suggested we keep on pootling without reins and wait 6 weeks. If he’s just having issues adjusting to the shoeing change, he should be over it by then. If not, time to convene the vet-farrier alliance again and see where we go with it. Unfortunately we’ll soon be coming up to the 12 month cut off on our lameness claim with the insurance, so this could start getting expensive. I need to check the dates…

Transferable skills

A few weeks ago, before Drifter got sore, we had a lesson. Actually we had a few😉 but this one was pretty intense.

My cardio fitness is fairly awful still. It’s not it the oops I need a cardiologist category any more (hurray) but it’s in the fairly normal for a person with a desk job who doesn’t excercise category I would say. Doing anything meaningful about that while maintaining the rest of life hasn’t really happened yet, so when I go for a 45 min dressage lesson, it has overtones of bootcamp beastings as far as my fitness level is concerned.

If I were to declare that I needed to stop, rest, breathe, whatever, the instructor would not have an issue with it, but otherwise he’s going to keep things going until the horse needs a rest. It’s all about D’s workout, not mine.

If you add to this the fact that I decided to wear my good show boots and they were a) improving my posture so I used different muscles and b) squeezing my left calf in a pretty vicious way, I was pretty damn uncomfortable for a lot of the lesson.

Particularly towards the end of the lesson I was so so close to opening my mouth and declaring I couldn’t do it, as the instructor calmly ordered another trot circle, and another, and my boots bit at me, and the power of the horse-working-really-hard-too-and-needing-me-to-rise-to-the-challenge pushed at all the different bits of me, but instead I shut my mouth, raised my chin, and cranked out another brilliant (for us) trot circle.

What made me able to put up and shut up?

A mantra of hard things I’ve achieved in my life. I wasn’t going to let any breeches-wearing-sandpit-circle-dressage-instructor hear me ask for mercy.

As we whisked around our circles and spirals, and my lungs burst, and my muscles screamed, the past proofs of my ability to endure which strengthened me were not the physical achievements of my past. I didn’t even think of the fact that I once did a half-marathon on a rowing machine, or that I used to take a map and some sandwiches and go out on my bike for a whole day, or even that I once did a full weights work-out followed by doing a Body-pump session to help out a trainee instructor.

Nope. The things that ran through my head weren’t as sane as that.

You can’t break me because I used to have 6 hour baroque violin lessons, so 45 min. of dressage is a piece of cake.

I’ve played Turangalia Sinfonie twice in 48 hours, on a viola that weighed far more than anything any teenager should be holding up for hours. The horse is holding me up here, so this is easy as hell.

I’ve performed Nozze di Figaro 4 times in 3 days in a pit orchestra where there was barely room to play, let alone breathe, and the temperatures were ridiculously high.

I’ve counted rests through Strauss Metamorphosen, with a hangover from hell, having not been to bed all night the night before, and stayed awake and kept my place, every bloody time, even though the conductor only let us get 3 bars into the bit where I played for the whole rehearsal.

Yup. The toughest things I can say I’ve achieved in my whole life came from a musician’s training. Riders might think they’re tough, because they go out in the cold, and shovel poop, and get on large animals with minds of their own, and get back on after they fall off, but I tell you that nothing I’ve seen outside of the musical world has been as tough as what I’ve seen it it. Orchestral string playing, and the training for it, is exhausting and painful and hard, and if you can survive a serious youth orchestra, and perhaps University music making as well, you will come out ready to face anything life can throw at you.

Even a mild-mannered dressage instructor.

Getting on with waiting

Drifter has now seen the physio and the saddle fitter since we last “spoke” here. He is sore in the withers.

It probably was the saddle fit that caused the problem. Although I used a pro-lite and a fat saddle pad to make up for the size difference caused by the diarroeah it seems that the saddle must have been rocking forwards. Everyone thought he’d be OK in that set up, but it was clearly not OK.

It’s unfortunate that it took me several more rides to understand him than it usually would have done – I was having some emotional stuff going on with family, and also to a certain extent at work and I knew I was bringing baggage to our rides. You only get out of a ride what you put in, so I saw his unwillingness to work and put it down to my bad riding and emotional unavailability. Also, whenever we’ve had a saddle problem in the past, it’s been a too-small saddle, not a too-large one. I thought that I knew his saddle-related tells, but I failed to realise that they’d be different, so I was looking for the wrong signs.

When the saddle fitter came I asked her to bring my old Ideal saddle, which she’s had listed for second hand sale without success since I got the Bates. I thought that the narrower Ideal saddle I bought to fit the skinny rail of a horse I bought originally from the dealer, might be a good fit for the same horse now he was skinny again. It was too big. He’s even thinner now than he was then – it just doesn’t show as badly because he has more muscle in his neck.

The Bates came into it’s own again and (£50 of inserts and new gullet + the time of an experienced saddle fitter later), the same saddle looks and handles completely differently. Testing it out, I was suddenly in a balanced position, with stability in all directions. We made a few tweaks and retested, but I’m delighted with it. It’s unfortunate that we’ll have to do it all again in a few months as he puts on weight, but how much better than having to buy a whole new saddle, and then know it won’t fit again soon.

As his spine is pretty prominent (although better covered than it was a few weeks ago) the saddle fitter also suggested a sheepskin half-pad, particularly for longer rides. Before I could buy one, a friend on the yard offered a selection of her unused ones, and sold me a high quality one for a very low quality price, which was lovely of her. I offered her more but she wouldn’t accept it.

Unfortunately all this doesn’t make the soreness go away, so we just need to give that one time. My plan is to give him a few days off riding, with turnout and/or hand-walking, then get on for a test ride. If he still seems sore, then another few days off.

It’s a real shame we’re still not clicker training but I’m only very cautiously introducing treats again. His digestion seems to be handling everything I give him fine now, but I don’t want to give him multiple treats in one session yet, which kind of rules out clicker training.  It was very exciting the other day when I declared he’s officially allowed carrots again  – in moderation of course😉