Update on Drifter’s surgery

The surgery went very smoothly. It was all much calmer than I expected, and Drifter seems to be recovering well.

Unfortunately our usual vet was unable to be there due to personal reasons and possibly a car break-down into the mix. He’s been having a really rough time lately. Another vet from his practice was there instead, and she managed the anaesthetics, the specialist carried out the surgery, and there was an assistant as well.

Initially they gave Drifter a drug “to protect his heart,” which made him rather dopey, and I signed the paperwork. 20 minutes later I slowly led him to the school where the operation was to be carried out. Perhaps because of the drug, he didn’t like it when they brought the clippers to get better access to the veins in his neck, so they used scissors. (I can only assume his reaction was to do with the drug and possibly the number of strangers because he’s usually completely indifferent to clippers, to the extent that anyone learning to clip for the first time asks if they can have a go clipping him!)

We walked him to a particularly soft looking part of the school and then he got the hard drugs. I know he had ketamine, although I don’t know if that was the only drug used. He quickly went very wobbly, but was reluctant to lie down. He was “topped up” a few times, as he continued to stand and wobble. Eventually the vet managing the anaesthetic gently pushed and pulled him down to his chest, and from there onto his side, quickly pulling the legs straight from underneath him. They put a jumper over his eyes to protect them, and padded out the headcollar with cotton wool. This padding, they had explained, is needed to reduce the risk of nerve damage from the pressure of the weight of the head pressing into the metal rings of the head collar. Then they got to work. The surgeon was wearing scrubs over his warm clothes, but the other two were wearing ordinary yard clothes and I was surprised how ordinary everything seemed, except that there were lots of people rushing around an unconscious horse in the middle of the indoor school with his eyes covered and a syringe sticking out of his neck.

They quickly shaved and scrubbed the area, and the operating vet brought over two machines which he set up on chairs. One was the laser machine, the other I’m not sure what to call it – a little air-vacuum-cleaner for sucking away the smoke and smell from the lasering. He also had lots of clamps and swabs. He asked for help operating the laser which turns off and on from a foot pedal. As all the vets were kneeling on the ground around Drifter a staff member, who had asked to be involved if possible, operated the pedal.

I sort of wanted to watch but wasn’t sure how I’d feel, so initially I put my chair near the head end, but ended up going round to watch as well and eventually moved my chair to watch all the gory detail.

It was fairly gory, but also fairly dull and slow at the same time. Very neat though. The surgery took 1hr 15 min, counting from once Drifter was unconscious, and by the time he was done, the surgeon had removed a disc of flesh about 8-10 cm across. He had to go a little deeper than he initially expected to get it all, but the finished job was very tidy.

Because it was laser surgery, the wound was not covered afterwards. Apart from giving antibiotics and bute, he also has Acyclovir cream – an antiviral humans use on coldsores – to try to eliminate any viral sarcoid cells that could be still in the area. The surgeon thinks there will be an over 90% chance that the growth will not return, but that the cream adds an extra few percent, just in case.

As the anaesthetic wore off, Drifter’s head was quite twitchy, and the anaesthetist had everyone but her leave the school in case he got up hallucinating, as can happen sometimes. However his ascent to his legs was quite sedate and he clearly had no bigger concerns than working out how to balance and which order his legs should move in. It took him quite a while to sort himself out, but after a lap around the school in hand we all walked him back to the stable as a herd, with the anaesthetist at the front end, the surgeon holding his tail, presumably so he could help stabilise the back end if it was getting away from Drifter. It was a very long walk, and not without hairy moments, but eventually we had him back in his stable safe and sound. He looked pretty awful, sweating out the anaesthetic, head down, still not walking well, and with school surface ground into his hair from head to tail on one side of him.

We got him rugged up and the vets left to do their third field surgery of the day! I knew they’d done one in the morning before us, but I had no idea they were heading off to a third afterwards. Wow.

Then it was just a case of waiting until he seemed well enough to eat. It was now after 4 and he’d not been allowed any food since 9 that morning. Even through his druggy haze he could tell other horses were getting fed and he wasn’t, and he wasn’t happy. He just wanted to stand at the door and wait for food, and shake but we keep forcing him to walk around the stable to see if he was capable yet. I wasn’t sure how much to rug him – some of the shaking was drug-induced, but was some of it shivering too? He’s not clipped and has grown the thickest, longest coat you can imagine, and I didn’t want to overheat him, but on the other hand he was unfed, drugged, and had spent over an hour lying on his side in a cold school. There was much layering of thin rugs! At just after 6.00 we gave in and offered a handful of hay. As he managed that without choking he got the whole net, which being a very small holed net meant he couldn’t scoff it, but had to eat slowly, and once he was allowed to eat he started to look a lot better, and was better able to regulate his temperature. It was all pretty awkward for me as everyone agreed because of the pregnancy I shouldn’t be in the stable with him until he could manage himself, but that meant I couldn’t get him to walk round or change rugs myself. Mr S was being the best assistant he could be, but having extremely limited experience with horses, his skills for safely persuading a sedated and very hungry horse to step around were somewhat limited. He did a good job with rugs though. Actually he was incredibly helpful all day – spending 6 hours stood around in the cold was not his idea of how best to spend a day of his annual leave, but he was always there when I needed him, fetching things, checking things, moving my folding chair, listening to vets (to give my hormone-riddled brain a back-up), taking photos, etc.

While he did take some very interesting photos, I’m not posting them here because I know some of my readers would find them objectionable.

In terms of the growth that was removed, the surgeon thinks it is probably a sarcoid over a granuloma, but is sending it for lab testing to be sure.

Two days later and, apart from walking a little carefully behind, he seems back to his usual self, despite the crater-like piece missing from his underneath and the expected swelling of the area. He’ll be taking it easy for a while and I’ll get him a checkup next week, but things are looking pretty good from here. And contrary to our own vet’s concerns, at no point did I feel that there was any risk of it bringing on premature labour – the only ill effect I had was backache from too much standing and from the cold.

Surgery for Drifter

This time last year Drifter was diagnosed with a sarcoid just in front of his sheath. It responded very well to blood-root ointment and completely disappeared. Happy days.

This year it is back. Being pregnant it is not easy for me to see the underside of a not-particularly-tall-but-fairly-rotund horse’s belly, so it wasn’t me that spotted it initially, but staff members. We got the vet out to take a look and he was rather concerned. It is a flat growth maybe half of the size of my palm, and what particularly concerned the vet was that it appears to be two types of growth intermingled – a sarcoid and … “something else”.

If it was just “something else” he would have biopsied it, but because of the sarcoid element he felt a biopsy could trigger aggressive growth, so we don’t know what kind of “something else” it is.

It was agreed that the best thing to do was to remove it entirely and lab test it afterwards. Unfortunately due to the location of the growth this means a general anaesthetic, so they can get access. This is going to happen today. The surgeons will be Drifter’s regular vet who will be assisting a specialist in equine skin surgery and there will be an anaesthetist as well. They’ll also need another pair of hands to hold a hind leg out of the way once they have him lying on his side. (Apparently that’s the same arrangement they use for gelding). The operation is going to happen in the indoor school. This seems nicer for Drifter than travelling anywhere and staying in unfamiliar surrounds, although I was initially a bit surprised when the vet said that was where he wanted to do it. A member of the yard staff will be holding up the leg, not me, as lifting weight over any length of time is not compatible with being almost-full-term-pregnant!

The vet would be happier if I were not there. He is emphatic that he does not want to deliver this baby! However I worry most when I know least, so I intend to be there at least for the start. If I were sat at home wondering about everything that would be far more stressful. First I’d worry if the vets had turned up, then that they’d not have what the needed, or that the anaesthetic wouldn’t work, etc. etc. etc. Far better for me to be there and see that the little things are all going to plan, even if I don’t watch the whole thing.

It’s lucky that the availability of the relevant vets and anaesthetist all fell in the first full week of my maternity leave, because managing work, this and pregnancy would all be rather impossible. It’s also lucky that Mr S has this week off work so he can drive me there and back and be supportive as needed. Driving has felt hard throughout the pregnancy, but now my torso is solid enough that I can’t really twist round to reverse very well, so the single track lanes leading to the lanes are particularly undesirable.

In an ideal world I will quickly update you as to how the surgery goes, but, well, I know I might not. Overcoming late-pregnancy fatigue and apathy to post is hard enough, but when you add that I have all the unpredictable emotions on an ordinary day, which this clearly is not, and also could go perhaps go into labour at any point (if the baby came today it would only be 7 days pre-term*), please be aware that there are any number of reasons I might fail to post back in a timely manner.


*I’m much more mindful of the possibility of preterm labour since the yard grapevine told me that Drifter’s dentist, who was due to have a baby 10 days after me, and whose pregnancy everyone on the yard directly compared mine to, had her baby about a fortnight ago. I hear mother and baby are doing well; although of course baby has needed special care from being early, he seems strong.

Today

Being pregnant is not a process I find enjoyable. Being unable to do stuff because of it sucks. Paying a fortune to keep a horse I can’t ride sucks, especially when I barely have the energy to see and groom him once a week.

But…

At 28 weeks and 5 days pregnant, today I had a nice time with my horse.

I didn’t feel great today, but as Sunday morning is now the only time I see Drifter, I got on with it anyway.

I drove to the yard and got out, taking my lightweight folding chair out of the boot. I walked down the yard with my chair, and immediately realised that because I’d stood up, the toilet needed to be my first stop. I knew pregnant women needed to pee a lot; I never realised how much time it seems to take out of your day when you can’t do anything without it making you need to pee!

Business there concluded, my chair and I proceeded down the yard. Various other liveries wanted to ask how I was, so I unfolded my chair and sat on it while they wanted to talk to me. I have learnt the hard way that without somewhere to sit down the entire ration of energy I brought to spend with Drifter gets spent on standing up for a handful of very similar conversations about how I/baby/Drifter am/is doing, and them observing that they don’t see me that much now. It’s nice that they want to talk to me, but it’s not actually what I came for!

Obligatory small talk done, I made it to Drifter’s stable door and sat down on my chair again for a rest! I realised he wasn’t visible over the door, so eased it quietly open and he was lying down asleep. Adorable. And it was great to have an excuse to sit a bit longer before breaking out the brushes … which I hadn’t yet picked up from the tack room.

Quietly and carefully I moved my chair inside the door of his stable and sat within touching distance. He was aware I was there, but not fully awake and we spent many peaceful minutes doing nothing until he felt like getting up. This horse used to scramble instantly to his feet if anyone caught him lying down, but now I’m allowed to share that time with him.

Eventually he decided to get up, so I went to fetch the brushes. The walk to get them was pretty tiring so I sat down and brushed any bit of him he’d let me reach from my chair. This was playful. He let me get the left side of his face easily, but not the right. The only way to get the right at all was to turn my back and feign disinterest until he came closer again, then I’d get a swipe or two in before he backed up. It was not efficient grooming, but I think we both found it entertaining. We did his front legs in much the same way.

By then I’d got some energy back and stood up to do his mane and tail. His tail is exhausting for me, in part because it’s so thick, but also because it’s only getting done once a week so it’s a mass of tangles. So I did some, sat down, and then got back up to finish the job.

After another sit down I did all the rest of the body and legs. His winter coat is pretty thick but I’m going to hold off getting him clipped if I can – when he has to stop going out every night I’ll get staff riders to hack him, but I’m hoping that being ridden in the middle of the day by staff will mean his coat is more manageable than in previous winters (when I rode at night and couldn’t get him dry before bed if un-clipped). I guess a lot will depend on the weather and how het-up he gets about being ridden by staff. At least I hope to get by with fewer clippings than usual.

So now I had a groomed horse. I went for a wander to check out which schools were in use. The big outdoor had some jumps set up, but enough space at one end for lungeing, so I chose that one. After a conversation about someone’s passed driving test, and another sit down to recover, I grabbed lunge whip, lunge line, headcollar and bell boots, visited the toilet again, and took the items to Drifter. He considered them, and started offering his “yoga” stretches, suggesting that he’d far rather do tricks for treats. This availed him little, as we always do work first and play later, and I hadn’t cued the stretches so there were no treats to be earned. I put the boots and headcollar on before picking out his feet. I’ve always expected him to lift the feet, but now I expect a higher lift so I don’t have to reach down as far. This is easier for him on some legs than others. At last we headed out to the school. He suggested that he would rather be turned out to graze, and I gently overruled.

Once in the school, we walked around and between the jumps. There were a few ground poles and one angled raised pole as well as the jumps. If there are titchy crosspoles we walk over them together, but today it was all far too substantial, so we just went between them. I had him on a line, but aimed to control him as if we were working at liberty, with my body language and just a finger gesture to steer. We did some nice tight figures of eight around pairs of obstacles, and his accuracy in going over the parts of the poles I requested was very good. I was too tired to want to put any but the minimum energy into asking for anything, so every gesture was tiny and any correction just a tiny touch on the line and disapproving noise.

Then we moved to lungeing. At first he wasn’t clear that I was changing the scenario from close work to working at a distance. I think this is because he has to switch brain gear from the intimate signals he and I have developed together for in hand work, to the traditional lungeing behaviour he learnt as a youngster. But once it clicked, he went into lungeing-brain and carried on. He was pretty lazy about it but I didn’t care to put any more energy into the process, and he mirrored my low energy level. I let him potter on, changing between lazy trot and walk quite often. I was aware that there were people observing us, and in their eyes I would be letting him get away without working properly, but it didn’t bother me. We did 5 minutes and then changed the rein. On the second rein after a few minutes I started feeling the watchers’ eyes again, and thought maybe I ought to ask for canter, as much because it was expected as because I wanted it. I thought about it for a while, and then suggested it to Drifter. I kept the request tiny because if he was going to get anxious about the canter I wouldn’t ask again; with a spooky horse lessoning in the next school I didn’t want a trot-buck-buck-gallop-canter transition. If I’m that low energy about things, I expect to get a few “no thank you” answers where he trots a little faster and declines to canter (often because he needs to set up a trot he can canter from, finding the transition hard on the lunge) but today he promptly arranged his legs and got into a no-fuss canter at once. After a single circle I brought him back to trot. Interesting. That was good enough to reward, so I brought him to walk and then halt. I would have stopped there, as I think 5 min on each rein is really enough for his joints, but having cantered only one way, I changed back to the original rein and popped him back up through the gears. Again my canter ask was a mere suggestion, and this time he seemed to consider the option of a buck or gallop, but at my quiet disapproving noise we he went straight to a lovely canter, which I praised and after a single circle, brought him back down through the gears again.

We finished the session with a return to the way we started it, walking over and around obstacles using our “at liberty” language despite him not actually being at liberty. It was easier for him to come from lungeing to liberty brain-mode than it had been to go the other way.

When we were done we headed back to the stable. I had another little sit down; he had a long drink from his water bucket. Once I felt recovered I took his boots off and put everything away… except the carrots.

This time when he offered stretches I was happy to cue the ones I wanted and provide treats for stretches🙂

Since getting pregnant we haven’t done any clicker training, because he finds it very exciting and I am not prepared to risk handling an excited horse, even if I had the energy. However, the clicker training from the past prepared the way for the relationship we have now. It prepared him for the idea that we can be playful together, and that although sometimes he has to do strictly trained traditional horse & rider things, at other times I might ask him to try something new and unexpected and that there might be something in it for him.

I drove home realising that the morning I’d had was exactly what I’d dreamed of before I bought him. I dreamed of a horse that would pick up on my tiny cues, and do what I asked without fuss. I dreamed of sitting by the side of a snoozing horse, just being together. I dreamed of a partnership and a friendship and a relationship of mutual respect. Of course I thought about doing dressage and maybe jumping, but it would be hard to say how much of that was my own desire and how much peer pressure and social expectation. Yes I do miss riding, but it was never the be all and end all for us.

Both Drifter and I are fat and unfit at the moment. We both have our health issues and I can’t tell what the future holds for us, but today I realised I have my dream horse, and I think he had a good day too.

 

 

News

In truth there is one reason which ties together why I have not been posting much, why I have not been riding much and why my health is a bit delicate:

I am pregnant.

I have waited to post this news until the second trimester and it has been a long, long wait. The first trimester has been somewhat rough, although I know a lot of women have it worse.

I thought this was going to be an epic post, but now it comes to it I don’t feel like writing a lot.

Drifter is having a lazy summer, and will be schooled and hacked by the staff once the weather restricts turnout. I’ll do a bit with him when it feels right for me, but for the 1st trimester I’ve been too sick and exhausted to spend much time with him, and while the second trimester is slightly easier, it’s still hard to do anything apart from work, sleep, eat and flake out.

The baby will be due around 20th December.

Sound as a pound?

Drifter seems to be doing well. I have to admit that I haven’t been seeing that much of him and haven’t ridden much in the last few weeks because my ever capricious health has been especially erratic. But helping me not feel guilty about this is the fact that Summer has officially reached the yard!

This means that Drifter is going out overnight, every night unless the weather gets suddenly unreasonable. He is tired and grass-bloated and totally chilled.

The last week before official summer came, I popped him on the lunge in a headcollar for a few minutes to see what he was moving like in the new shoeing (his hind shoes look like an ordinary shoe but the fit and shape look subtly off somehow). I hadn’t bothered to take a whip out with me partly because I was being lazy and partly because I wanted to see if he wanted to move of his own accord. Lunging for diagnosis, not for a workout.

We started on the left rein. He was … irritating. He had no interest in observing even the loosest geometric rules of circles. He had no interest in trotting. If I really asked he’d trot for a stride or two before quitting. Usually he tries but this day was an exception. I was aware it was about 5 minutes before his dinner time, but it seemed he was just going to mess around and do the bare minimum. Well, I thought, I guess he’s still stiff as well as in a bad mood. Hey ho, let’s flip him over and check the other direction.

I sent him off on the right rein. Pretty much as soon as he was on the circle he picked up gallop. Sorry, what?? The circle was round as could be and the horse that said had just said nope to doing anything but a sluggish walk at angles of his own choosing on the left rein, was now galloping perfect circles when he hadn’t even been asked to trot yet in this direction. Apparently he needed to be going this way, and going this way fast. I ignored him and let him get on with it, to be honest. He threw in transitions between gallop, canter and buck and got his steam out. Eventually I persuaded him to trot a little and cooled him off. The right rein canter, when it wasn’t a gallop or buck, was beautiful. Right canter has always been an issue for him, and I’d had no intention for asking for it, especially on the lunge, but it seems he’s fixed that. Even the bucks were pretty nice – much more hind action that he used to get which suggests it’s more comfortable for him to throw those legs out than it used to be.

It definitely suggests that he’s much more comfortable on the right rein than the left, and I know the left has always been his stiff side, so it’s probably got worse.

So when I returned from my sick bed this week, and hopped aboard, I was quite interested to see what I’d find. I wanted to see if he was now capable of working to a reasonable rein length in walk, and maybe in trot if walk went well. It’s one thing for his back legs to have recovered enough to step under him without my weight, but would he be able to do it with me on board?

Well yes, he could. It took some persuading, but I got a reasonable walk on a reasonable rein. He really, really wanted to rush into trot, because it would be so much easier to trot badly than walk properly, but I insisted. And once we got that good walk, then I could get a proper trot transition and have a proper trot, so we did that. We didn’t trot for long, but we did it. Again, in the trot he really didn’t want to work properly (well why should he after so long?) but I was insistent and he was capable. We got such a nice trot on the right rein that when he started offering canter I took him up on the offer. We only cantered for a few meters, because I didn’t want to do much, I wanted to reward the good transition and also because I didn’t want to canter around a corner just yet. I tried to replicate that on the left rein and we didn’t get a transition. On the second attempt we didn’t really get a canter. It might have been a tranter, or just some random legs trying something for a stride or two before trotting again. I didn’t try again, but thought I probably need to try that left canter on the lunge to see if he has the gear there or not.

But the next day came and it was a beautiful morning and I’d had such a pleasantly successful ride the day before so I wanted to get on. Of course it’s easy to be disappointed the ride after a particularly good one, and it took him longer than his impatient rider wanted to warm up to the good place, but he got there again. This time when he started offering right canter I didn’t hesitate to accept it and I managed to get the left canter on the first try, so we now have all gears under saddle in both directions. I was delighted to say the least. The stiffness to the left is quite bad, but he’s always had that, it’s just especially pronounced at the moment. The right canter, if I’m being critical, is overbent to the inside and a bit banana shaped, but I’m just delighted to have both canters. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we hadn’t. Now we have all the gears, all of them can be improved. It’s great to know that if I’m sick or can’t get there I can put a staff member on him for a hack without worrying if he’s up to it. I still won’t have him on the lunge for more than 10 min at a time, and wouldn’t ask for him to schooled above a trot just yet because I believe in being cautious.

Although this is already a long post, I’ll just mention that Amy Woodhead (dressage rider who rides/competes for Carl Hester) was teaching a clinic on our yard and I got to watch one of the lessons. She is amazing, and if you get the chance to learn from her you should definitely do it. She did a really good job of helping someone with their rein-feel, which is a really hard thing to teach or explain. She also gave suggestions on a different bit and bridle to try for the mare, who is always fighting the bit and crossing her jaw. I get the impression she’s hoping to increase the number of clinics she teaches later this year, so there should be plenty of opportunities.

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.