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.

 

 

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…