But why?

I’m pretty sure Drifter’s legs are doing really well. We saw the vet again today. He had an assistant along too which meant there were two of them to see Drifter demonstrate the… slowest… trot … ever on the lunge while completely ignoring everything I asked for. And I didn’t have the energy to care.

The vet agrees he’s sound but can’t really be bothered to do much. [I mean Drifter can’t be bothered, not the vet!] I think Drifter is now so used to being kept to slow paces that he can’t see the point of putting much effort into it. I think the brain is switched off but the legs are doing well. I did notice today that the vet has changed from saying “possible arthritis” to just saying “arthritis” but to be honest that’s what I’ve thought for a while, so it’s nice to be on the same page.

Both vet and I are pleased with how Drifter has managed the change from out-all-night-every-night to only-out-for-a-few-hours-a-day. If Drifter were more interested in trotting, the vet would say start cantering. As it is, I think we’re going to hang around in trot a bit longer. When the day comes that I feel like a have a trot worth cantering from, or D feels like offering a strike off, that’s the day we’ll canter. Again, the vet and I agree on that.

The plan is to keep his legs attached arthritis managed by continuing the wedge shoeing at the back indefinitely (the soft plastic wedges shouldn’t damage his heels) and by carefully managing his exercise. One of the key points I think is to keep it even. No sudden time off, and no sudden boot-camp stuff, just keep him ticking over.

I’m pretty content with the legs. But …

“While you’re here… can you have a look underneath. There’s a skin reaction just in front of his sheath.”

I did not say the word sarcoid.

But the vet did.

No, we haven’t any prior history of sarcoids.* This new, angry, crusty, suddenly quite large growth is our first joyous experience. It’s a lumpy one and not in a great place for treatment.

I knew a few weeks ago he had what looked like an ordinary fly bite reaction, and I was keeping an eye on it, but he can be quite reactive to bites around his sheath so I just thought it was that. Then when he got clipped just over a week ago they caught it with the clippers and took the top off it and when I saw it after that it looked concerning.

Yes I know that cutting a sarcoid is the worst thing and will make it grow aggressively, but it didn’t cross my mind that they’d be clipping that close to the sheath (different person did the clip this time) and of course I wasn’t really thinking sarcoid until after the clip anyway.

So the vet suggests we start with the least aggressive treatments and work up if needed. We’ll be starting on a relatively mild cream. If the sarcoid’s not gone by January we’ll be on the scary cytotoxic “Liverpool” cream that’s so vicious only vets are allowed to apply it, and even for them it’s carefully controlled. If that fails us we’ll be looking at general anaesthetic and laser surgery.

Why did my horse have to find a new way to break now the legs are doing so much better? Hopefully it will respond to the mild(er) cream but, oh, pony, why are you doing this to me?

——-

*For any of my readers who aren’t well up on diseases of the horse, sarcoids are a kind of skin cancer which is not uncommon in horses. It’s a bit mysterious but thought to be triggered by something carried in fly bites. They can range from completely innocuous flat patches of skin to giant lumpy open-sore growths protruding like something from a horror film. Cutting them off tends to mean you just get a more aggressive one growing on the same site afterwards. Treatment is hard and frequently unsuccessful. The only good news is that they don’t usually spread to other organs, just the skin. Unless you’re really unlucky. They can spread across the skin though and once you have one, there are almost certainly more in your future further down the line. Don’t Google it unless you have a very strong tolerance for truly horrible images.

 

 

Trot on!

I’ve been holding off on telling you that we’re trotting again, because I was still holding my breath about it a bit. (Remember that last time we were told we could trot it ended up setting us back to square 1.)

But I’m cautiously optimistic.

On Saturday we went on our first solo hack since all this lameness started almost 6 months ago. It was fabulous – we did not have one moment where we were nervous. He didn’t like the big lorry thing that was pumping something in front of a house, but I was not worried so he got over it without issue. I didn’t like the red Landrover passing us that close and fast, but he wasn’t phased so I got over it. This is exactly what I hoped would happen as a result of our in-hand walks on the roads – we’re both more confident so we’re not each making the other anxious about things that are not actually an issue.

On Saturday night it was his first night of winter routine – which meant the first night without overnight turnout.

On Sunday morning we schooled and re-introduced trotting around a corner/curve. We’ve got another few days before we can try a circle, but the corners seemed to go OK. And between being allowed to trot with a bend and the extra energy he always has when he’s first kept in at night, we were able to get some very nice work done. As he was working into my hands, we could work on his tendency to lean on the left hand side of the bit and not really take much contact on the right. For the first time in months instead of a rehabilitation focus I was able to put a bit of a development aim into the ride. For the first time I had the buzz that comes with a horse with the health, will and energy to work forwards and listen and learn. Most of our work was still done in walk, but it was challenging and interesting and fun and tiring.

It helped that he was shod and saw the physio both last week, but this one ride has made me so much more optimistic that he could be sound through the winter.

The initial proposition for this year’s winter turnout for all horses on the yard was ca. 3 hours, 3 times a week (weather permitting). Following debate and some upheaval, we are now all on ca. 2 hours everyday (weather permitting), which is much better news for me and Drifter. Obviously it’s still far from perfect, but with daily turnout I have a much better chance of keeping his joints moving over the winter and much less pressure on me to do it all with exercise. It is a great relief.

He’ll be having his 2nd clip of the year next week because he’s too hairy for a horse who’s allowed to trot – he can barely walk without sweating on a warm day!

Still in walk

Drifter and I are still in walk. The vet didn’t want to see us last week as originally planned because while I’d been sick Drifter hadn’t been “doing his homework” and the vet wouldn’t see us until he’d done 7-10 days consistent work. Well we hit that target at the weekend but now the vet is proving difficult to get hold of. Still I’m hopeful that when we do manage to see him we might get permission to trot again.

We went for a walk in hand out on the lanes at the weekend. Bearing in mind he’s only doing 25 min walking at the moment, we didn’t get very far. He dragged along unwillingly like a half-dead thing, despite taps, clucks and strong forward body language from me. On the lanes immediately around the yard it is single track with passing places and not much visibility because of the twisting roads and high banks, so being a smart road-user is important and dragging him on was more important than anything else. Once we get past that there are more options for getting out of the way of traffic – verges and field/property entrances. There were quite a few cars here so I took him into a field entrance to let everything pass. We were going to be here a minute or so, so once I had him positioned as I wanted, I let him graze a little while the cars sorted themselves out. Happy pony.

Once they were all gone, we carried on and I found we magically had forwardness again. The horse that seeks grass has a reason to walk somewhere, and no reason to be a lazy lump! Just around the corner, one of the houses had bags of apples on the gate with a “Help yourself” sign. While not letting Drifter help himself, I did get him an apple and immediately he woke up even more. We spent the second half of our walk stepping out like nobody’s business!

This was rather an eye-opener to the fact that I’m not the only one bored by the current situation and that a little motivation will make him give me a lot more at the moment. To that end I’ve started carrying my dressage whip when I ride. I’ve had two rides with it and both have been a lot more interesting. Yesterday I even got a few seconds when he lifted his back a little. So the whip will be coming with us on a more regular basis. I go through phases of carrying it (usually when I’m focussed on his way of going) and phases of not carrying it (when I’m focussing on my hands). I get that my hands are an important part of his way of going, but I have much better hands when I don’t carry the whip!

People on the yard who know my clicker-training ways are sometimes suprised that I use a whip. But I think some people think of a whip only as a hitting stick and not as a tool. I won’t deny that I have on occasion smacked with the whip. But it’s pretty rare, and I’ve smacked while riding with my hand on occasions when I didn’t have a whip. Rearing, however tiny, is not acceptable without extreme provocation. If he rears because he’s terrified, that’s not something to punish with smacking (although if a smack will make the sitution safer I reserve that right). He’s never reared with me for that reason. On the other hand he has reared (very tiny rear) because there’s rain in his face and he hates rain and he wants to stop being ridden. Unacceptable.

Usually though, my whip is there partly because of the oft observed fact that just carrying a whip (even if you never ever use it) makes many horses more forwards and more obedient, and partly so I can reach to tap his back end to remind him that it exists. The cob portions of his (unknown) breeding lines mean he’s built and bred to pull from the front instead of pushing from the back. His back-leg issues contribute to this. Sometimes he needs a bit of a reminder to use those big butt muscles, and a touch on them does the trick. Not a smack but a tickle or maybe a tap. I have had rides when I haven’t had a whip, but wanted that touch and reached an arm back to touch however far back I could reach and had the same effect, but it’s better if I can do it without taking a hand off the reins!

So I’ll be riding with my whip again in the near future. Hopefully if he’s more motivated it will help me think up more ways to work in walk which will motivate him even more. And hopefully we’ll see the vet soon!

Still grazing

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Not much to say really. I’ve spent the week sick in bed, or on the sofa for a change of scene. Drifter has not been getting his vet prescribed exercise because of it (and because I don’t trust anyone else on his back while he’s lame-ish). I got on today and he seemed a bit better, I think, despite the lack of exercise, which was a vast relief. He’s due for a saddle fitting and I really need to get that done as he has changed shape massively but as most saddle fits look good on him in walk and then awful in trot and canter, I can’t really book it until we get vet’s permission to do more than walk.  He’s not lifting his back when I ride at the moment, but I’m assuming it’s at least partly the lameness. At the end of our little session today I had about 3 minutes bareback to see if I could get him to lift his back without the saddle. He wouldn’t, so I don’t think it’s the saddle fit stopping him. In the past when I barebacked and squeezed a little his back came up nice and round and I was sitting on the muscle like a happy camper. On the positive side I had expected the lame feeling (which has reduced) to be magnified when I took the saddle away and it wasn’t. He felt fairly good, all things considered, although I was a little more intimately acquainted with his withers and spine than I have been before. The loss of fat and muscle there felt pretty significant from a comfort point of view, but that was one of the reasons I kept it down to 3 minutes only, for both of our sakes! I have looked into buying a bareback pad, but of course the ones that look well designed are expensive and the ones that are cheap have plenty of drawbacks.

He should be seeing the vet again next week and I’ll be interested to hear how he feels Drifter is doing. I think he’s sound-ish in straight lines, but not on curves, but he’s been off for so long that it’s hard to tell.

Yup, still lame

Once again, I bring you an update from the vet.

As I expected, he agreed that Drifter was indeed still lame and not showing improvement, so he got a cortisone injection in the coffin join. Which apparently necessitated this generous bandaging for a few hours afterwards. Looks cozy!

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I wasn’t able to be there with him, so I missed him being entertaining under sedation. He’s not been sedated before in the time I’ve had him, so we didn’t know how he’d react. Apparently he swayed rather and was not going to move for anyone. Which wouldn’t have been a problem except he was standing by a poo right where the vet needed to get clean access. I think they ended up moving the poo rather than the horse in the end. 20 min. later he was totally back to normal, asking for food from everyone he saw.

When I took the bandage off I confirmed there is indeed still a leg there, which is great. Beyond that it’s too early to tell. He was on box rest yesterday and this week will be turned out but no official exercise is permitted. Considering that he sometimes gets excited and a bit prancy with clicker training (especially if underexercised) I think I probably need to avoid that for a bit too. From next week we get 15 min. walking a day under saddle, increasing gradually after that. We will need to see the vet again (again?!) before any trotting is authorised.

I need to take a picture of the leg for you because the clipping is totally … different. We have the full-length of his now winter coat on the upper part of the leg, the half-grown out shaving around the fetlock, from when he had it scanned, the totally bald front of the pastern/coronet … and the few remaining long feathers sticking out at the back of the leg.

Sigh.

Has anyone seen my mojo?

I’m feeling a little flat about most things at the moment. Nothing’s terrible but nothing’s that special either. Excuse whiny post.

Drifter had me worried again this week and the next few paragraphs will probably be TMI. In addition to the persistent lameness he had diarrhoea. He’s been a little damp and soft in that area for the previous week or two, but within the range of normal. I rode him on Monday night and was concerned by the massively loud tummy rumbles. I’d never heard him make sounds anything like that, but he was bright and happy in himself. I made sure I saw him poo before I left him and it was a bit damp and soft but it was a horse-poo-shape not a cow pat shape, so I was happy with that. Tuesday we had a day off from each other and when I turned up on Wednesday the staff were delighted to see me. He had been out overnight and when they brought him in the morning they had a field full of un-pickable poo and a horse with a tail consisting entirely of poo dreadlocks. There weren’t any senior members of staff around so they weren’t sure what to do and were very glad I was there to make my own decisions about the horse.

I set to with the tail. People assured me I’d regret it if I just cut it all off, so I tried the hose first, which was useless because the fibre content was matted totally. I had to raise buckets under his behind so that I could swish the tail in the bucket to try to loosen the matting and get some of the fibres loose, and then try to comb some out. 6 buckets of water later we tried the hose again and then I declared it good enough.

Having had time to fully appreciate the state he was in, I called the vet. He was not able to come the next day so he arranged to come the day after, Friday. I asked him to do the next lameness check on that day as well if possible.

Then I needed to exercise Drifter. Turnout for that night was cancelled due to weather warnings but the vet and I agree he must not be allowed to stand and get lamer so we needed to do something. As Drifter still seemed happy in himself (although frustrated by having his tail washed for so long) I tacked up and hopped on.

He was forward and content under saddle (within current limitations, i.e. happy in walk and tiny bursts of trot on straight lines) for about 20 minutes. I declared cool-down-and-relax time and gave him the reins. After half a lap he started pooing. This was the first I’d witnessed personally of what was coming out of him. It was pale green, watery, and came straight out, spraying straight through his lifted tail parallel with the ground. No wonder the fibres were all getting filtered out by his tail. I didn’t have much time to “admire” it though because as soon as it finished he ran off with me. Oops. Clearly it was painful and he was running away from the pain. He had the full length of the reins so I couldn’t pull him up until I’d sorted out my knitting, and the pain (being inside him) was hard to run away from.

It was lucky for me he’s lame, so the most he could manage in the way of bolting was a fast trot. The vet had permitted us to trot around curves only from the day before, so I knew on a left rein trot curve he found it pretty uncomfortable, but we were on the left rein and he had to get round the corners as we came to the fence of the school, so he added some tiny bucks because everything hurt and ignored my suggestions about stopping. Eventually he stopped and I hopped off but by now he seemed fine again and was keen to go and eat anything he could find. Horses, huh?!

Of course I worried about him overnight, but from that point he started recovering. By the time the vet came on Friday he was producing proper manure-apples again and by yesterday (Saturday) they weren’t even particularly wet. The vet tested for blood/albumen in the faeces and the results were normal. He suggested we could go with a probiotic or leave it a few days and see if it sorts itself out. I chose waiting.

What about the lameness? Not so good news. Drifter hadn’t made the progress he’d expected and there was swelling in the coffin joint (previously it was in the fetlock). In terms of gait Drifter had started overreaching and (vet’s words) slapping his feet down hard. It wasn’t clear whether the swelling was caused by the gait or the gait was caused by the swelling. He was being shod that day, so the farrier changed the angles of his feet a little to adjust the gait and the vet is seeing him again on Tuesday to see whether that fixes it. If it’s still swollen on Tuesday he will medicate the joint. In good news he mentioned that the weight Drifter’s lost lately is a positive thing. I hadn’t really noticed the difference, seeing him all the time, but had been aiming for weight loss so that was pleasing.

I like our vet. He is a nice man and good at his job. But we don’t want to see him this often!

It has been too long now since I was able to have a riding lesson. I miss that more than I miss trotting for more than a few meters at a time. I miss being about to think about doing anything vaguely fun with him under saddle or being able to lunge him. Between my health and his it’s been a long time since we could try anything challenging together.

I’ve slightly lost my mojo on the clicker training front too. Since the school term started the yard is busier in the evenings, so there’s less likelihood of a free school or a quiet corner, and I need to come up with some new ideas for us to play with, so we’ve done less with it.

Work is ticking along OK, but this month is a little flat. Last month was my first month brandishing a University credit card to buy sheet music and rare books online. The orders were flooding in and I was riding the learning curve and the excitement of the new. This month the novelty has worn off and I need to get the balance of how it fits in with the rest of my job. It’s still fun but not so much as it was.

The article I wrote seems to have fallen into a black hole. The journal has changed from green open access to gold which I think is probably delaying the issue and I’ve even gone a bit flat on the crochet front. I’m writing a (somewhat odd) pattern for a particular Ravelry group’s event (it’s a crochet pattern for a human cell) and it’s just come back from the kind volunteer pattern tester who’s highlighted mistakes I’m annoyed that I didn’t pick up myself and don’t feel motivated to fix although I know I must. The cardigan I’m making is going to end up too big, the shawl is too fiddly and as you see I have just temporarily misplaced my mojo. I’m sure it will turn up, but if you happen to come across it please do return it, marked for my attention.

Dappled and drowsy

Drifter is a firm believer that he needs to get his winter coat on as soon as the longest day of the year is over. Consequently he is now getting rather bearlike. As we’re still confined to walk the sweating issue is not yet a problem, so he’s not yet been clipped.

He had a bath at the end of last week and now he’s a shiny fluffy kitty-horse. He also has dapples. It’s hard to get them to show up in a picture, but when you get the light right they look more obvious in the picture than they do in real life. In person they look black and blacker; not lighter and darker exactly, but reflecting light differently.

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I didn’t know a black horse could have dapples, but apparently it’s a genetic thing that could be present in horses of many different coat colours. However they will only show up when the coat is healthy. So I’m pleased that a) I’m not imagining the dapples and b) despite the lameness, my horse must be pretty healthy otherwise! I’ve seen hints of them before, but as he spends the majority of his time clipped and apparently dapples show more or less depending on the seasons this is probably why it’s taken this long for them to be this clearly visible.

Regarding the legs, Drifter is sound but still moves carefully. The vet is pleased with his progress. We are to spend one more week in walk, before starting to introduce trot first on straight lines and then, after another week, with circles, corners, etc.

I need to book him in for clipping now that trot is on the horizon but I’m reluctant because I fear that as soon as I pay for a clip it’s jinxing him to go lame again. Also I really enjoy his fluffy cuteness!