Friday, June 5, 2015

Fresh Start for 2015

Christmas 2014 Selfie
Hellooooo Blog-o-sphere! Long time no see! I realize it has been over a year since I gave this space any love at all. I'm about to change that :)

Bennifer had a pretty quiet year of some R&R. We left off in 2014 just having had nose-weener removal surgery. Everything went swimmingly, and Ben was discharged from the horse-pital in a week. He then spent a few months with a good friend of mine at her retirement facility - just chillaxin' and breaking the irrigation spouts...then getting scared of the new fountain of water he created and running back into the barn. Fun times, Ben, fun times.
Welcome home, Bud!

In August he returned to the West Side and we did a lot of tooling around for the rest of the summer due to my crazy personal life situation. I quickly realized, however, that Ben had some "issues" we needed to work out. Stiff, tin-man-without-the-oil like, maybe even a bit hitchy (you may recall that I had suspected something wasn't quite right the winter prior - which we ended up doing nothing about because we found the nose-weener, which needed to be addressed first). Turns out a tincture of time didn't really do much for our boy. So our vet came out gave him his once-over (teeth, vaccs, sheath, and basic lameness eval). Seriously, this is equivalent to your car's 60k tuneup. What we found was that he was equally sore/off in BOTH stifles, and an old/cold/high suspensory injury on the right front. Would totally explain the right-front-short-stride thing that was happening the year prior. Basically, we were thinking that being out of work and under condition - Ben's stifle issues are more visible, and they exacerbate the loading of the front end, which then sets off inflammation on that old injury on the right front. So, the prescription was: bute for the bad days, pentosan, and most importantly: long, slow conditioning - lots of walk, straight trots... you know, strengthen that hind end. The goal was to get his back end strong again, enough to support and alleviate that front end.

So we had our plan for fall/winter. Lots of walking, Small trot sets. More walking. It was slow, and boring.

Then we met a friend - a gal who started taking lessons with a trainer at the barn. She had asked me if I had an extra horse for her to ride, so she could get more saddle time in addition to her lessons. Why yes, yes I do. He's tall, dark, handsome, and safe, and needs more slow rides than I can offer. So with her help, between the two of us, Ben started to get more of the exercise he needed.

New friends :)

The conditioning, combined with the Pentosan, worked wonders. I've had to reach for the bute only a couple of times when we first began. Ben is now doing more and more trot, and even some canter again. His strength is coming back - he feels quite forward (amazing what happens when a horse can breathe), and energetic. He's ridden 3-4 times a week, and is getting lots and lots of turn out. He is even doing some dressage lessons again. Generally, I think we've found the perfect plan for him.

So, what's next? To be honest, I haven't really given it much thought.I didn't want to dream big and make tons of plans only to have my spirits crushed if he didn't/couldn't get sound again. I also have a super busy life outside of horses and the thought of tacking on more is just daunting. So right now I think the plan is to keep on keepin' on. There really is no need to rush anything. To that end, I'm not really sure how active this blog will be, but I hope to post at least a few more updates this year.

I hope all of you out there are having a fabulous 2015!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mega Update

I must be the worst blogger in the PNW. Soooo many updates, where to begin! This is going to be a bit of  backward post - most recent first :)

When I last posted, I was frantically trying to plan out the logistics for Ben's trip to WSU for the nose-weener removal. I had finally committed to an April 28 appointment, and made plans for hauling - and every time I started to blog about it, I broke down in tears - I was so sure I was going to lose him, I just couldn't write about it. So I pushed it out of my mind, which included avoiding this blog too.

But here we are - May 2014, and I can assure you Ben is fine! In fact, he's better than ever. He spent a week at WSU, during which his nostrils were scoped and it was determined that his nose weener was in fact an old injury - a tear to the false nostril that created a pocket that filled with tissue - plain old scar tissue. So the surgeon hatched a plan to use an electro-cautery device to remove it - which would cut down on the bleeding and not require any stitching. His surgery was done standing, and on local anesthesia and sedative. All told, the nose-weener was the side of a man's index finger.

Pre-op nap :)

Ben never skipped a beat - he was in high spirits from start to finish. He was a great patient, and by doing so saved us a bit of cash (minimal use of sedatives!). Speaking of cash his total bill for the 1 week hospital stay, diagnostic, surgery and drugs was less than $900. Icing on the cake!

 Bright & chipper (and looking for treats) the day after!

So where is he now? Ben is hanging out at my friend's place in Eastern WA for the month. While he's free to be turned out, he can't exercise in earnest for a few weeks - really just to prevent the nostril from flaring and potentially bleeding.

Speaking of work...I never did post about the result of Ben's 2013 show season. As it turns out, Ben ended up being the Standardbred Performance Society Grand Champion High-Point earner! I couldn't be more proud of my boy!  Just before he left for the university, my friend and I cleaned up up and did a mini photo shoot :) I was kind of dreading it, as I felt it was kind of morbid considering I might lose him...but now I'm glad we did it.

Modeling his Grand Champion Ribbon

And then we added all of his high-point and champion ribbons too :)
In terms of 2014, I'm not really sure what we'll be doing. It will really depend on when he gets back home, and how easily he'll resume work and conditioning. I'm excited to have him back, and even more excited that he'll be feeling his best!

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Nose Weener Update

Sorry for the delay in updates! I've been working on a few details regarding what is written below.

Last Friday the vet came out to take a look at Ben's "growth." As it turns out, this tumor appears to be much more serious than I was expecting. Upon proper inspection, the nose weener is GINORMOUS. It is blocking roughly 70% of his right nostril. It is also quite inflamed, and sore.

Basically, "it" needs to be removed. And removed it will be. Unfortunately, though, there are some challenges, because nothing is ever easy when it comes to horses.

  • Location Part I: This is not a fly-by-night routine surgery. It is a delicate deal, in a delicate area. As such, there are not many places that are equipped to handle such procedures. This means that Ben has to go to Washington State University to get this taken care of. Our vet has already talked to their soft tissue surgeon, and they will do the procedure and biopsy.
  • Location Part II: WSU is a 6-7 hour drive. I do not own a truck or a trailer. So I must find transportation. I reached out to my horsie friends and have the return trip taken care of, but not the trip there. TBD on that.
  • Money: This is going to be costly. Enough said.
  • Time: Ben is on immediate leisure time. No more work for him. Gentle walks in a halter, and turnout. He will have a multiple day stay in the hospital post surgery.  From there, he will need some time off to fully recover, but that time is TBD.
 So there we have it. With so much to coordinate as well as the sheer expense of this procedure, Ben's surgery will likely be in April. Travel will be much safer anyway, with fewer storms coming through and causing trouble in the mountain passes. Both the vet and surgeon believe he is okay to wait until the spring.

 I will keep this updated with the actual date, and when the time draws near, I will obviously post about the journey.  Thank you in advance for all the good vibes and well wishes- we're going to need them!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Crappy January

Oh January, how much I dislike you. So wet, cold, and windy. You make horse-keeping no fun at all.

Okay, with that little vent over...Ben is doing alright. I'm trying to do a bit more with him, just to get his body moving and in shape again.

On my to-do list for this big guy includes a visit from our vet. I am going to see about putting him back on injections, since they did help SO much last year. He's been getting an oral joint supplement, and I just don't think it is working. For the $, we can do better.

But before I do that, something else needs to be looked at. Awhile ago, while playing with Ben in the arena, I happened to be positioned in a perfect spot, with the perfect light that cast up into his right nostril. Much to my surprise/dismay did I see a giant thing dangling in there - a thing I semi-affectionately call his nose-weener. Ben has always been a bit shy about the right side of his face being touched, and has always been super fussy about his face in general- twirling his head, tilting it when making contact...all of which we had attributed to either training/behavioral issues/body stiffness/soreness elsewhere). At one point I also thought maybe it was his teeth...

While correct training has definitely HELPED him become more steady in the contact while being ridden, it has not resolved the overall problem. Even alone, at play in turnout, Ben swings his head around. I began to assume maybe it was just a quirky thing about him.

But now, having found the nose-weener, I'm thinking differently.  It is time to have it checked out by a vet- as the few people I have shown it to have been also completely freaked out. It could be an old injury...or it could be a growth of some kind.  Nevertheless, we need to know what it is, and how much it is impacting his life. Is it removeable? Is it impeding his breathing (remember me saying Ben is a giant quitter and gets tired quickly...?)? WHAT is it???

Before I go any further I need to know what we're dealing with. Ben's quality of life is first and foremost, and I will do my very best to keep him healthy and living the good, happy life. I am hoping to have an answer within the next couple of weeks, and of course I will post an update as soon as I know something.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Goals in Review, 2014 Plans...

Not much has been going on in Ben's world. He's had a bunch of time off, and I have not been riding him regularly at all. Much of it has to do with my work schedule, and really having time to work with my youngster, Finn. If said half-arab was a good boy our sessions would be shorter and I'd be able to sneak 2 rides I did last night...but that has not been the norm. So Ben has been getting exercise in turn out, I've been doing some round-pen work with him, and riding 1-2 times a week. All in all, it has been a very light fall/winter for the boy.

I thought now would be a good time to review 2013, and maybe make some plans for 2014. Let's start with the 2013 in review :)

2013 Goals
  • Continue monthly training. This has been a lifesaver for us.  We did this, through June, and then transitioned to just lessons which have become few and far between. 1/2 accomplished.
  • Raise our Training level scores, consistently. Of course I want to earn the highest score possible, and will always try my hardest to do so. But I will be quite pleased if we can get consistent scores in the low to mid 60's. We did not do a single dressage test all year.
  • Dressage Stretch Goal: Attempt a 1st Level test, preferably at a schooling show and not at home. This is going to take a TON of work to get to, but hey, I have 12 months :) While I can say we have SCHOOLED 1'st level movements, see the above formal dressage tests in 2013.
  • Start Ben over low fences. He'll be 5 in April, and for cross training purposes, I think it would be a nice, fun change to do something different once a week. Nope, didn't do this one either. I have popped him over some cross rails, and we did the ground pole course again at our Summer SAFE Benefit show.
  • Outings: go on trail rides, go to schooling shows, get OUT. YES!! We went to 4 shows and a couple of trail rides. Ben won English High Point, Reserve High Point, Champion Rescue Horse, Reserve Grand Champion - a distinction at every show we attended.
  • Outing Stretch Goal: attend a rated dressage show. NOPE
  • Ride bareback. This one is an odd one, but I'll admit, I never, ever do this. I want to be able to just hop on my horse, if even to dink around at a walk. We did this...once.
Other noteworthy things:
  • Spent 1 million dollars on saddle trials and finally purchased a Black Country Eloquence X.
  • Moved 2 times
  • Tried Trail, Showmanship, and Halter and kicked some booty!
And now, for 2014 Goals!!!
  • Show again. This time I'm gonna be smart and not say what type of showing, because I have little control of which shows I can get to!
  •  Start jumping, for serious
  • Work on the canter...a enough to be able to do the canter classes at English open shows.
  • 12 bareback rides (1 a month)
  • Take regular lessons (2x a month)
  • Take more pictures and video of us. We seriously sucked at this in 2013...not a single bit of video to be had anywhere.
That's it - that is all I am committing to at this point. The reality is, with my little guy up and coming and requiring much attention, Ben will likely take a back seat this year. I simply cannot afford both in time and $ to keep both in active work and going to shows, even small ones. And lucky for Ben, he's such a stand up guy that it takes very little to bring him back after a break.

Now, the one wrench that might change all this is if I a) put my little dude in training and/or b) sell him. I'm not entirely sure we're the best match, but he's also young and maturity level is changing, so it is hard to say. Additionally, I do feel like he needs to explore the world a bit, gain new experiences, and the most reasonable way I can do that for him is to put him in training with someone who can get him out places. IF I do that, I will be back to working with Ben and Ben alone...though with little spare cash to pay for showing, hauling, etc.

2014 stands to be an interesting year. I am going into it with less certainty than I did going into 2013, but perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm and wonderment on what the year will bring.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clinic Report: Despooking Success!

Pool Noodle Hell
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a Despooking Clinic held by Bill Richey, Director of the National Mounted Police Services. I did not take Ben, but did take my young half-Arab, Finn. Ben would've been so much more fun and enjoyable, but his little partner in crime needed it so much more.

The approach is a very interesting one. The first day begins with a bunch of classroom lecture on the equine eye, vision, and how horses spook. You can pretty much predict when/where/how a horse will spook by where an object is in relation to the horse. That, combined with some body awareness demonstrated by light "liberty" work in a round-pen using the eye-sight principles, you begin to understand when and how your horse sees objects  and how he reacts to them.

From there, we mount up and begin with basic mounted drill maneuvers. Everything is done at a walk, and initially in a single file line, and progresses to a paired line. The idea is to get the rider to start looking ahead and placing the horse where it needs to be, and also to get the horses working together. This was a major win for Finn, who has never been in an arena with more than 1 horse at a time. So he had to learn how to cope with horses in front of and behind him (lots of attempts at kicking others, but as he settled into his job, he forgot all about that), next to him, and coming at him.

Once the horses are settled and "bored" with the drill work, Bill begins to introduce basic obstacles- a pole on the ground, or a piece of plywood. We go over it again and again, until the horses are bored. If one horse balks (mine), the rest of the participants are instructed to move around us and leave us behind. Eventually, after seeing the other horses go, Finn tries it too.

And so it goes, as the horses get "bored" with the new stimuli, Bill introduces bigger and badder stuff. We move from objects below, to objects above (a hanging tarp or carwash), and objects to the side- like pool noodles sticking out. And then we bring in the sensory objects - police car flashing lights, siren, dog barking, fire, and smoke bombs.

Day 1 could be summarized as a giant melt-down. We spent the majority of the clinic rearing, bucking, kicking out, running backwards, sideways.... anything but forward. Finn escalates from being afraid to being a fighter, very, very quickly. And once he thinks he cannot do something, he WILL NOT try, not even the slightest bit. Thank goodness for Bill, who was there to help us break the pattern of behavior.

 Day 2 started out rough, but Finn quickly became engaged in the activity and was perky and forward and wanted to try to go through it. This was a great change. The problem, however, is that he is still resistant to being told what to do. He went through because he wanted to, not because I asked him. But still, a happy willing attitude is a good change and a stepping stone to the elusive submission I seek.

He's by no means "fixed" but I learned some valuable lessons:

#1 I know what the problem is
#2 I can ride through the tantrums
#3 I know what works to break the cycle and help him gain confidence

Some pictures from Day 2:

Finn liked the fire lines the best, I think!!

These pool noodles were THE scariest thing for him to overcome, but he did it!

Walking out of the smoke bomb

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I would definitely attend this clinic again with both of my horses. The clinic is not really about the obstacles at all. It really does a great job of exposing holes and offers a safe and welcoming place to address those gaps. I definitely have my work cut out for me with this little guy, but I think we both left with more confidence in both ourselves and one another.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

W/T Champion Is Having Trouble Trotting

...and surprisingly, his canter has been the best it has ever been... more on that in a second.

So, back story...we moved to a new barn. Not going to get into the "why", but we're at a new place. It is a much bigger establishment - on 100 acres, with super huge arenas - both indoor and out. It also has 2 covered round pens, 60+ft in diameter. But with that also has many more horses, boarders, and trainers. I kind of cringed at the thought of having to share space with so many people. As it turns out, however, I am one in a very small handful that goes to ride after work. We've been there for a week and a half now, and I've ridden about 10 times in the arena, and I've been alone each time.

I've been taking advantage of the larger space to do lots of canter work with Ben. Ben, God love him, is a giant quitter - like all the time. I am constantly having to keep on him to keep going, and it has been a challenge. It isn't so much having to nag with the leg anymore, but it is more like if I even think about transitioning down, he'll break. I am constantly having to remind him to keep gait - whether it be trot or canter, or walk even. He's just lazy and will do the least expected of him at all times.

So the last few rides I've been making him own up to it a bit more. I ask him for canter and get up off his back in a half seat. And we go- for laps, breaking it up in circles and doing simple changes across the diagonal. Maybe its the former jumper rider in me, but its much easier for me to keep going like this, on a lazy horse.  I'm not trying to hold him together, he's got to figure it out on his own, with just a bit of assistance from me.

Low and behold, both his transitions and quality have gotten MUCH better. His balance in the canter has changed dramatically, and yesterday, my last few canter sets yielded a very balanced, cadenced canter that felt SLOW, but uphill- something I have been yearning for with him.

Another reason for the canter work is that his trot has gone to crap. He is just SO fussy with his head and neck at the trot, and has a hard time loosening his back and getting a nice soft, balanced trot. I get a better, more rideable, connected trot once I canter, but man it has been rough going. His transitions to trot suck (the pace steps/bunny hop have re-entered our lives). I can't help but wonder if there is a physical reason for it, or if its a training issue. This started back in the summer at our last couple of shows. I was doing body work for him, and admittedly, I've sucked with keeping up at the stretches and such. I need to get back to that regimen.

I've also been toying with going bitless temporarily. Ben is the WORST when it comes to being playful with his bit. And it is all-consuming. He chomps and fusses and chomps and fusses - doesnt seem to matter what type of bit he's got on  - size, shape, ring type, metal type- if its in his mouth he's going to play with it - from the second he is bridled and onward. Flash, drop, whatever - nothing stops him.  I'm tempted to try more as an experiment just to see if anything changes going bitless. It might be a good test, and it might get us over this hurdle.