five stages of standing wraps

Murray has been on stall rest and in standing wraps for the last 10 days or so (per veterinarian request).  He doesn’t mind the stall rest so much, which is surprising.  Usually when he’s on stall rest he shits in his waterer or feed bucket in protest.  But he seems to have accepted his fate as a stall-only-pony for now, and his feeding stations remain un-defiled.

The standing wraps, however, have been a discussion.  Or… six.

Murray has never really loved standing wraps on his hind legs, and I get them on at shows by distracting him with a bucket and/or alfalfa.  I usually throw wraps on him as quickly as humanly possible when I’m wrapping to trailer, and then there’s the requisite “my legs are broken I can’t walk” period.  Every time.  One would think that with the frequency he gets stuff put on his hind feet, he’d remember that they exist all the time, not just when they are unencumbered by boots or polos.  But no.  (I think he has a proprioception problem. Honestly.)

When you discover you have to wrap your horse every day until the wound on his cannon is healed and proud-flesh free though?  Dissatisfaction will reign all around.

Start with denial.  You’ve been in this stage for six weeks already, wrapping the wound as little as possible in general, why change now?  Oh yeah, because your vet told you to.  This stage lasts 45 seconds to half an hour after the vet leaves and you decide to do what you’re told by medical professionals.  Put your wraps on slowly and methodically because it’s important to get them even and wrinkle-free.

Then get angry.  Because your horse won’t stand still for standing wraps, you’re going to wrap him as fast as humanly possible.  Who cares if the wraps look  bad or are a little uneven.  They aren’t pressure bandages, they’re just there to keep his muscles from swelling out from under his skin for no good reason you stupid fucking wound on the front of a cannon caused by some goddamn scabs fucking fuck.  Slowly, your anger-wrapping gets quicker and tidier.

Bargain with your horse a little to make the wrapping experience more pleasant.  Hide carrots in his hay so he can forage for them while you wrap his legs.  Get really good at holding the lead rope in one hand or over your shoulder but just within reach while quickly wrapping with the other two.

When it seems like you’ve been wrapping for an eternity (it’s been four days, btw) you’ll start to get depressed.  The rapid healing and flattening that the wound was showing when you first started putting steroids on it has slowed, and it looks like this thing will never heal. Seriously, will it ever heal?!  You’re getting really good at standing wraps, but who needs to know how to wrap legs when your horse’s legs are probably all going to fall off and you’ll never be able to ride him on his little stumps of hocks anyway.

who needs hind canons anyway? not us!

Circle back to anger when Murray decides to run away from you mid-wrap one day.  Seriously, a third of the way into the wrap and he just runs away from you into his paddock.  He’s not panicked or afraid, or in any way concerned about the purple snake that’s trailing him from the stall.  He knows what he’s done, and he was willing to accept the consequences.  Tie him up and wrap him in the aisle from now on.

Victory comes when the Notorious OTTB stands tied in the aisle for you to do his standing wraps, both of them, without a walk break in the middle.  Ahhh victory, sweet victory.

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wordy wednesday: behavior, cortisol, and welfare in horses

I’ve always wanted to put my research background to good use on this (or any) blog; writing in-depth but accessible articles knitting together research and results from multiple sources to bring a thorough and complete view to some complicated topics in equine science.  There is a crazy (though small) world of equine science out there: studies that explore everything from the effect of specific drugs on equine osteoarthritis to the interrelation of saddle slip and back shape on lameness in the ridden horse*.

Weirdly, I don’t seem to find time for that on the reg.


too busy doing this

Every once in a while I do come across a neat article about something equine-science related that I want to bring to you guys.  Frosting on the cherry is that this particular article is open access, so you can all read it if you want to!  And, in my opinion, it’s actually a fairly well-written and understandable study — perhaps because it tackles a fairly accessible topic that doesn’t require large amounts of jargon or a lifetime of studying some very specific mumbo-jumbo at 100x magnification to understand.

Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus)

Jodi Pawluski , Patrick Jego, Séverine Henry, Anaelle Bruchet, Rupert Palme, Caroline Coste, Martine Hausberger

Read the full text for yourself here.

I was originally attracted to this study because the write-up of it claimed there was some evidence in there that high cortisol levels in horses might correlate with a positive type of stress (excitement), as opposed to negative stress (poor welfare, having the snot beaten out of them, etc.).  It doesn’t quite show that, but it does cement some interesting and important findings.

  1. Horse behavior can give us good insights to their welfare (duh, but read on a bit): horses that had an ears-back posture more than 50% of the time had lowered cortisol^ levels associated with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis down-regulation (fancy way of saying their hormone pathways were messed up), which matched other studies. This means that both the behavior/posturing and testing of cortisol levels can be useful to equine welfare scientists in the future (within reason, of course).
  2. Riding horses don’t think their lives are total shit, even when being ridden by amateurs.

In my opinion, one of the major strengths of this study is that the researchers used riding school horses in an active program (in France). Often, study subjects are kept in near hermetically-sealed conditions, in an attempt to control all external variables.  So an “inexperienced” person riding a horse in some studies is really someone who isn’t a legitimate professional, though can still course 3’6″.  While this is great for control — you know the rider isn’t likely to hurt the horse and can do exactly what you want them to do — it just doesn’t exhibit a lot of external validity — most horses don’t live their lives being ridden only by people capable of coursing 3’6″.  For the most part, being flopped around on by rank amateurs is a lot more like a horse’s experience.


floppy reality

So, what did the researchers actually find?  (In reverse order, because I’m trying to be confusing). #2 — horses did not experience a significant rise or fall in plasma cortisol or fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs).  This means that being ridden in a school program by kids who bop and pull and bounce and kick is not a significant positive or negative stressor for these horses.  Not enough to cause an acute or long-term rise or drop in FGMs or plasma cortisol. (Many caveats exist of course: these horses have been established in the lesson program for a while, meaning they didn’t flunk out so they must not hate it anyway; also, these horses had pretty astonishingly high levels of chiropractic issues — so many collinear factors here. You be the judge.)

And finding #1 — When we see horses with withdrawn behavior (in this study: ears back during feeding time, but in other studies: non-responsive behavior, facing a wall, reclusive in stall) we can pretty reasonably question whether or not their welfare might be compromised.  Just because a horse is a bit cranky doesn’t mean they have poor welfare, but it might be worth looking into.  The authors also looked into physiological measures (anemia and chiropractic issues), and there is definitely a feedback loop between psychological health, physical health, and welfare.  So we might consider that a horse who demonstrates a change in behavior, from generally perky to generally withdrawn or low-affect, might be experiencing something physical as well.

Interesting to note is that the researchers didn’t report anything about stereotypic behaviors like cribbing, weaving, etc.  I have done a lot of reading (in both horses and other species) about how stereotypic behavior might indicate welfare, and the literature is vast and, ultimately, equivocal: sometimes it means bad, sometimes it means nothing.

So there we have it. I really encourage you to read the full article if you have time, and tell me what you took from it!  We can start a little blogger journal club!

poor welfare or drugged?

* I have full access to these so please drop me a line if you’d like to know more.

^ Cortisol is often referred to as a “stress hormone”, but it really does and indicates so much more than that.  Cortisol is upregulated any time glycogen is turned into glucose to provide easily accessible energy to the muscles.  So obviously, this could be associated with both awesome exercise (like sex! or just running, I guess) and un-awesome exercise (running the fuck away from a lion). I will actually just direct you to the paper for more on this, since I feel that the authors did a really excellent job of explaining some of the complexity surrounding cortisol in the introduction.

Official stuff:

Article Source: Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus) 
Pawluski J, Jego P, Henry S, Bruchet A, Palme R, et al. (2017) Low plasma cortisol and fecal cortisol metabolite measures as indicators of compromised welfare in domestic horses (Equus caballus). PLOS ONE 12(9): e0182257. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0182257

disgusto leg wrap-update

When it left you last, Murray’s disgusto leg was your standard level of disgusting keratosis leg, but nowhere near cancer-leg.  Since then, it has become so much more disgusting before getting better.

looks like it’s healing, right? WRONG

First, the adhered scabby bits fell off with a little encouragement (I know, we’re not supposed to encourage that kind of thing, but it was seriously holding on by like 2 square mm and I couldn’t get the ointment underneath otherwise!)

i cut lots of bits of dead skin off per veterinarian advice
my hand is in most of these pics both for scale and because it helps my dumb phone camera focus

The last little bit revealed some pretty deep… wound or whatever it was underneath. But it got on with the business of healing over through secondary intention.  Ya know.  Standard healing mumbo jumbo.

looks like it’s healing right? WRONG

The above picture is from 8/8.  The next one is from 8/28.  During Camelot I wrapped the mostly-closed-and-dry wound with a little triple abx, telfa, and vetwrap before putting boots on.  It was a little yucky after because it, predictably, ripped off the scab, but after Camelot it seemed to dry up and close over nicely afterward.  I was like, this is totally healing and normal!  Look it’s all closed over!

Except what’s what weird edema-lump?

I started to wrap again at this point, which I’d been neglecting for a few weeks because I’m part of the “let it dry out” school of wound healing.  I bought this pack of vetwrap knockoffs earlier in the ordeal and started working my way through the ugly colours (red and lime green, obviously leaving purple and teal and pink for a more glorious time).  Murray didn’t seem to care if we poked, prodded, pulled, or wrapped the lump, so we continued with vetwrap+telfa as before.

I finally got the vet out after the WSS show because the lump wasn’t going away. She poked and prodded it a fair bit and managed to pull off a deceiving scabby bit that was hiding some fairly angry skin underneath.  In her words, it wasn’t proud flesh yet, but it almost wanted to be.  Weirdly, Murray didn’t give a shit that the vet had poked and prodded his leg and pushed off the scab.  The middle of the wound, however, was kinda puffy and pink and angry.

Ugh. Gross. Proud flesh, which I had been trying to avoid the whole time.  The next pic is blurry and shitty, but you can see how angry the middle of the wound was — and this was after a day of topical steroids.

The vet prescribed a week of steroids, wrapping with vetwrap + standing wraps to avoid any weird swelling stuff, and no turnout for a little while.  Five days in, the steroids have done a magnificent job and I’m kinda wondering why I can’t put steroids on every little booboo?

So that’s where we’re at with disgusto leg.  Still not lame, still not painful, just disgusto.

To add insult to injury, of course, almost all of the keratosis on the other legs has come back despite gentle and frequent currying.  So… it’s time to try some of those other ointments to break that shit down.  I cannot believe that last year, when I basically didn’t groom this horse for three months other than a brief brush over the saddle area, I got almost no keratosis build up, and this year it’s a legit problem.  Ugh. Why.

shaping energy

Way back before the one-day, and even before Camelot, Murray and I were having some pretty badass dressage rides.  Murray was exceptionally willing and stretchy, and I got some new perspective and ideas from finally cracking open — and then plowing through — When Two Spines Align.  I’ll do a proper book review soon, but wanted to get down one of the neat/important concepts that really worked for Murray and I.

When reading about dressage I’ve encountered the phrase or idea that you need to “shape the energy” to what you want it to be.  Which is a great idea.  Only I have no idea what the fuck it means or how to do it.  Like, are we talking Dragon Ball Z style or Street Fighter or what?

Image result for dragon ball zImage result for street fighter hadouken

Fortunately, Beth Baumert takes some time to actually explain this concept in a few different places.  One of which has to do with using your inside aids to create the bend and suppleness that you want from your horse (my words, not hers), and then use your outside aids to maintain the steering on the circle.  This is just one piece of what she talks about in the book, but for the moment it’s the most relevant piece.

When working on my transitions and trying to make them actually count (another concept that  Beth and absolutely every other dressage coach I’ve ever encountered seems to espouse), I ran into my same old same old problem of Murray falling away from my inside leg and inverting/popping up through the transitions.  This is not something that repetition and time has just “solved” for us (um, does it actually solve anything other than open wounds?), despite the fact that I only ever pat/reward/praise Murray for round transitions and we frequently end up re-doing inverted ones.

fairly representative of most of our transitions: if not actually inverted, then braced against the hand

I used my inside aids to get Murray’s bend and attention back, which I often do.  Then, as I felt him falling out on the circle (as he often does), I had the bright idea of using my outside aids to actually steer.  I didn’t clamp down on him with my outside leg or pull on the outside rein, I just firmed up those aids so they were present, but not overbearing.  I also stopped looking down and looked around the circle, which was probably helpful.  In response, Murray softened and stayed round and on a circle.  It was like magic!

I definitely had to continue using this strategy though, it wasn’t quite a “set it and forget it” aid.  We’d drift off of the circle or lose some bend or lose a little forward, so I’d push for a little more forward, then shape that forward energy into roundness and bend again.

This actually paid off even more during the transitions.  Before the transition I would do the same thing: shape Murray with my inside aids, steer and capture the energy with the outside aids (see, now even I’m using meaningless aphorisms to describe riding!), and then ask for the upward transition within a stride or two while we were straight and VOILA!!! Magnificent transitions.  It was pretty cool.

So that was a neat little revelation that has been pretty useful to my riding.  And I do finally understand the idea of shaping and capturing energy.  By pushing Murray into my outside rein with my inside leg, I’m adding sideways energy.  But for Murray, the easiest response to that is to let that sideways energy peter out by actually going sideways.  So instead of letting that energy just “escape” sideways, I capture it with my outside leg and hand, and recycle it in the direction I want — which is forward.  So I really am shaping it from my inside leg to my outside hand.  So I’m basically a dragon ball z master now.

HADOUKEN!!!

one-day horse show in numbers

200 — approximate man hours spent dragging the course and reworking the footing after it got absolutely annihilated and baked in the California sun for months and months

112 — projected temperature for the day of the show, in the middle of a six day heat wave

111 — temperature actually reached on the day of the show, well after all of the competitors were done with their rides

80 — hours spent painting, flowering, flagging, mulching, and rock-picking by hand on course

64 — starters on the morning of the show

18 — concerned queries we received regarding what we would be doing to keep horses and riders safe in the heat

10 — compliments on the adjusted show schedule

8 — ice and water buckets placed around the facility for riders to sponge themselves and their horses

7 — hours spent putting up and taking down misters on the temporary stables

october fence decorating plans!

6 — total number of hours we ran the show — 65 competitors pushed through three phases between 7:00 am and 1:00 pm!  riders traveled from dressage to stadium within about 45 minutes, then immediately on to XC. no rider had to be on their horse for more than 2 hours.

5 — adult sodas consumed while cleaning up after show’s end

4 — days before the show that we completely re-adjusted the schedule so that nobody would ride past 1 PM

3 — nights where I slept for at least 12 hours to recover from the show

2 — dressage rings running simultaneously

1 — month until we do it again (less than, actually!)

 

camelot bonus reel: blogger meetup

One of the funnest things about Camelot has always been showing there with my friends.  We’ve been going to Camelot for years and years and years — seriously, I think my trainer first took students to a one day schooling HT there back in 2011.  My first show there was 2013 — from which I was summarily eliminated, but I had a ton of fun riding Quincy around bareback at night with my friends despite that.

This year, I knew pretty early on that Kate was bringing students, and Olivia would be coming, so it was for sure going to be a mini blogger meetup.  I tried to rustle up a few other locals, but alas none more were to be had.  No fear, both Kate and Olivia brought many incredibly adorable horses, which more than made up for it.

Sorry, Olivia. I suck at selfies.

But the highlight of meeting other bloggers was meeting Keith W. Matapouri of Post the Trot.  (Also sorry Olivia and Kate that meeting up with you guys wasn’t the best part of the weekend. I mean blogger meetup.)  In the time-honored tradition of the close blogging community, though, I’m going to refer to Keith by a made-up blogger name.  Let’s go with Kathy.  Kathy seems like a good, strong, blogger name.

I actually knew I was in the presence of Kathy even before we had been properly introduced.  It was just one of those things.  I don’t want to imply that I’m a stalker or anything.  But you know when you see something you’ve never actually seen before in person, you’ve only heard/read about it, but the second you lay eyes on it you know that this is that thing you’ve read about? It was like the first time I ever saw a gerenuk.  I’d never seen a picture of a gerenuk, I’d just heard of them, and then there was a gerenuk standing there in the scrub and I shouted KATHY GERENUK!!

Image result for gerenukthis is what it was like to spy Kathy

Alternately, you know when your dog jumps off the couch and makes that kinda subtle smile at you, and you know that you need to rush her outside right away because she’s about to start puking on the carpet (even though she hasn’t started heaving or gurgling yet)?

It was kinda like that.

Anyway, Kathyand I spent a little bit of time chatting after I introduced myself.  We had a fascinating and in-depth conversation about the appearance, function, role, and genetics of dapples.  Interestingly, did you know that nobody really understands dapples?  I mean the dapples that show up seasonally, not dapples that stick year-round on gray horses.  We think it’s genetic, it seems to be associated with nutrition in some cases, and some horses get to have dapples even when their nutrition is total shit.  So what regulates whether a horse gets the ability to get dapples (like, what gene even controls dapples REALLY?), if a horse gets dapples within its lifetime, and how big/bright/patterned/obvious those dapples are?

NOBODY KNOWS. It’s interminably frustrating.  Kathy understood.

Kathy also promised to take me horse boating sometime, so that’s pretty cool.

Image result for gerenuk(I did, actually, see gerenuk a few times living in Kenya. This picture is from MF Kinnard at Mpala, which was essentially right nextdoor to where I lived in Kenya. Like, as nextdoor as you get when you live on a 200 square kilometer conservancy.)

 

hunt & seek

On Saturday night I walked Murray around bareback in his wraps to stretch him out from cross country, and liberally used some of my homemade liniment on both him and myself.  The upside is that Murray doesn’t seem to hate my homemade liniment.  The downside is that, while it feels nice, I don’t think it does shit.  I mean, it certainly hasn’t helped the healing of my knees.  The formula might need some tweaking.  We’ll work on it.

It’s been a while since I walked my horse around bareback in the dark, and Kate commented likewise.  It was fun.  Murray powerwalked when we had company, and meandered when we were alone.  That night I slept like the dead.

there’s so much good stadium media thanks to the Kathy(s)

My knee was almost pain-free on Sunday morning, but it was also very, very stiff.  I was hobbling around like a peg-legged pirate getting Murray ready.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned this lately (it’s probably worth its own post) but Murray has made huge strides in tacking up lately.  At shows he’s been downright normal — it takes me five minutes to tack him up, and boy is that nice compared to 25 minutes.

Unfortunately for me, my knee was not holding up as well in the saddle as it had on Saturday.  Posting was a little painful (though the pain decreased as I rode), and I had a distinct feeling of unsteadiness in my two point.  Murray was a little sleepy feeling, but perked up when we started jumping.  I was back to riding like a juggalo, and leaned and kicked and crammed Murray to a couple of awful spots.  At one point I leaned and took my legs off to an oxer and Murray came to a gentle stop in front of the fence.  I turned to B and made excuses for myself, namely “my knee is really fucked right now.”

“This is when you have to really ride perfectly then,” she responded. “Dig deep. Don’t think about it.”

ugh I just ❤ him so much

I came back around to the oxer and pointedly did not get ahead and kept my leg on, and Murray was more than happy to comply.  I stopped warming up after that, hoping to save both Murray and myself for the actual stadium round, and did some meditative deep breathing to put the pain out of my mind.  I had walked the course the evening before, and given the state of my knee I wasn’t about to walk it again.  B walked it separately and we had a little pow-wow on the strategy for the fences.  I told her I was planning to try to square out my turn between 2 and 3 to avoid a weird curvy line, but she said it wouldn’t be too bad to bend as long as we didn’t drift.  She told me not to rush the turn to fence 5 and let myself take my time to get there, and to take the outside turn from 8 to 9, not the (tempting if I had been feeling better) inside turn.  Otherwise, it was a sweeping, fun course that felt a little oddly familiar.

It’s no secret that Murray and I have struggled a lot with stadium (also in general).  We have had bouts of mystery stops, major problems with distraction, spookiness, being afraid of standards, not even making it to stadium because we got eliminated… you name a stadium problem, and we’ve probably had it.  And I’ve spent a not-insignificant amount of time watching people cruise around stadium courses with horses that seem like they are going no matter what.  You know the horse — the rider can be flapping and flopping and not riding at all, and yet nothing short of an unseasonal hurricane would stop them from jumping the next fence.  I have longed for that horse.  While I’m flopping and flapping and kicking and pushing and kissing and coaxing, I have wondered many times why I do not have that horse.

uphill-fence-attacking-canter

On Sunday, I had that horse.

Murray was a little looky when we entered the stadium arena, and I struggled to get him into a canter to the first fence because he was staring at everything.  I gave him a little precautionary tap on the shoulder as we approached, and Murray was right there for the fence.  We had a big sweeping rollback to the oxer for two, and once again, Murray was on top of it.  The line to 3 could have been more square, but Murray locked onto the fence and took me there.  There was another big sweeping turn to 4AB, and not only did Murray see the fence and go there, but he took the long spot into the combination and made the two inside the combo.

Murray making the combo happen

The turn to five was good, but after fence five I couldn’t seem to get my body back under control.  I couldn’t get my right knee to bend so I could get my butt back down toward the saddle, so I was left awkwardly hanging on Murray’s mouth as we made the turn to six.  This directly caused Murray to take six down, since I was hovering over his withers, and he got deep deep deep to the fence.

murray: I can’t can’t jump good when you are crooked and perchy!

No matter, he recovered amazingly and powered up to seven in the five strides it measured.

murray: leave the fallen!

We had a very Murray approach to fence 8, the first one with strange/scary fill and the dreaded sharkstooth fence.  I managed to keep my body under control and my leg on, so even though we got deep we got over it, and left it up.

taking the deep one

The rollback to 8 yielded the fantastic jump near the top of this post (american flag fence), and then we gunned it home over the knights oxer.

 

Blurry stadium video below!  I need to clean my phone camera lens.

I’m not going to pretend that the ribbon doesn’t matter to me — I’m glad I got to take home some satin, because I’m a money-grubbing whore and #swag.  But the ribbon really was just icing.  For a move-up show that looked like it could go pretty spectacularly shittily on Friday evening, there wasn’t a single thing I would have changed about the weekend (er, except spraining my knee).

I have been working and waiting four years for this ride.  To feel like this is a partnership we are both committed to, where we can complement and improve one another.  To know that I’m not bullying and forcing my horse into something he actively dislikes and barely tolerates because it’s what I want to do.

I wasn’t all there this weekend, and Murray stepped in to make up the difference (again, actually).  And he did it at a new height, avoiding the problems we’ve had before.  I feel like we could do anything together if we just put our minds to it.

I don’t know where we are going from here.  But wherever it is, I know we can do it.