full leg replacement surgery

Remember how optimistic I was about Murary’s leg last week?  It was healing, the wound was closing, and (I haven’t written about this yet) he was working fantastically under saddle to boot.  He was gonna be healed up in no time!! JUST KIDDING.

he is starting to get that soft, fuzzy look that winter hair brings

During our dressing changes I noticed that healthy skin had stopped closing inward, and on Monday when I left the dressing off for more than a few minutes, a ring of proud flesh reared its ugly head.  My vet said she could come out on Thursday (three days later), and to keep putting steroids on and wrapping and she’d debride if needed.  So of course I put some wonder dust on it JUST IN CASE that would fix the problem for me.

I turned Murray out on Thursday before the vet appointment knowing that it would be his last shot at freedom for a while.  He galloped and galloped and galloped and galloped.  And then when I called him he galloped up to me. ❤

When the vet got there I told her about the progress/regress since she last saw the wound, and then said “and I know you said just to keep putting steroids on it, but on Tuesday I put on some Wonder Dust…”  She said “noooooo” in response, and her husband/assistant said “YEAH! I love that stuff!!”

“I know sometimes it eats away at the proud flesh and so I figured I’d just do it, because what’s the worst thing that could happen? You were already coming out to debride it.  So I figured you could fix any problem that I caused with it. SORRY I COULDN’T HELP MYSELF I KNOW YOU SAID NOT TO.”

At least I made her laugh?

also learned a new wrap: pressure wraps!

Linda sedated Murray (I now know that he is not a lightweight), and started examining his leg.  Unfortunately, the extensor tendon along the front of his cannon was starting to swell above and below the hole, which means there’s probably some low-grade tendonitis happening in there (probably an infection, at least one hopes).  That led to digging around in the wound.  The weird black spot that had formed in there was odd, and Linda thought it was maybe some deep necrotic tissue that formed from the outside in, and therefore couldn’t be sloughed properly.  After taking away the yucky proud flesh and necrotic bits, she pointed out to me that a couple of deep spots on the wound went all the way down to the tendon.

Ugh. Great.

But we cut it all away, and Linda applied a pressure bandage and prescribed SMZs to help ward off infection.  Bandage changes every 2-3 days, with triple antibiotic, steroid, telfa, sheet cotton, vetwrap, and elastikon to keep that puppy healing nice and flat.  PSA: Valley Vet is cheaper than Amazon for that shit.

sad sedated selfie

The super super super duper humongous downside to this whole “fixing the fucking leg wound for good” thing is that Murray has been going so well under saddle lately and we’ve been having a ton of fun and now we’re limited to stall rest and hand walking for a month.

A WHOLE MONTH. WTF.



tiny dog provides awkward comfort during veterinary procedure

There’s no shortage of ponies to ride, fortunately.  And I always said that if Murray went lame I’d just do tons of ground work and clicker training with him, and teach him all kinds of tricks so… I guess this is the perfect opportunity for us to learn some shit!

Overall, 0/10 do not recommend burning your horse’s skin off with chemicals and allowing deep necrotic tissue to form all the way down to the tendon.  (However Linda gets a 10/10, obviously.)

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.

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!)