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.)

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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.

hard walk week

Poor Murray has had a hell of a week.

First, I made him lose all of the skin on his cannons with my over-liberal application of Equiderma lotion.  Then I forced him to do so much walking it’s absurd.  Walking is the worst.

On Monday, when I went to wrap up Murray’s cruddy/scabby right hind, he said “no thank you”.  He kept picking the leg up and scampering away from me when I went to wrap it, so I asked my barn manager to give me a hand.  She has a special relationship with Murray — i.e. he behaves for her, because he knows he has to.  He wouldn’t even let her touch his leg, so she had a conversation with him, and then wrapped his leg while he was standing ground tied in the barn aisle.

https://giphy.com/embed/11BAxHG7paxJcI

via GIPHY

On Tuesday, I figured I’d skip the wrapping drama and twitch Murray before I attempted to clean out the goop on his leg.  I asked barn manager for help with a handy-twitch.  When barn manager went to put on the twitch, Murray said “no thank you”.  Then they had a discussion about accepting a twitch and not being a butt when someone touches your face.  She got him twitched, and I wrapped his leg in the parking lot (where he had ended  up over the course of the discussion).

On Wednesday, I wrapped his leg in his stall and it was relatively drama free. I think I had to use some stern words to remind him to keep his manners about him, but other than that, no big.

On Thursday, as I was booting up to ride (I’m riding in diagonal-opposite boots on the good legs right now), Murray LEAPT away from me and right into our barn manager.  And not just a little bit, he leapt into her and kept on going through her as if she didn’t even exist.  Then they had a discussion about respecting peoples’ space.

On Friday, Murray  let me do his girth up to the third hole on each side (one higher than usual), while he was tied, and he didn’t move a muscle, except to remind me to please put one more carrot in the machine.  [I was actually floored by this, and NOBODY who knows us was around to appreciate it. DEVASTATING. He got a huge pile of carrots as a reward though.]

He’s got the weekend off, and we’ll get back to torture next week!

the ghost of Murrays past

After our excellent dressage lesson, and in line with experimental protocols (which I promise to tell you about soon), Murray and I had a jump lesson.  This was a multi-purpose jump lesson, as it gave me the opportunity to try out my new jump saddle!  I found an Albion monoflap for super cheap on international eBay, and after hearing so many success stories with international saddle purchases I went for it.  I also knew that the Albion monoflap tree fit Murray reasonably well, because I had the same saddle on trial in too large of a seat size back in May.

wow it looks teeny on him

When I got to the barn at 8, I couldn’t find my horse, which was a touch disconcerting.  I shortly found Murray in a friend’s stall, which was a side effect of another horse being in his stall overnight.  Murray had plowed down 5 lbs of alfalfa in the 30 minutes he’d been in his friend’s stall, however, and since the damage was already done (nothing but crumbs remained of that flake), and I had to ride another horse first, I figured I’d just leave him there. The feed problem was compounded when my barn manager came through and delivered buckets, and didn’t realized Murray wasn’t the horse that belonged in that stall.  In the four seconds it took for her to step out of the stall, grab the next bucket, and turn back to Murray in shock realizing what she’d done, he’d discovered his luck and was absolutely HOOVERING down his friend’s LMF gold.


i couldn’t choose

The lesson itself was like a Freaky Friday/Christmas Carol mashup, because Murray was hardcore channeling the ghosts of his jumping past.  I didn’t blog then, and there’s not much relevant media, but there was a period when every jump lesson with Murray was just a bucking mess.  He balked before fences, bolted after them, and bucked throughout.  I would be so deliriously happy to get through a course of 2’3″ verticals smoothly that I’d call the assistant trainer over to come watch me do it again (which never happened because it was never repeatable).

lol this is a gem i hadn’t looked at in a while

(And yeah, we can play the “he was probably in pain” game, and maybe he was. I had a different saddle then, he definitely had chiro issues that we were addressing from month to month, and — oh yes, pertinent to this story — I still fed him alfalfa.)

We started out unable to get a spot to a pretty small vertical at the trot.  I tried a few different approaches on the way in, adding leg, asking for more balance, but it all ended up messy.  After we changed directions I focused just on the rhythm of the trot and tried not to think too much about the spot, and it rode much more smoothly.

Our next challenge was a little corner built out of a barrel and two standards.  I made the same mistake I’ve made every week for the last month and assumed that a forward canter = a confident horse.  NOT SO.  Murray slammed on the sideways brakes a few strides out from the barrel.  “NO,” I told him. “NO BULLSHIT TODAY.”  (I had already fallen of one horse that morning, and he was a super honest but green sales horse, so I wasn’t about to let my much more trained pony get away with bad behavior.)  I circled, as we’d already passed the point where I could reasonably make the correction and slow up to a manageable pace.  We trotted in, thinking again just about the rhythm, and popped over, and Murray gave a few disgruntled bucks after.

i should get this made into a necklace charm or something

There was a one stride one stride grid set up also, and B lengthened the distances out a touch for our lesson mate, RBF.  It’s what Murray and I are working on right now anyway, so I was cool with it.  Right up until we headed in to the grid.  Murray actually responded really well when we turned to the grid and pulled me toward it, which was fantastic — there was once a time when he’d have backed off hard.  He jumped long and flat through it, and then took off playing immediately afterward.  This was actually exactly how I’d fallen off the sale horse earlier in the morning.  Fortunately for me, Murray is more responsive to my yelling and pulling and slowed down before the arena wall rushed up on us, and I was saved from the disgrace of falling off of two horses, in the exact same fashion, in less than 3 hours.

The rest of the lesson was much of the same. B kept the fences small because we were clearly struggling a little (RBF’s Lucy was also feeling pretty sore from some heavy duty booty dressage rides), and I focused on riding my horse.  Murray was up to his old tricks, balking in front of fences and then bolting after them, and bucking on all the long canter strethces.  At one point I pulled a little to regulate his speed and direction after a fence and instead of adjusting a little Murray slammed on the front brakes and threw his withers and neck in to my pelvis.  I lost my patience at that point and was like “No! No! You can canter like a NORMAL HORSE!!”

all aboard the nope train

I put my leg on, but kept a firm contact with my hands, and didn’t give Murray anywhere to go but between my leg and the bridle.  To his credit, he responded really well (shockingly well, actually).  He put his head down, lifted his back, and cantered like a normal horse.  I didn’t let up for the rest of the lesson — the only time he felt any slack in the reins was when I pushed my hands up his crest a little over the fences.

It will surprise no-one that the fences came much more easily when Murray was keeping a consistent rhythm and actually using his hind end to power his gaits, instead of to fishtail around or kick at imaginary birds.  But it surprised me!  At least a little.  I haven’t really been able to put Murray together this well in the past, so contact to fences usually* == slowing to fences.  Since I don’t want that, I err too far on the other side and flap the reins at him like that will solve some kind of problem.

(* Sometimes short reins/contact to fences == me leaning too far forward, or making other amazing mistakes.)

we’ll end on a happy jumping picture. but wait! where did my form from last august go?!

It was by no means a bust of a lesson, though I do want to start jumping a big bigger coming up to Camelot in August.  First, Murray helped me figure out that I can probably stick his shit in the new saddle.  That’s for sure a win.  Second, it gave me valuable data on exactly how to ride Murray when he gets in one of these moods.  And while they aren’t common any more, they do show up in some unfortunately critical places — stadium jumping rounds at shows, for example.  If I can get Murray as put together during stadium as I did in the lesson, that will be awesome for us.

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Murray and I recently had a development in our communication that makes me seem like a huge asshole.  Which I will readily admit that I am, sometimes.  But I’m not sure this is really one of those times.

Horse professionals have long been telling me things like “horses don’t lie”, or “listen to your horse, they’re trying to tell you something”, or “horses are inherently truthful creatures”, or even “horses don’t have the ability to be deceptive”.  And I don’t necessarily disagree with these things.  I don’t think that the vast majority of horses (going to go ahead an say 99% here) have the ability for premeditated deception.  Sure, some horses will learn that when they come out a little stiff and janky they get put right back, so it might behoove them to be stiff and janky because they keep getting rewarded for such behavior.  But no horse sits in his stall and thinks, “now, if I just make sure not to put any weight on that right front hoof today, my owner will definitely think something is wrong and give me the well deserved spa day that I actually deserve.”

Image result for malingering

But I have never totally bought it that a horse is always telling me the truth.  There are little lies, like “I’ve never seen a trot pole before in my life! How does one horse this contraption?!” which are some variation of “I can’t”/”I don’t wanna”.  And I even understand how “I can’t” and “I don’t wanna” can be really valuable and truthful indicators of something hinkey going on physically or mentally, and should be paid attention to.  And there are occasionally big misunderstandings, like “holy shit that patch of weird ground is the most horrifying thing I have EVER SEEN oh actually it’s fine, nevermind.”

And then there are the Chicken Littles of the world.

Image result for chicken little sky is falling

For a long time, trying to understand what Murray was telling me behaviorally was ridiculously difficult.  He could be so sensitive and reactive that absolutely anything that upset him turned into a huge deal.  Sometimes he seemed to respond really reasonably to the various stimuli of life — a leaf blowing across the barn aisle, a funny sound, a wheelbarrow going by — and sometimes the sky was absolutely falling for weeks on end, and anything more exciting than another horse casually walking past him was cause for IMMEDIATE ALARM.  Responses were scaled proportionately to the level of excitement elicited, just starting around a 7 on a 1-10 scale and going up from there.

This is not exactly what I would call reliable or honest communication.  At some point, when someone tells you that there’s a wolf in the pasture every single day and there is never a wolf there, you stop listening.  There is no wolf out there, the sky isn’t falling, yes that is a saddle, and there is an extension cord that wasn’t there yesterday, and this is just real life, and you have to get used to it.  (Part of me feels like this is something baby animals are supposed to learn.  It’s what I teach puppies — the world is a large and dynamic place, and we don’t get to live in a box that never changes.  Am I wrong in thinking that foals/yearlings/young horses with good handling probably get taught those things too?)


dummy foal?

This type of communication isn’t what I would call honest, but it isn’t distinctly dishonest either.  Sure, Murray was (probably) trying to tell me about one of the fifty six butterfly-sized things that might be bothering him at any one time — there’s a cat over there, that trash can is new, someone is putting a blanket on another horse!!!!  But those aren’t things that bother 95% of the equine population, and they certainly aren’t things that ought to bother him.  And they aren’t the kind of communication that is actually telling me something — it doesn’t necessarily mean he is sore, or has an abscess, or needs his hocks injected.  It just means a gnat farted somewhere in a mile radius and Murray took offense.

So maybe I’m an asshole for not listening.  But unless the horse was really, physically trying to kill himself (or at risk of doing so), it was so much easier to just tune it out.

A few weeks ago, Murray didn’t want to pick up his left hind foot for me to pick out.  It was strange and annoying, because I thought I’d solved the whole foot picking out situation years ago with a lot of treats and praise.  He would dance away from me all around the tying post (yeah, we still don’t cross tie), and finally for a few days I gave up on picking the foot out and settled with picking it up to look in it briefly and put it down again.  It was ridiculous but it resolved itself in four or five days.

Twin Peaks on Showtime season 1 episode 1 twin peaks showtime GIF

Then last week, I found two blown out abscess holes on his right hind.  One from the coronet band, an one in the heel bulb.  Probably from about the time of the not foot pick upsies issue.

Last week I also had a saddle on trial.  It was a great saddle, at a steal of a price, and everything about it said it would probably fit Murray (I ultimately returned it because it was a hair too long and didn’t fit me).  And when I tried it on Murray he had a pretty horrified, violent reaction.  But, I thought, that was because I stupidly put a bare leather saddle on his naked back.  Everybody knows you put the saddle pad down before the saddle, you silly human.

So we did the whole routine, I put a pad under it because it looked a little wide, we did a very loose girth, and then because Murray was especially touchy that morning I went outside to do the girth up the rest of the way.  And he just about ran me down when I finally did get it all the way done up.  Normally he runs away from you when he’s freaking out, but this time he ran to the end of the lead rope, turned around, and ran right at me.  I checked under the saddle and it was awfully tight under there, so I pulled the half pad out, and homeboy seemed a bit better.

murray: who’s the asshole now?!

The next day, though, saw the exact same reaction.  And Murray really, really does not usually try to run humans down.  He’s very respectful in his panicking and freaking out — he’d much rather stay far, far away from all bipeds, thanks all the same.  So I shoved my hands in under the saddle, and back just past his shoulders were two firm spots of flocking that were really quite tight.  And when I took the saddle off of him, you could tell that those spots were extra tight even without a girth done up.

So. What do you know.  The child has learned to communicate actual problems to me!  Or maybe…. I just learned how to listen.

So once again, my horse is proving to me that he’s not the asshole who isn’t listening, I’m the asshole who isn’t listening.  And it would be great if he could do it in a more succinct way, but the lessons probably wouldn’t stick quite as hard then.

this bodes well

It would be, of course, the week right before I have a jump clinic with one of my favourite ever clinicians that I suddenly regain all motivation to ride, realize that I have a lot of ass-kicking to do with Murray, and then have to avoid doing too much of it to preserve him physically and mentally for the clinic.  Murray’s attitude has become progressively better through the week and I imagine it will only continue to get better with consistent work and structure.  He has also gotten sore, though, so I knew that my tune-up jump ride was likely to be at least a little interesting.

And it was.

murrayisadork1

 

I just wanted to make sure that we could go forward, jump everything, and not be scared out of our skin at random objects.  Which we totally accomplished.  But Murray took objection to the extended groundline to the vertical on the out of this one-stride, and could not get through it without playing over the jump or upon landing nearly every time.  I mean, really horse.  Why did you jump 4′ over a 2’3″ fence?  Why are your legs hanging straight down?  What is the game plan here?

murrayisadork2oh, i see what the plan is now

B coached me through putting Murray together again quickly on the back side of the fence and not letting him think that this behavior is desirable.  Once we started to string together a few more fences he settled in, and while we never came out of this combination totally straight and forward, we didn’t miss any fences because of it.

The benefit to working extra hard to get Murray put together before and after fences was really nice flat work.  So clearly, we can do it.  We just need to be appropriately motivated.

feb-jump-03

Murray got two grams of bute and I will hand-walk him today (and hopefully a little turnout if the arena is free) to help ease those sore muscles.  We will see what kind of pony shows up for Hawley on Sunday!

nobody falls off the back of a horse

Picture, if you will, Nicole and Murray cruising around a 4 acre pasture after their ride.  It has rained recently, but not in the last day or so.  The grass is green and growing, the ground is soft, and the world smells fresh and clean.

There is an American kestrel sitting on the fenceline, staring intently into a small willow bush.  This fascinates Nicole, our avid young naturalist.  She steers Murray toward the hawk with her knees — riders in fantasy stories always steer their horses with their knees.  Also, she steers with her knees because she is holding her phone in one hand.  Inside the willow bush, starlings are chirping noisily.  The Cooper’s hawk is absorbed in the commotion.

Murray is not interested in the kestrel. He is thinking about grass. Or perhaps water.  Maybe his friend Logan. But definitely not birds.

The pair turn away from the kestrel before getting too close.  They do not want to disturb it.  The kestrel chooses this moment to jump into the willow bush, pouncing upon its prey.  The bush shakes as the birds scuffle within it.

Murray hears the shaking bush – rather, he hears a nineteen foot tall monster shaking ten foot willow trees at him in hot pursuit.  The monster is right behind him.  He does the only thing a sensible creature would do in such a situation.  He runs.  Murray feels that he runs with the speed of the wind.  He runs with the force of a thousand hurricanes. In reality, Murray runs like a small, not-terribly-fast ex racehorse who is a little chubby and not really in shape right now.

Nicole is surprised by the sudden acceleration.  Surprised enough that she loses her seat and is laid out flat behind her saddle for a moment.  She still has a hold of the reins, but has lost both of her stirrups and all semblance of control.  She slides off Murray’s right haunch, holding on to the reins longer than she probably should in a desperate hope to stop the bolt.  She lands on the soft earth and skids through the wet grass, glad she put on her windproof breeches.

Murray reaches the end of the pasture and stops. Nicole is not with him. He turns. Nicole is on the ground. And behind Nicole… there is no monster. There is just a small, insignificant willow bush that isn’t even moving.

He walks back to Nicole. He does not step through his reins. He does not stop to eat grass. He is a good boy.

Nicole makes Murray an extra big bucket.

The American kestrel smiles over its breakfast of starling.

kestrel