slow and steady survived 2020

Through some kind of prophetic wisdom, I was really gentle with myself in terms of goals this year. Seriously, I could not believe it when I couldn’t find a “2020 goals” post on the blog today, and had to literally go back and back (okay not that far back, not deluding myself about how much I wrote this year) to find “slow and steady wins 2020“.

Despite the fact that 2020 was an absolute shitshow for the world at large and for many people personally, I was lucky enough to have a good year. I did not get sick, and nobody in my friends and family circle was significantly affected by illness — pandemically or otherwise. My partner didn’t lose his job, so even when I wasn’t getting paid, we were fine. There was plenty to do on the farm and we live in the country, so got to spend tons of time outside and never felt trapped or cramped. My barn stayed open and safe, and Fergola stayed magnificent.

And the biggest thing: horse shows getting shut down literally saved the farm this year. It may sound melodramatic but in March I was getting ready to drive to California to scribe for Megan’s L program (I was so excited!) and start ramping up for the horse trails, despite the utterly massive to-do list I had for our orchard in the spring (pruning and fertilizing, but when you’re one person with 8000 trees, the list is a biggie). Then California was like “no, don’t do that” and USEF was like “nope, none of that either!” about all horse shows. And suddenly I had the time I needed to get those orchard tasks done. More than that, I was forced to step back, slow down, and tidy up all the “high priority” things in my life that always seemed to get bumped by “emergency” things.

I was really very, very lucky. For which I am grateful.

My biggest goal for 2020 was to journal every ride. And holy shit, I did that. I have a small moleskine notebook that I was journaling in personally, and Ferg’s owner and I shared a notebook in her trunk to keep notes and let one another know what was going on. The sight of my very full journal pages gave me so much joy as I filled them out, and looking at it again I’m excited to read back on our rides!

I also had pretty good success with “shut up and just do what my trainer tells me to.” I’m not perfect, by any means. But I took my own advice to heart and listened to TrJ, even when my gut was like “no! GRAB THAT RIGHT REIN NICOLE!” If I was confused or her instructions felt counter-intuitive, I made a point to get a better understanding of the why, so I could better enact the what.

I completely forgot about 12 months of position fixes. I had some great success with position fixes this year! My hands and position over fences are wildly improved, as is my body-awareness generally. But I did not tackle this in a month-by-month fashion, and probably didn’t dedicate as much time to them as I could have.

In terms of horse plans, I was absolutely successful: I kept leasing and I did not buy a horse! I also rode way more horses! Not in the semi-regular way I had been hoping (since everyone being home made it so that many fewer catch rides were needed at the barn, plus there’s a literal bevy of teenagers for me to compete with), but I tried six horses this fall and got to rid several friends’ horses. This helped to give me a way better idea of what I want in a horse. And, as an added bonus, I managed to save a goodly sum for New Horse as well! I don’t think I’ve ever been so successful with my horse goals before. This is amazing.

As a very brief update, the horse search is super weird and borderline insane right now. I didn’t go to California over the holidays, I haven’t seen any more horses, and I’ve basically stopped looking seriously at ads lately. After coming to terms with the fact that I probably can’t afford ($$ or time) the horse I really want to compete and grow on and meeting the perfect hony candidate for fun, games, and learning, my MIL floated the idea of helping me get that horse. In Germany.

So now we’re exploring how realistic that idea is. (It may very well not happen, but for now, that’s the post-vaccine plan.)

On the other hand, I had wild failure on the blog front: I did not, anywhere near it, blog once per week. I wrote 15 blogs this year, which comes out to about one every four weeks. Oops. In my defense, it turns out it’s super weird to blog about not-your-horse. So hopefully I can solve this own-horse problem sooner rather than later and alleviate that block.

Personally, I wanted to have no zero days; i.e. to chip away at the long and delightful to-do list that comes with being a grownup and living in a 70s farm house. This one’s hard to quantify, but I’d consider it successful. For a while I wrote down my no zero days activity in my planner in lavender after I did it each day so I could see my progress. But holy shit, once you get to cleaning the cabinets and the inside of the fridge and behind the oven you realize HOW MUCH that stuff needs to get done on a regular basis and just ugh.

I also planned on 12 months of personal improvements but, once again, I promptly forgot about that. Without some kind of journal-reminder, that’s going to be a hard one to stick to. (And I hardly ever look at my planner from June-August, so those months might get forked anyway.)

In the garden, my goal was to grow all the produce I needed for Thanksgiving (I had a couple of personal caveats like carrots and potatoes, since we have rodent problems that make those crops a bad idea right now). We didn’t really have Thanksgiving this year, so this turned out to be kinda a wash. But I did grow enough to host a fully functional Thanksgiving: winter squash, onions, celeriac, celery, and tons of corn! I somehow flunked out on the green beans though which is super embarrassing, since they are crazy easy to grow. A halfsie-success, and a great goal for this year also.

Sadly, I do not think I succeeded at my goal of reading 40 books. I could only list 30 when I tried just now, and though there may very well be some that didn’t make the list, I have a hard time believing it was a full 10 of them. In roughly reverse chronological order:

Words of Radiance, Fool’s Fate, Fool’s Errand, American Gods, Hidden Figures, Golden Fool, The Cooking Gene, Mythos, V for Vendetta, Guards! Guards!, Feet of Clay, The Shepherd’s Life***, Monstrous Regiment, Unorthodox, Ancillary Mercy, Ancillary Sword, Artemis, Elantris, Ancillary Justice, The Raven Tower, The Realms of the Gods, Emperor Mage, Wolf Speaker, Wild Magic, Ride With Your Mind, Ship of Destiny, Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, Wyrd Sisters, The Long Earth

*** Highly, highly, highly recommended if you take only one book of interest from this list

Finally, the horse show goals. The biggie. The multi-part-er. The goals that would make our shows better than ever before! Well, obviously, with pandemic we didn’t really do shows. We tested the waters toward the end of the year with a dressage show. It was great, and super relaxed compared to a full on HT. In terms of my personal goals for our team, I did manage to delegate more tasks to trusted team members and come in under budget, but we didn’t have a weekly social media presence.

This is definitely a “better luck in 21” situation. It didn’t make sense for us to run our HTs with all the weirdness of 2020, but we are all in for this year!

A few other highlights from this weirdo year:

We hatched a boatload of (20!) chicks.

Some were freaking napping champions.

The last one out was a slowpoke and I had to warm her up in a snood next to my neck. She grew up into the magnificent Becky with the Good Hair, and was the first of the new crop to lay.

We had a new family member join us.

I cleaned out the last bay of the tractor shed and found FIVE mummified opposums!

This magnificent tripawd and his parents came to visit for some quarantine-farm time.

Ferg and I got to go cross country schooling!

I went kayaking on one of our creeks, only got about 200 feet in either direction, and found a beaver dam!

We harvested >120 pounds of paste tomatoes, and a whole lot of other things.

Including 25 pounds of the most beautiful corn I’ve ever seen.

We cleaned up a huge part of our basement! I mean, it’s probably less than a quarter of the basement but compare it to before (and that’s after we removed a full 30yd dumpster of trash).

So. It wasn’t too awful of a year. Let’s do it again, but better.

pony stuff for mf’in adults: seconds pro app

I take my horse’s fitness seriously. There are a lot of things we can’t change about our horses, but fitness isn’t one of them. There is a¬†lot we can do to help out our equine partner’s fitness, and I’m a firm believer that we should.

I also swam competitively all the way through high school, and one thing we would never be without when swimming was a clock. Workouts were written up on a big whiteboard that we could all see from the edge of the pool, and a huge minute clock with a moving second hand sat next to it.  We hauled ass to get through our 200s and 400s within the allotted time, caught a precious five or ten seconds of rest on the wall, and then did it all again. Over. And over. And over.

I can write out my horse’s fitness workouts, but timing the sets is a much bigger challenge. I no longer ride with a watch for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being that my boyfriend takes it off and hides it under the bed when I’m sleeping because it ticks too loudly), and despite many attempts to the contrary we’ve never managed to keep a clock in the arena for more than a few months.¬† Plus it’s hard to catch a glimpse at a clock that isn’t a jumbotron as you canter past anyway.

When I started bringing Murray back into work seriously I became even more interested in a proper way to time my rides. My eventing watch only beeps on minute intervals, and that isn’t good enough for me — you still have to keep track of how many have passed and how many you have to go before the next set, which get really difficult when you have complicated sets planned out (for example: walk 2 min, trot 3 min, walk 1 min, trot 2 min, canter 1 min, trot 2 min, canter 1 min, trot 2 min — where was I in that set again?). Cell phone alarms definitely didn’t cut it — I have no interest in fumbling with my phone to get one alarm turned off and another set.

Enter: Seconds Pro. (~$4.99)

Interval training is¬†really popular, so I knew there had to be an app out there to solve my problems — something that would let me customize my horsey workouts so that I’d know exactly where I was in the ride and exactly how much time I had left to go. I shopped around a bunch and the internet seemed to agree that Seconds Pro, though pricey, had all the options I could ever want in a pony fitness app.

at left: setting up a workout. at right: what a workout looks like while you’re workin’ and outin’.

Seconds Pro lets you customize your workouts (duh, what’s the point otherwise) and automatically counts its way through the workout after you initiate the timer.¬† There are different countdown options so you can have your phone tell you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing next in its weird robot voice: Trot Warm Up Left, phone lady tells me. So I trot left.

You can choose left and right splits, so if you want to trot for 4 minutes total and be told when to change directions, the phone lady will do that too! (Or you can have an unobtrusive beeper let you know, your choice.) You can also add pretty colours! I don’t bother. To make your life easy, if you’re interested in doing a bunch of short sets, you can set up one workout and then loop it X number of times — so easy.

so many beeps, so little time

I feel like I’m underselling this app, but it is SERIOUSLY AWESOME.¬† As you can see from the screen shots, I already started using it for regular rides with the Zookini.¬† Have you ever trotted a really forward horse who likes to lean into your hands for 2 minutes in each direction when you’re¬†really out of shape? I was begging for those beeps. BUT THEN I STILL HAD TO CANTER FOR 90 SECONDS EACH DIRECTION WTFFFFF.

I was so ambitious. I set just two, 3-minute walk breaks.

I totally took more walk breaks.


I think that Seconds Pro is going to be an awesome tool for horsey and human fitness — those trot sets are totally going to happen, and are¬†actually going to be as long as they are supposed to be.

Oh gawd what have I done to myself.

doctor, doctor

Murray has some wild cannon keratosis this year. ¬†He’s gotten it to some degree or another every summer. ¬†Usually I curry some off, piss off the horse a bit, and then give up and leave them alone. ¬†The clods always seemed to fall off by fall (tried to pun that but couldn’t make it work, gah), and then I could gently curry his legs back into shape.

This year it was not to be.  The scurf started early and got very irritated on cross country at Twin, when his boots ripped off the bits of crud and hair while we were running really, really fast.  I have been using Equiderma fly spray since April, and bought some of their skin lotion to get the crud off.  The protocol seemed amazingly straight forward: apply lotion, wipe crud off in 24 hours, apply in future as needed.

So I did it for the first time about a month ago and it kinda did… nothing. ¬†Some of the cruddy bits came off and some didn’t, so I put the lotion aside for a while. ¬†Until Sunday, when I took a look at Murray’s cannons after hand walking him and realized that I really needed to do something about the scurf. ¬†It had built up to the point where the accumulated crud was actually 2-3mm out from his skin, making his legs look funny. ¬†So I put on a thick layer of the Equiderma lotion and waited. ¬†(Like… a really, really thick layer.)

the results were disgusting

On Monday, I was picking Murray’s feet out and bumped his right hind and a HUGE chunk of skin fell off of the cannon revealing sad, weepy, slightly bloody skin beneath it.

Um… wut.

I gently picked at the flappy scabby bit a little, but a lot of it was still adhered.  On the advice of one of the many lovely vets who I ride with, I applied some triple antibiotic lotion and wrapped the site.

The next day the wrap was intact, but all of the hair and some of the skin on his LF had come off (see above). ¬†All on its own. ¬†It just… fell off.

not the grosses view of the RH, but you can kinda get the idea

It’s really weird that the keratosis is only hitting hard on the LF and RH. It’s pretty unpleasant though, even the little spots are pulling off skin with them. And poor Murray is getting them beyond just his cannons — the cruddy bits have spread in small sections to the tendon side of his LF.

As one would expect, Murray takes the doctoring so well.  As in, barn manager had to have discussions with him on two consecutive days re: leg wrapping, then re: accepting a twitch for leg wrapping.  But when you leave him loose in the barn aisle to slather lotion on and then dry and ointment and wrap the leg?  Perfect (after a bit of a reminder). [Resemblance to Bobby grows, including fungus leg!!! Oh no.]

you can kinda see the lumpy crud accumulations on the front of this leg

I’m wondering if the huge number of bugs around this year have something to do with the irritated bits. ¬†Murray is pretty cranky and stompy about flies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually gets bitten by them or reacts to the bites.

For now, I’m avoiding the Equiderma lotion and sticking with the triple antibiotic my vet gave me. ¬†We’ll see how this goes in the next few weeks. ¬†On the up side, wherever Murray’s hair falls out from this it grows back white — so at this rate, we’re in for at least two new white socks. ¬†I’ve always wanted my pony to dapple and have a little more chrome — and since he figured out dapples this year, maybe this is just my wish coming true?!

its important to match your fly mask to your vetwrap

PS Advice always welcome — this is my first gross horsey health issue, so if you’ve got ideas on skin soothing, skin healing, loosening that disgusting accumulation of dead skin and sebum, I’m all ears!

hindsight is 20/16

I was going to skip writing this post all together since I feel like we didn’t really get a ton done this year. ¬†I barely rode from March through July and have had to skip plenty of days since then, showed only once (okay, maybe twice), and barely went to any clinics. I couldn’t even seem to pull together good ride recaps. ¬†But then I started reviewing my posts from throughout the year and it turns out we¬†have done some things!

January dawned with jumping¬†and dressage problems, which was not terribly inspiring after an amazing dressage camp at my MIL’s place in late 2014. ¬†I took it easy on the riding front and decided to skip jumping for a few weeks, and instead calculated exactly how much it would cost me to event essentially all over California (TL;DR too much). ¬†Murray was a little NQR for a few more days, Tina suggested it might be his hocks fusing, and so we took it even easier. ¬†I decided I was getting a new dressage saddle, and Murray’s sleazy somehow magically made his girthiness basically disappear. ¬†And I pondered the fact that, while we still had problems, at least they were better quality ones!

Also, puppies.


Murray started to feel better in February, and I worked on some of our deep-rooted positional issues that influence our ability to work correctly. ¬†I also thought a fair bit about my responsibilities as a rider — to both myself and my horse. ¬†I got lucky and took a dressage lesson away from home with a local trainer and Murray was great! ¬†Magical, super high quality footing did not magically turn him into a GP horse, for which I am grateful. ¬†And I realised that the problem with Murray’s jumping wasn’t Murray, but me (obvi): I was asking him to jump in a way that was far too uncomfortable for him, either mentally or physically (or both). ¬†[Later in the ¬†year we would conquer this particular problem.] ¬† I also discovered that if I did it right, I could start asking Murray for the¬†moar!! that we want and need.

I also wrote about running walking away from lions.

febdressage07keep this in mind for reference

I took an unannounced hiatus in March. I needed to work on my thesis and riding and writing were too distracting.  I got a lot of good work done (but probably could have posted and ridden all month long and still gotten done this month! hah.)

April was full of so many awesome things. ¬†I rode with Hawley Bennett which proved to be both everything I hoped and dreamed¬†and very challenging. ¬†We went to camp and jumped all the jumps and finally showed some progress in dressage. ¬†I also competed in the Camelot Horse Trials at BN, and while it wasn’t a perfect run it was a great learning experience. ¬†Murray listened to me instead of just doing his own thing, and I made decisions, stuck to them, and enacted them. ¬†It is probably the first time I have really pro-actively ridden a full test, course, and round. ¬†It felt great.

helicopter tail


May started out with the crazy stressful but also fairly successful Woodland Stallion Station One Day event. ¬†It also turned into a clinic-ful month! ¬†I tried out another saddle that I thought was magic (spoiler alert: this ¬†happened a lot), and I rode with Megan and with Yves! ¬†Despite being the¬†worst on the ground that he has been in a long time, breaking a lead rope, his halter, a trailer tie, and just generally being a raging douchebag, Murray was in great form for the actual riding portion of the clinic and took Megan’s instruction well. ¬†Looking back on the pictures of Murray at the Yves clinic, I can see that he was finally back to feeling really good about jumping, and was forward and confident the whole time.


Then I went to Australia for two weeks and consequently missed more riding.

The second half of June I juggled my new life schedule (no teaching, more zoo-ing) and trying to ride with moving and couch surfing and everything else that was going on. ¬†It was… delightful. ¬†Karen inspired me with her list of Eli’s behavioral changes and I discovered that, for every bad thing I could think of that Murray could do, we were mostly in the green in terms of behavior change. I struggled to incorporate the lessons I had learned with Megan and Yves into my inconsistent riding schedule. ¬†Murray took a lot of naps, and neither of us minded the relaxed schedule.

wp-1464679577850.jpgMurray taking a nap

I still wasn’t doing a ton of riding in July, and I finally figured out why: after you’ve not ridden for a while, it suddenly becomes easier to just¬†not ride. ¬†I thought about back seat riding and training bravery. ¬†Murray and I got back to some jump lessons and I had a great learning experience on the different uses of my seat. ¬†We also schooled cross country at Hiskens where Murray was fantastic, especially for the small amount of jumping we had done to that point, and then my phone killed itself on the drive home.¬†I wrote a personal story about the death of a good friend.

july jump 04

August was a month of hectic activity on the personal front, and the consequence was even more limited riding for Murray! ¬†Are we sensing a theme for this year? ¬†Nicole gets busy; Murray gets a vacay. ¬†I traveled for a wedding and a conference, defended my thesis, and moved — again! ¬†I started using yet another different dressage saddle to see if I could fix my leaning/pitching issues.


September finally settled down and Murray and I got back to real work.  I rode for the first time with John Michael Durr, and he gave us a fantastic new tool to develop strength and straightness.  He also called Murray on his laziness and encouraged me to really insist on a proper step when jumping.  After all our time off and mini-vacations and legitimate vacations and inconsistency, I saw that Murray really was making some great progress.  That was a bright point in my year, because I had definitely been feeling a little down in the dumps about my progress until I looked back like this.

dress-4biiiig difference from January, huh?!

Being funemployed in October meant that I finally got to ride as much as I wanted and had been doing in the past! ¬†I clipped him early and got it done – again! ¬†I then promptly pretended that clipping so early was a strategic training decision so that I would¬†have to clip him twice this year, therefore reinforcing the “stand for clipping” lessons that I started installing. I tried to stick to the lessons I had learned from JM and Megan and really get Murray to move into the contact and engage his whole body. ¬†More consistent riding helped immensely with Murray’s understanding of the concepts that I had been working on, but also brought back the lazy reluctance that often characterizes him. ¬†Fortunately for me, I also started to figure out how to push him¬†for more without pushing his buttons. ¬†We also managed to get to a schooling show and snag a pretty sixth place ribbon!


November was another quiet month on the riding and writing front. ¬†We had a tack room re-org that has made our tack room so much more functional even with a couple of new boarders in the room. ¬†It’s magnificent. ¬†I wrote about being a good student¬†and the principle of punctuated equilibrium and learning. ¬†I incorporated a bit of work in the field into my repertoire, and then fell off the back of my horse.

Africa Friday featured baboons!

img_4931so much overstep and a beautifully engaged back

I boarded two trains in December: the blog hop train and the what if train. ¬†The horses started to lose turnout privileges since the pastures were swamped, and so Murray expressed his feelings on that the only way he knows how: bucking. ¬†As the year wound down (and the wind and cold picked up, brrrrr) I started to opt for playtime instead of riding. ¬†Murray continued to be a super star for our rides, and I realised how desperately I needed a lesson. Tina was my lesson savior and nailed me for nagging, and helped me unlock Murray’s body so that we could get¬†more out of our straightness exercises.

And last but not least РI became a doctor!!!! It still feels damn good, by the way.



Rider Review: Professionals Choice Fly Sheet

When I started leasing Murray I was determined¬†not to be the type of person who keeps her horse rugged up from head to toe in the Summer. ¬†I mean, it’s Summer! It’s beautiful! ¬†I know it’s hot and it’s California but sunshine! Shade! Cool breeze! ¬†I’m not vain, I don’t care about sun bleaching (and my horse is turned out at night anyway and I always curry the sweat off!!)!

Murray, of course, was determined to prove me wrong by promptly getting hives from fly bites and looking cranky about it.  So I went on Tack Trader on Facebook and saw a screaming deal for a fly sheet ($35 shipped) and bought it.  I shoulda known better.


The one and only time Murray wore his new fly sheet he got all four feet tangled within five minutes.

So I went in search of a new fly sheet. ¬†Given Murray’s clear ability as a destructomaton, I knew I would need something a little more hardy than the soft-and-silky variety, and I wanted a good fit that would help avoid such debacles. ¬†My local tack store (Tack Warehouse) was kind enough to let me take a couple home and try them on. ¬†Enter the Professional’s Choice fly sheet.

Professionals Choice - Professional's Choice Fly Sheet

MSRP: $120 + tax
What I paid: ~$110

I walked into Tack Warehouse with very specific requirements, and made a nuisance of myself touching every sheet they had until I found what I wanted (Brenda and Holly are so understanding!). ¬†After going through several sheets with the staff, I found the Professional’s Choice one which had me intrigued. ¬†The fabric is lightweight but sturdy and breathable. ¬†I ran around the store in it — it wasn’t shabby. ¬†It’s made of a very¬†pale blue-and-black nylon mesh with gusseted shoulders, two belly surcingles, and leg wraps. ¬†The front closures are buckles and snaps, which I greatly appreciate (adjustability¬†and ease of use?! Yes please!) and there is a little fleece patch along the wither.

Not only do I love the construction, I love the color and weight of the fabric. ¬†While I pretend I don’t care about sun bleaching, I kinda do, and Professional’s Choice includes UV protection in the fabric! ¬†This is awesome even when your pony doesn’t have sweat stains. ¬†Plus, dark horses absorb more heat and therefore get hotter — a light sheet is important to me to help Murray regulate his temperature. ¬†Also, I didn’t realise this until I read the product description just now, but the fabric is also designed to be wrinkle and stain resistant, which I can also say is true. ¬†Despite Murray’s penchant for lying in pee at shows, the sheet is pretty clean.

2014-07-12 10.05.32Dressage is tiring, guys!!

Fit-wise, my only concern was the way the sheet sits back on Murray’s wither and shoulder. ¬†It looked like it might better fit a horse with a slightly wider front end, but despite my concerns Murray didn’t get any rubs from the sheet. ¬†So I wouldn’t be concerned if your horse does have a slightly wider front end, as this is bound to fit fairly well. ¬†I did end up sizing down to a 76″ sheet (Murray is between a 76″ and 78″) and I think it fits really well, so that’s an option for narrower horses.

I also know this fly sheet works, because Murray has always gotten some fly or mosquito or whatever bites when we’ve stayed overnight at Camelot Equestrian Park. ¬†I’m not exactly sure what it is, but they don’t seem to bug him toooo much. ¬†Anyway, when he wore his sheet overnight there was a clear delineation where the bites ended — on his neck, but not onto his shoulder, which the sheet was covering.

I did pay a little more than I originally wanted to for this sheet, because it really did seem like the best option available to me, and I like to torture myself by thinking about how many uses anything I buy gets and how much its “cost per use” is. ¬†Though I did only use this sheet about 45 times last Summer (coming in at a little more than $2.40 per use), I don’t regret spending the money on it, and would (and have!) recommended it to others! ¬†The sheet is pristine this year (after Murray wore it in turn out repeatedly and didn’t destroy it like that other one!) and I anticipate getting a good deal of use out of it this year as well. ¬†I’ll tell you how much I amortized it down to after another Summer’s worth of use!

Overall Rating

Price: 3/5 ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† (I’m a cheap bitch, what can I say)
 4/5                       (I may harbor some lingering concerns about the shoulder)
Breathe-ability: 5/5  (better than many sillkier shieets!)
Durability: 4/5          (so far!)
Efficacy: 5/5              (it keeps the flies off his skin, not sure what else I could want)

Willow Oak Equine Clinic Review

I’m writing this review of Willow Oak Equine to both describe my pre-purchase exam experience and review the clinic, which I was (spoiler alert) favorably impressed with. ¬†Everyone reading my blog probably has some kind of experience with a PPE — if not, enjoy the description! — but¬†a lot went on while we were at Willow Oak that contributed to my appreciation of the clinic as a whole.

Last week, I took my lease horse Murray into Willow Oak Equine Clinic¬†in Woodland, CA,¬†for a pre-purchase exam with Dr. Linda Harrison. ¬†While the appointment originally just started as me and my friend M getting PPEs done on “our” horses, we ended up adding three¬†other horses to our appointment as well. ¬†A needed his hocks injected, L needed an os-fos injection, and D needed a leg ultrasound. ¬†The first thing that impressed me was Linda’s flexibility in fitting us all in — it made it easier on us and her — and how well she took care of us when we arrived. ¬†Willow Oak is a small clinic with some stalls for overnight patients, and Linda had five clean, freshly bedded stalls awaiting us upon arrival, so that our horses didn’t have to spend their time standing tied to the trailer.

Linda knows my trainer well and has come out to our barn many times to do field exams, so after¬†she showed us around and we¬†gushed over the adorable cow¬†twins in the field near our stalls, we got to work. ¬†Linda had scheduled the day so that the quick appointments would be first and the pre-purchases last. ¬†Since two horses (R and I) needed ultrasound¬†services, Linda’s partner in the practice, Dr. Lisa Wallace, would be arriving in an hour to do the ultrasounds. ¬†First, Linda gave the os-fos treatment, so we could monitor the horse for possible discomfort or colic while we did the other appointments, and then she started scrubbing A for his hock injections.

While she scrubbed, Linda’s assistant arrived to help and got to work scrubbing A as well. ¬†I had never seen joint¬†injections done, and will admit I was a little disappointed by them. ¬†A little sedative, a lot of scrubbing, and four quick shots later and they were all finished! ¬†So much build up for such a (seemingly little) thing. ¬†I really appreciated how quickly and quietly Linda moved around the sedated horse to get his injections done, and how well she and her assistant (okay, he’s also her husband and clinic co-owner) worked as a team.

Once A was done and put away in a nearby stall for monitoring, it was time for my PPE. ¬†The other horse in our party getting a PPE needed his ultrasound done first, as if the ultrasound showed problems we wouldn’t move forward with any other exams, and so Murray had the great delight of going first. ¬†Linda started by asking me, the buyer, a series of questions about Murray,¬†about his basic information (age, breed), training history (how long have you known him? how long has he been in training? tell me all about his history to date.), medical history (up to date on shots and teeth? any colic episodes? lameness? other medical treatments?), and finally about his behavior. ¬†When Linda asked me if Murray had any bad habits I burst out laughing and said “Where do you want me to start?”

Dinosaur attack!

Linda commented on how good it was that I’ve had a chance to get to know Murray before doing my PPE, as it can be really hard to evaluate a horse when you know nothing about his training history, behavioral history, etc. ¬†She noted that he has “bad habits, but the buyer is aware of them” on her PPE report.

Then we moved on to basic physiological measures. ¬†Linda took Murray’s temperature (which he objected to shockingly little) and tried to listen to his heart rate (ausculation! I learned a new word!). ¬†This was where Murray’s bad habits kicked in (nooo don’t touch me with that shiny thing, I will just side pass away from you!) and my barn manager took over holding him from me, as I was fairly useless at that point. ¬†BM took Murray for a little reminder discipline trip down the driveway, and Murray suddenly remembered that he does, in fact,¬† know how to stand still for a stethoscope. ¬†Linda listened to his heart and gut sounds on both sides.

Then we moved on to hoof testers. ¬†With BM still holding Murray (she would do the entire PPE for me actually), Linda used what I think looks like a medieval torture device to squeeze Murray’s feet all around the circumference of the hoof and the frog. ¬†When she got no reaction from him at all, Linda commented on it — usually, evidently, she gets some kind of reaction on the hoof testers, but Murray remained serene. ¬†I assured her that he was¬†not stoic at all, so if anything was going to show up, he would let us know. ¬†I also told Linda that I wanted to do front hoof x-rays regardless of what showed up, as Murray has a krazy foot and I wanted to know what was going on in there, but also wanted to do radiographs of anything that concerned her during the rest of the exam.

Around this time, Linda’s husband answered a phone call from a worried horse owner regarding a possible emergency, and Butch warned us that an emergency would be coming in shortly. ¬†Linda proceeded with flexions, and talked to me about what she was seeing/hearing/feeling as she did so. ¬†The only thing that turned up, evidently, was a little stiffness during the flexion itself of Murray’s hind legs, but which didn’t show when he trotted out. ¬†Yay more good progress!

During the flexions, Dr. Lisa Wallace arrived for her ultrasound¬†appointments and started getting things set up inside. ¬†I didn’t get to watch any of the imaging, unfortunately, so can’t really comment on it, but I did hear a bit of the results delivery, which I will talk about later.

After flexions, we put Murray on the lunge on a soft surface and a hard surface. ¬†Linda had us change his direction a few times on the soft surface, and I saw nothing, and neither did she. ¬†On the hard surface — the gravelled drive, not the paved driveway — Linda commented on a slight head-bob that was showing up irregularly as Murray tracked right. ¬†We changed directions here as well, and it was odd and inconsistent. ¬†There was nothing for a bunch of steps, and then 2-3 steps with a tiny¬†bob, and then nothing again. ¬†Linda asked me if I’d ever experienced him being foot-sore after cross country, and I replied that I thought he’d been stiff after XC before but had always thought he was more stiff behind than up front. ¬†She commented that this was something to keep an eye on, but it didn’t overly concern her. ¬†As we were finishing up lunging on the hard ground, the trailer another trailer pulled in, and Linda asked me to wait with Murray for a few minutes while she evaluated the situation.


This was, to be honest, one part of the whole day that really impressed me. ¬†Butch opened the trailer door and immediately mobilized to get the horse into the main barn. ¬†Linda met them in a clean stall, and started working immediately — it was clearly an emergency that required action right then. However, Linda didn’t forget that I was standing outside either, and sent the intern out to tell me that she would be a while and that I should put Murray away in his stall and we would get back to his x-rays later.

Even though my appointment was put on hold, I was really impressed with the professionalism with which everyone at Willow Oak handled the emergency.  It was clear to me upon seeing the horse that this was a serious emergency, and I did not at all mind my x-rays being delayed.  Linda moved really quickly to get treatment going, but never once seemed frazzled or panicked, and they handled the horse safely and quietly the entire time.  I would completely trust her with my horse in an emergency.

While we waited for Linda to finish up with the emergency, I watched a little bit of the ultrasound of R and unfortunately, could immediately tell nothing good was going on here either. ¬†Dr. Wallace was explaining to my friend M that the suspensory tear she had found was quite severe. ¬†M asked all the right questions — could this have happened after he came off the track? what is recommended time off and rehab? what is his prognosis for competing — and Dr. Wallace answered them thoroughly and well. ¬†I was pretty devastated for M, and obviously she didn’t go forward with the PPE after that.

Before we got back to Murray, Dr. Wallace started the second ultrasound, on D, and started off by asking the owner what her concerns were, what needed imaging,¬†and what the horse’s history was like. ¬†I never got to see the whole appointment, but both the people who had ultrasounds done felt like Dr. Wallace did a thorough job with both history and ultrasound.

Finally it was time for Murray’s x-rays. ¬†I suggested to Linda that we give him a little sedation since I didn’t know if Murray would be able to keep his foot still on the plate, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if he moved around during the radiographs. ¬†Linda was happy to comply, and I think it was the right choice — I could totally see Murray moving his foot JUST as we tried to take the image, just like how I always seem to blink right as I hear the shutter go off. ¬†Linda pulled Murray’s shoes, packed his feet with play-doh (to eliminate the visibility of the air between frog and sole in the images) and we got right to it. ¬†I opted to have all five views taken for good record keeping.

MURRAY0006Beautiful, fairly-normal foot!

We started with the krazy foot, and Linda explained to me what was going on the entire time. ¬†She answered my questions about the weird black streaking in the coffin bone (it’s blood supply!) and exclaimed happily over the state of Murray’s navicular bones. ¬†Linda also took some time to show me the bones she was talking about on the foot model, and calm my fears about osteoarthritis and ringbone (fears, y’all, they are real). Linda did mention that if I didn’t have a long working history with this horse, she would recommend against buying him¬†— an honesty that I appreciated. ¬†That Linda also considered Murray’s working history in his evaluation was important to me (how often does he work? what is his intended use? what level has he been working at so far?), and I think a valuable part of the exam.¬†Thus ended the successful PPE.

Overall, my experience at Willow Oak was overwhelmingly positive. ¬†Despite the bad things that happened and the emergency, Linda took time to make sure every horse she saw was comfortable and happy, explained post-op care very well to those who needed it, and provided a quiet, comfortable environment for our horses to wait in during our hours there. ¬†If you’re considering using Willow Oak, I definitely recommend it!!