Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Have To Admit, It's Getting Better

I've been going to see my physiotherapist now for about 6 months. Sometimes I get to go every 2 weeks, sometimes I only make it there once a month. He's been slowly working on my bad calf and bad shoulder, and bad everything basically, and it has taken a long time but he has gradually gone through layers and layers of pain to finally get things functioning again properly.

I'm not completely sure when this happened, but one day I realized that it doesn't hurt anymore when I ride.

I've been in pain for years. YEARS. Even when I was showing Gogo, my calf would cramp up so badly that I'd often times have to stop during my warmup and take it out of the stirrup to try and get it to relax. Over time, everything tightened up, and I lost nearly all the mobility in that ankle. I could no longer zip my boot on the left side, because constricting the calf made everything worse. Every ride was cripplingly painful, unless and until I rode for hours and broke the tissue all down manually. It always made everything worse whenever I did that. 

Part of what made driving extra special was that it gave me the ability to participate in horse sports without having to suffer in the saddle. I was in SO much pain. I missed riding a lot, but I just was so physically broken down that I wasn't sure I could ever really ride again. And I'm only 31 years old. 

Then along came Dylan, and my opportunity to have access to him. I jumped at that chance. Being able to afford that kind of horseflesh is not possible and will probably never be possible for me. I had to take it. I had to figure out how to get rid of my pain.

Doctors could not figure it out. They were throwing scary words like "permanent" and "surgery" at me, and neither one of those things sounded good to me. So, I decided to start with a physiotherapist who specialized in ART and sports massage. He's a triathlete, so he understands how frustrating and limiting pain can be to someone who is used to athletic endeavors. 

Especially the first few times I went, I was completely disabled for several days after the massages. I'd sit soaking in hot water with epsom salts feeling like I was going to die. But I stuck it out, because I believed it could help me.

Slowly, the pain left me. One day I realized my twinging sciatica was gone, and it hasn't returned. My back feels great - I'm rarely sore or tired at the end of even my longest workdays, and I can always get up and work again the next day. He has just started to really get into my bad shoulder and I am hoping it also sees improvements.
But the biggest thing has been my calf. It still doesn't have a ton of flexibility, and it may never be quite the same as the other one, but it doesn't hurt. It doesn't hurt! It doesn't hurt when I ride, and I haven't been able to say that for YEARS. I was able to zip my boot all the way up for the first time in.... I don't even know how long... and I didn't have to stop and unzip it and squeeze out tears of pain mid-ride like I always had to do before. 

With O's show season done, it's all about Dylan now. I feel that I am getting fitter and stronger, and he is too. We have a way to go before I really feel that we'll be tuned enough for the show ring, but every day we get a little closer to that. The better I ride, the better he goes. I finally feel that my fitness and pain level are both under control enough to FINALLY take some lessons. I never even bothered until now because I felt I wouldn't get anything out of it due to my pain, and the money was better spent at the physio than anywhere else. 

The horse is just going better and better though. He's really coming together for me. He has his little quirks that tell me he's not connected - like he'll bob around off the contact if he's not truly engaged - but he's so straightforward. If he's doing something I didn't ask for or didn't want, I have to think about how exactly I am sitting or positioning, and 9 times out of 10 it is something I need to correct in my own position. He is so easy to sit that it's simple to figure out what is going on in real time, think about it, and alter it without worrying about bouncing around or losing some other piece of myself in the process. I don't know how I'll ever go back to straight warmbloods after him... it's like upgrading to a Ferarri after driving around a bunch of dump trucks. Okay not really, not with my own personal horses anyway... but we all know some big clonkin' warmbloods who jar your kidneys with every stride. 


I don't deserve this kind of talent! 

Approaching passage, ish. Or we can just pretend that that's what we're doing, even though I appear to have a rogue left hand

I'm starting to sit about 50 bajillion times better than I was a few months ago. Case in point:

What am I even doing here

That leg was so painful that it was tilting me right out of the saddle half the time. Everything was terrible. But it's not terrible anymore. 

We're getting there. We're getting there! Every day is full of possibilities now. Everything is so much better!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Natural Life

Over the course of my life, I've come a very long way in terms of how I like to keep my horses. I've been through many phases. 

When I was a kid, most of the horses lived outside 24/7, barefoot and nekkid, with a shed and friends to live with. The fancy show horses were kept in stalls, were shod and clothed, and had solo turnout. As I "upgraded" to fancier horses, I transitioned too. I went from having them out nekkid and feral, to keeping them in the isolated lifestyle of the show horse. They lived in stalls nearly all the time, and they went outside alone. Metro of course wore all kinds of ridiculous remedial shoeing, which got more complicated the more lame he went. Gogo was barefoot, and was my first foray into that world, but I still kept her (and Metro too, of course) in that very isolated, totally unnatural lifestyle. 

It didn't work out so great. Two horses dead at young ages due to breakdown limb injuries? I couldn't do it again. I had to change something. It wasn't working.

And so, I did. I pulled my horses out of stalls. I put them on slow fed free choice hay 24/7. I put them in herds. I don't feed ANY processed hard feed or grain. Every one of them is barefoot and goes booted when need be. They wear clothes when they need to, and I still clip for shows, but for the most part, their lives have been naturalized to the greatest extent that I can provide for them. 

And I've had HUGE payoffs in terms of soundness, coat condition, gut health, hoof quality, tightness of legs, fitness, and most importantly, mental health. 

Shiny hineys. And they're all filthy in these pictures to boot

Even the grey horse is shiny

Naturalizing a horse that has been kept unnaturally for a long time is not an easy thing to do. I think the pinnacle of my achievements has most certainly been with Dylan, and I'm proud of how far he has come. 

Dylan's owner is definitely all in agreeance with me here, so I had the go-ahead to basically do whatever I saw fit with him. She had kept him pretty naturally when she was caring for him, but he had been with the trainer for a number of years when I got him. He was living in a stall all the time, because he was the absolute worst fencewalker I've ever seen. They couldn't keep weight on him because of this - he would walk the weight right off of himself. So, he got an hour of turnout here and there, sometimes, but mostly he was stalled all the time. He was being fed a large amount of Senior feed, but was thin. And he of course was shod all four. 

We started with the turnout. I booted him out as soon as he got here. He walked the fence literally nonstop for a week straight - he would grab the occasional bite of hay as he passed by his bags on his passes up and down the fence, but that was it. He was super grumpy, and didn't want to be handled or caught. He acted ulcery. He was not a happy guy.

When he went out into his 24/7 turnout, that went hand in hand with freechoice good quality hay 24/7. After a day or two of him still walking the fence, I started him on ulcer meds. Within the week, his fencewalking activity dropped off by about 80%. After a couple of weeks, when I was sure the walking was way down, I pulled all four shoes. 

During that time, I also started his transition from hard feed to my usual protocol of hay pellets, a vitamin/mineral supplement, and a bit of fat to the ones that need it, like the working horses. I feed a bit of Healthy Glo with the hay pellets, although I have been considering trying Renew Gold instead - very similar products but the Renew Gold has copra meal. The mules, the baby, and Pmare just get hay pellets and their vitamin/mineral supplement mixed in. In hot weather, they get sugar-free electrolytes. Sometimes they are on herbs or other supplements for a time if they need them, like for gastric support, or something simple like MSM. If I am feeding a joint supplement, it is nearly always Cosequin. 

On this program, he filled out and gained a ton of weight. He stopped being so flinchy. He stopped being hard to catch. He even got friendly, or as friendly as a super egotistical hypermasculine stallion can be with his human slave. 

I had completely changed his lifestyle. I had put him out 24/7. I had taken him barefoot with no issues. I had provided him with freechoice hay 24/7, and put tons of weight on him without the use of processed feed. But, there was one thing I wasn't able to provide for him until now: a friend. Dylan has been kept alone as a stallion for almost his entire life now, certainly at least for the last 12+ years if not longer. Solitary stallions can become pretty savage because they don't always know how to handle themselves properly in a herd. And fights and injuries can occur if they try to ravage their herdmates and they get the snot kicked out of them in return. It's a tricky business. 

But there is the flip side. A stallion wants to be a stallion. He wants the company of mares. He wants to protect them and snake them around. He wants to have their companionship. I'm pretty sure that 95% of Dylan's anxieties and fencewalking behaviors were just due to the fact that he was alone, and he craved companionship. 

And now, I've been able to give that to him. 

These two are inseparable. They LOVE each other. They do everything together. They share a haybag. They drink together out of the trough. They graze side by side. O enjoys having a stallion to move her around a bit and tell her what to do, and Dylan is just so totally desperately happy to have a mare of his own to watch over. It is both interesting and super endearing to watch them interact. 

From being stalled 24/7 and unable to even be turned out because he was so neurotic, to living outside with his own pregnant girlfriend.... he's come a long way. And he is SO much happier and better off living the life he naturally craved. I'm so glad I've been able to provide that for him. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

NTW Games Day/Romp In The Willows - 2015 Pictures!

I've been waiting to post these since I had so many other things to share, but I have professional pictures from our 2015 NTW shows! Or well, I have professional pictures from the Romp, and just regular pictures from the Halloween show. Either way, who doesn't love pictures!

I already miss showing her. I can't say she's doing the downtime thing all that well either - she's still very fit and spending her time bucking and leaping and running about, bursting with too much energy. Just today, she was playing with me - she'd come to me and I'd rub her face, and then she would whip around and leap into the air and gallop off. She'd come running back for more face rubs, and then would whip away and leap and buck and run again. Over and over she did that - not something she normally does!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mule Monday: Mooles Bein' Mooles

In this week's edition of Mule Mondays...

Photo dump of mooles just bein' mooles!

Sriracha looking adorable in her tiny flymask

She is now letting me brush her whole body, putting on her mask, flyspraying her (not very happily but she does it), and she also let me touch both front legs and even pick them up briefly. Good thing, so we can fix those feet soon!

Uma does not like being a growed up moole doing growed up things

Wild little mooles, and a wild Pax, enjoying our rugged Texas terrain!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

And Suddenly, It's Summer

Texas has this weird super temperate super wet extended spring this year. We didn't really have a winter - we had some frosty mornings but no ice storms, which is unusual. Temperatures warmed up by February, and then we had this long, steady, relatively temperate extended spring, complete with quite a lot of severe weather and tons of rain (and flooding, although our house was spared from the worst of it). We had months of this kind of weather.

And then, literally just this week, Mother Nature decided to put the pedal to the metal and floor us right into blazing summer. All of a sudden, it's just SO. FREAKING. HOT. Sweltering heat. Dripping humidity. Total misery.

What the... what happened!?

It's not like we didn't know summertime was coming. But it came on like a freight train this year, and we're all just sort of flailing around trying to adjust to the heat before we all pass out face down in a puddle of our own sweat.

The mules all are completely fine with the heat. Uma was slightly sticky on her neck today, but for the most part, they run SO hot that they just aren't bothered or affected by the heat that much. They spend their time out in the full sun, playing gladiator with each other, and they never or rarely break a sweat. I've seen them all break a sweat when stressed - like when each of them was transported home in the trailer and were anxious - but as for regular old summer days? No problem for them. Their heat tolerance is exceptionally high. I didn't know this about them before I had them, but in speaking to other mule owners, they mentioned it - and I have noticed it in my herd as well. Donkeys are desert animals, after all!

The horses though? The horses are just roasting. They're miserable. They're dripping with sweat through the heat of the day. They are still out grazing, or eating from their haybags, but they are just soaked. They don't often spend time in the shade, although they all certainly have plenty of it, so perhaps the sweat is doing a good job of keeping them cool.

They have all been getting a hose down at dinnertime, to cool them down and rinse off the sweat. Dylan and O both need to be tied for their showers - they like feeling cool, but they don't much care for the actual event of bathing.

I even hosed off Lendri a couple of days ago - her first ever 'bath'. Of course, she was pretty convinced I was spraying her with acid, but once she realized the cool water felt good she stood still. Unfortunately, she then went and rolled so vigorously that she completely changed color. Mules...

How she really feels about this

They all seem to like being cool, but they just tolerate the actual baths. They'd rather not spend an extended time in the spray if they can help it.

Except for Pax.

She is a seahorse.

Should I be insulted by that or pleased

I can NOT keep her out of the water. Every chance she gets, she has as many feet in the trough as she can fit. Since she is now 14.2 in front and almost 15 hands behind, she is getting too big to do much of that anymore. So, she settles for running for the hose every time I turn it on, and grabbing it and flipping it out of the trough. She then stomps on it and tosses it around, so that she can get as wet as possible.

Every day this week, after work, I've taken the hose and turned it on, and turned the spray out towards the pasture. Both P and Pax see the spray flying, and they come right over for a rinse. Pax LOVES the water, and P just has enough sense to come over and stand still while I hose her off. She stands still for once side, then turns herself around so that I can get the other side. Sensible beast.

As for Pax, she is just a total pest and wants to get as wet as possible, as often as possible.

I have to literally stand at the water trough with a crop and beat her off of it while I am trying to clean and fill it. Otherwise, she is back in it, pulling out the hose and splashing with her front feet. Really filly?

Does anyone else have a seahorse? Surely I am not the only one with a water-obsessed horse!