Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different

For those of you too young to know, the title phrase comes from Monty Python.  Kind of like this:

Life with horses often feels like this-- one moment, it's lollipops and sunshine, developing a gorgeous working trot and seeing your horse come into his own, loving his training, being shiny and fabulous.  And the next moment, something completely different happens.  This is a phrase I use quite regularly, and I think the humor of it helps keep me on an even keel.  Maybe...

So, Sherm and I were supposed to be spending the summer developing a good working canter, learning to jump things, and building to some off-farm, off-road adventures on some hunter pace courses.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

So now it's time to consider doing something completely different-- like maybe taking him to a local (predominantly AQHA) open horse show to be shown in three halter classes by one of our students.

Not this fat.
No, it's not because he's fat, though that thought has crossed my mind as I watch him work.

No, I blame this one squarely on my friend, Amy.  She sent me an email early last week, asking me if I wanted to go to a show over the weekend, the third in a local show series.  Low-cost entries, no big advance-registration requirement, good mileage for her young horse as well as mine.  Well, I thought, maybe her horse, but Sherman?  Ridiculous!  We're not ready!

Well, the thing with Amy is that she has this way of making the ridiculous seem completely possible.  She made owning my own horse possible by providing a stall in her barn.  She has made numerous horse-related educational outings possible by getting me out of my house to go to them.  She took me on my first hunter pace and let me learn how to gallop, though I'm not sure she knew that was what she was doing at the time.  She's my mojo most of the time, and when she suggests things, I reject them immediately out of hand.  Then I send a follow-up email that says maybe...

So I got to thinking that Sherm does need some mileage, some show experience.  And though I'm not ready to ride him at a show, and I'm not even riding his fatt butt anywhere this week, it might be worth considering the in-hand classes.  Not in time for this past weekend, but maybe by the Labor Day weekend show.  Which of course elicits high school memories of this song.

But I don't want to show him in hand.  I really don't want to show him at all; I don't care for horse shows.  It's not my cup of tea.

Is that a camera?
But, oh boy, does this Boy Wonder love an audience.  It's not my scene, but it will totally be his.  No doubt about it, not since the day he was foaled.

So.... I realized that this student of ours loves halter and showmanship classes.  She excelled at them at her previous barn, and she was hoping to go to this very show with a horse she had out on trial earlier this summer.  When that horse didn't work out, she packed up her shiny show shtuff, and resigned herself to not going.

Well, hell, when you can get a teenager to do it, why not?  Isn't that what they're for?

Trying to learn to "set up"
So I pitched it to her, she caught it, and she and the BBW have been working together for the past several evenings.  He has already caught on to walking and trotting in stride with her, and is getting better with "setting up."  He's got a way to go to find the middle ground between the Morgan parking-out, which I will NOT allow anyone to teach him (and actively discourage accidental posturing in this fashion) and his usual one-hind-cocked-slouch, but they're working on it.

He's a quick study, and he's clearly appreciating the extra attention and the novelty of a new handler.  He's trying really hard for her, and just doing that is a maturing experience for the both of them.

Trotting together
The student is in charge of this-- it's a "discipline" I know nothing about, so she's the one training Sherm.  I've made it clear (I hope) that there are no expectations from this other than that they have a good time and come home safely.  Get Sherm some road mileage, and have fun.  That's it.  His roached mane probably already disqualifies him from even participating, much less placing in the ribbons, so there should be no pressure to bring home bling.

But, oh, speaking of bling... this Bay Boy does look fine in his hand-me-down silver-plated halter, doesn't he?

Yeah, I'm pretty!

Fat Camp for the BBW

So the vet in June, when she did teeth, said that Sherm's looking a little chunky, and I should watch it.

I agreed, and shared the story of the un-stuffing of the saddle to get it to fit him properly.  I said at that time, now that I can get a saddle on him, we are getting to work and will be working off that fat!

Well, I came home from my trip to Maine, having spent several days away from him and in the company of horses who carry a much slimmer physique, and I said, "Oh my god; he's fat!"  I was sure at that time that we'd get back to work and get him trimmed down.

Well, heat ensued.  As did haying, and a summer course, and a week off due to eye surgery.  We didn't get in nearly as much work as I was hoping.  At the same time, two geldings moved out of his pasture, so now Sherm was sharing three acres of grass with just one other horse.  In addition, one of the two horses who moved out was his best friend, Moon, with whom he ran and frolicked and romped.  Now he's alone out there with the old man who doesn't play with him at all. They're just eating.  All the time.

The Chocolate Chunk Pony

The vet at Cornell said he needs to lose 200 pounds.  I thought that was a bit much-- I'd estimated 100.  But they weighed him in at 1,135, a good 100 pounds heavier than I'd estimated with my weight tape!  So we were all on the same page; he needs to lose 200 pounds!
He's a 4, but heading for 5! Augh!

But just before his surgery and his week off for recovery, we were getting in some really good work under saddle.  He was working through his back, and pushing hard with his hinds-- we were experiencing a breakthrough!  So, fat though he is, we'll get there!

Well, his first ride back after surgery was a little fussy, he didn't seem happy.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt-- he'd been off for a week, so maybe he was tired/sore/out of sorts.  

But it didn't get better.  It got worse.

We played with bits a little-- he seems fussy in his mouth, and might have some final teething issues.  Found a bit in which he was least fussy.

But by the third day back, he started to pin his ears back and dance around when I put the saddle on his back.

Sonofabitch!  He's gotten too fat, or else he began to build some muscle tone under some of that fat (unlikely), and his goddamn saddle doesn't fit.  Again.  And this time there's no stuffing to unstuff.

He is FAT.  Dangerously fat.  Scarily into laminitis's neighborhood fat.

So.  Now we do cardio work, all that we can safely do without stressing his joints and his feet.  (New farrier was here last week, who also said he's fat, scary fat.  He helped us out with some good trimming, so his feet are fit for the work he must do.)  Trot and canter on the lunge for 30-40 minutes, or until he's puffing hard.  Five days in to this new program, and he's already better balanced in his canter, and he seems to like the work.

Oy.  It's always something.

A Horse Through a Fence

So I'm lying on the couch on a Wednesday afternoon, the one day I don't have class, and I'm enjoying not prepping like mad for my 3-hour night class.  I'm appreciating the quiet, calm afternoon with no lessons in the arena and most all the horses napping quietly in their cool, shady stalls.  I'm half-way dozing, barely paying attention to a movie I'd DVR'ed the week before, which isn't as interesting as I'd thought it would be.

I'm doing all this casual resting, and truly loving any resting opportunity during this busy summer, when, outside my front window, a horse butt goes moseying by, tail swishing gently.

Um... what?  That's not a location where any unsupervised horse should be moseying...

So my first thought was Is someone here?  Did Boarder M get a horse out?  (Actually my first thought was, did I just see a horse go by? but that seems too ridiculous to even mention.)

I got up, slid the sliding glass door open, and sneaked a peek, just in time to see a horse butt slip around the corner of the house, the horse stepping gently over the downspout at the corner.

Okay, nobody goes off the driveway and walks a horse that close to our house, so I don't think someone is here and got a horse out.

So I turn around and look out the windows on the opposite side of the house to see that the back fence on the pasture behind my house, the one with the run-in shed where the two racetrack horses live outside 24x7 while they're on layup for the summer, is down and straggling out into the hay meadow beyond it.

Uh-oh.  Someone went through the fence. Goddamn helicopter! 
No horses were life-flighted in this episode

The regional medical center's life-flight chopper had strafed the farm an hour earlier.  Though we're in the routine flight path to the hospital 5 miles from here, never before had I seen it come in that close and that hot.  A low visibility ceiling that morning, and clearly an emergent emergency on-board, had them in at about 75 feet and moving fast.  When it had gone by, I peeked out back to check on the two track horses, and saw the colt contentedly grazing.  Because he was so placid, and because they are never more than two feet away from one-another, I figured the filly was right there with him, just out of my field of vision, not bothered at all by the chopper.
Best friends, always together.

Evidently, I figured wrong.

After getting my shoes on, I go out back to find the filly on the outside of her pasture gate, trying to get back in, while the colt stood on the inside wondering how she got out there.  Well, okay, I can catch her.

And then I see her hind legs.

From the hocks to the fetlocks, she is criss-crossed with little slices, most of which are just an inch or two long, and barely even open, not more than a 1/4" deep.  A bunch of nasty little cuts, and I mean a bunch of them-- probably a dozen on the left, and maybe four on the right-- but none too terribly bad.  Not pretty, stinging like hell, I'm sure, but nothing horrifying.  Bleeding, attracting flies, but nothing life-threatening.  I feel terrible that she's been hurt, and even worse when I think about how much she was getting repeatedly zapped by the fence while she was tangled in it, but I am relieved to assess that both legs will likely remain attached and viable.

So, I halter her up, along with her boyfriend, and haul them down to the barn to look at them carefully, in out of the flies.

The big, ugly one...
I decide the one long, and slightly deeper, cut on the RH deserves some attention, so I call the trainer at the track.  As luck would have it, she has the afternoon off, the trailer is on her truck, and she can be here in 20 minutes.  If the cut needs suturing, she can haul back to the track and have the track vet do it much more easily, and quickly, than having us call our vet and waiting for her to arrive.

So, they do just that.  The trainer comes with her whole medical kit, and is 90% certain she could just treat on-farm, but this one cut looks a little nastier, and so she hauls the filly to the track and gets her stitched up.  Filly spends a week in a stall at the track, and then returns to us to continue her summer vacation, healing nicely.

After the filly trailers out, I go out to fix 50' of fence.  I realize during my repairs that, based on the way the fence is  strung out across the hay meadow, the way the insulators are  broken, and the nature of the injuries to the filly, that she tried to jump it and almost made it.  Hmmm... these standardbreds are really nice horses to work with... maybe we need to get one and see if we can make an eventer out of her...

Eye Surgery at Cornell

During their June teeth floating, three of the horses here at the farm were diagnosed with Uveal Cysts-- growths of tissue at the lower edges of their irises.  In two of the horses, these were compounded by overgrowths of the corpora nigra, the little fringe at the top of the iris that functions as a "sun shade" for the horse in a normal eye.

While these growths are fairly common, and do not pose a generalized health threat (such as cancer or other disease process), they do form a barrier to light (and thus all sight) getting into the eye.  In bright light conditions, when the iris closes down naturally in response to light, these cysts and overgrowths can cause a partial, or in some cases, complete, blindness as they block the very small opening left in a constricted pupil.  Left untreated, these cysts can eventually grow together and fuse top-to-bottom and cause permanent blindness (partial or complete) in all light conditions.

Sherman's full brother, Sonny, and half-sister, Twinkle, had very serious growths of both sorts in both  eyes.  Sherman had a small uveal cyst noticeable in the right eye only.

In mid-July, Sonny and Twinkle traveled to Cornell to have laser eye surgery, which involves a simple ablation of the fluid-filled cysts, which the vets describe as similar to popping a water balloon. Sonny's eyes both looked like this pre-surgery:
Uveal Cysts at bottom

After 10 zaps with the laser, both eyes looked like this:

Cysts deflated

The change in tissue in his eyes was pretty dramatic.  Surgery took about an hour, and then the doctors at Cornell monitored the eye pressures (like we test for glaucoma) for several hours.  In the first hour after surgery, pressure normally rises as the eye responds to the fluids from the ruptured cysts being encountered and reabsorbed by the eye.  After that initial spike, the pressures should fall again, and the doctors look for three successive readings of lower pressures before the horse is released to go home.

Aftercare involves banamine and pain-relieving eyedrops for three days and one week, respectively, along with confinement away from sunlight from dawn-dusk for a week.  After that, life resumes as normal for the horse, only with an enhanced field of vision!

Some owners report that formerly spooky, tense horses go through this procedure and those negative behaviors disappear almost instantly.  None of our horses were terribly spooky, though Sonny could be tense and (hindsight causes us to speculate) was perhaps struggling to see a bit.

Sherm himself never behaved as though his eyes were bothering him, or he was trying to see anything, but he's pretty much afraid of nothing, so it's difficult to tell whether he was bothered or not.  It was recommended that he have this surgery particularly because of this family history-- his sire was eventually completely blinded by these cysts in the days before laser surgery was so readily available, and the older siblings' cases were dramatic, which led the vets to suggest he was headed in the same direction.  So even though his cysts were small, dealing with them now was the right course of action.

His procedure went normally, and dilation at the clinic revealed cysts in both eyes, so he got zapped on each side.  He was a good patient, but not quite good enough to stop the action and get photos of his eyes, like his big brother allowed.  His experience was textbook, and his recovery was normal.

The surgery was so uneventful, in fact, that the two major take-home messages from the trip had nothing to do with his eyes!  The first was that Sherm is teetering on dangerously fat, and that Sherm's parents need a bigger truck to haul his fat butt around with.

Neither was great news, but I am perfectly happy with having all the laser stuff go so well that we could focus on other issues.

Where the Summer Went

Yes, this is going to be one of those "ohmygosh, where has the time gone?" posts about all the other things in life that got in the way of blogging these past few months.  Not the world's most interesting theme, but the individual events that made up this lost summer may make for some interesting posts.  I think there will be pictures, at least...

So, where did the summer go?  In addition to the relentless heat (the hottest July on record) which filled the days with many choruses of hmmm, maybe we'll do that when it's cooler, here's the short list of where the summer went, with descriptive posts to follow:

Through it all, Sherm has been a prince and a delight, but, wow... it was another blur of a summer.  Suddenly classes are starting in a week, the nights are cooler and coming earlier, and I'm looking back wondering how we got here. 

Farewell summer!
I know, we do this every year.  So let's call it an annual ritual.

500 Miles on a 100-Degree Day, or Why I Love My Brenderup

We moved two horses from here, the Southern Tier of NY, to Mid-Coast Maine in June.

It was hovering right around 100 degrees that day, and every New England radio station we tuned in was reporting local high temperature records being set as we cruised northeastward.

We caravaned in two big American pick-up trucks, one to pull the Brenderup, and one to bring it back home empty (and also to be a backup in case of emergency).  Both trucks had huge front and side windows, offering a spectacular view of the gorgeous June day.  Neither truck had air-conditioning, offering a spectacular greenhouse effect as the sun beat in on a gorgeous June day.
The people were toasty.  And very nervous about the condition of the horses.  Trailering is one thing, 500 miles is another, and the heat?  Well, we were at about our maximum anxiety threshold.
What?  We're fine.
At every stop along the way, we popped open the door of the B'upster to find the horses quite comfortable, not a drop of sweat on them, and the air coming out of the rolling igloo a good 10 degrees cooler than what we'd been riding in up front.  The white, reflective roof, good air circulation design, and the comfy shock-absorbers kept the horses mellow, cool, and enjoying the ride.  When we checked on them, they just looked at us as if to say, What?  Why have we stopped?  Oh, hay?  Oh, alright then.

We discovered on our journey, one of our first in many years, that the concept of a shady, tree-lined, state-run rest stop has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone.  Rest stops have now become "service plazas"-- all concrete parking lot, fuel station, and giant convenience store/fast-food stops.  Well all that concrete was quite warm that June day, and parking in between idling tractor trailers did nothing to cool us off or lower our anxiety about the horses.  Not until northern New Hampshire, a good 375 miles into the journey, were we able to find a "traditional" rest stop, with trees, picnic tables, and a little bit of off-the-tarmac peace and quiet.  

The horses were still fine there, happy as clams, cool as cucumbers, and utterly unstressed by their journey thus far.

Finally, we reached the state of Maine.  Still more than an hour to go, but proximity to the water meant the ambient air temperature was closer to 80/85.  I suggested that I was getting chilly and might need a sweater.

My dear friend, whose horses we were hauling to their new home, was just giddy with excitement to be getting so close to her new home.
Excited?  Or suffering heat stroke?

Finally, we arrived and unloaded.  Both horses were a little poopy on the backside, but no worse than that for wear.  They moved out, had a good roll, and set themselves to the busy job of grazing their new pasture.

Sherm's buddy, Moon, has a good roll.

We made sure they had a good drink, knew where their shed, their salt, and their water was, and we headed to the house to unwind.

We're good now.  Thanks for the ride!
When we checked on them again hours later, they were both settled in like they'd lived there all their lives, and I swear Moon thanked me for getting him there and then dismissed me from my duties as his caregiver.  

It was then, of course, that the bawling began.  All the focus on the logistics of getting the horses safely to their new home had allowed me to stifle the overwhelming sadness I felt because my dear friend and her horses, whom I have loved as my own, were moving 500 miles away.  

The bawling and weepiness abated somewhat with dinner, but I still miss them all terribly.  
We'll be back for more lobstah!

Getting those horses there safely, particularly in the grueling summer heat of 2012, will probably be one of my proudest accomplishments of the summer.  That's not really saying much, I suppose, because all we did was drive...and drive...and drive.  But they're home with their mom in their new digs, and that's something to appreciate.