Saturday, March 30, 2013

Work, work, work

Not much is new to report with Charlie as for the past couple of weeks my life has been pretty centered around my job, leaving limited time and energy for the barn. The veterinary hospital where I work has been going through a lot of changes recently, adding several new staff members and additional services (including late night and weekend ER services). As Client Service Team Lead that leaves a lot of the front end training on my shoulders which, with a practice that is already very busy, is a bit stressful. Additionally, I have been working on completely revamping their website to coincide with all of these changes so that kept me busy as well, both at work and at home, in order to get everything up and running in time.

In horsey news Charlie has started his spring shed, a little later than everyone else it seems, and all the horses at the barn are definitely feeling the coming of springtime and enjoying a renewed sense of energy with the warmer weather over the past few days. Wednesday was the first truly nice day we've had in awhile and all the horses were certainly looking forward to getting out in the sunshine. Every one of them gave me a hard time at turnout, even the usually calmer ones. Charlie was no exception; he was literally dancing in place in his stall he was so excited. Not behavior I'd normally be proud of, but I was proud in that he did not let his excitement take over and bowl me over to barrel out the door. Instead he was able to listen and keep himself in check long enough to take a few breaths and regain control, and then he lowered his head to walk out calmly (well, calmly enough. I still had to use a chain). Once I turned him out he had a good roll and then squealed and kicked his heels up so high I thought he would crack his back.

I opted not to push my luck and try riding the crazy devil that day. Instead we did a short lunge session where I just asked for walk-trot transitions. I expected some wild and crazy buck sessions but surprisingly, despite some grunting, he listened well. After we had accomplished several decent transitions he was licking his lips and lowering his head so we called it a day. I believe not every session is about how long you work, and I wasn't interested in pushing him far enough to initiate a fight.

Actually, I haven't really been riding Charlie all that much (although it's making me a little crazy). I'm slightly concerned because he's been getting girthy, biting at the saddle when I tack up as well as when I brush him (particularly on the right side) and if I do get on and ride for a little while he often will try to bite at my feet. I don't know whether it is discomfort or just obstinance, so I have a call in to Dr. Katz for a chiropractic evaluation and saddle fitting. If all turns out ok then I will push through the tantrums and treat his outbursts as purely behavioral things but, if not, then there's no point in riding until he's feeling more comfortable. We'll see what the Doc says. Hopefully he can come out within the next week.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Paddy's Day

I hope everyone got to relax and enjoy their day today. I know I did! Charlie got a chance to stretch his legs in the outdoor ring (which he loved) and share a Killian's with Dan and I to celebrate the holiday. After all he is Irish!
Sharing a Killian's with my Irish Red

Pretty tasty

What can I say, he's a comedian
So much space!

Don't eat the flowers!
Who, me?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Combating avoidance techniques

With some gorgeous warm and sunny days earlier this week I was excited for Charlie to return to his paddock on Wednesday morning but the weather didn't cooperate, of course. It decided to downpour all Tuesday night, turning the recently dried paddocks back into a slippery boot-sucking mess. I almost lost my heavy duty muck boot turning out the horses on Wednesday, that's how bad it was! Despite the rain it was still really nice and warm, which normally would have made for good riding conditions after I was done doing chores, but this particular Wednesday was the one Wednesday every month where I have to quickly do my barn duties and then be showered and in to work for a long 12:30-9 shift. That meant no time for more than a quick lunge for Mr. Charlie (and he was pretty fresh) before I had to leave. Yesterday I worked longer than I was supposed to so I could leave early today to go's forecast? Low 30s and blustery. Go figure.

Luckily Charlie did start going back out on Thursday...he definitely made up for lost mud-rolling time, as demonstrated by his entirely mud-encrusted left side:

Since Charlie'd been pretty good for me the past few times I'd worked with him (in terms of lunging quietly after only a few minutes before I felt he was ok to get on and ride), I decided today to try riding without lunging first. In hindsight that wasn't my brightest idea, but you live you learn.

Truth be told Charlie was less of an I've-been-cooped-up-forever nutcase since he has been going outside again. However that didn't mean he wasn't feeling good because of the sudden cold spell. He wasn't exactly bad, but neither was his head in the game. At all. He definitely had some energy to let out and was frustrated that all I wanted him to do was walk and trot and practice turns and bending. Even though I tried to keep it interesting with serpentines and rollback turns, after about 10 minutes of that he was done and ready to do more exciting stuff.

Charlie has two main methods of trying to get out of work, sneak into a higher gear and start going faster and faster or stop and refuse to move forward all together. He will respond to half halts and most cues well initially but quickly gets frustrated with the same old stuff, and even more frustrated when the use of these tactics don't result in him getting to do what he wants. Luckily I have some experience with these moves from riding Lucy for so long, although with Charlie the ultimate goal is to keep him from getting so keyed up that he results to his ultimate get-out-of-work-free card: the rear. Because of this trick of his, my goal with Charlie is to encourage forward motion at all costs, even when he speds up and pulls (in this case he has to realize the only option is forward but it is at my pace, not his). If he's moving forward, then it is impossible for him to rear.

Today's antics started innocently enough with him trying to canter when I wanted to trot. Half halts were working at first, although he'd get upset and snort or fling his head around in the air before continuing on nicely (albeit reluctantly) at the trot. He was also looking at everything in the ring as an excuse to canter, which didn't help. Every time he did what I asked, though, and was moving forward at the pace I wanted him to, I allowed him to continue on a very light rein and tried to stay as quiet as possible in the saddle. When he sped up and didn't listen to half halts I would use a one rein stop to disengage his power. Bucks and head flings were met with a driving lower leg. As soon as he gave up I moved right back into what we were doing before, almost like the bad behavior didn't even happen.

When speeding up didn't work he tried stopping entirely and refusing to move forward, even biting at my feet. In response to this I kept insisting more and more forcefully with my legs until he took one step forward and then I stopped everything and allowed him to walk on without interruption and think about what just happened (Lesson: you refuse to go forward, it is annoying and uncomfortable; you walk forward, life is easy).

One time, after practicing several walk-trot and walk-halt transitions, Charlie decided he didn't want to walk on any more (I'm pretty sure he thought we were done for the day) so he tossed his head a few times and then popped three mini rears in a row (nothing like before, more like a Lipizzaner levade). I was more prepared for this than in the past and immediately released any face pressure, leaned into his neck, and pushed him forward hard with my leg so that his only way out of the pressure was to go forward. This will be a hard habit to break, I think, but that was the only time he tried pulling that move today and I definitely think it was out of pent up energy and irritation from being made to keep working.

Eventually Charlie got the idea, although he wasn't happy about giving in. In the end we got a semi-relaxed trot with at least a little stretching and I decided to call it a day. I really had wanted to canter but that would have started battles I'm not sure I had the time or energy to fight today so I opted to end on a good note, even though it wasn't a huge step of progress. Can't win them all.

After Charlie was cleaned up and turned back out I spent the next hour or so mending the huge hole in the butt of his lightweight blanket, which I've been putting off doing all winter, so he'll have something whole to wear when the weather decides to stay warm. It won't win me any needlepoint prizes in the county fair but at least Charlie won't feel so drafty anymore!

After (still with some remnants from the old duct tape patch)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Improvements all around

Charlie definitely wasn't happy about being left inside today (my barn owner said he screamed for a long time after everyone else went out) but the scrubbing worked and his feet are probably about 80% healed. One more day in with a dose of scarlet oil and I think he'll be good to go. I'll just try to keep up after him and coat his heals with protectant if it gets really muddy again.

Since he was in all day I really wasn't sure what kind of brain Charlie would have, but surprisingly he was really good. We even cantered, which we haven't done for a very long time under saddle. Both of us aren't in working shape yet, so it wasn't the prettiest, but we didn't have any real arguments so that's a success in my book. Charlie was looky and spooked at a few things, though. I was proud of myself for still having the muscle memory to sit through these episodes and also proud of him for coming right back afterward and not losing his head completely. One particular time I was really not sitting centered and he let me know with a big hind end kick out; I almost fell off....Oops! I'm glad, actually, when horses do stuff like that to let me know that I've fallen out of position and am riding like crap, even if it means I do end up falling off. It's a good reminder.

Today my goal was to canter with Charlie (check) and achieve tantrum-free transitions (check). Next time I'll work on getting him to lower his head and start to use his core.

To end for today here is March's conformation shot. Charlie was looking a bit ribby when I got back from my trip so I started him on some beet pulp (no molasses, we don't want to send him even more through the roof!). I think we'll really be able to see a difference by this time next month as he puts on more weight and we start to work under saddle to develop his neck and back.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mud Season, oh joy

It's here. Mud Season. Although we had a decent snow last week here in Rhode Island, the past several days have been in the high 40s or low 50s so everything is melting. It's beautiful spring weather (at least above ground) but it doesn't bode well for hooves.

I'd been worried about the mud issue ever since first moving to this barn - the turnouts being so small and not grassy - but I was really hoping we could hold out a little longer before the mud became a problem. Unfortunately yesterday when I went to the barn after work I discovered each of Charlie's heels was white and swollen with mud rash. Not surprising, once I had a look outside at the paddocks; they were complete mud pits:

I hadn't noticed anything when I groomed Charlie on Wednesday (I've been pretty vigilant about getting all the mud off his legs whenever I do see him). I guess it had only been snowing up until that point so everything was still frozen and he wasn't standing in wetness for any extended period of time until now. However that day it rained all day long before warming up significantly toward the end of the week which served to melt most of the remaining snow. I didn't make it back out to the barn until Saturday because of my work schedule, and by then the horses had been allowed out several times to take advantage of the nice weather. They just apparently were not hosed off when they came in (slightly irritating).

Treating the mud rash was the first "medical" thing I've had to do with Charlie and I was pleasantly surprised with how good he was. He walked right into the wash stall (which he had never been in before and which has all kinds of scary objects along the walls) and stood quietly while I hosed his legs/feet and scrubbed each foot/heel with betadine, including a few open sores which couldn't have been too comfortable. He even shifted his weight and lifted each foot up politely as I came up to it. What a good boy.

After the initial hose off. You can see the distinct white areas and a few sores on his heel bulb.
After letting the betadine sit for a while I dried everything really well and sprayed on some scarlet oil to kill bacteria and help it dry. I also have some diaper rash cream that I intend to use to soothe any irritation and seal out moisture once everything has had a chance to really dry out.

I feel good that I caught it fairly early, and Charlie's not lame at all, but I do feel bad for him and I'm a little disappointed that his legs weren't hosed off when he was brought in if it was that he has to stay in for a few days while his heels dry out and he's not going to like that at all.

"Honestly, mom, it's not so bad. Just give me lots of cookies" :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

We Ride Again!


And I mean for real. I had gotten on Charlie this weekend for the first time in a couple of months, but all I did was walk around to cool him down after a crazy lunge session, so that doesn't really count. Then I rode on Monday (about 50:50 in terms of lunge:ride time) and he was full of it. I think he was sore from all his shenanigans over the weekend (see video 1), but since it wasn't exactly the "proud mom moment" my excitement was dashed (and the videos didn't process quickly enough) so I held off on posting....

I'm not going to lie, today was not uneventful - we didn't do more than walk and trot around - but boy was I proud (of both of us), and what a change from just this weekend! Here is a brief overview:

3/3/13 This is what happens when you go on vacation and give your green TB two weeks off:

3/4/13 We worked through that this weekend and by Monday I had a "semi" rideable horse (please ignore my abysmal not-yet-in-riding-shape posture, especially during the rearing episode around 0:18...):

After a bit of work:
3/6/13 By Wednesday, I was determined to ride and really push through Charlie's quirks and antics. Yes, he is horrible at turns and my defensive position really needs some work but, hey!, we are riding!