Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Great End to October . . . Now on to November!

It was a very good October with my horses.  Pie's treatment for Lyme disease started and he's been at the full dose for a little more than two weeks - we have two weeks to go.  His grumpiness and soreness is already much improved, and he's moving very well.  Red's rehab is progressing very well so far, and he's able to do a fair amount of continuous trot work and is using his hind end well again.  Dawn continues to be wonderful.  Who could ask for more?

I try to ride each of my horses five times a week, with two days off.  The routine I've developed is to ride Dawn from Saturday through Wednesday, and give her Thursday and Friday off, and to ride Red and Pie from Sunday through Thursday, with Friday and Saturday off - this means that Friday is a non-riding day for me, which means I can do other things during the day and then just stop by in the afternoon to check on the horses and pick feet. If I manage to ride each horse 5 times a week, each horse will have 21 or 22 rides per average month, depending on such things as farrier, vet and chiro visits, and other commitments I may have - riding's pretty high on my list but occasionally I have to be somewhere else.  Now that I have an indoor arena, the weather is no longer an issue, which has really improved my consistency.

October went well - Dawn had 21 rides, and Red and Pie had 23 each, although 7 of Red's rides were just at the walk as part of his rehab.  That's a total of 67 rides - I'm a big believer that time in the saddle is a major factor in how well I ride, and how well my horses and I communicate and work together.

Today was a great conclusion to the month.  Dawn and I had an excellent walk/trot ride in the indoor in the morning - I was working on her relaxation and riding the hind legs and she responded by very nicely bending into the corners.  We didn't canter, because I wanted to solidify my work at the trot.  Red and I had an excellent ride in the afternoon.  His trot work was very good on both diagonals, and we were able to do a fair amount - this is the second day in a row he's done a good amount of trot work, and if he's still feeling good tomorrow, we'll do some more.  We're working on gradually building up his stamina.  Then Pie and I had an outstanding ride - we had the indoor to ourselves and were able to do a fair amount of cantering.  His canter is really coming along rapidly - he can now sustain it much more easily and the softening and lightening of footfalls are really improving on both leads.

So that's it for October - now on to November - every day I go to the barn with a sense of excitement and delight in how wonderful my horses are and how privileged I am to have them and be able to ride them frequently.  Our communication is deepening, day by day, and it's a great joy to me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Do I Want from My Horses? (With Three Fabulous Rides)

I've spent most of the month of October considering the two challenges of riding all my horses the same, and developing my own style.  This requires that I know what I want from my horses - how I want them to feel and respond, which results in how they look under saddle.  I've ridden a lot in October, and I'm beginning to get a handle on this, and my horses are responding accordingly. (This post, and the others in this series, have been added to a new sidebar: Where We Are, and Where We're Going.)

Here's a practical example of where I'm going with this - the three rides I had today on Dawn, Red and Pie.  Each horse is different, and we're working on slightly different things - tasks - in our rides, but it's really beginning to come down to the same thing with every horse in terms of the fundamentals - the tasks are just to-dos on top of the foundation that needs to be there.  My horses are very good teachers - where we struggle - where there's an absence of feel between the horse and me - this is usually an area where I'm not sticking to the requirements for how I need to ride for the feel to be there on my end.  If I offer the feel, the horses meet my challenge with astounding honesty and willingness.

My morning started with Dawn.  It was 37F, with a howling wind and wind chills in the upper 20s, and the arena doors were wide open.  Dawn had been wearing a lightweight blanket for turnout, but that came off for our ride.  There was another horse in the ring, who was all amped up and rushing and pulling and radiating tension.  Dawn was very alert, but paying attention to me as we led into the arena.

We just went about our business.  I mounted up - Dawn stood on a loose rein.  We did our walk warmup on a loose rein, and then moved up to trot, starting with very light contact on the reins.  After a minute or two, we added some loose rein stretching down work to our trotting.  Dawn was all business, relaxed but also forward.  I need to work more on riding the hind legs with her - when I don't she tends to cut the corners.  We also did some canter work - just plain beautiful - and then went back to our relaxed, forward trotting.  I told Dawn what a wonderful mare she was.

In the afternoon I rode both Red and Pie and they were both fabulous as well, and both were lavishly praised.  It was still very cold and windy.  Red and I had a session with more trotting than we've done.  He starts out a little stiff - I think we're dealing with some hock arthritis - but improves as he goes, until he gets tired.  We did some very nice trot work - forward and engaged, with good softness.  With him I need to work on not trapping him between my leg and hand, or moving my body, and riding his hind legs through feel instead - if I use too much leg he fusses and either slightly resists going forward or gives me a transition that is too big.  If I use too much hand, he tends to go behind the bit.  He's great at teaching me "just right".  He's not as relaxed as Dawn in his work yet, and I need to focus more and relax more at the same time to give him this feel.

Pie was next.  The ring was very crowded, and the big overhead doors to the barn aisles were going up and down as people came and went - none of my horses have any problem with this, although in Pie's and Red's case they've only just "met" the doors.  Pie was attentive and forward and dealt with all the commotion and horses without batting an eye.  He did some great trot work, including bending much better into the corners - I was paying attention to riding the hind legs instead of his head - and we finished with some lovely leg yield at trot back and forth through a line of cones down the center of the arena.  His softness was excellent - it's really there now at the walk and trot, canter is still a work in process although he's been improving very rapidly.

So with that summary, and those examples of what we're working on, here's the outline of what I want from my horses and what I'm doing to get it - what I have to offer them to get them to offer me back what I want.

Relaxation and forward.  Getting those two things, together, both working, is a wonderful thing.  But what do those words mean?  Relaxation: softness of the whole horse from jaw to tail, and down through the legs, where the core is engaged and the top line relaxed.  But even more importantly, relaxation, and softness, are also mental - unperturbed concentration on the task at hand: calm in the midst of action - this comes from the inside of the horse. Forward comes from the hind end of the horse - horses are rear wheel drive.  From forward comes engagement and quality of gaits, and this all feeds back into the horse being soft and relaxed.  If you have these, you have everything.  It's a lot more than mechnics, though - there's a specific feel of the whole horse as I ride that goes with all that, and I have a clear idea of what that feel is - we have it more and more often, the three of them and I.

What do I have to offer my horses, all of them, to get this consistency from them?  I have to offer my own mental and physical relaxation and softness, and focus, so they can join me there.  I have to ride the hind legs, by being part of the horse, and "in" the horse - riding from the inside of the horse, not just applying aids to the outside of the horse.  There are some mechanics involved in all of this - a soft, following contact with zero pressure - just a live contact with the horse's mouth - that's a softness the horse can meet.  I often ride with only the weight of the reins. Keeping my posture and body position neutral so I don't interfere with the motion.  A soft, following seat. Going with the horse, and not blocking or bracing.  Maintaining my focus and attention, and centered calmness.  Feeling of the horse, and offering a feel back to the horse - it's a circle.

I know exactly the feel I want from my horses, and every day we get closer to being there, with the whole package.  It starts with me, and my horses are teaching me what to do, every day and every ride.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All Horse, All the Time: Three Stars

Some of you may have noted that my blog now has a subtitle: all horse, all the time.  This is a joke (not really) in my family.  My non-horsey husband (who does assist from time to time with hoof picking and even grooming from time to time when I am out of town) coined the phrase, I think.

Today was a wonderful day - it involved all horse, all the time, and all three horses were stars.  It was an unusual day, weather-wise - the highs topped out in the upper 70sF with some wind - just plain beautiful, although the horses found it a bit warm now that their winter coats are coming in.

My day started with an outstanding ride on Dawn - we had the indoor to ourselves, which was lovely.  If I kept my head up, my elbows to my sides and my posting just barely there, we had marvelous softening and engagement at the trot.  Her canter work was also wonderful - she was round, and soft, and very forward.  In fact she was beautifully forward in all gaits.  We'd done some marvelous flying lead changes yesterday on the center line in both directions, and there was only one buck when she couldn't get her feet organized.  So today we did no lead changes, just cantered the whole arena and some circles - her power and willingness always astound me.

Pie and I had the opportunity to go on a trail ride with another boarder, so we took it - he hasn't been out on the trail since before his Lyme diagnosis, a number of months ago.  I had to fetch him from the far reaches of the pasture - he was at least a half mile from the barn and there was a lot of mud to wade through to get out there - but he came in willingly - usually I have to really urge him.  On the trail, he was forward, and interested and just plain happy.  He looked at a number of things, but was always willing to move forward when I asked.  We had to negotiate a number of obstacles - the road we cross is under construction, with barrels and flags and at least a 12 inch step up to the pavement and the same down - but he took everything in stride and was willing and happy.  There was a spring in his step, both coming and going,  despite the heat - usually, coming home he is dragging and sluggish, but not today.  He trotted along right next to the other horse without complaint, and was soft, soft, soft.  This is so different from the sullen, tired, slow and crabby horse he has been recently that it's just amazing.

Poor Red only noticed Pie's absence as we were leaving for the trail ride - the trail goes along the pastures - he was calling for Pie, and when we came back, he came all the way to the pasture gate to wait for him and then they galloped off together.

In the afternoon, I had an outstanding ride on Red.  We started out doing our walk and then trot work, and he was just plain slugging.  It's hard to tell with a horse coming back from an injury if the "slows" are due to discomfort or just to habit - I've been very conservative in our work, but today he didn't seem sore, just sluggish, and I was having to use too much leg.  I got my dressage whip, to be able to reinforce primary cues if necessary so as to not use too much leg, and what I got as a result - almost no use of the whip - was just plain wonderful.  He apparently decided I was serious about working, and we got some wonderful trot sets all the way around the ring and also across the diagonal - his trot was powerful and engaged and forward, and his softness was suberb, and he was completely sound on both diagonals.  It was like riding the wind, or like riding a river - the metaphor I sometimes use.  We'll see how he is tomorrow, but it appears that Red is back - what a feeling.

So, all horse, all the time, and just plain wonderful!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Good Rides All Around

It was a beautiful day today - sunny and crisp with a bit of wind - and I managed to have three really fine rides.

Dawn was up first, and we had the indoor arena to ourselves.  It was quite chilly, and she was very forward but also responsive.  She did some very nice softening work at the trot, both shortened and lengthened, and then we did a good bit of canter work.  We did a number of laps of the ring - there's one very deep area in the footing along part of one side, but we did fine by coming to the inside of that area.  There was one point where we were cantering on the right lead - this is the lead she finds harder to maintain - where our circuit required us to come to the inside to avoid the deep spot - she did a flying lead change to the left lead, but because I was still thinking the feel of the right lead, she did a flying change back to the right lead after a single stride in left lead.  A one tempi, if unintentional - the mare is seriously athletic.  I should try some counter canter with her, although our indoor arena is too small and the turns too tight - we might be able to attempt it out in the field.

In the afternoon, Red and Pie got rides as well - they'd both had two days off.  I rode Red first, so that we could be in arena immediately after it was dragged when the footing was at its best.  We had a really fine ride in walk and trot - he's now trotting well all the way around the ring, including turns and diagonals.  He still tires quickly and the downwards transitions aren't always good - sometimes he just lets go with the left hind rather than using it - but all in all his rehab is progressing really well.  His trot just feels wonderful - it's great to be riding it again.  I also got to lead him to the outdoor arena and we rode around there a bit at the walk - he managed the hills to and from very well with no hind leg dragging.

Pie and I also had a fine ride.  We warmed up at the walk out in the pasture with its hills - it's quite a workout out there even at the walk, and then returned to the indoor for a very nice session in all three gaits.  We were the only horse in the ring - it's not a very big ring so that's an advantage - and he did some very good shortening and lengthening work at the trot and we also did some nice canter work.  His balance at the canter is improving in both leads, and we were able to make several circuits of the ring with him managing the corners well.  He still tends to invert when cantering, but we did manage several moments of softness - that will come.  After our ride, as we do every day, I fed him his evening grain with the addition of his 120 doxyclycline pills and a generous dressing of cocosoya oil - he gobbled everything up and licked his dish clean.  We've been 7 days at the full dose - only another 23 days to go . . .

The weather's warming up over the next several days, so I expect there's more riding in my future . . .

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Their Trust Almost Breaks My Heart

Just think about how much trust our horses place in us - those of you who have adopted and worked with wild horses will know this even more than the rest of us, but it's really true of all horses.  Those who have worked with horses who have been abused or neglected know this even more truely.

Just think about all the things we ask our horses to do, which they do willingly for us, and how much trust that takes -

we ask them to stand tied, or to stand still when ground tied - the ability to move is essential to the prey animal they are.

we ask them to hold their feet up for us, disabling their ability to move in case of danger.

we ask them to accept farrier work, or visits from the vet, often involving unpleasant poking with needles or worse.

we ask them to be haltered, and to lead and follow us - are we worthy of the trust to be their leader?

we ask them to trust us that they will be fed and cared for - are we worthy of that trust?

they enter the confined space of a horse trailer at our request and take long journeys with us to strange places.

we confront them with new tasks they do not understand at first, and new places, and even new horse herds and companions.

Just think of the trust it takes for a horse to let us do all those things, and more.

What made me think of this was my in-hand work with Red and Pie a few days ago.  One of my fellow boarders has what I call a "victory stand" - it's like the round stand elephants stand on in the circus - it's made of heavy aluminum and has a non-slip top - it's probably at least a foot high.  Red's apparently done some obstacle work in the past - he walks across a wooden platform just fine - so I tried him out with it first.  With Red, there's still a bit of resistance in there - if you ask him to do something he'd rather not do, he can stall on you, or if he takes a mind to explore something or go somewhere you can be the last thing on his mind.  There's no harm in any of that any more - he's not trying to dominate, take control or protect himself, he's just easily distracted and the connection/softness I have with him still comes and goes, but he comes back much more quickly now.  So with the stand, I got a few minutes of resistance, but when he understood that it was important to me, he pawed heavily a few times to test the surface and then stepped right up and stood proudly with his front feet up until I asked him to back down.

Now Pie was a different case.  He'd clearly never seen such a thing before.  As I was leading him out of the back barn through the door into the arena, he saw the new object, and stopped, snorting.  He thought about heading back the way he'd come but didn't - he came right through the door with no pulling on my part, just because I asked him to.   And he immediately approached the object, snorting and glancing at me from time to time.  As soon as he touched it and I praised him, he was no longer worried about it - that's my Pie!  It took him a moment to figure out that I wanted him to step up on it.  Once he understood what I wanted, it took him less time than Red to step up - he seemed comfortable because I was.  It almost broke my heart - Pie is a horse who can be somewhat standoffish and hard to reach, but he looked to me for guidance and safety and was happy to do what I wanted - what more can you ask?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy Retired Horses

Just for fun today, a selection of recent photo of the retirees, living down at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - photos thanks to Melissa!  (Can't make the small ones any larger without them fuzzing up.)  Maisie's in her late teens, but couldn't stay sound when being ridden, although she's doing well in retirement.  Lily developed heaves in her late teens, but that's pretty much a non-issue now that she's on 24/7 turnout in in a better climate.  Lily's now in her mid-20s, I'd guess, and has Cushings, but it's controlled by medication.  Norman the pony had had a hard life before we got him, and although he's perfectly sound and only in his early 20s, we weren't going to sell him on - he needed a forever home.

Here's Maisie in all her beautiousness:

Maisie and Lily enjoying some grazing together:

Norman the pony going somewhere with purpose:

Lily and Maisie love to groom:

Lily on the left with a pony friend:

Norman stretching up to groom a bigger pony:

It always makes me happy to see how good they all look, and how well cared for - I always tell Jason and Melissa that they take better care of my retired horses than I ever could!

Friday, October 12, 2012

This and That

I had good rides on all three horses today - tomorrow everyone will get a day off as it's my music day.

I rode Dawn in the early morning, and had the arena to myself.  It was a lovely day, although cold, so we made an excursion to the outdoor, although only briefly, as she found the footing a little hard - it hadn't been dragged in a few days.  So we went back inside and had a very nice walk/trot/canter ride - good stretching down and decent relaxation.  We both enjoyed it, I think.

In the afternoon, I rode Red first.  This was our first two days in row trot ride.  After a good 10-minute warm up at walk, we did a trot set of only straight lines.  His trot was the best it's been in a long time - fluid and forward.  I had done a lot of muscle massage with him before we rode, and interestingly enough, he really wanted his right hind - not the leg that's been the main problem - massaged.  After the trot set, he really wanted to go outside, so I led him down the steep hill and back up the hill to the outdoor arena.  He managed the hill really well - no foot dragging - and we mounted back up and I rode him in the outdoor for a few minutes at the walk.  He'd only been ridden out there once before, but did very well despite the cold, windy conditions and another horse cantering around.  We led back to the indoor after that and did another trot set.  After that he was getting tired - the left hind was starting to shorten up, so we stopped there.  I've upped his aspirine (I use Aspirease) to twice a day to see if that improves his soundness - if it's a hock arthritic issue that may help.

We got the results of Red's second EPM blood test back - he's still 2/2/2, which likely means that his episode of neurological symptoms was an inflammatory event rather than a new infection.  Whatever it was, it seems to have responded to the levamisole in the Oroquin-10 medication, which is an anti-inflamatory.  We don't have the results of his C reactive protein level test yet - this is a non-specific test for inflammation.  It'll be interesting to see what it shows.  I'm encouraged that he started out today even better than yesterday even though we trotted two days in a row.  Keeping fingers crossed that our rehab is progressing.

Pie and I rode mainly outside today in the pasture with two other boarders, and did lots of trot and canter work.  Pie was very forward and moving the best he's done since I've had him - really big, engaged trot and canter, and seemed delighted to do it.  His personality transplant continues to impress - he's interactive, and sweet and just plain a delight to be around, and he's vacuuming up his doxyclycline  pills without any problem (the cocosoya oil is a big help with that) - we're up to 90 pills and keeping a close eye on his manure, which remains soft but not loose.

It was a very good day with horses!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Personality Transplant

Before we get to the subject referenced in the title, a brief update on Dawn and Red.

I've had a number of nice rides on Dawn this week, but today's ride was the best.  It was very cold and windy - the wind chills were in the mid-30sF and the arena doors were wide open.  There was a lot of work going on outside the barn involving equipment and noises - the paddocks that adjoin the barn were being cleaned.  And there were two other horses in the ring, one being hand-walked and the other ridden - Dawn hates having other horses near her when being ridden and will gladly kick any horse that  comes near, and will make threatening faces to ensure they keep their distance.  I usually ride her early in the morning precisely to avoid crowded times in the arena. I'd had bad luck with the other rider the last time we shared the arena - her horse got loose once and she almost walked into Dawn and me twice while leading her horse and not paying attention to where she was going.

So I was very proactive - I warned the other rider (for the umpteenth time) that Dawn would kick her and her horse's lights out, given the opportunity - she said "OK", and I also made sure to move around the ring in a way that kept the other horse ahead of Dawn as much as possible.  We ended up having a very good ride - lots of very forward trotting with good relaxation and stretching down to my soft contact.  Dawn's concentration and behavior were great - she ignored all the distractions and noises and just worked right along.  I was delighted with her and told her so.

Red's rehab is progressing.  Yesterday, after a good walk warm up of about 10 minutes, he trotted 15 lengths of the arena in 3 sets of 5, with 5-minute walk breaks between.  He's willing, very forward and soft and seems happy to be back in some sort of work - it's a good thing as he's turning into a bit of a tub.  Today was a walk day, and despite the cold in the arena, he was relaxed and lovely to ride - we did lots of figures using cones and lots of energetic walking from behind, and some stepping the hind legs over on turns and also down the straights.

Here's where the blog title comes in.  Pie had his seventh dose of doxycycline today, and ate all his pills, grain (only a cup and a half) and cocosoya with his usual relish - he's up to 70 pills now.  Every day we're adding 10 pills, hoping to get to at least 110 or 120 per day without causing him to have diarrhea.  His manure is definitely a lot softer and bulkier than it was, but not liquid.  Once we're at the maximum dose he can tolerate, his treatment will continue for 30 days to kill as many of the Lyme organisms as possible.

And here's the remarkable thing - I'd heard that many Lyme horses improve dramatically even at the beginning of treatment, but since Pie's symptoms weren't that severe, I wasn't sure what if any improvement we'd see in the early days of treatment.  He had no lameness, which many horses with Lyme do have, and his primary symptoms were that he was very crabby, seemed muscle sore a lot of the time, was very stiff in his movement and we thought his odd, sudden spooks seemed out of character, indicating that he might be having some difficulty processing visual information.

I'd say we have Mr. Personality Transplant.  Gone is the sour, grumpy, depressed, muscle sore horse, who would stand on the crossties with his eyes half closed and ears back.  I now have an alert, interactive, interested horse who also moves much more freely and happily under saddle - he's no longer short-strided or stiff.  Here's a big tell - he used to be reluctant to approach the mounting block and now walks right up to it happily.  His alertness is almost as if he were awake - he's taking everything in and looking at things but not as reactive.  Before it was if he was asleep and then was jolted into action by odd visual spooks.  It's quite the transformation - one nice part of it is that he's interacting with me a lot more and now really looks at me, which he wasn't doing before. I feel like I'm riding a normal young horse - there may be spooking but I don't think it'll be the same as it was.  For example, yesterday he was looking down one of the barn aisles and saw a balloon waving in the wind - it was a trainer's birthday.  He spooked, but it was a normal, momentary, straddle-footed spook in place.  I can deal with that.  We'll see how he does with his treatment, but I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Into the Horse

Cup the horse's chin in one hand, then place the other hand on the horse's forehead, and just be there, breathing with the horse.

Place a hand flat on jaw, neck, shoulder, side or haunch, and feel the horse, and breathe with the horse.

When mounted, sit quietly for a moment. Feel yourself sinking into the horse, and your four feet placed on the ground.  Breathe into the horse.

Now move, together.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Lyme Disease Treatment in Horses

First, a disclaimer - I am not a vet and have no veterinary training - I'm just a horse owner and try to be as informed as I can.  Nothing I write here should be taken as diagnosis or treatment advice for any horse - my experience with Lyme is limited.

Lyme is a complex organism, with a complex life cycle.  It's present in the Americas (one major phenotype group only) and also in Europe and Asia (three major phenotype groups, although usually the two that aren't present in the Americas).  It's been recognized as a disease only since the mid-1970s, and research is ongoing.

Here's a  good semi-technical description of the organism and infectious process in humans - good photos, maps and interesting technical information.  I don't know if the testing protocol in humans described in the article is up to date or not, but in horses (and I believe also in dogs) there is a new ELIZA test from Cornell that is more definitive and identifies antigens A, C and F, the variable levels of which help identify what stage of the disease process the horse is in.

The Lyme disease organism is designed to succeed - it has several mechanisms that help it evade the immune system.  Due to its physical structure, it is less identifiable to the immune system that other bacteria - the structures that would typically present as "foreign" to the immune system are not exposed on the surface.  Lyme also actively surpresses the host's immune system - this may partly explain why Pie was vulnerable to EPM in the first place and then had sequential infections with different phenotypes.  Lyme also can colonize poorly vascularized tissues - like the synovial fluid in joints - which makes it less visible to the immune system and harder to treat.  Lyme can even encyst - become dormant and invisible for a period of time. One of the challenges in treating Lyme is that encysting can even occur as a result of treatment with antibiotics - this is one reason for the persistance of Lyme and development of chronic Lyme.

One of the challenges in detecting early Lyme infections in horses (and dogs as well) is that the typical human "bullseye rash" is not present - it apparently is also not always present or is missed in humans.  Pie had many of the typical Lyme symptoms back in the summer and fall of 2011, but none of us - me, my vets, or the university equine veterinary clinic, thought to test for Lyme.  Pie had many of the symptoms - fever, swollen glands, depression, evidence of inflammatory processes - a case of laminitis that did not proceed to rotation, and a few odd skin lessions -more about that below, abdominal discomfort that the vets were able to determine was due to swollen abdominal lymph nodes, signs of head pain as well as extreme muscle soreness - he had an episode that resembled tying up but wasn't - and extreme sensitivity to touch.  Pie also developed extreme visual reactivity at that time, and went from being calm and quiet on the trail to extremely spooky and reactive - I had a very serious fall off him in June of 2011.  The good news (probably not from his point of view, since any symptoms are too many) is his symptoms today are limited to visual reactivity, grumpiness, and some muscle soreness.  He shows no sign of arthritis or lameness of any type, and is willing and able to work and move out under saddle, although he does fatigue more quickly (probably the muscle soreness) and he looks and feels somewhat "tight".

 Here's a photo of annular skin lesion in a human caused by the Lyme organism - Pie had several of these - they were ringlike, an inch or so in diameter, had a raised, scaly border and a depressed center.  They were on his body, and although I noted them no one had a good explanation for why they were there.  They disappeared over the fall of 2011 as the severe symptoms abated.  He still has two residual patches of scaly, thickened skin in front of the points of each of his hips just where the hair whorls are - I don't know whether they're associated with his chronic Lyme, but I'm suspicious, as they weren't there before he was sick.

Lyme has been shown to be treatable with doxyclycline (a member of the tetracycline class of drugs).  These drugs interfere with the reproduction of the Lyme organism, so are most effective when the organism is reproducing.  The objective in treatment is to, over time, affect as much of the bacterial population as possible when it is vulnerable.  Many bacteria reproduce rapidly - every 20 minutes or so - whereas Lyme has a much longer reproductive period - 7 to 12 hours or even longer.  Therefore short-term antibiotic theraphy - as would be used for a rapidly-reproducing organism like strep - is ineffective in treating Lyme.

The expectations in treating Pie are to knock back the organisms to the extent possible.  He hasn't had Lyme for as long as many chronic horses, and his titer levels for chronic Lyme are not at the high end of the range. It is still probable that not all the organisms will be eliminated, due to their ability to hide, but we're expecting significant improvement in symptoms.  Apparently follow-on flare ups are possible, but these apparently respond well to another course of antibiotics (this good response to repeated treatment is also true for dogs, according to Cornell, but apparently less so for humans).

My vet is using a revised treatment protocol.  Many horses have been treated with doxyclycline pills split into two daily treatments - for the average 1,000 to 1,200 pound horse (Pie is in this range) the treatment has been 50-60 doxy pills twice a day.  The revised protocol goes with the total dose - 100-120 pills a day - only once a day.  This apparently has something to do with the way the Lyme bacteria operates in the animal - it's apparently more vulnerable to treatment in the late afternoon and early evening, and less vulnerable in the morning.  I believe this has something to do with its reproductive behavior.  I'm trying to get more information on the science behind this - it's apparently based on ongoing research of what's most effective in treatment - I don't know whether in humans or horses.  I haven't been able to find anything yet published about this, and it's quite possible I'm not properly describing the thinking.  This protocol allows the peak dose of doxy to be higher, which also may improve the effectiveness of the treatment, while giving the horse a recovery period each day to reduce side effects.

The most significant side effect of doxy in horses is loose manure. To manage this, the other part of the protocol we're using is to very slowly increase the dose, starting with only 10 pills and increasing by 10 per day, and watching carefully for any loose manure.  The goal is to build to at least the 100-120 pills per day level, and possibly somewhat higher if Pie tolerates it well, and hold that level for 30 days once reached.  Some horses have to back off to the 80 pill per day level, but can still get effective treatment - this was true of one horse at my barn - and some horses can tolerate much higher levels of doxy. The objective is to customize the treatment to the horse and get the highest loading dose possible that doesn't cause loose manure.

The nice thing about the once a day treatment is that it's easier to do - I'll do it myself to be sure every little pill is consumed and not dropped - most horses just eat them without a problem, although I may use a feed bag to make things simpler.  The doxy will be fed as whole (tiny) pills together with a small grain meal, to improve gastric comfort, and hay will also be available before and after the treatment. If Pie has any dislike of the pills (the other horse at our barn ate them freely), a bit of cocosoya oil will solve the problem.  Once a day treatment also means I can continue to use supplements that contain calcium or magnesium that would otherwise interfere with the absorption of the doxy, if I give them in the mornings.  Pie will also get a good dose of probiotics each morning throughout his treatment and for a period thereafter to help maintain healthy gut flora.

I'm hoping the treatment will help Pie out, and also that perhaps I'll get a break - I hope a very long one - from learning about new equine diseases . . .

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy Day! Red Improves, Dawn Dances and a Dirty Day

This morning Red went on the lunge for our vet/chiro to evaluate.  All I can say is wow! his trot was amazing - big, engaged and floating and he was delighted to move out - his amazing gaits are back!  He's greatly improved even from 3 days ago. To the left, he was 100% sound, and almost as sound to the right - for the first time in a long time - he trotted out beautifully, although would occasionally take a shorter step with the left hind, and was careful on the downwards transitions to walk when tracking right.  My vet/chiro had brought her ultrasound - we were planning to lunge him before and after therapeutic ultrasound of the tendon area, but she said he looked so good there was no point in doing that. She also did neuro tests on him - he's now 100% normal again and his affect is bright and eager (he's back to being Mr. Feisty, which is his normal demeanor, which I now welcome) - and drew blood for a follow-up EPM titer and C reactive protein test (to check for inflammation).  He's completed the Oroquin-10 treatment for EPM and is on day 6 of the low-dose decoquinate powder. She agrees that he likely had an original mechanical injury in June - the Achilles tendon area and related muscles above as the primary site of injury - compounded by a neurological flare-up in September (we may find out whether this was a new infection with a different phenotype, or an inflammatory reaction from his earlier infection, from the blood test) that compromised his ability to extend and lift the left hind forward - mainly affecting the biceps femoralis muscles, which interfered with his rehab.

The rehab plan for the next couple of weeks is to alternate days, with some trot work, building up slowly, with icing of the tendon area afterwards, alternating with a walking day, both under saddle and some hill work in hand.  The goal is to gently continue to break any remaining adhesions without triggering extra inflammation, and to slowly rebuild muscle strength in the front of the leg.  If he gets sore, we'll back off, if he continues to improve, we'll continue to build his work.  When we let him back into the pasture, he galloped off up the hill, on the right lead, no less, and pushing fully with the left hind.  He was still careful in the downwards transition to trot - she says the downwards transitions will remain imperfect until he's 100% back to normal.  I'm pleased with my decision to keep him in full turnout during his recovery - it likely delayed his recovery by a significant amount, perhaps as much as a month or two, but I'm expecting a sounder and mentally healthier horse than if he'd been kept on stall rest (I'm certainly not saying that stall rest isn't warranted in some cases - in Red's case it was a judgment call). I'm delighted with his progress!

Dawn and I also had a wonderful ride this morning.  We started in the indoor, and ended up moving to the outdoor because there was another boarder in there who had some issues - first her horse got loose in the barn aisle and came running through the indoor heading for the out of doors, and then she almost walked into Dawn and me twice when she was leading him around and paying attention to her phone instead of where she was going.  Sigh . . . Dawn didn't think much of that and was making her ugliest faces, so we relocated to the outdoor arena.  I was working today on staying as neutral in my position as possible, and allowing her to use her power to move at trot and canter - only slight contact or an allowing hand on my part.  Her trot work was very good - engaged and easily shifting between shorter and longer trot and she did some remarkable canter work, including some real elevation and lightening of her feet - with no rein pressure at all.  She was in a position where she could have done a flying lead change at any second with no effort at all.  It was pretty magical.

The boys (and Dawn as well in the afternoon) had a "dirty day" - I declare these when my horses come in muddy and it's really too cold for baths, or I just feel like it - all three were coated with mud today after the drizzle we had most of the day, so I just picked feet, checked for scrapes and other wounds (none, thankfully) and did a short hand walk with each horse around the arena and down the barn aisles.

And here's a wonderful video, picked up by Di at Le Puy, which should bring a smile to your face - but if I were quibbling (and I'm not), I'd prefer my horses to load a bit more slowly (!) . . .

Like Riding a River: Cues, Aids and Boundaries

I've been thinking through my two challenges from the clinic, and what they might mean, and how to move forward on them together with my three horses.  I'm also trying to broaden my understanding of these challenges by thinking in metaphors and analogies - they're never exact but they add flavor and new perspectives to my thinking - I suppose for me, it's a little bit like thinking in poetry.

To review, here are the three posts that describe my thinking so far:  the first challenge: riding all my horses the same; the second challenge: develop my own style; and the analogy of the dance.  If you've got the time and inclination, you might want to read these posts first so you can more easily follow what I'm talking about here - this post is one of a set with those earlier ones.

Today I'm going to use the analogy of riding a river as a starting point. I once described to someone what riding Red felt like - I said it was like riding a river - with all the flow, energy and power that implies - just being with that and in it.  Rivers have banks that direct them, and areas that flow or that are turbulent, have their motion eased or disrupted by what they encounter.  Hold that thought, and let's talk for a moment about aids and cues and what those mean in riding - we'll come back to the river in a moment.

My understanding of aids and cues, and their role in riding and working with horses, is starting to change.  Here's some things the word aid could mean, in ordinary English: "help", "guidance", "assistance".  Cue could mean "prompt", "reminder", "direction".

I think many of us are taught to ride mechnically - do this: rein, leg or seat aid/cue, and expect the horse to do that in response.  But I think this may underestimate the nature of communication that is possible between horse and rider.  This cue/response model thinks of the horse as a mechanical device - use this input and get that output.  Now, I'm not saying that if you use cues/aids precisely, and care and subtlety, that you and your horse won't achieve good things, with minimal bracing and interruption of flow, energy and power.  But I'm beginning to think about things in a somewhat different way . . .

To me, cues and aids are coming to have a new meaning - this is part of my developing understanding of the two challenges from the clinic.  Cues and aids have an important role to play in helping horses learn to do things together with us (that they can already do on their own, as is true of almost everything we ask horses to do with us), when we ask them to.  So they have a teaching function.  And once the horse learns what we ask, cues and aids are usually employed to request a specific response from the horse.

But, you might ask, what do cues and aids have to do with the analogy of riding a river?

Cues and aids, to the extent they're physical, and no matter how slight - even breathing as a cue is physical - are applied to the outside of the horse.  Now, there's nothing at all wrong with that if done with care and as much softness as possible - it is possible to do great things with a horse doing this - it's the third stage of my challenge to develop my own style.  But if cues/aids are applied to the outside of the horse - you bringing the aid to the horse - they're often braces, even if very tiny ones.  Stick your hand in a flowing river against the flow - big pressure and turbulence: a big brace.  Now stick one finger in the water against the flow - slight pressure and very small brace.  Now that's not bad at all - if I were consistently at that stage with my horses I'd be pretty satisfied.

Now try something else - stick your hand in the flowing water but keep your hand parallel to the flow and then ever so slightly redirect the flow by changing the tilt of your hand.  Now, if you overdo it, you get the same brace, but if you allow your hand to just be there as a boundary for the flow you can let it come to you and redirect it with less disruption.

The analogy of riding a river isn't perfect, of course, but I'm starting to think of aids and cues as boundaries.  But at that point they aren't really aids and cues anymore - they're not separate, discrete things that are applied and removed.  It's more like you and the horse are together in the middle of the flow, sharing energy and power, with you providing the leadership of your thought and the horse taking up the connection and moving together with you.  Even with a horse that knows very little about how to interact softly with humans, where the horse may be at first constantly running into the boundaries - I'm thinking here, for example, about teaching a "pushy" horse to understand your personal space, or helping a very braced horse first learn about softening - the thought and feel alone have to be there as the "offer", at the center of the flow, at all times.

I think part of what this means is that the horse learns best, and responds best, if the horse itself finds the boundaries, rather than us bringing the boundary to the horse.  This has another implication - the boundary itself has to have feel and softness.  (I'm starting to use the term feel and the term softness pretty much interchangeably, as I believe what Tom Dorrance discribes as "feel" and Mark Rashid describes as "softness" are in fact exactly the same thing - a live connection with the horse that isn't braced even when the horse is.)  The ask comes from the center of the flow and power, and the boundaries are there for the sole purpose of directing the flow and power without bracing.  An example of this would be my breakthrough with Dawn (which still comes and goes on my end) of beginning to develop a following/allowing contact.

Mark uses the concept of a trampoline to illustrate what it means to set a boundary, but have it be one that is never rigid or braced - the boundary responds to the energy of the horse encountering it by not bracing, but redirecting.  Tom Dorrance uses the concept of "drift" to say much the same thing, I think - sometimes we have to go with the horse who is encountering the boundary and then redirect the energy - this avoids the brace that a rigid boundary would create.  Think directing/guiding the energy rather than confining/restraining it.

It's all about direction of the energy and power that's in the horse, in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the horse to do what you're thinking.  A big part of this, I think, is to ride "in" rather than "on" the horse.  Most of what we "do" interferes with the horse's flow and energy in a bracing way - and by this I include things all the way from the biggest braces - pushing with the seat, or hanging on the horse's mouth, not breathing, or being tight in a muscle, for example, to the smallest ones - tilting your head down or to one side, or even giving the smallest cue with your seat for a downwards transition.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that cues and aids applied from the outside of the horse by their nature are at their very best tiny braces.  Now there's not a thing wrong with that, and it sure beats cues and aids and ways of riding that are big braces.  They're tiny braces that communicate, and if they're removed the instant the horse begins to respond, they don't necessarily interfere with the horse's flow and energy to any noticeable degree.

Now here's my ideal - I'm no where near that yet, but it does help me know where I want to go.  I want to think of my riding as first coming from the inside of me - my thought and direction, and asking the horse to make the connection.  The important thing is to be with the horse in the flow and energy, and to disrupt that as little as possible. Everything else is just establishing boundaries for the horse - posture, focus, legs, hands and seat - all in neutral and doing nothing but going with the horse unless the horse itself comes to the boundary.  I think of this as the horse coming to the aids/cues as boundaries with softness in them, and "drift" (this has nothing to do with the boundaries being inconsistent, it's more a matter of their feel), rather than the aids/cues coming to the horse.  I also think this is the real meaning of "making the wrong thing hard", which I think is a bit misleading because of the "make" that's in there - it's more "allow the wrong thing to be hard" by letting the horse encounter the boundary and be redirected back into the flow.

One thing this also means is that you have to stay with the horse in the center of the energy and flow, no matter what else is happening, including the horse doing something unexpected or not what you want.  It requires keeping your mind on what you do want, and not focussing on what it is that the horse is doing that is what you don't want - see Mark's article about six degrees of separation.  The moment your attention goes to the thing you don't want, you lose that mental offering of what it is that you do want, from the center of the flow and energy.

This, I think, is the heart of what it means to create a soft place for the horse to find with you, where the horse wants to stay and be - the work that produces this feeling between horse and rider is the release itself.   When you and the horse are together in the soft spot, in the center of the flow and energy, it is possible to lead the horse with your thought and energy and have the horse make the connection - the cues and aids, and even just your physical presence in terms of legs, hand and seat, are then the boundaries which only come into play if the horse leaves the soft spot and itself comes to them.  This I think, is what it means to set it up and allow it to happen, rather than making it happen.

Every time I ride or work with my horses, I'm trying to keep this concept, this feel, this softness, in mind - I want it to be like riding a river.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Red Trots! (Again, and Just a Little)

The last time Red trotted under saddle was September 11, and he'd started to feel not right on September 10.  Before that his rehab had been proceeding well.  When we looked closely, he had some neurological symptoms again, particularly involving the left hind.  Since then, we've been hand walking and walking under saddle, and he's had treatment for another suspected EPM episode - either a new infection or an inflammatory episode linked to having had EPM previously.  I've been doing lots of massage on his left hind, which he seems to enjoy, and his neuro signs are all gone.  The only deficit he still has is some weakness in the left hind, particular when he has to extend it forward while tracking right.  In my massage, I've been paying particular attention to the area of the Achilles tendon bundle above the hock and the set of muscles above it running up next to the tailhead along the back and inside of the hind leg - tightness in this area can restrict forward motion of the leg, and also to the biceps femoralis muscle, which is the big muscle on the side of the hindquarters that has a major role in extending the hind leg forward - he has some slight muscle wasting in this area and I believe this is the muscle area that tires most readily when we work.

The day before yesterday, he was trotting very sound to the left on the lunge, even in the fairly deep new footing of the arena, and still somewhat short-strided with the left hind when trotting right, although very willing to move out - he had some trouble getting that left hind all the way farther forward to make the outside of the arc, but did improve as we lunged and he put more energy into it.  After our walk ride in the afternoon, I was able to lead him down the very steep hill to the pasture and he was able to walk down it without dragging his hind leg, and then we rode out in the pasture for a bit, including up the very steep hill back into the barn.

That was quite a workout for him, and I was interested to see how he'd be yesterday.  His leg looked and felt the same when I groomed - no heat, swelling or tenderness. We mounted up, and went to work at the walk.  The footing at one end of the arena is particularly deep, but we went down there too at the walk.  I worked on having him walking energetically - energy is never much of a problem with Red - and using both hind legs equally, particularly when tracking right.  At the end of our session, we tried a bit of trot - he seemed pretty happy about the whole thing.  For trot, I stayed in the firmer areas of the arena.  We only did a few minutes of trot, on the straight and some half-circles to the left.  He felt very good, although he tired very quickly.

Wednesday, our vet/chiro is coming to evaluate him and also to do another blood draw for a second EPM test, to see if there is any change in the antibody levels.  This is more a matter of curiosity than anything else, as we're already treating him, but if he tests positive it will indicate whether his problems in September were primarily neurological.  The mysteries our horses present us with . . .