Friday, July 29, 2011

"You're right - he IS an asshole"

Look at those damn ears!  He's not pissed - he's playing and having fun trying to dump my ass.

Sparky just spent three days at boot camp, also known as the Greg Best clinic.  The clinic was again held at Three Bears Farm, about 25 minutes from our barn.  After watching Greg work with another young horse at the last clinic, I knew that taking Sparky to this one would be a Very Good Idea.

As those who follow my blog and who have ever talked to me know, Sparky is, ummm, interesting.  He's brave as hell, but will randomly throw hissy fits (consisting of bucking, running out, stopping...) over the most mundane of things.  Having come to a point where pain has pretty well been ruled out, it's time to crack that peanut brain of his.  And Greg was the perfect person to help me do it.

Day One was pretty uneventful.  It became obvious that Sparky has a fairly dramatic right shift over the jumps, so a primary goal was to work towards correcting that.   "This horse will never go left," Greg proclaimed at one point.  Interesting...

Day Two... ahh...  Day Two is the reason I took Sparky to the clinic.  Sparky's alter-ego (*need a good alter-ego name*) was in attendance.  After a very good start and improved straightness in our warm-up fences, it came time to jump a small course.  A small course that included a roll-top.  I'll admit, I didn't ride very well on the approach to the roll-top the first time; I wanted to see what Sparky would do.  And he did pretty much what I thought he might: he ran out to the left.  And upon disciplining and re-presenting, a MAJOR hissy fit ensued.  And the little jerk dumped me on the ground.  Grrrr... So of course, I do what it completely natural, and in front of everyone (proper adults and small children included), I said to my horse, "You ASSHOLE!"

I climbed back aboard the Asshole, and our battle continued.  There were comments of "pretty good moves" and "maybe join the rodeo instead," but eventually Sparky went over the roll-top pretty well.  Following instructions, I patted him for doing well after landing from the roll-top.  We completed the course, and then (again, under instruction), continued and did the course again.  Sparky again jumped the roll-top well, so I patted him again, and we continued on our way.  Apparently, I didn't need to pat Sparky and tell him he was a good boy that second time - "He knows just how good he thinks he is," Greg commented.

The others in the group went, and once it was our turn again, there was again some hesitation about the roll-top, but overall it went pretty well.  Due to a tired horse and rider, that right drift got pretty bad again, but the bigger issue had been addressed.  As we were wrapping up for the day, Greg was talking about how he likes to apply labels to horses, because he thinks it helps us understand them better.  About Sparky he said (AND I QUOTE!), "You're right - he IS an asshole."  I was also told, in no uncertain terms, that one of these days I was going to have "a knock-down, drag-out battle" with Sparky.  Basically, it is all going to come down to respect... which the Sparkplug currently lacks.

Greg is most excellent at figuring out horses... and he nailed Sparky.  Now this is probably really anthropomorphizing, but it's dead-on:  Sparky is pretty much an arrogant jerk who is pretty full of himself.  If he's ever unsure about something, it's almost as though he covers it up with attitude - "Oh, I didn't really want to jump that anyway."  Basically, he's damn smart, and always looking for a way to keep himself entertained.  And this makes me feel a bit better, because that's pretty much the conclusion at which I'd arrived... but I wasn't sure if I was just plain missing something.  Nope, not missing anything.  My horse is an asshole... but damn he's athletic!

And have no fear - more on the clinic will be forthcoming!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Last Day at Age 27

27 has, overall, been a pretty good year for me, but with the end of it, I can't help but consider it to be more along the lines of bittersweet.  There were the highs of a new job and a reserve world championship, but I have some pretty mixed emotions right now.

Star was diagnosed today as having significant arthritic changes in her left knee; up until recently (within the last three weeks), she had never taken an off step a day in her life.  There were a couple of times recently that she seemed to take a bit of a soft step, but it was subtle.  A bit over a week ago, it became much more obvious.  The farrier looked at her first, to determine whether we might be dealing with a bruise or an abcess.  I was hopeful, but I knew in my heart that it was something more.  I know my horse; if she is unsound, something is wrong.

The vet was already scheduled to be at the barn today, so she examined Star, determined the lameness was in the knee, and did x-rays.  The arthritis was pretty apparent; it's clearly not something that has developed in only the past three weeks.  It seems that a teeny fragment of a spur that has formed may have chipped off and irritated the joint capsule, causing the acute lameness.  The vet felt the best course of action would be to inject the knee with steroids (a bit of a stronger one, and more of a less-strong but longer-lasting one) and hyaluronic acid.  Star is to stay in a stall overnight, rest for the next three days, back into light work for five days, and then regular work.  We'll see how it goes.

Because the knee is a more high-motion joint than the hock, the long-term prognosis is not as good as if it were the hock.  The vet thinks that Star should return to complete soundness with the injections and that, with maintenence (as needed), Star should be comfortable to be ridden and compete for another couple years.  The vet also recommended that putting her on either Cosequin or Adequan could help lengthen the amount of time needed between joint injections.

The disease will continue to progress, regardless of the amount of work I have her in or what treatment/therapy I use, so I don't have to feel that I might be making it worse by keeping her going.  Star has been my best buddy for 14 years - half my life! - so I will absolutely do what is best for her.  The minute she tells me she's done competing, she's done; from that point, I will continue to do whatever she needs to be comfortable for daily non-competitive life and beyond.

I'm relieved and grateful that the diagnosis wasn't worse, and honestly, I'm not surprised at what it was.  As soon as I heard that the farrier thought it was her knee, and when she was still unsound a week after she was confirmed unsound, I had a pretty good idea of what was in store for today.  I would be lying though, if I were to say that I wasn't a bit disappointed, though.  Hope springs eternal, I guess.

Part of me, however, is broken-hearted, looking at the long-term picture.  I couldn't care less about any of the implications in terms of competition.  What bothers me is that, while Star is getting older, she's still not an old horse.  It's not unreasonable to think that she'll be with me for another 15 years... but that means that her already-significant arthritis will also be around.  And I hate the idea of what that could mean for her comfort level and quality of life.  It progressed as far as it did with no indication whatsoever that it was even there... Star is so tough and so stoic that I'm a bit terrified of in the future, how much further it will continue to progress and how bad it will get (and therefore how much pain she'll be in) before I have any indication.  I can only imagine how much pain she had to be in now to finally be unsound.  It breaks my heart to think of anything causing my horse pain and negatively affecting her quality of life.

The upside to this, however, is that I will not have to play as much at "ignorance is bliss" regarding her hocks.  Because she hasn't been unsound, I've not had her hocks examined for the effects of wear and tear from jumping.  Now that she will be on either Adequan or Cosequin, that should help any issues that may be bubbling under the surface as far as her hocks are concerned.  In the relatively near future, I will have an actual examination done on her hocks, just so I'm dealing with a known quantity, even though there has been no real indication that there is a problem.

We're likely not going to the Morgan Grand National this year.  The money that had been earmarked for those entries will now be going to the vet.  I would be lying if I said I'm not slightly disappointed, but the long-term well-being of my horse FAR exceeds the importance of going to a horse show.  It does make me even more glad that we did go last year and had an amazing show; it may have been the last time we will go. 

Star is my baby, and she's done so much for me, I can't not do right by her.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nations Cup

It's been a pretty good week or so.  The next couple of times riding Star after "Beg Pardon," I decided to put her in her double bridle.  The idea was that I could ride as much as I wanted on the snaffle, and only pick up the curb if she was blatantly awful.  The advantage of the double over the Pelham is that she doesn't tend to get behind the bit the way she does in the Pelham.

Sparky has been doing really well lately, and we've played a bit at "Nations Cup."  After some joking around last Sunday about whether or not we'd ride each other's horses, I decided it might be interesting to see Kyle ride and jump Sparky.  So about a week ago, when I was riding with Kyle in the ring, after we had both jumped around a little bit, we switched horses.  It was getting dark, so I couldn't see quite as much of what Sparky was doing as I would have liked, but he and Kyle got on pretty well.  After she was done jumping Sparky, she decided that she wanted to see me jump her horse, Guilder (aka, Sparky's best buddy).  I figured why not, and hopped him over a few jumps.  It was a lot of fun, and did help to really illustrate the advantages of riding many different horses, and not always your own.

Thinking about the riding other peoples' horses thing, and thinking about it being good for Sparky to have other people on him, I convinced Honorary Big Sister Jen to swap horses with me on the flat when I unexpectedly got off work early on Friday.  So I flatted Tiki, and she flatted Sparky.  It was amazing to feel how much better Tiki is going now than he was the last time I rode him (oh, about a year and a half ago!).  Honorary Big Sister Jen has done a great job with him.  After flatting, we switched back to our own horses and started doing some jumping.  We had set a gymnastic; Sparky was great!  He didn't stop at a single fence, and eventually went through the gymnastic with the center vertical set at 2'6" and the oxer also set at 2'6" and stretched out pretty nice.  There were a couple of sticky go's as he figured things out, but he always made an honest effort.

On Sunday, I had Kyle ride Sparky again... I wanted to actually be able to *see* what he was doing in the daylight!  It wasn't perfect - there were a few stops - but overall, they did really well; there were a couple of times when Sparky thought, "Maybe not, thanks," after a stop and Kyle gave him a really good ride, letting him know that stopping again was not an option.

Wednesday's ride on Sparky focused mostly on dressage-y flatwork, emphasizing correct bend through the entire body (not just the neck).  We hopped over a couple small jumps, emphasizing "straight."  He did really well; I just need to be consistent in always asking for correct bend.  Going straight is the hardest thing we can ask a horse to do, and unless they can bend correctly, they can't go straight correctly.

The bad news is that Star is off... I rode her a bit on Sunday, thought she might feel a little off on the flat, and it became really obvious when we landed from the coop.  Hoping it was a bruise or abcess, I had the farrier look at her on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, the issue does not appear to be in the foot.  The farrier thought it might be in the knee; the vet will be checking her on Monday.  In the meantime, Star has gone back to 24/7 turnout, with a grazing muzzle if needed.  (Joyce had been putting her in a stall some days to turn her own mares out where Star usually lives.)  It's possible that her off-ness is a byproduct of being stalled, so maybe being out all the time will help.

As a complete aside, the halters with new plates have arrived - they look great!  Kellie is modeling hers in the picture.