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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~

6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Free Radical, Part II

I am sad to say it seems our Sunday Success Stories have faded out. No submissions for three weeks now, so I guess I will sadly say goodbye to them. Oh well, they went well for a couple of months, I tried!

In more exciting news:


Or well, kinda. As of yesterday, Gogo is officially getting turnout! It's only in the medical paddock, which is only 20x20, but hey, it's a start! I did sedate her lightly, just because it would have been stupid for me not to, and let her cook on the treadmill for 25 minutes before declaring her sleepy enough to go into turnout. She munched her hay, walked from her haypile back to the waterbucket (she always slurps the entire bucket down in turnout, every single time without fail), walked back to the haypile like a drunken sailor, swatted a front foot at the horse next to her, and went back to eating hay. She was only out for a little over an hour, but she came to stand by the gate near the end and nickered to me when I went to get her. Even with her hay and water and flysheet and flymask and flyspray... she was ready to come in. Damn finicky girls.

She was perfect. Perfect! She followed up her amazing turnout behavior by giving me one last amazing bareback hack around the property. My tall boots are getting repaired AGAIN for the 492175069th time, but I was happy to 'settle' for just a hack. We even trotted on the grass for about 10 steps, and I can honestly say she's never felt so strong and even behind.

Today, back to something resembling an actual dressage ride. Nothing complicated, nothing intense, but I will start to focus my energies on quality versus time, and will start to gently use transitions again to get there. Instead of going for a nonstop 20 minutes of trot, we will do some walk-trot transitions, some circles, some big serpentines... things her legs are strong enough to handle at this point without pushing it too far. It's all a very delicate balance, and it's an art trying to perfect that.

And on Wednesday.... our first 'jump' school, where she will be trotting a pole on the ground. Trotting a pole!!!!!!

I never thought there would be a day when I would be that excited to trot one pole on the ground. It's the simple things in life that make me feel the best, that's for sure.

Her feet are looking great (thanks to Keratex, which I will write about later), her body is getting stronger every day, and September is looking very promising. The leaves are starting to change around here, and I have a feeling we are going to have a magnificent New England fall. Fall is by far my favorite season, and I can't wait to get off the property and go for an autumn trail ride. Soon, so soon!!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bareback Hacks and In-Hand Attacks!

As planned, I have spent the past week hacking out around the property at a walk, slowly and gradually introducing different footing and little hills now that Gogo's legs are strong enough to do so. To add a little flavor to the mix, I've ridden every single day bareback. Her first time out of the arena... and I'm going bareback? And... I'm not using Ace anymore?

You heard right!

What is this world coming to??

I am actually not surprised by this fact at all, but all it seems my little princess needed in order to keep four on the floor was to do something different besides ride round and round in an arena every day. Gogo is not, nor has she ever been, an indoor horse. Every year around March or so, after two or three months of indoor riding, Gogo boycotts the whole idea and pitches royal fits until we go to ride outside again. This seems to now have transferred to the outdoor too, for the time being. I think she's honestly just sick and tired of the same old boring rehab routine, and I really can't say that I blame her. I am too! I have to say though, Gogo is the only horse I've ever met that does NOT enjoy a set routine. She is better and more relaxed at shows when everything is new and fresh, gets surly if we do the same thing too many days in a row, and goes like ears-pricked gangbusters the moment I shake up her routine a little bit. I guess she is just weird.

We were both a little weary after months of rehab work. Now that we've been cleared to start gradually returning to regular work, it's time for a little fun. The plan was to start riding around the farm property a little bit every day this week, introducing different footings in five-minute increments every day. Monday was 10 minutes, Tuesday 15, Wednesday 20, etc, all the way to Saturday which is supposed to be 35. This is all at the walk, and for added fun, all bareback. For all I've needed to Ace her every ride for the last three months, I knew that once we left the arena, she'd be fine, even without tack. And I wasn't dissapointed. Gogo's has her attitude cranked up to 11, and not only has she been nonstop bright-eyed and cheerful all day long in her stall, she's also had a horrible snotty attitude in the grooming stall, demanding my attention non-stop and lording over her space like it is her kingdom. One moment, she is doe-eyed for my boss' 6 year-old boy who loves to pet her and brush her, standing perfectly still with her head low for him to kiss her nose. The next, she is lunging at passing horses while standing in the crossties, puffing herself out in all directions as if to say, "back OFF, this is MY grooming stall and MY pampering time!" She won't do this if I am standing there with her, but god forbid if I have moved away to momentarily attend to something else. Then she is dancing, snarling at the other horses, and swatting a front foot at the errant barn cat who mistakenly wandered too close. She normally loves cats, but yes, she did in fact pitch a right fit when I went from brushing her to bending over to pet the barn cat for a moment. Suddenly, I saw flying front hooves as she barged forward, ears pinned and steam shooting out her ears. My god! Take it easy your Highness! I will return to dote on you momentarily! (This is why we work on manners so very often. I have a feeling if I let her get away with things, it might turn ugly pretty quickly.)

I've written about it plenty of times before - we know she gets a wicked big ego and a 'tude when she's feeling great, so secretly I love it. When she's sweet and loving, something is wrong. When you can practically taste her hugely inflated self-opinion when you walk in the barn, all is right in the world.

Hacking out bareback has been the ridiculously fun part. It's not all been games and fun this week though. Bettina showed up early for a different lesson on Monday, and came to seek me out, saying, "I thought you might like to work on your mare some more, so I came early!" No freaking way. I need to go buy her a nice bottle of wine! She showed me a few more exercises, namely using both reins to move Gogo in a square. At the end of the square when I go to turn her, she is to do something akin to a turn on the forehand, rotating her hindquarters out to the new edge of the square. This is very difficult to do... I am having a hard time figuring out how to hold both reins and the whip so as not to confuse her! The lesson went well, and we continued to work on moving her laterally back and forth, stretching down and sideways at the same time. I still left the lesson feeling a little confused, as there is so much to absorb and my brain just doesn't work that fact. I want to strengthen and supple her on the ground as much as I safely can, so as per Bettina's instruction, I decided in addition to my bareback hacking, I would add in-hand work before riding every other day.

WELL. Wednesday wasn't really our day for in-hand stuff, even though I did my best. I really just think we're both still a little too green at this to do anything more complicated than the simplest of exercises that Bettina showed me, because Gogo pitched a right fit and bucked when I rapped her a little too hard with my whip on her haunches. I never see Bettina's horses confused, and I never see her get after them aggressively, and here I was both simultaneously confusing my horse and accidentally using my whip too much, which I am sure she percieved as an aggressive move on my part. I went back and did the most basic of lateral movements, which she is understanding well (and I am also understanding well), then did a little more regular groundwork with her on top of it. This seemed to put her head back in a good place, and I went ahead and hopped on bareback afterwards for our hack. Interestingly enough, when walking up tiny hills, her back rounded up so amazingly that it felt like I was literally sitting on top of a barrel. Her spine dissapeared underneath all that muscle! I've never felt that with her bareback before, ever. Perhaps related to the groundwork? Maybe! The next day when I hacked without the groundwork, it felt similar while going up the same tiny hill but not quite as startlingly amazing. Yesterday, when I went back to do more in-hand work, I made a serious effort to make sure I was as clear as possible, and we were both thankfully much better. There is so much to be learned - I clearly need more work with Bettina! And once again, I felt her back really LIFT and carry me up little inclines, and down them as well. She marched around the farm like there was no tomorrow, feeling very confident after actually making sense of the in-hand work we did.

We also tackled the little bridge for the first time yesterday. She didn't want to go near it at first, but when I got off and led her over it, she followed right away the first time. When I hopped back on, she proceeded to walk confidfently back and forth over it twice, as if to say, "psh, I knew it wasn't a bit deal."

It's been such a fun week. And on top of all of that, her legs are ice cold and beautiful every morning, even without wraps. That's what I like to see!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Photo Adventure Fridays

This week's Photo Adventure....

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA.
Who doesn't want to explore a lovely city?

(PS - My honey is finally fully moved in. Hooray!! More time for blogging! ;) )

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bettina Drummond Clinic 8/21/10

I had the opportunity last weekend to participate in a clinic at our farm with Bettina Drummond, a classical dressage rider and trainer who follows the French method of training, the primary goal of which is to obtain ultimate lightness, balance and harmony between horse and rider. She studied under Nuno Oliveira for 17 years, and is considered internationally as an expert on in-hand work. Through some miracle of workings, she is based very close to our farm, and is there quite often during the week, bringing horses to us on and off for work in the indoor during the winter (and the occasional sale horse she wants my boss to jump during the summer!). Since the entire time I've been at the farm, Gogo has not been able to participate in a lesson with her (which I so desperately wanted to do), but she had been at the farm quite a lot recently working with Coco, one of my boss' horses who came to us with serious mystery tightness and lameness. The work in hand she has done with him in just a few weeks has had a totally transforming effect on him, so when Gogo got the go-ahead from Dr. C to gently proceed into full work again, I jumped at the chance to do an in-hand session too.

I'll be honest - when I first met Bettina, she scared me to death. Around here, Bettina's word is law. Those of you in the area will all agree with me when I say she has more knowledge and understanding of the horse in her pinky finger than probably all of us reading this right now combined, and that knowledge is palpable when she walks into a room. She commands respect, and she reads people like she reads horses. I felt like a child when I first met her and I was starting my big new scary job - she could see right through me! And she wasn't about to take anybody's crap either. She has a way with stallions like I've never seen, and let me tell you her studs don't even put an ear towards a squatting, peeing mare when she is working with them. Over time, I seem to have somehow earned her respect and friendship, even though I still don't understand quite how it happened. I guess with all her intuition she can see that I'm still just a kid learning the ropes of life, genuine in my efforts to do the very best job that I can, and I think that's a respectable thing.

The work we've been doing with Coco over the past few weeks started with a bopper. That's right, a crop with a round plastic-covered foam ball on the end of it, about the size of a ping-poing ball. A bopper! We bopped him all over his body, tapping all his major groups of muscles with the rhythm of a metronome, searching for weaknesses. The point of this, Bettina explained to me, was that horses with serious physical or mental damage (and people, for that matter) stop linking their right and left brains when severely traumatized. Even just by tapping the forehead on either side back and forth, the neurons will start to correctly fire back and forth, cross-linking back to their original function. Apparently dissections have also been done with horses who have had serious hind-end or back trauma, and you can inject joints, rest them, or do whatever else you want, but those horses will go lame again if they go back to work because their muscles atrophy and fail - they're not getting the proper signals from the brain. This method is similar to Endo-tapping I believe, but I don't think they're quite the same thing. When bopping Coco, we discovered how seriously fidgety he was on certain spots of his body, and that when he'd relax, one ear would start swinging in time to the bopping, the ear on the same side of the body. Over time, he stopped being so reactive to those spots as he started to reconnect and heal, and both ears would start swinging together - both sides were firing together again. Bop your mare, Bettina told me. See what you find.

Bop, bop, bop. Gogo's immediate reaction in her stall without a halter was to look at me curiously, then literally swing her butt at me when I bopped her in front of her withers, which was simultaneously not surprising but also not acceptable and not something she's ever really done before (save for one outstanding time). On went the halter, on went the bopping. She showed definite sensitivity where her neck connects to her withers on both sides, which is exactly where she holds all her tension. The second time I bopped her, she was much better about that area, but she showed more sensitivity over her back. Interesting! I plan on continuing to bop her in more of the Endo-tapping way, to encourage relaxation. You never know what it might continue to show, and it might be a first warning method for something brewing.

For the clinic, no bopping was done. Instead, we outfitted Gogo in her bridle, polos and bells, and did a series of small bits of lateral work. Bettina was quick to point out the fact that her right shoulder (specifically how she moves her elbow) is a point of weakness, and she would rather back away from whip tapping than move the elbow sideways. Using the whip and one hand on the reins right below the bit, I moved Gogo down the rail laterally in both directions, trying to achieve an even crossover and a quiet lateral response to the whip.

We also played around a little bit with holding both reins, one in each hand, and doing shoulder-in and haunches-in down the rail, switching back around to bend the horse left and right while going forward. It was impossibly hard to understand and extremely difficult to handle two reins and a whip and a slightly confused mare while walking backwards, but every time we were both confused, Bettina had me stretch her and walk her forward to diffuse the potential brewing bomb.

It was hard! I know I will need lots of practice at it. But the entire point of it is to achieve balance on both sides of her body while simultaneously strengthening her hind end while ALSO simultaneously working her kinks out for future under saddle work, so it's worth it to learn and understand. Amazingly, after our session, Bettina offered it to me for nothing, thanking me for all I had done for her. I couldn't believe it! The clients all spent the day remarking on how beautiful the facility looked, all our guests raved about what a nice establishment I had running, my boss thanked me for all my hard work, and Bettina's gracious offer on top of all of that was the icing on the cake. It was such a good day!

And of course, since it was high time for it, even though it was a cloudy day we took the opportunity to get our Seasonal Conformation Shots since she was so clean. She looks GREAT!

I like how she is standing like a total goof in the last shot. Compare to June. Even her expression is better. She doesn't look as amazingly sexy as she did last October, when she was still racing fit, but you know. She'll get there, someday!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rest in Peace Vista

RIP Vista.

Good old Vista went to sleep this morning after it was discovered that he had bleeding in his abdomen from an undetermined source. The vets suspected ehrlichia, but a belly tap and an ultrasound unfortunately proved otherwise. He was 24 this year and not in great shape - kind of lame, kind of saggy - but he was a super trooper and shlepped his bouncing father around four days a week without fail for the last 14 years. Ted is by far the oldest horse owner and rider I know, and at 86 was still riding actively and making everyone laugh with his ridiculously cheesy humor. The two of them entered the Century club together, one of Ted's proudest moments. Ted's daughter bred Vista, so Ted had known him his entire life. Vista religiously woke me every morning at my last job and home with nonstop screaming for his breakfast as soon as it was light out, and religiously screaming for every subsequent haying, and for his turnout, and for his father, who would come into the barn with an enthusiastic "Vista my boy!" every time without fail.

I love my job, but that job was more like a home and family to me. I miss all of them and it means a lot to me to still be included in everything that goes on over there. They're not far away, so I can and do go visit when I can. I haven't been over there since Lynnie though. Strangely enough, when I was searching for a nice pair of khaki pants to wear to the Bettina clinic, all I could find were the pants Lynnie gave me last summer, so I wore those.

They really are my family. I miss them. And I'll miss Vista.

Busy Bees!

I apologize for my lack of posts - have been helping Chris move so I've not been home much! - but I have plenty to write about Bettina's clinic, hacks, and of course, SEASONAL GLAMOR SHOTS:

Even though early November appears to have come early this year and it's been cloudy, rainy and freezing cold for days, which does not make for a good picture. Does she not look SEXY?

More later!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Photo Adventure Fridays

Today's Photo Adventure...

Río Tárcoles, Carara National Park, Costa Rica.
Pretty sure I never, ever want to get ANY closer than this to gigundo cocodrilos. Ever. Again. But it was amazing to be sure. And kind of scary.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's the hurry?

You know, I woke up this morning and found myself thinking about all my specific daily plans for my horse, and how all of a sudden it just seems like a LOT to be doing every day at this point. 15 minutes of canter gets easier every day, but lord have mercy, it's still 15 MINUTES OF NONSTOP CANTER for god's sake. No mere mortal is capable of this. (I mean, we all know Gogo has some Pegasus blood in her, but still.) The prospect of 20 entire minutes of canter loomed over me in the form of next week's forecast, and I found myself thinking, now really... what is my big hurry?

On Tuesday, Gogo felt fabulous. Her tendency to be stiff as a board left and Gumby horse to the right seemed far less dramatic, and I actually got some outstanding moments out of her. We did our scheduled 10 minutes of canter, and I even took exactly 2.5 minutes of my warmup time to hack her once around the barn before we began our work - success! First, um, 'hack,' kinda! I mean, not officially... but everyone had to start somewhere. Yesterday, however, while she felt just as sound as ever, her general inability to produce a consistent left bend without some serious dressage work had returned, and she gave me some crabby head-tossing whenever I took a little too much on the left rein and did not add enough supporting left leg. To me, that screams "I am TIRED! This work is HARD!" The last thing I want at this point is a tired horse, because tired horses have tired muscles, and tired muscles dump their share of support onto tendons and ligaments. Fatigue is a huge cause of athletic injury, or reinjury in this case, and I am not about to take that chance. She's been using her good dressage muscles quite a lot over the past few months, and while this had given her a significant muscle boost (yes, even the Ewe-Necked Wonder can have something resembling muscling over her topline!), now that we are cantering she is using her muscles twice as hard. 15 minutes of canter made her feel like she had jelly-legs by the end of it all, and she was clearly a little tired.

Today, I considered giving her the day off, but thought long and hard about it after seeing just how bright and perky she was (and how nice the legs looked), and decided to come up with a new plan for the day - ride in jump tack, and do everything on the buckle so long as she is quiet and balanced. She completely surprised me by being totally relaxed and lazy about the whole ordeal, bebopping along in the trot with her ears pricked and her head low, despite the fact that it took some encouragement to get her to go at a speed somewhere beyond western pleasure jog. Despite all her freshness, when she's under zero pressure she really is quite lazy! We had a total blast during our canterwork, Gogo loping along completely on the buckle, stretching down to find the contact (she stretches in the canter?? That is new!!), me chit-chatting with the other boarders riding while we loped around and around the ring. Nose practically in the dirt as we were finishing our final trotwork, Gogo felt sort of like she had legs of lead, but she was clearly pleased with herself even if she was still tired. We even hacked a little outside of the arena again once we were cooling out, and I wished I had brought my camera... it was so gorgeous out. Obligatory day off for Gogo tomorrow, though. She needs it.

At this point, the level of work we are doing is clearly a lot. When we were just trotting, so long as the legs were good it was easy to get on 6 days a week and keep pushing just a little bit more every day. Now that we are cantering and the rehab as far as technical tendon structure is essentially complete, I find myself going wow... what is the point of cantering for 15 minutes around the rail of an arena? All I want to do this fall is just be able to trail ride. That's it! No shows, no AHHA approvals, no nothing. Just trail ride! And maybe hilltop if she's ready. And maybe hack on the beach. But that all sort of falls under the same broad umbrella category of 'trail ride.' That's all I want to do! In reality, wearing her out in an arena is a very silly thing to do. I know she can stay sound under this large workload, and that's great! But now it's time to make a change in the routine.

What I want to do is this: give her tomorrow off, work in hand in the clinic on Saturday, give her Sunday off. Next week.... little tiny hacks outside the arena all week, just at the walk. That's it! No trot, no canter. Just letting her to relax and enjoy herself outside of the ring, even if it's just for 15 or 20 minutes a day. That will bring us to September, and to a new schedule. It is time to very carefully start splitting up our weekly workload instead of just do rehab/therapy w/t/c work in an arena 6 days a week. I am hoping to do one day of just in-hand work (instead of our typical going-into-winter lunge session once a week), one day of exclusive hacking out at the walk (maybe adding trot somewhere?), one day of 'jumping' (trotting over poles, cantering over poles, eventually starting to actually jump again!), and two or three days of light dressage. It will all be baby stuff at firs, but this way her muscles will have a chance to do varied activity and have some active/passive recovery time, and we will both not be bored out of our skulls as we enter the fall season. Who is excited for September? I am!

And I can't wait to do THIS again:

((Remember, always wear your HELMET!!!!))

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Feel Good, Inc.



Today, my roommate and I both brought our horses up to see Dr. C, a lameness exam in store for her dude and what I hoped was our final ultrasound for my beastie. We pulled Hootie off the trailer first and did the first part of his lameness, and then took Gogo off the trailer to watch her jog. "Look how even she is!" Dr. C exclaimed. And much to my delight, the ultrasounds were found to be, and I quote, "fantastic." There was some small fill in the legs, which isn't surprising in the slightest, but we figured that as long as I am proactive about it - wrapping after hard workouts, keeping a close eye on it, etc. - I won't have to worry about it. Actually, the legs looked quite good today, possibly better than they had all week. The more she canters, the more the legs seem to be adjusting and settling down. She is up to ten whole minutes of canter, so that is pretty impressive in and of itself. I asked Dr. C about me remaining bit of Adequan, which she said was good to give however I wanted (will probably do one today, one in two weeks, and the final two weeks from that), but she also gave me a bottle of a generic glucosamine injectable. It's NOT generic Adequan - there is no such thing - but she said she's had some great successes with it. She gave some to Hootie too. It is far, far cheaper than Adequan - $100 for 10 doses versus $350 for 10 doses of Adequan - and probably the worst thing that can happen is it just doesn't do anything. We'll give it a try, why the hell not!

The plan is to continue building up over the next two weeks (or four, depending on how she feels) to 20 minutes of canter, which is a freaking ridiculous amount! That will bring our ride time totals to 1:30. The plan is that at the end of the canter build-up, which is hopefully at the end of this month, we will start to turn her out carefully in the medical turnout, graduating her to a bigger paddock every month. She won't see the grass turnouts this year, but that's all right. Her round belly shall live to see another day! With luck, in December I might be able to put her out with a group of mares. Winter turnouts are hard at our facility, limited to our small all-weather pens - unless you have a group. Groups go out in a very large all-weather down below the far barn. So we will see.
We also have clearance to start venturing outside of the arena again! It will be tiny little hacks to start, maybe ten minutes around the barn and up and down the tiniest of hills as we warm up and cool down from our dressage rides, but hopefully soon we can start tackling some little hills, and I definitely plan on taking her off property in October for some trail riding. In September, I plan on adding incline to her daily treadmill as well.
The final part? WE CAN START TO JUMP SOON! Once again, I plan on starting this once our canterwork is fully established, hopefully at the end of this month. It won't be much, just wee tiny crossrails to start, but considering that it will have been a whole YEAR since we jumped anything, I am sure it will feel like the Puissance wall. I haven't jumped anything myself since the Jeff Cook clinic in May, and let's face it - those crossrails were so small they hardly could count as jumping. So I have some rusky skillz to work on!

I AM SO EXCITED! We still need to proceed with extreme caution, and I will definitely be taking it gently over the next few months, but we essentially have been totally cleared for full work again, once we build up to it. I'll be laying out a better schedule today, and will keep you posted as to what my plans are going to be. I don't think I will end up doing Holsteiner approvals this year, as I doubt she will be ready in October to be turned loose in an arena to go galloping around like a maniac yet. No sense in risking those legs for something frivolous like that, right? It is so not worth it at this point. There is always next year - I already have all the paperwork set to go!

As for me, I obviously experienced some personal setbacks when my hip exploded two weeks ago, so I won't be ready for my little road race. I actually think this may be a blessing in disguise though, as when I looked to see what other local races were around, I found a serious of late-running 5k trail races, which are much more appealing to me than boring old road races. I always deliberately run off-road whenever I can, seeing as it feels so much better on my feel and legs. Plus I feel like Pocahontas when I run on the grass with my Avatar shoes. I love it!

Gogo says, LET'S DO THIS!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


No Sunday Success Story today - we don't have one for this week, so send in your submissions for next week!!!!!!!!!!!!! - instead I offer you this delicious tidbit:

Canterwork 8/14/10:

I'm amazed the video came out as well as it did. She rode like a ton of bricks to the left today, I had no arm left! You can see her serious body stiffness through her left canter, which is approaching lateral it's so tight. But I'm not worried. She has such a naturally nice canter that it won't be long until she gets stronger and softens up a little. She needs time to build her strength.
And actually, after this video was taken and I continued on with the remainder of my 10 minutes of canterwork, she gave me some AMAZING stuff, especially left! Her walk and trot work post-canter were some of the best she's had since her layup, and maybe ever! I'm bummed that we missed that part on video!

And I have some serious equitation to work on. When she relaxed, I relaxed, but still... kind of mutually exclusive, don't you think?

Looking ahead, we have what I am hoping will be our FINAL ultrasound on Monday, and an in-hand/therapy session with Bettina Drummond next week Saturday. Those of you in the area know how amazing Bettina is - she is a wealth of knowledge and is a regular at our barn, and is helping the working student and I play around with one of my boss' horses who was imported with major trauma and just can't seem to get over it, just as a fun favor to my boss. It's such good stuff that I figured I would be stupid NOT to do a session with Gogo! It's very interesting the type of 'therapy' she does, involving tapping the horse all over with a little plastic bopper... you'll need a video, I can't possibly describe it!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Photo Adventure Fridays

This week's Photo Adventure...

Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, Colorado.
One of our stops on our drive to California in 2006. Both my traveling companion and I suffered some ill-effects from the change in altitude, but while I rested and hydrated, he insisted that we hike and 'work out' and refused to listen when I said he really needed to acclimate first, and he of course got very sick. Dumbass. We drove all the way across the top of one of the mountains above the tree line (in the alpine tundra, 11,500 feet above sea level!), came awfully close to getting chased by elk, and saw some amazing sights. It was so gorgeous.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hooves of Steel: The Barefoot Journey, Part III (Gogo's Rehab)

((Continued from Part I and Part II!))

New Zealand! Nicole and I had a five-month adventure I'll never forget. We saw all 14 of the country's national parks, logged an amazing number of kilometers tramping on the trail, and even picked up a little knowledge at the university we attended (a nice side effect... everyone knows you don't do a study abroad tour for the STUDY). Despite the amazing time I was having, I couldn't keep my growing sense of malaise at bay. Why wasn't I getting updates on Gogo? How was she doing? Was she progressing the way I had hoped? I had left a very detailed booklet for the trainer concerning Gogo's health, habits, and training issues, and had asked specifically for mostly dressage work with a once-a-week jumping session, as I didn't want to push her young hocks too hard. Was this actually happening? I didn't know. My mother in Michigan talked to the trainer only once, and reported back to me only one thing: that she was "learning not to be a princess." What exactly did that mean?

My concern and frustration finally reached a breaking point three-quarters of my way through the semester, and I found myself calling the trainer from a New Zealand payphone, desperate for information. Nothing I heard settled my nerves - I was told she was stupid, bull-headed, difficult, and had no work ethic. Not only was that slightly offensive to me, it didn't sound like my mare at all. Stubburn and bull-headed, sure. But stupid? No work ethic? That wasn't her. While I was on the phone with her, she told me that Gogo was standing right then on the crosstie, eyes half closed and ears drooping. That also didn't sound like my mare, who always stands on the crossties with bright eyes and an alert expression, surveying her minions and kingdom with nonstop vigilence. My uneasy feeling only worsened when the trimmer working on her contact my mother. The only thing she had to say was that she sincerely hoped I was coming home soon. What was going on? Was something bad happening? Was I overreacting? I didn't know. But by the time my journey abroad was over, I was desperate to get home to my girl.

Pulling into the farm, I couldn't help but wonder if something had changed for this woman over the winter. All the horses I saw were thin and dull, and as I approached Gogo's stall, my heart stopped. Where was the mare that always came to the door whenever she heard my voice? Peering into the dark stall, my stomach bottomed out as I caught sight of a dirty, skinny mess, head low and in the corner, completely ignoring my existance. She didn't even move when I went in to pet her. It was as if she had retreated somewhere far inside herself, mentally and emotionally shut off from the entire world in self-defense. I watched the trainer work with her, and was horrified with what I saw. Why was she lunging her in a tiny, tight circle in tight sidereins in a rutted piece of field? Why was my horse looking so panicked under saddle? When I sat on her myself, she felt like a trainwreck, and all I wanted to do was get off and take her away as fast as possible. Our plan had been to stay and ride her with the trainer and additional day, but we cut our time short and rocketed out of there as fast as we possibly could. The mental damage she had sustained was immediately apparent - we stopped at my parents' house in Michigan to make sure I had everything for the journey back to Ohio, and we unloaded her to fix a wrap she had pulled down. I tapped her lightly on the butt with the back of my hand when she pulled her leg away from me, and she completely panicked at the prospect of being struck, bolting away from me with terror in her rolling eyes. Underneath the noseband of her halter, she had swelling, white hairs and scarring - she had been endlessly shanked with a chain until it caused actual physical damage. We took a few pictures of her in the driveway, completely horrified with her zombie demeanor, filthy and dull coat, 11-inch long mane, and skinny body:

BUT, we found that somewhere under the mess, she still had her super brain!:

That and her lovely tail. Thank god for small miracles.

Back in Ohio, we began rehabbing her mind, body, soul, and feet. As much high quality hay as we could give her, switching back to Gro N' Win, and proper turnout all helped her body to heal. Lots of trail riding, fun hacking, gallops and jumping helped to settle her when she retreated inside herself, turning into a glossy-eyed zombie whenever she mentally checked out. If anything became too overwhelming, however, she would absolutely explode with little warning, as evidenced by her first week back with me. I learned just how much contact on the reins terrified her when she tossed me twice in the first week I had her back, once into a ditch and the other into a fence.

And her poor feet! Improper care + improper turnout in a muddy pit sometimes possibly + poor nutrition + not the most competent trimmer = bad news. Her poor feet were wonked out beyond all comprehension, but Sherry, my trimmer, was not too worried. "They'll come around," she said. "You'll see." Once I began feeding her properly again, you could see a change in her horn quality as it came down. Big pieces of her unhealthy foot chipped away to reveal a beautiful hoof underneath. Her sole glossed over, her chips and cracks vanished within a few trims, and her frogs - one of which exfoliated its ENTIRE self in ONE go, which terrified but amazed me when I saw the brand new and perfect frog underneath the old tatters - lost all their shreds and turned into dinosaur hide once again. I spent a lot of time soaking her feet with White Lightening, and celebrating in the fact that she still had a good head on her shoulders, as evidenced by her perfect behavior during her soaks:

She was such an angel. You know, when she wasn't trying to rear/kill me/buck me off/break the crossties/break her halter/freak out/shut down. But I felt very strongly as if this was entirely my fault, as though I could have prevented the whole ordeal by just putting her in training with someone else. Obviously, I could have never know this was going to happen, but I owed it to her to make things right.

And she transformed.....

Six months later, Gogo was a gleaming picture of health. Her feet were back to normal, her body was back to health and life, and her brain was... well, it was getting there. She had her kooky moments though, most notably when I tried to give her a five week vacation at my ex's barn. She had NONE of that, and alternated spending her time between removing halters from hooks and placing them on buckets (several times, with perfect aim), pulling every blanket she could reach into her stall with her, breaking her gate latch AND lifting her gate off the hinges after we fixed the gate latch to sneak into the grain area (where only people could fit) to open the LATCHED GARBAGE CANS and gorge herself on grain AND pull the garbage cans back out into the aisle with her (people can barely fit through this hallway, she would have had to drag them all backwards with her!), and let herself out into the pasture, where she would resist capture until she felt like coming back in. On top of all that, she aimed a well-placed kick at her girlfriend Polly through the stall wall, and sliced off an enormous chunk of her hoof - it was seriously huge! Even though she had a fat leg and some big cuts on her hock, she amazingly stayed sound through the whole ordeal. This has so far, knock on wood, been my only real hoof issue I've had with her. Within a couple of months, the damage had completely grown out, and it never caused her to miss a single day of work.

With her feet and body back in the right place, I aimed my sights on the 2008 AECs as the clock rolled over to the new year. She had shown me that she was tough as nails, and I knew her body was up to the task. But how would her feet handle eventing?

((To be continued!!))

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mush Brain

Ever wonder if secretly in the night, aliens come into your room and sometimes replace your brain with tapioca pudding? That's kind of how I felt yesterday.

((Right: The big rig.)) In all seriousness, I am very worn out from my recent hip issue and the subsequent heavy doses of Naproxen and Vicoden I've been on in order to keep it all at bay. I was feeling much better, but had to drive to Vermont yesterday in a small car to pick up the big rig and four horses from the Vermont Summer Festival, and sitting in a car for a long time aggravates the issue. Not only did I have achey hips on the journey, but I also was driving a strange car I knew nothing about, had to leave at 6am, almost ran out of gas, was nearly an hour and a half late upon arrival, killed my cell, was totally panicked about my lateness AND didn't realize at one point that I was speeding because of this and subsequently got pulled over and was given a COURT SUMMONS because I couldn't find the insurance and registration on the vehicle and was going fast enough to be considered reckless (anything over 85 in the entire state of CT is "reckless driving" and the cops in Torrington HATE that). To add insult to injury, our working student gave me a burrito for the road that gave me the worst heartburn of my LIFE. I seriously wanted to DIE. My poor groom was so exhausted that he passed out for the entire four hour drive back to the barn, so it was on me when I realized an hour into the drive that the working student (following us in the small car that I drove up to VT) had forgotten my boss' Yorkie at the showgrounds!! She had to go all the way back to get him. As for me, I had no music and no phone for the entire four hour drive home, and three squealing mares, one poor gelding, and one snoring groom to deal with all the way back. Summary of this story: 6am + stranger's small Subaru + no gas + no gas stations open at 6am in small town + this making me VERY late + speeding + pulled over & given court summons + getting to showgrounds late + four tired horses, three trunks, three saddles, 8 bridles, and god knows what else to be loaded into trailer + burrito of death + major stomachache + four hour trailer ride home with no music, no battery on phone, squealing mares and snoring groom = not the best day of my life.

Needless to say, I did NOT ride when I got home.

That being said, Gogo and I have indeed survived our first week of canterwork, and are neither crippled nor dead! YAY! I am in ultra-paranoia mode, seeing as cantering is where it all went to poopoo last time, but so far, we are ok. In typical fashion, as soon as our canterwork started, the legs all began to fill in the mornings. Of course, right? There's nothing alarming about the fill at this point. It's a little funny looking, but not ugly like it was in the spring when something was really wrong. The right is vaguely warmer every day than the left, which is usually filled and pretty cold, but not hot by any stretch. Both front legs are the same temperature, and are warmer than the left hind but cooler than the right hind. It's kind of weird. The fronts have some fill to them as well, which is why I'm not too worried about it. It is August and the humidity is disgusting. All the horses in the barn who are prone to it have some level of fill in their legs. I'm still keeping a wary eye on it, and am jogging her pretty much daily, just to make sure. Whenever she jogs out, the fill dissapears, which is a really good sign. And she looks really, really, really good when she jogs out - the most important thing.

Last week's schedule went something like this:
Monday and Tuesday: 20 minutes of loose rein walk in straight lines, walking over ground poles. 15 minutes of walk on contact, 30 meter circles and a few small leg yields. 15 minutes of trot in straight lines. During trotwork, Monday: one long side of canter on each lead (actually, more like 1.5 going left on accident... picked up wrong lead!). Tuesday: two long sides canter on each lead. Cooldown: 5 minutes on contact work, 10 minutes loose rein, straight lines.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: 20 minutes of loose rein walk in straight lines, walking over ground poles. 15 minutes of walk on contact, 30 meter circles and a few small leg yields. 20 minutes of trot in straight lines. During trotwork, Monday: canter one whole time around arena on each leads. Tuesday: canter two times around area on each lead. Friday: instead of during trotwork, add time additionally to trotwork... canter three times around arena on each lead. Cooldown: 5 minutes on contact work, 10 minutes loose rein, straight lines.

I made the very bad mistake of not drugging her on Friday. Three months into the riding portion of rehab, we've come so far that I'm not comfortable weaning her off her 1/4cc of Ace just yet for fear that she's going to do something incredbly stupid and reinjure herself. She had been SO quiet for weeks though that I thought she'd be all right now that she's cantering and getting her energy out, and opted to go without for a day. I was wrong! She was okay during our walk work, and then we moved into the trot.... and the head started to come up... and the snatching at the bit began..... and the teeth gnashing and eyerolling..... and the snorting and prancing..... and the bucking, taking off, and leaping with all four feet off the ground......! Hmmmmm. Oddly enough, I still managed to cross myself and pick up the canter, and she was outstanding in both directions, despite being a little bit more forward than usual. The resulting trot and walk work was also excellent. Needless to say though, I am still going to continue my light sedation routine. I just can't risk it at this point. She's just a little too fresh and we've come so far!

Today, our ride went like this: 20 minutes loose rein walk on straight lines, walk poles. 15 minutes walk on contact, circles and a few shallow leg yields. 20 minutes trot on straight lines. 5-6 minutes canter - 4 times around arena on each lead. Cooldown: 5 minutes walk on contact, 10 minutes loose rein walk on straight lines. She was still kind of obnoxious during her trotwork, occasionally throwing her head straight up in the air in that special way that she does, and I asked the working student to watch her trot in case she was acting out because she was hurting. She said nope, she looked just fine. And she FELT just fine too... I am just such a nervous wreck over the idea that something could go wrong at any moment during this whole rehab nonsense that I can't help but worry. Any little thing might mean something bad, and I can't ignore anything. She continued to feel better and better as we went along, settling into a nice rhythm and quieting down, and we bumped up into canter. She felt great! We went four times around the entire arena on each lead, and even though she thought about fussing for a moment going to the right, she settled into a super canter, even better than the left, straight and strong. When we were cooling out, I still had my mind on her fussiness, and figured I should really get a better look at her from the ground in case I could see something subtle going on. One can't be too careful. I hesitantly broke out the lunge line, and sent her out going left first - all looked good, but I expected it to. If there was going to be anything subtle, it was going to be to the right. I turned her around, sent her out, and she EXPLODED! Thankfully, her bit of gaga rush canter was shortlived, and she settled into a forward trot. Oh my god... she looked AMAZING! Absolutely stunning. I've never seen her so good and loose going to the right.
A hose-off, 20 minutes of grass, 30 minutes of ice, and two trimmed hinds later, the legs were icy cold and staying that way. I wrapped her anyway, just to see if that might help the excess edema in the morning, but I came away from the evening feeling much better than I had all week.

Also, the Princess got ANOTHER new halter.... I need to do another post covering Four Years of Ridiculous Halters.

Amazing. Nameplate and all.... it says Gogo Fatale in large letters with a smaller "Gogo" underneath it, and it also had two rearing horses on either side of the name.... true to form!

One final note: the Millbrook H.T. was last weekend, and I managed to score a Saturday off so we could watch the Advanced XC! Katherine at Grey Brook Eventing was also there with her fabulous mare Kiki, but alas, we did not cross paths. (She came in 2nd in her division with a 26.5!) It was outstanding and I got some pretty good pictures with my little camera:

Buck Davidson and Titanium:

Dude how many horses can that man possibly ride in a day? He didn't run Bobby, much to our dismay, but he still rode THREE other Advanced horses, plus all his other I and P horses, and I'm sure there were lower level ones on top of all that. I guess if you're going to come all the way from Ocala, you go big or go home!

Does that ever make you want to show or what!!