Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring Break Catch-Up

Well, actually, I would be hard pressed to call it spring.
It rained (a lot).
It sn*wed (a little).
Besides the fiasco at the clinic with Maddie, and Kate and my trip to Valley View Training Center for a warm-up session, the only riding I managed to sneak in between storms was this trip down to the east side of the Columbia River with Pat, and her older gelding, Rambler.
Off we go.
We parked near Wanapum Dam, and departed under numerous high tension electrical transmission lines.  This fallen ballast ball (to keep the lines from swaying too much in the wind, as well as make the long spans of wire highly visible to aircraft) was like "ho-hum" to fuzzy Kate, who touched it once with her nose (before I could get the camera out) and then was like, "Yeah?  So?  Are we going now?".
Off in the distance, against the dark coulees, we spotted these huge white birds.
Pat wondered if they were pelicans, and as they drew neared it appeared that was a good guess.
Once overhead (they circles us several times--we're not sure what they were looking for), Kate noticed them, even though they were still quite a bit above us.
Kate also took note of lots of ducks and geese in the River.  This was probably her biggest worry all day, though she never did much more than look.
We couldn't tell if this nest were occupied.  A month ago, when the River was lower, other members of KVTR were able to wade out to the island, and found a pile of rotted fish heads at the base of the pole, so it's been home to someone (ospreys, Carol?).
Although she kept a sharp eye out for waterfowl, Kate willingly waded into the shallows, and drank a bit, as well.
We made it to the old trestle for the Milwaukee Road rail line.  On the opposite side of the river is the beginning of the "Iron Horse State Park," a several hundred mile rail-trail that extends west across the Cascades to the outskirts of the Seattle metro area.
It was a pleasantly boring first outing of the year for Kate.  I much prefer the forested regions west of home, but it'll be awhile before the late sn*w we've had melts up in the Cascade foothills, and the footing improves enough for riding.  In the meantime, the high desert to the east will have to do.
The next day was also nice.  Nice enough that I turned everybody out for a couple of hours.
At least little RT got one of his mares back, for just a little bit.
At first, the girls were intent on eating the sparse new growth.  Suddenly, they realized they had room to run!


As far as the list of chores I had for break,  I didn't get much accomplished.  I did get everybody's feet trimmed up, except for Mama Misty, who I'll get this weekend.  I re-potted my one house plant, which has manged to survive in spite of me for 7 years, and re-hung a couple of gate latches which had become awkward when I lined the arena gate with mesh fencing to facilitate Sandy's enlarged dog yard.
And speaking of the arena (and I did), one bigger chore that wasn't even on the list came to mind as I transferred manure from the barn to the compost pile: my arena footing has gotten quite compacted lately.

So I drug the drag around and around for a bit and loosened things up.
The older, north end.  This has had some sand added.  It's where I set up my round pen, when needed.
 Unfortunately, this ends up creating another chore, especially at the newer, south end of the arena, above the retaining wall--ROCKS!  The 6-8 dump trucks of fill dirt I acquired (for free, including delivery, so I couldn't complain) was rife with rocks of all sizes and types (as well as other detritus, such as plastic, tarp, metal and wood scraps, pieces of barbed wire, etc, which were removed immediately as I spread the dirt).

This morning when I fed, there was new sn*w on the ground, but it's pretty much disappeared now, so I may go out and drag the arena one more time (it loosens up better when it's damp), and then start on the pastures.  This is not the best time of year for breaking up manure piles, but it is a good time to loosen up and aerate the soil for the new grass growth which is begging to peek through.
If it warms up enough, maybe I'll bring out a few of my arena obstacles and work Kate over them, in anticipation of her upcoming ACTHA ride (end of April).
Maybe I'll even climb on Miss Maddie for a bit.  Maybe...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Medical Update

One of my favorite pics of the girls, summer 2005.
Maddie and I headed into Valley Vet Clinic yesterday to get her teeth done (reason for the original appointment) and check to see if there were any physical reasons for her ongoing, sporadic and unpredictable behaviors.
When Dr. Mark Hayden palpated Maddie's back, she showed nearly zero response.  None.  Compared to Sunday and several other recent days when she visibly shrunk away from my touch.  (I think Dr. Mark is beginning to believe I'm imagining it all...)
 He checked her ability to flex her head and neck, and found nothing of significance, though she was just a bit hesitant lifting her neck straight up.
She was slightly "off" on her left front, on a tight circle, but there was no swelling, and it did not worsen with flexion, so he attributed it to a two-year-old injury in that foot.
Maddie's eyes were clear of any cataracts or uvietus, and her blink response was normal.
 She was a bit overdue for her teeth and had some points that were starting to irritate her cheeks.  (I wish now I had had him do Maddie's teeth earlier, but I didn't want to do it right before the clinic, when I was trying to get her legged up.)  Hopefully her mouth will be considerably more comfortable now.
One unusual thing that we noted was extreme tension in her jaw--Dr. Mark was barely able to open her mouth wide enough with the speculum--we're going to keep an eye on that.  With the hesitation to lift her head up, I think I'll get a chiropractor out to check her out (though last year when we were having similar problems, he didn't find anything significant--maybe I am imagining all this.)
Considering that these problems seem to crop up every spring, I'm starting to wonder about "female problems."  Dr. Mark and I discussed ovarian/hormone possibilities, but with only one very old gelding on the place (who was her weaning time companion, so not a "boy" in her eyes) my mares rarely show obvious heat cycles.  I may try her on some mare/calming supplements, before considering anything as drastic as Regumate or an uterine marble.
All-in-all, it was both a positive and a frustrating visit:  there were no big problems and we decided on a couple of little issues to address; but on the other hand, we couldn't pinpoint any particular physical reason for Maddie to be acting the way she did.  Is this all a behavioral problem?  Have I created holes in Maddie's training that are coming back to bite me now?

Maddie will need a couple of days for her jaw to feel a little better, following the work done yesterday.  I'll look into getting a chiro out here soon, to check her neck, jaw and poll.  And I went ahead and ordered SmartPaks' "Smart Mare" herbal supplement--it should be here next week.  Maddie will need a week or so, I think, for that to effect her system.  The first local ACTHA ride is at the end of April, so I'm thinking Miss Maddie will have a little time off while I get Kate going.
It will NOT be all summer, though, like last year. Although I'm sure I will have some butterflies the first time I step up onto her, I am currently (sitting comfortably in my computer chair) not feeling quite the trepidation just thinking about it, as I did last year.
Maybe because I didn't actually hit the ground this time.  Maybe because I'm determined to work through this.
Madrigal, yearling glamor shot
I'm not ready to give up on my Maddie yet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kate Saves the Day

Hauled Kate down to Valley View's arena this morning, and met up with Pat.
I needed to get back in the saddle, after Sunday's fiasco.
For just a moment , I thought about taking Maddie, too.  But not quite yet.  Her vet appointment is tomorrow, then we'll see.
Who's ridin' with us, Ma?
It's my buddy Chief!
I'm ready, Ma.  Let's go!
I didn't think to tell Pat to shoot with the light behind her, so these riding photos are all a little weird for light.  But...
Lots of inside heel, as she wanted to drift in towards Chief (though the couple of times they did get close, she would squeal and get all girly at him).
And, really, she wasn't a dang horse at all, especially since it was her first ride since October.  I did have a few butterflies at the start, but Kate was her usual laid back self, and as we trundled around I relaxed a bunch.  She is SUCH a different ride from Maddie, but I guess I needed that right now.
That's all back brace and down vest out there in front of me.  Really.
 Spent about two hours, lots of walking, some jog, a bunch of circles and bending lines, and forehand and hindquarter turns, and some standing around practice (while Pat and I jabbered).

All in all, it was a good ride, and good for me.
We set a date to get out on the trail Friday morning, if the weather cooperates.

I sent an email to the clinician yesterday morning, expressing my discouragement  in no uncertain terms.  When I got back from riding this afternoon there was a response from her.

She was apologetic.  She says she didn't recognize me in different clothes. (I had on blue jeans both days, the same black barn jacket, the same Purina emblem insulated vest, same boots, slightly different watch cap; the only thing that was different was my flannel shirt, which was only visible when it got warm enough to take the jacket off, and then the vest was there.)  But, you know what, I'm beginning to believe that may be the case--because all the times I spoke to her on Monday, it was like she was not talking to anyone she had every interacted with before.

She said she was worried for me, and that was why she wanted me off Maddie.  And because of the context, there was no way for her to know whether I was capable enough to go on from there--heck, we'd been mounted for less than 10 minutes, and I don't know that she observed me at all until Maddie spooked--but it would have been nice of her to check in with me on that.  This spook, though identical in nature to last year's, was less intense--this time I managed to stay on her, and she stopped (with Gary's help).  And last year I DID get right back on and work through it with Maddie!

She did offer me a full refund, saying "I am sorry I did not live up to your needs.  I usually do pretty well at that, but... if you feel I failed you then obviously... I did."

I feel better today (thank you, Kate), so I will exchange another email or two with her, and then move on.  Maddie and I have work to do. 

Maddie leading the KVTR group out of the mountains, summer, 2010

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Day After

Thanks, everyone, for your support. 
Madrigal, 3 weeks old
I'm a wreck today.  I went back to the second day of the clinic to take photos for the Club, and got more and more upset that I wasn't participating.  I also saw some minor glitches in the clinician's teaching style (focusing on a few riders, and missing problems that others were having), but bit my tongue.

But what really torked me off was that, through the course of the day, she never once acknowledged me, or asked how Maddie or I was doing.  One other participant thinks she may simply not have recognized me without my distinct B&W horse, but I made a point of asking a few questions, and interacting with her on several other occasions.  And I had my name tag on, at least until it warmed up enough to take off my jacket.  I'm not quite sure I buy that explanation. 

Another rider that was looking to build confidence with her horse felt that the clinician not too subtly suggested that she needed to sell her horse, rather than work through the issues they were having.  Yet the two greenest riders in the group, both on fairly green horses (one less than 3 years old!) were encouraged to keep giving it a go.

I was hoping that this clinic was going to be the confidence boost to get Maddie and I back on the right track.  Instead, I feel shot down. The curt way she dismissed me yesterday makes me feel like I was abusing my horse by even being there, and endangering the other riders.  Though she did offer me a refund for the second day, there was no offer to let me bring another horse (not that Kate was anywhere near ready) nor reassurance that maybe I knew anything at all about what I am doing with horses.

Instead of gaining confidence and trust in each other, Maddie and I are left with a bad experience, not even addressed, let alone worked through.  I'm back to where I was a year ago--afraid to get on my own horse.  It remains to be seen if I can get on Kate this week.

Yesterday I was discouraged and frustrated.  Today I'm pissed off.  In both instances my head was/is pounding and my stomach still rolling.

I'll keep you posted about the vet visit on Thursday.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

No Good News--Now What?

 Today's session of the KVTR clinic started off well enough--just dang cold (27*).  There were 14 horse and rider teams, but the arena was large enough to accommodate us for the ground work.  (the clinician split us in two groups for the afternoon ridden work.)
We started with several different back-ups.
 Maddie wasn't crazy about this one, but she caught on quickly, so all I had to do was step towards her with my hands spread out and she would back away from me. 
 I have to admit, the girls are allowed to get into my space way too often.  Maddie learned about "bubble space" pretty easily.
 She was a little stiffer with the hand on the nose method, but, again, figured out what I wanted right away.
We did a bunch of leading work, with the horse's neck even with us, and driving them forward with our off hand.  Though the clinician asked everyone to bring a "training stick"  (a la NH), I was hesitant, 'cause Maddie is so reactive, and has never responded well to any kind of pressure from my dressage whip.  Barb quickly recognized this in Maddie's wide eyed look, and told me to chuck the stick and just use the end of my lead.  There was a little bit of over-reaction, but, again, Maddie figured it out quickly and we did a bunch of really nice "crazy walking" (stops and starts and turns on both forehand and hindquarters).
As we were wrapping things up, I asked Barb what she thought about how touchy Maddie is across her topline--she has been really tight and doesn't like me palpating it at all.  The clinician agreed it might be good to get an equine chiropractor to look at it and get some advice.  This brief interaction was to come back up later.

With that, we broke for lunch, and then saddled up for the afternoon.
Maddie and I were in the second group of riders, so when she gigged a bit after I mounted, I chalked it up to having nearly two hours of standing around since we had done our groundwork warm-up.  Because the clinician was having us doing all sorts of stretches and pelvic adjustments, she had us working with side-walkers to start.
The couple of times that Maddie started to rush, Gary just circled her, and she settled again.  Both of us were pretty relaxed, but alert.
Then, all hell broke loose!
Near as we can figure, just as I was raising an arm to stretch, Gary started to circle Maddie to the left.  I think maybe she spotted my hand in the air above her--and she's never much liked things above her.
She freaked, and did her skitter off to the side maneuver.  Then, I think she got further flustered by the confusion of having two of us to listen to.  She totally lost it.
 It was exactly what had happened last summer, that I have been trying to blame on the string cinch I had on her at the time, to accommodate for the Tucker's dropped rigging.
As it was, I think having Gary on the end of her line saved my bacon.  If he hadn't gotten her straightened out and stopped, I think she would have careened on around the arena, most likely losing me in the process. 
Because I didn't have to worry about getting her stopped, I just grabbed the saddle horn and some mane, and rode it out.  It wasn't pretty, but I stayed with her 'til she stopped.
The clinician happened to be just to one side of us when all this happened, and she slowly stepped up, taking the lead from Gary, and coaching both Maddie and I to "Breathe!"
Once she was at Maddie's head, she told me to dismount.  She wanted me off as quickly as possible, but knowing that Maddie has sometimes done this same sort of thing for an unanticipated change in position, I did a little shifting to let her know I was dismounting.  Then she stood well while I jumped down.
The clinician related our earlier discussion about Maddie's back to the group, and said we were done.  Although I wasn't sure I wanted Maddie's lesson to be "If you freak out, you get to stop working." I had to agree--If she was hurting (rather than being naughty) we needed to stop.
 I already have an appointment for her teeth to be checked, this next Thursday, so I'll call tomorrow and let them know that I also want Dr. Mark to check her back.

I got about halfway out of the barn aisle leading from the arena before I started to shake.  I got to the truck before I started to sob.  (Even as I write this, I am fighting back tears.)
I stripped Maddie's tack, threw her blanket on her and loaded her up.  I just wanted to get out of there.  I sat in the truck and cried some more.  I was starting to write Pat a note, asking her to pick up my gear from inside the arena, when the group finished up inside and started filing out into the parking area.
I didn't want to talk to anyone, but several folks came over to tell me how scary it looked, and what an amazing seat I had.  This wasn't what I wanted to hear.  It wasn't what had me upset.
The one thing that keeps going through my mind is this:
What am I going to do about Maddie?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No News Is Good News

Well, I have no photos to post, but they wouldn't have been much different than last post:  Maddie and I have made two additional trips down to Valley View Training Center, to work in their small indoor arena.
Both trips were amazingly boring!
Which is good!
We walked, we trotted.  We even did a lazy western jog.  We were a little hesitant entering the "corner of doom" at first, but we went.  And then we went more willingly.  Then we trotted through  it.  We [both] thought about loping, but I chickened out, and settled into the saddle, and Maddie came right back to me.
We stood with one leg (Maddie's) cocked, while a silly young Thoroughbred romped crazily around us.
All-in-all, very boring.
Which was nice.  Very nice.

The weather has been somewhat unpredictable:  atrociously windy and cold.  I would have liked to have gotten in two rides each weekend, but one was all we managed, so again, I'm not pushing her too much.  Hopefully, we'll get in one more this Saturday, before the clinic on Sunday/Monday.  Then, I'll be back to tell you how educational it was, and how far Maddie and I went on rebuilding our relationship.
But hopefully, the riding part will be boringly relaxed...