Thursday, February 14, 2013

Think You Can....

Life is full of surprises.  In my case, it seems to be filled with some sort of unexpected muscle tweak or abcess that tends to derail any plans I ever have of showing my amazing mare.  But it is a part of the horse game that is to be expected, so sometimes you have to make alternative plans.

So when April tweaked something running around after a torrential downpour, I decided for once NOT to pull out of my plans to go to a show.  Instead, I hit up a fellow boarder whose horse I have been schooling, and she was excited about the chance to get him going again.

Bongo is a Percheron/Paint cross that I have been riding who has a history of "colorful" incidents on occasion - and I am not talking about his stunning tri-color paint coloring.  :-)  He has a very random method of expressing himself with bronco-style bucks and a signature move we call "The Porpoise".  It is non-violent in general, but can be quite unsettling when it does happen, and it has been a fantastic challenge for me to tackle in my quest to continue overcoming fear issues in the saddle.  I never would have guessed it, but he has been the perfect ride for me in the past few weeks.  He has fantastic dressage training, and has really helped me to progress in a lot of ways.  And where he has helping me in the dressage arena, I think that I have helped him in the jumping ring, by giving him a loose and allowing feeling, so long as he continues to maintain the trust I have put in his hands.  To say the least, things have been going fantastically.  So when April's entry had to be scratched, we put Bongo in as the pinch hitter.

The week before the show dawned with a startling realization on my part - it had been TWELVE YEARS since I had entered a dressage arena.  With this tiny notion of panic, I decided to cope as I do best by procrastinating.  So Thursday was my first attempt at memorizing my dressage test.  Thankfully, I slipped into the old routine seamlessly, and pretty much had it down by the end of a mini-lesson with Syd, who has been helping me here and there with my flatwork.  A bunch of us have teamed up lately at the farm to help each other out, and my lessons with Robyn, Syd, and even Susan have helped immensely at a time when I have been more or less floundering due to a lack of lesson funds.

Friday night was planned for a jump school since I had a little extra daylight.  Yet horses often have their own plans, and we had to adapt our plans a bit after Bongo gave us a bit more than we had anticipated.  I will spare the details, except to say that I left the farm chanting the old adage - bad school, good show.  HA!

I didn't know what to expect from a horse I still don't know that well, but he had his game face on from the moment we stepped off the trailer.  Our warm up for dressage was seamless, and a last minute bit of advice from Robyn probably saved our 20-meter circles.  I made the rookie mistake of entering the warm-up area outside the show ring a bit early, so my heart was still pounding even knowing I had the forgiveness of the "schooling show" environment.

The honk of the judge's horn came before I knew it, and we were off.  I made it down centerline, across the diagonal, and to the opposite corner of the ring before it happened - brief moment of panic, where everything flew out of my brain.  I literally had to squint my eyes, take a breath, and search my little pea-brain for the next move - and then, just like magic, it all snapped back into place.  I shut the little voice in my head up and rode my test.  And had so much fun.  We had our mistakes here and there - mainly a lack of forward, which was my own combination of nerves and a little fatigue from probably over-warming up a bit.  But other than an early break in the canter, there were really no other glaring errors.  We finished with a 37.5, which was good enough for me after more than a decade away.

I could see the anticipation mounting up in everyone around me, because the next phase was going to be the real test.  Everyone was putting on their game faces, but I knew we were all asking the same questions.  How would the warmup go?  How would he handle the excitement of multiple horses careening around him schooling fences?  Would our bronco-boy show up, or would we maintain the sweet, gentlemanly demeanor he had given us all morning? 

I got a leg up, took a deep breath, and headed for warmup with an expectation for nothing other than what we wanted - a calm, quiet experience.  That's what we came for, and I have been trying hard to adapt the mentality of the quote I remember so well that was painted on the wall of my high school swim complex - "Think you can, or think you can't; either way you will be right."  Just as it has gotten me through the journey with my fear, I proceeded on knowing it would get Bongo through his next phase.  And I couldn't have been more right.

As I looked through the photos this week, the jumping phase made me laugh hysterically.  I have the most ridiculous expressions on my face in every picture, because I jabbered and laughed all the way through it.  I kept telling him what a good boy he was, and laughing when he spooked at the honking birds in the corner.  I gave him a soft, calm, confident round, and I couldn't have been more pleased.  We did what we came to do!

To top it all off, the farm team cleaned up.  While Bongo and I finished on our dressage score in 2nd place, the other two from our farm cleaned up first place ribbons in their divisions!  Merryn rode Thomas in her very first full horse trial, and Robyn finished on a dressage score of 32 in her very first Novice - so everyone had an amazing day.

It's been a bit of a rough week, so retracing the weekend has been a much needed lift for me.  I have been so inconsistent with my blogging, and I really need to get back to it.  Helps me to keep life in perspective when it tends to get twisted around a bit.  Which it has lately.  A lot, in fact!  Poor Samson.  Every scratch or sniffle tends to send me off the deep end of worry, and his latest deal is a recurring snotty nose.  No other symptoms, and culture wasn't horrendous, but I still stress out like crazy.  Other than that, he really is doing well, and enjoys his old man naps in the field on sunny days.  It's these little moments that bring me the peace to know that he is still perfectly content.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

We Made It Through

I have to say, there were many days that dawned with me thinking I would NEVER make it through this past year.  It has been a year of trials, with not nearly as many tribulations.  It always seems easier to take the bumps in the road when they are fairly balanced with the high points.  When you seem to be continually hitting bumps, it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. 

New Years Eve brought mixed emotions for me.  The past week held another trip to Raleigh for follow up testing for Samson.  He had some concerning bloodwork over the last few weeks, and coupled with a less-than-stellar personality change, I felt it was best to listen to my gut a little earlier this time.  It was a mixed-blessing trip.  His ultrasound showed a massive improvement in his lungs, which was a big relief after the physical exam had revealed some continuing noise on the right side and trachea.  There were minimal signs of scarring in the pleural tissue on the right, which could simply be a result of the trauma from his bout of pneumonia.  Then they whisked him off to x-ray, and took multiple thorax views.  Those were better, but still revealed a slight amount of inflammation in the bronchials - the tiny airways that the lungs push oxygen out of.  It made sense when added to the clinical signs, (the noise heard on examination) that this residual inflammation is the cause.  Thankfully, all signs of fluid from the pneumonia have dissapated, and this last bit of inflammation could either be still resolving from the initial insult, or it could be a continued sign of some sort of inflammatory airway condition.  It is hard to say, so for the moment, we have started a program of controlling it environmentally.  The normal therapy would involve a course of steroids, but that would be the worst type of treatment to subject an EPM horse to.

Speaking of EPM.  It appears that all the signs we have been seeing over the past month are mainly being chalked up to that evil disease.  We were about to start treatment a few weeks ago, when the bloodwork indicated something else could be going on.  Whatever was going on has completely resolved, so we are chalking it up to the stress of the move to the new farm, and his lower immune function; as his bloodwork was completely normal at State.  The bouts of lethargy, depressed, and decreased appetite seem to be correlated to the progression of the EPM, and Dr Edwards noticed a visable difference in his neurologic status immediately - an increased gait abnormality, paired with a bit of swaying, as well as the slight toe dragging he had developed over the last week with his right hind.  It is amazing that out of all three of those signs, the only one I had honed in on was the toe dragging.  It can be so hard to monitor the minute changes when you see them on a daily basis - even when you are watching like a hawk. 

With all that in mind, we discussed the various options for treatment, and decided we needed to start aggressively, and immediately.  I had some lingering concerns about the clinical trial drug, so I ended up deciding to go the usual route and start with a round of Marquis.  They sent me home with a 28 day supply, as well as warnings that the first week could possibly bring an onslaught of symptom increases, as the protozoa die-off can be overwhelming to their systems.

The three hour trailer ride home was filled with phone conversations with a newer aquaintance in the horse world who has been through massive experience with EPM and ulcers in her gelding.  We talked back and forth about the various treatments, supplements, and personal experiences with treatment, and she ended up calling multiple people to get additional advice to throw in the mix.  I remember hanging up the phone and being completely overwhelmed with gratitude at the new relationships I have formed in the horse world over the last year.  It is funny that a prospective boarder, who never even moved to the farm, is a relationship that I maintained which ended up being such an incredible resource and source of support.  Yet another reminder that everything happens for a reason!!!

With that in mind, Samson is now on Day 5 of his EPM treatment.  With the combined warnings of how rough the first week can be, I decided to sock everything at him to make it as bearable as I could.  He is on an extremely high dose of natural vitamin E to help with inflammation, a daily dose of omeprazole (as we still have lingering suspicions of ulcers, and Marquis can be known to aggravate that condition), aloe vera juice, and a daily dose of STP, a natural pain relief supplement with devils claw for pain relief, and yucca for more anti-inflammatory support.  I have to say, the combined result has been amazing.  He is (knock on wood!) flying through the first week with ZERO adverse affects, and I am already seeing positive results.  Whether it is the massive support against inflammation that is giving him the boost, or the protozoa dying, I am still uncertain, but I am getting my boy back a little bit every day.  Last night he was nosing me again while I set up his hay and water buckets, and he has been chowing down every bite of his hay with vigor again.  I feel hopeful, and it has definitely been the postive start to the New Year - especially after the past year for him.  When I think about how close we came to losing him, it still amazes me that we made it through all the rough spots to where things are now.  All in all, things are looking up for my big red boy, and it gives me tremendous hope and excitement for his future.

Of course, I mentioned that New Years Eve was a bit of a mixed bag, so the downside is my darling mare.  The week of New Years brought a bad dressage school, which was overwhelming disappointing when considering how well things have been going.  I have warred with myself for years on my comprehension for the most basic dressage skills, but the past month has brought a lot of revelation and improvement.  I was able to get in one lesson in December, but the most significant thing I took home was that I have been letting the redhead get away with too much.  Imagine that!  :-)  I was told that it was time to insist MUCH earlier that she use herself, rather than letting her stroll around evading me until she felt it was time to comply.  So we took that lesson to heart, and I added that to our daily routine, along with the increased awareness I have been trying to use regarding stiffness and locking down in my elbows.  The result was a tiny progression day by day in our flatwork, which included KNOWING I was getting it right each time, and actually feeling her start to use her back.  After a series of incredible rides, I started to realize exactly how often she has been faking me out, because I am finally started to understand the feel of correctness when the back is engaged.  I think for years I have focused on the front end, rather than the whole picture, and it can lead me to thinking I am correct when I am really NOT.  So when one bad ride cropped up after several incredible ones, I chalked it up to us being due for a less-than-stellar ride.  After all, horses aren't robots - that's a lesson I continually have to remind myself of, and an important one at that.  But the little red flag went up in my head, and I resigned myself to really LISTEN the next time, just in case.  So two days later, when flatwork was again not coming together, I really focused on feeling every movement, each limb and joint beneath me, to see if there was a problem.  Sure enough, I picked up my canter, and knew instantly that something was off.  She did not want to engage the hind end, and it was more defined on the right.  When daylight hit the following day, a jog out revealed a minor shortness in stride with the right hind.  **Sigh**  It is definitely hock, and seems to be the front side.  Minor swelling, but no heat, so I am hoping for the best, and meanwhile following a regiment of anti-inflammatories, cold hosing, and DMSO poultices.  Since it happened in 2012, I am chalking that one up to last year, and hoping we will be back in action in the upcoming week.  :-)

So that's a not-so-brief picture of where we are at the moment.  I haven't ever been much of a person for New Years' Resolutions, or black and white goals, because I always find that life seems to interrupt the best of intentions.  In general though, I would like to have my Samson back - in complete health, with no residual damage, and maybe even up to the occasional hack around the farm.  I would like to get out to my first full event with April, and start taking advantage of the fact that I have an AMAZING horse, with so many things to teach me.  Mostly, I would like to continue to be mentored and challenged to grow as a true horsewoman - who understands and always recognizes that these amazing creatures are SO much more than what they can do for us.  Riding is the main reason that we do what we do, but it isn't everything.  It is only a slice of the big picture, and I hope to never lose sight of that.  I hope to continue developing the ability to listen to what a horse is telling me, and to keep improving on discovering what may be at the root.  To me, THAT is the ultimate goal, and I hope to never lose sight of it.