Monday, March 30, 2009
Saturday evening found us arriving in light drizzle, which naturally turned into a sheer downpour as we carted in the last of several wheelbarrow-loads of equipment and tack. Horses were screaming for their lost buddies. We set up tack rooms equipped to Pony Club standards for four riders, feed rooms with labels and perfectly secured grain containers. We used plenty of sawdust to bed down stalls whose dirt floors geographically resembled a love-child of the Rockies and the Grand Canyon. Conveniently, the wind blew straight down the barn aisle. At 7:00 sharp, we had to bridle our horses and stand in line outside to jog out for soundness. Then came bit/bridle/helmet checks. Then a written test from 8:30 to 9. Barn closes - make sure you're back at 5:30 tomorrow morning to feed and be ready for the rally briefing at 6:30!
I am not a morning person. I consider 8 to be the perfect wake-up time, provided I went to sleep at 10:30. I tend to need that much sleep. I can get up at 6:30 and function for the day if I need to. But 5? No.
Wander blearily into the barn at 5:40, throw hay and fill water. Pick stalls, sweep aisle. Rally briefing, which goes mostly in one sleep-deprived ear and out the other, though important things like 'Don't be late to anything or you lose massive amounts of points' stick. Head back to the barn, curry and brush and brush and brush and tack up for the Formal Inspection.
After Formal (with no penalties, I might add), I headed to the warmup arena promptly on time in order to stand for twenty minutes outside of it because it's small and they only allow six horses at a time. I realized ten minutes into my wait that I had somehow misplaced my medical armband with my release form in it, which is now required to be worn at all times at all rallies. Trotted a puzzled Pandora back to the barn, frantically found my Stable Manager (not the first time, and certainly not the last, that her calm smile and efficiency would be my saving grace), retrieved the missing armband, and returned to the arena to wait another five minutes.
My warmup began nervously, but settled down remarkably quickly. Pandora, bless the mare, is not a horse in need of lengthy warmup. After twenty minutes, we'd calmly taken several fences, and I'd memorized my course and double-checked this memorization at least ten times. I and the butterflies in my stomach were ready to ride.
"I'm scared, but if you say so, I'll do it," said every inch of Pandora's pricked ears and wiggly, warp-speed trot. Scoot though she may, once she was pointed at a fence, Pandora did what I asked of her -- even over the rather bright fences, between lavishly decorated standards and plenty of decorative greenery. The swedish oxer, which spooked a lot of horses, didn't phase her much. A bit rough, a bit chaotic, but we made it clean and I slowly began to understand the trust Pandora placed in me.
Untack, groom, dunk bit in water, fill water, pick stalls, sweep aisle, wipe tack, blanket on, change into warm clothes, don't forget the armband. I helped my stable manager reorganize the tack room, which after four riders' worth of Formal Inspection and ride preparation looked like a tornado zone. We watched some of my teammates ride, but all too soon it was time to tack up for round 2.
Warmup was shorter this time; Pandora was much more relaxed. We put in a reasonable round. She was calmer, I was calmer; we cantered more fences and took conservative lines because until we locked onto a fence our steering was a bit suspect, but we made it around clean again.
I took care of all business, then took a moment to breathe. I glanced at the watch hung up in our tack room for lack of a clock. Good - an hour and a half till my ride time. I had enough time to wander back to the arena and watch a little. On my way by, I happened to glance at a clock hung in the aisle way...which read an hour later than the watch in my tack room. After verifying that this was the correct time, and taking a moment to very quietly swear about the fact that I now had twenty minutes to tack up, get a safety check, and warm up, I grabbed a teammate and scooted back to the stalls.
After a grooming and tacking-up that lasted about five minutes and was undoubtedly the shortest I've ever managed, I arrived at the arena two minutes before my ride time, just in time to wait for another ten minutes because things were running behind.
I warmed up for maybe five minutes. She just didn't need any more. She was with me, she was good. This round was "choose your own line" -- jump every fence once, in whichever way and order you please. I had planned an ambitious course, full of tight jumper turns neither of us usually do. To make sure we had it in us, I practiced tight turns to an oxer in the warmup arena. Outside rein, outside leg, push forward out of the turn to the fence. Perfect.
It was one of the most fun courses I've ever ridden. Salute. Canter, first fence, right corner, second fence, left corner, third fence. Around to the fourth, the big blue swedish oxer, then over five and a super tight turn to six that walked reasonably but was just too tight for her to make...though she sure tried. We skipped to the side of the standards. No worries, loop back to jump it, then fence seven, rollback to eight, tight turn to nine, and through the flags.
I came off that course with the biggest idiot grin on my face ever. I was pumped. Never mind that one turn -- that was my lack of course-walking experience combined with Pandora's much-appreciated sense of self-preservation, not her fault -- she was awesome for me. She sat up, did the tight turns, powered up to every fence, nailed all the striding and did all kinds of flying changes on her own.
What a horse I have, I thought as we walked back to the barn. For her to rise to my challenge and run that tight course, when we'd never practiced things like that before, was fantastic. For her to listen to me every single round, and always be there for me when I asked her to do it, was awesome. It was a really powerful experience for me. I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that this gentle, sweet mare, who always closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against me when I slipped into her stall to say hello, would put so much effort forth for me -- would trust me that first round when I said "Jump, please," and she said "I'm scared, but which fence do you want me to do?" I felt somehow humbled, that I could ask her to do such a hard, twisting course, the likes of which we'd never practiced before, and she would unquestioningly do it. It doesn't sound that remarkable, writing it down. But in that moment something changed about the way I see her. I'm suddenly so grateful, so in wonder of her willingness to trust me and to try for me.
What a horse.
It was all a relatively easy downhill from there. Take care of the horse, watch my teammates ride, begin tack room tear-down, go to awards (we took fourth and fourth in horse management and overall scores), load up, finally get home and crawl into bed at midnight.
I think I was sleepwalking through most of today.
When we got out to the barn this evening, the horses were out in paddocks, cheerful and alert in the cool air. I lay with just my head under the electric fence, pulling long handfuls of grass and setting it down for the two mares, smiling at the quick thump-thump of their lips as they vacuumed it up. Everything had a yellow cast from the lazy sunset, the temperature was perfect, and all I could smell was the grass they eagerly lipped up from my hands.
Friday, March 27, 2009
We're prepping for rally, so we spent four hours out there labeling and organizing and packing up all our equipment, longeing the horses, bathing the horses...it was a long day. And I have lots of pictures to prove it!
This is what I think of people taking pictures of me.
My pretty girl.
They gallop in unison! They'd make a perfect two-girl drill team.
She is looking so good lately. Shiny and muscle-y - and that was before her bath.
A rare shot with all three of us.
YOU CAN'T TELL ME THIS ISN'T THE MOST ADORABLE THING EVER.
She never poses like this for our camera. Tricksy little mare - she knows when the good pictures are coming.
After we got them all sweaty, we let them both have some really good rolling sessions....cause this is the dirtiest they'll be allowed to be for quite awhile. McKinna took full advantage of this.
...and then she had to get clean. And it took a whole herd of us to do it.
Hope you enjoyed.
Please note: I am not a vet, and I don't play one on TV either. You need to talk to your own vet to figure out the best vaccination schedule for your own horse, etc etc etc. I am here for educational purposes only.
Also, this is definitely NOT a comprehensive list! Just the basics.
First, your vaccination program will vary by area. For example, around here, not everyone vaccinates for Rabies. According to my information, no cases of equine rabies have been reported in Oregon or Washington.
Vaccinations do not provide immediate protection. Many vaccines require a series of shots, and it takes up to 2 weeks for the immune system to begin creating antibodies.
For mosquito-borne diseases, it's best to time your vaccination just before the start of mosquito season. For us, that's usually sometime in March.
Most of this information comes from the AAEP, or American Association of Equine Practicioners guide to vaccinations.
First, the diseases for which a vaccination exists.
Affects the nervous system. Caused by a bacteria that thrives in anaerobic environments, like soil. Transmitted by puncture-type wounds.
Symptoms: Tense muscles, inability to open jaw to eat properly, exposure of the 3rd eyelid. Eventually, the respiratory muscles become paralyzed, causing death.
Treatment: Antibiotics, supportive care.
Prevention: Yearly vaccination. Some vets recommend a booster vaccination if your horse sustains a puncture wound and it has been awhile since their last vaccination - check with your vet.
Encephalitis [Eastern, Western, Venezuelan]
aka Sleeping Sickness
Affects the nervous system. Caused by a virus. Carried by birds and transmitted by mosquito bites.
Symptoms: Fever and excitability which goes to depression, drowsiness, and paralysis.
Treatment: supportive care.
Prevention: In some areas [including Oregon], you don't need to vaccinate for the Venezuelan strain, but all horses should be vaccinated every 6 to 12 months.
West Nile Virus
Affects the nervous system. Caused by a virus. Carried by birds and transmitted by mosquito bites. A serious and often fatal disease.
Symptoms: Loss of coordination, abnormal gait, muscle tremors, depression, inability to get up.
Treatment: supportive care.
Prevention: Vaccination every 6 to 12 months, depending on mosquito exposure.
Affects the nervous system. Caused by a virus. Transmitted by bites from infected animals such as bats, skunks, and raccoons.
Symptoms: Excitability, depression, inability to swallow, paralysis, death.
Treatment: None, always fatal.
Prevention: In areas where rabies is common, horses should be vaccinated yearly.
Affects the respiratory system, caused by a virus. Usually affects young horses or those exposed to numerous other horses [showing, for example]. Transmitted through the air and by direct contact with mucus.
Symptoms: Similar to human flu. Fever, loss of appetite, depression, cough.
Treatment: Supportive care and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Prevention: Vaccination every 6 - 12 months. [Interesting note: the Pony Club manual says every 2 - 3 months, but according to the most recent veterinary opinion this kind of frequency isn't really necessary.]
Affects respiratory, reproductive, and occasionally neurological systems. Caused by Equine Herpes Virus type 1. Usually affects horses under age 5 and pregnant mares. Transmitted through the air and through direct contact with mucus.
Symptoms: Similar to human flu including fever, loss of appetite, depression, and cough. Causes abortion in pregnant mares. Occasionally neurological symptoms.
Treatment: Supportive care and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Prevention: 2 types of vaccine: a live virus for respiratory infections and a killed product for abortion prevention. Pregnant mares should be vaccinated at 5, 7, and 9 months of gestation with the killed product. Horses traveling or exposed to lots of other horses should be vaccinated every 6 to 12 months.
Potomac Horse Fever
This is a 'ricksettsial disease,' similar to a bacteria. It is transmitted by freshwater snails; horses contract Potomac Horse Fever by grazing on pastures that have been flooded and contain the snails.
Symptoms: Loss of appetite, fever, diarrhea, colic.
Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive care.
Prevention: Vaccination every 6 to 12 months where it is common.
Affects the respiratory system. Caused by a bacteria, streptococcus equi. Transmitted by mucus from an infected horse and is highly contagious.
Symptoms: Fever, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and nasty abscessed lymph nodes in the throatlatch area. Occasionally internal abscesses.
Treatment: Antibiotics, drain abscesses.
Prevention: Injectable and intranasal vaccines, given every 6 to 12 months. Intranasal is more effective, but if you use both, never introduce the intranasal material to the injection site as it causes horrible abscesses.
The AAEP only recommends vaccinating in high-risk situations; decreasing exposure and isolating infected horses works best.
Equine Viral Arteritis
Affects respiratory and reproductive systems. Caused by a herpes virus. This primarily affects breeding stock. It is transmitted through the air and in the semen of infected breeding stallions.
Symptoms: Fever, nasal discharge, swelling of the legs.
Treatment: Supportive care.
Prevention: Vaccination, testing of breeding stock, and avoidance of carrier stallions. Note that vaccinated horses will test positive, and are indistinguishable from infected horses; therefore routine vaccination is not recommended, and is often controlled by the government.
Generally not something to worry about if you're not a breeding farm.
Affects the nervous system, caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium Botulinum. Usually contracted by horses fed round bales of hay. It is transmitted by fermented feed or feed contaminated by animal carcasses [e.g. rodents that got caught up in the haying process and were baled in the hay].
Symptoms: Paralysis of mouth, inability to swallow, weakness; eventually the respiratory muscles become paralyzed leading to death.
Treatment: Antibiotics, supportive care.
Prevention: Yearly vaccination in areas botulism occurs in horses, especially if feeding round bales.
Now, here are some infectious diseases for which no vaccination exists.
Equine Infectious Anemia, or EIA
aka Swamp Fever
This is what your Coggins tests for. Caused by a virus; transmitted in blood from an infected horse via mosquito and fly bites or contaminated needles.
Symptoms: Fever, depression, loss of appetite, anemia, jaundice, paralysis. Incurable, often fatal. Can be acute (anemia and jaundice), chronic (lack of stamina, weight loss), or asymptomatic (appears to be totally healthy).
Prevention: A positive-testing horse must be quarantined where it cannot be exposed to biting insects. Many states and shows require a negative Coggins to travel or compete. There are some exceptions, so check the state rules - for example, Oregon and Washington have an agreement that horses traveling between the two states do not need to have a test.
The name comes from the abscesses on the chest that cause a swollen chest, not because it is transmitted by birds.
Affects the muscles and internal organs; caused by a bacteria living in soil, contracted by contact through routine abrasions. People don't get it but can carry it among horses on their clothing, boots, etc. It may be transmitted by fly bites (I believe the jury is still out on a consensus as to whether or not flies transmit this).
Symptoms: Lameness, fever, lethargy, weight loss. Usually accompanied by very deep abscesses and multiple sores along chest, midline, and groin. Can also develop internal abscesses.
Treatment: Hot packs or poultices applied to abscesses to encourage opening. Open abscesses should be drained and regularly flushed. Surgical or deep lancing may be required by a veterinarian. Antibiotics are controversial; they may prolong the disease by suppressing but not eliminating the abscesses.
Prevention: Buckets or other containers should be used to collect pus from draining abscesses [EW EW EW] and this should be disposed of properly. Consistent, careful disposal of infected bedding, hay, straw, or other material used in the stall is also important. Stalls, paddocks, all utensils and tack should be thoroughly disinfected. Pest control is also important.
Equine Protozoal Myelitis [EPM]
Affects the neurological system. Transmitted by opossum feces in a horse's feed. Has a low fatality rate, but many horses never return to full capability, and it can take years to recover.
Symptoms: Lameness, loss of balance, weakness, upward fixation of the patella.
Treatment: Marquis (ponazuril) or Navigator (nitazoxamide).
Prevention: No good vaccine currently available. Eliminate contact with opossums (because THAT's easy to do..)
So, in conclusion, some important management techniques to help prevent diseases:
Mosquito and fly control
Isolation of new horses [quarantine]
Regular vaccination schedule
Not reusing needles
Good sanitation in barn and show situations
Phew, that was a lot. Talk to your vets about this stuff. I learn new things every time I ask my vet a question, and she's always happy to explain things to me. Hope this was some good information for you guys.
PS, does anyone know what's up on encephalitis vs. encephalomyelitis? I have seen this spelled both ways and I'm not sure which is correct or if either one is acceptable.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Post coming up soon on Communicable Diseases. In the meantime, here's some pictures from last week and a nice video of our gridwork from the Friday lesson.
Notice the nasty face McKinna is making. This is a habit of theirs when they get to run loose in the arena...run like banshees and look really mean!
The girls doing their best impression of "Mommmmmmmm, quit taking pictures of me!"
Aww, aren't they cute?
Huh, Pandora looks a little skinny from the front - her hips poke out a little. It's just from not-much muscling back there, I promise. See?
I'd like to see more muscling on the topline, of course, but that comes with time.
Here's the video from the lesson. We had a grid set up almost straight down the center line - one-strides set a bit short to help our horses understand the need to rock back, with placing poles in between to really keep them together and thinking.
It was a very good exercise for Pandora, who likes to get a bit strung-out. Between the second and third fence, you can see her check herself as she realizes that she needs to back off to make it over the third fence - woohoo! That's exactly what these are supposed to do :-) I'm going to set up a slightly tamer version of this at home, using just cavaletti, but I hope to do a similar exercise with larger fences soon. I know it's important to get the basics down over lower fences, but when she gets bored and lazy over the little stuff, I think it's time to make them bigger. Yes? Yes.
Nevertheless, a very constructive exercise.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Do you ever forget to listen to what your horse is telling you? Sometimes, it’s just that you don’t quite understand what they’re trying to communicate. McKinna has been trying to tell me something for three months now, and her communication has been growing steadily louder.
McKinna hates the saddle I bought this fall.It is now known as The Evil Saddle.
McKinna is small (14.3), but she needs a wide tree saddle. She’s shaped like an Arab through the back – fairly wide and flat. It's a bit like riding a barrel, albeit a small one. We figured this out quite some time ago, purchasing a very nice Stubben with a regular tree. It worked nicely, but tilted down in the back, a pretty common symptom of a too-narrow tree.
It wasn't pinching her, so we improvised by using a back lift pad under the Stubben. That actually worked pretty well, but being of the mindset that you shouldn’t need pads to make your saddle fit, we started looking for a wide tree dressage saddle. Since Pandora had just joined us we needed another saddle if we wanted to ride together anyway. I found an inexpensive, used, wide tree saddle at a tack swap late in the fall. I tried it on McKinna and it fit just like it was supposed to. Perfect!
Late fall turned into winter and we went about our business. I didn’t ride a whole lot in November or December – holidays/weather etc. In January, the kid really started focusing on Pandora, so I got McKinna all to myself. She's my horse in the first place, after all!
I went back to what I’d been (rather successfully) doing in the fall. We had established a wonderful, light, relaxed walk and trot with a beautifully developing contact. When I began riding again...it wasn't there. Well, it seemed we had regressed. Not too surprising, I thought, since we’d been out of practice.
We plugged away. By mid-February I was finally starting to realize something wasn’t right. This horse under me was not my trusty steed! Instead of going in her nice relaxed way, she had become prone to rushing around on her forehand with her head high. She’d also become very non-responsive to my seat and legs. I found myself using my reins way too much, trying to steer and rate her speed. Now, mind you, McKinna is one of the most obedient, cheerful horses on the face of the earth. (I don’t think she even knows what a buck is.) She never truly acted out while under saddle, so I didn’t get it. I began to have serious doubts about my riding abilities. I was thinking, what the heck am I doing to confuse her so much?? I had my daughter get on her and she experienced much the same, though she was able to push her into a little contact and bend. She agreed to school her for me some more and I continued to think my poor riding was to blame.
Fortunately, shortly after this I decided to try out a saddle that a fellow boarder had for sale. What a strange experience! It was obviously a poor fit -- too high in the back, too narrow in the gullet -- but McKinna seemed to like it. I even commented to my daughter that McKinna liked the saddle. I could tell in one ride. However, since it fit her so poorly, we decided against it. I went back to The Evil Saddle. McKinna went back to rushing around in her best giraffe imitation.
The light bulb finally came on about a week later when she started getting girthy. She would pin her ears and threaten to nip at me while I tightened the girth, though she knew better than to bite. Where did this nasty mare come from?! McKinna has never offered to be this rude to a human. Something's clearly not right...and it's tied to the saddle.......DOH!! I get it!!
Could it be that this saddle that fits her so nicely was somehow uncomfortable for her?? I decided to try her in the original dressage saddle, which had since been designated as Pandora's. I put it on her with the riser pad and went for a ride.
I could tell THE FIRST RIDE. Back was the soft expression and relaxed, swinging gaits. Her rhythm was steady and smooth. I rode her in this saddle twice, then tried out the jumping saddle we have for McKinna just to see. Even though dressage is my thing and my daughter is the only one who rides her in that saddle, her demeanor was exactly the same. Stubben with riser pad or jumping saddle -- makes no difference, as long as I don't use The Evil Saddle. She does her job, happy as can be. She trots around, listening (for the most part!) to my seat and legs. I have my trusty steed back.
We were so convinced that The Evil Saddle fit her, because from all appearances, it did. But no matter how much you think you're right, we've learned that the horse always has the final say. It just took us a long time to hear what she was trying to tell us.
Thankfully, since she's such a sweet girl, she’s already forgiven me.
It's true, I saw it all with my own eyes ;-) There's a picture post coming up soon! The girls are in good weight and looking good.
Still, I hate shedding season. Hate hate hate. Especially when I forget that it's shedding season, and I wear chapstick out to the barn!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Let's just say it went well, as I'm sure you can tell by the picture!
I was competing on a "catch team." There are 3 - 4 competitors on a team, and our club only fielded two members in the Senior D category. So we were rounded out by two other girls from two other clubs. Unfortunately, one of the girls was sick and wasn't there - this meant that we were a "short team," meaning that unlike the teams with 4 members, our lowest score would not be dropped.
First up was the Written Test. Oh, yay - I'm good at those! There were several questions about Polocrosse, Vaulting, and Dressage (for which sport do you not use a helmet? for which sport can you not cluck to your horse? for which sport will your horse need to wear boots?). Then came questions with numbers: how many holes above the buckle on each side should a tight girth have? How many bandages required in an equine first aid kit? How many beats in the trot? How high (inches) does a D2 jump at testing? Then came different types of safety and equipment questions. I only missed two of 25 - one of which was for a question that I knew the correct answer to, but accidentally circled the wrong one!
Next was Classroom, probably the most stressful phase because everyone is watching you. All teams are in a large room and you must stand up, state your name, club, and rating level, and ask for the level of question you want. You can be quizzed at your level for 5 points, one level up for 10, or two levels up for 15. I loved this phase because I have spent a lot of time reading the manuals, and that's where most of the questions come from. I took one 10-point question and the rest 15 pointers, and I didn't miss any! I did get a bit lucky, because some of the other girls got really hard questions that I wouldn't have been able to answer.
The rest of the day was more practical knowledge testing. We had to identify various items (sweat scraper, hoof pick, leather keepers, etc) inside socks by feel. We had to identify several Rally Kit items and say which kit they went in - it sounds easy, but when you have to remember whether the rubbing alcohol or the latex gloves go in the human or equine first aid kits, it gets difficult! (It's horse and human, respectively).
One section involved rapid identification of a huge table of items - 20 items, 3 minutes to identify them. One table had tack, another equipment, another farrier/hoof care things, and the last (and hardest, in my opinion!) was a table of horse feeds. There were many different types of hay and grain feeds as well as treats and supplements.
The Barn phase was fun because it involved hands-on knowledge. One of our team members had to demonstrate the correct method of blanketing a horse, on a very large stuffed horse. We also demonstrated how to measure feed correctly and showed what items to get first if your horse is bleeding.
When the day was done, our team won 1st of 4 Senior D teams, and I got Senior D High Point. You all knew I was a nerd, right? ;-)
That being said, I've begun writing a series of posts on the things I learned while studying for quiz rally. Here's a general overview:
Diseases - Communicable and Non-Communicable
Bits, Bridles, and Martingales
and, just for fun, Foxhunting!
PS - a girl in my Pony Club is going to ride McKinna at the show jumping rally, since her mare is working through some training issues. She rode McKinna for the first time Thursday, then took her to a jumping lesson last night. They did awesome! I love that horse - she is such a great little mare. She acted like she'd been jumping with unfamiliar riders her whole life. What a star.
I'm excited to have both of my horses at the rally! I will only be riding one, but still...it's great to see McKinna getting some jumping in.