September 30, 2020

Aeres to Jen: Ride Better, Dammit

Aeres and I continue to figure each other out. Her relationship with the contact is a tricky thing, but a lot of the problem is me - specifically that she's clearly used to a much more stable rider than I am. And I am super delighted to have a horse that expects more of my riding.

"HELLO RIDE BETTER PLZ" (I feel like I should mention that's sunlight in her mane and tail, not orange hair!)

Last night my only goal was to figure out how to get her to stretch down into the contact. There's a LOT of tension in this horse under saddle, and she does the usual Cob thing of carrying that tension in her underneck and back by default:

Tense tense tense

Okay, so how do I get her to stretch down into the contact? This is a fun situation for me, having to think through things that Connor does without thinking about it. I cannot screw this horse up, since she's destined for life as a broodmare (because of rare genetics, not because of any injuries or anything) unless someone wants to buy her (HINT HINT PEOPLE!!). So I have room to play and experiment.

What I figured out last night is that she wants stability. She wants my edges on her edges as Mary Wanless would say. She wants me to ride her straight and evenly. She wants supportive thighs and a strong core, but not in an over the top way. And she wants my freaking hands to be stable in the trot, something I thought I fixed last year but the video from last night (and my lesson with GP trainer last week) clearly proves that is not the case.

The Pivo was, uh, not level last night lol

So basically, this horse demands I fix all of the worst parts of my biomechanics or else she just won't do the thing. And she knows better than I do how to do the thing. Which is the best possible thing I could ask for in a temporary lease horse.

"RIDE BETTER, DAMMIT"

I just get more and more excited about her every time I ride. I am so lucky to have her!

September 29, 2020

Hindgut Ulcers

After she had had him for a couple of weeks and had really gotten to know him, CGP said she thought he might have ulcers, and asked if I was okay with her vets looking at him. She had gotten to know his baseline anxiety level and theorized that his mouth issues may have started with/may be related to ulcer-related pain. Of course I said yes, heck, upending his entire life and putting him in training is enough by itself to warrant a round of treatment. 

Still wearing his borrowed drop
 

I was expecting a scope for diagnosis, but the vet more suspected hindgut ulcers which can't be scoped, and he used the Succeed fecal test to diagnose them. I had never heard of it, and I have since learned that there are mixed reports on its accuracy, but it's cheap ($40ish) and doesn't hurt anything. Per the test, Connor ended up being a "strong positive" for hindgut ulcers (which he's never been treated for), which present differently in this test than foregut ulcers (which he has been treated for).


The vet recommended 2 weeks of omeprazole/misoprostol paste and 2-4 months of either Sulcralfate or misoprostol. I had only ever heard of sulcralfate to treat hindgut ulcers before, so CGP explained the differences to me and that she prefers misoprostol to sulcralfate for significant hind gut issues because there's evidence it's more effective - also more expensive, but the treatment length tends to be shorter than with sulcralfate. 

 

Like most equine scientific studies, the studies aren't the strongest things in the world, but they do exist and they support what she said (also three cheers for ACTUAL SCIENCE existing at all on this) so I told her to go ahead. He was on days 3-5 of treatment the weekend I took him home, and he was chill as could be all weekend and ate a literal record amount of hay on the trailer, so, so far so good?

It will be interesting to see if this changes anything, but one way or another, it's a good step to take for a generally anxious fellow.

September 28, 2020

A Pony with a Sense of Humor

This pony.

 

We had a jam packed weekend last weekend and I just can't say enough good things about how much heart he showed and how patient he was. First, I drove over to Cincy to pick him up and bring him home, and had a lesson with my GP trainer.

Ah, the rare unmounted picture of us both together, in which our collective vertical challegedness is truly visible

Then we hustled him onto the trailer and went straight to the HHP, where I bathed him immediately. The (literal) second he was dry, we showed in-hand, first at 6pm and then after he had eaten dinner and probably fell asleep, we had to hustle the poor guy back out of his stall on the Dressage side of the complex at 10:30pm for the Get of Sire class, where he and his sisters represented his late sire.


The next morning he turned in a fantastic Dressage test at the Dressage show:

Look at me sitting up and not pulling! Also, new show jacket alert.

And then I walked him back across the complex to the Welsh show where he showed in three English Pleasure classes, was the English Pleasure C/D Champion in a ride-off, then won Ridden Cob and took reserve to a cute Section B with a kid aboard in the Ridden Welsh Championship, both of which require a hand gallop. Historically, he and I haven't been very good at the hand gallop. The poor guy was so tired after all he had done that day, but I managed to get him jazzed up and his tired body and big heart gave me the best hand gallops he's ever done in Ridden Cob.

Feet and hair flying everywhere

And can we talk about the halt he gave me at the end of the hand gallop?

Through it all, he was his happy, patient self. There have been times over the past couple of weeks where I've been sorely tempted to find a way to keep Aeres and lease Connor out just based on the fact that she is so much better suited for Dressage than he is. 

But this weekend reminded me that there are things that are more important than scores, and what Mary told me all those years ago still rings true, that I need a horse with a sense of humor. And that amateurs have to "buy the brain first". And that I'll cheerfully take a hit on my "Gaits" collective score forever if it means keeping this cuddly, happy, ears always up, cheerful, game-for-anything pony in my life. He just makes me smile the entire time I'm with him from beginning to end.

Also very snuggly to friends-that-are-actually-family that are going through tough times and really need some pony therapy <3

I will leave you with my favorite story of the weekend. I was showing some of Lisa's other ponies at 10:15pm on Friday night and needed someone else to get Connor from his stall maybe a quarter mile away at the Dressage end of the show complex. I sent my mom over, but it was pitch black out and she had no idea where his stall was.

"Connor!" she stage whispered in the dark. And I was tickled but not surprised to learn that he nickered when he heard her call his name and that's how she found his stall <3

Mom and pony selfies

We finished the weekend dropping him off in Cincinnati again, and it was never harder to leave him, but also never easier. He's officially never going anywhere, so I'm excited to see just how good he can get with GP trainer.

September 24, 2020

Bitsy: 2006ish-2020

We put Bitsy to sleep today at the age of 14ish. She had been steadily declining for a while, and this week I knew it was time.

Still a foster dog here, trying her best to adopt me (usually that goes the other way around but no one told Bitsy that)

Bitsy was our one and only foster failure. We had successfully fostered 7 dogs for Northern Lights Sled Dog Rescue before her, and we really enjoyed it and had no intention of getting a permanent second dog. We liked seeing them come in with health and behavior issues, fixing them up, and then sending them on their happy way with their next family.

But then Bitsy came into our lives, planted her flag and said "Hi, I'm Bitsy and you're my new family!" My first impression of her was that she was ugly. I know, I know, but it was totally true at the time. She had been found running the streets of a larger city in southern Indiana with half dead with pneumonia and was dramatically underweight with a seemingly large head on an emaciated 23lb body (eventually she settled around 30lbs). 

First photo I ever took of her after picking her up as a foster in June of 2012

The day after I picked her up, I took her to my parents' house by myself, a 7 hour roundtrip car ride, and I joked I gave her Stockholm Syndrome that weekend, because starting then and for the rest of her life, she adored me like I was a god.

At my grandparents' house that first weekend. Trademark tongue out, trying to lick the air as a consolation prize since I didn't have any skin in licking range

The sun rose and set by me for that dog from that weekend on. She wasn't annoyingly glued to me and she didn't have separation anxiety at all, but she tried to always be where she could at least see me. I started to fall in love with her, but even still I saw her as a foster dog. 

When NLSDR forwarded one applicant to me to review for her, I turned it down after I saw she would be crated most of the work day. Bitsy hated crates, but also, one small part of me kinda knew she wasn't going anywhere, even if I wouldn't admit it to myself for another few months yet.

Gazing adoringly at me

To the rescue's credit, they saw that coming too. It took me six months until November of 2012 to actually pull the trigger on keeping her, but during that entire time they never forwarded me another application, and they would later tell me that they "had a feeling." (For comparison, the longest we ever had a NLSDR foster dog before it got adopted was six weeks!)

Always the 'Nermal' to Tucker's 'Garfield'

Her breed was an enduring enigma until my former roommate Mark paid half of an Embark panel for her at Christmas last year, when we finally discovered she was 43% Husky, 18% German Shepherd, 12% Shar Pei (those forehead wrinkles and that boxy snout!), 10% Golden Retriever, 9% Chow Chow and 8% Boxer! There will truly never be another Bitsy.

Farmers told me more than once that she looked enough like a coyote that they'd shoot her in their fields if they saw her, but her personality couldn't have been further from it. She was joyous, happy, trusting and content. She really never needed to be on a leash, she was so glued to me (although yes we did leash her in public anyway, it's the right thing to do), and if Tucker escaped the backyard we'd find her squeaking on the porch, tattling on him rather than running through the open gate. I could count on one hand the number of times she barked in 8 years, usually in surprise. Outside of that, she was completely silent except for her trademark squeaking.

She always strongly preferred hanging out with people to hanging out with other dogs, a trait that was never more obvious than at the dog park or when she was boarded, where she'd stick to my side like Velcro and look up at me the whole time like "...are we done yet?" Austen's Lyra was the only dog she ever really played with.

Jeepin. Bitsy hated Jeepin (no she didn't ride up front like this)

Over the past couple of years, she started to decline. First, her vision got cloudy, then her hearing started to go, and then she started doing weird things like staring at the wrong side of doors. Eventually she was diagnosed with doggy Alzheimers and a tumor in the back of her throat that we couldn't remove that "will eventually kill her." 

 

The decision to put her to sleep was so much less clear cut with sweet, compliant Bitsy than it was with our independent, unconfineable Husky/Malamute mix we put down two years ago, but after a bladder infection that a round of antibiotics didn't even touch and finding her down and unable to get up twice over the weekend, I looked into her eyes and knew it was time.

That time Nick drew eyebrows on her with my eyeliner pencil while I was at the barn, lol

Bitsy's most defining trait was her licking, and in the end it was the licking that gave me the confidence that I was making the right decision. The day I picked her up from the rescue in 2012, she licked me with an intensity and desperation I had never seen in a dog before, and I politely told her to knock it off. The rescue coordinator laughed. "I place hundreds of Huskies a year and let me tell you, you will never break this one of her licking habit." 

Any exposed skin on any person she considered a friend was fair game for a tongue bath. I joked for most of her life that the day that dog stopped licking me would be the day I knew it was time to put her to sleep, and in the end that was actually true. Over her last couple of days, the most she could muster was a lick or two if I put my face up to her mouth.

The best at 'sit pretty'

To the best dog I have ever had and probably will ever have, thank you for finding me <3



September 23, 2020

Baby Annie and Connor, BFFs for Life

It's really a bummer that right when Mary's baby Annie (who turns two in November) started to enjoy riding horses I sent Connor to school! She went through a phase for a while in which horses were just too big, and she was a little intimidated specifically by riding, so we didn't press it and just let her hang out at the barn and feed treats, which she absolutely loves.

He is the absolute gentlest about taking treats from her tiny hands

 

But just in the past month she's started to REALLY like riding. The day these pictures were taken was the first time she had asked to ride in months. After this particular day, Mary said she fell asleep saying "Connor Pony. Auntie Jen. Bicycle helmet. Connor pony, treat," over and over. Mary has also caught her riding the couch arms like they were horses and talking to "Connor Pony".


Aeres is just a little too unpredictable for me to put a baby on her, so Connor's pony ride duties have since been temporarily taken over by my barnmate's 16hh+ geriatric retired Quarter Horse gelding.


 

Every week she learns new horse words. Last week I stood there grinning as Mary held her and pointed and said "Annie, this is the horse's stifle. Can you say stifle? Good girl, Annie! Annie can you point to the stifle?" And of course she did. She's going to have a better handle on horse anatomy than most adult amateurs by the time she's in Kindergarten. She's also able to identify and call out the gaits: while Annie and I were sitting there watching Mary trot Aeres last weekend, she pointed and said "Mama, trot trot pony!"


I think we will look back on this little smile as the moment Annie officially became a horse nut, God help her dad, lol.


Wearing the Dapplebay Dog and Pony Club onesie I got her and poking my horse in the nose with the blue glitter star crop her mom got me as a joke in college, which I then dutifully used in every riding class I took. We have SO come full circle.
 

Hilariously, last Sunday as I was just finishing tacking Aeres up and about to take her into the indoor, Annie pointed and said "Auntie Jen, helmet!" I had forgotten my helmet and the BABY reminded me! Are we raising this kid right or what? Barn kids are the best kids!