Sunday, October 22, 2017

Flying solo

One of the things I was most excited nervous about with moving Scout to a new location, was the idea of being more independent. Sure, I had finally procured my own truck and trailer but was I confident driving it out and about (NO) and furthermore, was I confident taking my baby horse to new places alone (DOUBLE NO)? But in the spirit of a steep learning curve, the time was now or never. Realistically, I couldn't sit around and wait until I was comfortable and if I had allowed my hand to be held in the past (or rather, relied on it) it was time to put my big girl breeches on and do it for myself.

And, you could say that I am very lucky because my horse is quite agreeable to my whims, but I am even more fortunate because I spent the last 16 months honing my skills under the tutelage of a trainer who helped shaped me into the horsewoman that I am today. Meaning, I have the skills and the ability to be independent, it was now time to use them.

So, as you have read previously, I've waited no time in getting out on the road and pushing the edges of my comfort zone, one solo trailer ride at a time.

Last week, I had the opportunity to school at a local barn nearby (where Nolan (now, Tango)) lives and is also home to Megan K's Indy. They are, as the crow flies, an 11 minutes trailer ride from my barn, so it makes sense to go over and school in the indoor and get a feel for the property as it's almost certain that we'll be riding there frequently in some capacity.

Look who's all jazzed up for his field trip?
I chose to ship him saddled because it's a VERY short trip and he's not confirmed standing at the trailer or in the cross ties (we're working on it), so it seems like the easier way to go about our trips. He loaded perfectly, with the help of a barn friend to do up the butt bar and we headed on our way. I was told that Friday mornings were typically quiet and a prefect time to bring a young horse over to check things out.

Once I arrived, I checked in, put the rest on my gear inside the barn and asked someone to help us unload. He walked off the trailer perfectly and we went for a hand walk around the property. Keep in mind, this is his second off property trip.

Taking in the sights

More concerned about the horses in turnout than any of the jumps in the outdoor

Rolltop = Scmolltop
So I headed into the barn with the idea that I would hand walk him around the indoor and get an idea for how he was feeling. If he felt good, I'd throw his bridle on and hop on.

Was not even concerned about the handsome fella in the mirror
One of the instructors was tack walking a horse and we chatted for a bit and then I thought he seemed settled enough to get on. When we came into the ring, she had left, but he stayed super chill and I climbed on. There's plenty to look at in this particular indoor. There are two big doors that open into the barn, a big door at A, a side door that was open about 5 feet and the door at C is open only on top so you can see decapitated humans walking by as you're riding around. The trainer came back in through the side door worried that it would set Scout off, but we wound up just tagging along on their tack walk and Scout settled in brilliantly. Once she was done tack walking, she left the arena and Scout handled that perfectly too. We trotted a few laps around, did a few changes of direction and called it a day.

Walking around on our own

An hour of walking around and this is old hat to him
I gave him lots of pats, told him what a wonderful boy he was and untacked him. I didn't trust him to stand perfectly at a new barn, but that needn't matter as he ground ties pretty darn well.

I guess I live here now?
I had someone help me load him up to leave and we headed back on our short journey home. When I pulled into the barn I was hoping to see someone's car parked so I'd have help unloading him, so I was in a bit of a panic when I realized no one was around.

Well, no time like the present to learn how to unload right? I threw the lead rope over his neck, unclipped him and let the ramp down. I patted him a few times to get him to move forward and just stand and once he did, I undid the butt bar and gave his tail a gentle tug. He loaded off the trailer by himself like he'd been doing it forever. What an incredible horse!?
Continues to meet and/or exceed expectations
As I left the barn that day I was grinning ear to ear. There's something truly special about being able to go out on your own, on your agenda and timeline, the open road ahead of you, just you and your horse building a partnership one trailer adventure at a time. I realize that for some the idea of hitting the road with your pony in tow is old hat, but I'm just arriving at the point in horse ownership. It's thrilling and terrifying and I'm loving every moment of it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Where we left off (pre-cellulitis)

In the spirit of 2ptober:)
Before Scout's cellulitis we had really started ramping up the workload in lessons. His condition was looking quite good and he could handle much more mentally and physically. So, we'd generally start a lesson with some dressage (schooling the walk is so hard for a baby) gradually asking for a little more suppleness and work over his back. The name of the game being transitions, transitions, transitions.

Fighting the balance between being supple and maintaining the forward energy 
Using the halt as a forward transition, ask for a little give and then release

At the walk and again at the trot, we'd serpentine the arena in loops, changing direction and punctuating the gait with a downward transition for a few strides to really help Scout use his hind end and engage over his back.

The tail, always with that tail
In canter, we just work on getting him in front of my leg and keeping a constant pace. I have a little PTSD from Riley, in that I don't trust my crooked body to pick up the right lead on any horse, but Scout is helping me by demanding that I try to stay straight when I ask and keep his hind end from creeping in once we're going. And while we're talking about creeping... I have to work on staying tall in my body and allowing my leg to get long with my weight in my heels (something that is a real struggle due to my crappy ankles) so that I don't let my leg creep up rendering it ineffective. Amazing how that works?!

Moving on to a little jumping, we try to reinforce what Scout already knows about jumping (very little), namely forward, straight, canter away. My job is to steer, keep my leg on and encourage him to go forward away from the jump all while not impeding his effort. And at this point in his sophomoric education I expect him to make some mistakes and to question what we're asking. He's a baby after all... SO while it's easy for me to get lured into thinking he's going to do everything correctly the first time, I need to remember to be a little more defensive in my position and really be supportive.

Good boy Scout
 And this is what it looks like when things don't go exactly as planned:

Me: Figure it out Scout

Second time around
I've gotten better at waiting for the horse to figure out what they are doing while still being effective. I think a year ago, I'd be climbing up the horse's neck trying to "help". During this particular lesson, we were in pretty good synch with one another so we decided to add in some jumping outside the ring, like a little baby xc school.

And Scout, while not really sure what he should do with his legs, was very game!

Warming up over the tiny coop
Baby's first log!

Good boy Scout!

Had a little Oh Shit moment here when he touched down on the log with his toe

The tail! Stop jumping up his neck Niamh!
I couldn't have been happier with his attitude. Obviously, the jumps are small enough that minimal effort is required (though, these logs are bigger than they look in the photos) but he's gaining confidence carrying a rider over fences one jump at a time.

I love this feeling after a good jump! #datbooty
So, while the injury set us back a bit in terms of condition and training, I'm feeling really excited about what the future holds for us. We'll get back on track soon.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Grooming essentials

Scout is a horse that thoroughly enjoys grooming, which is great because the little girl in me (you know the one who didn't get a horse until she was 32) wants to groom and brush and braid his hair all day long. Riley, while being a thin-skinned chestnut tolerated my grooming obsession and Nolan took some real convincing. I bought extra soft brushes for him and only the most gentle curries, and by the time he left he could be groomed like a normal horse.

Moving all your stuff certainly makes you accountable for your hoarding tendencies and while I don't have them regarding tack, I do have a lot of grooming stuff!

All the stuff NOT related to grooming in my trunk
Having less space actually makes me much more organized, paring things down in my tack trunk and keeping my trailer tack room neat and tidy. I thrive on being organized, so I love having a reason to sort through things and get rid of the clutter. It's also nice just to know where all my stuff is again!

I keep all my grooming stuff in a tote like this:
Not my actual tote
These are handy totes because they have lots of pockets, they can fit a ton of grooming supplies, and you can shove the whole thing into a small space if needed. Usually I dump the whole thing out once a year to wash my brushes and I through the tote in the machine to freshen it up. I've had mine going on 4+ years!

So what's in my grooming tote?

1. Sharp scissors (a must, and yes mine have my initials on them, hands off)
2. Sleek-Ez (This is invaluable in the spring. I like this smaller version but it comes in various widths)
3. Slick n Easy Grooming Block (fiberglass brick that is wonderful for pulling out loose hairs and keeping the coat slick and shiny. It's also great on dried mud)
4. Hoof picks (one can never have too many)
5. Insta-twitch (just a double ended snap and bailing twine, makes an excellent twitch when you're flying solo, just apply twitch and snap to halter, magic!)
6. Mane and Tail combs
7. Tail Wrangler Brush (supposedly designed to not break tail hairs, but I'm not convinced, I just use it judiciously)
8. Pulling combs (Definitely can't have enough of these. The wooden one is a POS though, so i should just toss it)
9. Sore No More Spray (liniment spray that I use after tough workouts, I've also used it on sensitive soles)
10. Leistner "Prinz" Brush (Literally my favorite brush of all time. Well worth the investment, it's the brush I reach for when I only have time for a quick groom)
11. Leistner Luxurious Goat Hair Brush (a super soft finishing brush. Adds nice shine to finish grooming, great for getting off really fine dust)
12. Goat Hair Soft Brush (nice short bristled soft brush, I love it for faces)
13. Dandy Brush (Acrylic bristled dandy brush that I use for very dirty ponies! Easy to clean)
14. Leistner Dandy Brush (Medium bristled stiff brush, perfect for caked on mud. I find the bristles to be a bit long)
15. Mini Cowboy Magic (I love having this around to get out grass stains on socks!)
16. ShowSheen Shine (I use this only in tails, I actually prefer Vetroline's Shine product, but I won't turn down free samples)
17. Zepher's Garden Fungus Spray (Scout is prone to cannon/elbow scurf and this stuff seems to keep it at bay. I don't think it's a miracle worker but I do like that it's natural and smells great)
18. Rider's Rasp (I haven't used this since Riley, but it's definitely handy for stray pieces of hoof that crack off)
19. Epona Comfy Flower Curry (I LOVE this little curry, and you can use it on every part of the body!)
20. Heavy Duty Curry (Not for the thin-skinned horse, this is really like a mini massager!)
21. Sarvis Curry Comb (For as cheap as this thing is, I use it nearly every day. Great for mud, perfect for baths, and it brings up shine really easily)

And yes, I know this is a lot of stuff, most of which I don't use every single day, but it's nice to have it all on stand by in my handy tote for when I need it. What's in your grooming bag? Do you have a brush or tool you can't live without?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Crystal Lake Park, NJ (our first off property trip)

A huge side benefit of moving Scout was that he was going to be in a location near several blog friends, so when Stacey asked us if we'd like to go on a hack to check out one of the nearby parks I jumped at the chance.

You see, this would be Scout's very first off the farm excursion (going to New Bolton doesn't count!) and I can hardly think of a better duo to help make our first trip a success.

Who has 4 hooves and loves adventures? This guy!
I arrived early to factor in extra loading time if I needed it (so far he's been an absolute superstar for loading). What I really needed the extra time for was cleaning him. OMG, homeboy found the stream in his paddock and has been having a ball.

Like this, but worse

So, I attempted to hose him off, let him stand in front of his fan and then I scraped mud off him until it was time to load. Some first impression you're going to make on Klein, Scout!?

He's not a confirmed self-loader (yet) so we still count on having someone to do up the butt bar for us, but he loaded quietly and we headed out to the park, about 30 minutes away. Crystal Lake Park is a gorgeous place with manicured trails, designated trailer parking, running water, real bathrooms and even a huge concrete horse mounting ramp.
We basically kept to the dotted green but also went into the woods a little for some hill action!
Stacey was already there and we chatted for a bit and I put Scout's bridle on and unloaded. He looked around a bit (he suddenly seemed MUCH taller) but took a deep breath and relaxed and started grazing. I fully utilized the mounting ramp to get on and we were off!

Our super partners for the day

miles and miles of this:)

I seriously had nothing to worry about though. This horse man... I feel like I've got PTSD or something because I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for him to act stupid or hot or spooky. But, I think what he's taught me in the last 4 months is how to trust. I feel like now, I trust him to behave how he has time and time again. He definitely looked around and was quite aware of his surroundings, but his only tension could be detected in some initial teeth grinding. Before I knew it he was stretching over his back and swinging along like he'd been doing this his whole life.

Always a good sign when you can pull your phone out early in the ride:)
We trotted for a nice portion and I'm happy to report that Scout felt super sound. He just cruised along behind Klein who set a nice pace. After going around the perimeter we headed into the woods where Stacey promised some very steep hills! It was probably some of the steepest terrain that Scout's ever encountered, but he picked his way up and down and even crossed a narrow wooden bridge that I thought he might give me grief about.
This was my face the entire ride!

Through the woods

We rode for about about an hour and fifteen minutes before heading back to the trailers. We certainly could have stayed out longer, but I felt like that was enough time to get a true feel for his attitude and ability in a new place. I couldn't be happier with his ho hum attitude about the whole thing. Having a horse that you can just throw on the trailer and go is such a blessing. And while Scout's appearance left little to be desired, I think he made a pretty good first impression on Stacey and Klein with his chill attitude:)

I dropped him off at the barn and then drove the 2.5 miles to Stacey's farm (how awesome is it that she's so close?) to meet the rest of her crew! I introduced Mocha to the All Ears app and she was hilarious about it. She was curious about me and then puzzled as to why this strange human was making horse noises! She's completely ridiculous and opinionated but so inquisitive, and almost human-like in her expressions!

And meeting Wes was just the icing on the cake for such a great day. He's like a giant teddy bear and he's just so sweet and gigantic. I was in love!

I couldn't be happier with how our first off property adventure turned out and I cannot wait to have more with blog friends (I'm looking at you Megan!).

Monday, October 2, 2017

Every day with him is a gift OR how cellulitis sucks

There's nothing quite like your horse getting injured or sick to help jolt you back into reality. I had been studying the fall calendar, looking for first events to take Scout to when I got a message (while I was on vacation) that Scout came in from turnout with a hot fat leg. I didn't panic, but I hated that I wasn't nearby and it was bad enough that a call to vet was placed.

He was initially very lame, sensitive to palpation and barely walking. My vet pulled a SAA on him and he was positive for an infection. So we deemed it most likely a case of cellulitis, he was ordered stall rest, bute for a few days and a regime of antiobiotics (IM/IV). He weaned off the bute and was significantly more comfortable after a few days. Things were looking up. Vet check a few days later and another SAA, improved results. My vet radiographed the leg to rule out any sort of fracture or chip and we decided to plan an ultrasound in a few days. He finished the course of mega antibiotics and was put on Naquazone to reduce the inflammation. The leg was still swollen and very, very hot.
Broken pony is good at dramatic posing
Three days later, the swelling was down, the heat was reduced and the infection was no longer present. My vet ultrasounded the soft tissue around the fetlock and found nothing of note, he was cleared for regular turnout and we opted to keep in a smaller paddock with a quiet buddy vs. his youngster gelding crew. We were scheduled to start under saddle the next day. The following morning not only was his leg fat and hot again, but he also managed to cut/scrape the skin off the front of his cannon on the bad leg #becauseofcoursehedid. UGH.
Luckily, this horse is an absolute saint
After checking in with my vet, we decided to cold hose, sweat it, jog and ride him to see how he was feeling. I spent the whole day feeling like I was going to throw up, I had such a terrible feeling that he was just broken and now, 12 days into stall rest and treatment I was mentally just spent.

So happy...
So we tacked up and headed up the hill (after a quick in hand jog to make sure he was sound) to the ring. I could have cried swinging my leg over. This 4 year old, on almost 2 weeks of stall rest was perfect. We walked around and he felt good, I was grinning ear to ear. Then I picked up a little trot, and he was LAME. Like, crippled, 3-legged lame. WTF?

We took some video of him under saddle and in hand and sent it to my vet. Puzzled, I took his polos off only to discover that he was significantly more sound without any pressure on the swelling. Now I was completely convinced he had a soft tissue injury. Devastated, I made another appt with my vet to re-check him. Another course of Naquazone started, a negative SAA and another ultrasound scheduled.

Meanwhile, I creep on my horse while he's in a makeshift small paddock
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't losing my mind a little bit. I trust my vet 100%, but my gut was telling me to look further. I felt like we were out of diagnostics at the farm so I scheduled a visit to New Bolton (it's just a few miles down the road) for a more thorough ultrasound just to completely rule out ANY soft tissue lesions/tears.

And, wouldn't you know it... my horse arrived at New Bolton and was SOUND. Palpated negatively, jogged sound, and they sent me home with a long term anti-inflammatory and told me that basically the cellulitis must have resurfaced again a few days prior, and that when he has an infection/swelling/pressure around that joint he's going to be lame. I was under strict instructions to wean him off stall rest while keeping the problem leg wrapped. I could begin taking the wrap off an hour a day until the swelling completely stayed down.

Oh Hai... Yes, I'm totally drinking the BOT kool-aid now
And with his prognosis up in the air and his short term care being pretty high-maintenance, I made the decision to move him close to home (more about this in another blog post). I needed to be able to wrap/re-wrap his leg at least once a day and monitor his progress more closely. Scout, while going through all of this was foot perfect. His only objection to stall rest could be detected by occasional teeth grinding. He was otherwise a gentleman for all of his poking and prodding and constant care.

Settling in, day one
The new barn made him a small paddock with a shed in a spot where he could see everything, but stay quiet. Day after day, he improved and I started leaving the wraps off for longer and longer. After about 10 days I switched him to wearing Back on Track wraps just overnight. His leg has stayed cold and tight and he's been sound. We started legging back up and he feels terrific.

Feeling good again!
And, as of a few days ago, he started big boy turnout. He's got a 15 acre field and 5 geldings to play with.
27 days after the initial injury/cellulitis 

He galloped for like 5 strides and realized he was surrounded by acres and acres of lush grass!
This whole experience made me realize something very special about this horse. I've never had that "heart horse" feeling before, but I think I understand what it is now. He seemed to understand that I was trying to help him and he tried so hard to be on his best behavior. While being on stall rest, we bonded more than ever, logging lots and lots of hours just being around each other. No riding, no agenda. Somehow, having riding taken out of the picture helped me to appreciate who he is even more. When I made the tough decision to move him I realized that even if he needed long term rehab, or couldn't be sound beyond a walk that this horse owed me nothing and that I would move heaven and earth to make him happy. healthy and comfortable.

I truly feel like every day with him is a gift. The future feels bright for us.