Wednesday, December 11, 2019

MDHT Eventing Derby!

This past weekend, Loch Moy Farm hosted their annual Donation Derby! Starting in mid-November, the venue pulls all their cross country fences in from the fields to be placed on the roughly 8 acres of interconnected all weather surface arenas for the winter season.

These arenas then stay open for schooling through March, and the Donation Derby marks the first winter schooling event of the year.

this was literally the only green grass near the trailers. we spent a lot of time right here haha
You might remember that Charlie's first ever sorta-kinda-cross country outing was to this venue back in March 2017, actually.

And we've been going back again and again ever since, including the following spring where Charlie came out swinging at BN after recovering from surgery, and then again last winter when we finally got our first real taste of schooling T fences.

short 1,400m course, started with mini show jump course then moved onto the mostly xc portion
Somewhat amazingly, tho, I've never actually done one of the derbies. They are somewhat unique events. The courses contain a combination of show jumps and xc jumps, and are slightly shorter than a standard xc course with speeds faster than show jumping.

Loch Moy runs the levels such that there's typically about 45 min between divisions dedicated to that level's "schooling session." Meaning, the 45 before Novice starts, all Novice riders are invited out on course to school whatever they want.

this water complex is the friggin coolest. also look at charlie's antlers!!!!!
In the past, I've taken advantage of this schooling session but then skipped out on the derby itself. Figuring the real takeaway from the day was that schooling.

This time tho.... I wanted the run haha.

my favorite parts were the transitions between rings - like this bank up the hill
Charlie's in great form right now - he was amazing for our final two horse trials of the year, plus we had a really nice relaxing but excellent xc school at home with friends the day after Thanksgiving. So. Ya know. I just kinda wanted to keep that party train rollin, lol.

With that in mind, I actually kept our schooling session super low key. Initially I had thought about having trainer K come out and coach me through the schooling to maybe work on some harder stuff... But that ended up not quite working out, and actually I came to sorta feel like maybe that lesson would be more valuable on some other day when we weren't up against a clock or dealing with crowded rings and knowing that I still had a full course to run afterward.

the terrain did an interesting little 'roller coaster' thing here between these two rings too
Because on this day, yea, I wanted to focus on that course haha. So for schooling I mostly treated it as an extra lengthy warm up, and mostly focused on showing Charlie the transition points between rings.

We jumped a couple of the fences, but not all of them. Schooled the bank a little bit, since it would be our first ever time having a jump before a bank (instead of after, which we've seen a few times now). Got our toes wet in the water. Jumped the table going past the ivied wall I'd seen some other horses spook at (Charlie did not care, obvi). But.... honestly, that was kinda it.

this is the normal show jump ring that loch moy recently completely rebuilt - see the ivy covered wall of signage to the left??
We were finished schooling and ready to go with still something like 20min of waiting ahead of us haha, during which time I parked it at the rail to chat with friends and chug a beer lol.

Charlie was AMPED, but honestly felt really good. 

Eventually, tho, it was time. Actually, just in time for Austen to show up too, yay friends!!

ditch in the driveway!
I hadn't warmed up over many of the show jumps bc.... Honestly I basically figured we were just gonna knock them all down anyway and didn't want to make the volunteers have to keep resetting them for us. So I hadn't schooled any of the first part of the course - the mini show jump round.

It looked pretty basic, tho. Again, I totally expected to knock them all down (lol) bc it's really hard to transition from xc gear back to sj gear, and Charlie isn't exactly all that careful to begin with... But actually Charlie was really really lovely! He settled right in to a great rhythm and let me pilot him to each of the first three fences, which were was mostly sweeping turns and bending lines.

cell phone screen shot of the two stride combo, artfully blocked by tree
Next was a two stride combo that looked like it'd be an easy but not-too-tight distance for Charlie.

Plus they positioned it right up against some banks where spectators were sitting, making it jusssssst spooky enough that Charlie stood off ever so slightly, enough for me to keep supporting him through with leg. Yay for no smashies!!!

oooh hey i got actual pro photos too!
I kinda biffed my turn to the final show jump tho, so we ended up slicing that oxer and taking a fairly direct route to the first xc fence. The oxer on an angle was fine, but our distance to the next coop ended up being a little icky, esp considering it was a small jump that did nothing to back Charlie off... Oh well, it was ugly but basically fine.

It's kinda our way anyway to have at least one spectacularly ugly jump haha...

gosh this horse is the most handsomest <3
From there tho, Charlie was GOING haha. Actually, all the fences were kinda small which didn't really help, but Charlie mostly listened and came back to me when I needed him to.

He rocketed through the water, was obscenely bold through the bank combination, raced across the second arena and through the cut point up to the final arena, smashed through a show jump up there, launched over the table, careened back across the driveway and over the ditch, then swooped through the final tour of the middle arena before crossing the finish flags.

doin it for fun!!!
All in all, clocking in at 3:34 haha, 15 seconds under optimum time and the second fastest round of the day lol. And guys, it was so fun omg.

For as much as I love pushing myself, and trying out bigger and badder things... A day like this was honestly really really great. It was so nice to go into a jumping test feeling like all we had to worry about was having a good time.

The jumps themselves were easy, the course was uncomplicated yet exciting with rapid-fire jumps, and we didn't have to fuss around with any dressage tests or anything like that. Yessss. Sign. Me. Up.

charlie's stalkin some dogs!!
Honestly I just wish Loch Moy was closer to home haha, bc otherwise we'd probably be here every weekend doing this!

My only real regret is not planning out my outfit far enough in advance -- everyone always dresses up in Christmas themed outfits and costumes for the Donation Derby. Sadly we were extremely boring and grinchy in my basic schooling outfit. Tho at least Charlie wore his antlers haha <3

good boy, sir. that was fun!
So yea. Not really a day of learnings or takeaways or deep thoughts or foundation laying or anything like that. Just a good ol' fashioned romp around on my game thoroughbred.

And I definitely wanna do it again haha, hopefully soon!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

metronomes + a yellow submarine

I mentioned last week that we've been doing a lot (LOT) of riding lately. But with media hard to come by, my words well has sorta run dry too.

I'm trying to change that, tho, especially bc I'm expecting (hopefully, fingers crossed!!!) both a change in the media landscape AND an influx of stuff that'll want sharing haha. So I gotta clear the proverbial ledger now while I still have a chance.

Meaning. Brace yo'selves for some riding updates, lol.

this bite-sized shetland stallion quite possibly wanted a bite outta charlie.... 
Because yea. Again and again, I find that writing out the occasional nitty gritty or golden nugget of wisdom really helps reinforce that idea in my gray matter. Plus I routinely reference my own archives to help remind myself of key concepts or past experiences. So. Ya know. Documenting this stuff is worth it to me.

If, additionally, anything I share here happens to spark some sort of aha! moment or whatever for anyone of you? All the better, right?

So. Anyway. Recent riding.

oh hey. btw. we went to Fair Hill's 3* / 4* back in october. twas fun!! might post eventually!
1. My first big nugget relates to how I've been working (still) to internalize some of the feedback from our Martin Douzant clinic a while back. Mainly relating to my hand and arm position.

Basically, my hands are completely out of control, and when left to their own devices will stray wildly hither and yon. Ideally, I'd like to fix this via muscle memory. If I can "lock" my hands into place and keep them there, maybe the rest of my body will get used to that positioning such that even when my hands are "untethered" they still stay more or less where they belong.

latest hack for trying to be a less shitty rider: fabric ribbon tucks under neck strap and has knotted loops at each end to hold with the reins. this helps keep my hands "in the box"
To this end, I've taken a fairly long strand of sturdy fabric ribbon and tied a generously sized loop at either end. If I ride with a neck strap or breastplate (like my Illumiseen LED breastplate that we use for nighttime riding), this ribbon just tucks underneath and I hold each looped end in a hand with my rein.

It isn't the most elegant or perfect solution, but it forces my hands to stay within a certain zone in front of the saddle, and without straying too far away from either side of the neck. The biggest impact is on my rein length -- the ribbon forces me to keep my reins short enough for my contact to stay effective. Pretty sure baling twine would also work.

This is all for the good. Tho... sometimes the ribbon is distracting and I end up pocketing it. But sometimes I regret forgetting it all back in the barn. All in all, it's a 'solution' I'll likely continue to play with for the foreseeable future.

notes from a recent clinic. the biomechanics implications here are fascinating to me and have informed my schooling.
for real tho, in that black ink diagram (mine, vs the blue ink of the instructor) i really truly swear-to-god was going for "horse tail" and not "fountain of shit." fine artist i am not.
2. A few weeks back I participated in a clinic billed as "Solutions for Soundness." I'm not really going to write super in depth about that experience front to back, nose to tail, bc.... Eh. It didn't live up to my expectations.

BUT!! There were a few really important takeaways. Well, ok. There was ONE really interesting takeaway!

The clinic was led in part by an equine sports massage expert, whose purported role in the clinic was to provide feedback on way of going and riding exercises to promote long term soundness. Again I'm going to skip most of the details bc the bark was better than the bite, but she did have one key observation that I'm clinging to as being at least sorta kinda worth what it cost me lol.

fairly basic ground pole exercises in the (very expensive) clinic, but good stuff all the same
Specifically: upon first presenting Charlie, she observed that his hind end musculature is unevenly developed. His "hamstrings" (not the technical term, but basically the long vertical muscles that run up the back side of each leg on either side of the tail) are over-developed, and his glutes (the massive muscles spanning the space across the top of the hind quarter from tail to SI) are under-developed.

This is basically the muscular representation of "running hollow." Or, the representation of why I might spend the whole beginning of my ride legging Charlie on to go go go, but then the rest of the ride trying to whoa whoa whoa as he runs off flatly away.

She called it a "speed evasion," aka a failure at the most fundamental building block of the training pyramid: rhythm. Addressing our Rhythm woes will help build the glutes by getting Charlie to engage his "push" while simultaneously (hopefully) evening out his topline.

So yea. It's a good takeaway. Am I grumpy that it's all I feel I got for the cost? Mebbe. But whatever. Water under the bridge. Let's bleed this rhythm stone for all it's worth, yes?

all in favor of rhythm, say metronome. this app has been living in my pocket lately
Thus, 3. I downloaded a new app in my endless quest toward "better riding through technology."

This time, it's a metronome app. Specifically, Soundbrenner. I chose it bc it was the first search result for "metronome" that didn't say "in app purchases!" And actually it's pretty decent. Very intuitive, lots of sound options, variations that would easily work for walk / trot / canter / etc, whatever you want.

Mostly tho I just set it to "trot" and leave it there for the duration of my ride. Canter might be something I play with down the line (that 3 beat note subdivision in the bottom right of the image above), but for now trot is where it's at for us.

And... It's "where it's at" bc holy fuck, it's HARD. Like... First of all just deciding on a beats/min (bpm) range was challenging bc you don't realize how a-rhythmic you are until you put a beat to it.... The google told me a good working trot is about 75bpm, but I'm finding Charlie's sweet spot might be closer to 77-78. Maybe. Ish?

Anyway tho, leaving this thing running in my pocket is fascinating. Bc holy shite we cannot keep a rhythm. At all omg. But I actually really like having the beat going in my pocket. It gives me a baseline to focus on, rather than getting distracted by a popped shoulder or hard mouth.

Bc, go figure, that "training pyramid" thing might have a least a kernel of wisdom to it (even if you disagree with the overall structure). Rhythm it turns out is a fundamental building block to straightness and connection. And when I have a literal metronome in my pocket to help keep me honest, everything else magically gets better. Goooooooo figure lol.

recent lesson exercises
Whew, ok, that was a lot more than I meant to write about that. Lol... Moving on.

4. Our lessons have been excellent. Back in September I wrote a lesson post about working on short turns to big oxers that included two crashing refusals. At the time I attributed the issues to the extremely hard ground and Charlie's probably-sore feet. And now? I feel completely 100% confident in that initial assessment.

Charlie's been a beast. Y'all saw it in the video from our last lesson recap, and there have been so many more that didn't have any media but are still worthy of mentions.

Specifically, the left side of the diagram above shows our warm up from a lesson quite a few weeks ago. Most of the details are gone from my head now, but this warm up exercise has stuck with me. It actually took a minute for me to understand what Trainer K was asking here, I started out by making giiiiiiiant sweeping turns in between jumps.

But actually she wanted a pretty tight figure 8, with the fences (I think both verticals, at a low warm up height) taken at quite acute severe angles. It's a very effective exercise for turning and straightness, and would probably work at all heights including cavaletti and ground poles.

photograph of final wide oxer from diagram above. doesn't look like much in the pic, but compare the distance between the standard feet in this pic to the pic below
5. Our most recent lesson with Trainer K (last week) occurred after the biomechanics escapade mentioned as part of item #2 (I call it #2 bc in my head it's shitty.... but now in writing it out I'm extracting more value, so... le sigh.... maybe it wasn't so bad after all...).

Trainer K was a participating instructor in that clinic, and therefore apparently came away with additional exercise ideas revolving around the idea of improving Charlie's hind end development.

On this day, her prescription was: a low wide oxer taken off a short turn, complete with a placing pole (9' I think) and guard rails to keep us centered.

photograph for reference. this oxer is 3'3 in height, but not particularly wide. see how close the feet of these standards are in comparison to the standards above.
Charlie did really really well with this, tho coming off the left lead was substantially easier than the right. And, actually, he needed one step more of support from me than I was giving. As the lesson progressed, I got a better and better feel for managing our pace and rhythm through each portion of the approach - the long side, the turn through the end, then the turn to the jump, then to the jump itself.

But that last stride, when we met the placing pole before the oxer, Charlie needed a little more from me. The guard rails kept us very straight and the low wide nature of the oxer wanted a lot of push from Charlie - activating exactly that section of muscles where he's less developed. It was actually really really interesting to feel.

This horse is so extremely capable. He never doubted himself over the exercise (thank the lort, compared to how he felt at the end of this summer on hard ground....) But I could really feel the moments where I needed to be more there for him.

spoiler alert: all this edumacation at home has meant that we're ready for balls-to-the-walls fun at winter schooling events!!
So, that takes us to 6. Trainer K gave me yet another little golden nugget, almost accidentally - it was such an off-handed remark haha. As we were talking about rhythm and working on that approach, she said that she doesn't usually "count" for her young horses bc that's too structured for them. Rather, she "sings."

And.... What does she sing??? Yellow Submarine.


So. Obviously our very next go at the exercise, Trainer K immediately says, "Yes that canter right there!" and, go figure, I was singing that song in my head.

It's not perfect for me yet, bc any time I change one thing, something else breaks. Thinking about that song requires way more brain power for me than just counting, bc I've been counting for years and years and years -- it's second nature. But the song somehow fits right in, and I fully expect it to carve its own neural pathways too, probably sooner rather than later lol.

So. Yea. Lots of good nuggets lately haha, hopefully with more to come! (Spoilers if you haven't been following my youtube lol....). Anyone else had any great takeaways lately? Or even something kinda small that's made a big difference?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

gingerbread men

Happy Sunday, everyone! Hope you're all having good weekends! We spent some quality time this weekend getting into the holiday spirit, if ya know what I mean.

pictured: holiday spirit.
Obviously, to the tune of hitting up my local convenience store to buy every last bit of tinsel-y bling-y jingle-y goodness. Just in time for some family and friends to come out to the barn for a fun day of playing ponies and picnicking!

we blinged out his stall lol
Which obviously included decorating Charlie's stall. Obviously. We tried to be careful in only attaching stuff where we hoped it would be out of reach... Tho I suppose only time will tell on that. Charlie has a penchant for destruction every now and again, the grinch.

these gingerbread men cookie kits were.... kinda janky haha
I also picked up some gingerbread man decorating kits that were.... Somehow amazingly designed for human consumption despite being apparently made out of stale cardboard. And true story, the icing tubes were so gluey that we actually had to cut them open with scissors lol.

adapt evolve overcome!! y'all are destined for greatness haha
We're a resourceful group, tho, and eventually the cookies were decorated. And c'mon, they're kinda cute, right?

charlie would very much like to learn more about this gingerbread man situation
Charlie certainly thought so haha.

Lol those poor gingerbread men, they never saw it coming. While Charlie's first bite was more or less delicate (tho, quite fatal being that he chomped the thing's head off), the second bite was..... A bit more ambitious haha.

And actually, for your viewing pleasure I turned it into an inspirational music video. Bc dammit I wish someone would cheer like that when *I* stuff my entire face with food lolol... Charlie's not the only one who can knock off a giant cookie in one two bites!!

aww he's a good dog tho.... (and those antlers omg i die)
Ha. So. Yea. The holiday gluttony may or may not have come early to Charlieland. Something tells me he doesn't mind tho! And anyway, it was fun so who cares.

Anyone else planning any fun horsey holiday parties?? Perhaps also with homemade (or home decorated) treats? I highly recommend the gingerbread men, it's fun for the whole family (but mostly Charlie) lol...

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

FCE's "X" Factor Part 1: Barn Life

Generally speaking, my horsey plans and goals are often formulated based on how I feel about my riding. Meanwhile the general "barn life" experience is mostly kinda an afterthought.

Being realistic, tho, most of my time at the farm is not spent in the saddle. And actually, my relationship with the barn itself can majorly influence my overall experience, even subconsciously. Which, naturally, impacts whether I ever meet those overarching goals or not.

Recently, Stacie referenced an interesting Chronicle of the Horse article about "not being an annoying boarder." I say "interesting" bc its examples of annoying boarder behaviors weren’t at all relevant to my own barn experience. At all. That author's barn is set up completely differently from mine, rendering her suggestions almost entirely moot.

But it got me thinking. Bc don't we all want to be pleasant upstanding members of our barn communities? And what does that even mean? Esp in more broadly applicable terms? So I want to take a closer look at key factors to the healthy barn relationship.

With this as an introduction, the 'Fraidy Cat Eventer is pleased to present the "X" Factor, a mini series exploring what it means to optimize our horsey experience and expectations, and be our best selves within that structure. Starting with: Barn life. 

Part I: 5 Factors for Healthy & Happy Barn Life

The following comprise what it means to me to be set up for success at my barn. This should theoretically include everything I expect from my barn, while also clearly delineating my own responsibility as a boarder.

Obviously I'm drawing heavily from my own experiences to build this list, but am curious to know whether you agree or disagree. Would these same factors be on your list too? Or would your list look entirely different? Or maybe some of these lines blur together for you?

1. Services Agreement 

In my experience as both barn staff and boarder, the healthy barn relationship begins with a signed mutual agreement outlining the services provided and the costs thereof. This is the document stating, explicitly in words, what is covered by the cost of board.

At a minimum, the agreement should assign responsibility for a horse's fundamental needs: feeding, watering, turn out, clean up, and emergent care. For my lifestyle and purposes, I choose to board at what's considered a "full care" barn, meaning that these basics are all handled by barn staff. 

Other services may be considered in the agreement too, either included in the cost of board or as a la carte add-on fees: grooming, blanketing, exercise/training, scheduling and/or holding for farrier and/or vet services, trailer parking, laundry, booting for turn out, or other ad hoc necessities like stall rest or wrapping / medication surcharges. 

Regardless, a critical factor in being a happy boarder and/or barn mgr is knowing what's covered, and what isn't. Being completely realistic, if you begin a relationship with a barn without seeing eye to eye on the care or price.... You're setting up friction down the road. 

2. Delivery of Care

Factor #2 is the execution of the above services agreement. The expectation is that the barn delivers on what is agreed, and the owner pays. Both should operate within the parameters of that agreement, without demanding more or being negligent.

My expectations for barn management:

Essentially, it's the barn manager's responsibility to literally do the things laid out in the boarder agreement. But like. Really. Do them. And be accountable for them. Specifically,

- Deliver on the services stipulated in the board agreement.
- Maintain an environment that promotes the horse's safety, welfare and quality of life.
- Supply food and clean water sufficiently and on time, per the agreement.
- Routinely observe the horse for any signs of injury or illness.
- Contact the owner immediately with any questions or concerns.
- If barn staff is responsible for cleaning the barn... The barn should be cleaned.

As a barn worker, I always asked myself questions like, "What would a prospective new boarder think if they toured the barn while I'm working? Would they be satisfied with putting their horse in the stall I just mucked?"

- Manage turn in / out in a manner safe for both the staff and the horses.
- If the staff is large, ensure info is shared effectively from one shift to the next (rather than relying on the boarder to communicate individually with every worker).
- Do these things.
- Really. Do them. Completely, thoroughly, and without needing prodding or micromanagement.
- Also, let me know if I'm doing something wrong. Please.
- Put the horses first, always.

And in turn, the expectations for me as the boarder are to:

- Pay my bills.
- Make caring for my horse as easy as possible within reason.
- Provide clear instruction where applicable, like feed amounts, or a blanketing rubric by weather conditions if blanketing is an included service.
- Replace broken or missing equipment (like halters or water buckets) quickly.
- Follow barn protocols on storage of equipment, food, supplies, etc.

For example, staff at Isabel's barn were fine with measuring supplements out for each meal. At Charlie's barn, they require any supplements to be in pre-measured single servings.

- Communicate any changes or special needs cases via the "normal" channels in a timely manner.

We have various boards for sharing notes and updates. If it's not on the board? It might as well not exist.

- Label all the things.
- Pitch in or lend a hand when possible.
- At the very least, do *not* create additional unnecessary work for staff.
- If I don't know how something is supposed to be done, ask.
- And, ya know. Be flexible when unexpected disruptions occur.

Examples of pitching in will vary by barn. For example, I can fill Charlie's hay nets when I'm around, pick his stall when he's on stall rest, turn him in or out myself when I'm there (and maybe grab a second horse while I'm at it), or whatever.

These small tasks are inconsequential to me but make a worker's day that much easier. On the flip side, I promise you, barn staff will always notice if you make more work for them. Always. If you habitually leave messes behind, constantly block the aisles during turn in, or put your horse out 10 min before staff needs to bring him back in... They will notice.

Ultimately, tho, my most critical boarder responsibility is to advocate for my horse. So I want to make sure that when I *DO* speak up about my horse's care, I'm heard.

The best way to make this happen is to only say it when I mean it. To not be noisy about shit that doesn't matter. I don't mind being a giant pain in the ass when it comes to getting the basics of my horse's care covered. For the rest? I'm trying to learn to pick my battles.

3. Facilities

Presumably you've selected your barn because it has what you want. Likely some complicated calculus of riding space, turn out, stall configuration, etc. This is all relative, right? One rider might value trail access when another prioritizes indoor space.

Personally, riding facilities are key to my happy barn life. I ride year round in all weather - even dark winter nights, so options like an indoor or lighted arenas are important. Likewise, as an eventer, I chose a barn with a dressage ring, jump ring, and full cross country course. Access to these facilities is outlined in my boarder agreement and covered by my monthly payment.

Basically my expectations from the barn regarding these facilities are:

- Resources and equipment are maintained to be safe and usable.
- Footing in the riding arenas is consistent, and the xc course isn't riddled with holes etc.
- Equipment shouldn't be dangerously in disrepair.
- Any issues impeding the resource (like burnt out lights or a tree fallen into the ring or whatever) should get addressed in a timely manner. 

On my end, it's my responsibility to:

- Obey rules, follow acceptable guidelines, make safe choices, and share space.

Sometimes riding spaces get crowded, especially on dark winter nights when options are limited. As a member of the 'boarder tribe,' I must be safe and easy to ride around, and respectful of others. Even just reliably calling out "inside!" or "outside!" is key haha.

I also need to be respectful of the equipment and overall space:

- If stuff is supposed to get put away after I use it, put it away.
- If the xc course shouldn't be used in wet conditions, don't go tearing up the ground.
- If the lights are supposed to get turned off, make it happen.
- And for cryin out loud, do *not* leave manure where no manure should be.

The funny thing about sharing space is.... People tend to notice if you leave a "trail." Whether that's gear left lying out, gates/doors left open, horse hair or hoof cleanings that didn't get swept, hoses left uncoiled, and *ahem* manure.

These things do not go undetected haha, bc someone will always end up having to clean the mess. And you better believe they know for a fact that it wasn't their mess. 

4. Access to Professionals

This aspect will also vary widely by individual horse person. What we need in terms of professional services in support of our horse's care will depend in large part on what our horsey lives look like. I'm including it here tho bc, in my opinion, it's still key to a happy barn life. Can I get access to the services I need to help keep my horse thriving?

For instance, most horse people will need a vet, and many require farrier services. Beyond that, trainer options are also useful to have in orbit, haha. Maybe some sort of body worker too.

This doesn't necessarily mean that there must be professional riders or coaches based at every barn, but access to them (having the trainer onsite or shipping out) is, for me, pretty critical. After years of hauling out for lessons tho (which I still do frequently), I gotta admit it's nice to have options at home haha!

Ideally, when it comes to the pros I employ, my approach has been to find people whose judgement I trust, then just go with it. Once I've built my team around the horse, I mostly want to follow the advice I pay for and trust their guidance. I expect these service providers to be open to questions and feedback, however. Because again, I need to be my horse's best advocate.

Generally, my expectations for any of these pros is that they keep their appointments, communicate reasonably well, and do good work. That's.... Basically it.

And in return? I pay my bills in full on time haha.

5. Community

This last puzzle piece to happy barn life is more nebulous, but still directly related. Basically, I'd still ride horses even if I were alone in the endeavor. But I'm grateful for the value a vibrant, friendly and positive barn community adds to my experience.

In a way, this is its own resource -- to be nurtured and maintained by all interested parties.

Toxic environments are a drag, and hard to stop once started. There's a million different variations, too. People can be petty, rude, demanding, dismissive, selfish, entitled, egotistical, ignorant... They shirk responsibilities or create unnecessary work for others. There are absent minded idiots and ungenerous curmudgeons.

The way I see it tho, we're all drawn to horses for a reason. Many of us appreciate the "escape" horses offer us, and I find it useful to remind myself that everyone else is filling that same need in their own way. With that in mind, my expectations for myself and my barn mates are to:

- Be kind, polite, inclusive, conscientious, considerate, tactful, respectful, nice.
- Share space and resources, and don't take what isn't yours.
- Say 'hi' and maybe even smile (unless you're absolutely allergic, in which case, you do you).
- Recognize that we all pay the same board - there's no hierarchy. The ancient pasture pet or kid's pony has as much right to a grooming bay as the horse shipping out to competition in the morning.
- Alternatively, give way for sick or injured horses whenever possible.
- Help out, lend a hand / eye / ear if someone else is having a hard time. Maybe they'll return the favor down the line.
- Remember that "talking it out" can be disarming rather than a confrontation.

So yea. Like I said earlier, I built the above list based mostly on my own experiences in the horse world as staff and now owner. It's hardly a complete list, but this, for me, sums up what I believe are the key factors to a satisfying and enjoyable barn experience. The launching pad for all those grandiose horsey hopes and dreams.

It's interesting tho, because going through the list helped me figure out some areas where I could be better too, like:

- Being a better communicator
- Asking questions and giving feedback when something's on my mind
- Giving the benefit of the doubt
- Having a shorter memory lol

I'm curious to know what you think, tho. Do you agree or disagree with all or any of the above? Would these same factors be on your list too? Or would your list of top factors to happy barn life look entirely different? Why?

Monday, December 2, 2019

'Fraidy Cat Learns: IM Injections

So my birthday was a few weeks ago, and this year I decided to treat myself by getting a little work done for Charlie. Like ya do, right? Don't all "our" presents kinda end up being "horse" presents in the end?

the look of a horse who knows what's coming lol
Anyway, nothing was wrong with Charlie, generally speaking. Like, obviously we were fresh off two great horse shows where Charlie demonstrated his total and complete physical fitness for the job at hand. Obviously, that made me pretty happy, right?

But he was due for his hocks anyway, plus I was kinda interested in repeating the whole "overall wellness check" we did about 6 months ago. Meaning, the same vet came out and we repeated all the same flexions etc (omg soooo much jogging tho....) and compared notes against last June.

yep, that's a sleepy charlie!
Overall, the vet felt like Charlie was presenting better than he had last time, and she'd been generally pretty satisfied with his soundness and condition then anyway. So, ya know, that's nice to hear haha. Particularly, we talked about her feedback from last time on my approach to conditioning Charlie.

If you recall, she basically said last summer that my understanding of conditioning was kinda back-asswards. I was very preoccupied with low-impact work, and "protecting" Charlie from too much high impact. I had this idea of "saving" him, like limiting his jumping etc.

Which, the vet argued that this was not right. She said the purpose of conditioning a horse is to help prepare the horse's body for handling the work. So, if galloping and jumping are part of the work, they need to be part of the conditioning. Obvi you don't generally go full intensity (max speed / max height / max duration). But there has to be shades, ya know?

And... it made a lot of sense when she broke it down like that, right? If I haven't jogged in ages, the first time I go a couple laps around the block might make me pretty sore. But as I get used to introducing that type of impact to my body, all the joints and muscles and sinew become more adapted to that impact. That's uh.... how conditioning works lol.

post-injections restrictions means that homeboy was dying for a good roll!
So yea. Anyway, I made changes to our program since then. And overall the vet was happier with Charlie's general condition and felt like he was presenting a pretty good picture going into the off season.

We still opted to do his hocks, bc that's basically a standard element of Charlie's maintenance package anyway. Plus we added in his front coffins. This year was brutal for hooves with the ground being so hard for so long, and we've had a hard time keeping Charlie as comfortable as I'd like on his feet. Probably this particular treatment will not become part of the "routine," but it made sense given our current conditions.

and a good shake too, obvi haha. i just <3 his goofy face tho
We also spent some time talking about less invasive ways to continue promoting Charlie's health and soundness proactively. Particularly, I asked about feed through and IM supplements.

Like most vets I've talked to, there are very limited circumstances where they recommend most OTC feed through supplements. Tho we did talk a little bit about options like Equioxx, the vet felt like at this particular moment something IM might be a better fit.

She told me that recent research has shown that drugs like Adequan don't necessarily have any increased benefit when given regularly (like monthly, for instance). Rather, she's now of the opinion that doing one boxed treatment (7 doses given one per every 4 days) is sufficient for overall general support.

one box contains 7 doses intended for administration every 4 days
She suggested it's more cost effective to do a box once or twice a year, rather than routine monthly shots. And that this approach can help make the other treatments I'm doing for Charlie last longer and be more effective.

So I picked up a box during that appointment, and a couple weeks later we started the treatment. Which brings us to this post's whole point: administering IM injections.

My barn manager has typically handled Charlie's stabby-jabby needs for me (like the many doses of IM antibiotics he's needed over the years....) but this seemed, for whatever reason, like the right time to learn how to do it myself.

single dose vial. it's really not a huge amount, especially compared to to some of the syringes of excede charlie's had to get in the past!
It's honestly not typically considered a very big deal, in the grand scheme of things. Most of my barn mates are more than comfortable giving IM shots, and this particular drug has pretty low risks overall, even if you end up accidentally sticking yourself or injecting into the wrong spot.

Of course, there are other drugs where that is absolutely not the case. Like... If you accidentally stick your own self with depo or dormosedan, you're.... gonna have a bad time. And some drugs can be extremely dangerous to the horse if they end up going directly into the blood stream instead of the muscle.

It's kiiiiiinda hard to "accidentally" go IV vs IM (into the vein vs into the muscle), but still. Steps should be taken to avoid the drug going literally anywhere except where you want it. The very first (and most critically important) of those steps is: consulting a professional. End of story.

I am *NOT* a professional by any stretch of the imagination. I'm nowhere near qualified to provide guidance on this subject. But I'm into learning more about the horsey experience, and sharing those learnings with y'all. The general takeaway from this whole thing is: if you're interested in learning how to administer IM injections, it's actually pretty easy with the right instruction.

the whole kit 'n kaboodle
For me, the first step was familiarizing myself with the equipment. Meaning, using my own hands to put stuff together, rather than just watching. Bc let's be real, I learn with my hands.

The box (part A in the above picture) included all the necessary parts plus a few spares. Notably, it included one extra needle (B1 and B2). I guess the idea is to have a spare in case you lose or contaminate one. My barn manager suggested that I use the spare as a "sacrifice" needle, tho.

The needle must pierce the rubber stopper in the vial (D) in order to pull out the dose, and this dulls it slightly. Rather than try to inject the horse with a slightly dulled needle, she suggested keeping one sacrifice needle to always use for pulling the drug into a fresh sterile syringe barrel (E), then using a fresh sterile needle (C) to inject into the horse. This way the horse always gets the sharpest (and therefore most effective) administration.

sacrifice needle marked by tape. should you happen to be ordering needles separately from your drug of choice, my BM recommended "luer lock" needles that have caps that screw/thread on to the needle vs these that pop on and off. the popping off can be a little challenging, or at least i thought so. 
Each needle tip comes in its own protective sterile casing, which can be used keep the "sacrifice" needle safe between uses. We marked this case with blue tape so it was always obvious which to use.

The vials themselves also have little plastic caps that you flick off with a finger nail to expose the rubber stopper that you see in the pic above. So the whole system is pretty well protected for this sacrifice needle that only ever comes out to punch those rubber stoppers.

fresh needle tip on syringe barrel that was filled using the sacrifice needle tip
I actually found that there was a bit of a learning curve to using the syringe barrel and plunger to pull the fluid out of the vial. It's not necessarily hard, it just takes me a couple tries of pulling the plunger down, then letting it rise back up again, then pulling down again, until eventually all the fluid is pulled from the vial and into the syringe barrel.

From this point, you just release any air trapped inside the syringe (again tho, my BM assured me there was no real risk to air bubbles -- that I could inject an entire syringe of air into Charlie's neck and he'd be totally fine. I, uh, obviously do not recommend testing this out).

Then I put the sacrifice needle back into its case (carefully!) and put a new fresh needle onto the syringe, leaving the protective case on until the last possible moment. Mostly, ya know, to avoid stabbing my own self lol.

the "TRIANGLE" plus shiny wet spot marked by alcohol wipe, where we administered the injection. please note my triangle lines are rough estimates based on my limited experience. please consult a professional for in-person guidance.
Honestly the hardest part for me is the act itself. I'm mostly pretty comfortable with understanding the right area in which to aim my injection, roughly the triangle above (again, please seek professional help before trying yourself!). The "triangle" is the space in front of the shoulder, above the spinal column and below the crest, where there's lots of nice deep muscle.

My barn manager suggested "marking" my intended location with an alcohol prep pad (F in the earlier diagram) used to clean the site. She said she likes to grab a pinch of skin both to tighten up the area plus sorta give the horse a bit of a warning. Then she knocks the site 2-3times with a knuckle, then boom. Stabby jabby.

The needle must go directly into the muscle, all the way. Which like, does indeed skeeve me out more than a little bit. Actually, for Charlie's first dose I chickened out at this point and made BM do it. The second time tho... I was determined that I *would* learn this thing.

So I did it! And? It was fine. The sharp needle really helps. Also it helps that Charlie's been stabbed and jabbed every way imaginable during his lifetime. He straight up does not care haha. Good boy <3

clearly he survived. this time.
Once the needle is all the way in, it's a good idea to do a little pull on the plunger to make sure you're not in a blood vessel. Again tho, it's kinda hard to do that by accident lol.

If that's clear, then plunge away. I wanted to go a little slower in pushing the fluid in than was called for - esp with such a thin liquid in such a small amount. If it were a fussier horse I'd definitely have to go faster. Tho if it's a higher viscosity drug (like excede) you can't go too fast or you risk blowing the syringe barrel off the needle tip.

And then... That's it! That's all there is to it. The used needle tip should go into a "sharps" bio-hazard container to ensure the safety of anyone handling waste materials down the line. But otherwise, the horse is good to go for another 4 days until the next dose.

In a way I'm really glad I'm finally learning this skill. I don't ever expect to keep horses at home, so some of these more delicate medical tasks can generally be left to the professionals managing the care of my horse at boarding facilities. And, for instance, I don't really have any undying urge to learn how to do an IV injection.

But IM injections are pretty accessible, relatively low risk (depending on the drug) and extremely common in day to day horse care and keeping. So it seems useful to at least be comfortable with the equipment and process.

Maybe you already know how to do them? Or are interested in learning in the near future? Or haha maybe the idea of stabbing your horse with a needle is an absolute no go???