Tuesday, October 15, 2019

on a lark!! hunter trials @ the 100 acre field

The last few weeks of summer around here were a bit tough for really doing a lot of good jumping. We've been on the receiving end of a fairly intense localized drought - with no significant rainfall at Charlie's farm since the second week of July.

charles the field hunter <3
I'm honestly at this point pretty sure that the issues we started having with jumping (like at our last xc lesson at Windurra) had more to do with the cumulative effect of existing on rock hard ground than anything else. It's just... kinda a grind, ya know? And Charlie is a BIG horse, that's a lot of dad bod to keep pounding across the ground lol.

how cute is this course map tho??
So the time off from his nasty bat-cave puncture was actually maybe a blessing in disguise. I kept him tack walking basically the whole time bc he was never really lame. Plus, he's a relatively high mileage model that does better when kept in motion haha.

trainer P brought her gelding over too. try to tell me this classy dude doesn't sorta look like an overgrown shetland LOL
And, ya know, eventually it'll probably rain right?? (Fingers crossed for tomorrow, actually!) And I'd like to put together a proper fall season. It's the best season for riding anyway, after all.

Temperatures have cooled down in a big way, with highs hovering around the low 70s / high 60s. The horses are all completely fluffed out already -- Charlie is legit a woolly mammoth -- but it's still not quite blanket season yet. So actually Charlie may end up getting clipped a little early this year lol. The fluff + dad bod is.... not the sportiest look!!

aw charlie and tommy are frens
But anyway tho, one of the best aspects of the fall riding season in Maryland is that all the local hunt clubs start gearing up for fox hunting season. Specifically, it becomes hunter trial season!!

Hunter Trials are sorta a unique blend of hunter paces, cross country, fox hunting and show hunters. The course is maybe a little shorter than your typical BN cross country course, and contains an array of natural style fences that you might encounter on a hunt. There are usually two tracks - one with fences not to exceed 3' and the other not to exceed 2'6.

also sorta kinda (intensely) jealous of all these kiddos getting to experience this at their ages haha. tho ya know, i guess it's never too late to start!
Riders may enter the course as individuals, pairs (2 riders) or teams (3+ riders). Each jumping effort is judged individually on a score from 0-100, reflecting overall brilliance in way of going, safety, and pleasantness. According to Trainer P, her overall view of judging the fence boiled down to: "Does that look like a horse I'd like to hunt?"

distant pixels jump a log!!
For the pairs and teams classes, horses must stay together throughout the course. So, for instance, if one horse has a refusal the other must wait until they get over the fence before continuing to the next. Also, the final fence must be jumped abreast.

fox hunters apparently love their upright split rail type fences lol
I got my first taste of a hunter trial wayyyyy back in 2014 with Isabel, when we went over to Tranquility for what I had hoped would more or less constitute some positive mileage schooling xc. And... wow, I was so immediately hooked!

I had gone to that show alone and found myself intensely jealous of all the folks doing the pairs and teams classes, and vowed that I'd return with friends next time haha.

final fence must be jumped abreast
Unfortunately that day never came with Isabel (something I still regret, le sigh!) but finally Charlie and I made it out last October to the Elkridge Harford Hunt Club's hunter trials. That was easily one of the highlights of the year for me haha. Plus, it really drove home a point that I'd already sorta vaguely understood: Charlie LOVES riding in company!

aww but aren't they just the best blurry pixels ?? <3 <3 <3
Obviously he's got a lot of experience at this point, since we do group trail rides, hunter paces, and paper chases galore each year. But honestly I think he just really enjoys having company galloping around.

This makes him a great baby sitter too, as all our friends who came with us this year (we had a group of about 4 -- our usual lesson crew!) were doing it for the first time.

the scene was kinda crazy - packed to the gills with all manner of horses and ponies, including more than a few licensed jockeys on timber horses
Trainer P came too, plus we ran into all other manner of friends at the outing. Trainer P wanted me to do the first class with one of the newer juniors in our group, and her chestnut ottb Tommy. They're a very capable pair but Trainer P just wanted to make sure they had a positive experience out there for the first go.

Unfortunately I somehow took us off course and we skipped a whole section - whoops!! But it was super fun. She and the other junior in our group did their second rounds in the junior / jockey class. Which, itself was super super SUPER awesome:: There were loads of pro licensed jockeys at the event (mostly timber racers and steeplechasers, I believe) and they'd pair up with a junior to do the course. How fucking cool, right??

So for my second round, since I obviously wasn't eligible to do the junior class (womp), I went out with my barn mate Amy and her ottb gelding Punky. And we had a grand old time haha. Punky..... lived up to his name LOL, and Charlie and I spent a fair amount of time standing stationary waiting for Punky to return from whatever lark he happened to go on....

But honestly? It was SO FUN. Since it was our second round we knew the course a bit better and I jumped more of the bigger stuff (originally I was a little nervous about how respectful Charlie would be of those upright airy rail fences....). So I put that first in the video since it makes for better watching.

charlie and punky were happy and tired after round 2. carrot bites for good pones!
Charlie for his part was a STAR. He was perfect. This was the best he's felt jumping in ages.  He just settled in, kept a steady pace, carried me to the fences. Adjusted for short and long, jumped everything cleanly.

And even more impressively - at one point around 3:25 in the video we had to stop to wait for Punky, who had missed a turn. So Charlie's just standing there at a halt, waiting patiently. Then as Punky made it back on course, Charlie just picked up immediately into the same exact perfect canter and proceeded directly to the next fence.

Which like... Wow. For any of you all who remember our earlier "dinosaur stuck in tar pit" days, and any of our issues with getting out of the start box.... That's kinda a huge deal that Charlie could just stop and start, no fuss no muss.

and head scritches for my best boy <3
Honestly this whole experience for me really drove home the fact that... Charlie is such a good boy. And even tho sometimes I feel like we didn't really make any big obvious "improvements" this year, like moving up a level for instance, I can look at a day like this and objectively appreciate that my horse has come so far in his maturity and schooling and downright pleasantness as a "do-anything" riding horse.

This summer wasn't the easiest for me in a lot of ways. We had a few low moments, a few existential crises, and more than a few nagging thoughts in the back of my mind on whether I can actually even do the things that I want to do. And even on this day, after our first run I was really doubting whether I should press my luck and go a second time.

But we did it. And it was good. Better than good. Charlie is just so fun, he's just such a good boy. I'm so lucky to have him and be able to enjoy him on days like this <3 <3 <3

So.... Lesson learned is that sometimes it's important to step back on those fun outings haha. And for anyone curious - these hunter paces are ahhhhmazing for just getting out there and letting it rip. I highly recommend haha, 10 / 10 would do again ;)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

how i invented the half halt + other modern miracles

The notes from my last Hilltop dressage lesson have been languishing for weeks now - for so long that actually I was scheduled to be back there again yesterday for another lesson. Which, obviously that plan was torpedoed by Charlie's latest bat cave* ding.

I still want to write about the last lesson tho, for a few different reasons. Not least of which is: MEDIA!

Superficially it wasn't necessarily ground breaking. We worked on the fundamentals, as always (and forever), then schooled the ever loving fuck out of leg yields haha. Center line to rail. Rail to CL. Then zig zags! Much fun haha. Ooh and also some counter canter. All good stuff, right? And all in the video below, yassss.

(*The wound is healing, btw, slowly oh so slowly, but surely.)

checking out the sights from hilltop's lovely outdoor court
More than just the movements - the patterns and tricks etc - there was something else happening in this lesson that felt like bringing full circle an idea that I first learned actual YEARS ago.

And it has to do with the half halt.

The most basic of dressage aids, right? The most fundamental. You hear coaches everywhere shouting at their kids to: "Half halt now!!" Judges constantly reminding you to remember to "Half halt to prepare your horse!" Other riders empathizing with you about getting run away with, while smugly noting that their horse "Half halts off my seat."

We've all heard all about it, right?

we had a buddy this time around, so she rode first while we watched and waited for our turn
But what *is* the half halt?

To me it's honestly been a bit of an enigma - it defies understanding when trying to isolate it as a unique self-contained "aid." Well, let's be real here haha. ALL of dressage is kinda an enigma to me. I'm mostly just kinda groping along, latching on to those brief sparks of "feel" whenever and however they might arrive lol.

Which, naturally, is very apparent in my horses' training. Like, who remembers that time when Dan got on Isabel for a training ride only to discover that... Actually the mare didn't have a half halt. Uh... Whooops lol?

aw charlie's lookin good these days
Anyway, tho, it's clear enough to me that the half halt isn't simply a take / release of pressure with the reins. It's not just a squeeze / relax. Like, maybe that's part of the rider's side of the equation, but it's an incomplete formula.

As best I understand it, the effective half halt is actually better described by the reaction / result from the horse. That moment of rebalancing, of stepping under, of attentiveness in preparation for the next cue. Does that make sense?

It's the conditioned response in the horse that when the rider does that "squeeze / release" or "take / give" through the reins, seat, thighs, whatever, the horse knows something is coming and prepares his body to spring into whatever that something may be - a canter! or a halt! or a leg yield! Whatever, right?

It's that moment of preparation - that mutually understood aid that says, "Hey, brace yo'self! Prepare yo body!"

(except don't actually brace haha, obvi, but you know what I mean!)

our turn!!! gosh i love charlie's cute face
So. Ok, are you still with me here? Lol... Right. So. The half halt we've established is not so much a specific aid from the rider, but rather is the conditioned response from the horse to that aid.

Which explains why Isabel "didn't have" a half halt, bc I didn't ever condition her to it in an effective way.

One of my first actual experiences with "feeling" this was in a dressage clinic Isabel and I did with Stephen Birchall. In that lesson we worked on moving between "half steps" (sorta) and lengthened trot on a circle. Back and forth, forward and back. It was honestly an incredible ride - one of my all time favorite dressage rides with Isabel. The first time it really truly felt like she "gave me a place to sit" on her back.

And the biggest takeaway from that ride was practicing the forward and back in trot. Which... I've been doing ever since haha.

focusing vurry vurry hard
It turns out tho, there are shades of gray even here. For instance, maybe you remember early summer a year ago in a lesson with resident upper level rider K, where she helped me tweak my approach.

I've always done tons of transitions in my rides (trot walk trot; trot halt trot; trot walk canter; etc etc etc) plus said "forward and back" in trot, all with this idea of developing elasticity and sharpness to the aids. In that lesson, however, K introduced the idea of a "3/4 halt." Not a complete transition, but close, so close. And faster. Instead of doing a full trot-walk or trot-halt transition, she wanted me to just get almost there, then immediately ride forward again.

So ya know. That's sorta a new take on the "forward and back," and has since been baked into my routine as one of those fundamental building blocks toward the mystical magical holy grail of a Half Halt. Or something lol.

looks like a nice moment of walk. is actually charlie contemplating his dinosaur-in-tar-pit options lol
There's a catch, here, tho. Namely -- we're basically still just at that foundational stage. Nothing more has been built atop these blocks. We're still practicing in the same fashion, hoping that maybe one day our prince will come.

In this most recent lesson with Jess at Hilltop, however, I started to understand why. We warmed up looking for all the pieces to click together: getting Charlie in front of my leg, pushing off his hind end, coming through over his back, round, on the bit. The works, right?

And the whole "forward and back" in trot thing is a key step in that path. Except --- as we were talking through it, and as Jess was instructing me through the ride, it was blatantly apparent that my sense of timing was wayyyyyy off from hers. She'd already be clucking and snapping for Charlie to spurt forward, while I'd still be whoa-ing.

moar trotting, so much trotting
So, ya know, light bulb, right? I'm too slow, I need to speed it up, be snappier here. It still didn't really click tho, didn't quite feel right. Because as you all know, I tend to be a little protective of my delicate dinosaur and am always adamant that he has time to understand what I'm asking.

And, ya know, if I'm asking for transitions then obviously we want all our transitions to be correct and smooth, not choppy and rushed, right? Like, don't we always hear that we should practice each transition correctly? And sometimes on the low level horse it takes a few steps, right?

dis how leg yield, rite?
Except, ha! Here's my breakthrough. My nugget of wisdom to benevolently bestow upon you and the world at large. My greatest new discovery, my invention rivaling that of the wheel or sliced bread:

All along I've been so preoccupied with the idea of "transitions" within the gait, that it's been hindering me from this next step to the actual "half halt." The half halt is not a transition. It's... an adjustment. A shift of the weight, a ripple of energy.

the only still i grabbed of canter. not sure why but i kinda love this picture LOL.... you can't even see charlie's face, but you can guess his expression haha..
All along, my missing link has been timing. I've been so slow bc I'm too preoccupied with getting that slower trot, then that bigger trot. Which... Actually perhaps works against me because it's not really doing what we want the exercise to do: activate Charlie. It's too sluggish a progression from one to the next.

Whereas, instead, what we want from the half halt is Charlie to have a moment of suspense --- for his world to stop spinning ever so briefly, almost imperceptibly -- as he puffs up and comes through. Preparing to step into literally anything. Up down or all around. That's what we want the half halt to be.

moar trotting. plz to sit up emma!
And? AND?!? Well. Let the record show: Ladies and gentlemen, my first officially documented half halt is in the video below lol. And even *I* sound surprised when I describe the process to Jess haha. Who, for the record, is kinda just like, "uh, duh?" lol...

I leave it for you to see if you can't spot the moment lol. Tho hint - it's early in the video, but while we're circling Jess, after the first portion of leg yields from rail to CL.

And. Ya know. It maybe doesn't look like much. Maybe it *isn't* much in the grand scheme of horsing. But this is my blog and my horsey life and Charlie is the best horse in the world and I'm totally discovering a true proper half halt for the first time (for real this time tho) so there you have it LOL.

good boy worked hard
For real tho, it's true that dressage can feel extremely inaccessible to newcomers. There's so much jargon and lingo. So many aids that all sound the same.

I remember reading a dressage book as a kid and it was like, "to do X, use your inside leg in such way, your outside leg thusly, but also inside rein here, and outside rein too you mustn't forget." But like... for every single movement it was like that, and I remember sorta thinking to myself, "well, ok, I guess for literally everything you use every part of your body?"

Which maybe... Isn't too far off after all haha. The distinguishing factor in all of these aids is feel. Notable for being established again and again as something that can't really be taught, per se.

probably not anybody's idea of a great dressage horse, but he's honestly gotten to be pretty fun on the flat!
But. Ya know. Breakthroughs happen. And they're wonderful. And that moment when you finally feel something you've understood conceptually forever... Well, it's a special moment haha.

Maybe the most important thing I've learned since starting to unpack dressage as a discipline is ... just keep trying. Just keep experimenting. Can you move a shoulder here, a haunch there? Can you influence length of stride? Can you make that adjustment faster? Slower?

So on this day? We conquered the half halt. Tomorrow? Maybe the world! Or, er, uh, well maybe not tomorrow - but when Charlie's latest wound heals y'all better watch out bc we'll be back haha!

Has anyone else likewise felt a similar breakthrough on some topic that is supposedly "basic" in riding? I know I can't be the only one haha....

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Future Event Horse Champs 2019

This past week saw the Future Event Horse (FEH) Championships unfold nationally. Each region -- East Coast, West Coast, and Central -- hosts a championship event for qualified yearlings, 2yos, 3yos, and 4yos, with the same set of judges presiding over each region's championship.

prize giving for the 2yo colts!
Last year I signed up to scribe for the yearling and 2yo Conformation class. This year I opted to sign up as a jump chute volunteer. The 3yo & 4yo classes are judged across two tests: conformation and the jump chute, whereas the younger age groups just do conformation.

Honestly, I really REALLY loved scribing the conformation but figured it might be nice to see something new. And I've never really seen a proper jump chute set up before, nor had an opportunity to listen in on judge commentary for how horses jump without the influence of a rider.

the lovely 2yo filly winner Wise Ravissante Du Defey
It turned out, tho, that the organizers had goofed when they listed volunteer positions. The two older age groups would be going on Saturday (with jump chute and conformation) and the two younger groups would be Sunday, with just conformation.

Since I was only available Sunday, they slotted me in as a conformation scribe again. Initially I was a tad disappointed, but only briefly. Bc actually I really enjoyed this volunteer position last year (despite the cold pouring rain) and it turned out that this year was even better!

trotting out away from the judges
Horses are broken into groups by age and sex (yearlings vs 2yos, fillies vs colts). Handlers first present the horse standing up to the judges, then execute a pattern for judges to evaluate the walking and trotting gaits, before standing the horse up again to finish.

presenting the trotting side view to the judges across the far end of the triangle
(that mid-line in the triangle is for the walking portion, so it doesn't take 8hrs to get around lol)
Realistically, tho, this isn't an obstacle course. It's not a pattern test or halter class. The judges aren't evaluating obedience or looking for perfect execution. Rather, they're looking for those glimpses (however brief) of the horse showing itself at its absolute best.

And, if they felt like the horse didn't quite show enough for them to evaluate, they simply asked the handlers to repeat the exercise. No big deal.

example individual score sheet. you can see that... at first i was totally scribing the scores in the wrong column, whoops!
This was where handler experience probably made the most difference. There were a few handlers who seemed preoccupied with executing the pattern (as in, stopping and starting at exactly the right places) rather than allowing their horses to truly shine even if it meant going way wide on the triangle.

This is kinda a known factor tho, haha, which is why you see in these pictures the same handlers again and again with different horses (cough, cough, Martin Douzant, notable baby horse whisperer extraordinaire). There's a real art to showing off baby horses who literally vibrate with energy and untoward enthusiasm LOL!

Daedalus WG was the first 2yo colt presented, and he really impressed the judges
I was assigned to the same judge as last year - Peter Gray - and was pleased with how much I remembered from the experience. Obviously I'm still a fully admitted noob when it comes to evaluating a horse on my own. That.... might never change, let's be real.

But... I AM learning. Slowly, slowly. I'm starting to be able to identify horses that are maybe more striking in their "full package" aspect, tho I couldn't yet tell you the exact individual proportions that impress me. It's super interesting tho, listening to these judges.

at almost the very end of the class, tho, out came Royal Casino
When the horse is first presented, they stand up for evaluation on Type, Conformation, and Legs & Feet.

Type is something that... I 100% do not have an eye for yet. To my best understanding, this was where judges were looking for more blood. As in, more thoroughbred. A lighter build with more refinement through the head and jaw. Horses were dinged for being thick through the jaw or heavy in the head and neck.

you might remember Royal Casino from last year, when he won the yearling colts class
Conformation was where they looked at the full package of proportions, lengths, and angles. Some aspects here I have a better eye for now (tho still decidedly amateur).

Key proportional elements were: length of neck, mid section, and hind quarters; and also length of cannon and pastern. Angles tended to relate to shoulder (a good {sloping} or bad {steep} shoulder was highly influential to overall score), pasterns, knees, hind legs, and neck set.

this sheet was new this year - to help the judges remember their range of marks so that they could stay consistent and ensure each class was put in the proper order
Next up before getting to the Movement side of things were the Legs & Feet. Judges wanted to see good sturdy feet with appropriate angles (the Irish judge in particular was ruthless in evaluating lower limbs), and a good amount of bone through the legs. Often judges would return to this scoring element after the movement section began if they observed turning or twisting in the limbs.

It was interesting on this day bc a couple horses received comments on their "fragility," from both judges. And they mused a bit to themselves about how they've been saying for years that the breeding programs need more blood, more thoroughbred influence for that lighter build. But now they see some products that end up with less bone overall (small feet, dainty cannons) that perhaps demonstrate the pendulum swinging too far.

meta creeping on Royal Casino, the ham lol, with Daedalus WG standing in as reserve
Another interesting bit to listen in on, was the judges' commentary on the difference between "continental" and international breeding programs. There was one horse in particular (can't remember the name, number, age, sex, etc) that was LOVELY. Really, the full package. Except... One very club foot. Which like... what a shame, right?

The Irish judge seemed to think that it was a direct result of US ("Continental") breeding programs focusing on show jumpers who maybe can be more coddled, whereas a club foot will have serious soundness implications for the event horse. He said internationally, flaws like that had been relentlessly stamped out.

the yearlings were... definitely less mature haha. Wise Master Zaphiro wanted to eat Martin for lunch LOL
The second portion of the judging sheet reflects movement, with horses showing walk and trot on a triangle. Judges are positioned at one point of this triangle, with the walk covering a shorter "smaller" triangle then the trot going large. In this way, the horses move straight away, sideways, and then straight toward the judges for evaluation of ground cover, quality of movement, impulsion, etc. Horses were dinged for being out behind, twisting, or flat, and rewarded for being fluid, marching, uphill, with good reach.

Another difference in "Continental" vs International breeding evaluation showed up in this section, when the yearlings came out. The first yearling on the block was.... erm, feisty haha. I'm about 97.5% positive that the thing clocked Martin once pretty good while they were doing some ground work to settle down before showing.

The judges had Martin take the horse out and back in a lonnggg straight line in trot, rather than try to get around the triangle. Initially I thought they were just giving an exception for this one baby horse who was... misbehaving haha. But when they sent the next yearling out in the same pattern, I asked why.

TFW the colts want nothing to do with your game lol
The judge I was scribing, Peter, said it was because he doesn't believe in sending yearlings around the triangle. Said it wasn't reasonable to expect yearlings to be able to hold their balance and carriage around those turns.

And, moreso, it wasn't an evaluation of training or obedience. Yearling horses should be out in the field, not in training, so they didn't think it was reasonable to expect them to have good "start / stop" buttons yet -- and felt like the twisting and pulling necessary to stop a runaway yearling was extremely counterproductive.

this yearling filly Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken was supremely easy on the eyes, what a sweetie!
Turned out, tho, that the US Eventing staff on hand disagreed strongly. They said that every horse had to be judged in the same manner, to which the judges retorted that they were judging them all the same (the long out-n-back trot instead of the triangle).

But US Eventing pushed that the program was the triangle, so everyone needed to be on the triangle. And the first two horses who'd not trotted the triangle had to be represented (fwiw, their scores did not change...). This was where one judge quipped  that, "Only in America will you see this happen..." lol

Arden Nike took the win for the yearling fillies - the full package!
Anyway, tho, that all goes to show that the judges were very forgiving of the baby horses being... babies lol. They were just looking for the best each horse had to offer.

It was super interesting, tho, bc honestly both judges often came to pretty snap conclusions upon first laying eyes on each horse. There were a few that, right away, the Irish judge was waving over the US Eventing photographer to start snapping shots of this "model example." Including coaching the handler in exactly how to stand up the horse for the shot.

handlers doing whatever they can to show off their animals
There were a few times, tho, where horses packed a surprise. For instance, there were a few horses that walked into the ring immediately wowing the judges based on build and presence alone. But then.. Were maybe a little less impressive in motion.

Similarly, one or two horses really didn't spark any sort of excitement in the judges while stationary. Not that they had blemishes, flaws, or early warning signs of future lameness -- but just sorta ho-hum proportions. But then, in motion, suddenly they transformed into something else altogether - something very special.

she had a very pretty face <3
I asked Peter what he would prefer based on two back-to-back examples we saw, one with conformation issues but fantastic movement, and another with strong robust build but ho-hum movement. And... Ya know, his answer was telling. For the Olympics? For the highest echelons of the sport? You need that spark, that WOW factor.

BUT. For his business? Buying, selling and training? He said he'd take the solid build with mediocre movement every time. Bc realistically, that's a very useful horse for a very broad audience.

but hey, even national champions can exude derp when the moment calls for it!
Overall it was a very fun day, and I was especially pleased to recognize some of the same horses I'd seen the year before. It's an interesting sort of class, especially considering I'm not exactly super educated when it comes to conformation. But listening in as the judges evaluate in real time is extremely insightful haha.

Again, tho, we're somewhat spoiled in this particular area. Obviously this is a national program with championships happening across the country, but the East Coast is still leading the charge when it comes to developing breeding programs for the future of the sport.

Qualifiers are popping up in more and more locations, tho. And as the program continues to grow, more folks will get involved. So... if you're curious at all about this experience, definitely keep an eye out for qualifiers (esp volunteer opportunities) in your area.

And in the meantime, I'm looking forward to the Young Event Horse (YEH) East Coast Champs coming up in a few weeks at Fair Hill. So, ya know, stay tuned for that haha!

Does this sort of thing interest you? Do you consider yourself a conformation buff? Or a guru at identifying quality or relative fanciness in any given horse? Or maybe you're more like me - not so well versed but interested in learning more?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Puncture-pocalypse (warning: is gross)

I mentioned in my post yesterday that Charlie added another notch to his Belt-o-Dings. This time, racking up an impressively gruesome puncture to his left hind cannon just above the fetlock. I say "just above" bc... yea, he was jussssst above.

Far enough above for the injury to not be totally terrifying. But. Ya know. Close enough to give me a good and proper scare upon first discovering his bloodied limb. Also. Yea, that's a hint -- graphic pictures are coming in hot. Consider yourself warned haha.

speaking of gruesome, check out this obscenely unflattering picture of my poor beautiful horse
My best guess is that this is a completely self-inflicted wound. Charlie's been an itchy SOB this season. Mostly for fly-bite related reasons. But also just.... Generally itchy.

I joked a little while back that his uncontrollable gyrations while getting scritches would likely eventually lead to my own demise... To which Austen quipped that my tombstone will read "Crushed by Love!"

charlie can't be held responsible for the actions of his butt
when he's got #datitch
Joke's on me, tho, I guess, since this injury looks for all the world like Charlie was probably scritching his own self on a fence and maybe stuck his leg through the boards - catching something sharp and pointy in the process.

So.... Yea. As of this moment I'm officially looking into prescription grade remedies bc clearly Charlie lacks self preservation where itching is concerned....

day 1 - appearances upon initial discovery, and again after cleaning + dressing it up. that's one lumpy bumpy limb
Anyway. Honestly the whole discovery thing was pretty... frustrating. I'd been at the barn for HOURS at that point, with Charlie sitting in his stall swelling up, mere yards from my locker stocked chock full of SMZs. But I was up at the arenas running a tack swap and watching the lesson kiddos enjoy the "farm fun day." My only plan was to run down to the barn after for a quick visit to say 'hi!' and give Charlie his ulcergard.

In other words, I was completely blissfully unaware that my horse had come in from the field that morning with a significant wound. I guess the AM feeder saw it, but thought it was just mud, since Charlie had rolled and coated that whole side of his body in mud too. Sigh.

Pro tip(s) to anybody responsible for working in a boarding barn or managing the care of other people's horses: 

- Dried blood is black, while dried mud is often a more muted brown
- Blood dries in vertical streaks, following the flow path, while mud tends to have more horizontal lines (at least on legs/feet) 
- Learn to recognize the differences, bc one day it will matter
- And if you're not sure or see literally anything that looks even remotely unusual, just fucking lay hands on it. This simple act will tell you if there's a problem. 

mmmmm graphic close up from when i was first trying to convince myself it wasn't actually a puncture
It happens tho. Obviously nobody who works at a farm ever wants to miss an injury on their shift. But it does happen. Luckily in this case, it probably didn't make much of a difference.

Getting antibiotics into the horse sooner would possibly have been a big advantage tho, since the leg was already starting to look cellulitis-y by the time I found him. Hard, hot, pitting edema all up and down the cannon, with all manner of lumps and bumps bleh.

day 2, slightly more uniform swelling and a respectable amount of drainage. left side after unwrapping, right side after cold hosing and cleaning and dressing
Just judging by the swelling and amount of blood, I was pretty sure it was going to be a puncture too. Tho... ugh, I fucking hate really getting all up and in a fresh wound. I'm not squeamish, per se, but.... It just looks like it hurts, ya know?

In any case, I've been taught to identify the differences between lacerations and punctures by gently pulling the edges of a wound apart. Do they separate? Does a gap open between them? If so, there may be a pocket in there.

In which case... I've got all these pretty handy little curved-tip syringes that are perfect for exploratory diving missions. I filled one up with hydrogen peroxide (after scrubbing the whole leg with chlorhex), and probed around until it found something to flush.

tbh i half expected bats to fly out of this cavernous disaster
And.... Uh... Yea. There's something to flush in there, for sure. Sweet baby jesus, Charlie.

It's hard to assess actual depth when the tissue is that swollen, but yea. There's depth. Again tho, even tho it went kinda sideways-down-ish (not optimal for drainage purposes, sigh), it didn't seem within the joint danger zone, thank the lort. And -- as a major and very telling bonus -- Charlie was extremely ho-hum about the whole thing.

Charlie is a horse who.... tells you where it hurts. He's an open book. He's a good boy. He's one of those special horses who expects people to fix his problems vs being more defensive and seeing people as 'part of the problem.' In fact, I've noticed dozens of times with this horse when he'll almost relax and settle whenever I finally uncover one of his latest dings.

In this case, tho, aside from disliking my poking and prodding, Charlie was unruffled. His stride was confident and his demeanor was not at all distracted by any sort of fuss or preoccupation that you sometimes see with a sore or feverish horse.

day 3 (yesterday), pitting edema remains localized to site of injury, the rest of the leg has returned mostly to normal size. wound is yucky, but happy? left side after unwrapping, right side after cleaning + dressing
So honestly I've mostly been following Charlie's example. Obviously we plugged him full of SMZs and bute immediately haha, until I could pick up a couple doses of Excede from the vet (who, btw, described the above 'bat cave' photo as "it's looking happier!" LOL #vetsarecrazy).

But... mostly we've kinda just been keeping an eye on Charlie and seeing how things progress day to day.

they say if you press your ear against it, you can hear the ocean
For all my bitching about the drought and hard ground, it's actually a bit of a godsend right now. Like, what better conditions could you ask for when your horse has a friggin hole in his leg?

It's meant that Charlie's still allowed to go out with his herd at night, with the wound dressed and guarded from the dust with antibiotic ointment (plus vaseline in the drainage path to prevent scalding). The freedom of movement has proved key in rapidly reducing the swelling in a very short amount of time.

The vet tells me I can expect the pitting edema around the site of the injury to last for a while yet while it heals itself from the inside out. But the rest of his leg - the hock, fetlock, and inside of his cannon, have all returned mostly to normal. (vs getting worse, which you'd expect if cellulitis really truly set in).

per charlie's way, this is yet another ding teetering riiiiiiight up on the edge of mother fucking disaster, but somehow still managing to be maybe not actually too terrible?
My barn manager has been checking on Charlie each morning and wrapping while he's stalled. Then I come out in the evenings to cold hose and scrub, etc.

Mostly, tho, the leg is moving in the right direction. There's still drainage, but not much. And still, obviously, a substantial amount of healing that needs to happen. Which means that things could change quickly with the wound if he were to aggravate it or whatever.

For now, tho, we're working with it. I'll probably start tack walking soon too, today or tomorrow maybe, to ensure he's getting enough circulation to promote healing. And I keep nervously texting the vet to make sure I'm not missing signs of something going undetected with the bone, or whatever. Tho, haha, we already know what a sequestrum looks like so... Again, I'm just kinda trying to follow Charlie's lead and see what the leg tells us.

ha, and let's close this post with another heinously unflattering pic of long-suffering charles. somehow this one is almost a complete inversion of the first picture in this post?!?
So.... I guess we'll see? The nature of this wound has me guessing that it might be a more slowly healing issue than some of Charlie's other dings. Which also means that there's more risk of healing being interrupted along the way. But... I'm hopeful.

At least for now the horse feels good and happy and unconcerned. Hopefully we can keep it that way! Bc let's be real, even tho Fall is here and Halloween approaches, I'd rather NOT expand my collection of gnarly injury media, thanksmuch haha.

Regardless, I probably won't stop worrying, fretting, and nervous-texting the vet until the thing closes up completely... Until then, tho, at least maybe now I'll have a chance to catch up on my backlog?? Sigh...