Monday, March 30, 2020

a letter to my horse's groom during quarantine

Hey [Name], thank you so much for adding Charlie to your list during this crazy pandemic. I know it's a big ask, considering how your workload exploded since the barn shut down completely for everyone except staff.

Not being able to see my horse at all, even for brief visits, has been devastating. Especially knowing this could last for months... I honestly still can't even think about it without crying.

It means the world to me, tho, that you've got Charlie's back. Literally and figuratively haha.

i didn't know it at the time, but this would be my last ride on charlie indefinitely
So again, I'm extremely grateful we could work out a grooming arrangement during this period. The rate we agreed to should cover 2x weekly grooming for Charlie, with each session lasting about 20min and covering his whole body.

Here are the details, expectations, and pro tips for what that might entail:

Grooming Tools

- hard plastic curry (purple, slightly war-torn)
- medium natural bristle body brush (wood oval with hand strap)
- hoof pick (lime green with brush)

The above tools are all you need to clear off any mud, loose hair, and sweat from Charlie's body and invigorate his coat into a nice glossy bloom.

this picture is from 2016 and my routine is basically exactly the same. except charlie doesn't wear bell boots in turnout anymore, and the gelotion is long gone. literally still use exactly the same brushes tho
The lion's share of your time grooming will be spent with the curry, which should be used on literally every single inch of Charlie's body. But especially some problem zones we'll get to below.

The body brush will swipe off the dust, dander, and loose hairs, and will give Charlie a nice soft smooth feeling when you're all finished.

The hoof pick is self explanatory. Charlie is a little funny about lifting his feet tho: you have to press his chestnuts like they're buttons and he'll pop right up.

Other tools that can be used as you see fit include the red rubber curry (great for getting out loose hair), the purple scritchy hand mitt, or the pink tail tamer hair brush.

this is definitely not an everyday occurrence, and 100% not necessary during quarantine
Mane, Tail & Forelock

Please please please do not use a brush on Charlie's forelock or tail. You can use your fingers for gentle detangling as needed, or to pick out pieces of hay or debris from the field.

The mane, however, you can brush and brush and brush to your heart's delight! Feel free to use that Cowboy Magic shine spray on it too, and also on the rest of his body as you see fit.

Skin Funk Identification, Symptoms & Treatment

Shedding season means: Skin Funk, which can present in a few different ways. Charlie will sometimes start with hives on his neck, shoulders, chest, flank, or hindquarters. Then, after a day or two, the hives will fade into tiny scabby bumps. Sometimes there won't be any hives at all, but you'll discover localized areas of crusty scabby bumps that peel off with clumps of hair.

plenty plenty plenty of mane to brush tho! would have trimmed it if i knew the lock down was coming...
You'll commonly feel these by running a hand through Charlie's coat along either side of his spine - all the way down his flanks. Start around where the saddle would sit then go all the way to the tail, and down the back sides of his legs.

It's a good idea to run your hand down the horse's "top line" at the beginning of every grooming session. Rain rot can also make a horse suddenly appear very sore in his back, which you will notice with gentle pressure into the muscles over his top line. If you observe soreness, start looking for funk.

Early identification of skin funk issues is key. Charlie does very well with liberal application of MTG to the problem zones. Not everyone loves how it smells, but it works wonders for Charlie. You really have to massage it in there, too.

pictured: various problem zones haha. as a point of pride, charlie went into this lock down with exactly ZERO skin funk anywhere on his body. i guess we'll see how long it stays that way....
Problem Zones

Vigorous currying is the #1 best preventative measure for any rain rot. Important areas to focus on include:

- All the long muscles covering his body (don't forget under his mane - it can get really itchy under there!)

- Charlie's flanks and haunches will be the likeliest candidates for rain rot, followed by his shoulders. Stay diligent with your currying and you won't have a problem!

- Legs are prone to skin funk too. Don't forget to brush the inside and outside, front and back, top to bottom, of all four legs -- allll the way down to the coronet band. Armpits too!!!! (If Charlie's armpits are really crusty and flaky, there's bag balm in my grooming tote)

not sure when i'll get this view again
- The back of Charlie's fetlocks and pasterns (and especially his white leg) will be prone to mud fever / scratches. At first glance this will just look like clumps of mud, but it could actually be nasty painful bacterial scabs that burrow into the skin and can be really hard to get rid of once established.

- Therefore -- do not let scabs get established. Every single time you groom, use your fingers and the curry comb to clear out any and all clumps of mud etc.

- If you see any irritated red skin or anything that looks like a sore underneath the mud, or if Charlie seems really sensitive, just go nuclear on the whole area with MTG. If the MTG doesn't clear it up within a couple days, let me know and I'll tell you where I hide the other atomic bomb.

- Hind legs in particular can get more funk. The fronts of the hindleg cannon bones accumulate a lot of nastiness, so curry curry curry. Also the back of his tendons below and above the hock will sometimes get crusty. Pay attention to these areas and you won't have a problem!

it honestly feels really unfair
Things Charlie Likes

- He likes having the big long muscles along his neck and shoulders gently massaged

- Pulling his halter farther back behind his ears will expose the soft squishy tissue on top of his poll. He really likes it if you gently massage this area along with his forelock. He might actually fall asleep haha!

- Sometimes when his ears are itchy he likes the inside base of them rubbed.

Things Charlie Doesn't Like, But That Should Be Done Anyway

- Charlie is ticklish about his belly, starting with his chest and between his front legs, and going all the way back to his hind legs.

- It's important to still brush this area, however, as especially when he plays in the field, he can kick a lot of mud up between his hind legs.

- When the gnats and bugs get really bad, they will also bite the ever loving crap out of Charlie's belly and up between his hind legs. Pay attention for crusted blood or sores.

obviously i understand this is a small sacrifice for the greater good -- i understand that not being able to see my horse is the most luxurious of "first world problems"
Pro Tips

- In wet muddy conditions, brush off most of the mud from Charlie's legs and hooves first, then shift focus to his body. After his body is done, you can return to the legs which should be more dried at this point and easier to get the rest of the mud off

- Occasionally run a hand under Charlie's chin, between his jaw bones, and back toward his throat. Sometimes he hides ticks or other weird lumps and bumps back there, and it's a prime location for a small sore to get infected undetected.

- Use your fingers to lightly scratch Charlie's tail -- He will tell you if it feels itchy and he wants more scratches. If that's the case, check through the whole tail for any areas of crustiness that could indicate a tick. Same story with his mane.

- Charlie's skin is prone to being dry and itchy, so whenever possible I prefer that you use grooming instead of bathing to get him clean.

but still. it's hard to describe what losing this quiet barn time means

Hoof Care

- If it's been wet out or really muddy, maybe once every week or two squirt some Thrush Buster or Durasole into and all around Charlie's frogs (esp the gap between his heels). Try not to touch this stuff yourself tho.

- If it's been dry out, and esp when the bugs come out, once or twice a week brush Keratex onto the wall of Charlie's hooves -- paying special attention to the nail holes for his shoes. Avoid getting this stuff on his coronet band (or your skin!).

- Keratex is super expensive, so to avoid spilling any, I just pour some into the cap, then put the full bottle back on the shelf where it's safe, then use the cap to brush onto Charlie's hooves. One cap-full will usually do all 4 feet.

- Avoid using Keratex on the same day as the Thrush Buster or Durasole, or mixing these with any other products. They contain harsh ingredients that when mixed together might create a chemical burn on Charlie's skin.

other than saying... it's really really sad
Ultimate Check List 101

Ultimately, when grooming Charlie, always go through the following checklist:

- 2 Eyes
- 2 Ears
- 4 Legs
- 4 Feet
- 4 Shoes
- Cuts?
- Swelling?
- Heat?
- Nasal Discharge? (white? yellow? clear? signs of blood?)
- Eye Issues? (is one more shut than the other? clouding? discharge?)

If you have any problems, questions, concerns, please please please do not hesitate to reach out and ask. I will always be able to tell you if something is normal or not, or if something is a problem. I can also tell you where all the various ointments etc are hidden throughout my locker.

Thank you again so so so so so much for your help during this time. This has been heartbreaking for me, but I'm so grateful that Charlie has you watching out for him!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

covid's got you down?? cheer up with these memes

Hey all! Things are crazy, right? I hope you're ok. 

Finding words to describe how we feel right now is.... challenging. So fuck it, instead here's a curated collection of memes to capture that special quarantine je ne sais qoui. Enjoy ;)

 please make good choices!


struggling with describing your feelings? let this wheel help! 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Another F-a-T!!

Happy Monday, everyone! Did you have a nice weekend? Did you go outside? Go ride?? Or sit on the couch staring slack jawed at the wall, wondering what the ever loving fuck is going on right now? And whether that itch in your throat is just allergies or an early indication of your impending demise??

Ahem. Cough cough. Moving on.

there's more than coronavirus in the air right now tho!! like.... POLLEN!!
It obviously continues to be a little bit of a nightmare situation right now. For a lot of folks. Tho, it seems like it's going in waves.

Most of the people I know who work conventional office or 9-5 jobs have been "disrupted" for at least a week, if not more, at this point. And are coming to terms with their "new normal." Working remotely, dealing with kids in the house, etc.

forsythia is my favorite springtime shrub. i can't help but smile when i see those bright yellow sprigs shooting every which way. imo, the wilder the hedge, the better!
Others, tho, esp those in the service industry or with jobs that don't translate virtually... Well. Most I know are still trying to figure out what that next step looks like - where the adjustment point is. Unfortunately, it's looking like a lot of layoffs within my own local small business community. Which... sucks.

this willow smacks me in the face constantly, but i don't care because it's beee-a-yoo-ti-full
So ya know. It's kinda a strange feeling in the air. I continue to be grateful that my own day to day hasn't seen too many changes so far. It feels weird, tho. Like a sorta constant vibrating tension. Just enough to distract me from all the "non essentials," as it were.

But routine is and always has been my happy place. I'm a creature of habit, and being consistent is part of what keeps me ticking. So we roll with it, right?

also they finally murdered that giant shrub encroaching on A!! time will tell what effect this has on charlie's near-magnetic draw toward the gate....
Which, coincidentally, going out on horsey adventures is was a big part of my routine. All the way back two weeks ago, in more innocent times, we were looking forward to our first horse trial of the season.

Like so many other riders out there, we'd spent all winter dialing it in. Smoothing out any issues from the previous year, building strength, getting fit, and refining our skills in all three phases. This included local schooling jumper shows and xc derbies, at-home xc schooling, and a couple dressage Fix-a-Test clinics.

All carefully marked out on the calendar well in advance to dovetail perfectly into preparation for that sweet sweet first event. Sigh.

some enterprising soul set up a wonderfully well marked and squared up small court!!!
We already knew that event was cancelled when we rolled up for this second Fix-a-Test clinic, at least. Which, in some ways took the pressure off for it to be a "perfect" ride. But it also made it feel like... Eh, what does it even matter anyway?

Except that it was a beautiful day, and we had some happy healthy horses with us who remain blissfully unaware that anything else in the world has changed. And so, hey, why not, right? Let's go get 'em and have a good time while we're at it!

heck yes, corners + geometry, yo! and moar blooming willows!!!
Charlie and I have been practicing the Training Test A a lot more lately. I actually really like the flow of this test for Charlie, but for whatever reason keep forgetting where to transition. And it's kinda a weird test bc there's literally only a single full trot circle, and it's stretchy trot too.

The entry, for me, had been the biggest concern. You open the test with a two loop serpentine of 10m half circles from E to B -- basically a very round S shape. And like... Wow guys, with how long Charlie is, and how disengaged we often go, it's reeeeally easy to ride him a little rein lame through that movement.

the halt and salute feels a lot nicer when nobody's there judging you LOL
He's a clever horse, tho, and learns patterns well. And somehow in the last 2-3 months, he's figured these turns out. Like, almost without me noticing. Those turns went from my #1 worry to.... Ya know, probably nbd. Crazy how practice does that LOL.

So all in all I was excited to take this test out in public again after our last FaT. Plus, one goal was to use this clinic to better plan our warm up strategy. Charlie really does not need a lengthy warm up, he's got a fairly limited (tho growing!) strike zone, honestly.

But now that we're doing lengthenings, tighter turns, and canter transitions in less forgiving locations.... Ya know, it's time to figure out how to get him sharper faster in warm up, all without using him up unnecessarily.

good boy charlie, just doin his part to keep the aisles clean!
The clinic worked for that too. My original warm up was honestly insufficient, but I was still sorta paying attention through the first run of the test, then the lesson portion, then the second test run, to see what was changing in Charlie's body. All in all, was a useful info gathering session in that regard haha.

But!!! Let's talk about the tests themselves, yes?

scores from our january clinic, then the 1st and 2nd test runs at this march clinic
also. 2 in 5 of the movements above scored the same in all three tests haha. hahaha. #consistent
Due to the tighter schedule, the conversation was really a lot more targeted. But was telling in what was omitted. Judge P seemed overall a little more satisfied with our trot energy (tho the impulsion is still blah) compared to last time, when she really worked us for much more than I had been asking.

She also didn't work us at all on those 10m half turns, which had taken up a good bit of the previous lesson. I was actually pleased with this bc... ya know, we've been practicing. And Charlie seems to get it now. There's still room to refine (notes asked for more straightness over X) and it's not a "WOW" score. But... Also probably not getting us rung out of the ring either haha.

this is our a new barn cat Mikey!! finally one that isn't feral!!!
That first right lead canter transition comes up early in this test - and is exactly where I'll pay the price for a subpar warm up. Charlie can be.... sluggish haha. But he can also be very sharp and elegant in stepping into canter. The difference is in how he's prepared -- not just in the test, but in the warm up ring. Must. Not. Forget. This.

Similarly to last time, Judge P is still not happy with our working canter. This to me is just a small piece in the larger puzzle we've been working on over fences too. For this particular application, I think I straight up just ride Charlie differently in canter when there isn't a jump in front of us.

But..... Maybe.... jusssssst maybe, I should consider changing that haha. Maybe I should *always* ride the canter. lol.... #food4thought

gosh i heart this tabby tho. isn't he pretty?
Our bad working canter means we also have bad lengthen canters. And Judge P still thinks I'm doing too much to "show a difference" at the end of a lengthening. She would rather I just let the canter fade slightly back to working, rather than try to half halt or anything.

The point being: the lengthen isn't that great, so if I sacrifice the working to try and "show a difference," now I just have two blah scores, instead of one blah for the lengthen, and one good for the working.

pretty sure he's my new spirit animal, tbh
The other thing we worked on in the lesson portion was the stretchy trot. Which, I'm going to be totally honestly with you here, Judge P basically said, "yea we're going to have to make YOU a little prettier. The horse is fine."

My habit is to lean forward, collapse my core, and send my hands out wide like a midfielder scurrying to catch a ground ball. It's.... not cute haha.

She wanted me sitting taller, with hands "handcuffed" together. Releasing the reins and trusting Charlie will be his honest genuine self in the stretchy trot. Which, obvi he was.

for reference: Doug Payne scored a 32.9% with Quiberon on this test
i am 100% aware that the scores in my table above are liberally (and artificially) inflated haha

A funny thing happened, tho, when we rode the test a second time.

Obvi Charlie was more warmed up now. But, the first canter comes early, right? Per the mini lesson, I rode it better and more forward this time. Which meant that we had a better trot transition, and so a better trot, and thus a better stretchy circle (improved by my more correct position). Which led directly to a better free walk.

Then after that change of rein, we immediately canter again and the whole process repeats. My better canter meant that we got another better trot transition, and a more balanced lengthened trot because of it.

I say "better" when you can clearly see from the scores tabled above that.... the numbers don't necessarily reflect that feeling. But the feeling must come first, right? And the feeling gave us flow, which keeps things smooth.

Smoothness for a horse like Charlie can make a half point difference. Which really matters for us since he's still building the strength for true lengthenings.

We're still kinda working on "faking" our way through the test in a way ---- figuring out the ring craft and strategy for the individual test rather than necessarily breaking everything down to its fundamental pieces. But for a horse like Charlie who learns by repetition and patterns, it seems to work for him.

So. All in all, a really productive ride. Targeted, concise (even if my summary isn't LOL), and to the point. Considering it might be our last for a while.... I'm happy to have the homework!