Wednesday, March 23, 2022

rethinking charlie's "fitness" (again)

I'm constantly reevaluating how I think about Charlie's overall health, wellness, and particularly, fitness. Case in point -- I've written about my evolving understanding of conditioning Charlie for sport quite a few times over the years. Long story short: it's complicated. 

Charlie is a large heavy horse with a high mileage body on slightly small feet. Not only is it entirely possible -- it's downright easy to lame this horse through well-intentioned and generally accepted fitness and strength-training routines. 

"conditioning" is basically my favorite excuse for a trail ride with friends haha. long slow miles, amirite ;) 
It isn't enough to read a book on horse fitness and apply those practices directly to Charlie. I learned that lesson the hard way once, and have been a bit gun shy ever since. To the point where.... We've maybe gone too far the other way, with not quite enough baseline fitness and strength training to support Charlie's physical needs. 

There's obviously no shortage of research (and opinions) in this field, but I recently got a fresh perspective from a long distance runner, of all places. His approach to fitness and conditioning is basically, "everything I do in the gym is intended to support my goal of running." Meaning, he's not there for the #gainz, not there to increase mass. Only to support his running goals. 

brief interruption for a shoe update: leather pads are officially on, and we're *still* growing out that overreach crack from last year
Obviously that's obvious, but then he kinda veered off in a different direction than I expected, observing that runners tend to over-develop some areas of musculature (hamstrings) while under-developing others (glutes). And that he uses his gym time and strength training to counteract these musculature imbalances. 

His point was that these imbalances are ultimately unsustainable and will eventually lead to injury. And since he can't run if he's injured, he prioritizes "injury prevention" as his number one objective in strength training. Anything else -- specific exercises to improve stamina or quickness or whatever to improve competitiveness -- is secondary to this pursuit of risk mitigation. 

obviously gotta give this ridiculous wannabe mountain goat the footwear he craves omg
Now. I've never really been what you might call "an athlete" (har har). I didn't play sports in high school or college, never had any sort of coach work me through a routine or regimen. So for those of you who have had that experience, this might not be anything new to you. But... To me, it seems like a really important distinction. 

switching gears again to some snaps from charlie's chiro / acupuncture appt this week
Horseback riders always talk about how "dressage improves the jumping," by getting horses more off the forehand, or more adjustable, or whatever. That, doing *this* set of exercises will improve your ability to execute in *that* arena. Or we always hear about how dressage is kinda the "weight lifting" (or anaerobic exercising) complement to the "cardio" of trot or gallop sets. 

he gets basically the same spots jabbed every time but the urge to document is strong lol
All of that makes sense to me and whatnot, but it's easy to miss that foundational point of "balance." Of ensuring that muscles developed through one type of work (running) are physically balanced and stabilized on the body. Not bc it makes you better or faster or whatever (tho, it probably does), but bc *this* is our basic protection against injury.

That approach to conditioning is, to me, very attractive. To the point where literally the most expensive lesson I've ever taken in my riding life (which, notably, includes lessons with various Olympians and 5* riders...) was a "Solutions for Soundness" clinic that was basically billed to be this exact sort of experience. 

bonus shot of charlie's puffy fetlock bc he got caught up in something and dinged up the ankle, ooh ooh and *also* added a NEW overreach before the old one had even finished growing out! 
The idea was an experienced riding coach and an equine sports massage expert would tag team the lesson to identify specific exercises to improve conditioning and promote soundness in the horse. Sadly the *execution* of that idea was... er, underwhelming lol, so I kinda put the whole thing behind me and moved on, with the exception being that it was the genesis of my idea to ride with a metronome. 
But ya know. Everything old is new again, right? And spring time is my favorite time to take a fresh look at Charlie's overall health picture and make sure it aligns with my ideas and goals and dreams for the year ahead. 

and back again to today. goddamn charlie LOVES this practitioner tho. that is the face of a horse who is focusing every last shred of his attention on that pink-sleeved hand in the background
Step 1 was going down the laundry list of "housekeeping" items for Charlie, inserting literally *ALL* the quarters into the machine.... We slapped the leather shoe pads back on this past cycle. The horse got his hocks freshly lubed. We followed that up with a visit from his favorite chiro / acupuncturist to help work out and release any lingering compensation issues from the hocks. Plus, I picked up a box of Adequan for good measure. 

time to go back to work, sir! 
also his dweeby forelock center part will never not kill me <3 <3 <3
And? Guys. The horse feels good. It's almost like he's going out of his way to show that issues we had under saddle were 100% related to his physical condition. And now that his hocks are taken care of, he's back to stretching and swinging, back to drama free left lead departs, and even volunteering lead changes despite the fact that we normally never practice them.

So the next step is making sure the work we do is additive to Charlie's condition vs corrosive. Which, it turns out, is not quite as easy as writing a check to the vet to stick a needle in it. 

I've basically got a sense of some of the work we'll do to try to improve the overall balance of Charlie's musculature. Namely -- just more of the same that we worked on with Molly. And I'll probably start riding with a metronome again since that was super helpful to work on rhythm. 

But... idk, what all do you do to build up hind end strength? Anything glutes-specific? I know there isn't like, a magic bullet or anything (I wish... ugh), but anything reasonably fun and not too likely to piss the pony off is worth a try! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Bartville Halter

Charlie is, by all accounts, a gentle, calm and generally easy to handle horse. His ground manners are very good, with not much to be desired beyond his occasionally being a little *too* friendly and interactive. And he does all the expected things like tying, clipping, bathing, standing for vet or farrier or whatever, etc etc etc. 

left: that text you get from a barn mate turning your horse in for dinner
right: the aftermath of a fully and completely exploded halter -- literally all of the noseband is gone :(
But ya know. Like basically any horse out there, Charlie has still managed to break his fair share of halters. Sometimes out in the field, but also sometimes in crosstie mishaps. It's not a coincidence that I generally attach the clips to the cheek hardware vs the noseband hardware...

the old, the "new," and the rope haha
And while he's broken a fair amount of cheap halter hardware over the years (esp in said 'incidents'), his most common victim is the adjustable noseband / chin strap. I guess while most halters have double layered or reinforced material for most of the halter, this chin strap is often much thinner and wears out quickly esp in a herd of playful geldings always trying to grab hold of each other. 

actually bought this beautiful padded fancy stitched halter for Isabel, then charlie promptly broke the throat latch snap years ago. finally got it repaired tho, apparently just in time!
Charlie's had the same basic Smartpak leather halter with (crappy) engraved nameplate for a few years now, and.... it's kinda been on it's way out nearly just as long lol. I tried to replace the chin strap on it earlier this year when it looked like duck tape wasn't gonna get the job done anymore.... but. Well. The halter's date with destiny finally arrived, and boy howdy, did Charlie really well and truly kill the thing haha. 

but whoops, there's the fourth halter in as many weeks bc homeboy broke the freshly repaired throat latch snap again, and then promptly broke a buckle on my last remaining replacement ugh
My guess is actually that he maybe even got a leg through the halter as it was falling to pieces, and he ended up exploding it entirely. Every piece of leather is broken on it, and he had some poll sensitivity and marks on his ankle for a few days after. Womp. 

Luckily I'd just repaired a very beautiful padded and fancy stitched leather halter that Charlie broke a few years back. For some reason, the throatlatch clip on this halter faced outward, and he'd managed to mangle it. Nbd, tho, got it repaired for about $25... but the repair job also oriented the clip facing outward and Charlie busted it again -- probably getting it snagged in the round bale haynet or something, UGH. 

mikey cat would never be so destructive if he were a horse -- mikey just wants peace! 
In an ideal world, maybe I'd prefer to turn the horses out *without* halters. But there are safety arguments to be made on both sides of that equation, and my current barn vigorously prefers that horses do wear halters at all times. 

So the next best option is a halter with breakaway leather material.... but not *so* breakaway that you're replacing the damn thing every three weeks. Like, ahem, we've been doing with Charlie since the unfortunate Smartpak halter explosion. 

ta da -- the newest replacement! 
At least now that Charlie has made his way (rapidly) through my stockpile of back-up and back-back-up halters... Well. I guess that meant it was finally time to go buy the exact model I've wanted for a few years now. You might remember when I visited Bartville Tack & Harness back in 2020, I took note of their excellent and highly customizable halter selections. 

specifically wanted a fixed noseband vs the adjustable version, since Charlie seems to wear through those adjustable straps much faster (bleh halter tag)
For the uninitiated, Bartville is an Amish-run establishment in Pennsylvania that, in addition to serving the Amish community (including all necessary items for working horse husbandry), houses the leather craftsmanship workshop behind the Nunn Finer brand. Meaning: high quality leather strap goods produced for horse sport are actually manufactured in house here. And in addition to their 'off the rack' stock, you can get every single little detail in your strap goods piece fully customized. 

sir, i'm happy you have friends, but plz stop using your halter as a toy! 
It's honestly one of the best kept secrets of our regional horse community -- not least because you get to avoid paying all the markup on these goods by buying directly from Bartville. Tho, of course, there are downsides -- like the shop being located pretty far off the beaten path. And they have neither website, nor credit card processing. Everything is done either in the store itself, or by mail order from the catalog or telephone, with payments by cash or check. 

brass looks nice tho, eh? 
It's a beautiful drive out there, tho, and only about ~1hr-ish away from Charlie's barn. Considering I knew exactly what style halter I wanted, and that it cost $50 from Bartville off the rack vs $80 for a Perri's equivalent at a big box retailer... Well. It was a no-brainer haha, and I enjoyed the scenic drive up last weekend after finishing barn chores. 

sorry for weird colors haha. really hoping this will prove more durable!
So. The exact style I wanted? Full leather, with triple-stitched and reinforced straps. Fully replaceable crown piece (buckles on both sides), throat latch clip (facing inward plz), and fixed nose band (vs the adjustable strap with buckle closure that Charlie always wears out). With brass hardware, natch, for my handsome bay. 

it's definitely never gonna be this clean and nice looking again tho, that's for sure! 
Charlie is wearing the Full/Horse size -- and it looks great on him! Obvi was a little stiff coming straight off the rack, but I expect it to soften and mold to his features in short order. I'm also trying to enjoy it to the fullest while it looks so shiny and new haha, since it's bound to be caked in mud in no time flat. 

Tho ya know, maybe *this* will be the halter I finally take better care of, and maybe clean more than once every year or two?? Lol... Maybe. Does anybody else slack on halter leather care haha? Or maybe your horse doesn't have to wear a halter in turnout, so it doesn't get quite so abused? Or, are you just completely over buying "nice" halters at this point bc maybe your creature destroys them so quickly? 

Friday, March 18, 2022

friday fotos: chicken or the egg (again)

Happy Friday, y'all! It's obviously been a quiet week around these parts while Charlie enjoys his annual spring rejuvenation sessions haha... So, eh, let's shift gears and talk about just how absolutely unhinged I can get when somebody observes a slightly-less-than-perfect, or even -*gasp!*- flawed aspect of my beloved unicorn. 

pictured: my horse, standing the way he has always stood, the way he always will stand
AND, extra special bonus, let's populate the post with the approximately 8,000 photos I snapped while creepily obsessing over Charlie's general stance while he was on his hour breakout from stall rest the other day (blissfully enjoying the lone protected paddock full of luscious green untouched grass!). 

he puts his right foot fore, he puts his left foot back, he puts his right foot fore and he shakes it all about is massively asymmetric whoops
For some background: I brought Charlie home in Sept 2016 after his last race in Aug of that year. And he had his first chiro/acupuncture appt that January. The chiro immediately noted that Charlie's shoulders were very uneven. Recall -- a horse's shoulders attach to his skeleton by muscle not bone, and Charlie's muscling had developed such that his shoulders are uneven in both height and relative position.

flashback to 2016: a skinnier more angular and somehow-even-more-awkward Charlie, standing how he stands.
It didn't take long for me to realize this was probably related to Charlie's awkward grazing stance, pictured above, AND related to his tendency to underrun his RF heel. 

ooooh omg tho -- is he, omg, almost square up front?!
Thus, our "Chicken or the Egg?" question. What became uneven first -- his shoulders? And therefore he stood funny? Or was there a hoof problem for which his shoulders compensated? 

Or, alternatively, it was suggested that sometimes young horses, esp gangly giant 2yo TBs beginning their racing careers, might be so tight in their backs that they can't comfortably reach the ground to graze -- and thus develop the strange stance? 

lol aaaand another 2017 goofy flashback: when he legit used to literally step inside his water troughs to drink....
Obvi I'll never really know the answer. But... It's interesting that... Ya know. The horse is still asymmetric. Maybe it was unrealistically optimistic that we'd be able to undo literally years of formative muscular and skeletal development. Esp considering that, ahem, yours truly ain't exactly the most balanced individual either....

i swear, i don't need any help driving my own self crazy
I think we've fixed *some* of it, tho. Like, Charlie's hooves are generally in good shape and he has plenty of heel on that RF these days. And while he still stands a little awkwardly at times, it's not nearly as exaggerated or pronounced as it used to be. 

omg charlie don't stand like that you'll club *both* your feet!! wait....
But. Uh, cough cough, I about lost my shit when some random dude at a schooling show last year was asking me all these questions about Charlie, and then outta nowhere was like, "But that club foot tho."

Excuse me, what?!??

to be clear, he was spying on me too tho
Cue immediate (and indignant) google searches. Not only was I mortified that somebody might call my serviceably sound and obviously awkward horse imperfect omg. But also.... Being 100% honest here, I could straight up not even tell which flipping foot the guy was talking about.... And, for those of you who just assume I'm clueless, neither could my more knowledgeable friends. 

this stance is not nearly as aggressive as it used to be. still enough to make for an unmatched front end tho
That was sorta a dusty backwaters barn full of folks I'd never met before and haven't met since, so basically I just shrugged it off and was like, "Ugh my horse is fine and he has a good team."

But then.... Ugh somebody I actually trust and respect recently echoed a similar sentiment, remarking on Charlie's "somewhat clubbish" hoof. Which obviously inspired a whole new cycle of panic completely disassociated from the actual animal himself, who, again, is doing just fine

also an unmatched set of shoulders. which, ya know, explains some stuff lol
But ya know. I don't exactly need an engraved invitation to hyperventilate. So here we are. Obsessing again over Charlie's asymmetries and front feet that are not a matched set. 

this pic is a few months old but the best i could find of both fronts in one shot
Luckily, tho, it takes too much energy to stay too excited for very long, plus I've had a chance to talk to a couple MVPs on Team Charlie. Who both basically confirmed that an "unmatched set" does not equal "a club foot." And while we could basically work out which foot these folks meant (hint: the one on which Charlie stands in a more upright fashion), it's clinically marginal.

he don't seem to mind tho
My farrier's position is, he won't mess with asymmetries without clear intent and knowledge of what he's gonna do and why. Basically saying, symmetry alone (especially in hooves) is not a sufficient goal -- and furthermore, forcing symmetry where it doesn't naturally want to be may be a direct route to significant lameness. My vet agreed, saying that barring any direct presentation in the horse, she's reluctant to change management styles. 

Which, obvi, those two voices matter significantly more to me than probably any other tedious litanies from the peanut gallery. 

But still, tho. Damn, am I the only one who can hear remarks like that and be like, "OMG this thing I've literally never even considered before is sure to be our eternal doom and damnation omg!!1!" Or... Is that just me lol? Has anybody else ever been completely taken aback or shocked by some random unsolicited remark lobbed at your poor pony?! Hopefully no... but if yes, how did you deal with it???

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

"a little janky"

As you may well know, I tend to have a fairly open mind when it comes to medical interventions related to my horse's soundness. In fact, last year I wrote a whole post on my experience with joint injections and why I do what I do with Charlie. So I won't reinvent that wheel today.  

oh my goodness gracious, it was Nap O'Clock at the OK Corral! 
Suffice it to say, we've gotten ourselves onto a fairly regular schedule at this point -- with our annual maintenance appointment more or less aligned with spring time. 

why do i always pic the nicest days to condemn charlie to a little temporary stall rest??
Actually, before last year, we'd done the injections in the fall, which always kinda felt a bit like a waste --- why go through all that maintenance only to end up laying low for a few months? So last year we held off through the winter, going a bit longer between treatments than I'd done before. Which made me wonder if maybe something like a 14-15 month cycle was actually better for Charlie at this point? 

omg so cute tho, and so dirty <3
But.... We started jumping more regularly again (finally getting into lessons omg!), and Charlie made it clear in our last lesson that he was ready - by being notably reluctant to do his lead changes, esp compared to even just the two or three weeks prior. And, of course, y'all saw him at our recent dressage clinic where he 100% chose violence lol. 

So. Ok, buddy, we hear you. It's time for the juice. 

we always do a full set of flexions just to see where he's at
I'm grateful that we've had the same vet for the last few years too. She's been treating Charlie for his various chronic aches and pains, and has also seen him in times of more acute discomfort. For me, that continuity in care is reassuring and gives me confidence that we've always got our eyes on the big picture. 

As always, she put Charlie through a whole battery of flexion tests -- starting up front, going low to high, then moving to the hind end. We would have hoof tested too, except yay Charlie got his hoof pads on for the season last week! 

pictured: artist's rendition of "where he's at" after the hock flexion
Based on the dressage judge's feedback last week, I'd sorta spiraled into a deep dark pit of "omg what if it's this? or that?! maybe we should inject everything from the eyeballs down!!1!

But. Ya know. My vet is practical. She figured we'd start with Charlie's known boogeyman, and then reassess after that. Flexions confirmed the wisdom of that approach, when he was more or less fine through it all, until the hocks. Wherein she deemed him "a little janky" behind haha. 

this is an older pic, but ya know. same shit, different day, right? 
One of these days we'll get rads of Charlie's front feet to make sure all is well in that world, and it's probably likely that we'll do his coffins again at some point or another. But not today. On this day, Charlie gave us no reason to believe the simplest answer wasn't also the correct answer: his hocks were bugging the crap outta him. 

guys. omg. guys. he was snoring and farting in perfect sync. omfg. 
Honestly I know I'm kinda trigger happy about stuff like this for Charlie. But, IMO, "treatments" are priceless -- it's the diagnostics and uncertainties of the mystery lameness that can really plunge you into a money hole. 

as always, it's recommended to have supervision from barn mgmt! 
Charlie's hock arthritis is a known and common ailment, and will not get better over time. It's just a question of mitigation and minimization, as far as I can tell. Doing everything I can to slow the progression, while also not overusing or abusing treatments that may have diminishing returns over time. 

he's good at keeping me company while the drugs wear off
Sometimes I wonder if I'll look back in 10 or 15 or 20 years or whatever, and wish I'd handled Charlie's case differently. Wished I'd been less, or maybe more?, aggressive. At this point, tho, it's impossible to tell what future me will think.

*somebody* -- not naming any names here, but -- somebody 
takes forever to wake up bc he kinda loves the high
For now, I surround myself with a variety of differing perspectives, experiences and opinions. And I try to make the best judgements I can for this horse who means everything to me. 

always wakes up with a killer case of the munchies too haha
And ya know, it helps that Charlie ain't exactly stoic haha. He is very clear when something is bothering him. The vet thinks that getting his hocks comfortable will help clear up any other systemic or referred areas of discomfort he may have felt, that the dressage judge last week may have wanted to armchair-diagnose. But ya know. If he doesn't come back into work feeling the way I want, we'll reassess! 

little bit of blood and fluid this time around, probably wasn't a day too soon
Until then, Charlie will get a couple days of bute with his dinner, and about a day and a half of stall rest before returning to normal turn out. This particular vet likes more rest than that, but, eh, we compromise lol. 

pics from earlier over the weekend. can't wait to get back to this, tho!! 
And, once he's back out again, we'll just start stepping back into work, probably slowly since there's nothing immediately on the calendar.

oh sir, you are well loved <3
Sometimes I think back to all the issues we've had with keeping this horse sound, and remind myself that he was literally lame when I bought him. Which... ya know... Is generally a thing people will often advise against. 

But damn. He's a good horse. He's extremely capable, so pleasant to be around, so safe and sane and brave, and I honestly believe he likes his life and likes jumping and running fast and going on adventures. And when he doesn't feel good, he tells me, and we work on it. 

Everyone prioritizes things a little differently when it comes to "ideals" in horses.... But ya know. This works for us. And, ahem, will hopefully continue working for us for a long time to come! 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

the silverado butterfly effect

My horse habit today as a fully fledged adult really doesn't look anything like I imagined (or even dreamed) as a kid or in college. Mostly because.... It had literally never even occurred to me, until I discovered this blogging community, that individual riders might own and operate their own horse trailers as a conduit to independent lessoning and showing. 

legitimately a picture of where it all started -- the realization of a game changing dream
Maybe that sounds stupid to those of you who grew up with horses, or in horsey communities where shipping out was common. But it's true. 

I learned to ride in fairly strict and controlled lesson barn environments. Sure, my barn in college had a big rig for when we took groups of lesson ponies and kiddos to the local schooling circuit.... But that's a pretty far cry from the compact 2H BP that now seems so normalized. 

have wheels, will travel -- to lessons!!
The realization that it was possible to own one's own truck and trailer for the explicit purpose of doing.... whatever the fresh fuck you felt like.... Well, that idea hit me like a ton of bricks haha. And combined with a *very* modest (so modest it's actually laughable in the face of today's bloated prices) inheritance, I determined that I would get a rig of my own. 

And it changed everything. 

to horse shows!!! to new and exciting connection points!
One thing has *not* changed since then, tho --- my truck. My dearly beloved 2000 Chevy Silverado was old and kinda tired when I bought it back in the spring of 2014. And ya know. It's still old lol. Actually I had planned to replace it by now, and had sorta started to let some issues slide as not being worth fixing for a truck I didn't plan to keep much longer. 

lol, and sometimes... to trouble. my lack of mechanical expertise has been tested, to say the least
Tho, lol, one look at the used truck market last summer changed my tune right quick about that, and I did an immediate 180 and dropped quite a few pretty pennies into keeping the Chevy in good running order. Bc damn. The market is nuts omg haha. 

let's just say i've had to learn a LOT about batteries. and, ahem, brake lines. for real tho, if you never read the post behind this pic, i *highly* recommend it -- it's one of my all-time faves haha, well, except for maybe this one....
That whole experience got me thinking about the truck tho, more generally. I've changed barns, changed horses, changed trailers, but this thing keeps on trucking - even despite my somewhat appalling mechanical ignorance and occasionally neglectful care. 

the truck has also gotten me OUT of a lot of trouble too, tho, like this epic snowpocalypse 
And let's be honest -- it's probably opened a lot of doors for me. In a few different ways. I've been able to ride with a wider variety of coaches, and train at a greater number of facilities, just by dint of being independently mobile.

it's gotten a few friends out of trouble too, like by serving as an ambulance to New Bolton's equine hospital, or emergency roadside assistance to a broken down friend, or even just basic normal transport needs
Similarly, it's had a big impact on my social life at the barn. Because.... realistically speaking, I like company, and so does my horse. So we are often cultivating new friends and barn mates as potential adventure partners. Obvi I'm not trying to say that maybe people are nicer to me bc they think I'll take them places (lol), but ya know. It doesn't hurt haha! 

mostly, tho, this truck has been our trusted vehicle to new and exciting adventures 
Practically, tho, well... It's just such a practical asset. And I'm honestly pretty certain that.... I wouldn't have learned nearly as much as I have in the last few years if I *didn't* have the truck. 

Arguably I wouldn't have ever gotten lessons with Isabel, since I didn't have much of a network and wasn't successful in getting the trainers I did know to travel to us. And consequently I wouldn't have competed with her either. 

opportunities and experiences that would quite literally not be otherwise possible 
Actually, more likely, I would have stuck with the hunter jumper lesson barns I was familiar with, that showed the same way we did in college -- with everybody going together to the same shows, with all the horses in one big rig. The whole reason I got into eventing in the first place was because I wanted lessons with Izzy, but didn't think she fit the hunter "mold." 

But that shift to eventing, for us, meant going it... kinda alone for a while. Even when we kinda got a group together, we were still all new to it, ya know? But we were hungry - eager and ready to learn and experience and do. So we did. And did, and did, and did.

happy 22nd birthday, old friend --- and here's hoping for more to come yet! 
Having the truck and trailer granted me a degree of self determination that had honestly never felt imaginable, let alone attainable, with horses as a kid growing up in Baltimore City with a non horsey family. 

And I'm so grateful, and still kinda amazed at how entirely this tool transformed my landscape and revolutionized my horsey habit. The journey would not be possible without this key character haha. That --- true story --- I paid for in cash at a chain link car lot behind the Laurel racetrack from a guy with his shirt unbuttoned down to there, brimming with chest hair and gold chain. 

Ah memories haha. Here's to hoping for many more to come, too, bc dear lord I'm not ready to face trying to replace this thing any time soon!