Wednesday, November 30, 2022

ww: Hulk Murray

I always knew Charlie was a junkie, guys. You don't race up thru your 7yo year without learning to love some drugs. 

True story: Charlie literally leans into whatever shot you're giving him, even if you're actually just drawing blood.... Practically communicating as clearly as he possibly can: "This better be the good stuff!"

But still. Even I was surprised by his *immediate* response to the firocoxib. Good lord. Apparently Charlie has *absolutely not* matured past his earlier.... exuberance lol. Perhaps we'll see a return of Hulk Murray (The Chulk?) after all!!

hulk murray is here for the smashies!

I shouldn't be surprised, really. Charlie is not a stoic sort of horse. He's been disinclined to work through the least bit of discomfort for as long as I've known him. Like, seriously. The rigidity of even just a leather girth is beyond consideration. 

Apparently I still haven't really figured this out, either. I see him uncomfortable and am just like, omg this horse, I'm going to have to inject everything from the ears down..... Or maybe just go on ahead and start digging the hole, ugh. 

But, go figure. All he wanted was a basic generic NSAID. Who woulda thunk, lol.

I'll take it tho - Hallelujah! #BetterLivingThruChemistry

Monday, November 28, 2022

bridging the gap

Charlie had a check-in lameness evaluation with his longtime vet this past week. It's not our normal time of year for maintenance, but... As you may know already, Charlie's had what I'd characterize as intermittent hoof soreness for roughly 7-8wks at this point. 

gotta feed the meter!
I'm grateful to my vet for MANY reasons.... But chief among them are her practicality, availability, and general commitment to keeping Charlie feeling his absolute best and most capable for my goals as a rider, modest tho they may be. 

random flashback to the Maryland 5* for #ManCrushMonday lol
So this was kinda an interesting visit for us. Basically ended up being more or less an in-person consult. Sure, I jogged Charlie a bit for her, and she did some palpations and evaluations... But more than anything, we reviewed his history in conjunction with his current clinical presentation (which was, to be specific, basically sound). 

From this, my vet laid out her recommended plan of action. The working hypothesis is that.... Multiple mild systemic issues are happening all at once, compounding each other. 

First up... We suspect that the month off Charlie earned after getting caught up in wire fence contributed to overall loss in conditioning and musculature, which then contributed to Charlie's hocks losing the support and protection normally afforded by his fitness. 

another flashback to October, this time from Charlie's last appt with his #1 favorite wellness practitioner. god he loves her haha
So... He's getting a little hock-y sooner than we'd like (reminder: he received his last scheduled maintenance in March). This hind end weakness also contributes to the little bit of back soreness we saw prior to his last acupuncture / chiro treatment. 

Meanwhile, the weakened hind end results in Charlie traveling even more on the forehand than he's already inclined to do -- thus amplifying any front end hoof soreness. 

To be completely honest, I was already thinking about repeating the coffin injections we did back in 2019. Quick backstory: back then, we were pushing hot and heavy for a training level move up, come hell or high water. Along the way, I learned some hard lessons about the realities of conditioning a giant thoroughbred on hard ground, womp, thus the injections.

acupuncture needles all over his fence-caught RH leg (see the scars??)
Since then I've been way more careful about managing Charlie relative to ground conditions and hoof care. And it's worked, ya know? But he's a big body on very-slightly-too-small feet, and there's only so much I can do to protect him from drought-hardened ground and stomping at biting flies throughout summer. 

Actually, before his "tangle with tensile," I was pretty much ready to pull the trigger again. But then hoped that maybe the time off would do the trick instead.... 

Lately, tho, we've just been a little too inconsistent for my (and Charlie's!) comfort. When Charlie feels good, he feels really good. Soft swinging back, happy to be round and pushing. Forward to the jumps. All the things. But when he doesn't feel good... He's cranky about it, and very reluctant to move out. Iffy at the walk, and pretty fucking lame at trot. 

marinating while his barnmate gets treated
Upon first consulting with the vet a little over a month ago, she suggested a few weeks of rest plus 5 days of Bute. We did that, and he seemed better, but then right back to the on/off situation. 

Vet believes this is likely still reflecting an arthritic complaint with his feet, vs anything soft tissue etc. But she's not quite ready to pull the trigger yet on coffin injections either. 

mikey the manager was snoopervising, as always!
Her plan is to "bridge the gap" to bring his whole system back into better balance again: 

1) Start him on Firocoxib (generic of Equioxx) for about 2 months. He's still younger than she'd like to recommend it as a permanent daily Rx, but she thinks it's worth trying it to help him out right now. We'll do ~2mos and reassess at that time.

2) Let the NSAIDs do their thing for the next 2wks, while also striving to get more consistent under saddle to improve his musculature (to better support his joints). This means... Instead of giving him 4 days off or whatever every time he trots up sore, take it on a day to day basis. As in, the soreness may be more transitory than I've been treating it. So if he's sound up front, work him out (focusing on strength and muscling). If he's not sound, so be it.

3) At some point in the near future when he has a more compelling clinical presentation for intervention, we'll do a full workup with flexions etc, and likely do his coffins again. Ideally I'll be able to choose a nasty stretch of weather to minimize guilt for the resulting stall rest. 

a lot of folks swear by their previcox or equioxx. we shall see how charlie likes it!
4) All of this should be wayyyy more than sufficient to keep Charlie cruising along happily thru the winter, plenty comfortable for indoor jumper shows, dressage tests, and even some xc schooling (perhaps in the arenas at Loch Moy?) if conditions allow. 

5) He'll also get another acupuncture / chiro session sometime early in the new year. 

6) Ideally we'll get closer to a full 12mos for his hocks, but nbd if it has to be sooner this year. We can live with it lol. We already know he'll tell us when he's ready, so it's just my job to listen. 

whatever it takes to keep charlie hummin along!
So. That's the plan, in a nutshell. Not gonna lie, it's a little hard to write this so publicly bc I can imagine all sorts of judgement about the medical interventions I deploy to ensure my horse is happy in his job. Why not just step down his work? Is that fair to the horse? 

But... Eh, I'm honestly pretty confident in this care plan. While I still have LOADS to learn in the management of a horse across his full life, I feel really confident and secure in my relationship with Charlie, and understanding how he feels in the work. 

imo he lives a good life
And if that little birthday xc ride was any indication, Charlie is a HAPPY HORSE out galloping around and jumping bigger jumps. And I'm more than willing to give him what he needs to stay happy. 

While all the rest he's had this year has maybe contributed to less happy arthritis, there has been some benefit. Namely: Charlie's muscles AND mentality feel fresh. When he feels good? He feels GOOD. And fresh Charlie is my absolute favorite Charlie lol. So we'll take it, and work the margins, as always. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

winter wardrobe 2022-23

Whoa, winter arrived in Maryland this week. Luckily NOT in the form of mass precipitation (sorry, Northwestern NY...) --- but definitely with temperature drops. 

Naturally, that brings us to everybody's favorite time of year: Blanketing Season!

thing you might not know about charlie: homeboy is disinclined to pose, kthxbai
So. Let's talk horse wardrobes, yes?

To start off, I use a basic rubric to decide what Charlie will wear. There's obvi gray area when conditions straddle the boundaries (whether by temperature or precipitation), but by and large -- this guide works for us. 

my blanketing guide - how does it compare to yours?
Since context matters for this sort of thing, here are some considerations:
- Charlie is stalled overnight, and outside during daytime 
- Blanketing is not included at our barn. He'll typically wear whatever I put him in for ~24hrs
- I tend to prefer a chilly horse to an overheated horse, and Charlie runs hot. YMMV

Harrison Hall shoulder bib / rub guard, going into its 3rd winter
So, how does that translate to actual blankets? My ideal blanketing wardrobe includes some super waterproof outer shells with a selection of different liner weights. Sadly, said ideal wardrobe clocked in at ~$750+ last time I built a dream cart LOL, so.... I work with what I've got...

Number 1 Required Item: a rub guard for Charlie's gigantic shoulders. This bib style guard is head and shoulders (lol puns) above the elastic slinky style, imho. It lays loose around his neck, eliminating any binding or rubbing, and Charlie does not go a blanketed day without it. 

flashback pic to an older version of the Mio Turnout sheet, this year's version is all navy with red trim
Next up - Sheets! I have.... wow, so many sheets.... For real tho, if you're going to have extras of anything... Let it be the waterproof outer shells.

The Mio turnout is a cornerstone of Charlie's wardrobe --- tho the actual sheet itself gets replaced about every 18mos (or sooner if your horse is hard on blankets) bc it is NOT very durable. 

What it lacks in sturdability tho, it more than makes up for in being suuuuper waterproof. It's basically a glorified tarp cut to horse size. It's perfect for those borderline days in spring/fall, and makes an amazing top layer during heavy precipitation.  

Dover Rider's International zero fill turnout sheet
This year, I added a second variation of basically the same idea -- this time from Dover. This sheet was brand new with tags for $40 at After the Races' booth at the Maryland 5*. They had a whole basket full of 84" blankets and coolers etc that I'm assuming were donations. 

Obviously I'm always all about supporting Charlie's alma mater, plus -- what a deal!

wet pony is wet. and wants his hay plz!
This will be my first season with this particular brand, but based on first impressions I expect it'll function like the Mio. Maybe won't be super hardcore, but very useful to have on hand -- esp during periods where we get a lot of precipitation (wet blankets take forever to dry, ya know!). 

this weatherbeeta was a handmedown back in 2016... is kinda beat up but still kickin'
For "medium" and "heavy" days, Charlie has an ancient Weatherbeeta with a high neck. I don't even know how old this thing is, but.... It's old. It's been repaired six ways from Sunday, and is not at all waterproof anymore. But... It's warm, and the high neck makes a big difference esp on windy days.  

Horseware of Ireland 100g blanket liner (old picture)
Adding a 100g blanket liner to the mix rounds out the wardrobe. This liner gives me tons of flexibility to mix-n-match with everything else. It's not a particularly durable piece of material... but it's so useful, I've replaced it no fewer than 2-3 times. 

I also have two other sheets (a Smartpak and an Amigo) that are.... Not particularly waterproof anymore. But are just a little bit heavier (still sheets, tho), and tougher than the Dover and Mio above. They are good both on their own and with the liner on dry days. Basically... I'm a big fan of sheets bc winter is wet here in Maryland, so having interchangeable outer layers is critical for keeping the horses dry.

Dover Rider's International zero fill neck cover (old picture)
also this pic is a nice example of layering -- charlie is wearing the Mio as a waterproof layer on top of his medium, with the neck cover. yea he looks homeless... but he's warm and dry!
Last item in Charlie's closet is a zero fill neck cover. Charlie wears this maybe half a dozen times a winter. It's old and kinda ratty, but I'm grateful for it on the days it gets used (high wind or heavy precipitation days, etc). 

as far as i'm concerned, these products (or versions thereof) are critical winter essentials
Whew, ok. Let's wrap up with some products that are essential winter-specific kit for us. 

First -- I've written extensively about battling static with Charlie. Aside from always wearing gloves, the best protectors against nonconsensual zaps are liberal use of grooming sprays and hand lotion. I'm cheap, so I use hair products meant for actual children LOL, and am a huge fan of this Mane 'n Tail Hoofmaker lotion. 

coat defense powder in action 
Meanwhile, I have three primary uses for the Coat Defense Powder:

1. Dry shampoo (as in the gif above). Work it in and brush it out for a nice healthy shine
2. Treatment for low grade skin funk and irritation (tho I would not consider this "medicated" enough for anything really established). 
3. It works like 'baby powder' under blankets. I use this powder across Charlie's topline to keep things fresh and dry when he's blanketed for days on end. 

handsome sir!
So. Very long story short, Charlie has an established winter wardrobe and routine built around his unique circumstances and the array of products I already own. Things might look different if I started again from scratch (with unlimited budget, natch). But it is what it is, and it works for us. 

I'm curious -- does your routine look similar? Do you use a similar blanketing guide to the above? Or maybe your horses live in a style requiring a different type of approach? For instance, Isabel's barn provided 2x daily blanketing services, meaning she could have a more curated wardrobe. 

Let me know what you do, tho -- and especially if you have any tried 'n true products or approaches that your horse can't live without! 

Monday, November 21, 2022

the REAL bday present

Obviously taking Charlie for a breathlessly carefree and refreshing spin around our cross country course last week was a perfect birthday celebration. But lo! Something else was afoot too!! 

trucky truck version 2.0
For some background: I bought my first truck, a 2000 Chevy Silverado 1500 (v8, 4wd), back in 2014 from a dealer I found on Craigslist. The truck had just shy of 200K miles on it and a suspected oil leak, and I paid $4K cash.

Over the years, I replaced the brake lines twice (here and here ((this also still stands as one of my all-time favorite posts lol))), all four tires, and all the hoses and some stuff relating to temperature control / radiator / something or other I really honestly don't know.... I don't know anything about trucks but am perfectly satisfied to shove it off into the capable hands of my trusted mechanic. Make it Safe! and Reliable! and I'm Happy!

formal christening, care of my niece and nephew lol
I always knew that it was my "starter" truck, tho. And that eventually I'd upgrade to something much nicer -- like the trucks in the $8K range back when I was shopping in 2014. (*Hahaha such innocent, na├»ve times!*). 

More specifically, I was pretty positive the time had come when I first brought Charlie home. Which, you may recall, was the first time I gifted myself a vehicle as a birthday present --- when Charlie got his own appropriately sized chariot!

oh did i mention the flood lights? LOL
Somehow, tho, that old Chevy just kept on trucking. It never seemed like the right time to replace it. And you all know what happened next haha -- the used market went nuts omg wtf

guys it has like BUTTONS and stuff for the windows and mirrors omg -- no more cranks!
But I always casually kept an eye out, ya know? And a couple weeks ago, I found it <3

ooooh it has suicide doors too!!
So please allow me to introduce you to the version 2.0 of Emma's Tow Vehicle, the slightly absurd Big Daddy 2010 Chevy Silverado 1500 (v8, 4wd), with just a hair over 100K miles. 

feast your eyes bc it will *never* be this clean and uncluttered again
Enhancements include: 4 doors with plenty of seating, more modern fittings like automatic windows, locks, mirror control (*gasp!*), fog lights galore, and absolutely ridiculous monster tires. Ahem, to be clear, this well-kept and lightly-used truck was most definitely somebody's plaything before coming to me lol.

guys these tires.... omg.... they might not be permanent lol, or will they?? see the red spikes omfg haha, more than one person has officially dubbed it slightly... redneck
But ya know. It hits all my requirements: v8 and 4wd and.... Yep, that about covers it LOL! Again, I'm not really a "truck" person. I don't really know much, don't really care much. But I've been towing as part of my regular routine now for something like 8 years (and ~40K miles)... so... it feels like I kinda know what I need for that pursuit.

spying from my apt window
Plus. Let's be real, guys. With the market as it is.... I really was not at all inclined to pay $20K for a truck that's gonna get driven a couple times a month and otherwise live under a tree. 

"sure sure, it's big dark and handsome... but, ahem, have you seen ME??" -- charlie, unimpressed
I wanted something nice enough to be easy and fun (and Safe! and Reliable!) to tow my ponies to horse shows, but not really much more than that.

anyway. horses and stuff <3
Because despite what my somewhat obsessive and excitable picture taking above suggests... Driving this thing around the city, and especially parking it in my neighborhood, is kinda a pain in the ass and significantly more expensive than my little civic lol. Which... Duh haha. 

and michael <3
The biggest advantage to this new vehicle is its unusually low mileage. Bc again, it was the former owner's toy, basically. He did CB radio stuff with it, used it to drive to the beach with his teenage kids, and... yea that was about it haha. So theoretically, with proper care and feeding, it should hopefully last me a good long time -- fingers crossed!

that's all for now!
There are a couple odds and ends to work out before it's tow-ready, like wiring in the electric brake controller. Plus I have a bed cover (tonneau?) on order since my last truck's cap really spoiled me for storage lol. 

And in the meantime I'm using it as my daily driver for a few weeks to get really comfortable with the new dimensions and figure out all its secrets lol (considering it's a used vehicle, they ALL have secrets!). 

Soon enough, tho, hopefully we'll be out and about with pony in tow!! Excitement abounds, lol. Anybody else have a similar approach to vehicle shopping? I tend to be a little trigger happy once I find something that fits my needs... But maybe you're more into research or have a longer list of specifications? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

way back machine: Fix-a-Test Edition

We rode in our second Fix-a-Test clinic with resident Judge E back in early October, so let's finally get around to recapping, yes? 

Recall that we started hosting a monthly Twilight Dressage series back in August with this judge, and Charlie got to participate in the September iteration (post here). That was honestly a useful experience for us bc Judge E really only told me things I already know.... But something about her delivery resonated. 

who needs a proper court when you have strategically placed poles and standards?? 
Y'all already know that I make a lot of choices about how I ride Charlie that have less to do with the "Ideals of the Sport" and more to do with.... The preservation of our partnership. 

In my humble opinion, my horse doesn't really distinguish between activities, phases, schooling exercises, competitions, playtime adventures etc in the same way that I might. Rather, the way I ride him in any given moment can have ramifications in other moments as well. 

As it relates specifically to dressage: If I ride him too backward and behind the leg in my rein contact on the flat, it shouldn't surprise me when he's backward and behind the leg to a jump. With this hypothesis in mind, I've backed wayyyyyy off over the years of generally fucking with Charlie on the flat lol.

c'mon, charles, swing that big body!
Judge E really didn't have much to say on that score.... Except that... Nothing in that mentality precludes me from riding the horse more forward. And in fact, insisting on forward more consistently and universally can only help us in every aspect of our riding. 

Again -- none of this is news.... But y'all know how it is. Sometimes you just sorta have to be in the right time and (head) space to hear a thing and be like, Oh. Yea. Got it. 

cantering L the way we do
So that was our big takeaway from the September Fix-a-Test clinic. And was further reaffirmed when I did a deep dive analysis of how we've scored on the two new 2022 Novice tests so far. Plus, given that we were using this October clinic as preparation for the CT at Tranquillity a few days later, I came in to these tests determined to make a solid effort. 

slightly better at cantering R
There are a couple parts of this test that are a little challenging for us. For instance, we canter to the left first -- our weaker lead. I have a couple strategies at play to make this go better for us (such as cantering immediately before entering the ring for our test) --- but realistically, the canter is only going to improve by practicing improving it. 

In other words... Whenever I'm cantering Charlie, I need a greater and greater proportion of his steps to be impulsive, uphill and with 'jump.' Let's call it a work in progress. 

i still think he's cute
The other challenge with this test is more of just a pilot preparation detail. That second trot serpentine after the free walk always catches me a little under prepared. Like we walk, then trot, then immediately are on our serpentine while I'm still sorta scrambling to pull us together. Just needs shorter reins sooner, basically. 

refer to this recent post for a deeper dive into our scores on these tests so far
Honestly, tho.... I really do believe these clinics are so valuable even just for the repetition. First bc it helps me better understand the test -- esp the parts that tend to come up a little more quickly. 

But also -- secondly, I think it's good for Charlie. He's kinda conditioned me to ride him a certain way in our schooling sessions. He's a good boy who, once he's warmed up, will basically go ahead and do whatever I ask of him as well as he can the first time around. And as a reward, he often gets to be "one and done." He doesn't like to be drilled, ya know? 

(also -- who recognizes Bella back there waiting for her turn???)

Realistically, tho, especially in rides that "count," he doesn't get to make the rules or call the shots in when he gives his best work. Bc what counts is what happens in the show ring. 

Sure, I can do my best to tailor our warm up specifically to his preferences (which I really really try hard to do). But sometimes shows run late, or there are unforeseen delays, or whatever, ya know? So sometimes Charlie has to go on and go back to work under the same set of expectations even when he thinks he already did that. 

And I'm not gonna lie.... Charlie does not generally appreciate that, thanks

"ready to be done, thanks!" -- charlie, for sure
But these clinics are honestly pretty perfect for helping address the mental side of that training hole. Bc.... Ya know. The clinic doesn't really "matter" in the grand scheme of things, but it gives me a chance to push that button, put that pressure on the horse, but in a way that he can easily succeed. 

So there were basically two big wins and takeaways from this clinic: 

1. The canter isn't going to fix itself. I know what I have to do, just need to be more diligent. As always. 

2. Charlie is coming to terms with the reality that... sometimes I *AM* going to need him to give me five more good minutes. And it's nbd.

We are hopeful about scheduling a few more of these clinics through the winter, assuming we can figure out ring-sharing agreements etc. Cross your fingers for me bc I'd really like to use these rides as a way to keep me honest in our schooling sessions LOL... 

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

birthday xc

I've been itching to get out onto our home xc course for a little school for ages and ages, it seems. At first the ground was too hard and dry.... Then it was too wet... Then Charlie had that hoof soreness.... Then it was too wet again.... You know how it goes. 

just me and my favorite pony, cantering around
As if right on schedule for my birthday, tho, conditions yesterday were perfect. Cool weather, enough days of dry that the ground was basically perfect while still trending soft and sticky (the better to dig one's toes in!). And Charlie felt like a million bucks. Yessss!

warm up! 
Obvi I don't deign to work on my birthday*** so could just get out to the barn at a leisurely hour and enjoy the nicest part of the day. 

(***Well, except for the 3hrs that morning spent finishing a report for a proofing deadline with our corporate services team....)

nice little coop into the water
And it's just so funny, guys. My mind is such a strange place sometimes. I've worked really really hard the last two years to literally etch into the stone of my soul that.... Charlie and I can jump around Novice blindfolded and with both hands tied our backs (figuratively tho, c'mon guys). Because... Uh, we can

splish splash!
But I still have these weird moments of feeling like.... Gosh, idk, what if we can't? What if it's been so long? What if something has changed? What if we both just like.... forgot? Or worse.... What if Charlie doesn't want to anymore? 

novice house on a hillside
Because let's be real.... The success is all Charlie's. He is an uncomplicated horse. And I've spent years working on our trust and our partnership. He goes so well not because I'm like... an above average rider (hint: am not). Rather.... It's because he's a good boy, he's good at it, and all he wants from me is a closed leg and steady contact. 

novice rolltop
So I spend all this time psyching myself out about however long it's been since we jumped this that or the other thing.... And how all the jumps are in different places from the last time we schooled out there... But then we go.... and we do it.... And, yep, turns out Charlie can still jump dem jumps! 

the video is full of epic shadows <3
As is my normal way with xc schooling.... I like to just go out and do it. We spent a good while walking around all the fields checking footing and coming up with a plan. Then I jumped a couple of the itsy bitsies around the water to see where Charlie was at. 

wheeeee finishing on our favorite novice table! 
Charlie was, to put it lightly, perfection. We've spent so much time this year show jumping that Charlie has become shockingly refined in how quickly he can balance and turn. I LOVE IT! 

And so we commenced on a simple little loop through the driest fields on course, finishing with three of my favorite novice fences: a basic house, a big beefy rolltop (that we haven't actually seen in a long time), and our favorite table - above.

the best part is when he jumps the stream crossing right out of stride lol

Maybe it's different with other horses, but I strongly prefer to string multiple fences together with Charlie vs jumping one thing at a time, constantly starting and stopping. 

Charlie just is not the same horse at jump 1 in a series as he is at the 5th. Maybe that's a training hole or whatever... But eh, I tend to think it's pretty normal. So I feel like we both have more fun, and get a more consistent experience by getting into a rhythm and going for it. Ymmv, obvi.  

good boy <3
also fun fact, youtube flagged this particular clip as a copyright infringement smh....
Mostly tho.... It's just more fun haha. I may not have been inclined at all this past year to actually commit to running 3 full phases at a one day horse trial.... But I still really do love each phase individually --- especially in bite sized morsels <3 

And with a horse as good on cross country as Charlie, who wouldn't love it???