Sunday, 27 May 2012

Saddle Stories

Aero has always been difficult to fit a saddle to.  When he was jumping, we used a gel-flocked Pessoa on him, and it seemed to suit him well, we had few issues with his back in those days, but then again, the Youngest Daughter was riding in the half-seat a lot of the time.  Then dressage took over, and the trouble began.

I had a lovely Albion dressage saddle, which had been a present for my fortieth birthday.  We used it on Aero when he started eventing, but it became clear that it didn't fit (it was too wide), so we had our local saddle-fitter out, and bought the basic Wintec dressage saddle that was available at the time - I can't remember the model name.  That seemed to work ok for a while, and then he started getting bald patches at the back of the saddle, and the YD started to complain of back-pain.

The saddle-fitter visited again, and we came to the conclusion that he had changed shape substantially and had muscled up particularly around his shoulders, tipping the saddle backwards.  She suggested using a riser pad, but I'm afraid I have an aversion to riser pads, and I got a bit stubborn about it!  My feeling was that a saddle bought for a specific horse should fit without having to be raised here, or lowered there, so we compromised and sent the saddle away to be reflocked, emphasising that it needed to come up at the back.

It made no difference whatsoever, so we scratched our heads and thought a bit.  The YD was getting serious about dressage, and they were doing really well (reserve National Champions at Novice level!) so we decided to invest in their career, and buy a more expensive fitted saddle.  Measurements were taken, templates were made and the whole lot were sent off to the manufacturer.

Along came the Bates Isabell Werth saddle with Cair panels and adjustable gullet - the most expensive saddle I've ever bought.  This was the one, this would stop the YD's back pain, put her in a better position and enable her to sit deeper in the saddle, allow Aero's baldy patches to disappear completely, eliminate all of his tension issues and turn him into a more extravagent mover.

Yeah, right.  Rider's back pain continued, horse went exactly the same, we ended up continuing to use the big fluffy sheepskin pad under the saddle to protect his back.  The saddle must be right, we said, it was fitted especially for the horse.  So many riders complain of back pain that we concluded that back pain and dressage go hand in hand, and of course we had to have the horse physio out every couple of weeks, doesn't everyone?

Fast forward to the present.  I've been mixing Aero's work up all week - lunging with no tack and going for a little walk in hand afterwards, or lunging with tack and riding for a short while afterwards, either in the arena or on the road.  Trying to vary it and keep him interested, basically - bear in mind that this horse was depressed and arena sour when he came back to us last autumn.

I've always found him a little uncomfortable to ride, (I affectionately call him The Camel Horse) but I'd been hoping that after Le Big Trek, I'd be fit enough to cope with his swinging walk and big bouncy trot.  Nope, apparently not.  I felt like a complete beginner, falling behind the movement in trot and falling in front of the movement on downward transitions.  I tried using my own Wintec dressage saddle, which, after 500km, is perfectly moulded to the shape of my bum and which feels like "home" on Flurry, but it made no difference, I still felt out of balance and awkward and Aero felt unhappy and reluctant to move forward - not surprising really, with me impersonating a sack of spuds on his back!

I had ridden in the Bates saddle a couple of times shortly after we bought it, but I found it horrifically uncomfortable - it stretched my legs and hip joints in ways they were not accustomed to, so I'm really reluctant to use it.  In desperation, I tried using Aero's old jumping saddle.  He stretched nicely in walk and seemed a little happier, but I felt hopelessly unbalanced and insecure.  The leather felt as slippery as polished steel under my bum compared to the nice grippy synthetic fabric of my Wintec, the flat, close-contact seat didn't hold me the same way at all and I still felt like I was being thrown behind the movement every stride.

At rest, the Pessoa seems to sit fairly level on him but while lunging him one day, something caught my eye.
Was it just my imagination or did the saddle tilt backwards with every stride?  I videoed what I was seeing and then looked at YouTube videos of horses being lunged, and I was fairly convinced that what I was seeing on Aero was unusual, so I pulled some stills out of the video for comparison.
At Rest
I did the same thing with Flurry's saddle and thought it seemed more pronounced with this.
The stills are even more damning :
In walk the saddle rocks from here... here
It may seem like a miniscule difference to some folk, but if the rider is being thrown back onto the horses loins every stride, a) the horse will develop a sore back and b) the rider's back will also be sore from constantly trying to fight gravity.

The gel pad I was using raises the cantle a small amount, but what if I could raise it a little more, so that the saddle stops tipping backwards at all?  What if I used a (gulp) riser pad?  What if I've been wrong all these years and Aero's conformation is such that he needs a riser pad no matter what saddle he's wearing?

Cue quick trip to the saddlers, returning home with shiny new riser pad.

I'm woman enough to ehhhhh.....NEVER admit when I'm wrong, but I might make an exception in this case!  

The riser pad made a difference immediately, I thought the Wintec looked better while I lunged him. 

 I was pleased enough with the change that I hopped up on him straight away and  I was delighted to find I was better balanced, while he seemed happier and stayed rounder.  I'm toying with the idea of using my gel pad as well... I'll just keep playing around for a while til I find the best arrangement.  I'm even beginning to feel like I might actually manage to ride him properly some day!

I hacked him out this morning with his Renegade boots for the first time.  The boots don't twist at all on him, unlike on Flurry and Gigi.  The validates our theory that the boots were twisting because both Flurry and Gigi are not straight movers, unlike Aero.

Best of all, he felt alert, interested and happy the whole time.

Happy Aero!

Thursday, 24 May 2012


The story of Lilly does not portray me in a good light, but I will tell it honestly.

To tell her story fully, I'll have to start with the story of Bella.

Bella came to us for reschooling as a naughty five year old pony who had an established habit of bucking, resulting in a complete loss of nerve in her fifteen year old rider, E.  The YD was three years younger than E, but had way more experience riding all kinds of ponies and she quickly clicked with Bella.  Bella tried to buck her off regularly, but failed every time, and eventually stopped bucking (mostly).  E, meanwhile, was enjoying herself riding our elderly schoolmaster, Pepper, and was steadily rebuilding her confidence.

The arrangement suited both parties, E got to take Pepper out to a clear round competition and the YD was just about ready to take Bella out showjumping when tragedy (and I really mean tragedy) struck.

E was severely injured in a car crash and died shortly after.

Her family, needless to say, were devastated and the last thing they needed to think about was the pony.  We assured them that we would take good care of Bella for as long as they needed us to.

That's how the YD ended up campaigning Bella for four years.  After the first year, Bella's owner started going to shows to watch them compete, and although the first few shows were very emotional for everyone concerned, she came to enjoy watching Bella and the YD as much as I did.  Bella was frequently naughty, and could throw in a series of bucks between fences "just for fun", which often resulted in a pole on the ground, but she enjoyed her jumping nonetheless.  Any ribbons which came their way went to E's grave, and I liked to think of them brightening up the graveyard and causing people to stop and think about the pony-mad young girl whose life was cut so short.

When the YD was sixteen, the age-limit for pony classes, we all got together to decide what to do.  Selling Bella was not an option - she is a last link between her owner and E.  We considered having her re-measured and rated as a horse - she was right on the height limit for pony classes and this was a definite option, but we were not convinced it was the right option.  She was comfortable jumping up to 1.10M, but any higher seemed a bit much for her, and she would have struggled to cope with horse distances on a technical course.

An alternative was to find another young rider for her, but she was not an easy pony by any means, and we couldn't think of any sympathetic youngsters who would be able to cope with her occasional histrionics.

The YD was still as keen as mustard at this stage, and was making regular pocket-money taking in horses and ponies to school.  It seemed unthinkable that she would lose interest, so we discussed the possibility of breeding from Bella, with a view to producing a nice little horse for her to train and hopefully compete on in the future.  The foal would be co-owned, and we would split all the costs along the way.  This would also gave us a bit more time to find a new rider for Bella.

Her owner liked the idea and we liked the idea of keeping a part of Bella - in four years, we had grown pretty fond of her!    We rationalised the idea by saying that even if the impossible happened and the YD stopped riding, the market was still pretty good for quality young-stock, so we reassured ourselves that we would be able to sell the offspring easily enough.

A suitable stallion was chosen (a son of the great show-jumper Cruising), Bella was inseminated and went in foal straight away.  A full year later, Marshall hit the ground, a stunning chestnut colt.  Bella was a great mum and all was well.

I had previously discovered the pitfalls of breeding - you breed one cute little pony foal every year, and in four years time you've got five ponies to keep, so I was quite certain that I didn't want another foal.  I spoke to Bella's owner and told her this, and said if she wanted to go again it was up to her.

Unfortunately, I wasn't clear enough in what I said, and although I'm pretty sure I said I didn't want another one, what Bella's owner heard was "we'll go again if you want to."  After a couple of weeks, she decided that yes, she'd go again, thinking I was once again involved as a full partner.  This confusion didn't emerge until Bella was confirmed in foal, and we were discussing vet and stud fees.

What could I do?  Bella's owner was upset and genuinely apologetic, but couldn't afford to pay all the bills by herself.  I agreed to go halves on this foal too, and the following year Lilly arrived.
Marshall was all "Boy" from the moment he arrived, rough, tough and rambunctious, but Lilly was the complete opposite, sweet, gentle and curious.  She welcomed human contact without ever getting pushy, and happily accepted her place at the bottom of the pecking order.

Despite this, though, I just didn't like with her - as far as I was concerned, she was unplanned and unwanted, the result of a misunderstanding which I felt was not my fault.  I had no interest in her, and over the following three years, I'm ashamed to say I neglected her.  Her co-owner didn't have enough of a horsey background to train or even handle a young horse, so it was my responsibility to do all the early work with her.  Although she was fed and stabled as necessary, I failed to give her the all-important handling a baby horse should get.  She just about learned to lead, but as for teaching her to pick up her feet - I just couldn't be bothered.  She's only had two hoof-trimming sessions in her life, and although she tried hard to behave, she wasn't properly prepared and didn't understand what was going on.

As a yearling, she showed signs of sweet itch, which became even more apparent the following year.  I should have introduced her to a rug, so she could get some protection from the flies, but I just didn't want to spend the time on her.  I did invest in an ointment which was supposed to soothe her skin and keep the flies away, and I put it on her sporadically, while her co-owner made sure she applied it every time she saw her.

It had become clear to us that the YD's equestrian career was over.  It was also quite clear that the market for leisure horses in Ireland was in its death throes.  We were fortunate to sell Marshall as a three year-old, but I was convinced we would never be able to sell Lilly.  I made a few half-hearted attempts to advertise her as a two year old, but she stayed right where she was.

In an added twist, her registration was also mixed up.  The couple who owned the stud split up while Bella was pregnant with Lilly, and our payment of the stud fees got lost in between them.  This meant that no foal registration cert was sent out to me, but I never noticed its absence - at the time, we were tied up with the a very stressed out Youngest Daughter (long, complicated story).  The first I knew about the lack of registration was when I was contacted by one half of the couple, requesting payment of the stud fee.  Thankfully, I had paid it on Visa and I was able to find proof of this, but I never received the registration cert, and to be honest, at the time, I just didn't care.

Because no foal certificate was sent off to the registration body, DNA testing was required to prove her parentage.   In my eyes, Lilly was worthless, and I felt that DNA testing and registration, along with the vet visit they would require, was a pointless waste of time and money.  Despite the fact that I knew all horses (by law) should be microchipped and passported, I never did it.  Don't ask me why, maybe I thought that if I ignored the problem long enough, it would go away.  It didn't.

I now have a half share in a three year old unwanted, untrained, unregistered filly with sweet itch.  I also have a deadline.  I have to rehome her before I leave in October.  She deserves a home where she can learn how to be a good little riding horse and is wanted, loved and trained.  She deserves better than me.

I was skipping out the paddock yesterday, assisted by our troubled and hyperactive rescue dog, Cookie, and I was lucky enough to capture this video.  Lilly is demonstrating just how good she could be someday.
I've posted this on Facebook.  Maybe we'll find her perfect home this way.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Aero's Feet

Did I mention Aero's feet were appalling?  His frogs have disappeared, he has no bars whatsoever and his heel bulbs are pretty much non-existent.  Anja the AEP practitioner is coming next Monday, and I'm hoping she will give him a good tidy up and set his feet up to grow correctly again.  Meanwhile, after taking these photos today, I gave him a very light rasp, concentrating on the spots where there was an obvious flare in the wall that looked like it might start to chip or flake.

Here we go :

Left Front
Seems to be growing lop-sided - outer wall is longer or am I imagining it?
Last November, for comparison.  Left is trimmed, right is unshod but otherwise untouched

Heel view.  The lop-sidedness is more clear here.  
Side view, long in the toe, heel is underrun I think? It doesn't look like the slope of the pastern continues in the hoof, too.
Solar view.  The Left hand wall is the bit that caught my eye the other day, it has worn in a very ragged way.  Frog is very flat, no heel bulbs to speak of (all four feet are like this)
Left Hind. I've got a few more pictures of this one from last November.
Front view.  Again, growing lop-sided.  I'm wondering if it's significant that both feet on the Left Hand side have become longer on the outside wall.
November, post trim, looking good
Side view, it's got that bull-nose look, and it's chipping at the side where it's flared out
November, post trim, looking better than now
Heel view, he was reluctant to weight it evenly which was interesting
Solar view, the most obvious problem to me from this angle is the ragged flare on the left wall
Same view, last November, Anja pointing to how much shorter the toe needs to become. I think it has come a good way towards this point.
Right Hind
Again, the outside wall looks longer, but it's not so flared out on this foot.  The pink mark is an old bruise, and I think the chips on the inner wall may be the last traces of nail-holes.

The wet is giving this a strange shine so it looks like it's flared on the outside - it's not.  Heel seems less underrun, and this one seems less bull-nosed than the left hind.
From behind.  It's not the best angle, so hard to judge if the foot is straight or not.
Solar view.  To my eye, this doesn't look bad, apart from needing a trim and the whole frog/heel issue.  The toe has definitely shortened since last Nov. and I think the hoof has grown a little wider.
Right Front
At first I thought this one looked good, then I began to have doubts.  Ok, it's a bit long.
but when viewed from the side it looks a lot worse, flaring slightly at the toe and looking "wrong" at the heel - I can't say why, it just looks wrong to me?

Heel view
Solar view.  Yup, needs a trim!
I'm looking forward to hearing what Anja has to say about all this next week.  I'm also looking forward to hearing what she thinks of Flurry's feet - I hope I'm correct in thinking that they're good!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Aero & Molly Update

This blogging is hard work!  I've been busy with the garden, horses, dogs and doing physio for my wrist & aching butt (yup, still sore!) and it's been hard to find time to finish off my "Dogs" page, let alone write a new post.  I've been looking for a few photos, finally found the one I want of Cinnamon as a puppy - check out My Dogs page for an AWWWWW moment!  I also put in some better photos of Aero competing with the YD, just to glitz his page up a bit.

Aero continues to be a conundrum.  After the first day, when he willingly opened his mouth for the bit, the "You're-Going-to-have-to-Prise-my-Mouth-Open-if-you-want-to-get-that-Bit-in-it" Horse made a reappearance.
I concluded that his withers might have been hurting him more than I realised.  He had been twitching it a lot anytime my hands or the reins came near it while I was riding, and I reckoned that this was his way of telling me it was sore.  I decided not to ride again until it was healed, and I've been walking him out in hand instead, trying to give his hooves the workout they need.
Today, Day 5, he opened his mouth after only a moment's hesitation - Progress!
For the first few days, he has been alert and a shade spooky, but today, Lazy Aero was in evidence, both going out and coming home.
I know Lazy Aero exists, but I'm beginning to doubt myself and the work I'm doing with him.  What if I've been overdoing the roadwork and he's a bit footsore?  His hooves are starting to chip at the edges, and after 20 minutes on the road today, the inside of the hoof-wall had an interesting ragged, worn appearance.
Tomorrow, I will play with him in the arena.  I am very reluctant to do arena work with him at all, but my gut feeling is that his feet (and possibly his brain) need a break from roadwork.

Molly is holding her own.  We're keeping her away from Cookie - she really doesn't deserve to have a little whipper-snapper going for her out of the blue.  We've also put a heater in her section of the room, and it seemed to make a difference straight away, she was voluntarily trotting beside me from time to time when out for her little walks.  She's just started on her anti-inflammatories, and I'm hoping that they will improve her comfort level another bit.  The special low-fat diet (Royal Canin) is also doing the trick - no more tummy trouble!

I'm fighting my way through the weeds and have now moved on to the Veggie garden beside the arena.  The good news is that our nettle problem seems to be gone.  The bad news is that groundsel and goosegrass have taken over instead.
Groundsel - you can just see the tops of the onions at the back
The other bad news on the Home Producing Front is that one of the hens died.  There have been only two eggs a day for a good while now, so I guess the oldest one has been failing.  There's no point in replacing her, so we'll just stick with the two left behind.

I'm hoping to get some pics of Aero's hooves up tomorrow, I've assembled the hoof stand which should leave me with two hands free for taking photos.  Hope it works!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Settling in at Home

I've been home less than five days, but I've got so much to write about.

We were met with a lovely surprise party, arranged by our daughters.  My two then excused themselves halfway through the evening (gigs on in town that they just couldn't miss).  The downside of this was that the following morning, I had to do all of the post-partying clean-up, in addition to getting stuck into the mountain of washing I had brought home.  Granny helped, of course, but she was up a good deal later than me, so I had a lot of it done by then!

A day and a half later, the washing mountain was under control.  The tumble dryer was whining ominously and the washing machine was full of horse and dog hair, but at least I had clean clothes again.  I had even managed to get a small bit of weeding done in the garden, so I was well pleased!

Molly, my sweet old Bearded Collie, then got a dose of the runs.  I settled into a routine of wash the floor... take the dogs out...oh crap she's had another accident...(repeat).  Poor Molly has been unwell on and off for the last few weeks, but Granny had just about got her stabilised with a combination of 24 hours fasting, followed by feeding rice and chicken little and often, and then gradually re-introducing her normal food.

So we fasted her for 24 hours and fed her rice after that, a small feed in the morning, (no adverse effects) followed by a slightly larger amount later in the day (major explosion).
I knew a vet visit was necessary, so first thing on Monday morning I rang my vet's locum - my vet got married last weekend, so I figured he's probably busy!

An appointment was arranged for later that day, and I moved on to the next job, moving Flurry and Gigi, our Fab trekking horses, out of my place and down to Anne's where they'll have a few weeks well-deserved holiday.  They loaded like Pros, and we rattled our way along the 12 miles to Anne's house, where we turned them out.  The grass is a bit longer than is ideal, but hopefully it's not too full of sugars - the weather has been so cold here that even though the grass is long, it shouldn't be too lush.

Next job, take Molly to the vet.  Cinnamon came along too, her rabies booster was due, and we did her first, all very straightforward, and she only cried a little!
It looks like Molly has pancreatitis as well as liver issues.  She's staying in for a couple of days while they run more blood tests and see how she responds to different feeds and medication.  Deirdre, the vet, is very positive about getting to the bottom of it and is confident that she'll be able to treat it. She's also hoping that the tests results will show that the liver function is not too badly impaired, which would mean that Molly can take NSAIDS for her wobbly hind legs.
I'm under no illusions here, I know Molly will not be with us for long, but we're hoping that we'll be able to keep her more comfortable for the time she has left.

Weeded some more, washed some more clothes, skipped out the paddock a bit.  My wrist is a bit achey with these new tasks it's being asked to perform.  Not too happy about that!  It had better strengthen up if it know what's good for it!

Yesterday evening, it was time to bring the three other horses home.  We brought Pepper and Lilly up first.  Pepper was excited, but behaving himself like the elderly gentleman he is, and Lilly - well she was excited, and she's just a baby, really, so the LSH was having fun hanging onto her.  With perfect bad timing, one of the neighbours was having oil delivered, so the driveway was partially blocked with a humming, grumbling monster - I mean oil tanker.  Pepper did his elderly-pony-spook-thing, peering at it anxiously as we passed and swinging his butt away from it, but poor Lilly nearly had a complete meltdown - she's had a very sheltered upbringing!

Next we brought Aero up.  He's looking super - a bit fat, but he's lost the anxious look in his eye, and he strolled confidently past the oil tanker, even when the driver popped out from behind it.  We turned him out with the other two, and watched as he gave a very impressive demonstration of JoinUp.  Lilly had the cheek to approach him confidently, so he "sent her away" for about five minutes, running her all over the paddock.  She was giving major submissive signals in the end, head down, ears dropped, licking and chewing.  Aero stopped chasing her, and stood, also with his head down, sniffing grass and droppings.  Eventually, he moved off, away from the others, who followed submissively at a distance.
This morning, when I went out, all three of them were snoozing contentedly together.  I guess peace will reign once there is no doubt who the King is!

It was great to see Aero behaving like this again.  When he came back from his loan home last year, he was so depressed that he didn't integrate with the herd at all - he stayed away from them, in a corner by himself the whole time.  Now he has his cheeky look back again and hopefully is ready to get back to work - I guess he really needed the break.

Today was the start of his working life with me!  I brought him in with no agenda whatsoever, other than a good brushing and a little free work in the arena.  I was appalled with the state of his hooves - he has miniscule frogs, and none of them are making contact with the ground.  Compared with Flurry's big frogs and wide heels, they look absolutely dreadful.  I guess that's the difference between being kept on soft ground or on hard ground - Aero's been in a soft, muddy field all the time, so of course in that sort of ground his frogs don't need to develop - they'll be getting some sort of pressure all the time from the soft going.  It's probably also due to lack of exercise - I'm sure he spent most of the winter just standing in a corner, munching hay.

He's been wearing a heavy rug up to now, which unfortunately has rubbed his withers raw, and he seemed to have cracked heels, so I gave withers and heels a wash with good old Betadine scrub.  Turned out his heels were fine, it was little bits of mud, not scabs that I had seen, so that was good news.  His withers is pretty sore, though, and he let me know.  I ended up slathering it with Green Gunk, hoping it'll soften it up a bit more and help it heal.

I took him into the arena and watched him walk and trot a little.  He's looking good, there's a nice bounce in his trot (that'll be fun NOT!) and he was very obedient, as always.  After that I decided to mess about and try Renegade boots on him.... he seems to be a size 2 all round.  Then I played about with tack - he's so fat that I reckoned Flurry's saddle would fit him at the moment, which indeed it does.  I went to put his bridle on, he put his head down and opened his mouth for the bit - this was a far cry from the You're-Going-to-have-to-Prise-my-Mouth-Open-if-you-want-to-get-that-Bit-in-it Horse we left behind in December!

So I thought, what the heck, he's happy to be ridden, got my helmet and climbed aboard! We walked a short distance down the road - he was tense but perfectly behaved.  My neighbour/friend Sharon spotted us passing by and came out for a chat, which was the best thing that could have happened.  We nattered away for about ten minutes, Aero got to relax completely and was happy to stroll back home at the buckle end of the reins.  We finished up with five minutes in the arena and I was absolutely delighted to find that he's once again seeking the contact and actually chewing the bit - last time I rode him, he was ducking behind the contact and holding the bit rigid the whole time, with his mouth slightly open.

I just hope I can help him stay like this.  I'm convinced his issues come from his back - he is a very odd shape, with a high, but not narrow, withers, so that every saddle tilts slightly to the back on him.  It's also really hard to find rugs that fit him, too, he has huge shoulders which get rubbed in a rug that fits right everywhere else, and if you go a size up to accommodate the shoulders, you end up with a rug that slips and rubs his withers.

My plan is to keep working with no agenda for a while, hack as much as we can and try to keep all arena work enjoyable and low-pressure.  Maybe I'll manage to do a dressage competition with him before we leave in October and maybe I won't - time will tell.