Feb 27, 2012

Bryan Lands

It was cold and damp, like a March morning should be, as I waited for Lisa to arrive. Dew dripped off the leaves of the trees, cozy horse noises snuffled softly from the paddocks that edged the driveway to the barn. The swallows were catching breakfast and the ducks were starting their morning swim as the mist rose on the little lake at the front of the property.  I have always loved mornings in a barn, and this one was exceptionally pretty and peaceful.  And today was exciting! Bryan was coming in and I was there early to oversee the arrival. I was in a happy, sleepy state, and just finishing a coffee. I shivered as the sun started to peek through the clouds. I checked my watch. She should be here any minute.

I became aware of a rhythmic crashing. That could only be the sound of a horse kicking in a trailer.  Holy cow, I thought first. What the heck?  Oh, great, I thought second. You don’t think that’s them?

Indeed, it was. The crashing increased; the trailer pulled into sight around the corner. The trailer rocked and shook with each kick. The birds fled in an instant, the ducks on the lake scattered with an outraged quack. The horses in the paddocks along the barn lane stood frozen, electrified. My friend Lisa, driving the truck, waved cheerfully, apparently unconcerned about the noise and the iminent destruction of her trailer.

She pulled in, expertly turning the rig around, unfazed by the commotion they were creating.   She stopped, got out of her truck, and gave me her usual affectionate hug. The horse inside the trailer, *my new horse*, was now "whinnying". Read "screaming".  Loudly. She tried to talk over the din but after a few futile attempts we reverted to hand signals and decided to immediately unload him from the trailer. I opened the escape door and was promptly knocked backward by Bryan's head snaking back and forth. He was trying to climb out over the manger. Good grief, I thought as I tried to push his head back inside so I could unsnap the trailer tie. Good grief! again, as he screamed in my face and resisted my efforts. I pushed as hard as I could, got him unsnapped, Lisa dropped the ramp, undid the butt bar, and with a final last crash, scramble, and scream, he unloaded himself in a heap in the driveway.

He scrambled up, all 17 awkward fungusy hands of him. I grabbed the leadrope just as he righted himself and started to leave. I knew he didn’t know where he was going but he was going somewhere, and he was going NOW, and was going to levitate himself there, by the looks of it.  He had no idea I was there, was absolutely shaking with nerves, his eyes white rimmed and spinning in his head. Did I mention the screaming?

My presence at the end of the leadrope meant little to him, and as I tried to keep him from dragging me off I panted to Lisa "Get a chain! Did you bring a chain?!" Lisa looked surprised. "A chain? Why?!"

I yelled over my shoulder as I tried to keep from being trampled  by *my new horse*,  who was prancing in circles, tail over his back, head in the air, and did I mention screaming? "LISA! Do you HAVE A CHAIN?!"

"Of course I do, you don’t have to yell!"  Lisa sniffed, as she started leisurely looking about her trailer dressing room for a chain. "Here", she said, about a year later.

Pleased with my adroitness in getting the chain over the nose of a horse that was alternately plunging, rearing, spinning, trying to kick, and passing watery poop like mad, but sensing that no congratulations were forthcoming, I  pulled quite smartly on the leadrope, engaging the chain hard on what really was a classic TB nose. He had no idea I was even there.  Lisa looked shocked, and spoke to the horse in a soothing tone which was totally lost in the din. "You don’t have to shank him!" she cried in horror, in a voice that may as well have been saying "You don’t have to eviscerate him!". I pretended not to hear, which wasn’t hard to do, and ignoring her appalled face I shanked him again, good and hard. He shook his head, snorted, struck out at me with a foreleg and reared in my face. I shanked him again and backed him up good and smart. For the first time he quit spinning around me.  He semi-stopped that ear shattering screaming and stood still, pawing madly. He didn’t look at me and still didn't seem to know I was there. Head a mile high, nostrils flaring, tail up, he looked like he was going to leave the planet any moment. But at least he stood still...ish. And he quit the God awful screaming.

Oh great, I thought to myself again as I looked at his quivering body. I could see his heart pumping out of his chest. He looked ready to absolutely explode.

Bryan had arrived!

Feb 25, 2012

'It's Not Pain"

We interrupt our next installment of The Life of Bryan with a rant. Well, maybe not a rant, but a vent. Like many of you, I read some horse bulletin boards. Some very smart and literate horse people frequent some of these boards, and I have met some new friends, heard about cool new products, and in general my experiences have been positive. But Gawd almighty, there are some sentiments out there that just get me ALL weewee'd up. These deserve their own page, and they'll have one soon enough. But for now, here is Abby's Peevish Lecture of the Day.

Anonymous Board Poster asking for help with her 'training problem':

"My horse <insert undesirable behaviour here: bucks in the canter, can't go to the left, leans on my hands, spooks, runs away, bites, kicks, etc etc etc>. We had him checked by <fill in the blank with trainer or vet or body worker or therapist or psychic du jour> and he's fine. It's not pain."

Anonymous Board Wags, sharing their collective wisdom, tsk-tsking and getting all ponderous, reply:

"Well, it must be ATTITUDE! You just need: More rein more contact more spur more lunging adjust your side reins change your bit more work more this more that blah blah blah..."

Really? REALLY?

Ok. Let's just talk about this mindset for a sec.

Scenario:  You have pain in your neck. You are miserable. You go to your Dr.  Dr. looks at you, pokes you, listens to your gut sounds, listens to your heart, looks at your shoes, makes you trot up and down, and does a fecal. Hey! Nothing here to see! You're good to go. What? You don't want to do gymnastics, running, bicycling, weight training carrying somebody?  Cause your neck hurts? I dont see anything! Well what the heck! You just need an ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT.

So that arthritis you have in your neck that doesn't show up unless you have an xray, CT scan, or MRI, that hurts when you move a certain way, is exacerbated by you carrying things or how you stand and whether you have heels on or whether you are stuck in front of your computer all day, is just an ATTITUDE PROBLEM. And probably, worst of all, you don't have a WORK ETHIC.

Am I shouting? Yes. I am also banging my head on my desk, shaking my fists, and jumping up and down.

Unless you have the funds and access to some good diagnostics, you really have no frikking idea what might really be going on in your horse's body. Hint: Neither does your vet. Just because you (wait for the shriek) HAVEN'T FOUND IT doesnt mean it DOES NOT EXIST.

Horses bodies are complicated, dynamic systems. They are not the same year after year. They are not the same rider after rider. Add tack that might not fit or be comfortable, and (insert another shriek here) a CROOKED UNBALANCED ( or CLUELESS) RIDER, and you have a horse that is sore, whether you can see it or admit it or not.

It is sooo much easier to say "My horse is just <insert favorite pejorative here: Lazy, crooked, naughty, pissy, cranky, ugly, unwilling, resistant, evading...> ." and then go to the spur, the whip, the side reins, the strength, the 'discipline', the 're-training', the excuses.

Your horse is doing those things because something is wrong. Either he is sore, or confused, or tired, or can't compensate for your lousy rider body. It could be any and all of those things. But I promise you, it's not attitude.

I knew this when I was a kid, and watched with horror as a trainer beat a horse over a pole. I mean beat, with a lunge whip, over and over. The horse was frantic and terrified. Did he have ringbone? Arthritis in his pastern? Pedalosteitis? Did his owner protect him? Are you kidding? She was right in there. Did he go over the pole? Yes, finally. Did he remember that happy experience and then willingly trot over poles from then on? Did it change his attitude? Feh.

I still see the mindset everywhere. In western barns, in dressage barns, in h/j barns. Wherever there are horses, there is this ridiculous misapprehension. How I wish people could just get beyond it.

No, it's not attitude. Your horse is crying, and you aren't listening.

Feb 24, 2012

The Ugly Duckling

And so with this in mind, I bought Bryan.

Lisa had aquired him a couple of years earlier as a school horse. An OTTB, 10 yrs old, tall, bright red chestnut with a tiny star. Bryan had been an honest and safe jumper, but couldn't pass PPEs and so was sold. And sold. And sold. Lucky for him, he wound up with Lisa. She took wonderful care of him and used him to teach beginner walk trot students. He was quiet and safe as long as you accomodated his issues. But she couldn’t keep him sound.

When she mentioned, in passing, that she would probably have to sell him, but that probably no one wanted him, I jumped on it. He was seriously wrecked, one of the most crippled Id seen. What a challenge he would be! If I could get him sound I could do anything. And besides, he was cute, and sweet, and he deserved a chance. So, to her surprise and delight, I bought him.

My eldest daughter, who understands me and is also sympathetic to the odd, said “Oh Mom. No.” My vet said, unkindly I thought, "So, you gonna call him Waterloo?". Staci, one of my most knowledgable horse friends, shook her head, 'I dunno, Ab...He's pretty scary...’ Ha! Dem's fightin' words! I sent the check.

I couldn't blame them. He was a mess. His hocks wiggled. His head bobbed with every step. He paced at the walk, shuffled into the trot, and cantering was not really an option.  He was severely over at the knees and his front legs trembled. He had a straight shoulder, was freakishly tied in in front of a high sharp wither, had a dropped and roached back, an upside down neck, and no hip to speak of. Feet too small for his body with shrively frogs and underun heels. To top it off, he was fungusy, with a scabby face and patchy coat.

I'm attracted to pathology, ok?. So sue me.

Did I mention strange movement patterns? Camel hybrid, maybe?

Cute, eh? And so began our Life with Bryan.

Feb 23, 2012

Abby and the 7 horses

I have seven horses at my house. I *only* own six. They are all geldings, and are in their early to late teens.  Six of the seven are warmbloods; the other is 'unknown'. They range from 16.1 to 17.3. Five are bays and two are grays. Collectively they are The Boys. They are different types with clear and different characters and personalities. What they do share, though,  is a common story, of promising beginnings and great potential, high prices and some big name trainers. But  then, the oh so typical and oh so predictable soundness and behaviour issues occured that  spell the end of so many promising careers. Some of them were given to me. Some I purchased for little money, well below their value if sound and functional. All of them, and all the ones who came before, have taught me so much.

The Boys are, in no particular order, Charlie, Zeus, Phillippe, Waldo, Goose, Rheingold, and Oceano. But  I think I'll start with one that came before. His name was Bryan.

Bryan had been an Amateur jumper, and a good one. Totally honest, he would jump and jump and jump and jump...and so that's what he did. As he became less and less sound, he was sold down the proverbial road many times, till he was lucky enough to be sold to my friend Lisa. She used him as a school horse till even her big heart could see that he wasnt very usable any more. I had always been intrigued by his various..er...issues, and jumped at the chance to buy him. I mean, look at him! He was a petrie dish of unsoundnesses! I didnt often see quite so many faults, flaws, and problems, all in the same horse. How could I resist!

Feb 22, 2012

Why I started this blog

I have learned so much through my years working with horses and with and for horse people. My work has shown me that most soundness issues are caused by riders, trainers, popular trends in tack and farriery, and by a lack of understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the ridden horse. In this blog I hope to present my experiences with soundness issues in an interesting, readable, and entertaining way. I am currently caring for 7 horses in various stages of soundness and rideability. I hope you will enjoy my journey with them as we work to restore them to physical and emotional soundness.