Monday, September 26, 2011

Sierra and Little Joe take a trip to Cornell

So today's agenda had nothing to do with the betterment of our horse's training and everything to do with the improved understanding of our horses. Little Joe and Sierra have both had their various issues so today was the day to take them to Dr. Fortier at the Cornell University Equine Hospital.
Little Joe and Sierras All The Gold awaiting tests at Cornell Equine Hospital

Little Joe and his Fibrotic Myopathy
About two months ago, I noticed a change in Little Joe's gait and a hard buildup in his left hindquarters. In an instant I knew what it was ossifying myosis or a fibrotic myopathy. I had seen this before in one of my previous horses, Bubba, and Joe had all of the classic diagnostic symptoms:

  • His walk was very slow, however his trot and canter were unaffected.
  • His gait at the walk was changed. His left hind was no longer reaching forward as far and had an accentuated outward swing. As the landed it first had an upward lift with a heavy plop down.
  • The tight ball in his hind quarters followed the groove of his semitendinousus muscle and felt like a rock inside his body.
Little Joe receiving his ultrasound
Today at Cornell, Dr. Fortier instantly agreed with me, however reassured me that he was displaying very minor conditions. The ultrasound proved that there was in fact a mineral build up in the muscle that extended roughly 15cm down along his semitendinousus and was roughly 4cm thick and 2.5cm wide. Luckily the build up was centralized in his muscle and did not cross into his semimembranosus.
This is a view of Little Joe's semitendinosis. You can see the white line (which was measured to be 4.46cm). That is the mineral deposit in the center of his muscle. The shadow below indicates that this not the muscle fascia and is instead the hardened area as the shadow is created because the ultrasound cannot pass through the mineral deposits.
How did this most likely happen: fibrotic myosis is especially common in Quarter Horses and other stock breeds such as Paints. It is unknown if it is because of their muscle structure or the work that they typically do, however. Often this occurs after a injury such as a kick to the hindquarters. Considering Little Joe has very active pasture manners and is turned out with an even more active companion (Fire) they probably got in a tiff and Little Joe received a swift kick to his butt that did not heal properly and began building up mineral deposits.

What does this mean: Fibrotic myopathy is rarely progressive and this is a mild presentation causing only mechanical lameness that is not affecting Little Joe's athetic ability. The muscle will continue to exist as is does. It will not improve and it will not degrade. Little Joe will always have a shortened stride but he does not feel any pain. He can be ridden to whatever his capability may be and will continue to enjoy it. His walk will continue to feel a little uneven but he is not unsound or lame - just stiff. His trot will remain even and his canter, he will slightly favor his right lead. I was encouraged to ride him.
The only option for fibrotic myosis is surgery to remove the mineralized buildup in the muscle. There's no guarantee that it will improve his ability, and there's also a chance it could cause more issues. Because he is so minimally impacted by the issue, there is no reason for surgery.

Sierras and the Fractured Navicular
When I bought Sierras All The Gold, I purchased my dream horse. He was a 6½ year old stallion who was peaceful, intelligent, beautiful, nice conformation, and moreover, a pleasure to ride. His trot was the epitome of a Western Jog. He rode in mixed company and was always a gentleman.

About 1½ months after I bought him, I noticed something was off. He had a limp that would come and go. I was too busy to ride often so it didn't really affect our riding schedule, but it bothered me on many levels. The first vet I brought in thought it might be a result of the thrush that I had been battling since I had purchased him. The next vet thought it might be navicular syndrome, a degenerative tendon disease. The third vet xrayed him and we found a clean fracture in his left navicular bone dividing the bone in two on the far left side of the bone (the outer wing).

In many ways I was relieved: I am very glad that it is not navicular syndrome. Since Sierra is a stud, a disease such as this would have ruined his career. Though navicular disease is not a genetically inherited disease, predisposition for it can be inherited (such as cancer or eyesight issues in humans). I could stand never riding him, but never breeding him would have been an added blow. Unfortunately, at the time, I was short on money and short on ideas. I brought him to the Cornell farrier, at the time Mike Wildenstein, and we did a series of glue-on shoes but I felt that it didn't make enough improvement so I backed off and just continued with usual farrier care.

This summer Branden Van Loon was kind enough to bring those old radiographs to Dr. Fortier at Cornell for a peek. Based on those radiographs, she felt it would be possible to do a partial neurectomy (not full!) and reduce his pain and even make it possible to use him for regular light riding. I was encouraged! I spent all summer saving money to try to help him out and get him on the road to the most productive life possible.

After nerve blocks today it was indicated that blocking the nerves via neurectomy would eliminate his pain. However, we learned today is that his navicular bone has degraded significantly since those initial x-rays. Perhaps is was that the initial x-rays were films taken on my dirt floor barn without sedating Sierra compared to the minimally sedated digital x-rays in Cornell's immaculate facility that made us see all of the actual problems. Or perhaps his bone had really and truly just degraded. Either way, at this point the gap between the bone segments had increased and the larger portion of the bone had worn away significantly along the fracture line and there was weakening to the internal bone structure.
Sierras All The Gold receiving his nerve block shots peacefully
What does this mean: Sierra is now not able to safely receive a neurectomy. The degradation of the bone has created a roughness along the bottom. This is the surface that the digital flexor tendon crosses as it connects to the hoof. As long as Sierra is aware of pain, he will know when there is too much friction between the bone and the tendon. If we did the neurectomy he would not feel this pain and there is a chance that that friction could sever the tendon. A severed digital flexor tendon is an end of life injury. Additionally, because the structure of the bone is compromised we could no longer do a partial neurectomy and have it eliminate his pain.

What can we do: Before the doctors could even get to it, I had Steve Krauss, the current Cornell Farrier, summoned to Sierra's side. The doctors and Steve decided that through bute and corrective shoeing we could make improvements to Sierra's life that could even make him capable of rare riding experiences.
Steve also noted that Sierra's hoof was not currently proportioned correctly. The distance between his heel to frog tip was shorter than the distance from frog tip to toe (this is backwards of what it is supposed to be). So he shortened up Sierra's toe and filed the toe at a 45-degree angle to increase roll-over. He also installed a pair of inverse aluminum shoes with heel supports with a silicone putty pad on the heel and frog for additional support.

Here we go! Let's see if it helps!

While Joe had good news and Sierra is still going to give me many hard decisions, all I can say is both of the boys showed off our stable amazingly. Their peaceful and calm demeanor was heavily respected and rewarded. Joe was used as a student walk-through demo. One of the Farrier students even gave me an offer on Sierra. It was lovely to have such well-behaved boys who took each test with grace.

At the end of the day, they both jumped right up on the trailer, excited to go home again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dozer is Lazy

Horse: Dozer
Tack: Dozer's Western Saddle, Curb Bit, Waterford Spurs
Purpose: Trying to get Dozer to move

Dozer is definitely lazy. My trail riders have been having a really hard time getting him moving of late. I myself avoid leading rides with him because it just takes too much work. So, I thought today I would get on him and see if we can make movement a part of his life.

First off, Dozer is almost solely used on trail, not the arena. On trail Dozer turns on a dime and steers without issue. Well, in the arena that just wasn't the case and I can't say I blame him. Because he's never worked in the arena he has absolutely no bend. This is coupled with the fact that he doesn't flex at the poll, making it very hard for him to grasp the concept of "circles." He's got all of the straight-away concepts, turning on the haunches and the forehand (kinda), but anything requiring a flex or bend was out. Homework.

Second, I definitely will never completely understand gaited movement. I'm not sure I like it much either.

Right off, I noticed a big difference in Dozer with the spurs. He quickly got into his running walk (which isn't really running. We maybe hit 6mph). However, whenever I asked him to accelerate he pushed into a trot or a pseudo-canter. After about 6 times around the arena it was almost as though I didn't have spurs anymore. His lazy hit with full force.

Now, I know cantering isn't the best for gaited horse training, but I did want to get him MOVING, in whatever way possible. I was excited to get him going in any way, shape or form. That said, anything over his 6mph running walk was a miserable experience - he shook the clothes right off me - and it just took too much work.

After a great text conversation with Keith Reynolds, who continues to be my gaited expert, we think that the first issue to address is his lack of flex at the poll. Gaited horses truly need to collect, flex and get their bodies engaged to work and Dozer just isn't doing that. He suggested I get a bit with a longer shank to encourage poll pressure - my only fear is that stopping is definitely not an issue and that a longer shank might mean more of it. Either way, I think Keith and I need to have a trail date with Dozer in the near future.

Tally Whoa: A Revisit

Horse: Tally
Tack: My Western Saddle, a Tie Down (decently tight by my standards) and a combo gag/hackamore
Purpose: Transitions Downward

So, last time Tally felt mostly out of control so today when my second ride was a no-show it seemed like the perfect opportunity to revisit her schooling. We had already gone on a 45 minute trail ride so we were pretty well warmed up and ready to go.

I first wanted to experiment with switching her from her usual gag/hack combo to just a hack. Last winter we found that she steers and collects better in a bit but stopped better in a hack. Well, she now steers and collects in a hack but definitely not the stop we need. Back to her usual bridle set up!

In the start I felt like she was overly sensitive in the leg. We worked a bit to desensitize that and I think we made a lot of headway. She still sometimes fishtailed as a mis-response to leg cuing but we did a lot better. We did a lot of warm up with differentiating between leg yields, bends and forward cues.

Tracking left I felt like we got a decently balanced trot and a very very balanced canter. While her transitions between speeds tracking right felt better, the balance definitely did not feel as good. Her trot going to the right was bouncier and less guided. Her canter was always on the proper lead but just didn't have the nice free-flowing rhythm that we got on our left lead. 

We spent a lot of time circling. Three circles down and three circles back on every loop around the arena (SE corner, E side, NE corner, NW corner, W side, SW corner, etc...). I'm always impressed at how easy it is to circle Tally and steer her. As mentioned before, it was much easier to get her to balance, and therefore turn without leaning or shouldering out, to the left. Tracking right we had a lot of fishtailing and overflexing of the neck. 

The entire experience reminded me of one thing important for my own self-growth: the importance of the outside rein. I'd catch myself not reinforcing her turn with the outside and merely relying on a lifted inside rein and, wow! when I engaged that outside rein things would change quick. Her fishtailed butt would flip back in place and her head would pop back in front of her body. But she'd still keep turning, following my gaze. It was nice to get a lesson from Tally instead of me always teaching her!

Because today was downward transition today my overarching goal was to get her to exaggerate her slow-down. Every time we stopped we would go backwards. Trot to  to walk to whoa then backwards. Trot to whoa then backwards. Canter to trot to walk to whoa then backwards. Canter to walk to whoa then backwards. We never really got a fabulous canter to whoa but it was worth trying. By the end Tally was pretty sick of the backwards concept, but her halts were much better.

As our downward transitions improved so did our upward transitions. Because Tally is actually a decently vocal horse, I really wanted to mingle vocal cues into her upward transitions. For instance "can-TER" with a inside reinforcement on the "can" and a outside cue directly on the "TER." Her walk to trot still sometime starts with a hop, but she was truly settling into it. We had a couple really phenomenal walk to canter transitions and a lot of nice trot to canter transitions.

At the end I had Colin take a video. Tally was pretty tired by this point and we had a couple "moments" and there is still a lot of room for improvement but I think there's some good parts as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mister's First Ride

Horse: Mister
Tack: Scotch's Western Saddle, Fleece Lined Hackamore
Purpose: First time carrying a rider.

Mister was ready. And after his breakout last week it was obvious he needed a job.

Mister is now two years old and some change and 15hh. He has been lunged with decent regularity (not as often as I would have liked but often enough to know speed cues). He has been lunged with a circingle and saddle as well. All he needed was a rider.

After a short walk-only lunging I hopped on using the mounting block. I think it's best he gets used to the mounting block from the start and he did decently. His first reaction to a rider was "backwards!" It was obvious he didn't quite have his balance but he quickly figured it out. Once he decided to go forward on his own I knew we were in the clear.

Just like every horse, he already knows where the gate is. That was his first destination. It took a bit of gentle prodding to get him away from the gate. Steering was definitely an issue but he was trying hard. After we unglued ourselves from the southeast end of the arena his next destination was the horses on the paddock fence to the north. A much smaller discussion ensued there and we were on our way.

We did a couple dozen loops of the arena, keeping it slow and not really working on much except a general sense of direction and balance. We did test the breaks and they were there. He would have preferred playing follow the leader with Crystal and Dutchess who were also in the arena being ridden but he was willing enough not to.

Overall, I have to say it was a success. It was decently an easy ride and he will be a pleasure to work with moving forward.

Tally-Ho and the upper Gaits

Horse: Tally
Tack: My personal Western Saddle, English Bridle with Loose Ring Snaffle, Draw Reins connected at the side
Purpose: Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast

Today was the first time I was able to get some good quality time with Tally since she had her feet trimmed and shoes reset. My goal was to encourage a slower and smoother way of moving at the trot, and then to touch on her trot to canter transitions that are definitely lacking.

I used draw reins connected at the side to try to add an element of stability to her movement. I used them loosely and only as a secondary rein. My hope was to reconnect her neck and head to her body. She tends to overflex her neck onto turns or as avoidance and I wanted to try to get her back in line. While she was very responsive to the draw reins I definitely want to ride her without them as she leans into them as a crutch. They are providing her the support she needs to straighten out but I don't feel like they are teaching her the lesson I had hoped.

While Tally will never be a really smooth ride, particularly at the trot, I found her gaits much improved from a week ago when she had her shoes reset. Her feet had definitely been too long and was affecting her way of movement.

We worked for an extended amount of time on her trot. My main goal for her trot is to slow it down. The energy that she puts into it is being translated into upward movement instead of propulsion so I wanted to take some of that energy out of the equation and replace it with focus.

As different as she is from Beau, I find her struggling with many of the same issues at the trot as Beau had when I first bought him: high head-carriage with a hollowed back that is often substituted for a fake collection with just a deeply arched neck frame, lack of speed diversity within the gait, and a very bouncy forward movement.

By the end of our trotting work she was moving at a very nice slow and focused speed. She was much smoother and was actually engaging her entire body into the movement. While she was bending decently, she had a little bit of an issue fishtailing around corners when I asked for more bend with my inside leg and less shoulder with my outside. She was still overflexing around turns with her neck but it was easily corrected with leg.

I also noticed that she always throws me on the left post.

She still has a hard time truly differentiating leg cues in terms of direction and speed but as always it's there, just gotta keep going with it.

We practiced canter transitions. While a couple of them worked out nicely some were, as usual, a mess. I'm just going to keep on working on the concept of slow and steady. She speeds up her trot thinking I'm asking for more speed when really I just want the gait change.

Once I did get her into a canter we really worked to slow it down. It seems to be the trend of the day. She is QUICK, but fast at the expense of form and control. If I have her in a nice slow canter she steers nicely and stops, well average at best. When she gets going so fast it all is lost.

Next lesson is going to be called "Tally Whoa," for sure!!