Monday, July 26, 2010

Negotiating with a 4-Year-Old

. . . is never a good idea.  Last night we returned home from a small vacation and I worked Louie for the first time in a few days.  I decided he had had a few days of rest and has been moving pretty well since his injury, so I'd try riding him.  Well, he did a pretty good job, he even took his right lead on the first try- and he had just an absolutely perfect canter departure from a walk- collected and steady.  I was so happy and proud of him for getting his right lead, and for doing it so well, as the right lead canter has proved the most challenging and long-standing obstacle in his training thus far.  We finally got it! 

So. . . a little while later I went to canter him on his left lead.  Well, Louie and his toddler way of thinking, decided he is only going to use his right lead from now on. . . .  I pushed and pushed and we tried and tried until he was trotting sideways down the rail, grinding the enamel off of his molars, and doing pseudo roll-backs.  He was pissed off!  As was I.  Why is my horse, who for his entire life has preferred only his left lead, suddenly deciding he can only canter on his right lead?  . . . Just as the fight was escalating to the point where I was certain to lose my temper, and then of course lose the battle, we stopped and sat there and stared at ourselves in the mirror while we thought about it for about 2-3 minutes.  During that time I looked at Louie's handsome, yet anxious expression and patted him. He relaxed.  I relaxed.  Then he told me the answer to my question, "well, Mom, it's because I thought you really wanted me to do my right lead!  By the way you have been riding and what you usually ask me to do, it's quite clear that you prefer that lead."  Hmmm. . . I guess this is true, we have been working so hard on the right lead that I virtually never ask him for his left.  I was just so enamored to have finally gotten the right lead that while I was upset about him not getting the left lead, all that fighting was almost meaningless in comparison to the huge success that we had just had. 

We went along and did some nice walk-trot work, trotting over a few poles, etc to get our minds off of the canter.  It was almost 10:00 pm and both of us were drenched in sweat after that fight, so I thought we should kiss and make up before the ride was over, so we went for a nice walk down the driveway in the moonlight.  Louie chose to do this.  I just gave him the reins and that's where he went.  There was a lot to look at for Louie as his eyesight in the dark is much more keen than mine.  It was refreshing, cool, and a great relaxed opportunity to bond and for me to make it up to Louie.  We'll work on the canter more later.  "For today, let's just enjoy this ride."

Well today we rode in the outdoor, the big day to tackle the canter leads once again.  This time, after some phone coaching from Sandy, I let Louie run into the canter if he needed to, and much to my liking Louie picked up his left lead on the first try.  After a while we cantered the other way, and Louie picked up his right lead on the first try.  Neither transition was as clean as our beautiful canter depart last night, but today was a victory for me, having asked for- and received both canter leads on the first try.  Today's ride was really not a battle, but I think we're making progress toward a victory on the war of canter leads. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nutrition Notes

Since Louie is still recovering from his leg ailments and I don't have a ton of other exciting news to share, I thought I'd write a little bit about nutrition and Louie's menu. 

Last summer, Louie needed to gain a few pounds, so when I got him moved over to our current stable, we increased his feed- he was getting 9 pounds of grain per day!  (that was 7 pounds of the barn's sweet feed mix, 1 pound of whole oats, and 1 pound of Triple Crown Senior)  He put on a fair bit of weight, but then seemed to require quite a bit of grain to maintain his weight.  I couldn't really decrease him below this 9 pounds per day without him dropping weight. 

This spring when we had the vet out to do some spring time vet work on him, she recommended I change his feed to something pelleted as it is easier for a horse to digest, and he likely wouldn't require as much to maintain his weight.  9 pounds of grain is a lot of concentrate for a horse to consume, and is not very good for their digestive system.  Not only are horses' stomachs not designed to consume large quantities of food in short periods of time (they're designed for slow, constant grazing), but the whole corn and oats in sweet feed lower the pH of the stomach, making them more prone to ulcers and colic. 

So, my job was to choose a new feed for Louie- NOT an easy task.  I slaved away for weeks going back and forth trying to decide what to feed him, meticulously calculating cost and caloric content of various percentages of this or that feed.  Mixing in sweet feed, oats, pelleted and senior feeds in various ratios.  This process went on for weeks, I had a calculator everywhere I went and any spare moment I had, I pulled out my scratch paper pad and data, and crunched more numbers.  I had huge lists complied of various feeds, their nutrient contents, calorie contents, and cost, all broken down per pound.  Louie had been getting 4 different feeds all mixed together at one point in time, because I couldn't decide on the best feed and wanted to give him the best feeds at the most cost efficient rate.  I really wanted to continue to feed Louie the Triple Crown Senior feed that I had been supplementing, but was hung up on the cost of feeding this ($18.50 for a 50 pound bag).

Finally, one day, my husband had had enough of my insanity in calculating the cost and nutrition value of so many feeds and my frustration with finding the perfect balance, and finally said, "I don't care what it costs, but pick one feed that you like, and feed it.  And don't change it in 2 months."  So I said, "Okay.  I'm going to feed him Triple Crown Senior." 

I gradually switched Louie off of his 4 different feeds and onto straight Triple Crown Senior and I couldn't be happier with that decision.  He looks great.  His coat is healthy and shiny, even getting some dapples.  His attitude is perky and curious.  His energy is sufficient, yet not hot or crazy.  And his weight has been stable.  I have been able to cut him back from 9 pounds of grain per day to about 4.5 pounds per day on this feed.  And he was getting a little porky on that, so I've just cut him back even further, to about 3.5 pounds per day.  What a huge difference! 

I've tried a lot of different feeds in the past, but I have not fed anything I've been quite so impressed with.  And, I know that what I am feeding is quality.  Triple Crown has a fixed formula and does not substitute their ingredients based on what is less expensive at the time of milling. They use real, good quality feed products, and are one of the only companies to list their ingredient list proudly on their web page.  Their Senior feed is beet pulp and alfalfa based, and contains stabilized flax seed which is very high in Omega-3 fatty acids (not only a great fat source to add sheen to the coat, but also has anti-inflammatory properties).  The feed has a great vitamin and mineral profile and also contains probiotics to aid in digestion.  It contains 14% protein, 10% fat, and 17% fiber, so it is very nutrient dense, and also considered a complete feed.  It was voted one of the best feeds by The Horse Journal.  It really is a great product.  And their customer service is wonderful too.  I'm not a Triple Crown salesperson, just a happy customer. 

So, in addition to his senior feed, Louie gets 2 ounces of whole flax seed (I really don't need to be giving him extra as his senior feed already contains flax, but it is one of the "extras" that I just haven't discontinued from when I previously had him on many different things).  There are mixed opinions on whether flax seed should be fed whole, ground, boiled, etc.  As far as I understand, the most popular way to feed it is ground, but it must be ground fresh, which is an inconvenience from a horse boarding standpoint.  Most horses are able to sufficiently chew it to break the seeds.  It is very easy to break the seed open by just pinching it with a fingernail, and many people believe that its nutrients can be fully extracted even if the seeds are passed through the digestive system whole. 

Louie also gets MSM in his feed- the only oral joint supplement that I feel is worthwhile to feed at this time.  This could be a huge discussion in itself, but my opinion is simply that, while there are an abundance of oral joint supplements on the market, touted to help with arthritis and maintain healthy joints, the research is lacking that any of them have any efficacy.  And the cost is prohibitive- at $30/month I am not going to mix an expensive powder into my horse's feed if I don't notice any effect.  MSM has some research that supports its use as an anti-inflammatory, it is very inexpensive, and has been used for many years safely. 

When I am out to visit Louie and working him, I frequently feed him a meal of soaked alfalfa cubes- usually about 2 pounds of dry cubes, soaked in water of equal proportions.  At first Louie didn't enjoy this mash, but now he gobbles it up quite willingly, one of his favorite treats. 

Of course in addition to the feed that I provide, Louie gets grass hay, grass pasture in the summers, plenty of clean water, and a trace mineral block to use as needed.  On occasion he gets fresh carrots from my garden, or apples or peppermint treats when others bring them. 
All in all, I think Louie's a pretty lucky horse.  He's got a great menu at his disposal, and his condition shows it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

My New Saddle

Well, I think we finally have a winner.  Of course with Louie's two bum legs, I haven't been able to properly test-ride in it, but it's leaving nice sweat marks and seems to fit him well, and I definately like it.  So, I think our grueling saddle search has finally come to a close.  I think I tried about 15 saddles. . . my old no-name beater AP, an Ian Miller close contact, 2 HDR close contact pro's, a Crosby Prix De Nations, a Courbette Pandur FS, a Stubben Kerry II, a Stubben Tristan dressage saddle, a Collegiate Convertible Close Contact, a Collegiate AP, a Lovatt and Ricketts Stellar Altair, and 2 Thornhill Berlins. 

Well I finally found a winner.  The Thornhill Berlin.  I did have to go with an all purpose saddle as I was realizing finding a close contact saddle with all of my requirements (seat size, tree width and shape, flap orientation, flap length, quality, and price range) was next to impossible. This saddle rides like a close contact- I cannot tell I'm riding in an AP saddle, it sits me nicely in the seat, it's well balanced and flat in the lowest part of the seat like a close contact, and doesn't sit uphill like so many all purpose saddles do.  The flaps are long enough for my legs, hold my lower legs in place perfectly, and has very well placed stirrup bars (so many saddles are constructed with stirrup bars not well balanced in proportion to the seat, so your feet end up too far forward or too far back, and swing around in them).  It is quite comfortable to sit in, has a nice soft seat and no big bumps over the stirrup bars.  The saddle also fits Louie quite well.  It is nice and wide, has a very nice wide gullet for spinal clearance, plenty of wither clearance, and nice wide panels that are not too straight or too curved, and make nice contact with his back.  The flaps are also do not extend too far forward over his shoulder so he is able to move his shoulders more freely. 

I've only gotten to try two short rides in the saddle with Louie's legs the way they are (he's moving a little gingerly with all of the skin missing over the hock), but I think I've finally found "the one."  Hooray!  A saddle AT LAST!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Healing a Week Out


Well, healing or not, here is Louie's leg 1 week from the injury.  The swelling is now pretty much gone, but it still looks pretty bad, and is quite tender to the touch, so I went ahead and started him on sulfa.  Also, since I've been using ointment on it and it's been extremely hot and humid, it has stayed very soft, and has continued to ooze rather than forming a scab.  So, after cleaning it out really well as you can see here, we changed to using Blu Kote purple spray-on wound treatment with hopes that it will dry it out and help it to form a scab. 

Well, that was 2 days ago and so far so good.  It has a scab of purple spray over the top that cracks daily, and we replace on a daily basis.  There is no good way to keep this wrapped, so we'll have to continue with the air-drying.  I also picked up some Swat for him today and have been applying that as well, so now he's pink and purple.  :)  Very becoming on him.  I think these cuts/scrapes are going to hold back our show plans for this summer, but I'm still hopeful we might make it to a show at the end of July. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nothing Like a Summer Bath

Tonight I had a little extra time to spend with Louie and seeing as though I don't want to ride him until he heals up a bit, I thought I'd give him a good bath- something he hasn't had in a very long time.  He needed a good scrubbing, with soap, from neck to tail.  Of course I avoided his injured areas and did an extended rinse/cold hose over those areas. 

While I was scrubbing him to a nice lather, I thought to myself- there's nothing like the happiness and summer memories brought by conditioning your horse's mane, fingers intertwined through his hair, massaging slimy conditioner into the crest, and enjoying some nice 'spa' time with your favorite horse.  I think Louie enjoyed his bath, but I know I did.  It is nice to give him a full bath once in a great while, when we don't have the stress of packing for a show the next day. 

Afterward, we enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll around the farm and a snack of clover and grass, then tucked in for the night to rest and finish supper- and I'm sure rolling and covering himself in poop was high on Louie's list of priorities.  Ahhh, summer. . . .