Monday, March 28, 2011

One-sided

Today we had Cordia out again to evaluate our saddle fit, since Louie, the big wimp, has had a sore back. 

I was surprised by what she found.  She found a dent/flat spot in the left panel where he had pushed all of the flocking away from the spine, that was actually causing that portion of the saddle to bridge.  I asked her how she thinks this happened, and she stated, quite frankly, "well I don't think he is bending to the left very well."  Hmmm, strange, because Marlene, our instructor, always comments on how much better he goes to the right and how he always looks stiff going to the left.  She has told me a few times how strange that is because most horses bend better to the left- naturally, because we handle them from that side.  But clearly we can see that he is pushing his spine to the left, preferring to hollow his right side. 

She put what seemed like a whole pillow's worth of flocking back in to fill out that spot again, then re-checked the fit.  I am hoping that this will make him more comfortable again, but I'm wondering why he hasn't been bending that way, as I didn't really notice that huge of a problem.  We will have to try to work on bending equally both ways, and maybe we'll have to have the vet/chiro out to check out why he resists bending in that direction.  Anyway, I'm going to give him another week or two off from riding, as he is still palpating sore, and it's been two weeks since I've ridden him- does that seem like a really long time?

On a good note, we found a great fit in a dressage saddle- the Thornhill Klasse, the one with the external block that I'm excited to try.  They have one at our local tack shop that I plan to try in a few weeks once Louie's back shapes up. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Equine Intestinal Parasites and DIY Fecal Counts

We've all heard about the problems with resistance to our commonly used dewormers for horses.  This problem is very real, and impacts all of us as horse owners.  I have been procrastinating on finishing and publishing this post, but it is an important issue that I care quite a bit about and thought it was time. 

For many years horses have co-existed with parasites.  These parasites come in many different forms, but the ones that are perhaps the most important in the health of our horses and parasitic resistance today are the common intestinal parasites- strongyles.  While a small worm load is acceptable, and even beneficial to a horse's immunity, large worm loads cause a lot of problems including anemia, weight loss, and of course can lead to impaction and colic.  To combat this, most horse owners  use a standard deworming plan that rotates between two or three classes of drugs used to rid the horse of these parasite burdens.  The idea behind the rotational deworming program is to use different types of medications each time to prevent worms from becoming resistant to them.  The standard deworming program involves rotation between three major drug classes- benzimidazoles (fenbendazole, oxibendazole), tetrahydropyrimidines (pyrantel pamoate, pyrantel tartrate), and macrocyclic lactones (ivermectin, moxidectin).  The fourth drug class includes the drug praziquantel, which is used to specifically target tapeworms, and is generally administered along with ivermectin or moxidectin.  This rotation is usually administered every 2-3 months, depending upon the climate, herd size, and veterinarian recommendations. 

However, over the past 30-40 years since this rotation was implemented, the worms have become much smarter, and our usual medications are not working as effectively as we would expect. The worms are surviving administrations of deworming medications and going on to become even stronger.  Two of the three major drug classes (the benzimidazoles and the tetrahydropyrimidines) have been found to have significant problems with resistance, yet they are continuing to be used in the same way as they have been for the past 40 years.  Part of this problem is lack of awareness on the part of horse owners administering the drugs, part of the problem is lack of resources in making a plan to change the way we use these medications, and a large part of the problems, scariest of all, is the lack of alternatives available to replace the drugs we currently use.

So what are we supposed to do about this problem of parasitic resistance?  Well that's a good question.  Of course there are several methods that can be used to keep parasitic infections to a minimum- this includes proper disposal of manure, pasture management (picking feces out of pastures being actively grazed), and judicious use of deworming medications.  One tool that horse owners can use is a quantitative fecal egg count.  This is a test that is readily available through most veterinarian labs.  But this is not a one-time, quick-fix answer.  Fecal egg counts (FEC) must be performed periodically, in a way to not only determine when deworming is needed, but also to assess the efficacy of our deworming medications.  By using FECs, one can estimate a horse's current worm-load and determine whether deworming is necessary or not, so our precious few deworming medications can be used judiciously, and only when needed.  We can also check the efficacy of our medications by performing a fecal egg count reduction test (FECRT) 10-14 days after administration of a deworming medication.  If the dewormer medication was effective, the strongyle FECRT should show at least 90% reduction in the egg count. 

FECs can be performed by your veterinarian lab, but they are expensive, usually ranging $20-40 per FEC.  If you are scientifically minded (and maybe at least half crazy like me), you can do your own FECs, and they're easy.  I started doing my own FECs a little over a year ago, and it has revolutionized the way I deworm my horses.  There is some learning involved in getting started, and some up-front cost to get set up with the tools necessary to perform these tests, but after the initial input of time and energy, I have found FECs to be quite easy, and relatively quick, with very little cost. 

The Horse (http://www.thehorse.com/) has several excellent articles about equine parasites and resistance, and even a step by step tutorial on performing your own FECs.  The materials needed to get started include a microscope (I purchased a very basic microscope with a mechanical stage, monocular eyepiece, and the required 10x objective for $50 on ebay), counting slides with grids (I would recommend the Paracount-EPG kit from Chalex Corporation complete with two marked mixing vials, transfer syringes, two McMaster counting slides, and instructions- a very nice kit available for $50-60 from http://www.vetslides.com/- note, I would recommend purchasing the kit with green grid slides, much easier to see through the microscope) , and float solution ($10 for a gallon from my local vet's office).  So that's a total investment of $120 to be set up to do these tests for years to come- a small price to pay, in my opinion, for the health of our horses.  In reality, the supplies paid for themselves in four tests in comparison to what I pay my vet to do them.  The Paracount EPG kit is really nice and easy to use; it includes step by step instructions for setting up and interpreting the results of the FEC and FECRT, as well as information on the egg reappearance period for the commonly used drugs (basically how long each dewormer is effective), and pictures of the common parasites seen on FEC.  FECs are quite easy to perform with the help of this kit and the information available from The Horse. 

I have been doing FECs for Louie about every 2-3 months, and often after deworming for a FECRT.  The owner of the other two horses in Louie's pasture also has me do FECs for her two horses, so we get them all on the same page, and deworm them, when needed, on the same schedule.  In my own research, I have found ivermectin to be 100% effective (though there are reports of ivermectin resistance, which is very scary), fenbendazole to be only about 10% effective (and I haven't used it since, fenbendazole is the dewormer with the greatest problems with resistance), and pyrantel to be between 50 and 90% effective.  We generally rotate between pyrantel and ivermectin (+/- praziquantel- we use this twice a year to cover tapeworms, which do not routinely show up on FECs), but I am also going to try moxidectin (Quest) this spring, to increase the number of drug options used, though we are still only using two drug classes.  Perhaps fenbendazole will re-gain efficacy in the future if it is not used for a few years, but only time will tell. 

Last summer, my husband took a few photos of the FEC process (never mind the eye-patch headband, haha, I know it looks pretty silly, but I have to cover one eye in order to focus through the monocular microscope). 

Mixing the manure with the float solution in the measuring vial:

Drawing up a small amount of the mixture with the syringe to apply it to the slides.

Injecting the mixture into the counting slides.

Rinsing the tools, here you can see the set up, the measuring vial (I use a tongue depressor to stir), the syringe, and the loaded counting slides.

Looking through the microscope and counting the eggs (the number of eggs within the two grid areas on one slide are counted, then multiplied by 25 to reach a final eggs per gram count, administering dewormer at anything over 200 EPG)

And the end result- happy, healthy horses!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do Horses Care?

Every time I go to the barn to visit or work Louie, I pick out his stall (the few piles that have accumulated in the couple of hours he's been in) and re-arrange the bedding where he has pushed it to the side so that he's got plenty to stand on. 

Today as I was doing this, it got me thinking, does my horse even care?  Does he appreciate this or would he rather have his stall messy? 

Does he care that I scrub his buckets every week and feed him warm alfalfa cube mashes when it is cold outside?  Does he care that I dust his stall walls and make sure his mats are perfectly level? 

Well, I think he appreciates the alfalfa cubes, and I'm pretty sure he appreciates the freshly scrubbed buckets, but I'm really not sure about the rest.  Do you think your horses care about all of this fussing we do over them to make sure their living conditions are orderly and "comfortable?"  I think Louie'd rather be outside rolling in the mud.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What happened to spring?

Yikes!  Brrr is it cold!  Two days ago it was in the 40's-50's, sunny, warm and beautiful.  Yesterday it was 30 degrees and raining.  That rain turned into ice and then we got 4 inches of snow, and it is now less than 20 degrees outside.  Ick.  I thought winter was done and over, I guess I was wrong!  Glad Louie got his blankie back on yesterday. 

I hope this cold weather goes away and we get our spring back soon.  Stay warm! 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Transition to Blind Driving

It seems as though Louie's back is sore. . . I think this is why my lesson, and the two subsequent rides I have had, were not so good.  We are going to be having the saddle fitter out to check out our normal saddle, though I suspect the trials of a number of different saddles on him is what contributed to the soreness.  So, we're taking a little time off from under-saddle work and focusing more on driving to give his back a little time to settle down. 

Today we drove, and started our transition to the blind bridle.  As you probably know, Louie still drives in an open bridle, as he is more comfortable being able to see me and the cart and his surroundings.  This is fine, and we drive at home without any problems whatsoever.  However, if we ever want to show, or compete in carriage driving, we will have to learn to drive in a blind bridle, with blinkers. 

To make this transition, we are repeating each step of the lining, hooking, then driving process in a few steps.  The first step is to progress through each stage with a pair of big fleece halter fuzzies on the cheek pieces of his driving bridle, which will block out his view behind him, but not to the sides, and if he really wants to, he can just turn his head slightly and see everything behind him.  The next step will be to either use a blinder bridle with the blinders positioned wide and more open or a blinker hood, then finally drive with a normal driving bridle with the blinkers in the normal position. 

Today we drove with the fleece halter fuzzies on the cheek pieces for the first time and Louie did great, he didn't act any differently or less comfortably than he did without them.  I think this transition will be easy, but we're taking our time to be on the safe side.

We did learn something that does still bother Louie, and that is the sound of something unpredictable behind him.  After I unhooked him, Sandy was driving one of her minis and Louie was a little bothered by it.  He always looks at the minis when she lunges them, as if they're some strange two-headed, hoofed dog or something, but pulling a cart is a whole new experience for him.  I was walking him around the arena in his harness (still with the halter fuzzies) after unhooking to let him have some exposure to these little buggers pulling carts when one of them broke into a canter behind him, and the sudden change in the rhythm of the noise startled Louie.  He had to turn around and look, spooked a little bit, then proceeded to walk around in Saddlebred style.  After I removed the harness, I let Louie stand in the middle of the arena while Sandy drove her other mini in circles around him.  He didn't so much as lift an eyelid. 

So, we will have some desensitization to do with each stage of the transition to the blind bridle.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Saddles and Less Progress

We had a lesson on Thursday evening and I tried out another new saddle- a Thornhill Zurich.  Well, let's just say that the Saddlefitter is right when she describes the body types of her saddles- the Zurich is definitely built for a narrow, thoroughbred-type back.  Needless to say it was too narrow for Louie and pinched him, so we had kind of a crappy lesson. 

If I were smart, I should have taken it off and put our regular saddle back on and continued the lesson.  But I wasn't.  We didn't even make it past the basics, walking and trotting in a circle with a bend.  Marlene wants Louie bent quite a bit to the inside while riding a circle, she wants his neck hollow on the inside and bulged out on the outside, the inside rein should never touch the neck.  Louie's head/neck position was extremely inconsistent, as expected, he didn't want to stretch down to find the bit. 

Because we couldn't get those basics right and consistent enough, we didn't have time to work on our lateral work.  I did ask her to just quickly check our shoulder in before our lesson ended, and he did really well in one direction, and was dull/asleep to my aids in the other.  The direction that he did well in though, Marlene was really happy with how we did. 

What we need to work on:

1.  Saddle fit.  I need to ride in my regular saddle for a while to get Louie's back back to feeling good before trying more dressage saddles.  In addition, Marlene thinks we should ride at least 3-4 times per week if we expect to make any progress. 

2.  Be very precise.  When Marlene is not there, there is nobody correcting me for letting Louie drift inside/outside of our circle or for taking a step forward off of the rail and out of shoulder in.  We need to be more precise in the movements we do, and Louie needs to respond immediately when I ask him for something (ie- more bend, move forward, slow down, etc).  We also need to work on our up and down transitions, not only so that he doesn't throw his whole head/neck in the air, but so that we don't loose the frame and connection that we had when I asked for the transition.  This means keeping contact, bend, and body position/direction of travel consistent.  This is part of being precise, we want a smooth transition, not a stoppage of one gait and after a few seconds, resuming in another. 

3.  Holding hands.  By this, she means Louie taking up more contact with my outside hand.  This is frustrating because right now I'm getting about a 1 on a 10-scale for pressure on my reins, at some point in the past I was getting 2-3, but about a month ago I was getting about zero or even negative contact.  So, I'm happy with 1 for now, but I need to continually work on getting 2-3 pressure on my outside rein.  Marlene determines how much pressure is on each rein by determining which rein is higher, whichever looks higher from where it goes from the bit to hand, is holding more contact. 

4.  Relaxing, yet keeping good energy.  There were a lot of distractions during our lesson, a lot of people riding, entering and leaving the ring.  Every time Louie had the opportunity, he would lift his whole neck up, loose the bend, and gawk.  We need to work on keeping his attention, relaxing into the work we're doing, yet keeping enough rhythm and energy so that he doesn't lose forward momentum when I ask for bends, transitions, etc. 

Well, I think that's enough to work on.  I'm trying to drive Louie more, and had a very nice drive on Tuesday, so it's tough to make a lot of progress between trying to vary Louie's workouts, my own *real* work schedule, trying to get some exercise for myself, and spending time with family and friends.  Stress.  Whew!  Well, we've been making good enough progress on 2-3 rides per week all along, I don't think I need to quit my day job just yet. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dressage Saddle Trials

Well, Louie and I are getting back on track with our dressage, he is doing (in my opinion, we'll see what Marlene thinks on Thursday) fabulously with shoulder in and haunches in at the walk, and we've even been trying a little bit of leg yield and shoulder in at the trot.  This is much harder at the trot, but I don't feel at all like I'm working hard to get it at the walk anymore.  So I think in time it will come.  I hope that this week Marlene gives us the all clear to continue our work at the walk and start working on the trot. 

All the while, I've taken out a few dressage saddles on trial from a local tack shop, and alas I learned that dressage is much easier practiced in a dressage saddle.  So I think perhaps I must get one, but, since I'm not totally committed to dressage as my primary discipline, I don't want to fork out a lot of money for one either.  I know, I'm picky, and that is a lot to ask.  But once again, we're faced with the same huge challenge- the fitting.  Thankfully with all of the work we went through last spring/summer to find our hunt seat saddle, I've now got much more knowledge at my fingertips about fitting and what we need.  But it's still a struggle to find that perfect saddle.
We have tried 3 saddles thus far, two of which were nice, but not quite right for me as a rider, and one other that I brought back, but I think could work.  The above photo is from our ride yesterday in a Lovatt and Ricketts Ellipse saddle, taken by Laura from our stable (thanks Laura!).  Looks like we're working on a leg yield here, if I have to critique Louie, he has too much bend here.  But as you may be able to tell from this photo, my leg position isn't ideal, and I had a little trouble keeping my lower legs in the correct position.  I couldn't balance well with my stirrups at the length where they should probably be (longer), and the stirrup bars are a bit too far forward so I have trouble balancing my legs beneath me.  Also I am having trouble keeping contact on Louie's sides with my lower legs in this one, so needless to say, it is going back to the shop.  Super nice and comfy saddle though, buttery luxurious leather, just not the right balance for us.  Thus the search continues.  Stay tuned. . .

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lord of Leaping

Well I don't think Louie will make a show jumper, but he sure had fun free jumping tonight! 

We set up 3 jumps today, one by itself, and then a combination on the other side of the arena.  None were super high, but enough to actually make Louie pick up his feet and get a little work out.  It worked because he was steamy by the time he finished a few laps each way.

At first he refused the first jump saying, "Mom, really?  You want me to work that hard?"  But after I told him, "Yes Louie, over the jump," he practically aimed for them himself.  A lot of horses would work really hard to avoid going over the jumps, but Louie didn't even try to avoid them, even when he left himself a really short approach, he aimed straight for the jump and took them like a champ.  If I would go to adjust one jump, he'd take the other one on his own while I walked away.  I actually think he liked it.  Well that's good because I had fun watching him!  And, we got him to go both directions on all of the jumps this time; having 2 ground people with whips makes a big difference!

I caught a few blurs on my cell phone.  Not that these show his form or his expression, but you can see that there is a brown blur going over the top of the white blur.  Here is a "nice" shot of him going over the second jump in the combination. These were spaced just perfectly to give him some really good gymnastics, no stride between, just land the first and jump again.  I'm sure there's a jumping term for that- maybe I'll learn the jumping vocab someday.  Anyhow, this gymnastic exercise is good for his balance, timing, spacing, and great for his muscles.

Here you can see him getting ready to take off, getting his hind end tucked under him and ready to push.  He used himself much nicer tonight than what I've seen of him in the past- he often stops in front of the jump, then hurls himself over with his front end.  Tonight was more like a horse should jump, it was fluid and comfortable looking.
 Clearing the single jump on the far side. 
What fun!  Sometime I should bring my video camera out for this, then you can see what fun Louie has.