On Thursday I was in a rush and was going to leave without checking on her because I simply didn't have time to groom her, but I just had that feeling. I turned the car around and went down the pea gravel driveway that runs in front of the mare field. Gracie happened to be standing by the fence, pouting as usual with her grazing muzzle on, her left hind leg cocked. As the car came even with her, I saw it: the left hind fetlock was twice the size of the right. Groaning, I jumped out of the car and was over the fence in a second. She had a crusted-over gash on the side of her cannon bone; it was swollen and looked very angry. I grabbed some baby wipes from the car and scrubbed the mud off the cut (Gracie was covered in mud; we'd had a good 5" of rain over the previous 48 hours) so I could get a better look. The cut started as a shallow slice then turned into a fairly superficial scrape as it neared the fetlock. I have no idea how she did that to herself.
I grabbed a lead rope and pulled her from the field noting that while she seemed somewhat sore on that leg, she wasn't lame. Using the pasture hose, I was able to cold hose the leg for about 5 minutes (I was so. short. on. time!) then ran into the run-in shed feed room to grab some Corona ointment to coat the cut with. It's a moisturizing antiseptic ointment that is thick enough to keep flies off of cuts and scrapes. It's one of my favorite ointments for fly season and on this day it was warm enough that the flies were out. Gracie, who has been known to cow kick other people, let me do all of this nonchalantly. She was such a good girl. I removed her grazing muzzle for a minute so she could eat a handful of pellets with bute, and added a gram of bute each to her am and pm feed baggies for Friday.
On the way to work I called my vet. She was coming the next day to pull Lily's blood for the insulin resistance test and I figured she could take a look at Gracie's cut while she was there. I'm fairly hands-off with cuts and abrasions on legs: I keep them clean, I cold hose and ice to control swelling, I use an antiseptic on the cut, the horse gets bute while there's inflammation/soreness, and usually they're fine in 3 days or so. This one just looked like it might need antibiotics.
On Friday I was at the barn at 8:00 am to meet the vet so she could pull blood for Lily's insulin resistance test. (Ouch. If you remember, I work from 4:00 pm to 2:00 am. I got like 3 hours of sleep. Ah, the things we do for our horses! :) ) But it was the only day that this would have worked since I didn't have to work this evening.
This is how it works: the horse is allowed to eat soaked hay and water as usual but is not supposed to get any grain/beet pulp breakfast. The first blood sample is pulled (this first sample is called the fasting sample) and the horse is then given Karo corn syrup based on his weight. Lily was syringed 90 mls of corn syrup. You'd think she'd like that...nope, she did not. Wait 60-75 min and pull a second blood sample. In my case, the samples will be sent out to Cornell for testing. A normal horse's fasting insulin levels will be 5-40 uIU/ml and their peak insulin levels 2 hours after breakfast should be 40-60 uIU/ml. Post-breakfast insulin levels are considered abnormal if they are above 80 uIU/ml. For more information on this testing protocol, go here.
Lily's first sample was pulled, she was given her Karo syrup and then Dr. L had me lunge her at the trot in the arena in both directions to watch her go. She was very happy with Lily's progress and cleared us to start riding. She said to work up to a 15 minute trot set over the course of a week and then go back to regular work! We will continue the low starch/low sugar diet until the test results come back. I put Lily back in her dry lot to hang out while waiting to get the second sample.
I fetched Gracie from the field. She was, of course, covered in mud and while the swelling at her fetlock had gone down, it had spread to her hock. I cleaned up the wound so Dr. L could take a good look at it. She prescribed SMZ for Gracie: 15 tablets twice a day along with the bute she was already getting. Dr. L went on to do Queenie's teeth while I took Gracie into the wash stall to cold hose the leg and then put an ice boot on it for 30 minutes. On a whim, I mixed Gracie's 15 antibiotic tablets with a handful of her TC Lite pellets and offered this to her.
She ate it all. Pellets, pills, all of it. She didn't even make a face when she bit into the pills.
Man, it's so easy when you have a highly food motivated horse.
|Fat leg, looking much better after cold hosing and icing.|
|That's the offending cut on the lateral left hind, just above the fetlock.|
The cut in front of her cannon bone is an old scar.
I proceeded to give her a full bath then put her out in the dry lot with Lily. Gracie just stands in a corner of the field when she's wearing the grazing muzzle. I figured putting her in the dry lot with Lily would encourage her to walk around more which would help the swelling in the leg go down.
|She is slowly becoming more streamlined...I can't wait for that crest to be gone.|
|"Oh hai! Hadn't seen you in a while!"|
I've rehabbed this mare twice before and can tell you right now: no matter how much movement she is allowed, when stressed Lily will carry all of her tension in her back. We had to have her on Robaxin when she was on strict stall rest last year for her tendon injury. No Robaxin this time, as the only way I can get it into her is by hiding it in Stud Muffins, which she is currently not allowed to eat. She will not take it in a syringe crushed and mixed with water - she can be terrible for syringing things that taste awful and I'd already been having to syringe her bute for the first few days of this event. I've kept her on UGard and UlcerGard during these past two weeks; she will stay on the UGard until she can go back on regular 24/7 turnout in her field. Last year she also developed a very sensitive stomach while on stall rest and I ended up treating her for gastric ulcers. The sensitivity resolved with 1 month of treatment.
Her back was sensitive when I ran my fingers down it lightly, but when I put pressure along it she was fine: no flinching at all. This was a good thing. Last year, she was tremendously sore about everything: both light pressure and firmer palpation. I had to temporarily back off of the riding portion of her rehab initially because she was just so sore from being tense in the stall.
I tacked her up in the lighter Wintec and took her out to the arena. She had been falling asleep on the cross ties.
I put weight on the stirrup before swinging up. Lily flicked an ear but stayed still: if her back is really sore, she will fly into a bucking fit with just a foot being placed in the stirrup. Ask me how I know.
I got on, had her wait a minute, then let her walk off.
We made it about a quarter of the way around the arena before Lily exploded.
You know the way fish flop around when you drop them on the floor of your boat immediately after fishing them out of the water?
|Yeah. Like that. *sigh*|
I stuck it.
And she stopped. Eventually.
I waited for a second, my heart pounding in my chest, slowly put both feet in the stirrups again, and asked her to walk with the lightest of touches of my heels.
Cue another explosion.
I debated getting off but didn't want her to think that bucking would get me to dismount. Bob, our resident natural horsemanship trainer, had suggested walking and backing to release the tension that horses with sore feet will accumulate in their front legs and their hindquarters. The second Lily stopped bucking, I asked her to back up. To my surprise, she did so quite willingly. I asked her to walk forward. She would only go one step forward. Okay, I'll take it. We backed up again, again very willing. Stop, one step forward. After the third back-up, she moved forward more willingly. I made the mistake of asking for a bend as we came around the corner and she exploded a third time.
More backing up and stepping forward. Again after the third back-up, she strode forward in a tense walk with antelope ears. (Ears pointing straight up towards the sky, facing backwards. This is the expression she has when she's going to do something naughty.) I simply sat in the saddle, very, very still, not shifting my weight, not moving, not asking for a bend. We did a large 20 meter circle in both directions.
After about 10 minutes of walking, she relaxed. Her walk became swinging, her ears started swiveling around and her neck came down. After another 5 minutes, she was asking to stretch down. So I let her stretch as much as she wanted in both directions. I then very tentatively asked her for a trot. She trotted out happily. I started out sitting the trot quietly, then moved on into a posting trot.
I felt like I was riding a just-broke-to-saddle baby, asking Lily to turn with a wide leading rein. We trotted for 5 minutes and then I asked to come back down to the walk once again for more stretching, and called it a day. We rode for a total of 30 minutes. I was very happy I'd decided to stay on and ride her through this. She has plenty of room to move in her dry lot but when she started stretching halfway through the ride, I realized that the main problem with her pacing in the dry lot is that she will walk for long periods of time with her head and neck up, tense, and turned: other than when she is eating (I hang her small hole haynets low to encourage a grazing position), she is not spending a lot of time with her head and neck down. Lily really needed to be able to stretch to loosen up her back. Note taken.
I ran my hands all over her body afterwards. Her back had lost that initial sensitivity to light touches: she had no reaction to any kind of touch, proving my theory about needing to stretch. She had some sensitivity down her sides and flanks - more like she was ticklish than painful. I ran my hands down her sides until she stopped being flinchy.
I turned Lily back out and went to catch Gracie. Gracie proceeded to tear around the paddock at a gallop, proving that she was not at all sore anymore on the cut hind leg. After the second time of her running away from me when I approached, I started making her run until she eventually chose to stop when I got close to her. Good mare!
I've been riding Gracie in the Alta Escuela, which fits her perfectly with a thin square pad underneath. It is a wide flex tree after all.
If you look at her left hind, you can see how the swelling had already gone down more just from her moving around in the dry lot.
We did 30 minutes mostly working at the walk and her more collected gait (equivalent of a running walk), with lots of shoulder-in, haunches-in, and leg yields to work on her hind end.
Gracie has a weak right stifle and there's something up with either her left stifle as well or the left hip: She pushes better with her left leg than her right at the walk, but swings her left leg medially, making it seem like she's tightrope walking. I've seen horses with weak stifles do this; she is not neuro at all (yup, I checked! I learned my lesson from Rhythm). She can maintain her gaits perfectly to the left, but when bending to the right she will break into a trot. Bob the natural horsemanship trainer worked with Gracie initially when she first arrived at the barn, and both him and his previous owner had mentioned the stifle issues. It was completely to be expected that these would worsen given the fact that she had not been ridden in almost 6 months, spending the winter in a fairly flat field not doing anything else other than eating and standing around. So I've slowly been working on strengthening that weak hind end with lots of fast walking/slow gaiting (she likes to GO) on the trails twice a week and one day of dressage-type work in the arena a week. I'd like to ramp her up to 4 days a week to help with her weight, but I want her to be stronger first.
Gracie did great, giving me her best collected gait for short periods of time and responding well to the cues for lateral movements. She can leg yield while gaiting, which was a ton of fun, but I was careful to not overdo it. She has a great work ethic that I want to maintain.
Afterwards I untacked her and put her back out in the paddock with Lily while Phoebe hitched up her trailer so I could practice trailer loading with the blonde beast. (I have the best barn friends!)
There were some technical difficulties with trying to get the trailer out of its parking space...Phoebe couldn't get it out without it banging into the tree next to it. Rolando offered to help:
|Getting Phoebe's trailer out was supposed to be easier than hitching up Kathy's...|
THANK YOU Phoebe for going to so much trouble to pull your trailer out so we could practice! It is immensely appreciated!
I fetched Gracie again and discovered that the extra work the previous time had the desired effect: she let me walk right up to her without running away.
Gracie was notorious for not being the easiest to load. I had filled my pockets with some of her TC Lite and clipped my lunge line to the rope halter she was wearing. I tried leading her onto the trailer. She walked right up to its edge and balked. She wasn't afraid, she just didn't see any reason to step up.
I stood on the trailer to the side, pulling steadily on the lunge line with one hand while tapping her rump with my dressage whip with the other. Not hard at all; it was just a persistent light tapping to encourage her to step forward. Every time she took a step or thought about lifting a leg, both the pressure on the lunge line and the tapping stopped instantly as a reward.
We repeated this a couple of times. Gracie stepped forward until her knees were touching the edge of the trailer floor but was not offering to step up onto it. I remembered then that when teaching a horse to piaffe, you lightly tapped their front legs behind their knees to get them to lift their legs. On a whim, I tapped behind Gracie's left front knee, the one closest to me.
To my complete surprise, after just one tap she immediately put both front feet on the trailer!
I stopped everything, releasing all pressure on the lunge line and immediately offering her a handful of TC Lite pellets as a reward. She stepped forward with her hinds but did not put them on the trailer. I let her hang out in this position for a bit until she started to think about backing up. I ordered the backing up with a verbal command and she stepped off of the trailer.
I tried to repeat this process, but she wouldn't do it. I lunged her at a trot for a couple of circles in front of the trailer, then hopped on right away. She followed me right up to the edge of the trailer floor. I tapped behind her knees again. After a couple of taps, she put both front feet on the trailer again. However, she wouldn't walk forward to get her hinds on as well. Again, she wasn't afraid; it just seemed like she didn't understand that there was plenty of room to get all of her body onto the trailer. I couldn't back up anymore than I already had: Phoebe's trailer is a slant load and I was backed up against the wall that separates the back of the trailer from the tack room. However, there was an escape door behind me. Kathy had been sitting on one of the tree stumps by the trailer watching, ready to help if needed. I asked her to open the door for me so I could step out of the trailer and thus lead Gracie the rest of the way on (and yes, I was planning on being careful to NOT let her try to exit through the escape door!)
The second Kathy opened the door, Gracie's ears pricked and she stepped the rest of the way onto the trailer. I never did need to step out myself. Phoebe's trailer is a stock trailer with plenty of natural light, but I think the added light from opening the door was just what Gracie needed to be able to understand that she did, in fact, fit entirely on the trailer!
I let her hang out in the trailer for a bit, offering a couple of TC Lite pellets at a time. Then we both hopped off the trailer and I repeated this twice more. The third time Gracie hopped back on the trailer almost immediately.
After that we called it a day.
I gave Gracie her second dose of antibiotics and bute with the TC Lite that was left in my pockets, cold hosed and iced her leg one more time, then turned her out for the evening. I hand-grazed Lily for 15 minutes, then put her back in her dry lot for the evening with her soaked hay nets.