"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gracie's Progress After Her Ringbone Diagnosis

"Hey guys! How are you doin'?"
So 2 weeks ago I was going to write this post on how well Gracie was accepting her new routine of long slow warm-ups and more frequent, less intense rides after her ringbone diagnosis.

And then we were riding in the field behind the BO's house, one of the fields where we've ridden in a million times. We had just finished our 10 minute walk warm-up. And something caught Gracie's eye in the house. I have no idea what. She stopped to stare at it like she always does with things she's not sure of. I let the reins drape over her withers like I always do and waited for her to tell me when she'd looked long enough. But instead of simply walking forward when she was done staring, she decided to explode with a series of twisting rears. Ummm NO. I managed to get her to hold still long enough for me to dismount, and made her trot behind me over to the round pen where I got very big and proceeded to make her work for the next 15 minutes in both directions. (I was glad we had managed to do a decent warm-up prior to this.) Mare, if you make me get off, you are going to have to work that much harder. I got on again afterwards and we worked on gait-halt-rein back-gait transitions for 5 minutes. Gracie was all, "Yes, ma'am. Please, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am." She was as sweet as the day is long after that and for whatever reason she decided that she really deserved a cookie and kept searching my hands.

"Gracie, you get grooming and attention from me. Rarely treats. Especially not today!"

Mares. Go figure. I will say that she was moving spectacularly in that round pen and she was not sore the day after.


It's hard to explain everything that has been happening with her in a linear fashion, so I'm splitting up everything we've been doing into sections here to help it make sense. I've been wanting to write up all of this for a while so I can look back on it later and see Gracie's progress, and I figured some of you might find interesting the process of training a gaited horse, though it's really not that different from training a non-gaited horse. Some things were due to happen next in the process of her training, others were things that I changed specifically because of her ringbone diagnosis.

After the vet visit, I completely revamped the way I've been working her: we stopped the long rides for now and I simply started working her for x amount of time instead of x amount of miles. I also bumped up the frequency of these rides to keep her moving more: instead of riding her 3-4 days I week, I bumped her up to 4-5 days a week. I've been setting MapMyRun anyway so I can keep track of Gracie's weekly mileage, but I don't have any ambitious goals mileage-wise with her at the moment so it doesn't really matter if we only do 12 miles in a week. Sessions have been anywhere from 30-60 minutes long depending on how she feels and how much time I have. For 30 minute sessions, she gets a 10-minute warmup. For a 60 minute session, she gets a 20 minute warm-up, where we start at the walk and gradually move up to her slow gait, with lots of bending and gait-halt transitions. For the most part, Miss Zoomies really has taken well to these long slow warm-ups. I continued giving her 1 gram of bute prior to rides; on some days it made a difference, on others I could feel her still striding short with that right front. There were two separate 1-hour rides (on days where she felt good to start) where she got tired around the 40-minute mark and tripped hard once. Both times she was able to catch herself in time without a huge problem, but each time was hard and sudden enough to make me gasp. I let her walk for a good ways after the stumble each time so she could rest and stretch out, and she was later able to resume gaiting uneventfully. One of these episodes was in the flat field, the other was in the park across the street. I have ridden her that long again once or twice more uneventfully: I just made sure to do an even longer warm-up.

Before I go on, I need to backtrack here a bit:
Gracie was trained in a Tom Thumb shank bit, which she was not very happy in. I started riding her in a mullen mouth pelham with small 4" shanks. She seemed happy enough in it but her steering wasn't stellar because she'd get behind the bit no matter what I did with my seat or hands to either try to lift her head or push her forward into the contact. The end result of this action was that the mare was shifting all of her weight onto her forehand and by holding her nose against her chest, she was also able to resist any kind of upwards or sideways rein pressure. Pushing her into the contact simply sent that energy downwards.

After our first month together working with that bit with little improvement, I switched her over to Lily's old low port Weymouth with 5" shanks (yes, I have a major bit arsenal). Why that bit? It's as simple as this: I was taught to ride Paso Finos in those bits. It was the classical bit that they were ridden in on the island, way before the Colombian spoon bits became a "thing." Gracie is about as spirited as a Paso so I figured it would be a great choice for her to hopefully discourage the curling she was doing in the pelham, help her be more responsive to steering with a lighter touch on the reins, and also encourage collection. She has the build for collection and engagement. And of course, it was an experiment to I see if she preferred the low wide port of the Weymouth to the straight mullen mouthpiece of the pelham. I had other bits in mind to play with depending on what I discovered.

My Weymouth looks just like this one: that low of a port, and that wide.
As it turned out, she really liked the Weymouth. She'll chew on it and when we've done our more dressage-type schools, she'll have a really nice amount of foam. She'll occasionally try to hyperflex (curl) but I can usually get her nose back on the vertical or in front of the vertical with a light bump on the bit and asking her to step up into the bridle. It's not as big of an issue anymore, at least when gaiting, which is the brunt of what we've been doing for the last 3 weeks. We had been doing no cantering and definitely no trotting. When she trots she likes to do this (these photos were taken this week by Charles, after the management changes I will continue describing, but I want you guys to be able to see what I'm talking about):

She looks pretty but she is behind the vertical and if you look at her topline, she is on the forehand. This is an improvement to what she often does. It's just something that needs more consistent work. If I try to let the reins slide through my fingers to encourage a stretch, she'll plunge her head downwards suddenly, ripping the reins through my hands and falling even more on the forehand. If I sit back to try to lift her withers while doing this, she goes back into her gait. She's getting better at this on the trail and we have been able to accomplish a proper stretchy trot a couple of times, and even a small amount of trotting with her nose poked out in a more level carriage.

Dramatically behind the vertical at the canter. No no no no!
We're still figuring this out. Typically, if I lengthen my reins, she gets strung out. If I then push her forward, she falls more on the forehand. If I shorten my reins, she tucks. This was our 2nd time cantering after a 3 week hiatus from this particular gait. As she continues to get stronger, I hope to be able to encourage her to do more of this:

Cantering in a correct, upright carriage. Not only that, she is in self-carriage: check out the relaxed rein and Gracie's ab engagement. (If you look at my own position, you can see that I was engaging my own abs to achieve this. Shoulders need to be back though! Lessons...)

Proper gaited horse carriage and what I'd like for her to be able to maintain at gait, trot and canter. Rome wasn't built in a day. :) Note how she actually looks taller in this photo when you compare her posture to the first photo. This was one of my faves from the WW series that Charles took this week. :)
The new consistent focus on the upright frame was to get her completely off of the forehand and working better from behind. Engaging her hindquarters = less likelihood of stumbling from dragging herself along on the forehand. Plus, it's how a horse is supposed to move correctly period, whether gaited or not.


These photos are by Kathy of our first ride after Gracie's diagnosis:

At this moment, I didn't care about where her head was; I just wanted her poll to be the highest point.
Not really engaged but I'm okay with her carriage here.
The point of this entire first ride was to see how she felt when ridden on bute (better? the same?) and get a feel for her comfort levels now that I knew what was going on with her. I was also somewhat anxious as it was our first ride since her fall and I really really didn't want to push her too hard and cause a repeat incident.
Prior to her diagnosis, Gracie used to be very reluctant to back up under saddle. She also had the really annoying bad habit of rooting the second you asked her to halt. You'd request the halt and she'd instantly divebomb her head towards the ground, yanking the reins out of your hands as she came to a stop. I could avoid this reaction from her by verbally requesting the halt and loosening the reins before she responded. But it also meant that she was halting on the forehand. After her diagnosis, I decided I wanted her to start halting correctly. So on a whim one morning, I requested the halt and the instant her forward momentum stopped, I requested the reinback. She initially protested of course, but I was surprised when she responded with 3 steps back. She proceeded to snap forward into the gait at my request as well. We repeated this a couple of times then continued on at her medium gait (singlefoot, sometimes more like a slow pace, sometimes more like a slow rack depending on how she's feeling) and I was SO IMPRESSED with the result: just those few gait-halt-reinback-gait transitions resulted in a horse with lifted withers working entirely from her hindquarters. She felt taller and in front of my leg. We did all sorts of spirals, figure-8s of varying sizes, and short serpentines down the length of the field with her still working in this manner.

I let her take a break at a walk on a loose rein, then gaited some more but she was back to working in a more flat outline. I had her do some more gait-halt-reinback-gait transitions but I overdid it: after a few reps she became quite resistant to the reinback, fussing and tossing her head. Which makes sense: she's never been asked to do this before and she was getting a major butt workout. I learned her threshold on that day. I let her just halt and take a break at a standstill, asked for a single step of reinback, then let her move forward in her gait at whatever speed she wanted for a couple of turns around the field. Speedy Gracie = happy Gracie. Goofy horse.

We then tried it one more time, and I set her up for success by asking for the reinback downhill. She backed up 3 steps nonchalantly and I dismounted as the ultimate reward. Good mare.

The next time I rode her, we worked on gait-halt-gait with no reinback. She gave me very polite square halts, maintaining her withers up and with no rooting. Yessss! After that, we've been alternating sessions with a couple of sets of gait-halt-reinback-gait, or just gait-halt-gait, and I think it's already doing wonders for her balance and hindquarter strength.

Checkout dat uphill movement!

So for the 4 to 5 days a week I'd been riding Gracie, I was giving her 1 gram of bute prior to each ride (at least 30 minutes before getting on to let it start to kick in). She was not getting any more bute than that, but I was still not happy with having to bute her that often and my joint supplement was taking forever to arrive. Despite the bute and longer warm-ups, her comfort levels seemed hit-or-miss: on some days she seemed kind of dull and on those days I could feel her stepping shorter with her right front (the ringbone foot). I lengthened her warm-up during those sessions and simply stuck to straight lines and very large (30 meter) circles. This often helped, but I would keep her working at the walk and her slowest gait during these sessions.

Gracie's collected gait. I'm pretty sure I've shared this video on the blog before, but just in case here it is anyway. Direct link here.

The other thing that concerned me was that, despite being on field board, Gracie would simply stand in the run-in shed ALL DAY LONG. At this barn, she could only wear her grazing muzzle during the day. Despite the muzzle's halter having a breakaway crown, BO didn't want the horses wearing any type of headgear while out at night in case something happened, which I can understand, but that's also the point of the breakaway crown. This meant that Gracie wore her grazing muzzle from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, which really was not enough time for a horse that's as easy a keeper as herself. Since it was hot during the day and she refused to even attempt to eat with the muzzle on (she drank water with it just fine), she'd simply go stand in the run-in shed all day long and pout. Which defeated the purpose of field board: she'd stock up and get stiff standing there all day. I'd often find Lily with her keeping her company.

Gracie pouting.

I talked to my vet about all of this, who agreed that that was a lot of bute to be giving and suggested switching Gracie to a daily low dose of Previcox instead. She wanted me to start the new medication after 24 hours sans bute.

The stars had been working on aligning for some time by this point and I was able to switch barns to a close friend's new place. Which was conveniently literally down the street from the old barn and it has direct trail access from behind her property! No more crossing busy streets to get to the park!

At this barn, I'm still able to keep Lily and Gracie out 24/7 but I have also been able to change up Gracie's management to what I really wanted: access to grass during the day for 8 hours, grazing muzzle on at night for 16 hours. That's a lot of time without eating, you say. Oh yes, I totally agree! But you know what? The other two mares at this farm also wear grazing muzzles at night (in addition to Lily; no grazing muzzle for her). And both mares know how to eat with their grazing muzzles on! So Gracie has learned to eat with it on by following the others' example. Evidence:

Grazing muzzle with bits of grass and dirt in it.
This thing always used to be clean at our previous barn!
I also witnessed her eating with it on and was pretty sure I had snagged a photo but apparently my phone didn't save it!

The new barn is a nice set-up which has 6 inter-connected paddocks that flow around my friend's house, which is placed centrally on the property. The perk of this set-up is that it encourages the horses to move around more as they graze, the horses are within sight of the house most of the time, and they also get more human interaction. The property is on 7 acres.

So what does this mean? It means that during the day, Gracie moves around while grazing. It also means that at night she also moves around while grazing with her muzzle on in the company of the two easy keepers with their muzzles and Lily. Movement is one of the best things you can do for arthritis.

Gracie had a light lunge session at the old barn the day we moved to the new barn. The next day, our first full day at the new barn, I did not give her bute because I wanted her to be 24 hrs off of any NSAIDs so I could start the Previcox the next day. On our first full day at the barn, I decided to give Gracie another light lunge session just to get her moving. This happened in the afternoon. By then G-mare had been moving around the property for 24 hours.

My jaw dropped watching her in motion on the lunge. It was the best I had EVER seen her move since starting to work with her in April, and I will note again that she was not on any pain meds or joint supplements whatsoever. She took a couple of short steps in the beginning but then proceeded to move out smoothly and beautifully.

So I tacked her up and we rode, and she felt fabulous. Enough so that I felt comfortable letting her canter up the hill at the back of this field for the first time in 3 weeks:

Direct link here. My friend took this video of us the 2nd and 3rd times up the hill. Of course she cross-cantered the second the camera was on her, but she canters correctly on the second turn up the hill in the video. You can see her try to drop her nose behind the vertical while gaiting and when I correct her. She tosses her head once when we're gaiting when she says, "We're going to go straight to the right!" and I tell her, "No, we're making this turn here." Sassy sassy mare. Sassy mare = mare that's feeling goooood!

I rode her for about 20 minutes because I didn't want to overdo it. But man, check out the stills from that video (you will have to "embiggen" to really see):

Flick dat foot!
Flick dat other foot!
Since she was still stepping short in the warm-up on the lunge, I did start her on the Previcox the next day AND on the joint supplement that FINALLY arrived. Actiflex 4000 claims to improve joint stiffness in a week's time. I'll let you guys know if it's true, though I have 2 friends that use this supplement that were able to avoid joint injections thanks to it. It's not expensive at about $26/month. (I buy mine here with $5.50 for shipping.) I like the ingredients: 8,000 mg of glucosamine, 4,000 mg chondroitin, 125 mg of HA (hyaluronic acid) and no Devil's Claw, which is contraindicated in horses that can be metabolic and/or that are on NSAIDs (Gracie is both). Depending on how she does with this, I may bump up her MSM to 10,000 mg/day. She is currently on 8,000 mg of vitamin-E (in capsules that contain soybean oil; horses need to get their vitamin E in a liquid form accompanied by an oil so that their bodies can absorb it) and 1 cup of ground flax a day (currently using Triple Crown's Omega Max, which is $25 for a 25 lb bag at Southern States. You can't beat that price for stabilized ground flax!) Gracie is still on Triple Crown Lite, about 1.5 lbs per day split into two grain meals. It's basically a carrier for her supplements at the moment.

My friend will be buying hay in bulk from the same supplier so I will finally FINALLY be able to do some hay testing and have it balanced mineral-wise for both Lily and Gracie. I'm hoping to get this done by late fall so that I can add the minerals to their grain rations over the winter, when they'll be getting only hay as their source of forage.


Since we are doing more riding in grassy fields than on the trails lately (where she would normally self-trim), I've been doing weekly quick maintenance trims on the G-mare to keep her toes rolled and short without taking away too much hoof wall. The rolled toes accelerate her breakover, also lowering the possibility of tripping and allowing her to step up and forwards with the least leverage possible.

She has been doing very well with this system.

Star Ridge Company recently had a sale on the Evolutionary Tools and after reading Mel's review on these a few months ago, I finally buckled down and purchased the Radius Rasp Original. It really does what it says and is great for putting a nice mustang roll effortlessly on freshly trimmed hooves. It takes off a surprising amount of hoof with short light strokes.

As a side note, I'd like to eventually get her the Back on Track Quick Wraps to slap on her front legs for 30 to 60 minutes prior to riding, especially as the days start getting colder. I could get the bell boots instead for less money, but Gracie's ringbone is high ringbone, so it's really in her pastern. I think these will do the trick better, in addition to warming up her tendons and ligaments.

So that's it on the Gracie front. I'm really happy with how everything is coming along so far!

Lily and Gracie under the shade trees behind the barn.
Gracie is wearing her grazing muzzle and not pouting!

The way the barn is set up, they can see me pretty much the entire time I'm on the property and will often come up to the fence and wait for me to go to them.

And here is a bonus Zombie photobomb:

"Hello my fans!"
"Am I not the cutest 3/4 cat ever??"
He still looks small in these photos, but he is currently almost Astarte's size!


  1. Really interesting! It's amazing how hooves, diet, exercise, turnout/living arrangements just all come together to affect the whole horse. And the cat is really cute!

    1. It really is. Horse management is a fascinating thing! Zombie says thanks! ;)

  2. Glad you are figuring things out to make Gracie more comfortable!!! Will you keep her on previcox forever before rides?

    1. My vet wants me to give it daily regardless of whether she's being ridden or not because of its cumulative effects: it has to build up in the horse's body for several days to several weeks so it can reach its maximum effect. Unlike bute, which reaches its maximum effect in 30 to 60 minutes. (It's interesting how different medications work!) If she does well on it (I had a bad experience with Lily and Previcox: it gave her ulcers), my goal is to keep her on it until I can have the IRAP done sometime next year, hopefully by next summer. :)

  3. So glad that everything is working out for you and Gracie! Be sure to let us know how she does on the Actiflex - I've never known anyone that used it. I'm thinking about putting Ruby on a joint supplement as a preventative.

    1. I'll keep you posted! I probably would have gone with one of the Smartpak joint supplements or Recovery EQ if my vet hadn't recommended the Actiflex. When I ordered it, I realized it was the same supp my friends had used. The stuff smells AMAZING, kind of like vanilla & coconut. I have to resist the urge to dip a finger in it and taste it. I was told to get the liquid (and the liquid form is what my friends used too), but it is also available in a powder. Gracie loves it: scarfs it right up. I hope it works as well as they say!

  4. Gracie looks awesome and your canter looks really good. I find it really interesting that movement and new surroundings have made such an improvement in the ringbone.

    I have been using the Vet Flex for two weeks now. His canter has gotten better so maybe there is a difference between it and the Smartpak. I know it's cheaper.

    I LURVS Zombie. What an awesome cat!!

    1. It's really wonderful what movement can do for arthritis, especially during its earlier stages. I'm glad the Vet Flex is working for Ashke! Joint supplements can be very much hit-or-miss: they can vary so much ingredient-wise from one supplement to another, and what works for one horse won't necessarily work for another. I do think they can make a big difference in their comfort levels when you figure out what combo works best for an individual horse. Yay for Ashke!

      Zombie is da bomb. Lol

  5. You are doing oh so right by her, I look forward to more progress!

  6. Gracie's fortunate to have landed with someone who cares so much about her. =) She's really shining!