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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Zombie Story

A few months ago, a guy showed up late one night with a tiny black kitten.

He had found the kitten on the side of the road. The little one was only a few weeks old with just-opened eyes and had a mangled hind leg that looked like it had been chewed on by something. He was responsive but hypothermic, and obviously needed prompt medical attention. It was no small miracle that this kitten was alive to begin with.

The kitten, the night he arrived at our hospital.
The guy couldn't keep him nor be financially responsible for the kitten's care, but he did leave a deposit to help out with his initial expenses. Our ER doctor that night assured the man that we would figure something out. A couple of the techs at work have fostered kittens even smaller than this one and one of them even works with the local SPCA. 

The kitten was examined, placed on a heating pad with warmed fluid bags wrapped in towels to warm him up, and started on antibiotics. He was surprisingly responsive given how cold he was and the fact that the mangled leg was indeed gangrenous. He also had some wounds in the inguinal area of the other hind leg that looked very infected. He smelled overpoweringly like rotting flesh. 

I am a sucker for black cats. I have always wanted one but have never been chosen by one. I am especially a sucker for black cats with white whiskers, like this tiny fella had. I refused to touch him because, like everyone else, I figured he was going to die because of the infected leg. I didn't want to get attached. Not touching him allowed me to maintain my emotional distance while others braved the awful smell to fawn over his cuteness.

Our ER doctor talked to Karina, our tech who works with the SPCA, to take over his foster care. Karina has worked with bottle baby kittens for 15 years. She knows more about feline neonate care than most doctors. She is also Aengus's foster mom, the one who raised him from the time he was an orphan newborn kitten until we adopted him at 4 months of age. She does a FANTASTIC job bringing up well-mannered socialized cats.

Karina acquiesced, got Zombie covered under the SPCA's care, and made arrangements to have his leg amputated at a clinic that worked with the shelter, a surgery that was already risky given his diminutive size made even more risky by the presence of the raging infection in his body. But if the leg wasn't amputated, he was going to die anyway: he had gone from being hypothermic at 97 degrees to very febrile at 104. Surprisingly, he was alert and eating and taking everything in stride. 

All of this took a grand total of two days. The surgery would happen on the third day since the kitten's arrival to our hospital. 

Karina works nights in our intermediate care ward and had been bringing the kitten with her so she could bottle feed him every few hours. The night before his surgery, she brought him back to the ER so one of our doctors could look at him: he was progressively developing more open sores throughout his body, similar to the wounds on his good leg. She was wondering about changing his antibiotics to something stronger.  He was still eating with a voracious appetite (again, surprisingly!) The doctor decided that since he was already having surgery the following day, he should stay on what he currently was on. She had a feeling all of the sores would heal once the awful bad leg was removed. 

The doctor examined the kitten, cleaned the sores, and took a closer look at the gangrenous leg...and the paw of the affected leg came off in her hand, a disgusting black dessicated piece of flesh. We were beyond horrified but the kitten didn't even notice: that's how rotten that leg was. 

He had surgery the next morning. The leg was amputated uneventfully and the doctor had just finished suturing the tiny stump back together...when the kitten died.

He died while still anesthetized. Cardiac and respiratory arrest. Fulminant death.

He was supposed to be a DNR (do not resuscitate) simply because he was so critical going in. Nobody had really expected him to survive the amputation. The doctor did CPR anyway. And the little kitten came back to life. 

Karina picked him up 3 hours later and what did the revived kitten want? Food. He wanted food. Kind of like zombies when they come back from the dead.

Karina brought him in to work with her during her next shift and the difference in the little one was amazing: not only was he eating, he was doing his best trying to play and walk around (albeit very clumsily) on his one hind leg. The sores on his body had already dramatically improved after the main source of infection had been removed.

Now that he had survived all of that, we had to figure out a name for the kitten. The decision was unanimous by all of us that had been involved with him so far: 


What else would you call a creature that came in half rotten, died and then came back to life?

Karina got injured at work and had to take some extended medical leave. So we didn't see Zombie for a few months other than the occasional picture she posted of him on Facebook.

When she returned to work she brought him with her.

Hello 3 month old kitten!

Yes, I had to grab him so he'd hold still long enough for me to snag a picture!
I made a huge fuss over him and initially he seemed a little startled, "Who the hell are you?" It didn't take a lot of convincing to get him purring, rubbing and begging for pets with both hands. He was freaking adorable. The infection he'd had throughout his body had left no scars whatsoever. 

And then he bumped my face with his and rubbed his cheek against mine.

Not only am I a sucker for black cats, I'm even MORE of a sucker for cats that bump their faces to yours. You'll catch me making out with any feline patient that will do that, but none of my own personal cats have been prone to this particular gesture of affection.


Charles loves animals and has a thing for underdogs, though I knew he might not exactly be thrilled over the idea of a third cat in our tiny one bedroom apartment. However, he also has a thing for zombie movies. He has a huge collection of them. Any new zombie movie that comes out must be seen at the movie theater. 

My text to him would start, "So there's this kitten named Zombie..."

C'mon. It's a great story!

Karina was thrilled over the idea of us possibly adopting him. Charles came to work one evening to meet him in person and, well, there was just something about that 3-legged sleek black ball of purring happiness that was irresistible. 

"So this means we'll have 2 and 3/4 cats," Charles said.
That was a yes. ;)

Zombie still needed a couple of his kitten vaccines and Karina had a lot going on, so it was a couple of weeks before she could bring him to us. 

Because he had already died once under anesthesia, everyone involved in his care had decided to wait as long as possible to neuter him, at least until he is 5 months old, which will be in September. Until he is neutered he can't be officially adopted. So in the meantime, we took him on trial to see what Aengus and Astarte would think.

I take things slow with cat introductions. I failed at my first adult-kitten introduction (Shakti and Oonah, who had to be kept separated until I moved with Shakti to the US), succeeded at my first adult-adult introduction (Shakti and our Manx Dio) and failed at my second adult-adult introduction (Dio and Astarte. She is the most easygoing cat in the universe and he decided he hated her. He would try to kill her on sight. Granted he had a screw loose; I seriously thought he'd been oxygen-deprived as a kitten). The failures were mainly due to rushing introductions.

When we adopted Aengus, I was fully aware that he had been socialized with older cats and respected their body language, that he was a happy cat with a sense of humor, and that he had a similar temperament to Astarte's as a younger cat (she was a riot!) Within 2 weeks we had them together all the time while we were at home; separated when we were outside of the house. After a month I felt comfortable leaving them together unsupervised. It was a success.

Sharing the box where my first pair of winter boots arrived in...
Happy kitty body language at dinner time.
Astarte in all her snaggle-toothed glory. Sign of a happy cat despite the new family addition. It is normal for resident cats to temporarily go through a grumpy/pouting phase when a new cat is brought into the house. She's a pretty easy-going cat overall and the perk of adopting a kitten that respected mature cat body language was that he would give her her space when she asked for it. Once she realized that, she was absolutely fine.
All of these were taken our first winter in the Northeast. We adopted Aengus shortly after moving to the area. This was when we were still living in Alexandria, VA.
Aengus is now 2 years old and Astarte is 14 and a half. He is still very much an adolescent and LOVES to play. Astarte, old lady that she is, was not really up to that rambunctiousness. I've had to fill in, playing tag and hide-and-seek with the tabby kitty to give him an outlet for his excess energy so he wouldn't harass Astarte.

Quiet time
Zombie reminded me a lot of Aengus at his age personality-wise, plus he had had the same kind of socialization with cats of all ages as Aengus had as a kitten. (Karina has a small pride of fosters of varying ages, some of them special needs cats that neither her nor the shelter have been able to find permanent homes for). In addition to that, he was just such a happy little guy that I figured everyone would get along.

I let Aengus and Astarte sniff the carrier with Zombie still in it when we first brought him home. Astarte ran and hid while Aengus got all fluffed up. Of course: the little guy moved funny and smelled funny, having come from a different home. I set Zombie up in our bedroom with the door closed but placed a bowl of dry food right outside the door: if the cats wanted to eat, they'd have to be within smell of Zombie. Positive association: food = good, food = kitten, kitten = good. It is a majorly useful thing if you have food-motivated cats. Mine are on scheduled mealtimes; dry food only gets left out free choice when we are out of town. So this was a very special treat indeed.

48 hours after he arrived home, Zombie's alien smell had diminished and he was starting to smell more like the other two: like laundry softener from loving to lay in the clean laundry and on our bed. Cat psychology is both fascinating and challenging. Alien smells are a major source of disturbance in kitty cat relationships: it is common for them to not recognize a housemate if he smells different, like when the housemate returns from a hospital stay for example. I've gone the extra mile of bathing a resident cat and a newcomer just to get them to smell the same and accelerate acceptance. I didn't do it this time around; I figured it wouldn't be necessary.

I was right!

Once a day, Charles would sit on the living room floor playing with Zombie on his lap while I played with Aengus around them. Aengus would stop occasionally and watch Zombie playing. I'd allow it, watching Aengus's body language: his coat remained smooth (no raised hackles), his tail stayed up with the tip curled (sign of a happy kitty; equivalent to a dog wagging its tail) and his pupils were normal (angry kitty pupils will constrict; fearful kitty pupils will dilate. Note: playful kitty pupils will also dilate. You have to take the rest of the body language and situation into account), ears pricked curiously. I'd then throw another toy across the living room to catch Aengus's attention again and he'd continue playing with me. Cats that play together (even if it's not directly with one another), coexist happily together. More positive association.

The third time we did this, Aengus didn't want to hear about the toys. He went straight up to Zombie in Charles's lap, his whole body saying "Happy curiosity". Zombie stopped playing and looked back at Aengus, purring loudly. Aengus stretched his nose forward to the little black kitten's and they touched. Aengus drew back quickly, chirped, and took off running, Zombie running off after him with his three legs in an instant game of tag.

It was like they'd known one another forever.

For the next 30 minutes, they ran around the living room like two dogs, taking turns chasing one another, chirping and purring at one another. We call Aengus "Sir Chirps-A-Lot". I've never heard a cat chirp and trill as much as he does. It's his preferred method of communication. He chirps at us all the time: "Feed me here!" as he circles around the spot where I place his dish on the bathroom floor; "Pet me! I'm so cute!" as he stretches up against a wall, standing on his hind legs so he can be closer to you while giving you goo-goo eyes; "Come play with me!" as he hops in front of you then takes off running. He chirps when you toss his toys, he chirps in response when you talk to him. One of my favorite games with him is this: he will be lounging somewhere in the house. I'll come walking up to about 10 feet from him and then suddenly stop. He'll look up at me. I'll go into a mock crouch and slooowly sloooowly creep towards him. His pupils will slowly dilate as I get closer...and then he'll chirp and take off running. If I don't chase after him, he'll come running back up to me, tail up, and chirp again, inviting me to play.

He is just a little bit ridiculous.

Aengus photo bomb!
I was laughing watching this same kind of interaction between him and Zombie.

I eventually had to put Zombie back in the bedroom because I didn't want him overdoing the running on his one remaining hind leg. He can build up to playing longer. Neither of them knows when to stop...

Playing "Who is the Greatest Hunter"
So that's how it's been. Aengus and Zombie get playtime once or twice a day depending on our schedules. When Zombie is in the bedroom, Aengus pretty much hangs out in front of the bedroom door most of the day...I think he definitely approves of his new little brother.

With all the toys.

"Oooh! Tail!"
"What are you doing back there?"
"Nothing. What are you doing?"

Astarte was grumpy for the first 48 hours and found excuses to hide under the futon. She was still eating and purring at us when touched, so it wasn't the end of the world, but I brought out the Feliway diffuser and that helped her feel more at ease. She'll curl up in her cube on my desk or under the futon while Zombie and Aengus are romping about.

At feeding time, she's fine being around him and will watch him curiously. He has gone up to her and tried to rub his face against hers which took her completely by surprise the first time: she backed up and hissed. Since then I've caught her touching noses with him. And he's done his best to try to impress her.

"I'm a very well-behaved kitten, see?"
This morning Zombie disappeared. I went looking all over the house for him. Aengus was just chilling and didn't seemed distressed about his absence. I finally looked under the futon...and there he was. Curled up less than a foot from Astarte, who was sleeping peacefully.

And Zombie is, well, adorable. He reminds me of the good zombie in Warm Bodies.

Welcome home, little man!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Of Not-Mountains

I want to highlight this day before I forget it...though it's taken me long enough to get it written down!

Kathy and I were going to go up to Catoctin Mountain on Saturday to practice some climbing. She is considering drag riding with Queenie at one of the endurance rides this fall but wasn't sure about Queenie's recently injected hocks and the terrain. I told her a good way for her to get an idea of what the terrain would be like would be to go to this park, which is considered to have pretty challenging footing for this area. They have 6-mile equestrian trail loop that seems to be less difficult than some of the trails for hikers and bikers from what I could gather on maps and photos. I figured worst case scenario we could always turn around and hand walk the mares back to the parking lot if Kathy felt like it was too much for Queenie. But it would still be better than signing up to volunteer, trailering all the way down to Virginia and camping out in 40 degree weather just to realize that she wasn't comfortable with the rocks and elevation gain.

Wolf Rock & Chimney Rock Trail on Catoctin Mountain.Yup, I'd say that's very similar to the kind of footing in the George Washington National Forest where the Old Dominion Triple Crown endurance rides take place.
Except this is one of the hiking-only trails on Catoctin Mountain.
Kathy ended up getting a mild concussion in a freak accident at home, which put a damper on our plans for obvious reasons. No riding until she's feeling 100% normal again. Thankfully she is very much okay, just a slight headache. I was happy to postpone our plans until a better day. Perks of postponing: if we end up going in September, we'll get to enjoy the fall colors on the mountain!

So I went to the barn early on Saturday anyway, planning on taking both mares over to the park across the street for more challenging rides, since last weekend we just stuck to the fields at the barn. As I was driving past the park on the way to the barn, I saw that the parking lot was JAM-PACKED full of people, some of them in running gear, so I figured maybe they had some sort of trail running race going on. Bummed that my plans had just gone down the drain, I continued on towards the barn, wondering what should I do instead.

I pulled Lily from the field and set her up in the barn aisle with beet pulp mash, a haynet and a flake of alfalfa and just puttered around taking my time grooming her while she ate. I decided I wanted to do 10 miles with her, but I'd do them in the fields. But the guys were working with a tractor outside so I had to wait. So I trimmed Lily's hind hooves and inspected her fronts, which I chose to leave alone this time.

I've been taking a less-is-more approach with Lily's front hooves. I like the way she's moving. Last fall she lost some muscle over her left shoulder and I was really bothered by it. I didn't mention it on the blog but kept photographic tabs on it, just to make sure it wasn't getting worse. I found that there is a correlation between shoulder muscle asymmetry and high-low syndrome in horses (where one front hoof is clubbier than the other, which has always been Lily's issue) so I kept the heels low on the clubbier foot and the toe short on the flatter foot. And then it was recommended by a couple of people that have been doing this much longer than I have that I should also rasp the heels on the flatter foot because the heels seemed underrun. Well, the foot wasn't changing.

These photos are of the flatter right front from when she had her bruising at the beginning of April, which I posted about here and here. (It turned out to not be laminitis as she tested negative for IR; just severe bruising from the dramatic weather changes we had: rain for 72 hours + standing in mud for 72 hours = soft feet. That then froze over...hence the massive bruising and lameness.)

I REALLY brought her toes back when she had the bruising, since initially we thought it was laminitis from the spring grass that was coming in at the time. She actually was more comfortable after this trim.
With laminitis you usually bring the toes back as much as you can to minimize leverage on the laminae.
Solar shot of the same foot, same day. You can see how flat her foot was. When radiographs were taken, she had 9 mm of sole, which is thin even for a TB.
I'd been doing some bar trimming in the photos above and I still think that didn't help her, given our wetter environment here in the Northeast and the fact that she has thin soles. She needed her bars for support. And she confirmed this: the first thing her feet did after the event/bruising in spring was grow these huge bars that pretty much overlapped her soles. I was surprised, as I had never seen her do that before. I thankfully had the good sense to leave them alone, as the minute that happened, she became sound. It took a little under 2 weeks.

Flatter right front. It's not clear in this picture but if you look closely, you can see the edge of the overlaid bar over her medial sole. At first I honestly had no idea what this was until it later started flaking off on its own as she was able to start moving around more. That's when I realized it had been her bars.
Left front. The light-colored spots towards the apex of her frog is where the excess bars started to come off on their own. Pardon the appearance of this foot: there was no horrible fungal infection. The dark gunk along her heel was leftover Magic Cushion, and dark areas around her sole and frog were from Durasole.
Below is the same foot, the right front, 4 months later. I don't back the toe up as much anymore, but I do keep it in check by doing a quick rasping once a week, usually after riding her bare in the front over the rockier footing of the park across the street or on the pavement of the driveway. I let her feet tell me where to remove excess.  I'm happier with her angles now, especially at the back of her hoof. Compare to the top sideways shot of this hoof from April. She has some heel now and they are starting to be less underrun. Barefoot horses don't usually need heel, contrary to what some vets and farriers believe, but this recommendation also depends on the horse's own mechanics while moving.

Yup, much happier with this foot when comparing it to the photo from April.  Her palmar hoof has a better angle now that I've stopped messing with her heels. The flare on the lateral side of this hoof also still gets addressed, but only to a certain point: if I were to rasp it all off, I'd leave her with no wall on this side of her hoof, which wouldn't help matters at all. 
Solar shot of the RF. You can see that from the bottom, this hoof looks pretty centered: the flare on the lateral side, which used to distort this entire hoof previously, is almost imperceptible from this view now.  The lighting makes it look funny, but her heels are finally even with the back of her frog. The purple stuff on her sole is Durasole, which I'm still diligently applying about twice a week. This is the kind of bar that she likes to keep on this hoof. It doesn't grow more than this if she's in work and turned out 24/7, and if I trim the bars around the apex of her frog to make them look they way they "should", her foot becomes flat like a pancake and her stride changes. Same thing with her heels: if I lower them, she starts landing flat-footed. Counterproductive.
I'm just posting these so others can see how I manage it. And yes, it could probably be better and the hooves could look prettier. I'm no expert, I didn't go to school for this, half the time I question what I do on her feet and tear my hair out thinking I should call a professional...but then I watch her move. And you know what? The mare lands heel first and that muscle asymmetry that she had over her shoulders that coincided with me micromanaging her feet? GONE. It disappeared the second I stopped rasping all the toe off the right front. So I guess that says something...which I constantly have to remind myself. I'd love to be able to have a better grip on her diet (no grass, just grass hay and minerals to balance it out + current grain and supplements) and for her to be on something like the dry pebbly tracks they have at Rockley Farm...but we do what we can with what we have.

While I'm rambling about hoofers, I haven't really mentioned Gracie's on the blog because they are so easy I barely have to think about them. Gracie's hooves are something beautiful. Her feet are like a mustang's. Concavity, thick walls. She had majorly contracted heels when I first got her from just standing around in the pasture. Yes, a horse can be barefoot and still have contracted heels!

Case in point. Gracie's right front back in April. Check out how narrow her frog was, how close together her heels were, and how squished together the back of her hoof is when you look back towards the pastern. This is on a mare that has been barefoot all her life; she was just not working.  I'd already been working her for a couple of weeks at the time of this photo; the trimming you see on her heels and walls was done by the ground, not a rasp. 
This is her right front now. Photo taken last week. Check out her frog and how much wider her heels are! What did I do? Worked her. She has been worked barefoot all over creation averaging about 20 miles a week since the end of May, progressing from mostly walk to mostly gaiting now. This is what just getting a horse moving will do to a hoof that is otherwise ideal. The underside of this hoof has not been touched by any kind of knife. She keeps those bars like that all by herself.
So with her, when I think she's needing a trim, I just take her out on a longer ride and, like Lily, just even her up afterwards. She rolls her toes all by herself; I just finish off the roll. I'm really happy to report that with the work and trims in this fashion, she is really and truly landing heel-first on ALL four feet ALL the time. She used to land flat-footed on her hinds and toe first on her fronts.

Okay, so back to Lily and our ride. :)

So Zoey arrived at the barn as I was finishing tacking up Lily. We got to talking and I mentioned the possible trail running race at the park across the street. Zoey mentioned that she had just driven past there on her way to the barn...and there was only a car or two. 

Well, in that case...off we went to the park! My mistake was that I realized later that I had tacked up for field work and forgot to put Lily's breastplate on. Not a big deal, but she really needs it when we're doing hill work.

There were actually more like 5 cars in the parking lot so I decided to head for the back trails of the park that I usually take, the more remote ones that people usually don't hike.

It ended up being such a great ride. I'm really glad it worked out so that we could go! Lily started out looky and giving the occasional startle, but I talked to her and ignored the stuff that she was looking at, just focusing on the trail and praising her when she trotted on at my request. (Like I've said: completely opposite psychology of Gracie. If I let Lily stop to look at something that intimidates her, she thinks, "Oh, so I SHOULD be afraid of it and that's why you're acknowledging it!" Follower mindset vs alpha mindset, where Gracie needs to stop and look so that she can see for herself that it's okay. She has to make that call; you can't do it for her.) As we trotted on through the park she got more into her "I got this" mindframe and she started to stride out confidently.

I never tire of seeing her happy ears in front of me.

*All of the trail photos in this post are recycled. Lately I carry my phone in an arm holster with my headphones threaded through the holster. It is a pain in the butt to try to take pictures with this arrangement...need to start bringing my small camera. Apologies for the repeat pics, but some of you probably haven't seen these before, as they are from last year. And it helps break up the wordiness. :)
We trotted on down the nameless trail that we usually take (the one in the photo), across a couple of creek crossings, and then took the long switchbacking hill that Charles and I discovered on his first ride with me. Lily attacked that hill at a fierce bounding gallop, biting at the rocks on the trail in huge lunging strides. I just bridged my reins, leaned forward and grabbed onto her mohawk. She flew, and then insisted on cantering on through the woods at the top of the hill. Laughing at her enthusiasm, I let her. This is great practice for her fitness-wise: to be able to continue at a faster gait even after a climb. Her canter has improved SO much with all of the trail work. She has a distinct three beat gait now, whereas before it used to be so lateral that I always doubted we'd ever get good scores on it in dressage if we'd continued on up the levels.

Trail at the top of the Dead-End Hill
This trail dead-ends on private property and as usual, we turned around before we got to the sign. Lily asked for permission to canter more, so we continued until I asked her to come back down to a trot when the zig-zagging trail winding around the trees + speed started to not seem like a good combination. She obliged and continued on trotting all the way down that hill. She's a badass.

We turned left to continue following the river at the bottom of the hill, following the trail all the way back towards the Galloping Hill that Kathy and I used to take at speed all the time over the winter. You have to cross through a field to get to it. It's a fairly steep but short grassy hill that has to be taken at an angle to maneuver around the trees and prickly plants splattered around the hill. You get to the top in about 5 gallop strides then duck through an archway of vines at the top, flying back into the woods.

This is Lily's favorite part of this trail and as usual, she bounded up the hill the second I gave her permission. We cantered on through the woods at the top of the hill, following the trail back down the other side of it. Recently I discovered that if you turn right instead of left, the trail takes you out of the woods and onto a sort of grassy easement between the park property and the fields of the neighboring private farms.

So what we'll do is trot down the back of the hill and turn right, where I'll unleash Lily onto the easement, which has two rolling hills on it.

Coming off of the first hill on the easement, with the second hill rising ahead. Parkland on the left, tree line on the right demarcates private property.
Lily burst out of the treeline like a racehorse out of the starting gate as I leaned low over her neck, laughing into the wind while watching our shadow racing next to us on the windswept grass.

It was freaking awesome. She slowed to a canter on the first dip in the land then accelerated back into a gallop as we went up the second hill.

I brought her back down to a walk as we reached the end of the path and we turned around.

Trotting down the hill on the way back up the easement.
Lily trotted down the first hill then cantered up the next. The last downhill is pretty steep so we just went back down to a trot, continuing at this gait as we made our way back into the forest.

We turned right at the main trail, heading back in the general direction of home. Lily flicked her feet and extended her trot happily. I stroked her neck, grinning at how much this horse loves her job nowadays.

On this route we passed the dead-end hill again so I had Lily gallop up one more time. 

One of my front Gloves tore a gaiter and I'm waiting for the replacement. In the meantime, I've only been booting her hinds so she can really push through her hind end without worrying about her tootsies.

As we reached the top of the hill, I heard the "flop-flop-flop" that indicates a boot that spun off. I brought Lily to a halt and dismounted to replace the boot. I realized the saddle had slid back a couple of inches thanks to the missing breastplate so I straightened that out as well. She was breathing hard after this sprint: the day was really starting to warm up by now, as it was just past noon. I hand walked her a ways down the trail, during which time she was able to get a breather. I found a tree to use as a mounting block and hopped back on. We then walked back down the hill. At the bottom she picked up a trot of her own accord and so we continued at a trot down the trail. 

We continued on our usual route through the forest. Because there have been rumors of ground bees in the park, I chose to stay on the well-travelled trails. This was around the time that I decided that my goal for the day would be to do negative splits. We were already trending in that direction anyway as MapMyRun kept calling out faster and faster miles.

Trail paralleling the river.
We headed off towards one of the steeper river crossings. I gave Lily the option of drinking but she just splashed on through the river. 

Trail headed towards the lake loop. It is SO overgrown right now. This is what it looked like last year. The goldenrod is currently in bloom too.
The lake.
We went around the lake loop and took the hill on the far side at a gallop. Halfway up the hill we usually stop to take an adjoining trail that takes you back down the hill on the other side of the woods. However, I recently discovered that you can continue going ALL the way up this hill until it dead ends at a park entrance gate. So lately I've been having Lily gallop ALL the way up and she now knows the drill. 

Once at the top we turned around and trotted back down. 

We then took the longer route back towards the river and then back out of the forest, taking the trails through the back sections of the park so as to avoid other park visitors. (Yes I don't like people! Lol)

On the last stretch of trail, I looked down at MapMyRun as Lily was motoring on, again flicking her toes happily. 

Guys, at that moment in time her trot was 12mph. 

Mission negative splits completed!

9 min/mi = 6.6 mph
Well, kind of. But we did end up faster than we started. Slower splits are when we threw in some short walk recoveries or when we slowed down to cross water. There are several small creek crossings throughout these trails.

Elevation gain in the park when doing every single hill

Ultimately this would have been longer than 10 miles once you factor in the driveway but I didn't want the walk home to count towards our average pace. I turned off the app as we came around the meadow trail at a trot and slowed to a walk to go through the park parking lot. Once back on the barn driveway, I dismounted and loosened Lily's girth, hand walking her that last 1/4 mile back to the barn buildings. By then her respiratory rate had dropped significantly. I untacked, hosed and scraped, then have her a full shampoo bath. Afterwards she went into a stall in front of a fan to stuff her face with more alfalfa, grass hay, and another beet pulp mash.

I then went to fetch Gracie. It was almost dinner time in the mare field so Gracie was happy to see me but when she saw me grab the halter, she turned tail and tried to run away. "No, I want my food first!" I cornered her between the feeding chutes where she let me catch her. She received a short review on groundwork and once she was snappy in her responses to my requests, we made our way back up to the barn. 

Once back at the barn I realized I was tired! I'd been wearing my vest while riding Lily and I felt drained from the heat. 

I tied up Gracie in the barn aisle with a haynet and her grain dinner since I had plans for a higher mileage ride with her and didn't want her going on an empty stomach either.

I then went and sat down in one of the patio chairs at the end of the aisle way (where I could still see Miss Blonde Bombshell, since she likes to get into trouble when she's done eating) to chat with Kathy and Zoey while eating a snack.

"Why on earth are you blowing air up my ass?"
Photo taken on a different day, of course: I had just bathed her and set her up with the fan so it would help dry her out quicker. (If I turn her out while still wet, she will find the biggest pile of poop in the field and roll in it!) She was trying to somehow make it into one of the two stalls on either side of her so she could eat the leftover hay and would not hold still. I eventually walked away and just left her there. She'll stand quietly if I ignore her long enough...
I may have sat around for an hour and a half...

But it worked: by then my energy was back. And by then all the stall board horses had been turned out so I couldn't ride in the fields even if I wanted too. I briefly debated going on the bridle path or working in the arena but it was all so boring...I just wanted to return to the park.

So that's what we did. 

Gracie was happy to gait all the way out the driveway, across the street and into the park. I think she really enjoys these adventures alone. She's such a game horse, even as green as she still is.

I basically did the same route I had done with Lily. My goal was to do a shorter distance, so I only did the Dead-End Hill once. After our last solo ride in the park, Gracie understands now that she is to gallop up all the hills as well. So she galloped up the Dead-End Hill, which always leaves her somewhat out of breath. I encouraged her to pick up a slow gait at the top so she could recover. We followed the trail for a ways and by the time we turned around, Gracie was ready to go again.  She gaited back down the hill. Good girl! Once back on the main trail, we turned left just like I had with Lily and we followed the trail all the way to the field with the Galloping Hill. Gracie offered a canter for the first time here; she's always preferred to take it at a trot in the past. I then followed the same route onto the grassy easement.

Same thing: I clucked at Gracie and she flattened out into a gallop. That's the first time I've galloped her on a surface that isn't just all hill. It was as exhilarating as it had been with Lily.

As we came to the end of the easement I sat up and told her, "Whoooa" and Gracie, in typical Gracie fashion, slammed on the brakes. Which I was expecting: she has a fantastic whoa button that was installed by trainer Bob and I've been making sure that it works at ALL the gaits. She is hilarious: she'll be chugging along, all churning wind and fire, snorting with every stride, neck arched and mane flying, and the second you say "Whoa" she comes to an abrupt halt. She expects you to instantly release the reins: if you don't she'll yank them out of your hands. "I stopped. You're supposed to release!" And then she'll just stand there, square on all feet with her head down like an old plug. And she'll continue to stand there on a loose rein for as long as you want, until you cue her to continue. This is a very unusual thing in a horse this spirited, let me tell you!

Gracie demonstrates her ability to whoa and chill with Charles on one of his first rides on her.
We turned around and gaited back into the woods onto the main trail. Here Gracie offered up a trot and I let her. She gaits better over terrain than on the flat, but when it comes to the speed rack, she can only maintain it for very short periods of time over smooth footing. On the trail, she actually covers more ground at the trot. I encourage her to gait all the time because it works so many more muscles but the truth of the matter is that she needs to take breaks from it. So she will ask to trot because it is easier and it is a way for her to stretch out. She'll lower her neck and lift her back, still carrying herself correctly, just in a different fashion and engaging different muscles.

Gracie's more upright carriage when gaiting.
This is what she looks like when she's trotting under saddle:

One day I will have photos of Gracie herself doing this...
She continued down that trail at her biggest trot, ears pricked happily, brave and alert. That mare just loves the trails, man. Loves 'em.

We went down to the steep river crossing. As we were splashing through the water we saw a young guy on the opposite bank, dressed in hiking clothes with a small satchel on his back. He was a ways down the river. I said hi and we gaited on past to take the lake loop. 

Like Lily before, Gracie galloped all the way up the long hill behind the lake and we also took the long way back towards the river. G-mare finally asked for a walk break and I let her. She walked maybe 20 strides before saying, "Ok! I'm rested! Let's GO!" And she enthusiastically picked up her gait again. I was laughing at her.

As we came out of the tree line to head back to the river, I realized we were behind the hiker that we'd encountered previously. The trail in this section is very narrow and overgrown and I simply did not want to ride that close past this guy. He did not seem threatening at all when we first saw him, but you become paranoid when you are raised in PR. 

I turned Gracie around and we backtracked. Which worked, because I'd just been thinking that I need to start varying our usual route: we've been going in the same direction for a while now. Gracie glanced at a few things but never lost momentum as she trotted on through the trees. 

We crossed the river and headed back towards the meadow trail. Again I stopped MapMyRun when I asked Gracie to come down to a walk as we were approaching the park parking lot. She did 8.6 miles in 1 hr and 17 minutes.

Also average pace of 6.6 mph
She had a bath and a beet pulp mash, and once she was dry, both her and Lily got turned out for the night. 

It was a really good day.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back At It!

We returned from the Ride Between the Rivers to put the girls to work.

Monday of last week: 
Dressage school with Lily in the arena for 45 minutes. Worked on transitions, transitions, transitions until she was "up" and trying to anticipate. Successfully did the 10-10-10 exercise for the first time in like, forever: 10 strides trot, 10 strides walk, 10 strides canter. Mix and match. 

Tuesday of last week: 
Worked Gracie in the stall boarder fields. The stall board horses are currently on night turnout and all of their fields connect to one another via gates, which the boys just leave open during the day. So that's like 10 acres of fields to play in. I had been lunging her prior to riding if she'd had more than a day or two off to let her blow off steam. However, on this day she was so happy to come with me from the field and so chill while tacking up, that I chose to just get on without lunging. It turned out that my gut instinct was correct: Gracie was awesome. We worked on consistent gaiting and on cantering the inclines of the fields as short hill sets. 

Gracie in the field on Tuesday.

Gracie got worked in the fields again, pretty much the same thing as on Tuesday. I was bored with arena work so I took Lily out on the driveway and asked her to trot out as fast as she could. I wanted to see how much mileage we could do in half an hour. We threw some canters in because she was all, "This fast trotting is hard. It's easier to canter." So I let her canter and trot as she wished. She ended up doing 5 miles in 39 minutes. WOWZA. This is the mare who used to consistently average out at a speed of 6-8 mph...

Old picture of Lily and the driveway.

I was going to take Lily to the park across the street but one of the other boarders warned me that the trails over there are currently full of ground bees. Her friend and her horse, also boarders, had gotten swarmed by the bees and stung repeatedly. They were okay but it was a horrible experience. I was so frustrated. I'd wanted to do a longer ride with Lily over there, a minimum of 10 miles. But then I had a lightbulb moment: I could do exactly that using the stall boarder fields. I fed her beet pulp mash and a flake of hay so she wouldn't be doing this longer ride on an empty stomach and tacked her up in my Alta with only a water bottle. (No heavy saddle bags.) I made sure all of the field gates were open and hopped on. After a walk warm-up, I started Map My Run and asked Lily to trot. She offered her quiet arena trot. 
"Nope, I want faster," I told her.
"But you told me for two years that this is what you wanted," she said.
"We're doing a different sport now. You can go faster. You need to go faster."
"Yes, really. You're mostly Thoroughbred. I know you can do it."
"Yes, but it's my pogo stick trot...are you sure that's what you want?"
"Yup, that's what I want. I can keep up."
"Ok then."
She surged forward into the fast trot that I discouraged for so long. Lily has upright showers so she will never have a long raking stride. But she also doesn't have a lot of suspension so it's pretty effortless to post to her trot at a million miles per hour. 

My jaw dropped when the app called out "Distance: one mile. Pace: 6 minutes and 23 seconds..." Guys. The mare has a 10 mile per hour trot. (For the non-endurance readers: that's fast. That's very fast. You get 6 hours to complete a 25 mile distance or LD, which means your pace has to be about 5mph to complete within time with a vet check somewhere in there. Really competitive horses can complete an LD in under 3 hours...so that gives you an idea of what this means)

Alrighty...so then I wanted to see if she could maintain it.

18 minutes into our trotting, she had already clocked 3 miles effortlessly. 

We did 3 loops around each field in each direction before moving on to the next field. After that initial 3 miles, I started adding a canter loop in each direction so she could engage different muscles. When doing lots of trot work, it's recommended to let the horse canter every so often so their muscles don't get fatigued. After every canter lap, her trot would have renewed enthusiasm. Adding a lap or two of canter per mile bumped her average speed up to 12 mph.

The middle field is set at an incline that matches the bridle path hill; maybe a 20-30 degree incline. I worked on having Lily maintain the gait and pace going both up and down this incline. She had no problems either trotting or cantering down. At the trot she rocked back onto her haunches and flicked her toes, and at the canter she collected so she could be more cautious about her footsteps.

The far field, where Queenie and Déjà are turned out, also has a decent slope by the front fence, and Lily was happy to accelerate up this incline whether at trot or canter. We stayed in this particular field for 3 miles since the terrain was so different from the other fields that are flatter by comparison. I started asking for a couple of strides of gallop when we cantered up the slope, and I had to laugh when Lily flattened her ears and burst forward in a true gallop like she'd been launched from a slingshot.

She used to be afraid of accelerating like that. She wouldn't believe me when I asked for more at the canter. Now she does. She knows I can handle it, and she knows she won't get punished for it. (Cowboy + spur stops in her past. You can understand her anxiety with speed.)

She'd gallop 5 strides to get to the top of the slope, then slow to a canter on the downward side. Good girl! 

The good thing about riding in these fields is that there are plenty of water troughs to drink from. I gave Lily the option to drink numerous times but she chose not to.

After 3 miles in this field, we returned to the first field which is truly flat. Without the inclines now, Lily's trot accelerated to 12 mph without the addition of cantering. 

We completed 10 miles in 1 hour.

As soon as the app called out the 10 miles, I immediately dismounted, loosened the girth and hand walked Lily to cool down. It was hot in the sun though so I ended up just taking her into the barn wash stall so she could be in the shade, untacking her and hosing and scraping until the water coming off of her was cool. I then gave her a proper shampoo bath, rinsed her off and linimented her with Vetrolin. Which thanks to Sprinklerbandits, I remembered I had a bottle of. :) She then went into a stall to stuff herself with a buffet of hay, beet pulp mash and her TC Senior + supplements.

You can see the elevation gain of the fields. Yeah, kind of a joke. But it served its purpose: to work on speed.

Baby's got back.
Next it was Gracie's turn. We had an off-property ride planned for Sunday so I decided to try to get similar results with her but without getting to 10 miles (if you work a horse 10 miles, they should ideally get at least the next day off). I tacked her up and decided to just use the driveway, since by then the stall board horses had been turned out for the night. 

Gracie was a spitfire despite having been ridden the day before. Not in a naughty way, she just wanted to GO. We started out gaiting up and down the driveway to warm up but then G-mare wanted to canter so I let her canter when she chose. 

As we were going back down the driveway for the third time, I realized that the gates that connect the driveway to the bridle path were both open! So off we went that way. 

I hadn't been on the bridle path since our bad ride over a month ago. We went up the hill and Gracie asked to canter. So we cantered. We gaited back down and turned left to go onto the bridle path between the horse fields. Gracie's mane was dancing back in the wind like blonde flames with the speed of her gait. When she is happy she snorts every other stride, which is unusual in a gaited horse and makes it feel like you're riding a freight train! She was snorting as we went down the bridle path. 

As we reached the end of it, she suddenly threw up her nose and gave a small explosion: all four feet left the ground at once.

"NO Gracie," I said.
She came to an abrupt halt. "Aww really?"
"Yes really. No airs above ground."
*Snorts* "Oooookayyyyy."

We turned around and gaited back up the bridle path, cantered the hill one more time, went back down, and returned to the driveway. 

Gracie was an absolute saint about no more airs above ground. We had so much fun going up and down the driveway and then back up the hill and down the bridle path. We ended up doing 7.4 miles in 54 minutes. Her average pace was 8.5 mph. Like with Lily, I dismounted, loosened the girth and hand walked her up the driveway. She too had a bath and was linimented. She was not exactly patient about waiting to dry off while I loaded her tack up in Kathy's trailer for the following day. Every time I walked into the barn aisle, she would stop whatever she was doing and look at me attentively.

"Whut? I'm not fidgeting. Ignore the hoof prints..."
"What are you talking about? I'm not scratching my butt against this here door..."
One is a model citizen...
...and one is not...
"WHY am I tied up on both sides???! How come Lily gets to be tied by her lead rope?"
You can see how Lily had not changed position at ALL during these three photos...

I couldn't stop laughing. 

I turned them out for the night and went home. 

I met Kathy at the barn at 11:00 am. The plan was to go to Annapolis Rock since Kathy had never been there. I had gone with Carol back in May

Lily would have Sunday off. She looked fine: bright, no heat/swelling in her legs after the previous day's ride. 

I got Gracie and took her up to the barn to groom her and get her ready for the trailer ride. 

She loaded up with minimal encouragement. Queenie really knows the drill now and I honestly think Kathy could get her to self load if she wanted her to. Off we went!

Annapolis Rock is not far from the barn. There were a couple of horse trailers there when we pulled up. We unloaded the mares and set them up with haynets while we tacked up.

I chose the first trail straight ahead, taking Kathy along the Annapolis Rock trails but I managed to detour off into one of the trails that takes you into Patuxent. 

We basically ended up doing the same trails I'd done with Carol prior, but backwards.

And then we found ourselves in an entirely different area that I had not seen last time. It was beautiful.

That is a river off to the left.
I decided I really wanted to cross the river. Regular readers have probably noticed by now that I have a thing for taking my horses into any available (safe) body of water. All of the crossings had really deep mud that I wasn't comfortable riding through without fear of one of the mares pulling a ligament. I found a small side trail and followed it with Gracie...and discovered a less-travelled route into the river!

Gracie stepped into it without much convincing. We walked through the river and over to the trailhead on the opposite bank, which was deceptively deep. Both Gracie and Queenie had to jump up out of the mud due to the suctioning hold it took on their hooves. 

We discovered a property with an open gate (and no signs) that had a cross country field. I had Gracie gait over to what appeared to be a water jump for a closer look, but Kathy decided that we should probably leave before the property owners got mad at us for trespassing.

Open gate up ahead. Note the coop on the right!
Cross country field.
We left the cross country field and retraced our steps, which meant we had to cross back through the river. There only seemed to be the one muddy route back. Queenie led the way because I knew Gracie was not going to like stepping down into that mud. However, from my vantage point behind Kathy and Queenie, I got to see exactly how deep that mud was: Queenie sank in it to her hocks and knees! She continued on through it nonchalantly in typical Queenie fashion, but I was afraid of making Gracie step into such deep muck, have her freak out and possibly break a leg in the process.

I told Kathy what I was doing and turned Gracie around, riding up the trail again to look for a different route into the water. The banks were pretty high on this side of the river, but I finally found one section that was only about 10" high, with a drop into very shallow water. Gmare hesitated and tried to turn around once, but I brought her back to face the water, encouraging her forward. She planted both front hooves on the edge of the bank so that they slid smoothly down into the water, then stepped down. It was quite hot out and despite having only been walking, she was pretty sweaty. She asked to just hang out in the water for a minute so I let her, during which Kathy took this photo:

We continued on our merry way and soon found ourselves riding through a pine forest. I looked up and gasped: it literally looked like we were riding through a pine cathedral. We had made it back into the Annapolis Rock trails.

Isn't this gorgeous??!!
We looped around through these trails, exploring and enjoying the sights.

This was some dumped heavy machinery something that Gracie decided she was afraid of. I was laughing at her because recently she had startled at an alpaca that was rolling in the field adjacent to the bridle path back at the barn, but it was nowhere near as dramatic as her reaction to this machine. "Why are you more bothered by an inanimate object?" I asked her. She tried to dart away but I asked her to stand and look. She did her big blasting snort, "What IS that?" but just stood watching the machine alertly. Remembering Magic Man's antics of wanting to touch things that frightened him, I thought, "I bet I can teach this mare to be the same way." So I asked her to take a step forward and investigate. She obliged...
And then she realized there was green shrubbery growing next to the machine and started eating it! The green blur in front of her muzzle is a small branch that she was chewing on. She didn't give a hoot about the machine.
I had mentioned the meadow trails to Kathy and we finally found them. They seemed much farther from the trailer parking than they had when I visited with Carol.

We cantered through some of the sections of trail then decided to call it a day and returned to the trailer. We completed 9 miles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. Yup, it was all walking but both mares were quite sweaty!
Elevation gain for Annapolis Rock + Patuxent trails we did

The mares both had hay and beet pulp mashes back at the trailer before loading up to go home. Again Gracie got on the trailer without issue.

It was a great ride!