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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Update on the Mares!

Carlos rocking it out on both girls
I am SO behind on horse updates! I am behind on lots of updates, actually, so if I can ever finish a couple of all the posts I've started in my Drafts folder, you guys might finally get a full view of all the goings-on around here lately! Just not in chronological order, but progress isn't linear, only time is, so that's fine. ;)

Towards fall of last year, I had noticed Lily was starting to get the slightest bit of effusion in her hocks. It didn't bother her nor affect her performance, but I made a mental note to keep an eye on her hocks and her movement because with her Thoroughbred post-legged hind limb conformation, hock injections have always been something I've foreseen in her future.

One rainy, wet afternoon in the late fall, I went out to the barn to check on them and discovered that the tiny bit of effusion in the hock her left hind (ALWAYS THE LEFT HIND) had ballooned to orange size. Cue freakout. Both her and Gracie had been going through a phase of merciless bullying by the alpha mare. Lily had no other marks on her but Gracie's lumbar back and rump were covered in bite marks from where the alpha mare had ripped off her skin. I suspected Lily had been chased away from the hay feeder and in trying to get away with one of normally nimble moves, had torqued the leg in the mud. She was never lame, never painful, and there was never any heat. It's been 6 months and there has been no change in the swelling: it is soft and squishy, like hock effusion usually is. I have a photo somewhere but I don't feel like looking for it so here is a picture from the internet so you guys can have an idea of what it looks like.

Same size and location.
When it presents in this fashion, it is usually caused by a strain to the tendon sheath, and that was my vet's verdict as well. I have not done imaging nor lameness tests nor the whole shebang because she feels the same under saddle, looks the same at liberty, is not guarding the leg at all in lateral movements, and I'm not planning on competing in endurance anytime soon.

See? No problems engaging and pushing off of that left hind at liberty.
Also Lily, can you save some of that awesome little canter for when I hop on in a minute? :) Kthx
Both horses had most of the winter off, not because I wanted to but because the weather gods literally conspired to make riding impossible. We don't have an indoor arena and with the constant rain and mud, I did not want to attempt muddy trail rides that could strain arthritic legs (Gracie) or Lily's funky hock. I also gave myself permission to be a fair weather rider this winter: we did so much riding in nasty weather last year in preparation for and during all our competing that my brain and my body were in mutual agreement: we have nothing to prove and it was absolutely fine to stay indoors by the gas fireplace on a shitty day, with a quick run to the barn to check on the girls and feed them when the rain let up. When I didn't have time to ride because I was on call for work or we had other things that needed to be done, THEN the weekend would be gorgeous. Fuck you, weather gods.

Anyway. Lily had a nice 5-month break with a splattering of non-strenuous work throughout, so if this had indeed been something that needed resting, she definitely got the rest. Now I'm slowly bringing her back into work with light trail rides (45% walk, 45% trot and 10% canter). She has been offering up lovely work in the arena so I finally decided to take advantage of it.

And then I was on call again. And then it rained. And then we had family in town. And then we went to the cherry blossoms because those only happen for 5-7 days out of the year. And then it rained again. And then and then and then. Whatever.

Three weeks after that, I've been able to get a few consistent rides on Lilybird. And I've been very happy with her. Rides have been mostly limited to the arena at the moment, and I'm okay with that too.

The only foot that is actually solidly on the ground is her left hind: this is what she looks like when working correctly. Please ignore my equitation...
I really need to stop dropping my inside shoulder...
But look at my horse! :)
(All trotting photos by Shanna!)
Arena work at the moment is focused on collection, which is what she has been indicating she wants to do anyway. This is perfect because her topline needs some work after all the time off. She is at a great weight overall coming out of winter but her coat is unusually dull, so flax has been added back into her diet (1 cup per day) to see if her summer coat comes in as glossy as it always does.

Worst conformation shot EVER. But you can appreciate both the lack of sheen and the excellent body condition on my hard keeper! No ribs = success!
We've done the oils in the past: rice bran oil, flax oil, Cocosoya, etc. They worked beautifully on her when she would eat them...but since she persistently turns her nose up at oils nowadays, we're staying away from them. I also added a pound of Triple Crown's 30% supplement to her daily ration, which does amazing things for her muscle building but is also outright rocket fuel for her. She's fine on it as long as she is in consistent work, but she cannot be on it if not worked consistently because she turns into every stereotype of a Thoroughbred imaginable. Grain at the moment is Legends CarbCare Performance: this is her off-season grain, which is high fat, high protein and low starch. She eats it with gusto, she retains a reasonable amount of muscle + a brain even when rested while on it, so she stays on it. (When competing she is switched to TC Complete, which is fed alone during conditioning and then 50/50 with oats the week before and after an endurance ride to build up and later replenish glycogen stores in her muscles. #endurancenutrition)

G-Mare has been a whole other issue. She has been very stiff coming out of the time off, and I will be having her right front pastern injected again (this is the one with ringbone) once I have a more normal schedule that allows me to use my regular veterinarian again. I've been interacting with her consistently but after my first real official ride on her, I realized some of her ground manners had temporarily gone to pot: she tried to barge into me while I was hosing her off post-ride and to get ahead of me while hand-walking back to the barn. This got rapidly corrected right then and there, and a brief round pen groundwork session helped remind her that Gracie mares still are expected to behave like model citizens even when they think they are wild ponies.

She did gain some weight during her time off and has a slight crest going on, but after a few rides it is already melting off. G-Mare was on TC Lite as a ration balancer over the winter with her oral joint supplement, but I've switched her to Legends CarbCare Show & Pleasure for now. She is also getting 1 cup of flax/day. No rocket fuel for her, though! And I need to restart her IM joint supplement. Last winter she did fabulously on zero maintenance, coming out of the winter moving fluidly, but this has not been the case this year.

Sass monster. Also: somewhat awkward canter.
I don't think 50s are in her future anymore, based on how she is moving now. And that's okay. Gracie can be whatever she wants to be because it is a privilege to get to spend time with this mare. But I'm working on building up her fitness again in the meantime because it's good for her regardless.

First decent ride on her since the nieces came to visit.
Photo by Shanna.
Same ride. Photo also by Shanna.
Last weekend Shanna came out to the barn with me both days and hopped on G-Mare while I worked with Lily. Gracie was quite stiff and unbalanced the first day, so she was kept at the walk and gait; no canter.

Nice swinging gait once she was warmed up though.
The second day she was stepping short with both right legs (RF = ringbone, RH = worse hock of the two.) Shanna did the right thing by keeping Gracie moving in straight lines around the arena and large circles, but the mare never really warmed up out of it.

Shanna on Gracie.
Gaiting easily. Shanna did a great job keeping G-Mare moving at a controlled speed.
So the ride was cut short and Gracie had Monday off. I was off again on Tuesday and brought both girls out for riding: Carlos would ride one while I rode the other for 30 minutes and then we would switch. I started out on Gracie with the bareback pad so I could make sure she was warmed up properly.

She was in her first heat of spring and being a monumental fussbucket. She was literally arguing with herself...I was simply asking her to walk on a reasonably loose rein and she would fling her head around and even threatened to rear a couple of times, which is just her way of trying to intimidate her rider to get out of work, a card that she used to try to play all the time when I first got her. I could understand her being cranky because she was in heat: mares get crampy and sore and irritable too just like we do. This is also normal for her: the first heat of spring and the last one of late fall are always rougher on her. By the time I realize this is happening though, it is too late to start supplementing and I'm not keeping her on a mare herbal supplement like raspberry leaf year-round only for two moments throughout the year. (I am a firm believer in raspberry leaf though: Lily lives on it year-round because unlike Gracie, all of her heat cycles are upsetting. She gets nervous, anxious and buddy sour. SmartMare Harmony has done wonders for her; she has been on it for the last 3 years.)

With Gracie acting up, I just kept my cool and continued gently requesting what I wanted: a sedate walk with no head-tossing, which she was perfectly capable of doing. She had done it en route to the arena while walking next to Carlos. I was not asking for anything even the slightest bit difficult.  I gently requested until I got what I wanted. I would get it for a few steps...and then another flailing moment.  She had three opportunities, but at the third head-flinging episode I spun her around in a tight circle and pony-kicked her forward. She walked on calmly and gave me no more trouble whatsoever. Good girl, Gracie. She was heavily praised.

I was expecting to have to do a long warm-up and not really get to the point of collection that I wanted to work on with her on this day, but she surprised me by offering it up with minimal request from the get-go. I was positively thrilled: she felt sound, smooth and even. She received tons of praise.

Her more collected gait.
I engage my abs, Gracie lifts her withers.
Lovely work.
We were working on extensions here and on not cheating by getting behind the vertical
(a common thing she does when she is trying to avoid using herself properly.)
She was a titch more on the forehand here but that's okay at this point in time. I like that despite the tail swishing you see going on (she always does more tail swishing during arena work than on trail; she really does hate arena work) her entire body still looks relaxed. 
And then Carlos got on while I rode Lily. The goal was for him to just walk her around the arena. I had ridden for 22 minutes and that had been enough for Gracie: asking her to use her body correctly, even at slow speeds, is HARD work and she was drenched in sweat. I didn't want to overdo it. But G-Mare decided she had other ideas and monumentally tested Carlos. She scared him. So I had him work with her on gaiting more just to get her brain back in her head. They did absolutely fantastic and Gracie did not test him again.

Same photo from the collage above but look at the angle of her croup compared to the other photos!
Werk dat butt!

Afterwards we hand-walked them back down to the barn, where they had bubble baths and food while waiting for the vet to come for spring shots. I am out of bute so I did go ahead and buy a tub of it while my vet was there: what I like to do when either of the girls is showing signs of having a rough heat cycle is to give them a dose of bute before riding. The difference in behavior with NSAID on board vs no NSAID on board when they are physically uncomfortable from raging hormones is like night and day. 

I had a long weekend of riding planned for both of them but it has been raining nonstop since Friday night. See what I meant about the weather? But it means you get this update instead. ;)

Such good girls. <3
They just stood quietly where we parked them while we moved stuff around in the arena.


  1. Ah mares. At least that's what I'm learning. I'm thinking of drying my own raspberry leaf for my princess - I have a stand of them and I'm thinking that it would be useful

    1. Definitely go for it! :) I don't keep Gracie on it because she only really is uncomfortable twice a year...but Lily lives on it year-round. She gets super nervous, anxious and overly attached to buddies during her cycles and while I can still tell when she's at "that time of the month" during the warm part of the year, she has been SO much better since I started her on raspberry leaf. She is currently on Smartpak's SmartMare Harmony; it's one of the main ingredients. If you have a stand of the herb I do recommend trying it with Carmen. :)