Gina’s New Stifles

Years ago, my friend next door told me, “You know, I think if you got Gina injected, you’d have a nice Second Level horse.” Gina isn’t making her Second Level debut any time soon, but I did have her stifles injected recently.

Since I got Gina eight (!!!) years ago, she’s had a slight hitch in her giddyup. She’s never lame, but she’s often stiff and sounds like a bowl of Rise Krispies when she moves. She works out of the stiffness after a few minutes of walking although the snap-crackle-pop sounds persist. I put her on an MSM supplement a few years ago, which definitely helped. Regular work also keeps her moving well, and she doesn’t show signs of discomfort.

“If you and these children don’t ride me you won’t have to worry about my soundness or comfort.” -Gina, probably

Hunting season ended back in April, so Gina had several weeks off. When I got on her a few weeks ago, she felt stiffer than usual in her hindquarters. It took her most of our ride to feel normal, which was concerning. So when my friend Holly needed me to trailer her gelding to the vet clinic for a lameness exam, I stuck Gina on the trailer, too.

Gina’s lameness exam didn’t reveal anything unusual or worrisome. She’s a 22 year old horse who moves better than you might expect for her age. She flexed pretty sound, but my vet picked up on what I’d suspected was the problem: there was a slight hitch in Gina’s stifles. My vet thought it was probably the result of some mild arthritis- not uncommon for a horse Gina’s age. She recommended injecting the femoropatellar joint with Hyvisc, a drug that’s designed to mimic naturally occurring synovial fluid.

After her injections, Gina got stuck with babysitting duty for a weekend. She’s usually turned out with Candy in my big front pasture, but I didn’t want to risk her wading into the pond and exposing the injection sites to whatever bacteria live in there. Madigan was unfazed by the change, and the two of them spent all weekend ignoring each other.

Gina felt terrible on her first post-injection ride and I got real worried real fast. Her hindquarters felt weirdly loose, like she couldn’t manage to coordinate them into any gait that normal horses perform. This was definitely not what I paid $500 for!

Gina jumped this tiny crossrail with basically no drama. DEFINITELY THE JOINT JUICE.

Fortunately, the next time I rode her, she felt super. She moved really well and seemed to be comfortable. Her usual stiffness at the beginning of the ride wasn’t totally eliminated, but she worked out of it quicker than normal. She was so relaxed and floaty that I briefly considered entering her in a local hunter show next month. (But it’s like a $275 entry fee so it’s not happening.) I even set up a crossrail AND SHE JUMPED IT. I haven’t pointed her at any kind of jump outside the hunt field in years because it never ends well! If regular stifle injections keep her doing that, the vet can take all my money.

I feel vaguely guilty for not considering joint injections sooner. Vague guilt seems to be my theme this year- first with Candy’s ulcers and now with Gina’s stifles. (At least Moe and Madigan don’t seem to have any undiagnosed medical problems? Yet?) I’m glad Gina seems more comfortable- that’s all I really want. And perhaps we’ll schlep down to a less expensive h/j schooling show later this summer after all!

Back in the Saddle

It’s been a very rainy spring so far, but last week had a few consecutive days of hot, sunny weather. That meant I could both mow my hugely overgrown lawn and ride in my neighbor’s outdoor arena! On Thursday, I opted to ride first, and tacked up Gina right after she finished breakfast. Gina wasn’t happy about it; she’s fully embraced living life as a grumpy old mare. She’s also apparently very committed to being a hunt horse. As soon as I got on, she attempted to trot off as briskly as she does when she’s following the hounds.

Please enjoy recycled photos because I ran my phone over with the lawnmower on Thursday and have no new media.

I spent about twenty minutes reminding Gina that she’s actually a well-training riding horse who did hunters and dressage before foxhunting full-time. I only have myself to blame for her attitude and condition, though. She spent the majority of 2017 and half of 2018 being pregnant. The only work she’s done since foaling is hunting! It’s no wonder she lacks the strength and condition to do things like make a 20 meter circle without swinging her hindquarters out wildly. Even though her only job is hunting, I need to incorporate more dressage work into her routine to help her build and maintain strength. Gina’s not the only one who’s out of shape. Ten minutes of trotting in my jumping saddle had me feeling the burn!

I logged our ride with the Equisense. It’s so interesting to compare each horse’s data. Moe, Candy, and Gina all feel and look different, of course, but it’s neat to see measurable differences in the way they move. Gina’s got a big, floaty trot with lots of suspension. It’s bouncy to ride and beautiful to see. Her trot elevation typically ranges between 9 and 10 centimeters. Candy is a very average mover with a smooth, comfortable trot. Her trot elevation is usually in the 5 to 6 centimeter range.

Basically what my ride with Candy looked like on Sunday.

On Sunday, I got on Candy for the first time in a month. I was not optimistic about how our ride would go. Candy was having A Day- she trembled in her stall after eating and spooked in the crossties at something. (A lead rope? A fly mask? Spirits of the dead?) I tacked her up anyway and headed to the indoor arena. We stood around while a kid finished her lesson and the friend I was riding with did some groundwork. Candy settled down, but was anxious when I mounted. She walked off as soon as I put my foot in the stirrup, so I laid across her back on my stomach until she stopped. It didn’t take long- she seemed totally confused after a couple of steps. I slid off, walked her back to the mounting block, and she stood politely until I told her to walk.

Aside from that minor hiccup, we had a very pleasant ride. We stuck to a walk and trot; I want to keep the work positive and easy right now. Candy was calm and attentive throughout our ride, and I was surprised and happy. A month off seems to be just what she needed- now I need to figure out what schedule works for her.

I’m not sure how much riding I’ll do this week. Heavy rain is forecasted for most of this week, which means the outdoor arena, hay meadow, and most trails will be too muddy for riding. My neighbor’s natural horsemanship trainer is in town until the end of the month, so her indoor arena has limited availability because he has lessons booked. All the rain is great for my pasture and this year’s hay crop, but not great for my riding schedule!

Summer Plans

Now that I have free time again, I’m attempting to put together a plan for the summer. The horses are all woefully out of the shape; I don’t think I’ve ridden at all since closing hunt last month! All three horses look healthy and shiny and came through winter in good condition.

Handsome Moe

I have decided to retire Moe from competition. We had a perfectly nice schooling show season at First Level last year, and I have zero desire to take him to rated dressage shows or pursue Second Level. He celebrated his 24th birthday on May 2, and he’s as sound and cheerful as ever. I plan to spend the summer logging trail hours for the Thoroughbred Incentive Program’s Recreational Riding Program. A friend’s horse-crazy daughter loves him and wants to take lessons on him this summer, so he may get out to a couple of schooling shows and bop around at Intro Level. You know, if he doesn’t get back into the habit of bucking his lesson children off. My plan for the summer is to ride him once or twice a week.

All hunting, all the time for the Queen

Gina reached the the 25-hour recreational riding mark earlier this year. She seems happiest trail riding and foxhunting, so I’ll continue to do that with her. The hunting season won’t begin until November or December, but Gina needs to stay legged up through the summer. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to learn to whip. Gina is definitely my best candidate for a whip horse: she’s steady, reliable, and doesn’t mind going alone. And she’s smart- she pays attention to the hounds. In the field, her ears are constantly flicking to hear the pack and she’s always got an eye on the hounds. Learning to whip is more of a project for myself, but I do need to get Gina used to a hunt whip and keep her in good shape. My plan for the summer is to ride her once or twice a week.

“I’M NOT A PROBLEM”

Problem child Candy has been much less problematic since starting daily ulcer medication. She still does weird stuff sometimes (like stand in her stall and tremble after eating breakfast) but is overall better. I’m cautiously optimistic that she’ll turn into a useful horse. I want to incorporate ground poles and cavaletti in our dressage rides. Ideally, once she’s comfortable with those, I can introduce jumps. (That seems very far away right now, though.) My big goal is to get Candy back in the hunt field. I hunted on her while Gina was pregnant; she was so frazzled and stressed that neither of us had a good time. This summer, I want to trail ride her or hack her in the hay meadow once a week. My plan is to ride her two to three times a week.

A week’s worth of rain made everything pretty soggy, but I think it’ll be dry enough to get out next week. I’m anxious to get back in the saddle and working towards some kind of goal!

Earning my colors

Whew, nearly a month has passed since my last post- time flies when you’re having fun, I suppose! The last month hasn’t been particularly interesting. I went trail riding a few times; the weather has been decidedly spring-like in the last few weeks. Gina, Candy, and Moe have all been out on the trails. Work has picked up, too. The store’s spring/summer orders are nearly all in and processed, and the mobile unit has already hit the road for two local events.

I spent this weekend foxhunting and working/auditing at the local dressage club’s spring symposium. I was eager to go hunting, as it’s been difficult for me to get out much this season. Several hunts were canceled due to poor weather- freezing sleet, extreme cold, awful rain. Several others were rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday, inevitably when I had commitments on Sunday. Saturday was Closing Hunt, and I was determined to go! I arranged for a coworker to cover the mobile unit at the symposium for me, scrubbed the dirt from Gina’s coat on Friday, and stuck a bottle of prosecco in the trailer.

Saturday dawned humid, warm, and sunny. For once, I arrived to the hunt with enough time to socialize before tacking up and getting on. Carrying around an open bottle of bubbly and topping off people’s mimosas is perhaps the best way to ensure you see everyone! I eventually made it back to my trailer and onto my horse just in time to set off with first field. It was a relatively short but fast-paced hunt. Gina was perfect- sometimes she’s too keen, but she was rateable and pleasant on Saturday. The day got hot quickly, which was hard on the hounds. We hacked in after about an hour and a half.

Hunt breakfast was a festive affair with a big crowd. (Hunting is a little like religion- just as some people only make it to church for Christmas and Easter, some people only make it out for Opening and Closing Hunt!) The big draw of Closing Hunt is the awards: buttons, colors, and field hunter of the year. Last year, I received my buttons and this year I was very pleased to receive my colors!

For those unfamiliar with hunting traditions, this means I have earned the privilege of wearing the Hunt’s colors and buttons. The Masters feel I’ve demonstrated knowledge of the sport and its etiquette and protocol, am a capable and proficient rider, and have participated in and contributed to the hunt’s activities. As a member with colors, I’m entitled to ride at the front of my chosen field (behind the field master, of course).

Now, how better to celebrate this occasion than with a new hunt coat for next season? I’ve been looking for an excuse to replace mine anyway. It’s an old wool blend that’s neither comfortable nor stylish. I have my eye on the Irideon Kismet and the Grand Prix Classic. It’s tempting to go wild and get a shadbelly to wear approximately three times per year, too! Other hunting attire I’ll upgrade are my boots- a pair of dress boots are in order to replace the field boots I’ve been getting away with- and a new helmet to replace my too-old one.

My goal for next hunting season is to begin learning to whip. Whippers-in are staff members who assist the Huntsman with the discipline and behavior of the hounds in the hunt field. I need to become more familiar with the pack; the only hound I can really pick out of the crowd is Titan. (How could I forget him after our fateful drive from Tennessee to Oklahoma in 2015?) I also need to get Gina used to a hunt whip, which I don’t think will be a big problem (other than the problem of acquiring a hunt whip). Several of my hunting friends have whipped, so I know I can count on them for advice!

Another goal for next season is to get Candy back in the field. I’d like to spend the summer building positive trail riding experiences for her and take her out second or third field a couple of times next season. Gina will eventually retire and hopefully Candy can fill her shoes!

I’m happy to close out another successful season with Harvard Fox Hounds and grateful to do it on a good horse with good friends!

Reflections on 2018

It’s easy for me to look back on 2018 and declare it the shittiest year ever. My eagerly anticipated foal was euthanized after being in and out of the vet clinic for a month. The vet bill incurred by Marrakesh and Gina’s care was staggering and dealt an enormous blow to my finances. Candy made little to no progress towards becoming a replacement for either of my aging senior horses. I feel like I accomplished nothing this year.

I’ve been wallowing in self-loathing for at least six months; Marrakesh’s death made me feel sad, disappointed, and completely demotivated to do anything equine-related. I had a few bursts of zealous inspiration, like when a dressage guru friend suggested a new regime for Candy over the summer. When work travel and Candy’s heel grab derailed that plan, I quickly sunk back into a demoralized and unhappy state. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right- I failed at horse breeding, I failed at horse training, I failed at budgeting.

Dwelling on all the ways I failed this year isn’t very productive, though. It actually makes me feel more disheartened and confused. I’m normally a cheerfully positive and aggressively optimistic person- just ask my friends. (They’ll tell you how annoying it is sometimes.)

Instead of continuing to revel in unhappiness, I’m going to assess what went well this year and use that to motivate myself to set goals and make a plan to achieve them in 2019.

  1. Moe had a really great year. We kicked off 2018 babysitting our friends at a cross-country outing. I’d taken jumping off Moe’s plate due to EPM and small ulcer scars on his eyes that I was afraid might be affecting his vision. And, you know, because he’s 23. I had such a great time on him that day! We also had a good year competing at First Level at local dressage shows, and ended up year-end champions for both eastern and western region schooling shows and fifth place overall.

    “WHEE!”
  2. Gina is alive and well. I’m happy Gina’s pregnancy, foaling, and recovery were totally normal. While losing Marrakesh was devastating, I’m glad nothing went wrong with Gina. She might be a grumpy old hag, but she’s my grumpy old hag- not to mention my best hunt horse!

  3. I learned new techniques and practices. I had ground work lessons with Candy, learned about reiki for horses and the Masterson Method, and discovered that there’s definitely a place for longeing in a horse’s training program.

  4. I traveled to fun places. In April, I went home to Nashville for a weekend to ferry my mom to and from eye surgery and visited with my very best friend while I was there. Two of my friends who’d never been to Land Rover Kentucky before made the journey to the Bluegrass State with me. I worked at Dressage At Devon in September and met Stacey and Klein of The Jumping Percheron there. I went to Denver to see Johnny’s family for Thanksgiving. Traveling can be kind of a pain in the ass with all of the animals, but I’m always glad to go places!

When I look at this list, it doesn’t seem like 2018 was that bad. It still feels bad- dead foals and debt don’t lead to warm fuzzy vibes-but it could be so much worse. On to 2019, right?