Harvard Fox Hounds hunter pace recap

The weekend after I returned from US Dressage Finals, I took Gina to the Harvard Fox Hounds hunter pace. My team was composed of three other hunt members, and we were out to win!

The day couldn’t have been more perfect. It was sunny and cool, so my group estimated that the mystery time would be faster than last year’s time. (I’m glad someone else remembered what last year’s winning time was, as I spent last year clinging to Candy as she cantered sideways through the woods for two and a half hours.) We settled on two hours as our goal time. The hunter pace course is about nine miles long, so we knew we’d have to intersperse periods of walking with trotting and cantering.

We headed east, and picked up a canter once we crossed Flint Creek. This part of the course is a huge, open hay meadow with jumps along the edge of the field. My teammate led the way over the first few jumps, then let Gina and I take over as we headed uphill towards the densely wooded trail that comprises most of the first half of the course. Gina felt fantastic- she was eagerly moving forward and looking for the jumps. We had a couple of funny distances, but nothing we couldn’t sort out. My teammates’ horses seemed just as excited; everyone was jumping well and behaving themselves.

The wooded trails are pretty narrow and twisty, so we kept to a walk through most of that area. We climbed up hills, carefully shimmied down hills, and trotted when the trails were good enough for us to do so. When we reached the halfway point for a mandatory five minute rest we were dead on our planned pace.

As we headed out on the western half of the course, Gina’s energy flagged. I opted to skip all of the jumps on that half of the ride. Gina’s old, not extraordinarily fit right now, and there’s no reason to pick a fight. I know she’ll jump whatever I need her to on the hunt field!

The second half of the hunter pace course is land I’ve hunted over frequently, so I had a good feel for the pace. My team was happy to spend most of this half walking and trotting. We cantered through the finish flags at 2:01:10. Afterwards, I left Gina at the trailer with a full hay net and bucket of water and joined my friends at the potluck lunch. Eventually, the last of the teams on course finished and we eagerly waited to see how we’d placed.

The mystery time was 2:03, so we were close enough for second place! The winning team was just 38 seconds off the pace.

I had such a great time at this year’s competition. It’s such a pleasure to be back on Gina, especially after a year of hunting Candy. Candy might someday be comfortable on the field, but in the meantime, I’ll take all the time on Gina I can get!

Cubbing with Harvard Fox Hounds

On Saturday, I opted to skip the dressage club’s new test symposium and go foxhunting instead. (I mean, is this even a choice?)

Harvard Fox Hounds has pushed Opening Hunt back to December for the last couple of years, which I think has been good for everyone. The weather here remains very warm throughout the fall, and those temperatures are hard on hounds and horses. An extended cubbing season has given Harvard’s young hounds more opportunities to get out and given our newish hunt master more practice. Plus, it’s always fun to get some extra mileage out of fun cubbing attire!

Despite thoroughly grooming Gina on Thursday afternoon, some kind of mud-encrusted swamp creature greeted me on Saturday morning. Gina had mud everywhere: on her forehead, in her luxurious tail, all over her back. I put her in the trailer and headed out anyway.

We arrived at Flint Creek in enough time for me to scrape most of the mud off and greet all of our hunting friends. All of Harvard’s off-season activities seem to have fallen on weekends I had work commitments; I hadn’t seen anyone since spring! Once I got on, Gina was raring to go. She fidgeted anxiously while the hounds were rounded up and guided down to the draw.

Once the hounds were cast, they were off immediately! Gina and I were right up front behind our field master, so we took off after the pack. The initial chase led us up a winding trail at a brisk canter. Gina felt super- she was as surefooted and steady as ever and stopped to stand quietly while we waited to see where the hounds would take us. After that first run, the hunt was much more sedate. We spent most of our time at a trot or walk and had plenty of time to stop and share flasks with our friends.

We were out for about two hours. Gina never lagged or tired, though she was very sweaty and hot. I haven’t clipped her yet, and it was a balmy 72 degrees on Saturday! She cooled out on our long hack back to the trailers and showed no signs of soreness or stiffness yesterday.

I’m incredibly happy to be back hunting on Gina! She’s so good, and it’s a relief to ride a steady, experienced horse instead of a wild green bean. Opening Hunt is December 8, so the next month and a half will mean lots of conditioning work for Gina and for me!

Experimenting with the Masterson Method

A few weeks ago, one of the women I know through yoga class approached me about coming out to the barn. She lives nearby and has been out in the past with the gal who does reiki on the horses. She’d read about something called The Masterson Method and wanted to try it out. I told her I was more than happy to have her over- I’m always game for trying new things.

Before she came over, I read up on The Masterson Method, as I wasn’t familiar with it. The technique was developed by equine massage therapist Jim Masterson, who was the official massage therapist for the USET endurance teams from 2006 to 2014. The basic premise is that practitioners release tension in a horse’s body via an interactive process of touches and releases. Anyone can learn to do it through the books, DVDs, and YouTube videos available. You can also become a certified practitioner through what sounds like a fairly rigorous and lengthy process.

Masterson summarizes the method with “search, response, stay, release”. The key to achieving releases with this technique is being patient: you must apply pressure lightly and move slowly.

 

Masterson suggests beginning on the bladder meridian. It’s a major acupuncture meridian that runs down each side of the horse’s body about two inches parallel to the topline and down the side of the hind leg. It runs through three major junctions (poll, withers, lumbar), connects to other meridians, and is easy to reach. You start at the horse’s poll and slowly move your fingers down the horse’s neck along the meridian until the horse gives some indication of tension (“search”). The amount of pressure you should use varies from horse to horse, but it’s better to start very lightly. The horse can indicate tension in a variety of ways: blinking, fidgeting, nibbling (“response”). Once the horse has shown you where it’s carrying tension, you keep your fingers on the tense spot until the horse releases (“stay”). Horses will indicate release by licking and chewing, lowering the head, sighing (“release”).

Candy was our first guinea pig. She’s a pretty friendly horse, for all that she’s riddled with anxiety. The Masterson Method books and videos suggest having the horse loose in a stall while you work on it, but Candy seemed content to hang out in the shady part of the pasture with us. My friend began at Candy’s poll on the left side and as she worked her way down Candy’s neck, Candy started to fidget. She didn’t seem interested in leaving altogether, but she was clearly uncomfortable. My friend kept her fingers very gently on Candy’s neck until Candy lowered her head and licked and chewed. She kept going along the bladder meridian, pausing any time Candy seemed to respond. Candy gave several more releases. She seemed super into the technique; it was maybe the most relaxed I’d ever seen her.

When my friend switched to the other side of Candy’s body, Candy was way less relaxed. Her eyes lost the half-closed sleepy look and she fidgeted more often. She let out a big yawn after a couple of minutes, and then walked away. Candy wasn’t upset or distressed, but she had very clearly had all she could take.

The next time my friend came out, she wanted to work on Moe. Moe’s personality is much different from Candy’s. She is affable and pleasant without being pushy. He’s aggressively friendly- he loves people and is always, always glad to see me (or Johnny, or any other human being). I thought he would be totally into The Masterson Method, but he was definitely not! I brought him into the barn and held him in the aisle while my friend worked. He fidgeted constantly and seemed very uncomfortable. He gave the tiniest releases, but his attitude was definitely one of tolerance instead of enjoyment. His behavior is intriguing- he doesn’t seem like a tense mess, but is he stiffer or more nervous than he lets on?

My friend did a little work on Gina after we put Moe back in the pasture. Gina dropped into a zen-looking state almost immediately. Her eyes closed, her lower lip drooped, and her ears flopped. She relaxed completely. I was very surprised- Gina’s not as anxious as Candy, but she isn’t an easygoing horse. She didn’t appear to have much tension to let go, but it was clear she was enjoying the attention and technique.

I’m excited to practice The Masterson Method on my horses myself! It was really interesting to see how they responded, and it was helpful for me to watch someone work on them (even if that someone is inexperienced). If you’re interested in trying it, I recommend watching videos on the YouTube channel or reading articles on the website.

Have you ever tried this variety of equine massage? What about acupuncture or traditional equine massage?

Marrakesh and Gina come home

On Monday afternoon, my vet called me with an update on Marrakesh. He said that Marrakesh was doing very well; he acted spunky and alert, nursed regularly, and best of all, could come home! I told the vet I’d plan to pick them up on Tuesday morning.

When I arrived at the clinic, the vet met me to give me some discharge instructions. Marrakesh had turned up with a fever and a slightly elevated white blood cell count. After a thorough examination, the vet felt it was due to an infection at the site of the IV catheter. He felt Gina and baby could still go home, as Marrakesh didn’t seem lethargic. The vet gave me antibiotics to give baby twice a day and a few single-milliliter doses of Banamine to give him if the fever persisted.

I loaded the two of them in my trailer with help from the clinic staff and nervously drove home. One of my foxhunting friends happened to be at my neighbor’s place and helped me unload Gina and baby into my paddock. Gina looked thrilled to be outdoors. Marrakesh looked flabbergasted. He quickly took advantage of the space, though! He spent nearly an hour and a half trotting and cantering around. Gina followed him up and down the paddock and seemed to enjoy stretching her legs, too!

When I returned to the barn in the early evening, Gina was eager to eat dinner. I fed her in her stall and corralled Marrakesh with some help from my neighbor’s husband and another friend. He was decidedly unexcited about having medication squirted into his mouth, but didn’t do anything terribly naughty.  (I mean, he’s a tiny week old foal- what’s he going to do other than give me some serious stink eye?)

Johnny and I wrangled him this morning while Gina ate breakfast. His temperature is still elevated, but he continues to be bright-eyed, active, and nursing well. I dosed him with Banamine and antibiotics, and left him to his own devices. I’ll feel less anxious once his temperature comes down, but I’m glad he seems to be doing okay despite it.

He and Gina are very frustrated about flies, though. I have a mask on Gina, but haven’t been putting any kind of fly spray on her or Marrakesh. His tiny tail swishes constantly and he stomps his tiny feet all the time. Is there anything I can use that will be safe for the two of them?

Visiting Gina and Marrakesh

I headed down to the vet clinic to visit Gina and Marrakesh after feeding Candy and Moe this morning. Gina appeared happy to see me (and the big container of cookies I brought). I let myself in her stall where she was watching over her sleeping colt.

I wanted to cry when I saw him lying in a corner of the stall with a bandage around his neck holding an IV catheter in place and a nasogastric tube on his tiny muzzle. Flies swarmed on his face and sheath, and he looked small and thin and helpless. I sat next to him and petted him gently; he woke up briefly, adjusted his position, and went back to sleep.

A few minutes later, the veterinarian treating Marrakesh came by to say hello and give me an update. This vet diagnosed and treated Moe for EPM last fall, and I was glad to see a familiar face. The vet told me that they’d noticed a mild swelling in baby’s sheath and jaw, and that his protein level had dipped a little. They’d administered Lasix, which brought the swelling down, and reduced the amount of fluids he was receiving intravenously. The vet thought the swelling looked significantly reduced; he also thought that Marrakesh didn’t need supplemental fluids any more.

His poor little face!

While I was there, the vet and a tech helped Marrakesh get up. He seemed much steadier while standing today, and the vet told me he thought baby’s muscle tone had improved. Marrakesh walked around a bit before heading toward Gina’s flank to nurse. Gina was letting down a lot of milk, and some of it streamed onto baby’s head while he was suckling. He wasn’t a fan and proceeded to spend the next five minutes rubbing his face on his leg and Gina’s leg in an effort to get the wet sensation to stop. He made a few more laps around the stall before lying down in a mostly-coordinated fashion.

Nursing like a pro

The vet advised me that Marrakesh’s prognosis remains good even if he does look terribly puny right now. He told me that he’d been more lively earlier in the morning and had even tried to buck a little. I thought he looked a tiny bit sturdier and more solid. Gina continues to be a total champion. She’s producing plenty of milk and eating and drinking well. She’s also well behaved for the clinic staff who are in and out of her stall and handling her foal frequently.

Itchy and wet.

I’m really glad I live near a clinic with such a good team of vets and techs. I’m grateful for the assistance they’ve given Gina and Marrakesh, and I’m optimistic that they’ll help him overcome his rough start!

I can’t express how grateful I am for the words of encouragement and stories people have shared about foals who have turned out just fine after a rocky beginning. It’s heartening to hear!