Thursday, May 19, 2011

Unofficial lockdown

I'm sure most of you have already heard about the outbreak of EHV-1.  There are confirmed cases in a number of Western states; apparently horses brought it back to their home states from a cutting competition in Utah.  Two horses in Colorado have been euthanized, and as of right now there are 8 confirmed cases in the state.  This is a scary disease because it is highly contagious, acts quickly.  Also it is the neurological form of the disease that is going around, so from what I've read the Rhino flu vaccine doesn't protect against it.  There's nothing you can really do if you think your horse has been exposed, except hope and take precautions that it doesn't spread even further.

Unfortunately, a horse from our barn went to a show on Saturday that several horses from the Utah show also attended.  The horse was separated from the others once we found out, but that wasn't for a couple of days after the show.  He was from the 5-stall barn, which means that we can hope that even if some of the horses get sick, it won't spread to the 12-stall barn, the 20-stall (indoor) barn, or the corrals.  However, it does mean that Panama won't be playing with Spaghetti for a few weeks, until we're sure everyone is okay, since Spaghetti is in the 5-stall.

Our barn is also on unofficial lockdown, as are most other barns in the area.  They've announced that any horse leaving the property won't be allowed back on.  Most upcoming shows have been canceled anyway, but that does mean no trail rides, either.  Most barns are also asking that if you come from another barn you wash your hands, and if possible change your clothes, before handling their horses.

One thing that's become quite obvious in all of this is that there is a very fine line between taking precautions and panicking.  Unofficial lockdown, quarantining the exposed horse, etc. are all the proper precautions to take, but some people are really losing their marbles over this, even though there is very little we can do at this point except be careful and wait.  I'm just hoping that this will all be over quickly, and none of the horses at our barn will be affected.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crazy weather and a new friend

I'm sorry I haven't blogged much lately.  The truth is, I haven't ridden much either, because the weather has been so bad.  Last week we got two days and nights of straight rain, with temperatures in the 30s — my trainer, who lives 30 minutes south of here, actually got 6 inches of snow instead of just rain.  We get a nice day here and there, and then it rains some more.

Panama has virtually no winter coat left (since it was in the 70s and even the 80s a couple of days before that), so I've been blanketing him when the rain gets really bad.  He has to stand outside to eat, and he tends to get chilled when he gets wet.  The new horse stands outside in pouring rain and doesn't seem to care, while Panama gets cold if he gets even slightly damp.  Go figure.

The new horse is another topic I've forgotten to bring up.  He's a short but stocky black gelding, just a year younger than Panama, and he's been here for a couple of weeks now.  Savvy, who has a very strong alpha personality, diligently kept him and Panama separated for the first week and a half or so, but now she seems to have accepted him, except for the occasional pinned ears to remind him who is boss.  Panama and Sammy are starting to play and hang out together.  It's good for Panama to have a friend he can play with in his corral, I think, and I love Sammy's personality — a little submissive, but totally sweet.  Doesn't he look sweet?

New pasturemate

Hopefully all of this crazy weather is about done. I'm ready for summer!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My 850-pound toddler

I haven't ridden since my lesson last Thursday, when we worked on obstacle training.  With Mother's Day and a whole lot of other things, I've just been too busy.  I had a farrier appointment yesterday, and I really thought about riding afterward, but I ultimately decided I wasn't feeling like it.  The wind was up and so was Panama, and I just wasn't in a mood to deal with that.

I wanted to share a funny story, though.  I often say that having a horse is like having a thousand-pound toddler (or 850 pounds, in my case, as Panama is a small horse).  Yesterday I discovered yet another way in which this is true.

I was on the phone with Michael while Panama was in the cross ties, and he was fussing and fretting all over the place: pawing at the ground, whinnying, shuffling around, pooping, you name it.  It was after the farrier appointment and I think he was pretty tired of standing around in the cross ties.

He is often fussy when I talk to someone while he's in the cross ties, and one of the things I do is to hold a handful of small rocks and tossing them in his direction if he starts pawing or rearing and stops responding to "Quit."  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not throwing them hard enough to hurt or scare him, just enough to ping his shoulder or make a little noise when they hit the wall.  If I have my gloves in my hand sometimes I'll chuck one of them at him instead.  It works -- he'll usually stop fussing and stand there quietly for a few minutes.

Yesterday, though, none of that was working.  Like I said, I think he'd just reached the end of his patience.  I hung up with my husband, put away the phone...

...and Panama immediately quieted and stood nicely, ears pricked expectantly, in the cross ties.

Now, I know that he doesn't understand telephones or anything, but this is the same behavior I get when I'm chatting with someone who's right there, so I think he probably does understand from my voice and lack of attention on him that it's a similar situation.  Panama seems to feel that when he is in the cross ties, he ought to be the focus of my attention, and all of those behaviors are the equivalent of a toddler acting out when Mom is on the phone.  In fact, I suspect he even poops in the cross ties in order to get my attention, because he knows I'll have to come clean it up.  It's just too coincidental that he poops any time I walk away for a few minutes!

Horses are such funny creatures, aren't they?


Friday, May 6, 2011

He's back!

My good pony is back, and the basket case that I've had since our disastrous trail ride a week ago is gone.

We had a lesson yesterday.  I didn't want to work on cantering or jumping, because my butt is still sore from my fall — it feels like I've got a knot on my seat bone, which makes anything where I have to sit back (or any chance that my butt might hit the saddle, like in jumping — I'm not great at keeping my butt out of the saddle yet) rather uncomfortable.  So instead, we worked with obstacles and despooking.

It wasn't like the jacket desensitization I did with him our last couple rides, where I did it because I had to — he was acting like a basket case about that stupid jacket.  Instead, Panama was calm and ready to face our desensitization work yesterday.  As a result, we were able to get stuff done, to forge ahead rather than focusing on getting him over his fears — if that makes sense.  My trainer set up a barrel, one of those poles made out of a broomstick that stands straight up and down, and a plastic jug (which he didn't care about one bit on the ground, only when it was stuck upside-down on top of the broomstick).  We trotted around everything for a bit, and Panama had that nice combination of being relaxed yet paying attention.

My trainer had me leg yield Panama sideways up to the barrel, which was a bit of a challenge — he's been suspicious of that, probably because the first time I ever got him to do it, I then dropped a sweatshirt onto the barrel, startling him.  He handled it well at the time, but he's gone back to being very suspicious of getting too close to the barrels.  I think my trainer wants me to be able to pick something up off of one barrel and carry it to the next, kind of like a relay race, without him being upset about it, but I wasn't comfortable doing any of that yesterday.

Then my trainer started setting up the barrel closer to the rail, and having us go through the space in between.  Panama isn't a big fan of tight places when I'm on his back — he seems to know that the saddle and my legs take up extra room, but not how much.  Plus he's still a little scared about getting too close to those barrels.  But he was being very good yesterday, relaxed and engaging his brain instead of blindly following his instincts, so he walked through without too much fuss.  My trainer started putting my sweatshirt and her jacket on the barrel and the rail, changing where they were every time he's get used to it one way, and we're pretty sure one of his triggers is bright colors — he was more or less okay with my black sweatshirt, but her aquamarine jacket earned a lot of nervous stares from him.

My trainer also commented on how noticeable the change in him was the minute I dismounted — he's scared of very little if I'm on the ground, even if it scared him 2 minutes ago when I was in the saddle.  I think this probably has something to do with my reaction — I'm anticipating him being scared, and riding differently.  So yesterday's obstacle training was important not just as practice for him, but practice for me — I need to learn to overcome my instincts, too, and ride him like I'm not worried he's going to freak out.

We did all of this in the safety of the indoor arena, but I'm going to start taking him outside this weekend, and if he continues acting calm and relaxed like this, I'll work with him on the obstacle course behind the outdoor arena.  I don't know how much obstacle training like this really helps keep him from spooking, but like I said, at the very least it's good practice for me!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Judging by Panama's behavior since our disastrous trail ride on Friday, it will probably take a little work to get back to where we were before.  I rode Sunday and Monday, and both days he was a nervous wreck to begin.  He did eventually settle down both days, and we were able to get some decent work done, but I think it'll be some time before we can get back to riding in the field on our own.

First of all, I'm positive now that it was my jacket hood flipping up in the wind that caused him to lose his marbles on Friday.  He's always been rather scared of this jacket, because it's a light jacket that is somewhat rainproof and windproof, so it makes some noise when I take it on or off — as well as in the wind, evidently.  I've had to desensitize him to it three or four times now, counting the work we've done with it since Friday. 

On Friday when I rode him in the arena after our incident on the trail, I noticed he was scared of any sound I made with the jacket while we were riding.  Simply scrubbing my fingers back and forth on the jacket made him throw his head up, ears back, and lurch forward like he wanted to bolt.  I figured it could have been that he was still nervous and fired up from bolting and running home, but on Sunday he was still behaving much the same way.  I dismounted, took off my jacket, and just messed around with it and him until he stopped jumping around like a confused grasshopper.  By the time I stopped, I could rub it all over his body, drop it on the ground beside him, shake it over the saddle, etc. with a minimum of reaction.

Then I got back on.  As a rule of thumb, we don't go faster until he is calm, because trotting an anxious Panama is insane (let alone cantering).  We walked for quite a while, and then finally got some decent trotting in each direction.  I was even able to work a little on circling to get him to maintain a steady pace at the trot, making sure I was weighting the outside stirrup and using my inside leg as we circled (per a conversation with Kate in the comments on her blog).  It took some work, but eventually he calmed down and stopped rushing, and we were able to achieve some nice trotting in either direction.

Yesterday I went out in the morning to ride too.  It was clear right away what kind of ride I was going to have, as several of our trail buddies were getting ready to go out on the trail, and he was extremely anxious about being left behind.  (I, of course, had no intention of going, but he didn't know that.)  Although it was sunny when I arrived at the barn, storm clouds were coming in over the mountains by the time I was ready to ride, so we went inside.

Even indoors, where Panama is usually very good, he was quite anxious.  He repeatedly spooked at the sounds of the horses in turnout on the other side of the wall — something he hasn't spooked about in a very long time.  Once again, I got down and did some desensitization work with my jacket, as he was still throwing up his head and threatening to bolt if it made any sound at all.  And once again, it took some time before he was able to settle down and get some work done.  Eventually he did, however, and we were even able to canter for a few laps (but no more, as I found that caused pain to the bruise on my bottom more than anything else).

When we came out from our ride, I discovered that it was snowing, so the storm coming in could have been affecting Panama's peace of mind.  However, I think that most likely the incident on Friday has set him back, and we'll have to do some work to get back to where we were previously before we do anything too exciting, such as another trail ride.


Monday, May 2, 2011

One step forward, two steps back

I haven't blogged all weekend because I had a couple of disappointing rides Thursday and Friday — not to mention my first fall in months.

On Thursday we had a lesson.  We rode outside, which Panama had been doing very well with, until then.  I'd been using circling and the occasional one-rein stop to get him to stop speeding up going down the straight sides of the arena, and it had been working fairly well.  However, he has recently been worse about throwing his inside shoulder in and "falling" through his turns, so my trainer was having me halt and back him for speeding up instead.  Unfortunately, I am fairly certain that approach makes things worse, because he gets frustrated and tense, stops using his brain, and starts rushing even more.  It's kind of an "I'm getting in trouble so I don't want to do this anymore" response.

After the lesson ended, instead of finishing up right away I took Panama out into the field behind the arena.  I was pleased to see that right away, he became the same calm, relaxed horse that he was at the beginning of the lesson, before he got frustrated.  We did a few of the obstacles without any issues, even some that he was having trouble with a few weeks ago, when he was too hyped up to go on a trail ride.  Then we crisscrossed back and forth through the field, and he stayed calm and relaxed — a big step, since the last time I rode him alone in the field, he bolted and I fell.  I was glad the ride ended on such a positive note, but I was still frustrated from the lesson, because since he'd started rushing again, I felt like we'd taken several steps back from the progress we'd made outside so far this year.

On Friday several of us met out at the barn for a trail ride, but it was windy and two boarders decided to ride inside.  Spaghetti's owner and I chose to ride our horses in the field for a little bit.  We started out in the outdoor arena, moving into the field when we were sure they were going to be good, and then went out into the field.  The wind seemed to have calmed a bit, and they were still so relaxed and happy that we decided to go a short distance on the trail.

It was a lovely trail ride, right up until it wasn't anymore, if you know what I mean.  We discussed turning around several times, and each time decided that they were being so good, we'd go a short distance farther.  Then we passed the riding stables in the park, which for some reason made Panama very tense and anxious — I think they might have put a new piece of farm equipment out front.  At the end of the pasture, we stopped to wait for Spaghetti, but the wind chose that moment to pick up in a BIG way.

Panama tucked his butt under and scooted forward, so I turned him to face into the wind.  He didn't like that either, and turned back around, but then the wind blew up his butt again.  He was trying to bolt, so I used one rein to pull his head around, and we spun and spun and spun.  I was starting to lose my balance a little from the crazy spinning, and he kept dancing around in a way that was throwing me forward in the saddle, A few times I wrestled him back under control, only to have him start up again.

And then I realized the wind was blowing the hood of my jacket up so that it flapped against my helmet.  I'm pretty sure that's what finally did it.  After a few more spins, Panama simply took off with his head cranked to the side.  He was panicked beyond trying to listen to me.  I realized we were headed for the road, and I think that realization was why I ended up falling — whether because I decided to give up or simply because the fear made me freeze up, I have no idea.  I did try to hang onto the reins as I fell, hoping he'd stop, but when I realized I was being dragged I let go.

Next thing I knew, I was back up on my feet, and Panama was bolting back and forth in the field across the street.  Spaghetti was fighting hard to go with him, and after a struggle that looked very similar to how mine felt, his owner fell too.  Once Spaghetti joined Panama, they started running away from home, deeper into the park, but luckily they realized it quickly and hightailed it home.

We got a ride back to the barn from one of the girls at the riding stables, where our horses were, of course, already caught and waiting for us.  Even though my butt hurt from the fall, I got right back up on Panama; but Spaghetti's owner was more hurt than I, and called it a day.  After 15 minutes or so, I did too.

I'd lost my sunglasses in the fall (which are magnetic and popped off my regular frames when I hit the ground), and Spaghetti had shown up back at the barn minus one of his stirrups, so after helping his owner get situated I headed back to look for our lost stuff.  I managed to find my sunglasses but not the stirrup.  In the search, though, I was amazed at 1) how torn up the ground was from my battle with Panama, and 2) how rocky the area was where I fell.  Initially I thought I was really lucky not to have landed on a rock, but after a two-inch bright purple bruise showed up on one butt cheek yesterday, I think I might have actually glanced off of one on the way down.  I've been sitting a little cockeyed, as you can probably imagine, but that seems to be the worst of it!

My ride this evening did yield some improvements, but I'll write about that tomorrow.  Two eventful rides are quite enough for one blog post!