Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The one in which I have a great idea that almost gets my husband killed

Since Ben was given the clear to go into riding rehab, and I was contemplating adding a new horsie to the string, I had what I thought was a flash-of-lighting-brilliant idea.

I have a wonderful, supportive husband who loves horses. I have a big pony in need of a slow buildup of rides. I love it when a plan comes together!

fat guy Genius

So, we talk, and both agree that rehab time would be perfect for A (husband in question) to get into riding more regularly.

We pick an evening and head out. The arena is pretty busy, with people and jumps. But, Benny likes having company so I wasn’t too worried.

I hopped on him first and did some walking and trotting. All seemed well. So, I passed the reins over. A took a few loops around the arena, picked up a trot and kept circling around the outside of the arena.

Then, it happened. The watering hose was hanging against the wall, which was unusual. A’s foot got caught in it. He shook it out, but then the host swung out and hit Bentley in the bum. Bentley, not appreciating being attacked by a giant snake, let out two huuuuge bucks. I don’t think anyone could have stuck it. I had one mystified onlooker tell me later she had no idea Ben was that athletic. A decided to bail off the back when presented with the option of jump standard or wall. 

He was conscious (thank you helmet), but was slow to get off the ground. An ambulance ride, copious amounts of morphine, an x-ray and a cat scan later revealed it to be a soft tissue injury in his lower back.

While we were relieved it wasn't a break (or worse), it is taking an incredibly long time to heal. It happened in June, and A is still feeling the effects.

Sigh. Perhaps not so genius. Luckily A and Ben are still best buddies. Ben was terrified, and wouldn’t go down that side of the arena for three rides after that. A is hoping to be back in the saddle soon. 

Looking innocent last fall

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Let Bentley be Bentley

Things have been a bit chaotic here this summer. We had a huge loss, a significant human injury (more on that later) and, amidst that, I decided it was time to make some decisions about Bentley.

Please note, this may come off whiny. For that, I apologize.

First off, I love my Benny. I have part owned/owned him for over a decade. He is the horse I consider to be the most complete reflection of me and how I train and interact with horses, good and bad. I will never sell him, and always consider myself solely responsible for his well being.

That said, he is a challenging case health-wise. After many years of trial and error, we have finally appeared to have worked out a management strategy for his allergies-to-everything. On a side note, my farrier recently described him as that poor kid at the playground with a fanny pack full of EpiPens because he is allergic to sun, grass, and pretty much everything else. 

I need the horse equivalent of this
Ben also has a long list of past injuries – hip issues, removed teeth, and the latest stifle injury. He’s rehabbed from them all quite nicely, but, added up, it has meant very little progression riding-wise over his 12 years. 

As with most horse owners, my priority will always be his comfort and happiness, so I feel selfish even saying that I have spent almost every summer a bit disappointed that it will be another year that I will not be able to progress and show. I hesitated with setting goals with him beyond basic training, because I fully expected something to happen that would blow those plans out of the water, as it has for at least the last three years that I have seriously focused on developing him.

This year was especially tough. We had a great winter, he was working wonderfully. Allergies, hips, and everything else were managed. I started to dream a little, and we set a goal to move up to first level by the end of the summer. It was maybe a week after that when he injured his stifle. I watched his topline disappear virtually in front of my eyes. When I started riding him to rehab him, it was like I was riding the 7-year-old Ben again. Not back to square one, but pretty close.

I ride on eggshells, worried about any not-quite-rightness. It may be part self-fulfilling prophecy, and I realize that I am very fortunate to have him relatively healthy and in my life. But, I also started feeling like it was also selfish of me to push him towards a competitive life, when that was not the path he was meant to be on.

I talked it over with a lot of people-mostly because I felt guilty, like I was giving up on him. I think he does have potential, and he likes his work. Am I considering throwing that all away?

I think my coach summed it up best, saying that I wasn’t giving up on him, I was just letting him be himself: a lovely goofball who is a safe, kind mount for almost anyone. He is a fun horse, and I won’t stop riding him and pushing him to reach the height of his potential. But, I’m happy if that potential reaches as far as our weekly trail rides and some relaxing time working on the basics in the arena. It’s not retirement, but a life of lowered expectations. So far he seems to be enjoying it. Me too. 

Not a bad place to be

Monday, 24 June 2013

In hand work

Yay and wonder, we have reached the end of our stall rest journey with an all clear to return to work. Now it is just some rehab-type work to build the muscles back, etc. etc. All good things.

One activity we did pick up over the course of the stall rest (other than OHMIGOD LEMME GRAZE I’M STARVING) was some work in hand.

I took a lesson with a local trainer who studies horse and human biomechanics. She has watched him under saddle before, and then she watched him trot down the straight side. He’s long had some hip issues that I’ve been dealing with, and she saw that as he walked he would dip his right hip (correct) but not dip his left hip (not correct), which was translating to stiffness throughout.

In short, our homework has been getting him to bring his left hind under himself when he’s working. We’ve been walking in small circles bent to the inside (of course). Then I use the handle end of a dressage whip like a leg aid with light touches on his side as he starts to lift the inside hind. Lots of halts are added in the mix to ensure he stays balanced and focused. The challenge for him is not swing his hindquarters out when he stops.
Then we try the same down the long side in a shoulder-in type movement. He has a tendency to fall on the forehand, and this exercise has given me a new level of understanding of the mechanics of it. In hand, you can see him start to speed up and lose his breaks. Part of this work is to challenge him to be more cautious and slow down. The focus is less on the speed on the walk and more about him recognizing how to balance himself and use his hind end.

First he did this: 

Then some of this while I took some photos for my friend:
Rubbing it in (literally) to his buddy that he's not working

We'll be getting his massage therapist back into the loop too.

Now, onto first rides. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Benny vs. the slow feeder hay net

In an ongoing effort to keep Benny sane while on stall rest, I have been brainstorming all manner of ways to keep him entertained besides offering the sweet release of sedatives. The lik-it was barely given one lick, never mind several, and quickly collected dust. A jolly ball just seemed like tempting the fate of the injury-driven horse gods. I will let you know now that this horse has even injured himself in a padded room - he scratched his cornea coming out of the anaesthetic after having a tooth removed surgically. Nowhere is safe. He is an absolute injury evil genius. The only thing that really seemed to keep him happy, for short periods at least, was to leave his mineral block in a black feed tub. He loves the block, and also loves to throw around the tub, so that helped. But that still didn't offer a long-term solution.

So I decided to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a webbed nylon vet-issue slow feeder hay net. Because the vet's office only has regular working hours, I trekked out from my job at lunch time to pick it up and take it to the farm. Benny did the horse equivalent of my dog's happy dinner dance while I filled it up (wearing my work clothes, of course), and watched it come into his pen with saucer eyes of delight.

Then came the disappointment.

He was able to squeak out about three pieces of hay, then gave me the horse equivalent of crossed arms and a look that clearly said "This. Is. Bulls***." He punched the bag with his nose, picked it up with his teeth and pouted. Eventually, his resolve to eat things triumphed, and he returned to the painful hay picking process. It was kind of like watching someone type on a computer keyboard with only their two index fingers. Hilarious, yet frustrating.

Mission accomplished I suppose given it seems to be helping him pass the time, but I can't help thinking this experienced is being banked somewhere in his brain, and I'm going to pay for it later.

The offensive hay net.

Bentley giving said hay net the cold shoulder. Hay net took no notice of the attitude coming its way.

Bentley also got a pony buddy to keep him company. He loves all manner of tiny horse folk, so he was pretty stoked by this development. Until, that is, I took him out to graze. Then pony no longer existed.

Lurking pony in the background.

Bite-y pony trying to get Benny's attention. It didn't work.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


And it's not the heat, especially here in the frigid north. It's a stifle injury for the Ben. From what I've heard and seen around the barn, my vet's thesis that all horses around here have been set to self-destruct seems to be more and more likely. Spring stupids? Message from the home planet? Hard to say.

It looks to just be a sprain, which is an incredible relief. I'm worried, sad, and disappointed, though. As much as I know that's part of the game, it's tough to watch my boy so unhappy, see his muscle tone seemingly melt before my eyes, and cancel all plans that I even considered making.

Being a 24/7 outdoor pony at a barn where no horses stay inside, he is not a fan of the stall rest. He loves his girlfriends, his pals across the fence and daily shenanigans. He's happy enough at night when it's quiet, and when the barn kitties keep him company in his hay pile, but the activity during peak riding times stresses him out. He was set up in an outdoor pen, but then the snowpocalypse hit and his happy pen became a massive mudhole. So, back inside we go. All manner of equine entertainment devices have gone untouched. So, I decided to put him on a slow-release sedative that my vet gave me to take the edge off.

I also have been enlisting others in entertaining him, including my long-suffering coach. My bestie let me ride her super awesome horse, and Bentley looked rather sad and confused by the whole process taking place right in front of his eyes. So, my coach was gracious enough to take the lead of a 1200-pound dog for an hour-long walk in the arena. He had a great time, relocating pylons and blocking coach's view of my riding. We think we may have him fetching pylons and setting up patterns by the end of his stall rest period.

I was also offered the use of a neighbor's donkey, but the complications with that option are a whole other story.

Not lame Bentley at a show last fall

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Osteopath magic

In searching for a solution to some of Benny's health problems, my vet recommended a local osteopath, who incorporates massage therapy, chiropractic work and acupressure in her treatments. Her first big job on Ben (and it was a VERY big job), was to put his hips back into place. In a very non-scientific sense, and because I have a terrible memory and that was about eight months ago, his illium had slipped out of place. It had been like that for quite some time. It took the osteopath about an hour, and I would guess about 1000 calories, to muscle everything back into place. The change was so drastic my vet barely recognised him, and they are quite well acquainted.

Benny had his third treatment on Monday night, which included more work on his hips and a rogue shoulder. Ben is 11 going on two, and still plays like a baby out in the field, which means he usually knocks himself around A LOT and has an impressive collection of war wounds from playing Wyld Stallyns over the fence with his best buddy.

This was also his second experience with acupressure. Both times, the needles seemed to inspire a totally different horse to appear. Horses were coming in and out of the barn, which normally rattles him to no end, and he looked up once and kept licking and chewing with a soft eye.

I didn't take any photos, because it seemed kind of rude to interrupt his trip to happytown, but I did Microsoft Paint my impressions. Thought bubbles may not be exactly as depicted. Forelock is EXACTLY as depicted. Note rainbows, grass and Mr. Golden Sun.
Benny in the sky with diamonds

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

KEEP MOVING - a good lesson to remember

Now, Benny has a tendancy to be a bit nervous and neurotic (surprise, so am I!). Because of this, he tends to go all deer-in-headlights and jiggy when he's by himself or in a new situation.

I was having a lesson on Saturday, and we planned it so that I would be alone in the arena to start, as for Bentley the only worse thing than being along is being accompanied and THEN alone. Seriously, lemme tell you a tale of how much he hates this. The last time I had a lesson with this coach the rider before me dismounted and walked around to cool her horse off before leaving. The second she dismounted, the ears started to swivel and attention waned. When she left, he totally checked out, which for him means screaming whinnies and freight training around on the forehand totally blowing through any and all aids, including the ones to stop. At that point, not even yelling "Atse!" at the top of my lungs would have slowed down the trajectory. We ended up doing pretty much the entire lesson at a walk working on controlling the shoulders.

Yeah, didn't work for me either Jose Chavez y Chavez

Getting back to the point of our story, while Bentley was not in freight train mode this particular day he was still a little on the anxious side.

When the coach arrived, we had a short meeting
to outline the goals for the day. Bentley bounced and bobbed, moving fore and aft and up and down as if he had become one of those old school spring horses that were at all the best playgrounds back in the day (in my opinion anyway).

The coach, in infinite calmness, urged me to just keep him walking. In moving, even if it's in circles, he feels more at ease. As a prey animal, movement means action. He is doing SOMETHING to get himself out of whatever percieved danger he feels he's in.

I feel this also speaks to the need for forward in all gaits. As a bonafide control freak, I have a tendancy to try to clamp down when he gets forehand-heavy and rush-y, shutting him down through my reins and reverting to the ole fetal defence position. If I want to build a confident, happy horse, I have to let him go, being supportive but not limiting through sitting tall, balance and half halts, always thinking free, free, free.