Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What I Learned From Zip's Stall Rest

Farnam® Cool Pack Green Jelly Horse Liniment
Good stuff to have on hand for
learning experiences

The last time Zip was cooperative
during enforced layup.  Taken just
prior to strangles infection and his
subsequent leap over a 4-foot fence
to freedom.  He was two months old.

f there is one universal truth that lurks behind the muck buckets and dandy brushes of this horse life, it’s that it’s never the same two days in a row, and you don’t know what’s going to happen till it happens.   Try as I might (and I’ve tried mightily, which you know if you’ve read any of my books), horses defy my every effort at cubby-holing, itemizing, and otherwise quantifying their horseness.  Having an uncooperative animal on layup has been a prime experience in what not to do and offered some truly awesome insights in what should be done to keep the horse-human bond fresh and pain-free.

I learned some very valuable lessons, which I would like to share with you.

1.  I've always thought I was one medication dose this side of autistic with a hefty dose of OCD to keep things interesting.  I now get that Zip shares the same mental status.  This is both a good thing and a not-so-good thing.  The up side is that we both thrive on routine, so my obsession with doctoring his sore leg was met with an equal and opposite obsession on his side with avoiding said doctoring.  The down side is that it took three days and multiple contusions and conniptions on my part to figure that out.

2.  I've always liked Cool Pack Green Jelly.  This stuff is simply awesome for reducing swelling in a sore limb.  It must feel really good, because Zip now expects to be rubbed with it twice a day despite the fact that he hasn't had a swollen or hot leg in two weeks.  He will refuse to go out if we miss more than one or two sessions of leg-doctoring/Spanish Walk training/Peppermint Plops.  Let it be known, however, that it's not just for horses.  It does wonders for reducing swelling and heat achieved by humans in their efforts to learn lesson number 1 above.  The purple faded to yellow quickly and with little pain, leaving me looking less like a disease-ridden corpse and more like bruised fruit.  The jelly also made my arthritic hands feel better after a wrestling match with the Zipster.  Not a drop was wasted.

3.  There are more options for icing/cooling/fixing an injured horse leg than I ever imagined.  I now own several.  FYI, the ice pack inserts for the Professionals Choice SMBs work great if you already have the SMBs.  If you have to buy them, then maybe not so much.  Zip was already used to wearing the boots thanks to our occasional forays into barrel racing, so sticking the ice packs in was a cinch.   This is one item I haven't tried:
Ice Horse® First Ice™ Boots
Ice Horse First Ice boot with ice pack

It looks like it might work, but it doesn't have the support under the ankle joint that the SMB has.  This, on the other hand, I did buy:
Ice-Vibe Boot
Ice-Vibe Boot with ice and vibe

With the exception of the SMB ice packs, the other stuff is all available at Dover, which is good, because they're one of the few retailers who will take back anything you don't like without much explanation.  The jury is still out on the very expensive Ice-Vibe Boots, partly because I couldn't figure out how to turn them on.  The nice Dover lady suggested on the phone that I try it on my arm first.  The boot, similar in construction (but with MUCH stickier Velcro) to the SMB, should hold up well.  The ice packs are very nice indeed, requiring only 10 minutes in the freezer to attain a lovely level of chill without freezing solid and remaining chilly for a very long time.  But the Vibe...well, that's a crucial issue with a horse like Zip.  I haven't had the guts (or the energy, or the unbruised flesh) to try it yet.  My arm likes all three levels, but it's a very strong vibration that's not going to go unnoticed.

4.  If you're going to do an open poultice, it helps if the stuff you smear on doesn't come off easily.  This stuff sticks like glue:
Ultra® TheraBalm
Nice poultice

 I honestly can't pass judgment on whether or not it worked to reduce inflammation since I was doing so many other things at the same time, but it definitely stays on overnight and washes off easily, kind of like a high-quality mud pack.  And it smells good.  It's a natural product from Australia available at Schneider's (www.sstack.com).  I keep a bucket of it handy for everything from this particular pulled suspensory adventure to calming down poor Pokey's nethers when her squamous cell carcinoma gets in league with her heat cycle to make her life miserable.  

5.  Perhaps the best thing I've learned through all of this is that Zip will do pretty much anything for a cookie, and if I make it into a game or a "trick" (his all-time fave activity), he's game for it.  Not that gaming the process precludes his spinning in his stall, eating the woodwork in frustration, or any of the other indiosyncracies he's evinced, but we now have a whole new set of behaviors that are actually positive.  From the bad came the good, and that's always a fine thing to learn. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Horses Are Like Horses

 have the utmost respect for all equestrian athletes.  Courtney King-Dye is certainly one of the best.  Not only has she reached the heights of professional competition, but she has taken her own horror--her mare tripped and sent CKD to the hospital with a severe head trauma that could have cost her life--and turned it into initiatives (National Helmet Awareness Day, and changes in the helmet rules for dressage and eventing among them).  Three weeks in a coma created shock waves in her life that spread to the entire equestrian community.

Despite my respect for her, it is the “training tip from CKD” column in the September issue of Dressage Today that reminded me that I have even more respect for the animals we conscript to play a part in our fantasy and who are primary to our sport.  The title of the piece is "Horses Are Like People:  A day off every now and then can work wonders."

That sounds innocuous enough, and even appears to pay forward some respect to the horses that are our partners--willing or otherwise--in our chosen sports.  As I read, however, I found that more than an enlightened willingness to give horses their due, the article opens the door to more of what many of us hate so much about our own sport.  Horses being treated as if they were nothing more than high-priced machines with the bottom line as the main focus is the most depressing part of the horse world, and it contributes to abuse and in great part to the unwanted horse problem.

CKD begins the tip by suggesting that horses need a break now and then.  This, I think, most of us know.  Though I still see kids riding their horses to exhaustion for points in various club shows, most adults, I believe, have tipped to the fact that a tired horse is prone to missteps and injury.  A tired horse is a cranky horse as well.  A burned-out horse can be a menace to himself and the humans around him.  So giving a horse a change of routine is always a good idea.  My daughter was only ten when she was told by Hector Carmona, Jr., in a lesson that she should never do dressage with her gelding more than three times a week.  Two days of happy jumping and a day of hacking around were part of the prescription, and she took it to heart.  In turn, her horse responded with more enthusiasm for all parts of the training routine.

Daughter Jessica as DQ on the late Rat...
who never went a day without turnout in his sixteen years

But turnout--in a field, not in a 10 x 10 pen attached to a stall--has always been mandatory for my horses and hers.  When I got to the sentence "I'm a big believer in turnout for exercise as well as for chilling out, if the horses like it."  I was a little taken aback.  In 52 years with horses, only once have I seen a horse that got upset at turnout, and she was a backyard mare who'd been thrown into a herd of 56.  She paced the fence line closest to the barn for days before her owner gave up and took her home.  One horse out of hundreds is statistically significant, I'm sure.  And the issue was quite obviously that she'd never developed any equine social skills, so was terrified of her pasture mates and the threat they posed. I believe that in a different setting--mass turnout on 50 acres could have been a goal if smaller spaces with smaller groups had been available--eventually she would have learned the necessary skills.

The rest of CKD's article describes the horse who was "petrified" at turnout and the ones turned out completely booted up in small paddocks for their own safety.  And it finishes with the tale of Rendezvous who, despite being turned out booted in a "paddock the size of a postage stamp", broke her leg.

What is it that causes a horse to go so wild or be so terrified at the idea of being turned out?  Lack of experience.  Horses kept stalled when they're not being actively ridden, or settling for a few minutes of hand-walking or grazing on a lead have no experience being horses.  They've been taken from their natural world because (much to their detriment) they were deemed athletic at birth.  They might have had a brief foray into the real world before being snatched back into the prisoner's life through no wrong-doing or free-willed choice of their own.

To her credit, CKD ends with the fact that she's willing to "risk" turnout for some horses because we're in the sport for the love of the animals.  I do love her final statements:

      "Every time I'd turn Idy out, he'd gallop joyfully around.  He had a blast showing everyone how fast he  could go.  I was always terrified, but I'd prefer him to die like that, joyfully gallivanting, than be safe   yet miserable in a stall."

Horses being horses

Apparently, though it's not mentioned in the article, Idy didn't die from turnout.  That's a good thing.  But the rest of the article gives ample credence to the idea that living in a stall is the safest thing for a horse, and that's where we part ways.  I understand CKD's need to align herself with all facets of the dressage world.  I am not going to try to do that.  No one cares what I think, and my livelihood doesn't rest on my ability to bow to pressure. 

Horses are horses.  They are big animals, designed by nature to walk miles, grazing as they go.  They are amazingly social.  They suffer from emotional problems when they are separated from their kind.  They suffer from physical problems if they are kept from moving about freely.  They develop idiosyncracies due to insensitive handling, and we spend an inordinate amount of time and energy figuring out how to "cure" what we caused in the first place.  And when penned up for long periods, they lose their minds when they achieve momentary freedom.

When horses became a commodity, whether pulling a plow or a carriage or carrying a rider, they stepped into a world of problems.  When for some competition became their sole purpose in human life, they lost the right to be horses, and that, I think, is a crime against nature of the highest kind.  Keep your horse stalled if you feel you must, but don't see that as vindicated because Famous Horsemen have done the same.  Try living in your bathroom, with the door locked and only a window for a view of the world, and you'll have the same experience.  Allow yourself an hour out of every 24 to be free of that room and walk around at the end of a rope held by your spouse (no, you're not allowed to bite him).  Spend that hour running on a treadmill.  If that doesn't convince you that this is no way for a horse to live, then you can feel vindicated.

Finally, here is Courtney King-Dye shortly after her accident speaking about the Riders4Helmets initiative: