To ride dressage is to dance with your horse, equal partners in the delicate and sometimes difficult work of creating harmony and beauty.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Views and viewpoint

Sunset from the back of my horse – priceless!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dr. Mellow and Mr. Hyper

We've been enjoying much better weather since the weekend. I rode in our arena Sunday since we got a little rain, then last night I headed out for a walk around a nearby field and down the gravel lane. Lance was moving v-e-r-y slowly; I was thinking that moving around in the sand of the arena took more out of him than expected.

As we approached the paved crossroad, we spotted two horses being ridden double. Lance could hardly believe his eyes, as we have never encountered other riders on our hill. It was the other family on our road with horses, out riding for the first time since moving in. We greeted one another and passed, moving in opposite directions, but Lance stopped on the other side of the pavement when he spotted dead ground squirrels (thanks to a neighbor who has been shooting them and the vultures who have dragged them around) crawling with yellow jackets lying in the gravel. I definitely didn't want to provoke the nasty insects, so I turned Lance around to follow the other riders towards our house. Already amped, he went into hyper mode, acting like he was getting left behind and preparing to join them posthaste at all costs. Uh; nope. I jumped off and headed in the opposite direction, Lance bouncing around on the end of the reins like a large, unwieldy box kite.  :-/
We eventually went home on MY terms, me leading him all the way. We both got some exercise, but Lance ended up sweatier than I did. Sure wish I could access that energy at will!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Moving forward, slowly

Our air quality has been abysmal, with frequent warnings for the young, old, and those with lung issues to stay inside. I'm certain Lance would come in the house if I asked him to, but I'm also certain that our hardwood floor would suffer for it!

Still, his breathing hasn't gotten worse; there's just been some occasional coughing from the dusty conditions. Last week, when our air quality was at its visibly worst, we kept the horses in their stalls/paddocks a couple days so they weren't snuffling in the dust on TOP of the particulates in the air.

Friday evening a most refreshing coast breeze came up, and I just had to go for a ride. Lance had to stop and catch his breath often when faced with any incline, but it felt wonderful to be astride and I think he enjoyed it, too. Then over the week-end, Rick commented that Lance is FAT; I guess my preemptive efforts to keep his weight up have worked a little too well! So I eliminated the olive oil from his daily rations and determined that no matter how slow or short our rides must be, we would both benefit from getting back to routine exercise, and rode again Sunday evening. We were blessed with a beautiful sunset:

The specialist I consulted last week gave me the name and number of a veterinary dermotologist to contact. Fortunately, he has worked on horses and is willing to come out and do a skin test on Lance August 25. I am excited, and nervous; excited to see if testing gives us information to better help Lance, and nervous that the result may tell us that living in a different area would be the best option for him. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Holding pattern

Well, it's been a week of trying different things. After Lance's breathing got so much worse weekend before last, I sent the internal medicine vet the following video and asked for ideas.

Kim called this a "pretty profound obstructive breathing pattern." She figuratively held my hand for the next several days while suggesting treatment and management changes. First, she encouraged the use of a hay steamer; which got Rick to finish it in short order so we could press it into service.

We tried albuterol inhaler treatments every six hours. After the first 24 hours, she directed me to increase the dose. I kept a record of his respirations just before and then 5/10/15 minutes after each treatment. There was a little improvement in respiration rate but not intensity, so we tried two nebulized dexamethasone treatments 12 hours apart. After those, Lance's respirations were maybe a little slower, but with a secondary push that he hasn't had for a number of weeks.

At that point, Kim approved going back to "just" prednisolone and Zyrtec twice daily, and encouraged me to put the horses out 24/7. I had kept them in their stalls/covered paddocks because the "pasture" is so dry and dusty, but Kim said mold is usually the culprit, not dust.

So our new daily routine includes administering meds, putting fly masks on/off, applying insect repellant in the ears, putting horses in/out for evening grain/supplements, steaming hay and transporting to the pasture. I haven't ridden, because Lance's lungs are working so hard just to get air for standing around – and now we're bracing for a record-setting wave.

I am longing for fall, hoping that a change of seasons might reduce Lance's triggers.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Worry? Helplessness? Desperation?

I am struggling to name the feelings constricting my heart this morning. Lance has been breathing faster/harder for at least the last 36 hours. Friday evening while he got his nebulized fluticasone, I decided we should walk down the lane to get our mail. We have to climb a short hill right after leaving our driveway and it was more than Lance could manage; he had to stop every few steps. Once the grade leveled out he didn't ask to stop, but his respirations were still hard – 47/minute. Granted, he was wearing a mask, but it was still alarming. He didn't breathe as hard last night, but when I did chores at 6:30 this morning, at the coolest time of the day, I noticed his nostrils were flaring. I timed his respirations – 36/minute.

I keep telling Rick that Lance's exercise tolerance has diminished since Cowboy Campmeeting, after we started using the nebulizer. He says the fluticasone wouldn't cause this, but I'm on the verge of mutiny because nothing else has changed in Lance's daily regimen. Obviously even the shortest of easy trail rides is out when he is breathing so hard just standing in his stall when it's cool.

Rick is doing what he can; I know he is at a loss about what more we can do as well. And he will have NO bandwidth to deal with this today; he was called to the coast on an emergency last night and didn't get home until 4:15 a.m. – and had to leave again at 7:15 because the horse was getting worse. (He hasn't been very busy during the week and his emergency load is usually very light; this is unusual.)

I know we can't safely drop the prednisolone cold turkey, but I'm tempted to pull Lance off all the meds and see what his baseline is. If he gets far worse, then at least I'll know that all these chemicals we're pouring into him each day are doing some good. If they are, at what cost to his overall health? (I know the cost in term of dollars, and it's more than nominal.) Still, Lance is my big, beautiful goober who nickers at me and is engaged with the world. I can't see putting him down because his breathing problems aren't responding well to treatment. Like some other areas in my life, this seems to be an unsolvable conundrum. The emotional burden is great.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

On motivation and perspective

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted! I've thrown out occasional tidbits on Instagram (see blue button at right) while going through the many necessary motions and riding a bit of an emotional roller coaster, exacerbated by not enough sleep. But things feel a little saner at the moment, so it's time to sit down and share.

First of all, we had a great time at Cowboy Campmeeting. We got the best campsite we've ever had – close to the provided horse water and the meeting tent, and shaded by firs we could use for high-lining.

We didn't get an electric-fence paddock set up this year, so we took the horses out to graze on the lush grass as often as possible; it helped offset the rich alfalfa hay they weren't used to (the only certified weed-free hay we could find). I felt bad that Lance couldn't lay down and rest, but not enough to give him a longer lead. Every year at least one horse gets hung up on its lead while high-lined, ending up with a severe rope burn and likely strained and sore body parts from the struggle; it happened to someone again this year. Nope; not worth it!

Lance and I went on wonderful trail rides every day, thanks to Rick joining us twice, and friends riding Ollie the other two days. One of those days was the organized competitive trail ride! I was afraid that might be beyond Lance's capacity this year and was prepared to sit it out, but after Rick and I rode most of the route we decided it was do-able. And to my great surprise (since I was thrilled just to be able to participate), Lance took Reserve High Point Horse and I got Reserve High Point Adult!

After we got back home from Cowboy Campmeeting, a couple things we had ordered arrived. First, Rick bought this fancy new nebulizer with which to treat Lance. But things were too hectic to start using it right away, between unpacking and cleaning up from our trip and all of us working at Rick's clinic while his secretary was on vacation. And once we did start using it, it took FAR longer to administer each treatment than we were lead to believe it would – and I had to do that twice a day for a week.

The two big advantages to this system is a better-fitting mask and a battery pack, so I can walk Lance during his treatment. That helps get the medicine further into his lungs where he needs it most. Unfortunately, he hasn't wanted to move much, and has been coughing a lot more when I do make him walk. He's had the same problems on the few short road rides we've taken, too. I really think Lance was doing better before adding the nebulized fluticasone to his treatment regimen.  :-(  Needless to say, that's discouraging, and robs me of the motivation to ride. (It doesn't help that our "riding world" is shrinking, either, what with the too-dry arena, hard gravel roads, and overgrown trails). The other thing I had ordered couldn't even pique my interest at first:
I got this on eBay from Germany. I did quite a bit of research and this style seems to address all the concerns and shortcomings I've seen in other bitless bridles. This type is even used in dressage and jumping competitions in Europe! Besides my lack of time, energy, and motivation, the German-language instructions had me stymied. But after the last of the twice-daily nebulizer treatments (YAY, just once a day now!), I sat down with my laptop and used an online translator to figure out how to set it up with headstall and reins. The next day I tried it out for a short ride, and it worked fine – as in nearly indistinguishable from our usual bridle (I took photos but they have disappeared into the ether, apparently).

Last Thursday evening our local dressage chapter had a get-together. In the course of conversation I learned that  one friend's horse had surgery for a compressed spinal cord and ended up with Sweeney shoulder; my instructor's promising filly (a Totilas offspring) had surgery for kissing spine; and her mother's schoolmaster isn't sound enough at this point to make the trailer ride to where they are moving in North Carolina. It was humbling to hear of these much bigger problems, and reminded me to be thankful that I can still enjoy some saddle time with my mustang, even if it isn't competitive or strenuous work.
The view from the top of one nearby gravel road (Mt. Jefferson in the distance)
As I said on Instagram, even if we aren't in "in clover," we can still be IN clover! ;-)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just a little gas; it'll pass (hopefully!)

Last weekend we endured a heat wave, and this week we've been getting ready to go to Cowboy Campmeeting at the base of Mt. Adams, so I haven't been riding as much. I'm looking forward to enjoying the beautiful setting with my mental health mustang, family and friends; I know Lance won't be up to long or challenging rides, but there are easy trails, too. When we get back, his new inhaler mask and nebulizer should be waiting so we can start him on fluticasone to see if that improves his exercise intolerance. Thank goodness for Costco!
Rick had to get some additional parts to construct the hay steamer, so hopefully we can get that done when we get back, too.

When I went down to do morning chores today, Lance was lying down, not up and waiting for his "treat" (rice bran pellets make the medicine – Aller-Tec – go down quickly). I went into his stall and pet him; he still didn't get up. I decided to finish chores and keep an eye on him; when I left his stall he groaned and laid flat out in his stall. That sent me running flat out back to the house to get Rick; I've never seen Lance lay down like that, much less when he's usually up and nickering at me! Of course by the time we got back to the barn, Lance was up and eating breakfast. Rick said he had some gas; let's hope that's all it is (as we head into the wilderness for several days). =:-O

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

All kinds of progress

The other day I turned the horses out, then had to pause and admire my horse. He has put on weight and is actually looking hunky again!   ;-)
He looks a bit musty/dusty here, and downright moth-eaten in the right light. He has grown enough new hair that you can't really see where his sides were shaved, but he still has some old winter hair plus "dandruff." To be fair, he looks better after grooming, but Oliver is summer-sleek even without the application of a brush.
 It would help if Lance didn't do this:
Scratch, scratch; rub, rub.
See the hair piling up on the ground below him?
Look at it ON him!

That evening I groomed him thoroughly and we went for my favorite ride through the woods. The last time we rode this I told myself would BE the last; the weeds have been growing so fast and thick. This time truly WAS the last of the season, though.

Not only did the weeds almost make the "path" impassable, the bugs were ferocious – and they preferred horseflesh. :-/
The track comes out of the woods at the edge of this beautiful, secluded field. I would love to ride the whole perimeter, but I don't know who owns this land and don't want to trespass. Someday I'll find out and ask permission . . . if the track is ever cleared.

We are also taking steps to ameliorate the allergens to which the horses are exposed. I shopped online for hay steamers, and came across this website. Inspired, I gave Rick a materials list when he went to Lowe's Sunday to fix our pressure tank. He grumbled about it, but brought home everything but the wallpaper steamer, which wasn't available.
Today he took that tub back and came back with one that seals better and has wheels and a handle. It's also deeper; cool beans!
He and Brian also worked on fixing the leaks in the barn roof.

This evening when I headed out for a ride, Brian asked if he could go, too. Really?!? Usually it's me doing the asking, to no avail. It's been a long time since my boy and I have ridden together – probably a year ago at Cowboy Campmeeting! We didn't ride long; but the quality more than made up for quantity.

What a way to end the day!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A differential diagnosis

The test for the virus linked to Equine Multinodular Pulmonary Fibrosis came back negative (hurray!), so Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) it is. Rick is studying up on it, since the differentiation between it and heaves is new to him. He's talking about emptying the barn and pressure-washing it and fixing the leaks in the roof in order to reduce the dust and mold spores that could be aggravating the condition (another hurray if he DOES it!). I am going to look into a hay steamer, although that's probably beyond our budget. Lance is still perky; hope is still perching.

Monday, June 12, 2017

That thing with feathers flutters in my soul

Oh, how GOOD hope feels! And when it comes to Lance's physical condition, I think I am hearing a faint, sweet tune.

It started Friday, when I noticed while grooming that there IS some new hair coming in, albeit short and sparse. It grew a little Saturday evening, when we went for a road ride and I sensed more perkiness in him than I've felt for awhile (bonus: sky show!).
It got louder on Sunday evening when he and Oliver were turned out, and he actually ran and bucked and PLAYED. (Then he slipped and crashed to his side; ouch.) He's also had a slightly swollen right hind fetlock/pastern; that went down completely for the first time during Sunday's turn-out.

Nothing has changed recently except reducing his daily predinisolone dose by half. If the improvements are the result of that, I'd love to wean him off completely. It might be that the antihistamine (he's getting 20 cetirizine – think Zyrtec – tablets twice a day) is taking care of his allergy symptoms and the steroid is no longer necessary; it's certainly not benign.

We did get some test results back; Lance does not have Cushings. His insulin level is a bit high, but that could be a result of the steroid. We're still waiting to hear from UC/Davis, but Rick got results back from the local lab on the cells from the lung wash. Lance's lung cells are 30% neutrophils, which points towards Equine Inflammatory Airway Disease. (Differentiation of heaves and IAD involves the types and numbers of white blood cells observed.) There can be a genetic component, which fits because Lance's dam has seasonal heaves/IAD.

All the play photos turned out blurry – and not ALL the grass is this tall!
In other news, I learned last Thursday evening that Julie is moving to South Carolina next fall. This makes me sad, as she is the only trainer I've taken lessons with for years now, and I've really appreciated her perspective and help. And in spite of Lance's current troubles, that thing with feathers perched in my soul looked forward to more lessons with her in the future. If Lance continues to improve, maybe we can squeeze some in later this summer before she leaves.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sorry if this is getting old...

...but blogging about Lance's medical drama helps me keep track of what is happening when. It also gives me something to "do," when there's nothing I can really do....

Rick came home over the noon hour to do the lung wash so he could overnight all the samples (nasal swab and blood as well as fluid from the lung lavage) today. This time he used some lidocaine in the tube so Lance would be more comfortable and not cough so violently, and it worked.

While we waited for Rick to get everything ready, I gave Lance a good grooming. More hair came off my poor, balding horse....

I was hoping to ride today, but when I finished up some necessary chores it started raining, then Rick came home. After the procedure Rick thought it best to give Lance the day off, so we'll shoot for tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Serendipitous stylin'

The saga continues. Rick talked to the specialist at UC/Davis in charge of a clinical study on EMPF. Diagnosing the disease via lung biopsy isn't clearcut; if you happen to sample a healthy spot, the virus* won't show up. He told Rick to do another lung lavage using a LOT of fluid to get to the bottom of the lungs (where ultrasound showed the most compromise) and send the sample to him; he'll read it for us. If Lance does have EMPF, the drug in the clinical trial isn't necessarily the best option; steroids seem to work the best, which we're already administering (Really disappointing. Was hoping for a cure, not maintenance with potentially damaging drugs.) If Lance doesn't test positive for EMPF, there are other things that can cause his issues. The most likely is non-responsive COPD/heaves. Ruling out Cushings is important; we might know that by the end of this week. The lavage is supposed to happen later this evening.

*The researchers aren't sure if the fibrosis and the virus are the same thing, or if one causes the other, so even the disease process isn't well understood.
Evening sky shots at the turn-around spot of my favorite from-home ride
A deceptively peaceful scene.
In the meantime, Lance and I go on easy trail rides, I keep pouring the feed to him (that's working, at least), and he keeps losing hair. The other evening I was shopping online for a durable fly sheet to give him some protection; all I need is for him to get skin cancer on top of everything else. =:-O  I wasn't sure what size to order, so I held off until I could check the sizes of his other clothing the next morning. While digging around in the tack room, I found a new-in-package polypropylene fly sheep that I had apparently picked up on clearance sometime. Woot! It's a tad large, but it works and doesn't make him hot like his turnout sheet.

Incredibly, Oliver has also been having trouble. I've noticed occasional coughing; it sounded like he had something caught in his throat. Well, when Rick and Brian went to the barn Monday evening he was in obvious distress and breathing hard. Turned out to be broncho-spasms, as IV steroid didn't do much but a broncho-dilator did. The pollen count is high this year and Rick has a number of patients (and a wife) suffering from seasonal allergies; we'll keep an eye on Oliver, too.