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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

No news isn't terrible news

At least the bilateral shaved spots (for ultrasound) are covered by the saddle pad!

A couple of my faithful readers/commenters have contacted me to ask if I've heard anything yet. Sorry; it took a few days, but the consulting vet (Rick said to tell you she used to be Zenyatta's vet) finally let us know that she didn't think Lance has EMPF based on his lung ultrasound. That's GOOD news, since EMPF is usually fatal. But it is sometimes hard to remember that it is good news, because we are still no closer to turning around Lance's decline. The consulting vet recommended that we add albuterol inhalers 4X a day to the twice-daily oral prednisolone, and so we have.

Lance tolerates this too-small mask that restricts his breathing to a tube filled with medication surprisingly well; after the first treatment I haven't needed the halter. But the treatment hasn't brought about any noticeable improvements in his breathing or energy level. I hate pouring medication into him six times a day, but without it I'm afraid we'd go back to severe heaving. I feel bad about riding him at all, but know that being a "couch potato" would do him even more harm. I guess I need to look at riding him like physical therapy; it may not be fun or easy for either of us, but it's necessary and beneficial.

So that is what's going on here. It's not raining at the moment, so excuse me while I take Lance out for physical therapy....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Careful what you wish for

I scheduled a lesson with Julie for this morning. Even though Lance is still compromised, I thought we could work in short, effective periods like last time.

It rained all day, so when we got to Julie's I tied up Lance in the arena to tack up. After removing his turnout sheet, I snapped a photo on impulse:
Changes are sometimes easier to see in 2D. His neck, shoulders, back and hindquarters have all lost significant mass, and for the first time in the five-plus years I've had him, I can see a hint of ribs.

The footing in the arena is new – and chunky. As we walked around to warm up, I worried a bit. Lance tripped and fell with me once in Kate's arena with similar wood chip footing – and Lance was stronger and more energetic then.

When Julie arrived on scene, she immediately commented on Lance's condition. She felt he had lost the weight he'd regained between our last two visits, and she wasn't comfortable with asking him to work. Given my concern about the footing, the decision to cancel the lesson was actually a relief. We chatted awhile; she had an event horse with COPD so I asked how she had managed him. I shared my nagging worry that we haven't gotten to the bottom of Lance's decline; we brainstormed a little but couldn't come up with any new possibilities.

On my way home I called Rick's secretary to ask her for the contact info of a veterinarian Rick knows who is board certified in Internal Medicine. Rick has run Lance's problems by her; I wanted to pick her brain myself. I sent her an email as soon as I got home, sharing his history, test results, treatment regimen, and continued, concerning muscle loss.

By late afternoon she responded, asking for some video clips of his at-rest breathing and an ultrasound of his lungs. I shot the videos and texted them to her; Rick is going to do the ultrasound in the morning. The suspect near the top of her list: EMPF – equine multinodular pulmonary fibrosis. We may know tomorrow; my stomach is in knots.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Better living through modern pharmacology

Lance has been on twice-daily oral prednisolone for a couple months now. It has not been a magic cure; his breathing still isn't 100%, he still lacks energy, and he's still losing muscle mass, albeit more slowly.

Case in point: The day we got back from Omaha was beautiful, so I turned out Lance and Oliver in the arena to burn off steam. Lance hadn't been out in a week and a half, but what you see in the photos above are the sum total of his energy expenditure. He dropped and rolled, got up and hopped once followed by a bit of canter. After that he shuffled around at a walk or jog while Oliver continued to race around.
I continue to ride him often but briefly. Asking him to do very much makes me feel like I'm 'beating a dead horse,' but not exercising him at all would be even worse for him. So we keep it short and effective; touching on the knowledge that is there, refining it a wee bit each ride. I'm glad to have the exercises learned at the Expo in our toolbox!

His ears aren't really THAT big. ;-)
Finally, this week Rick did a lung lavage in order to check cytology. Poor Lance; even though he was sedated, the sensation of the silicone tube going down his bronchial tube and into his lung made him cough so violently his eyes watered! Fortunately, it didn't last long. Like most of the other tests Rick's done on Lance, the results came back pretty normal, other than some plant material present (probably hay dust). We've added once-daily Ventipulmin syrup (clenbuterol) to his regimen; that helps him clear his airways better and seems to have perked him up a bit. Once the bottle is used up, we'll have to look at something more suitable for long-term use; clenbuterol can affect his heart.

So that is what has – and has not – changed in my Camelot. The Holy Grail of perfect health is elusive, and its quest has been an overarching burden on my mind these many weeks. But I still have my Lancelot, and he has me. That is enough.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Long overdue

Sorry for the radio silence. A lot has happened since my last post – and not much has happened. What hasn't happened will probably take longer to tell than what has, so I'll save that for the next post.

On March 24 I hauled Lance down to the NW Horse Fair & Expo in Albany to participate in Jec Ballou's session on "Cross-Training Exercises for the Dressage Horse." I do a lot of cross-training, so this sounded right up my alley. But that session wasn't until 3:00, and Lance had to be there from 8:00 am until 6:00 pm. Thankfully, a friend came to help me pass the day, and we attended Jec's classroom lecture at noon. It was very good; I wish I'd taken better notes. I did take photos of some of her slides, though. Some take-away messages were:

1) Several different veterinary university studies have confirmed that it takes a minimum of working four days a week to keep a horse in condition. Considering how long it takes to get a horse fit, it behooves us riders to keep them fit! I feel pretty good about my long-standing policy to not let Lance stand around more than two days in a row, but am being more intentional about riding four days a week now.

2) Trail-riding, schooling, and conditioning exercises all need to be part of the mix; a well-schooled horse isn't necessarily a well-conditioned horse.

These points were confirmed in the riding session. Lance and I were one of three horse and rider teams that Jec used to demonstrate some conditioning exercises. The good news for an energy-conserver like Lance is that a lot of valuable work can be done at the walk.

Just a few days later (with no time to ride again), we flew to Omaha, NE to attend the FEI World Cup (and see family and friends). What an experience! I cannot accurately convey what it's like to see that many world-class horses and riders up close and personal; when the Grand Prix competition started, I actually teared up. Not that all the rides were beautiful to watch; I wanted to rescue some horses from harsh hands, and was once again struck by how gracious horses are to allow us on their backs. I took photos of every single test (SIXTEEN in a row!!!), but you can see far better images taken by professionals elsewhere, so I will spare you the long slideshow. I did share a few excited images on Instagram – you know, as proof I was there. ;-)

Other high points were getting to meet a blogger whose posts have inspired and challenged me, and reconnecting with an old friend I haven't seen in 26 years. There were also celebrity sightings (I kinneared a couple) in the extensive vendor area:

No shopping for me except for a few small thank-you gifts; "all I want for Christmas" is a healthy, happy horse!

And with that, I will segue into the next post . . . .

Monday, March 20, 2017

Checking in with Spring

. . . to a new season!
I'm still here, schooling and conditioning my pony, teaching and trail-riding with my student (and her mom), prepping and primping for our upcoming demo ride (this Friday!), and coping with challenging life circumstances better thanks to the mental and physical self-discipline of dressage.

Sometimes, we even have witnesses!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Gym equipment

Lance and I have been working in SPITE of the weather. No time to ride the two days after our lesson, and by the time I could claim some time in the saddle on Sunday we had to brave the dark with a "wintery mix" falling. I set up my four caveletti, but Lance struggled to maintain the trot on the smaller arc that created. Note to self; remove one next time we ride. We didn't ride long; the conditions were less than conducive.
Snowflakes on the saddle pad; glad for my synthetic saddle!

We woke up to 2" of snow Monday, but by Tuesday we were able to slosh around in the arena again.

I rearranged my poles into this "turkey foot." It gives me the three trot poles plus a high trot pole/low jump pole to mix things up a bit.

We schooled again on Wednesday, this time with company:
The sun is actually shining this morning, so I need to scurry through some cooking and cleaning so I can shoehorn in a ride. No time this afternoon; like every Friday I have to drive to Salem to pick up my son and take him to Newberg for a violin lesson.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Awesome sauce!

Lance and I had a lesson with Julie on Thursday. As soon as she saw him, she remarked that he had regained some weight; it was nice to have confirmation. I had already warmed up, so we went to work. Julie specifically brainstormed exercises that would maximize our benefits for the amount of energy expended, given that Lance is an energy-conserver at the best of times and oxygen-compromised at the worst of times. One of her suggestions was to capitalize on the energy he offers when I shorten my reins, and when he needs a break (often), use it to practice free walk on a long rein – no in-between.

I've been feeling confident that in spite of the set-backs, Lance's training has slowly progressed; our lesson confirmed that, too. His walk-canter-walk transitions have gotten more dependable, so we worked on refining them. Using the whole arena and doing simple changes from one lead to another, Julie had me ask for a bit of opposite leg yield before the downward transition to get him straighter.

Then we worked on making Lance's trot more adjustable by working over three trot poles laid out like bicycle spokes. Taking the inside track requires a shorter, more collected stride; taking the outside track requires more energy and reach. Lance hardly placed a hoof wrong, rating himself extremely well and requiring the outside ends of the poles to be spread farther apart to challenge his surprisingly large stride. Then she had me use the physical advantage the poles gave us for downward and upward transitions right after and right at the last pole.

Finally, we worked on adjusting Lance's canter stride on the circle without poles, using the open side of the circle to lengthen, then asking for collection when approaching the side of the arena. Julie said that she saw Lance truly "sit" for the first time during this exercise; exciting stuff!

Julie had me shorten my stirrups a hole because of my tendency to ride with my legs too far back and not keeping good contact with the stirrup pad. She really liked my hand position; I'm getting better at pushing them forward instead of pulling back.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A hard and happy day

I spent 9 1/2 hours at our chapter's League show today, and I'm beat! It was cold and damp, and I spent most of the time on my feet and freezing. It was tinged with sadness, too; our oldest member had recently suffered a fall and brain bleed (or brain bleed and fall), and I learned she passed away yesterday. Here is JoAnn just a year and a half ago, on her partner Tong. She will be missed very much.
But my student and her Paint mare did great at their very first dressage show (and the mare's first outing anywhere besides coming to my place for just four lessons!). They successfully completed Intro Tests A and C and Training Level Test 1, and the judge's comments confirmed what we have been working on. So we'll keep working and she wants to keep showing; next time maybe we will both enter.

It was SO tempting to go get my boy and show TODAY. There was just one rider doing Second Level tests and I think Lance and I could have delivered comparable if not superior performances. But there were no available ride times, so I just stayed the rest of the day to volunteer where needed and catch up with chapter member-friends that I have had little time to socialize with in the last few years. So besides being cold, it really was a good day.

Oh, and I got more information about an upcoming event. Just before the deadline I sent in an application to be a demo rider at the NW Horse Fair & Expo, and found out last week that it was accepted. Lance and I will be there on Friday, March 24, for Jec Ballou's "Cross-Training Exercises for the Dressage Horse." I learned today (our show's videographer is the demo rider coordinator) that we have to be there all day, and perhaps board Thursday night as well. Oh well, a friend is planning to come so we'll have fun hanging out and window-shopping when I'm not riding. I'm looking forward to the opportunity, and am hoping to take a lesson with Julie this week, too. Onward and forward with my handsome Lance!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Around the arena and down the lane

Sorry to leave you post-less for so long! I'm still horsing around, I just haven't had any extra time or mental energy to post about it.

I haven't been over to ride Larry at his fine facility again (see second sentence above). He gets excellent care and regular exercise, so I'm not worried about him.

Like I said on my Boulderneigh blog, Lance is feeling much better, which makes my heart sing. After getting his immune system calmed down with dexamethasone injections, we're maintaining him with twice-a-day oral prednisolone. Being able to breathe makes him much more biddable; imagine that!

We were enjoying some ballroom dancing in the arena last Thursday afternoon when the sky starting changing colors. We left the arena at a trot and headed up our lane to catch an unobstructed view of a glorious sunset.

Yesterday afternoon we caught a break in the rain again and ventured through the woods. We had gone out once before at dusk and ran into unusually wet conditions; I wanted to see what was going on with better light.

The woods are in sad shape. Besides much of the track turning into a shallow stream (it has been a very wet month), a lot of mature trees have fallen over. Ivy is overtaking many other trees, which will weaken and eventually topple as well.

Anyway and however.... When I tried to ride late this afternoon, Lance was incredibly sluggish, coughed quite a bit, and was breathing different than his back-to-normal respirations. Needless to say, I didn't torture him very long. I forgot to give him his meds last night; I suppose his heaves could be that barely controlled. :-/

Taken last week; today we got rained on.

Wait – who? Ha! This nice little Paint mare belongs to my new student. Today was the fourth Sunday in a row that her mom has hauled her in from their home an hour away for a lesson. She's entered in our ODS chapter's league show next Sunday; it will be both the student's and the horse's first dressage show. So I will be going to Bears Above the Ground – to coach and volunteer, just not to compete.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Because, horses

If you have horses long enough, you get plenty of experience in various ailments, injuries, and freak accidents. Because, horses. For all their beauty, athleticism, and power, they can be rather fragile beasts.

So, Lance's diagnosis is COPD, a new experience to add to my file. Soaking hay and steroid injections have been added to our daily regimen. Long-term, we will be looking at the best drug and delivery options to maintain his health. We have a horse-sized inhaler mask, courtesy of a client who finally put his horse down after at least 20 years of managing his heaves. I am so thankful to have an equine veterinarian as a husband! It will be interesting to see how treatment and improved air movement change my horse's attitude and work ethic....

Too cute! Note short door and platform (with ramp) to look out his window!

What a contrast to today's weather!
Yesterday I went over to ride Larry again. He's at a beautiful facility where he is loved, cared for, and lightly ridden by one of the owners, so even if I had unlimited time, he doesn't have unlimited availability. That's okay; I don't have unlimited time. Riding Larry once a week, twice at most, will probably fit into all schedules involved. It still gives me a very different dancing partner to adapt to and learn from, one bred for the dressage ballroom – with a much bigger trot!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Puzzle pieces

For a week I've waited impatiently for each new bit of diagnostic information, hoping to get some concrete explanation for Lance's muscle loss and hopefully his lack of energy. His fecal was clean; his large animal profile came back with every value smack dab in the middle of normal. Today the results of his blood test for Cushings disease came in; his ACTH level was borderline low/normal. Rick brought home Pergolide in treat form just in case that's Lance's problem, but before that....

I was anxious to ride after work today since I haven't had any saddle time yet this week. As always, we started out walking on a loose rein to warm up. After a few minutes I stopped Lance to take a photo, and realized his sides were heaving and his nostrils were flaring. I immediately called Rick to report the incident. He had me time Lance's respirations (20.5/minute – too fast); I also shot this video so Rick could see just how Lance was breathing.

This, my friends, is what "heaves" looks like.  :-(

When Rick got home two and a half hours later, Lance was still heaving, albeit less dramatically. A shot of atropine seemed to help, but he was back to heaving when we checked him a couple hours later so he's definitely experiencing bronchial spasms. So now the questions are: What is inducing his asthma? Is this the cause of or related to his muscle loss? Is this the cause of or related to his low ACTH level (due to increased cortisol levels)? Of course, I also wonder how long Lance has had this problem. I can remember a few obvious breathing incidents like today's, but didn't notice the milder manifestations. His lack of stamina has long given me pause, though . . . why is hindsight so much clearer?

Competing Lance at the end of this month looks like a no-go for sure now, even as I (IMPATIENTLY) wait for my vet to do and tell me more. Next up is probably a bronchial wash, and perhaps trying clenbuterol. I've always said my horse (whichever one I have at the time) gives my husband plenty of diagnostic and treatment challenges; sigh.

On a slightly brighter note, I'm going to ride Larry tomorrow. I'll try to remember to take some photos of him to show you. Sayonara.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lots of irons in the fire, but no photos

Well; it's been quite a week already, and it's just Wednesday night!

On Sunday, one of Brian's schoolmates hauled in with her two mounts for a get-acquainted lesson/session. She has been without a trainer since dropping 4H, and was excited about the possibility of taking lessons from me and entering our dressage chapter's show at the end of February. She brought both her cute little Welsh pony (she's quite petite herself) and her green Paint mare, and rode both of them. I sent her home with some things to work on and my old all-purpose Wintec saddle since all she has is a jumping saddle; her mom is planning to bring her up for lessons every Sunday possible between now and the show.

When they left, I was eager to get on Lance to "practice what I preached." That's the beauty of teaching anything; it confirms the knowledge in the teacher. But my eagerness faded when I didn't get any enthusiasm from Lance. He wasn't grumpy or resistant, just lazy it seemed. We schooled, but I wondered if we had any business trying to do two tests at our show. (Last year he was agonizingly lazy in the first test; I had to get pretty forceful with him in order to get through the second test without him petering out.) Last week, he was very rattly and congested during one ride, and became nostril-flaring, side-heaving out of breath after just a little walk and trot work. He wasn't breathing like that on Sunday, but the incident was in the back of my mind.

Monday I took him for a ride down the lane through the woods, thinking he might perk up with a change of venue. He didn't.

Lance had Tuesday off; I picked up some rice bran pellets to add some fat calories to the horses'  rations. (They both approved of the addition.)

Today we had a noon lesson scheduled with Julie. She noticed immediately that he had lost a lot of muscle in the three months since she had last seen him. I had noticed that as well, even though I've been giving him extra hay and he is getting regular exercise. After watching him move a little, she felt strongly that we shouldn't continue, and advised me to hold off sending in my show entry form. Lance had NO gas in his tank, and seemed quite subdued. We talked it over, and with her encouragement I loaded him back up, called Rick, and drove Lance straight to the clinic. Rick listened to Lance's heart and lungs (normal), put the hoof testers on his front feet (no soreness), tested him for hind-end weakness and ataxia (none noted), collected a stool sample for a fecal, and drew blood for a large-animal profile and possible testing for Cushings disease. By that time he was acting more like his busy self; I took him home.

While I was at the clinic, Rick asked if I was available to ride a horse later. He has taken ownership of a client's horse to try and find him a good home rather than putting him down, and wanted me to evaluate him. So later this afternoon I met Rick at the stable where Larry is boarded, and got in a ride after all!

Larry is a 22-year-old warmblood who has been shown to Prix St. George; he is out of condition, has Cushings disease and an old injury. But he's a sweet old gentleman, and after we got acquainted while warming up, he was actually a joy to ride! (The experience made me realize just how little response I've been getting out of Lance; I sure hope the blood work tells us something definitive.) The stable where Larry is boarded is willing to give him room and board in exchange for using him as long as Rick will cover his medical expenses, so I will probably go over and ride him again. Who knows; maybe he has another PSG test in him! I just need one more score for my silver medal.... ;-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Two rides in the bank

I did get Lance out for a ride in our snow-covered arena on Sunday. Yesterday I decided we'd have better footing on our thawing gravel lane, so we schooled there and cooled out in a snowy field.

I'm not sure what opportunities we'll have the rest of this week; the temperature is going up but the rain is coming down.

Our ODS chapter's league show is coming up at the end of February; I need to pull out my test booklet to see what we're ready for and ride with those tests in mind. I also want to schedule a couple lessons with Julie to utilize her eyes on the ground.

Looks like I'll be the eyes on the ground for someone else soon if we can work it out. A schoolmate of Brian's is interested in taking dressage lessons and entering our show; we're going to try to meet up for the first time this Sunday. I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Unintended consequences

An unplugged de-icer means... least an inch of ice on his stock tank this morning. :-/
I really need to bite the ice cube and get Lance out for a ride today. He needs a better outlet for his energy than figuring out a way to reach his extension cord!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wild week

I've only gotten in two rides this week – but at least I've gotten in two rides this week! I didn't work Tuesday, so took advantage of the calm weather to work on our dance moves with Lance. That night it snowed, a LOT. I wanted to take Lance for a ride in the white stuff Wednesday, but we ended up busy as a family and I ran out of daylight. No worries; all that snow was still around to ride in today. ;-)