November has been a great month. I'm getting to ride nearly every day, and feel blessed to do so each and every ride. The stirrups have stayed off my saddle for #NoStirrupNovember except for a couple rides down the lanes, when I thought it prudent to play it safe and be able to get back on if I should need to dismount for any reason. Lance has been great, though, so I did ride down through the woods on Friday (#optoutside) without stirrups. Wouldn't you know it; we encountered a very noisy Harley-Davidson that made Lance nervous so I hopped off, but there was a big rock nearby to use as a mounting block. (Even as a tall, spry teen, I was never able to swing/jump up onto the back of a 16hh horse from the ground!)
On our Friday ride I saw this BLOOMING rhododendron at someone's place!
And whether Lance thinks it's great or not, he has been working up a bit of sweat each ride. It seems to be helping, too; it has been a bit easier to buckle his girth the last couple of times. ;-)
Lance got two days off because of weather and work, but we got to ride in nice weather today. My mustang is bordering on FAT, so I've decided we need to up the intensity of our rides while keeping up the frequency. The goal: sweat. Not WET, just some sweat under the saddle or at least the girth, which is what we got today. We actually had a very nice little dance session; his walk-canter and canter-walk transitions were sharp, and he was meticulous in picking his way through the semi-circle trot poles. We finished with a good gallop around the arena to blow away the cobwebs. ;-)
A fat and fuzzy mustang, crunchy leaves, green grass, woolly sheep, smoke coming from the chimney, saddle sans stirrups – yep, this scene says November!
I'm trying to coordinate a lesson with an instructor I used and loved for years. (Difficulty coordinating time and place was why I switched to Julie, who has moved to SC.) I would like to long-line Lance sometimes rather than lunge him, but don't feel proficient at the finer points; Suzan is a master at long-lining. She worked with me and Russell once on long-lining years ago, but Russell did not like it. Hence my lack of proficiency!
Today's forecast was wet and windy. After doing morning chores, I started the steamer for supper hay. When the timer went off, it was just spitting rather than raining, so I pulled on my warm winter breeches and went to the barn. Once there, I waffled; the spit seemed to be getting heavier. I headed back to the house; it really wasn't that wet. I turned around and headed back towards the barn.... Wash, rinse, repeat a few times (hey, it fed the FitBit) before I told myself to Just Do It – and did!
And the whole day will feel the better for it. ;-)
We warmed up in the arena, then rode down to the mailboxes and back, doing a little lateral work, a bit of trot and even smaller bit of canter. Short; sweet. I think my mustang man is feeling better; hurray!
Now I'm back inside a warm house with a fire going in the woodstove; the wind has definitely picked up. No photos, but how about a list of things I'm thankful for – eight for the 8th of November.
Warm winter breeches by Boink, a gift from my husband many years ago. I misplaced them for a couple years; so glad to have found them again!
Warm winter gloves by Kerrits – their riding gloves, winter and summer versions both, are my favorites.
My saddle – inexpensive (even more so because I got it used) and synthetic, it fits both of us well and is weatherproof.
Our arena. As places to ride out from home become more restricted, it has become essential.
My handy husband, who built our arena (after the dirt work was done), and my cavaletti, and the hay steamer, and much more.
My professional husband, who has done so much mundane and advanced work to keep/get my horses healthy and sound over the years.
Fun challenges like #NoStirrupNovember.
Last but not least, my mustang man, Lancelot Dun Dino!
I was wrestling with my teenage son the other day when he protested, "No, not the dressage thighs!" I gave an evil chuckle and said, "Just wait; they're going to be even stronger by the end of #NoStirrupNovember!"
I just realized I used stirrups the morning of November 1 before the farrier came – and before I knew about #NoStirrupNovember. As you can see, it was a gorgeous day on our hill. We haven't been out of the arena since; Lance is (and always has been) barefoot and I hate to ask him to walk on gravel right after a trim. Today I rode the warm-up, then lunged him to focus on "forward," and finished with a bit more mounted work to enjoy the results. Here's my autumn-colored mustang man today in fine flesh:
Lance and I are still here, still getting saddle time. In fact, I try to ride nearly every day. Nothing too long or strenuous; while he's breathing easy in his stall now, he's quickly winded by exertion thanks to the changes in his lungs. I've received some good information via Kentucky Equine Research's e-newsletters; this article helped me understand Lance's current limitations (and yes, we're going to try to reverse some of the damage using that therapy).
We use our arena,
and we ride down the gravel lanes, enjoying the changing scenery.
We even competed in a show recently! The American Mustang and Burro Association's new Marketing and Event Director organized an "Internet Horse Show." Competitors submitted free entries, photos (for halter classes and the "Ride the Brand" class) and/or videos (for the pleasure riding and trail classes), which were judged and placed. I thought, "Why not try?", and solicited Brian's and my neighbor's (at the mailboxes) help in shooting video. Here are the videos of us negotiating all the requirements of the trail class:
I figured Lance could manage the 30 seconds of trot and 30 seconds of canter required for the pleasure riding class, but even that caused a coughing fit in the middle, poor guy. I fumbled my way through iMovie enough to edit that out, though; here is the video I submitted:
(Thankfully the arena is dust-free now, and Lance no longer coughs.)
Out of ten participants, Lance WON the Halter Gelding class, and came in second in both the riding classes! Since he doesn't have a BLM brand, being domestically bred, we couldn't compete in Ride the Brand class or have a chance at winning Grand Champion, but it was fun and I'm looking forward to the promised Spring internet show.
I've had a new post started for weeks, and have added and edited often in my mind. There is much to say and nothing to say when your partner has a chronic condition, but that's all I have to say about that tonight.
Rick got paged earlier, and left to pay one final visit to Russell, my old partner, the horse in my header, the big guy who took such wonderful care of Brian when he was a little guy, along with being my dancing partner. He has been having increasing instability due to neck issues, and tonight he can't get up. It breaks my heart, yet I am so thankful to have had him in my life and then to have found a retirement home where he could live out his days happily, and be treated compassionately at the end.
Good-night and good-bye, Special Majesty. You were, indeed,
Yesterday afternoon we turned the horses out, bringing them in after dark when we got home from a dinner date (the teenager was gone for the weekend).
Lance has been breathing worse again ever since. I saddled up for a ride today, but all we did was a little work at the walk when it was clear he didn't feel good. Now I don't feel very good, either. Amazing how much the health of my horse affects my state of mind. :-/
Last night I saddled up at sundown, and was treated to the above views from our arena. It felt like the universe was celebrating the changing weather and Lance's improvement! After our warm-up walk we headed down the road; I relished the quiet, the coolness, the "give" in the gravel lane, and most of all, the fact that Lance was breathing easy and feeling better.
Rick tells me not to be in a hurry to cut back on either of Lance's meds; I will heed that because I don't want to set him back. I washed Lance's turnout sheet to remove all the old dust and potential allergens; wearing it will protect him some from mosquitoes and keep him cleaner so we can maximize our time together. I've confirmed that one of the two brands of bedding pellets we have on hand is 100% fir (I'm still waiting to hear from the other company). I catch myself looking to the future, thinking of taking occasional lessons and even entering a schooling show, but then remind myself to just enjoy the present. Amen.
Sorry for breaking down; it's been an emotional year watching my horse struggle to move air and realizing he's probably had this issue to some extent for years. (The photo on my phone cover was taken in February 2016 at the last show we competed at; he had NO energy at that event – and that was more common that not.) Thanks to Kris and Terry for reaching out and offering suggestions that may help my mustang man; I've already taken actions to implement some of them, in addition to what I am already doing (spirulina pellets and freshly ground flaxmeal daily, along with the twice-daily oral prednisolone and antihistamine). The good news is that Lance is breathing much easier this week!
Last Sunday my local chapter of our state dressage organization held their annual picnic at Willamette Mission State Park. Some camped there; my friend Kate and her husband hauled in for a day ride, as did I (we ended up on the ferry at the same time with our rigs; I wish I'd gotten a photo of that!). It was chilly and drizzly so our group of seven faded to just the three of us. We had a lovely, long walk through the level park, and Lance did just fine.
Sunday evening Rick acted on a conversation we'd had last week. It occurred to me that our bedding pellets might be made of alder, one of Lance's "hot triggers." Rick checked both brands we have on hand, and neither state the content, but alder is a commonly milled softwood around here so it's definitely possible. I had picked up a couple bags of pine pellets to try, but hadn't stripped Lance's stall yet. Bless his heart, my husband cleaned out both stalls, pressure-washed stalls, walls, and ceiling to knock down all the dust, then put the pine pellets in Ollie's stall and used some fir micro-shavings he had purchased for the blueberries in Lance's stall. It hasn't been this clean since we built the paddocks and extended the roof!
I didn't take note of Lance's breathing until yesterday when I went down to ride, after publishing my post. It was calm! We schooled in our sand arena (nicely watered by a couple days of wonderful rain) and although we didn't work long or hard and took lots of walking breaks on a long rein, his breathing remained slow and easy. This morning it was the same, even though his breathing has been at its worst in the mornings before this.
Could it be the flaxmeal and spirulina? Possibly. Is it the change of weather and cleaner air? I doubt it; we realized he was heaving badly last January, in the middle of our rainy season. I'm ready to bet the farm that we've been aggravating his IAD with alder bedding and want sell all that we have on hand to buy pine pellets, but Rick is more cautious. So we'll probably test my theory when Lance's stall needs to be stripped again, using what we have on hand and watching carefully for a reaction. If Lance's breathing deteriorates, hallelujah; we will have identified an easily remedied environmental issue and can maybe ease him off the steroid and antihistamine for much of the year. Stayed tuned!
Sunday I came face-to-face with a friend who follows my blog. She said, "I've been checking every day for 17 days now to read the results of Lance's allergy testing that you promised back on August 31!" I know, I know; I've been a ba-a-a-a-ad blogger. If you follow my other blog, you know that time and energy have been in short supply; in the case of this blog, I've lacked motivation, too. Oh, there is much to report on, but when you are dealing with a chronic condition like Lance's you never get to announce a recovery or cure. :-/
About the allergy testing. On the last Friday of August the dermatologist and his resident came out to do a skin test on Lance. Rick was running late so they weren't sure how to proceed, since they often tranquilize their patients and Rick was going to do that. But I told them I thought the test would be a non-issue; Lance has always been a great patient and needles aren't a problem. Sure enough, he stood like a rock for getting shaved, marked, and finally, "pin-pricked" (Rick showed up once the test was underway).
The results were pretty clear – and heartbreaking. Out of 61 sampled allergens, Lance has several "hot triggers": nettle, mosquitoes, household dust (not to be confused with "dirt dust," they said), alder, maple, walnut, and black ants. Only one of ten different mold spores got a reaction, which was a pleasant surprise since molds are a common trigger and they run rampant here three seasons out of four. But nettles, alder, maple, and walnut grow all around us, and their pollens aren't just around when they bloom because those pollens become part of the dust/dirt. I don't see black ants around here, but we do have some mosquitoes.
What to do? Allergy shots for that many triggers would be prohibitively expensive and would have to be redone at regular intervals. Moving him to an environment devoid of most if not all his triggers would be ideal, but where would that be and who could I trust with my big red goober? One name came to mind: Anna Blake. The photos on her blog don't show our lush green growth, and from blog posts, emails, and meeting in person, I knew I could trust her with Lance . . . if my heart could let go of him. Shipping Lance to eastern Colorado – and shipping him back to OR if CO didn't help him – would be expensive. But it might give him the opportunity to live a long, loved, useful life without daily drugs. Anna and I have exchanged emails, and for now have left it hanging because I'm not really sure my heart would go on....
Sorry; I was going to update you to the present day, but am having trouble seeing my computer screen at the moment. More later.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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! ;-)