Full On Meltdown

Horse blogging is about being honest, right? Even when it’s ugly?

Prepare for ugly.

Nibbles reached a new peak of meltdown last night. When I got there, it was quiet. When I pulled her into the barn to tack up, they started cutting hay across the road. She immediately started worrying. Put the saddle on, she’s watching for the tractors. Before I even attach the girth, she starts dancing and starts weaving away from me. She didn’t bite but kept giving me the hairy eyeball and even bobbed her nose towards me. I guess it’s worth defending the fact that I slowly tighten her girth after lunging her; I never crank it tight from the start. I wish I could clearly articulate how unusual this behavior is for her. I think she’s in heat but at 6 years old, she’s never been more than just a little sensitive when in heat.

When we got to the arena, the BO start up a buzz saw. And it all culminated in a horse I could not get focused on me, not even a little. In fact, I didn’t recognize this horse. Her behavior has become so frantic and uncharacteristic. She’s normally such an easy going horse. This pattern started and has been getting worse since my other mare left for Canada. It’s been a little under a month now and based on the mild colic episode last week and her behavior worsening, I’m starting to suspect the vet was right and she may have ulcers.

Last night was the first time I’ve had to use an emergency dismount in several years. I knew I was in actual danger and she wasn’t just been a greenie. My butt was in the saddle all of 60 seconds when I felt like she was going to flip over on me. At this point, I’m exasperated because I don’t want rides to turn into something that start scaring me and spiral downhill for her.  Up until now, she hasn’t scared me and I haven’t gotten angry with her. But I feel like I’m running out of strategies to help her and myself. The trainer I used to work with hasn’t gotten back in touch with me for a long time now and apparently she’s doing so well that she’s almost always traveling out of state.

Oh, and when I got off, I untacked her and thought maybe letting her free lunge would get the ants out of her pants. She proceeded to trot like the stereotypical Arabian, tail over her back, head jacked way up, snorting like the arena was surrounded by fire breathing monsters. Then she galloped. And when she started skidding herself into the fence, I decided it wasn’t worth her getting hurt and caught her and walked her out. Then hosed her down. I dropped the end of the lead rope and it made, you know, the sound of a lead rope hitting the ground softly. And she jumped out of her skin. What in the world? That is not like Nibbles at all.

So where do I go from here? I think there are two things. The first is having her evaluated by a vet. Because the change in behavior is so dramatic, I want to rule out ulcers or any other health problems/pain. Cue my bank account groaning. Secondly, my search for a new trainer needs to start bearing fruit. I wondered if we’d get to a point where I couldn’t handle what she dishes out and, whatever the cause, we’re there. And I don’t want to make it worse or start allowing bad behaviors, especially if they’re just lack of work ethic.

And that’s my fear. Did I just wait too long by waiting to back her until a late five year old? Have I ruined her somehow? I try to do the best I can with what I have but maybe that’s not enough. Not to sound mellow dramatic and not to sound like I’m giving up but maybe I’ve over-faced myself here and need to do some re-evaluating. I keep going down the list: where did I mess up? Bring her back into work slowly? Check. Make sure tack fits? Check. Be clear and fair with what I ask for? Check. Don’t crank her head in but encourage her moving out? Check. Reward the slightest try? Check. Avoid getting angry, even when she may deserve it in my mind? Check!!

Anyway, I’m deciding which vet I want to have look at her. I’m also debating having a very good friend of mine who is a chiropractor come out to look at and possibly adjust her. She also happens to work closely with a few vets and I trust her eye and general horse wisdom.

I’m all ears if anyone has any experience with behavior/behavior change like this. Obviously, I’m an amateur but I’m not green and I’m actively trying to find a trainer (that I trust). I feel like I’m all out of ideas. Help? Encouragement?

Editing to add I will not be getting back on her until after a full consultation with a vet at minimum.

Tractors, Saddle Fit and a Show

Although the title sounds epic, this will be a pretty bland post, especially because I have no pictures from this weekend.

Tractors

So as I wrote on Friday, our Thursday ride was wonderful. When I got to the barn on Friday after work, I was pretty excited to ride and thought to myself, “Is there any better way to start a weekend?” That’s when I noticed a really loud sound coming from across the road. The neighbor had his two ancient, constantly backfiring tractors out and was baling hay. If someone else had been out there with me, I would have had to raise my voice to talk to them – that’s how loud it was. But dangit, I was determined to ride. Who cares if I’m on a total greenie who has likely never heard or seen anything like those tractors?

Have a picture of Nibbles looking cute from April?

Have a picture of Nibbles looking cute from April?

Nibbles cared. When I brought her in to groom and tack up, she was already on edge. The whole time in the barn, she was trying to turn around and stare at the tractors, eyes bulging. I decided, perhaps recklessly, that I didn’t want sounds and tractors to be an issue going forward so I would ride anyway. Maybe it was a selfish decision.

In the arena, she was tense and tight and distracted from the start. I walked her around the arena to let her get a good look around and exhale. That didn’t really help. Then I lunged her and she went around like a giraffe. That didn’t really help. Then I basically said here goes nothing and hopped on. I had my cell phone to call an ambulance, right?

All in all, she could have been worse. But boy was she naughty. Trotting was a definite giraffe impression with the most minimal effort ever to actually get in front of my leg. I figured it would be better to get her moving out then just walking around where she could overthink it. For the first time ever, Nibbles tried to buck. I’ve seen this horse buck in the pasture so I know what she did was nothing. But she tried it all the same. And she spun, tried to bolt, jigged, and generally melted down. It took 20 minutes to get a semi-relaxed walk and I called it a night. Sigh. I think the hay baling just blew her baby mind.

Saddle Fit

I didn’t get to go out there on Saturday; too many “real life” responsibilities. So I went out on Sunday with the intention to ride. Lo and behold, one of the other boards had taken her horse off the property moments before. This horse happens to be Nibbles BFF whom she is extremely attached to. So I arrived to Nibbles drenched in sweat, pacing and calling maniacally at the fence line. Sigh.

Rather than have two fights in a row, I decided baby horse needed a mental health day. To be fair, I have ridden her the last 10+ times I’ve come out. That’s totally new territory for her and, honestly, I didn’t want two back to back rides where I set her up to fail. I don’t think that’s fair to a green horse. Instead, she got a spa day and we had a saddle fitter take a look at the saddle I’ve been using on her.

Although it's obscure by a surcingle, this is my dressage saddle.

Although it’s obscure by a surcingle, this is my dressage saddle.

Did I mention one of the other two boarders at our tiny barn is a County saddle fitter? She’s going to reflock my saddle this week so I’ll try to get some pictures of the process. But here are the boring notes on her evaluation, mainly for my own memory:

  • Her left shoulder is more muscled than her right (she does go better tracking left)
  • Because of that, the saddle twists to the right in the back
  • She’s definitely a wide, which is what my saddle is
  • It’s slightly bridging on both sides
  • Overall, the balance of the saddle is good and for the most part it’s a good fit for her

So she’s going to build up the right front of the saddle to help compensate for her shoulders so the saddle doesn’t twist. She’ll also reflock the panels so it doesn’t bridge on her. I’m really excited because not only is she doing this completely free of charge (despite my insistence), she boards with me so as soon as we see Nibbles start changing, we can adjust the saddle. I’m really stoked about that.

Show

Is it totally wrong to want some of these? Photo from SmartPak.

Is it totally wrong to want some of these? Photo from SmartPak.

I mentioned very casually and at the very end of my last riding post that there’s a fun show coming up. I’ve made the decision to take Nibbles. I won’t get another opportunity this year for such a cheap, laid back show – hard to ask for a better first show. It’s not a dressage show, just an “open” schooling deal. What I haven’t decided is which classes we’ll do but I talked to the show manager and this is one of those enter as you go and pay at the end of the day deals. Score! We’ll at least do the sport horse in-hand stuff. But they also have a couple ridden classes that look very tempting. Two are walk-only and two are green horse walk/trot. Depending on how many horses are in the class, I think it could be really good exposure for her. At the very least, I’ll ride her while we’re there, even if not in a class.

The show is Saturday, October 11th, which also happens to be my birthday.

VCBH September 10 Questions

Thanks for the great questions, L. over at Viva Carlos!

  1. Is there something you don’t like about your riding? Right now, how rusty it is. I’m dying because my seat used to be so solid and I never tried to use my hands. Now, I remember what that felt like but I only get it for fleeting moments. Practice practice practice.
  2. Does your horse buck? Nibbles hasn’t done this under saddle yet…but watch now that I’ve written it down…
  3. Is your horse head shy? Not really. She used to be bad about taking the bridle but we worked through that. She’s a friendly horse who will throw her face at you for pets.
  4. Favorite barn chore to do? I like mucking and I like cleaning my tack. Both are a form of therapy.
  5. How many times do you ride a week? I have been shooting for no less than 3 days/week. I’ve been lucky with 4 or even 5 days lately. I have to fight for barn time and sometimes it’s hard. But I can see the benefits!
  6. Who is your favorite pro rider? Oh man. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t think Denny Emerson is amazing. But as he’s not still competing at the upper levels today, I’ll go with Ingrid Klimke. I love the way she trains and rides and the fact that as a dressage rider, she does not limit herself or her horses to just dressage. I admire that hugely.
  7. If one pro rider could train you for one day who would it be? Hmmm, I’d love to have someone from the Spanish Riding School torture educate me on the lunge line. Does that make me sick in the head?
  8. Favorite Facial Marking? I love Nibbles’ big, crooked blaze. But I think my favorite are big white noses and white lips – of which Nibbles has both!
  9. Leg Markings or No Leg Markings? Ha. Okay, I love me some chrome and Nibbles has quite a bit. And I actually take a lot of pride in white socks. But seeing as Nibbles is allergic to whitening/purple shampoos, I’m not having near as much fun with it. And it bothers me. There, I admit it! Hi, I’m Rebecca and I’m addicting to having the whitest socks in the barn.
  10. Ever broken anything falling off? Cracked a growth plate coming off an OTTB after a jump. She did nothing wrong but the bridle I had snapped for no apparently reason and it whacked her in the chest, she grabbed the bit in her teeth and off we went. I bailed but did a poor job of it and my ankle didn’t come out of the stirrup like I intended. I’ve fallen off plenty but that’s the only broken bone I can boast of (knock on much wood!).

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Teddy Roosevelt, anyone? Alternate title: we ride with a whip and light bulbs come on.

Last night was our first ride since Saturday. Four days – eek! She acted colicky on Monday then Tuesday/Wednesday I had other obligations. So I was a little apprehensive last night and sort of wished I had a crash vest to wear.

It turns out my fears were totally unfounded and Nibbles was awesome! She’s doing so well that I’m going to transition her to riding in a snaffle next week. She already knows all about wearing a bridle so we’ll just refresh turning with it and I think we’ll be good to go. I rode with a dressage whip last night and all of our moving out problems disappeared. We had our best trot work yet. I didn’t have to nag her and she didn’t get frustrated by leg pressure she doesn’t understand yet.

 nibs.9.25

Tomorrow I am meeting one of the other boarders at the barn to ride around the property together. This will be our first ride out of the arena. I feel like we are ready – it will just be around the pastures which are maybe 8 acres in total and, of course, all fenced. I have a hunch Nibbles will really like being out in the open. The other horse we’re riding with is well broke and easy going so I think it will be a positive experience.

I also finally bought the fly mask of doom on the way to the barn last night.

You've got to be joking...

You’ve got to be joking…

Nibbles is not a big fan. It extends about a centimeter over her nostrils. She decided she can still graze and I have the BO watching to make sure she’s still drinking as well. These are supposed to block 70% of UV rays so I’m hoping her blistered nose can heal. There are no stalls where we board so keeping her indoors altogether isn’t an option.

Review of my Piper breeches finally coming this weekend! I hope to ride in them for the second time tonight. I do believe I’m a fan…

tumblr_inline_mqx5lparZ21qz4rgpAnyone have any awesome plans – horsey or otherwise – this weekend?

PS – I just found a schooling/fun show on October 11th at the local fairgrounds that are really close by. I grew up showing there and the classes are super cheap. I’m not sure she’s ready to ride in a class but I’m sorely tempted to take her, show her in-hand, then ride her around for the experience. Temptationnnnn.

Autumn Reflections

Thank you to everyone for their well wishes for Nibbles! She’s back to her normal self and appears to be no worse for the wear. I wish I knew what caused her to act colicky but I guess it’s not always that easy.

I didn’t go to the barn yesterday. One of my best friends was in town very briefly before she and her husband move far away for his new job. They also just got a three month old Vizsla puppy whom I was dying to meet.

PaisleyI won’t be able to get to the barn tonight either due to other obligations so Nibbles will have had three days off. After talking to a few trainer friends, I’ve decided to try riding her with a crop to tap her shoulder when she doesn’t want to move forward and doesn’t respond to my seat-leg-then voice aid. It’s times like these where I wish I had a barn buddy to help us out of a sticky spot. But that’s a topic for another time.

I want to tackle a hot button topic today. I’m really looking forward to the comments on this so please don’t feel like your opinion doesn’t matter if this topic is not something you’ve personally dabbled in.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

A few years ago with my first horse, Morkie, sporting her rope halter.

I read an opinion piece called “What I Don’t Do Natural Horsemanship Anymore” and it really resonated with me. You see, as someone who ascribes to some natural horsemanship principles, I agree with some of the points she makes. In particular, she talked about how after six years of NH, she was too afraid to ride her horse. I got chills at this point because that was me.

Let me back up. I started taking riding lessons at an Arabian barn when I was 8 years old. I started out doing Arabian shows and won everything through the Regional level. When I was 11, my family moved 3 hours away from my trainer and we bought Morkie from my trainer and she came with us. Two years later I was the working student for a well-known dressage trainer in the Arabian world. Fast forward a few years to age 14 when I stumbled across a rescue case I couldn’t break away from. For those of you who know this story, that horse was Tiki.

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

The rescue horse, Tiki. 2010

At that time, I had left my working student position and I wasn’t working with a trainer regularly. I was introduced to a certain school of NH and had a lot of success getting past Tiki’s trust issues. And I really never stopped. Hindsight 20/20, what I realized I was doing was trading all of my riding time for NH time. It got to the point where I quit riding, I was so engrossed.

Enter Sara in 2009. After three years in my Equine Business program (still not with a trainer), I decided I wanted to run a breeding program because I knew I didn’t want to ride professionally. I hopped on a plane across country and met this 16 hand, unbroke four year old mare and fell in love. Can you see where this is going?

sara2010

Sara as a rising five year old in 2010.

I was boarding back at my first trainer’s barn but I didn’t want her help because I felt like she used methods I didn’t approve of. When Sara proved to be more complex than Tiki with NH, I turned back to my “normal” ways and things went really well until she contracted Strangles and was confined to a stall for 6 weeks. From there, things spiraled out of control. I did end up backing her myself in 2011 after moving barns. I had the help of a NH trainer and I can confidently say that Sara was given a great foundation. However, I still wasn’t riding.

Back to present day and the article. I very recently sold Sara. As a nine year old, she remained very green but, hey, if you wanted her to lunge over a tarp, she’d do that. Now that the only horse I have left is Nibbles (not including my broodmare who is out on lease and in foal), I’m faced with the same decision: do I NH my way into not riding again? Of course, the question doesn’t sound like that when I’m analyzing things but that’s really what I’m asking.

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So this is where I’m at. I still use the principles I learned. I treat the horse with respect. I prepare and do my best to set up the horse for success. But what I know now is that it’s not about NH – these are the principles of truly good horseman and have been for years before NH ever existed. It’s not about sticks and strings or backing a horse up by wiggling a rope. If I want to keep riding – and I desperately do – it’s about preparing on the ground then translating it to riding. It seems so simple looking back.

I’m still trying to find that sweet spot for me. As I work full-time and plan a wedding, going to the barn 7 days a week and taking lessons on several of those days just isn’t possible for me. But I’m fighting for barn time and I’m doing a good job of getting there 4 days a week. I’m tacking up and riding every. single. time. (ahem, except when Nibbles feigns colic)

I don’t know exactly where I’ll be or what my real goal is with horses now as a mid-twenties working woman and soon to be wife. But what I do know is this: I want to be the best rider for every horse I ride, even if I never step foot in a competition arena again. To do that, you have to actually ride.

What I do know is that I don’t want to be that person that lies to themselves about “Oh, but I love my horse” when in reality you’re too terrified to ride the horse you love so much. I’ve been there and I’m marching steadily away from that place. I know that will involve some tough decisions and change (like finding a new instructor) but I’m determined to do right by me as a rider and by my horse. Horses are too expensive and life is too short.

The Phone Call Horse People Dread

Colic. It’s a word that makes a horse person’s stomach turn. I’ve lost two horses over the years to severe colic cases; the last one was two years ago. I was packing up at the office to head to the barn last night when I got a call that went like this.

Barn Owner: “Hey Rebecca. Listen, she’s not bad but Nibbles has been getting up a down since she ate her grain. She’s also biting at her sides…”

Frick.

Me: “Okay, can you halter her and get her standing? I’m leaving now.”

Unfortunately, I work downtown and it takes me an hour to get to the barn during rush hour. On my way out, I called the vet and he actually beat me there. The wonderful barn owner handwalked Nibbles until I got there. I decided to have the vet on call (Dr. Griffin) out because I don’t know how to give an IV injection and he strongly cautioned me against giving it IM.

photo 1-7

By the time I got there, Nibbles was 95% herself. In fact, she never broke a sweat. The vet did give her 10cc Banamine IV but that’s it. Five minutes later, she was pooping and nibbling for hay scraps off the ground. Freaking. Horse. I stayed with her for the next hour and she was totally fine, having great gurgling gut sounds.

Freaking. Horse.

Freaking. Horse.

So Nibbles got a spa night in the end. I picked her tail and curried everywhere and scratched her itchy spots. We kept her in for a few hours then turned her back out Dr. Griffin recommended. This morning, the Barn Owner texted me to say she looks 100% back to normal but she’ll keep her eyes peeled. As for what caused it, the vet said to watch her closely for any behavioral changes but it may have just been a freak incident where something upset her enough to make her act colicky.

I’m giving her another day off to be sure then I’ll hop back on. Sigh. I guess it’s a good problem to have when you have the vet out on an emergency call that turned out to not be much of an emergency?