Joker Update + Winter is Coming

In mid-December, Joker’s omeprazole came off back order and we started his daily dose. I decided to give him a week off then see where we stood. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen a change. It’s been almost a month. If he can’t see other horses, he loses his 22-year old marbles. After we work for 15 minutes or so in the arena, he seems to do alright…usually. If there are other horses around, he’s fine. I have never seen a horse his age demonstrate new behavior like this. Hence my suspicion of ulcers.

But no results so far. It is what it is and I’ll continue to do my best to do right by little Joker Joe until he goes back to Elise in mid-March. I’ve sort of accepted that he’s bad in the cross ties and is going to take a solid 15 minutes work under saddle to through.. whatever it is he’s got going on in there.

During our last ride this past Thursday, there was a (drool worthy) young Oldenburg gelding who was being lightly lunged with a saddle for the first time. Joker didn’t flinch when the other horse bootscooted yet can’t seem to handle being alone…. horses, I tell you! I talked to the young lady working the Oldenburg and we agreed that she’d take half of our weeny indoor and I’d take the other.

We essentially had a 20 meter circle to work with given the space constraints. So I dropped my stirrups and really worked on opening my hips and keeping my hands up. In the few passes by the lounge window (that I use as a mirror #gottadowhatyougottado), I felt really good about my posture and ear-hip-heel alignment. Success! I’m no FEI rider but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made since early November of being back in the saddle after years away.

Leg yielding down the long side is asking for sass with Joker so I decided maybe it wasn’t the best idea to push it in even a smaller space. Joker isn’t really used to using his body like dressage asks for so I try to be very patient, especially in light of his age. For fun, I thought I’d ask for a little shoulder fore and see what we had.

And shoulder fore we had! I was completely pleasantly surprised. In both directions, it clearly made sense to him. Hmmm, wait, but leg yields are hard….

Light bulb. Exacerbated when it’s cold out, Joker is stiff, especially behind. Leg yielding is tough for him but shoulder fore is not. Is there a pattern? Perhaps. I have a hunch that Joker Joe is out in his SI, sacrum or both. Luckily, Elise is an amazing owner and immediately said let’s get the chiro out.

So, when the weather allows, I will schedule him.

Did I mention the weather is throwing off my groove?

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But really, not only am I not used to this real winter thing (I’ve lived in either Kentucky or Nashville all my life)… I’m pretty sure it’s not advisable to drive half an hour away from civilization to ride a 20+ year old horse when it’s not even 20 degrees.

Or not even 10 degrees.

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This was this morning at the gym. Check out the Feels Like.

That shouldn’t be legal. But it apparently is. Lame. And it comes with snow. We got about 6 inches in the past 24 hours and it’s supposed to continue snowing for another 6 or so.

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Excuse me while I grumble and hide inside with my cat and fifty blankets and beverage of choice.

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Thirty-two Tums and A Visit From The Trainer

I’ve kept Trainer Elise in the loop given Joker’s antics. She’s had him for 15 years so she knows him better than anyone. After racking our brains, the only explanation we could come up with is ulcers. Before we jumped in and bought omeprazole, Elise wanted to try giving him something I’ve never thought of that she received as a suggestion from her bodyworker. I’m not a vet so don’t take my advice as one but I thought you may find this interesting too.

UlcerGard’s active ingredient is omeprazole. Omeprazole is a proton pump inhibitor (PPIB) which means it stops the pumps in the stomach from making acid.

Tums are calcium carbonate. They are not a PPIB, just an antacid. However, the antacid can temporarily and mildly alleviate the symptoms of digestive upset such as an ulcer. It will not heal the ulcer but it can act as a litmus test for digestive issues and give the gut a little reprieve so, in the instance of minor issues, the body may be able to heal itself.

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According to Elise’s friend, 32 tums is the magic number to see an effect in horses. So I went and bought a bottle of generic, peppermint tums and popped 32 into Joker on Sunday afternoon. Or rather, my husband did while I took pictures and squeed because he doesn’t come to the barn often and seeing them together made my heart go pitter patter. Joker ate them slowly and piece by piece but I later found from Elise that that is normal behavior for him.

Elise offered to drive down and work with him together. That happened to work out the day after he got his first “dose” of antacid. I was so relieved she was coming to see him because I was feeling really baffled and not sure what to do with him because his behavior was pretty extreme.

Making friends. Little Joker is only 14.1.

Making friends. Little Joker is only 14.1.

So last night, Elise and I met at the barn and as soon as I saw Joker in his pasture, I knew it would be different. I’m calling it tums and being there for a week now for lack of a better explanation. His eyes were quite literally brighter and his head was up. Okay, maybe he was happy to see his mom, but I still think it was remarkable. (Editing to add that Elise hasn’t been his regular rider for a long time. He’s been a kids pony for lots of little ones so he hasn’t been a one person horse.)

We brought him into the barn which was had several other horses in the cross ties. Darn,  that’s the first time as normally he has been completely alone and I think that’s part of the problem. The other horses left pretty quickly, which meant we’d get a good look at his attitude in similar circumstances. Joker decided he wanted to look around and fidget but he did not rear once. He never completely checked out. You know when horses just leave and there’s nothing you can do to bring them back down to planet earth until they work out that adrenaline or upset? Like you’re just a ragdoll on the end of the line and, as far as they’re concerned, you don’t exist? That’s what it was like before. That is NOT what he was like this time. He wasn’t perfect pony pants but it was a big improvement even over the first day he arrived when Elise had him in the cross ties with me and he was naughty even then.

ze crosstie area

ze crosstie area

In the cross ties, I was able to pick out his feet for the first time. I literally couldn’t get a hoof up in between rears before. The saddle went on a back that wasn’t dancing around. I was tickled at this point and we hadn’t even tried riding him. Elise did a little bit of ground work, just getting him to yield his shoulder and his haunches, some small circles and changes of direction, checking to see if the gerbils were home. This is very similar to what I’ve done with him so I was really pleased to see we were on the same page. The gerbils were home. When we first went into the arena, another horse was being lunged. They left before groundwork was done which was good because, again, it was a great test to see how Joker would react. He noticed but stayed with Elise.

I like my new tack locker

I like my new tack locker

We finished tacking Joker up and Elise hopped on. At this point, other horse was back in the arena being ridden. Walking around, Joker looked tight and Elise remarked on as much. We both agreed – he was tense and coiled but he wasn’t explosive. Other horse left again and he didn’t seem to care. They picked up a trot and, while the tension was there, he went around without his nose in the air in a cute little frame. She got after him a couple of times for ignoring her inside leg but that was it. Then she asked for the canter.

Oh man, we were both in tears. Sorry, Joker, buddy, but your theatrics were hysterical. If you can imagine a horse trying to do a Spanish trot – legs flying out, hyper extended, knees almost to nose – that what Joker did… except cantering behind, trotting -ish up front, head shaking in displeasure (not lame).  Trotting was the limit, said Joker’s belly. And that was fine. The first (and only) time I had ridden him, there was nothing I could do to get his nose out of outer space and I didn’t have a martingale.

She hopped off and offered me the reins. As soon as I sat in the saddle, I felt a difference. I told her if this was tense, then he was a robot the first time I was on him because it was a huge improvement. So we walked around and Elise had me shorten my reins a bit and reminded me that if I give a little halfhalt with my inside ride, he’ll stay connected to my hands and not fling like crazy.

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Never has someone ridden in longer stirrups in a close contact saddle #dressageprobz

I’ve never been so excited to trot you guys. I had so much fun in the maybe 10 minutes I was on him. He wasn’t completely relaxed but he was with me and listening. When I slowed my posting, he matched my rhythm. Telling me to slow my posting doesn’t click in my brain. Elise had a great little analogy: try to lengthen the amount of time your thighs touch the saddle to regulate their rhythm. Lightbulb! Immediately I had less of a roadster and, if its possible, was grinning even wider.

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I hopped off and we brushed him and I gave him some facerubs. It really seemed like I was seeing bits of his personality for the first time. That night, Elise placed an order for omeprazole. We’ll do a month’s worth and see where that gets us.

I’m going to the gym with husband instead of the barn tonight (after two weeks of being sick and being out of it) so he won’t get his tums today but the plan is to go out again tomorrow after work, hit him with 32 more little chalky guys, and ride. Fingers crossed the gerbils are here to stay!