Hot & Cold

Remember when I said omeprazole was ordered so hopefully that wouldn’t be a long time coming? Definitely jinxed it. It’s been on back order; hopefully it will be here on Friday.

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The farm I have him at has neighbors with 500 acres we can ride on when their fields are fallow ❤

I say hopefully because the last three or so rides with Joker have been… interesting. We settled into a groove in late November as long as he wasn’t the only horse being ridden indoors. At the beginning of December, we went on our first trail ride with a group from the barn and he did super. You could tell he really loved being ridden out as opposed to indoors. We went about 3 1/2 miles in an hour (there were people in the group who were only comfortable with walking) but it was heavenly to me.

Last week, I rode him three days – two nights in the indoor plus one mini trail ride. Each ride was progressively more tense. I had a half-day at work last Friday so another lady and I decided to take advantage and go for a trail ride in the same area as before. It took me a solid five minutes to get Joker off the property – he just planted his feet and said “No, thanks.” I tried an opening rein, pony club kick, circling, zig zagging, letting the other horse go first. Nothing. Finally, I think he just got tired of me and moved off. He wasn’t up or tense when we set out but when we got to the field across the way, he checked out. The trail ride only lasted half an hour because his behavior was frightening the other lady. To me, he wasn’t being a nightmare (I spent almost a decade riding green beans). But to be fair, he was jigging and being looky and pulled some hard stops every once in a while. I told her I was fine and that I would definitely let her know if I felt like we were in any danger. This was this lady’s third trail ride I later learned so that explained her apprehension. Joker was pretty lathered when we got back; note that he didn’t break a sweat on our first trail ride and it was twice as long.

I gave Joker the next day off and went back out on Sunday with another woman from the barn who agreed to trail ride with me. It’s been 60 degrees in December (Northern Indiana) which is ridiculous so I wanted to take advantage of it. We went a different route and Joker was slightly jumpy but much better although he spent most of the ride pretty up though. We got caught in the rain so headed back to the barn to finish our ride. Joker was tense and bracey inside so I tried to do some suppling exercises and used some trot poles. He improved after a while so I called it quits.

He got Monday off which brings us to Tuesday night’s ride. He was in the cross ties alone again which seems to be happening a lot lately. He pawed and weaved but didn’t rear. He was pretty squirmy to tack up and gave me some hard looks when I was slowly tightening his girth (anyone else hearing the screaming ULCERS yet).

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Breaking up text with the Pandora charm my parents got me

Someone else was just leaving the arena (with a super cute Oldenburg gelding) when we got in and Joker was none too pleased. I worked with him on the ground a little first on the lunge and then yielding various parts of his body. He was a little up but listening.

So I got on. And sigh. And ow.

He was a freight train. He was yanking my arms out of their sockets for the whole 30 minutes. He acted like he wanted to be a run away train so I decided, why not, I’ll just let him go. So up into a canter we went (it’s really too small to gallop) and I pushed him out and while he grunted and stayed stiff, he didn’t let any squirrels out. So we trotted some then cantered some and I tried to work in a lot of transitions to get his mind and body unwound.

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Freight train? Me? I am majestic angel

Nothing. I could hear him grinding his teeth (in a hackamore) and his back was like a two by four it was so stiff. He was spooking at things that have been in there since he’s been at this barn and tried to outright bolt twice. I’ve never heard a horse grunt almost the entire ride. And grind their teeth without a bit in their mouth. When I could finally walk him a lap without him trying to boot scoot, I called it a night. And immediately texted Elise, “Please tell me the omeprazole is off back order soon.”

It sounds really rough but in reality I’ve been having so much fun. We’ve had some pretty bad days but we’ve had some good ones sprinkled in too. Being back in the saddle has been like coming home. Even when I’m having to get after him or preparing for sillies, I’m having a blast. My body somehow remembers all of this. Sure, I’m no equitation queen and may never be again, but I know I’m not riding like a complete sack of potatoes and I’m really proud of that. My husband has come out once or twice and taken video and I kind of do a double take. Is that my stable lower leg? Wait, my toes aren’t turned out at the canter? Hold on, he looks that nice going around? It’s really reaffirming.

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I’m not a personal trainer so take this with a grain of salt but I’m attributing my relatively quick acclimation to riding again to the hard, hard work I’ve put in at the gym over the past two years. While I haven’t been able to ride much before Joker since college, I’ve been hitting the gym hard. Five days a week at 5AM. I lift weights and I run and I do some exercises my physical therapist gave me to strengthen my hip flexors for riding (she rides too). I’m no body builder but I’ve spent two years methodically lifting and conditioning myself.

And damn, I gotta say, I’m not as weak as I thought I would be in the saddle. It was mainly about getting the balance right and the minute feeling of where to put/move/keep your body in different gaits, to ask for leg yields, etc. I still have a long ways to go to be technically correct again and that’s ok.

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If the omeprazole comes on Friday like it’s supposed to, we’ll start Joker on it over the weekend. I’m going to give him a week off (the weather is finally getting back to season normal 30’s) from riding but go out and spend some down time with him. Hopefully after a week, when I go to ride him next, his tummy will be feeling a lot better. Fingers crossed because I hate fighting him, especially when I’m 99% sure he’s in some degree of belly pain.

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Tucker needs love too

On a much happier note, husband agreed that we could drive up so I could ride Nibbles this weekend. I haven’t seen her in person since the show in September and I haven’t ridden her since July (!?!?!!). I’m out of my mind excited. First of all, I feel completely prepared because I’ve been riding several days a week. I know I can do this. Second, I get to ride my horse. Third, I’ve never cantered her before (when I backed her, we only made it through walk and trot before she went to Elise) and I’m super, super excited to feel it. Fourth, I get to ride my horse. Fifth, MY HORSE.

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November Riding Goals

Joker is now out of quarantine and into the pasture with some other geldings. His new friend tried to follow us out of the pasture but didn’t make a fuss when we left for the barn. There were two other horses in the barn when we came inside but they left quickly so Joker had to deal with being alone again. There was a lot of fidgeting and trying to peek as far out of the crossties as possible but no rearing. Progress is progress!

I rode Joker Joe for 20 minutes last night. He wasn’t quite as good as Monday with Elise here but was definitely still willing to make concessions. It took about 10 minutes to get him to slow down from mach 5 – rushing around and blowing through aids is much easier than trotting around like a good pony. But he eventually conceded and a good pony he was.

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We worked at the walk and primarily the trot. For the first time with him I added in some change of rein across the diagonal as well as some circles. There is junk in every corner of the already small-ish indoor so serpentines are a bit of a tight fit. Circles seemed to be hard enough for the time being but I’m hoping to get coordinated enough for figure eights that don’t involve dirtbike turns. We may have had a couple of those!

Husband and I are visiting family out of town, leaving Friday and getting back later on Sunday which means tonight is my last ride until next week. Really looking forward to it. He was off the tums the day before yesterday but he got them last night so I’m hoping to see him even happier this evening.

Now that I have a riding horse (thank you so, so much again, Elise), I get to make some riding goals! Sure, they’re small and super basic but they’re riding goals.

  • Participate in No Stirrup November by committing to one ride per week without stirrups. We’ll start there and see how his back does. With the ulcers, he’s pretty tense and a tiny bit sore over his back so I don’t want to make it any worse by flouncing about.
  • Work on appropriate rein position and length by tying my reins, keeping them shorter than feels normal, and maintaining one fist length above and in front of the saddle. I have a tendency to want reins that are too long. I don’t know if it’s from my hunter days or if I feel like I’m holding too tight. Either way, I know that once my seat is more secure and independent again, I’ll feel like I’m bracing less with my upper body and hands. In the meantime, I’ll work on getting  a feel for where my hands and elbows should be – not super low and straight out, respectively.

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!

Nibbles Update

Trainer Elise blogged about her ride on Nibbles yesterday – complete with a little XC field galloping! Nibbles is doing so well and really growing up.

Here is a video of her trotting along in the autumn leaves. I’m jealous!

Joker hasn’t changed yet. As soon as he can’t see other horses, he melts down. Elise is actually driving down today so we can work with him together and see if she can provide some insight. In the meantime, he’s getting a slew of tums everyday to see if that doesn’t alleviate any minor ulcer symptoms so his body can heal itself. We are trying to avoid having to shell out cash to scope him but, if this doesn’t work, I think a course of UlcerGard will be in order. Horses, right?