I sometimes wonder if I would pursue dressage if no awards were offered. Think about it. Would you bust your chops to get that next score if no certificate and patch were offered? What about getting that last Third Level score for a bronze if no bronze medal existed?
I am going to say that I would probably not be involved in dressage if it were not for the award programs offered by USDF and my own GMO, the California Dressage Society (CDS). I am a competitive person and highly goal oriented. While my motivation is mainly intrinsic - I am proud of a job well done, I do crave public recognition in the form of external rewards. I need at least some extrinsic motivation to propel me forward.
Fortunately, most of my motivation comes from within. Had I been the type who craves recognition in the form of podiums and endorsements, I would have quit long ago. Not to say there's anything wrong with being rewarded so dramatically; it's just that I would have lived life perpetually disappointed. I am simply not good enough to earn such a powerful spotlight.
I am good enough to earn certificates though, and Speedy and I have earned a pile of them! Since certificates are cheap, USDF and CDS can afford to be generous in how they're handed out. It is surprising how hard I have worked, and how much preparation and planning it took, to earn those certificates. While they may simply be a few words mass printed on a page, for me, they represent hard work and acknowledgement of a goal achieved.
Speedy and I were pretty successful this year if that success is measured by ribbons, trinkets, and certificates. The wins didn't come at CDIs and my competition was often just me, but I'll take those shiny small moments and hang them where they will continue to inspire me to keep trying.
What about you? Does your motivation come from within, or do you crave tangible proof of your success?
It's mine, but my head is hung in shame. How does it get this bad, and why haven't I dealt with it sooner? It was so grungy that I was forced to dunk each piece in a bucket of warm water to loosen the bits of cemented drool/hay/mud. Gross.
During Izzy's recent Boot Camp, I had to switch back and forth between his legal dressage bit and a corrective bit. Switching out bits on a crusty, stiff bridle is aggravating, so I grabbed an old bridle to use for the correction bit. This just meant that I now had three gross bridles to clean. They were so dirty that I had to bring them home. I couldn't face sitting hunched over on a mounting block in the cold with icy water. It was warmer in the house, and I had access to warm water, clean towels, and music. Having the dogs around for company didn't hurt either.
I started with Speedy's bridle, remembering to count from which holes everything was hanging. After I had cleaned and lightly conditioned the pieces to his bridle, I moved on to Izzy's back up bridle. After it was cleaned and laying in a pile, I reached for the third bridle. As I started counting holes, I paused and realized that there was no way I was going to remember the hole count for three bridles. I hastily reassembled the first two.
I had saved the worst bridle for last. Izzy's everyday bridle was a mess. I've said this before; he sweats like a sixteen year old boy. How can one horse create so much filth?
I ride Speedy in laced reins, not common for dressage, I know. Since Izzy is so strong, I've used nothing but rubber reins with him. They're wider and provide excellent grip. When I needed to add in a second bridle, I grabbed a standard pair of web reins with leather stops that I had laying around. I was shocked at what a different feel those reins gave me. (Speaking of feel.) They were lighter and allowed me to be much quieter with my rein aids.
Like everyone else, I have a tack room full of stuff. And like most of you, I also have a garage and office full of even more stuff. My husband calls it junk, but we know better. At home is where I keep my now unused endurance tack (all for sale!) as well as all of my extra extra bridles and reins. I have so many pairs of reins, many of them brand new, that I dragged them all out and went shopping for a new everyday pair.
I ended up choosing another pair of web reins, but I threw in a pair of synthetic reins (Beta, I think) that were soft and had a lively feel. I want to try them out and see what kind of feel they give me. They're smooth without any grips or stops so I suspect I discarded them because they slipped through my fingers. Since I have them, I'd like to give them a try anyway.
With my tack sparking clean and some new stuff to play around with, my next barn visit promises to be interesting. Who needs a Black Friday when you can shop in your own garage and closets for free?
This may wander a bit as I am just thinking out loud, but I recently had one of those epiphanies where you think, How have I not known that? Or in my case, how have I not been able to feel that?
I've been riding with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, for several years now. While she does come up with new stuff all the time, there are some things she has to say over and over and over. Deeper and rounder are two such things. In fact, not long ago she felt compelled to clarify that deeper and rounder are the same thing. She must have felt the need to explain it that way because Speedy was obviously neither of the two, indicating that my comprehension was lacking.
I don't remember the exact moment that it happened, but one day, I heard Chemaine's voice in my head say flex him to the inside to put him on your outside rein. At that moment, I felt something physically click into place. The bend isn't for the bend's sake. It shapes the horse's body so that the horse can move the way we want him to. Inside bend and outside rein are my new holy grail.
Think about it, how crucial is it that our horses be on the outside rein? It's everything! That's how you get a half halt. That's how you get haunches in or a turn on the haunches or a canter depart. And since the layers go on and on, I know that there must be even more that I'll be able to get from my boys when they're actually on the outside rein.
The thing with finally internalizing the idea of getting a horse on the outside rein is that it leads to lots of other ahas! like getting the horse even on both reins. I knew what that meant, but like the idea of inside bend, I didn't know it in my bones. It was more vague; something I was trying to create. Now, I get it; I feel the unevenness and work to get my horses better balanced between my two reins.
That's both the frustration and beauty of dressage. There is always, always more to learn, and even when you get it, eventually, you'll find an even deeper understanding of a concept you thought you already understood.
That's no joke. They have Cinderella feet for sure. Good thing I have a good farrier. Both of my boys stand very patiently for the farrier, so he just comes and does them whether anyone is around or not. As someone with a full time job, this makes my life so much easier.
Since I was on vacation last week, I was hoping to catch him in action so I could talk to him. I didn't have any major concerns, but there were a few things I wanted to ask him. He was pulling out as I pulled in, so we had a chat through our windows.
A year ago this past October, Speedy injured his coronary band sufficiently enough to put him out of business for several months. Ultimately, it has healed well except for one little thing. He's had a very narrow crack running from the ground up. That was the first thing about which I wanted to ask my farrier. When I mentioned it, he called it a line and said not to worry.
To address the line (it's a crack, am I right?), my farrier scooped out some of the hoof wall to keep it off the ground to prevent dirt from getting up inside. I am going to be honest here - while I recognize a decent shoe job and know when a foot looks horribly wrong, I leave the finer details to my farrier. That's what I pay him for. If he wants to call it a line instead of a crack and dig some hoof wall out to prevent dirt from getting in, go for it. If he says not to worry, I am worry free. So there was that.
When he finished with that clarification, he threw in a buuuuuttttt ... Well crap. I knew there had to be something. Right away he had noticed that Speedy's front feet had some unusual wear, especially THE RIGHT one. Oh, wait, you mean the one he had recently been lame on from WHIRLING AND PACING? That one? Yeah. Farrier noticed it and did some creative rasping to balance Speedy's hooves. My farrier was relieved to hear that there was an explanation for the wear because it wasn't normal for Speedy. I was just as relieved as he was.
Izzy, also known as Cinderella number two, got a good report for once. Instead of any problems, he got moved into a bigger shoe! This was great news since we put shoes on him this summer because he had worn his feet down to tiny little nubs and had gone lame because of it. Hearing that he had grown enough foot to be able to go to a correctly sized shoe for his body was great news.
Both of my Cinderellas are now good to go for the next month or so. I am keeping my fingers crossed that Speedy settles into the winter routine with no more pacing. My toes are crossed in hopes that Izzy will keep these new, bigger shoes firmly on his feet.
Farriers are certainly worth their weight in gold, and mine is no exception, but I don't want to pay him in gold for repeated visits!
Izzy's weeklong bootcamp is over, and while I didn't find out definitively whether or not he has ulcers, the experiment with UlcerGard gave me enough information to run it all by my vet. Quite a few of you chimed in with your own experiences and preferred tummy products; for that I thank you.
Here's what I found out:
1) By the third or fourth day on UlcerGard, Izzy was a much happier camper.
2) Izzy is more tense and anxious when the weather is less than perfect.
3) In less than perfect weather, Izzy does better with some lunging before he's ridden.
4) Five days after completing the first tube of UlcerGard, Izzy was a complete jackass.
5) Based on the return of the jackassery, I am changing Izzy's supplements to include something to aid his digestive health.
Rather than continue to guess on a treatment for Izzy, I gave my vet a call and gave him a run down. In a quick summary, I explained how unpredictable Izzy can be, what my feeding program looks like (Izzy rarely runs out of hay), what happened when I experimented with four days of UlcerGard, and how Izzy has been more anxious with the arrival of cooler weather.
Dr. Tolley listened carefully, and when I was finished, he agreed that ulcers were likely. He then launched into a thorough exploration of what we could try. I love that about him; he doesn't just offer one solution. He always gives me a list of possible fixes that range from the least invasive to the most expensive and elaborate. Those choices included lots of different drugs, GastroGard, UlcerGard, and over the counter supplements.
In his experience, ulcers are expensive to treat, I agreed, so finding the least expensive, but still effective, treatment was our goal. We also discussed a variety of studies, one of which showed that gastric ulcers in horses responded well to a lower dose (1 mg/day) of omeprazole as compared to what is prescribed in GastroGard (4 mg/day).
Dr. Tolley cautioned me against using other versions of omeprazole not manufactured by Merial. As one website explained, "UlcerGard and GastroGard are different than the omeprazole medication used to treat human ulcers (Prilosec) because they are not microencapsulated. Prilosec is microencapsulated so that it does not dissolve inside the human stomach. Because the equine and human stomachs are significantly different, the drugs used to treat their ulcers must be formulated differently."
Dr. Tolley laid out a possible plan of attack with room for variations included, but he left it to me to make the final call. He suggested 21 days of UlcerGard combined with an over-the-counter preventative to be given until further notice. He recommended SmartGut Pellets.
After reviewing SmartPak's list of ulcer preventatives, I decided to upgrade to the SmartGI Pellets. While the ingredients are nearly identical to those in the SmartGut Pellets, the SmartGI Pellets offer just a bit more to support the stomach and the hindgut. For a difference of twenty cents a day, I figured it was worth it.
UlcerGard comes in a four-dose tube for around $35, or you can get it in a six-tube pack for $202.50 which contains twenty-four doses of 1 mg/day. I have three doses left from my second tube, so if I combine those with the twenty-four doses, I'll get four weeks of treatment instead of the three that Dr. Tolley proposed.
SmartPak's shipping is not nearly as quick as some of my preferred online retailers, so I can't get to work on rehabilitating Izzy's gut quite yet. The UlcerGard should be here by Wednesday, so today I can get him started on the three dose I already have. The SmartGI won't be here until next week (if I am lucky). That might be for the good anyway as it will give me a chance to evaluate how effective the UlcerGard seems after a week.
So. Does my horse have ulcers? I don't know, but I am treating him as though he does. Wish us luck!
You cannot know how many times I have asked myself this question. Other than just being a ridiculously sensitive snowflake (that's the first time I've ever used that word in this context, but it's true for Izzy), there didn't seem to be a more plausible explanation for his um ... theatrics.
Never mind that Izzy demonstrates NONE of the signs commonly associated with ulcers. According to Doctors Foster and Smith, signs of gastric ulcers in adult horses include:
The big brown horse is either Mr. McDreamy or a complete jackass. In his defense, the jackassery portion of his behavior rarely crops up anymore. Not that Mr. McDreamy is a daily occurrence either, but I am seeing more and more of that horse. So when Izzy started wigging out two weeks ago, I called the chiropractor like normal. Except that didn't solve everything.
I had run out of theories. This horse lacks for absolutely nothing. He gets the best hay we can find, there's copious amounts of it, and he lives on nearly a quarter of an acre. In desperation, I started researching equine ulcers and treatment.
What I found is that there is only one FDA approved medication for the treatment of existing ulcers. Sold under the brand name of GastroGard, the medication is called omeprazole. GastroGard is generally prescribed for 30 days at the cost of around $32.00 a dose/tube. The only way to actually diagnose equine ulcers is through the use of an endoscopic examination. Otherwise you're just guessing.
To prevent equine ulcers, the exact same omeprazole is administered but at one quarter the dose of GastroGard. The product, also manufactured by Merial, is sold under the band name UlcerGard. GastroGard must be prescribed by a veterinarian as it is used for the treatment of ulcers. Since UlcerGard is used to prevent ulcers, it does not need a prescription. The tubes are identical, but the dosage is different. If giving GastoGard, you administer the entire tube. If giving UlcerGard, you give only one-quarter of the tube a day. A tube of UlcerGard generally costs the same as a tube of GastroGard.
Even though I doubted that Izzy had an ulcer, I decided to treat him with UlcerGard to see if it made any kind of a difference. I used it for four consecutive days. I also bought a second tube with the plan to use one dose each week for a month. I looked at it like giving him a Tums. My stomach gets "ulcery" at times but a few Tums over a couple of days generally gets me feeling back to normal.
Did it help? I don't know. At the same time that I administered the four days of UlcerGard, I also worked the snot out of him. After looking at every possible factor, I realized that his jackassery started when we moved the clocks back an hour. I think that the change in my schedule - coming out at what felt like an hour later, combined with less saddle time, simply rocked Izzy's little world.
I am still going to give the once-a-week dose over the next month, and I am considering adding a tube of UlcerGard to his routine when I know a change is coming. As a side note, both of my boys are on Platinum Performance Equine which contains Calcium, Magnesium, and Thiamine, the same ingredients found in many over the counter ulcer supplements. If those ingredients were going to "fix" anything, you would have thought it would have already happened.
Overall, the best "therapy" for this horse comes free of charge: exercise in the form of lunging on a line and free lunging. When he's tired, he remembers who I am, and his brain re-engages.
Who doesn't love "free?"
At least I think he's back. Two rides are probably not enough to say for sure. After three weeks of just hanging out, he finally seemed sound on Sunday afternoon.
This lameness happens about once a year in the fall. At least five years ago, I took him to one of California's premier equine hospitals, Alamo Pintado. After extensive tests, Dr. Carter Judy felt that it was either an injury to the collateral ligament or a deep bruise. My own vet confirmed those two options, while my farrier seems certain it's a bruise. Either way, the solution is the same - time off.
After many years of the same pattern, I think I finally have a reason for why it happens. During the summer, I am at the barn every day in the early morning. I am a teacher and have most of the summer off. Speedy knows my schedule and looks forward to my visits.
Once I go back to work in mid-August, I simply can't keep the same schedule. I try to be out there seven days a week, but it's just not possible. It takes a while for Speedy's anxiety to build, but eventually, it reaches a point where he can't contain himself. At the least little provocation, he paces and whirls. When his pasture buddy goes out, he screams and whirls until he comes back. If he runs out of hay in the afternoon, he paces until I get there.
In all of the pacing and whirling he does, he inevitably whacks his own front feet, usually the right one, and comes up lame. The soreness will be quite pronounced the first day, but over two to three weeks it simply fades away.
I've checked his soundness once a week. On Sunday, he finally felt even in his stride. I only rode for twenty minutes, but we did most of the walk and trot work from Second Level. Since he felt good enough for that, I asked for some walk to canter to walk transitions. And then, just because I could, I checked in on the flying change. There was a buck or two in the canter half pass (which could only be called such because we were cantering toward the rail but it was awful), but when I asked for the change, he gave it promptly.
My fingers are crossed that he really is sound and stays that way. I have all week to reassure him that life is still worth living and that he hasn't been forgotten. Arabians are just too darned attached to their people.
When I last left you, Izzy was a hot mess. He was such a disaster that even his skin was flinching. Friday afternoon started my weeklong Thanksgiving vacation, so I put our school's two-hour early out to good use. I hoofed it out to the barn two hours earlier than normal with a plan at the ready.
I hate to try multiple solutions at once because you never truly know whether it was the first thing that worked, the second thing, both things together, or worse, just coincidence. With that said, I tried two things at once.
After discussing it with Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, I decided to try a four-day course of Ulcer Gard (blog post about that coming soon) followed by a course of once-a-week Ulcer Gard for a month.
The second part of Operation Boot Camp involved a boat load of lunging and free lunging. Chemaine's advice was to get him moving until he finally agreed to give me access to his back. That's really the crux of Izzy's issues, he holds all of his tension in his back which prevents him from achieving any sense of relaxation. And without relaxation, none of the good stuff can follow.
I had two extra hours of daylight on Friday, so I started with the lunging. I sent him off at a walk, gradually asking for a trot before switching directions. When I felt he was sufficiently warmed up, I asked for a canter and later did a change of direction. After that, I unclipped the lunge line and insisted on a free canter that did not involve standing at the gate, pacing by the gate, or throwing in a flying change at the gate. When he finally agreed to all of that, I popped him back on the lunge line.
The whole thing took about thirty minutes, and he was huffing and puffing when we were "done." He wasn't relaxed, but he had shown me a moment or two of stretch over his top line. I walked him back to his paddock and turned him loose. I spent a few minutes grooming Speedy, and then haltered Izzy back up. The look on his face was priceless. I then rode him for about 45 minutes. While there wasn't any jackassery, which was a huge improvement, he wasn't exactly relaxed either.
By Saturday afternoon, I had a completely different horse. He was affectionate, cuddly, and oh-so-happy to see me. I cleaned him up, took him up for his lunging session, and was met with a very relaxed horse. I lunged and free lunged for a total of twenty minutes and later rode for a half an hour. We were finally able to work on dressage.
While schooling the counter canter, I could feel him getting stuck, but I propped up his "inside" shoulder and reassured him that I'd help him keep his balance. He gave an audible sigh and floated through the counter canter. I had my horse back!
By Sunday morning, he was over it. There was not a spooky, resistant bone left in his body; he was complete putty in my hands. I dragged him to the arena for eleven minutes of lunging, during which I had to continually cluck to keep him moving, both on and off the lunge line.
As before, I tossed him back in his paddock to continue working on breakfast, and then I brought Speedy out for a ride. More on that tomorrow. And then Izzy got to come out again. While maybe a bit unenthusiastic, he followed me willingly enough and seemed resigned to yet more work.
We had one of the best rides we've ever had. I worked him through all of the trot work at Second Level and even schooled the turn on the haunches and rein back. Those are a wee bit scary for him, but he's picking up on it quickly. And then, for the first time ever, I rode the 20-meter counter canter half circle into the single loop serpentine, and he did it brilliantly!
Operation Boot Camp taught me two things: the first time I hear myself ask What the freaking hell is wrong with you? I know the answer is that he needs to see the chiropractor. If after seeing said chiropractor I still find myself asking what is wrong with him, I know the answer is to lunge him until he's tired. Only then will I be able to access his brain (and later his body).
I am actually looking forward to today's ride. I fully anticipate an enthusiastic, Yes, ma'am!
... metaphorically speaking. We haven't had any measurable rain since maybe March. As our favorite meteorologist put it, "If we do see some precipitation next week, it will mark the second latest start to the rainy season for Bakersfield." So those clouds aren't real.
Since I already had my pity party - many thanks to my ranch owner for being such a good listener and having such a warm shoulder upon which to cry (not really, but she would have if needed), here's the short story: My relaxed, happy, shiny, Big Brown Horse has disappeared, and in his place is a hot mess.
As we all know, I am not a quitter. Sometimes I wish I were; life would be be a lot easier. So instead of throwing in the towel, I texted my trainer and asked what the freaking hell was going on. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, isn't a quitter either, so on the fly she came up with a game plan to help me find my horse of last month.
Today at lunch marks the beginning of my Thanksgiving break. As I mentioned above, rain is unlikely, so I have a week of nothing to do but ride. Chemaine's plan involves a lot of riding. Think about it like an endurance ride she said.
My world might not be filled with rainbows and unicorns right now, but I can always find a silver lining. I love riding, and now I get to do a lot of it. Wish me luck.
... and if you're like me, maybe even your hair. Any guesses as to what this ugly thing is? No, it's not a beanie.
I am pretty gentle on my helmets. They're stored "inside" and out of direct sunlight. I wipe them off periodically with a damp cloth, I don't drop them, and I replace them after several years. Obviously the ugliness up above is helmet-related.
I finally figured out why the skin on my forehead was getting rough and why the hair around my face was suddenly getting shorter and wispier. Even though I periodically remove my helmet liner and wash it, I realized that it had arrived at gross. Just gross, nothing else.
I live in the land of nine month summers. My helmet gets sweat in more often and for a much longer duration than for what it was designed. The liner of my helmet had finally reached a point where I could no longer stomach putting it over my hair. It was crunchy, rough, and frankly, it smelled a bit off.
While perusing the Riding Warehouse for something completely unrelated, I finally decided to toss a helmet liner in my cart. At just over $9 - I had a discount code, I reasoned that I could afford it. I am actually kicking myself for not getting a second one so that I could wash and dry one while using the other.
So, you're welcome. That's my PSA for the year. Replace your helmet as needed, but for the love of all that's holy (I am looking at you, Sweaney), replace the liner with a bit more frequency. Your forehead and hair will thank you.