From Endurance to Dressage
I turned 50 on Sunday. Rather than feeling depressed or sad, I found the idea of turning 50 pretty hilarious. It's like somebody just pulled a really good prank. Ha ha - you got me. I am sure the horror of landing undeniably in middle age will eventually hit me, but for now, I giggle every time I think about it.
My birthday is not my favorite day of the year. It's not about being older; the day just comes with a lot of baggage. On Saturday, the day before my birthday, I spontaneously jumped at the idea of going hiking with my husband and the dogs. He goes every weekend while I ride, so he was a little surprised that I wanted to go. Tobias, our black lab, was celebrating his 9th birthday, so it was easier for me to "celebrate" my birthday weekend on someone else's "special day."
We headed out to the Wind Wolves Preserve, a spot my husband enjoys. From the website: Wind Wolves Preserve is in an ecologically unique region where the Transverse Ranges, Coast Ranges, Sierra Nevada, western Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley influences converge. Due to elevation ranges from 640 to 6,005 feet, the Preserve has an impressive array of landforms and habitats that serve as a critical landscape linkage and wildlife corridor between the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada.
There is a large network of trails to explore, but my husband had already picked out our hike. With such a beautiful, clear day, he knew that a hike to the top of the ridge would give us an excellent view of the valley below. He was right. With the dogs jogging ahead - Yellow Dog, and sometimes lagging behind - old man Tobias, we made the climb, pausing occasionally to look back.
After a short break to catch our breath, we all hiked back down to the trail head where the dogs played in the creek, very happy to cool off. With all our drinking water consumed and me with the beginnings of a headache, we decided to grab lunch at a taco truck that lives on the corner on Old River Road. That taco truck has been on that corner for as least long as I've lived in Bakersfield. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. The food is excellent though. My husband had a water, but I needed some caffeine. A Coke and three amazing tacos later, and I felt much better. On the way home, we stopped by Nothing Bundt Cakes for some mini birthday cakes.
On my actual birthday, I rode Izzy in the morning, and then my husband enjoyed a burger and fries from my favorite mom and pop diner. Later in the afternoon I visited with my parents on FaceTime while I opened presents. I had forgotten what I had wished for, so it was with real surprise when I opened my gifts and saw a proper stethoscope. My equine medical kit has nearly everything you might need in an emergency, including a stethoscope, but the one I had bought a million years ago was as cheap as I could find. With Izzy's recent bout of colic and ulcers, I had mentioned to my stepmom that I could really use a good quality stethoscope.
My stepmom works in the medical field, so she consulted some of her friends and colleagues and bought the stethoscope that they actually use while treating patients. I immediately tried it out on myself, my husband, and the dog. It was amazing to be able to hear every heart beat without trying to guess as the connection came and went like with my old stethoscope. Not that I want one of my horses to get sick or anything, but I am looking forward to putting it to use.
Among some other pretty amazing gifts, my husband also bought me a new solar charger to replace the one that was stolen while at the Santa Barbara Dressage show. I was really bummed to have lost my other one. I use it to charge my phone at night while camping in my trailer. This is an upgraded model with a few features the other one didn't have.
All in all, turning 50 turned out to be a pretty pleasant experience. I don't recommend it for the feint of heart though. It does take some life experience to make the leap. Like one of my students pointed out, turning 50 means you're half-way there.
I'll tell you who thinks they've won the lottery with this work from home business; our other four-legged family members. Yep. Yellow Dog and Tobias. This is an absolute dream come true. Considering their size and their desire to chew, dig, and otherwise destroy, they're actually big babies who really prefer to be in the house. With or without their people. With people is better, but they're not picky. In is in.
Normally, my husband and I roll out of the house before 6:00 a.m. each morning to head to work. The dogs get put out in the yard until my husband comes home around 3:30 when he then takes them for a drive and a hike. Since I work from home, the canines in our house are enjoying a whole new lifestyle, a vastly improved lifestyle if you ask them.
One of the reasons we bought this house was because of the park next door. It's not a real park - there is no play equipment for kids, but it's grassy with shade trees and a small picnic area. My house sits to the left of the park - you can see our wall and roofline in the two photos above, and our neighbor James lives in the house to the right of the park. My neighborhood uses the space a couple of times a year for community potlucks and socials, but other than that, it sits unused by everyone except us.
Now that I don't leave the house so early, or at all on some days, the dogs have decided that 7:00 a.m. is the perfect time for their first walk and potty opportunity of the day. So every morning at 7:00 the search for my shoes begins so that we can go next door to the park for a quick run and a chance to poop. The dogs have decided that pooping in their yard is gross and unacceptable while pooping in the park is not only acceptable, but preferable. We buy a lot of poop bags.
For the next three and a half hours, the dogs lie quietly in my office - frequently both of them will cram themselves under my desk so they can lie at my feet, while I teach via Google Meet. Occasionally Tobias will get upset when he hears strange noises from the kids, and Yellow Dog will bark if she hears a knock or a doorbell from one of the kids, but other than that, they spend the morning napping. As soon as I dismiss my students for lunch at 11:30, the hunt for my shoes begins anew as the dogs quickly determined that 11:30 was potty break number two. No pun intended.
With shoes on and my pockets stuffed full of poop bags, we repeat the earlier routine, but for the second trip of the day, I also grab the leashes. After everyone has done their business, we take a much needed walk along the lake path or sometimes we walk through the neighborhood. I've learned that sitting all day without moving around is hard on my back, neck, and mental well-being. I enjoy the walk more than they do.
The next three hours are spent pretty quietly. The dogs again nap as they wait for my husband to come home. Last Thursday, I was too tired to ride after I dismissed my students, so the dogs got to go with me to barn instead of with my husband for their normal afternoon walk. If you ask them, a visit to the ranch will always trump anything other than a trip to the beach. The ranch has so much more potential than your average hike.
I imagine that there are a lot of other dogs out there who think the Coronavirus is an answer to their prayers. While I am dying to get back to work for real - and yes, dying is a great word choice here, I will miss spending so much time with my dogs. I wonder if I could claim some new, weird, canine dependency syndrome that would allow them to go to school with me?
I'll need to look into that when the time comes.
A week or so ago I wrote about Yellow Dog and a probable torn ACL. Yesterday, My husband and I loaded both dogs in the truck; Tobias spent the day at my in-laws' house, and Yellow Dog made the trip to Ventura to VetSurg, a clinic specializing in orthopedic surgery.
With all of the COVID-19 restrictions, it was a very long day. Our appointment looked a lot like a back alley drug deal. Everything was done by phone or out in the rear parking lot with technicians slipping in and out the back door. Someone would call and ask what our vehicle looked like, and next thing you knew, a package was quickly brought out and delivered. Most of the time the "package" was hobbling on three legs, but some times it was in a crate. Cats.
When we arrived, we conducted the check in by phone. When the doctor was ready, Yellow Dog was taken into the clinic while we waited outside. After examining her, Dr. Campbell came outside to discuss some possible diagnoses as well as some tests that he could run to help more specifically pinpoint the cause of her lameness . With an ACL surgery on the table, none of us wanted to guess at her injury.
Before actually doing any diagnostic work, Dr. Campbell talked about what an ACL surgery would require. While money is always an issue in this kind of surgery - Dr. Campbell acknowledged that right away, the after-care and success rate were even more important to us. He completely understood our concerns and shared them himself. We have a young, high energy dog that would find it difficult to be crated for a month straight and then limited to short walks for another month. And then, she would need yet another month to slowly increase her activity level. In all, it would be six to eight months or more before she returned to "normal."
Once we knew what some of the options were - Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections or surgery, we agreed to a full set of Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) radiographs. If she needed surgery, these are the same images Dr. Campbell would need to perform the surgery. In this way, they served double duty; once for diagnosing the extent of the injury and twice as a guide for performing the surgery. Since those images require pretty heavy sedation, we took a walk and found a place to eat lunch. That in itself was rather odd as it was the first time we've been to a restaurant since February. We were the only customers.
Once Dr. Campbell had a chance to review the X-rays, he gave us a call. To his surprise, nothing about the radiographs confirmed an ACL tear. On top of that, her lameness - a 1-2 out of 4, didn't convince him of one either. As he continued the examination, particularly once she was sedated, he discovered a fair amount of fluid in her ankle. While she reacted a bit on her stifle, he suspected it was actually because of a mild sprain lower down.
In his estimation, a sprain was the most likely cause of her lameness, not a torn ACL. He definitely wanted her in a splint, but he also thought it would be a good decision to take a sample of the fluid at the ankle and send it to a lab for analysis. We agreed. Since we were there, it made sense to run whatever diagnostics we could, especially since that particular one wasn't too highly priced. We should get the results in about 5 days. If it is indeed a sprain, the fluid will show signs confirming it. If not, well, we'll cross that bridge if we get there.
For now, the doctor felt comfortable calling it a sprain. Yellow Dog will need to wear a splint for the next three weeks. At ten days, it will need to be changed. A week later it will need to be changed again, and at the three week mark, we'll pull the splint and send Dr. Campbell a video of Yellow Dog moving. She can go for two, 10-15 minute walks a day, but other than that, she needs to stay pretty quiet.
In all of our conversations about what if this and what if that, we never even considered the possibility that it could be such a simple injury. The cost of an ACL surgery was an issue, but more important was Yellow Dog's quality of life. We were just so worried that the doctor would be able to do the surgery only to tell us that she would need to be on a leash or in a crate for the rest of her life to protect the work done on her knee. That, I was just not willing to do. So when it turned out to be a probable sprain, we were both at a loss. I still don't think we believe it quite yet.
Thankfully, with just a few weeks of rest, she should be okay. Now we just need to keep that cone on and the splint protected. By the way, that little Medipaw - the protective boot over the splint, is the cutest thing ever.
Back in January, Yellow Dog suffered from a patellar luxation, a condition where the kneecap slides out of position. You can read about it here. We medicated her as recommended by the vet, and the issue was resolved. Or so we thought.
Last week, out of nowhere, Yellow dog started to limp, hard, on the same leg. Her left hind was nearly nonfunctioning. She can sort of bear weight on it, but not for long. She started compensating, which we know is a bad thing, by pogo-sticking off her other hind leg. She doesn't appear to be in pain per se - she runs and plays, although we're trying to keep that to a minimum, but it's obviously uncomfortable to bear weight on it.
We took her to see the vet on Monday morning. That deserves its own post, but here's a quick explanation of what that looks like. California is still on a pretty tight lockdown which means pet owners can't go into the office. A technician comes to your vehicle, takes down your information, and then the animal is taken into the clinic. Later, as you wait in the parking lot, the doctor calls and discusses what might be wrong.
Dr. Thurman has been our vet for more than eight years, since Tobias was just a baby. When we brought Tobias home, we didn't know it, but Parvo was in his future. With Dr. Thurman's help, Tobias recovered, not a usual outcome with Parvo, and Dr. Thurman has been our vet ever since.
We've built a good relationship with Dr. Thurman. He knows us well, and we trust his diagnoses. After examining Yellow Dog, he reported that her ACL has a small tear. Without x-rays, he couldn't say how severe it was, but in his opinion, surgery is most likely in order. He said that he could do x-rays, but he didn't want to waste our money if we were taking her to a surgeon because the surgeon would need to do his own x-rays.
I really appreciated Dr. Thurman's honesty and desire to spare us any added expense. He gave us a referral to Vetsurg, a facility that specializes in orthopedic surgery for pets. They're in Ventura however, which is a two-hour drive. It's doable though. I was able to make an appointment for June 1, their first available appointment, which is just two weeks away.
Since we were already going to the vet, I took Tobias as well as both dogs were nearly due for their regular vaccines anyway. Since it's a 30 - 40 minute drive to Thurman Veterinary Center, they understood why I didn't want to go back the following week for just for a shot; they went ahead and did all the vaccines.
While we were there, we discussed all of the little things we were also dealing with. Tobias had hot spots under his neck so he needed more spray and medicated shampoo (I was running really low). And since one of the spots was still pretty active, Dr. Thurman prescribed a round of antibiotics.
To help Yellow Dog feel more comfortable, Dr. Thurman prescribed a painkiller/anti-inflammatory. Both dogs are also on a daily MovoFlex chew, which Dr. Thurman was happy to hear about. And finally, since both dogs have the most delicate stomaches I've ever seen, someone is barfing at least once a week, we put them both on Omeprazole about six weeks ago. We've only had one barfing incident since, and it was when we brought Yellow Dog home from the vet and fed her dinner. She was pretty stressed by the visit, so I wasn't too terribly surprised.
Dr. Thurman agreed that omeprazole was a good option, but we could also switch to the cheaper Pepcid, especially if they were feeling fine. Pepcid reduces the amount of acid in the stomach while Omeprazole does that while also helping to heal damage to the stomach and prevents ulcers. Since both dogs are on medication, we'll stick with the omeprazole. Dr. Thurman agreed.
So now, we try to keep a wildly energetic four-year old lab quiet for the next few weeks. The worst case scenario is that she needs one of the more costly and invasive surgeries; there are least three different kinds ranging from $1500 to upwards of $4500. Given that she weighs a lot, around 65 pounds, and is young and active, we're probably looking at the most costly surgery.
This is a very difficult conversation to have, but my husband and I considered all of the factors: her age, her quality of life, her prognosis, and of course, the cost. It helps that our vacation for this summer has been cancelled due to COVID-19, so what we would have spent traveling is now available for surgery.
For now, we'll try to keep Yellow dog quiet as we wait for the appointment. There isn't much else we can do until we find out how damaged the cruciate ligament is. Once the surgeon has a chance to examine her and do a full work up, we'll know what our options are.
Many years ago, Montoya injured her stifle. She got hung up in a blanket and strained the soft tissue. As a result, the tendon would hook on the femur giving her a hitch in her gait. After a few moments, the tendon would flip back over the patella and she would be sound.
Two weeks ago, I saw the exact same irregularity in Yellow Dog's gait.
Yellow Dog is a rambunctious, four year old Labrador Retriever. She's had several lameness issues and illnesses over her short life, all of which we've been able to mange.
Both dogs have a drawer full of medications. Tobias, our black lab, suffers from anxiety so he occasionally gets a bit of Ace; New Year's eve and the Fourth of July are not his favorite days of the year. He also gets a bit achey so we have some pain relievers for him. Both dogs also get a daily MovoFlex chew, a joint supplement.
When I saw Yellow Dog take that first "hitchy" step, I knew she had a stifle injury. My husband used to be a bit skeptical about my ability to diagnose canine issues, but that was long ago. We don't go to the vet until I feel it's a red flag issue. For this, I knew what it was, I just didn't know how severe it might be. My worst fear was that she had suffered a torn cruciate ligament. When after a week she was no better, I called the vet.
Yesterday afternoon, my husband drove both dogs to the vet, and I met him there after work. He took Tobias for a walk and then joined me in the exam room. While he's a very capable man, my husband doesn't do vet appointments the way I do. You know what I mean. There are 10,000 questions to ask: What's wrong? How do we fix it? What do we do if that doesn't work? How long should I wait to see if this will work? What's the long term prognosis? He asks 1 or 2 questions, maybe, pays the bill, and brings me home the checkout sheet. That's why I talk to the vet.
When Dr. Thurman was finally able to see us, he must have been really busy, I gave him the run down: what her gait looked like, how long it had been, and what we were doing about it. He manipulated the joint, laid her on her side to manipulate it even more, and then diagnosed it as a patellar luxation. I hate it when I'm right.
Basically, the knee cap is popping out of place and then snapping back in. I actually had the same injury a number of years ago, but mine took several days to pop back in. I still guard that knee carefully. Anyway, the prognosis is ... mixed. We started her on some anti-inflammatories hoping that will reduce any inflammation which might help the knee cap stay in place. If so, great. If not, she might just have to live with it. Sort of.
If the patella continues to slide out of the groove, or track, in which it should slide up and down, it might eventually wear it down enough so that it slides more easily. This of course results in a lot less stability, but it won't be as painful. There are some possible surgical options like tacking everything in place, but we're not really looking at that as an option.
For now, we'll give the anti-inflammatories a try. It took Montoya the better part of year to heal, but she did go back to endurance racing and never had a relapse. Fingers crossed for Yellow Dog.
Here's an excellent article on Luxating Patella in dogs.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: