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A Hairy August

August 15, 2012

We have diligently been following the allergy shot (immunotherapy) regimen.  We have been doing the shots for about a month and a half. The vet thought we should start to see results within about two months.  Carly is not itch free – her forelock is down to about 10 strands of hair – but she has more hair covering her neck than she has ever had in August before.  In fact, she pretty much has hair all over with just a few hot spots.  If this is as good as she gets for the rest of her summers, then I will be very satisfied!  

Other than giving her the immunotherapy shots, I have cut out all beets and molasses from her diet, quit using fly spray (I know noticed that it always makes her itchy), and sadly, no longer hand graze her.  There’s grass in her pasture and she scarfs it down, but I don’t need to contribute to the problem. 

The bad news? Another new thing for us: she came up three legged lame the other day. She has swelling on her hock where she cut herself last fall.  It’s the same area that was swollen after her cut.  She has been feeling pretty forward under saddle lately, so I suspect she either played too hard in the pasture or she strained it while riding the other day – we did lots of circles and spirals and she tripped a few times.  The tripping in the dressage ring is not unusual for her. There is nice rubber chip footing, but a lot of traffic makes some deep divets in the surface.  I am hoping this is a minor setback and she will be back to her regular self soon!  

Here’s a photo of her shoulder that she rubbed raw earlier this summer.  The darker spots are newly grown hair.  She’s such a sleepy girl …

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Chewing the Bit

July 8, 2012

My dressage trainer always scolds me for how I warm up Carly.  She wants me to warm Carly up long and low to get her all stretched out and also cool down this way.  In theory, I understand why she wants me to warm up this way. But in practice, I find it easier to get her on the bit in a normal frame and then let her stretch down to long and low.

Clearly, we need to work on our long and low quite  a bit. So we did a lesson exclusively on long and low and teaching Carly to stretch down to the bit. At the very end, when she was stretched and supple, I would soften the reins to see if she would stretch down to the bit and start chewing on it.

To get long and long, we started off looking at bending.  We have to work on bending from the withers. We practiced this at the halt with me flexing her left and right until she lowered her head. I always think that her right side is so hard, but it’s her left side that she doesn’t want to bend.  (As a side note, I wonder if she rubs herself more on this side when she is itchy) On the right side, Carly did just like she always does when we ride alone. She locked her neck against my hand and refused to bend inside.  The correct response to this is to not use so much hand, but use inside leg to outside rein to get her to bend at the ribacage.

When we are tracking right, I really need to use lots of outside rein.  This seems counter intuitive –  she lock her neck when I try to bend right so I am using lots of inside rein to unlock her.  But the outside rein and counterflexing and flexing help her loosen up.  We did lots of circles, spiraling in and out.  My trainer reminded me to think of her inside ribcage shrinking and her outside stretching.  That image helped me get the correct bend through our circles and when Carly’s ribcage bent, her head and neck followed.

Once she was long and low, I started softening the rein to see if Carly would stretch down.  Many times, her head came up, but a few times, she stretched down.  I would give up contact for a minute to pat and praise her.  “It’s like a magnet,” my trainer said. We want her to always be stretching down to your hand, to the bit, and seeking out the contact.  I liked to think of like kneading dough, pushing and molding it into place … but I don’t think that image really works.

I got a few comments on my position. I need to point my knees down and rotate my thigh in, so I amriding off the inside, not the back of my thigh.

As we kept spiraling and and out, I would soften my hands and Carly did start to reach down towards the bit, but also chewed the bit!  The lesson marked a big step for us – long and low, stretching down to the bit – these movements lie at “the core” of more advanced dressage movements.  I also noted that Carly actually bends at the ribcage now – two years ago, she couldn’t do that at all.  Another small, but important step forward.

 

 

On the Road to Improvement

June 21, 2012

I started Carly’s first round of shots. She gets two sets of shots each treatment because she tested positive for so many allergens.  She was very patient with the sub-cutaneous injections today.

On the bright side, her skin is much improved after removing, or at least reducing, her exposure to molasses, beets, and pyrethrin. Below are some full body shots and close-ups of her skin.  And one with her ears pricked up  looking for cookies!

Allergy Results

June 19, 2012

I got Carly’s allergy results back last week.  She is allergic to EVERYTHING.  Every type of grass except for reed, molds, clover, camomile, most trees except for oak, grain mill dust (who wouldn’t be?), cockroaches, flies, cullicodes (gnats), molasses, and beets. Oh, let’s not forget pyrethrin, a common ingredient in fly spray.  I found out that the electrolytes I give Carly have beet juice as the main ingredient.  I usually mix them with molasses to make them more palatable. Oops. So I got ride of those things.  My fly spray does have pyrethrin.  The vet said that she is actually allergic to the flower, so the fly spray is probably okay.  But I cut that out, too and am waiting on a fly spray that only has synthetic pyrethrin – cyperethin or something in it.  I noticed she was getting very itchy around her mane and tail – probably from gnats. So I slathered on Corona ointment to help keep them away.  These few changes have dramatically reduced her itching.  Of course, she does have the depo-medrol in her system, which helps. But I am pleased to say that I have found only 2 small hot spots on her.  In fact, her hair is growing back nicely and I think that she is feeling better. I am so relieved.

The vet recommended that I feed her peanut hay. Since she has never had it, she most likely is not allergic to it. She is only borderline positive for Timothy hay, so that is also an option.  But Carly lives in a pasture. She doesn’t eat any grain – she is fed high quality coastal hay in a group setting.  I would need to change our board situation in order to change her food.  A friend who grows hay is skeptical of peanut hay – it’s not what she considers horse quality.  The hay we do get at the barn is very high quality, fresh, and as a result, probably has less weeds mixed in and less mold than other lower quality hays. So my plan is to keep her current board situation and just see how things go.  If I can control the other things, the hay allergens may be less of an issue.

In the meantime, I have ordered Carly’s special shots and anxiously am waiting for them.

Some Hope for Carly’s Skin

June 7, 2012

Today a vet from Elgin Veterinary Hospital came out to draw blood from Carly. I confess – after all my big talk in my last post, I never used the Equimax wormer.  Several people reported that their horses became itchier after using Equimax.  And I just can’t risk that right now. I did decide to consult with a different vet about Carly’s issues.  And she made me so hopeful.

Before I hauled Carly all the way to A&M, I called Elgin Veterinary Hospital.  They don’t have any dermatological specialists, but the admin person said they run lots of allergy and skin tests.  She recommended that I speak to Dr. Underwood.

As far as I am concerned, Dr. Underwood is a rock star.  I did not confess to my admiration on the phone, but I know her name well after reading all about her surgeries on Twizzle at Habitat for Horses. She said that many horses respond beautifully, but some horses aren’t perfect.  And I am so okay with “not perfect”.  I just don’t want my poor horse tearing herself open and rubbing herself until she bleeds every summer.  And I don’t want to work with a vet whose primary solution is relocating my horse to Colorado in the summer.  How on earth can I care for my horse, much less ride her, in Colorado?

The vet intern that came out wasn’t sure when we’d get results and also wasn’t sure how long it would take for allergy shots to take effect.  But the intern was sympathetic – she had allergy shots as a child – and both she and the tech were sweet to Carly.  I can’t wait to hear the results from Dr. Underwood!!!

Seasonal Allergies

May 30, 2012

Each year we battle itchiness. I’ve tried everything – Eqyss shampoo, MTG, a mystery spray from a vet two two hours away in Nagodoches, TX  (which does seem to help).  The itch seems to start earlier each year, although that could also be the weather.  Two years ago, Carly had an especially severe case of itchiness where she rubbed both shoulders raw.  The vet prescribed Dex for a few days, then we gave her Depo-Medrol, a slow-release synthetic corticosteroid, throughout the summer.  That seemed to keep everything under control.  The next summer, she was still a bit itchy with the Depo-Medrol, but twice weekly baths with Malaseb helped. Still, she was rubbing and had bald spots, but she wasn’t HURTING herself.  

This year, I tried to be proactive.  I knew itchiness was setting in because small tears appeared in her fly sheet and barn friends told me that saw her rubbing – really putting her back into it.  So two weeks ago, I gave her the Depo-medrol shot.  Then I came out to find her like this.  Her fly sheet did cover her shoulders, but it’s shredded now. The vet’s only other suggestion was to try anti-histimines. But those need to be given twice a day. I can’t afford to pay the barn to hand administer the anti-histimines and with her boarded 30 minutes away, I can’t go out there twice a day either. 

The vet said that he has never seen a horse do anything like this. He doesn’t want to give her steroids, but he doesn’t have any other suggestions for me other than exile her to Colorado every summer.  I don’t even know anyone with horses in Colorado.  I’m mad at the vet, mad at Texas weather, and mad at myself.  I am so frustrated that I am going to try this double dose of wormer described here: http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?t=155469  My vet was dismissive of the whole neck thread worm thing, but I have to try something.  I can live with unsightly bald spots for a few months, but I am terrified of how she might injure herself.

If anyone has suggestions, I am certainly open to ideas!

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Seatbones, Half Halts and Stretchy Circles

July 19, 2011

When my dressage trainer asked “What do you want to do today?”, I knew right away: “Stretchy circles”.  As I begin to think about the Training Level tests, they are the most confusing to me.

As we prepared for the stretchy circles, the DT gave me several comments on my position: there is not even weight on my seatbones. I sit heavily on my right seatbone and then lean left.  I do this especially when tracking right.  As I work on circles, I need to think about keeping even weight on both seat bones, my eyes looking straight ahead, but my hips turn towards the inside of the circle.

Whew! That is like patting my head and rubbing my belly at the same time.  It’s also confusing, especially as I was originally taught to look towards the inside of a circle.

To get to our stretchy circle, we started working on improved connection at the walk.

“Carly needs to keep up to follow your seat – you don’t change to accommodate her.”

That sentence just blew my mind.  I am always thinking that I need to change myself – more leg or less hand – to get her to do what I want.  More and more, though, I see that I must do less so she can do more.

At the walk, we practiced sending her forward with my leg and then doing a half halt with my hands to catch her front end and keep her in the box.  I like the image of Carly’s body being a box – the shoulders are one corner and her butt is another corner. For the box to be a box, those ends must be level.  The idea of a see saw also works well for me.  I want my see saw to be so perfectly level that I can sit in the middle and neither end will fall up or down.  In fact, this is the favorite part of my dressage lesson – as the DT talks me through the aids, I feel both Carly’s body and my body reshaping as we become more connected, more balanced, more supple.

As we got the balance at the walk, we moved on to the trot and stretchy circles.  We needed to be moving within the box before going on to the stretchy circles.  I slowly let out my reins, working in half halts and suppling, reminding Carly to keep her shoulders up and stay round.  “It’s like you are crocheting or knitting – you’re creating something and if you stop, then it will unravel,” my DT called out.  After several minutes, her head had dropped down so low that her nose was even with her knees.   The stretchy circle is much different than I imagined – her head needs to be much lower than I ever thought. As I think about it, it makes sense – the stretchy circle is in some ways, a trot version of the free walk.

While I had asked to learn to do stretchy circles, the real take away from this lesson was how to improve our balance and use my seatbones.  In fact, we concluded on seatbones as I tried to get Carly to transition to a walk just by stilling my seatbones and sinking deeper into the saddle.  It worked!  I can’t wait to practice this on my own.