Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ben's bonkericity: Not just his back

Today I tested Ben's willingness to be ridden, now that he's had a massage to ease (hopefully) whatever was bothering his back. It was a perfect day for a test ride: warm and with light winds, rather than cool and stiffly breezy, so one could discount the weather as a factor. No strange horse between him and Commander; no Commander bustling off ahead away from him. I used the recommended pad to lift the pinch points of the saddle off him.

Ben was fine about being caught; fine about being groomed; fine about being saddled; fine about being mounted. We headed down the lane toward the culvert and the fields beyond the knoll.

Ben got to within a dozen feet of where the lane ran over the culvert and stopped. I pushed. He tried to turn away. I insisted. He began to yield.

And a long skein of motorcyclists went roaring and snorting and growling down the highway behind us. Ben turned to look, locked on, and stood rooted, all of his tiny mind focussed on the interruption, ignoring me. Drat!

When they'd finally passed and grumbled away out of sight and hearing, I swung Ben into the adjoining ring, got him moving at a brisk walk, and headed down the lane again. Again Ben tried to say "No" but I legged him on and he went ahead. I steered him out the same way we'd gone on our rodeo ride, around the back of the knoll, across the hayfield, through the gateway into the next field, and up toward the wooded ridge.

Ben was tense and apprehensive, looking for things to be worried about, stopping now and then and needing to be turned a bit to the side and strongly legged to get him moving forward again. Oh, no, he wasn't nearly as hyped as on our blowup ride, but leaving the barn was not something he wanted to do. He got happier when instead of heading down the Lane of Doom I turned him into the adjoining field and bent his course back more or less barnwards. I asked for circles and figure eights (all at a walk, for obvious reasons of Benly sanity, not to mention it was too warm to be doing anything faster on an out-of-shape fat boy whose winter coat has started to come in) and he settled down and listened to me.

We crossed into the next field homewards and zigzagged down its length. Ben was a Good Boy. When we got to the end of the field, where heading to the right would take us home, I steered him left. Ben's resistance to turning away from home and instead crossing over some dug-up ground where an irrigation pipe had recently been laid was minimal, barely one sucked-back half-step before marching on, so after a few dozen strides into the next field I thanked him and turned for home -- at last! Was that a sigh of relief I heard?

Ben was very lovey-dovey when we got back and I untacked him. Having his debridled face brushed with his very own special soft brush was so wonderful he snugged his nose into my chest and blissed out. He was so happy and relaxed, in fact, that when I hayed the boys he didn't even ugly Commander off the pile, merely came up on the other side to dig in.

So there you have it: Ben's barn-sour. He needs to be worked away from the barn, tactfully but firmly and steadily farther, till he gets over his worries about leaving his safety zone.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ben gets pampered; Commander goes commando

After Ben's freakout on Sunday, thanks in part to the comments of a friend, I began pondering whether his back might be bothering him. It shouldn't be, given how little work he's been doing for lo! these many months, and the ideal life of puttering about the fields he leads. Still, he does have kissing spines, which flare up painfully once in a while, and the last time he had the injections for that was well over a year ago. Plus, when I ran my fingers down his back near his spine yesterday, he flinched.

So today Ben got a visit from Lael, his massage therapist, who hasn't worked him over in almost a year -- after all, he wasn't being ridden much, so he didn't need the regular maintenance he used to get. And whaddaya know? He had knots of ouchy tenderness here and there about his body, primarily in the areas of his right wither and left croup. It certainly wasn't as bad as he's been in the past, but it was more than Lael expected from the life he leads.

We checked the fit of the Aussie saddle, on his bare back, with the usual saddle pad, and with the pad plus a contoured foam pad I used to use on him but hadn't lately. The saddle was snug with no pad and didn't rock, seemed to fit fine -- but wait. Under the left panel up in front, if one slid one's hand beneath it in the dip just behind the shoulder/wither, one could feel it pressing a bit too tight. Tight too, though not as much, on the right side. Put the cloth saddle pad on -- about the same. Add the foam pad, and it lifted the tight part just high enough to relieve most of the pressure.

Verdict: Saddle needs restuffing to fit the grazing-enlarged Ben. Till that can be done, he can be ridden as long as I use the foam pad.

Verdict on the Sunday explosion: He's been in greater discomfort than this before without blowing up, so the soreness isn't the whole story; but if he was upset for other reasons, then any nagging ouchiness would just move him that much closer to the edge of losing it.


Meanwhile Commander has decided he wants to go naked -- no more shoes! He's pulled his left front shoe off, taking some hoof wall with it, three times in the last two-three weeks, the first time because he was mucking about in the bed of the creek that runs alongside his fields. That's been fenced off now, but still he's managed to remove that shoe from his increasingly chipped-away hoof. The third shoe expungement happened sometime between Saturday midday when I rode him and Sunday late morning when Rick was grooming him and discovered his oh-no-not again! bare foot. Since he seemed perfectly sound on it, and we were going to be riding entirely on grassy fields, we decided to go ahead -- and Commander was fine for the whole ride, not ouchy at all.

Which led me to wonder, well, instead of asking my poor farrier to reattach the shoe yet again (nailing into what? Is there anywhere in that hoof wall that's still solidly nailable?), maybe Commander could go shoeless? This is always a dicey question with a horse who's foundered in the past. Still, his single bout of founder was four or five years ago; he lives out on grass; what limited riding he gets is on the fields; and watching him move about with both shoes gone, he appeared be be quite comfortable, only taking one yikes! step when he put his newly bare right foot down on a stone.

So I talked it over with my farrier, the pros and cons, and we're going with no shoes for now. Ken will trim his feet tomorrow, to tidy them up, and we'll see how he does. I may put some Venice turpentine or other hoof toughener on his soles. Come winter he may well need to go back into front shoes (he does great with no hind shoes), but if we can give him at least a couple of months to grow out his hooves, perhaps he'll hang onto his shoes when they do go back on.

Sigh.............. It's always something with these critters, isn't it?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ben Goes Bonkers. I Survive.

And it all started so well....

Well. Actually, it didn't start entirely well. Commander's former owner, Rick, had come to the farm to go for a ride this morning, bringing along his girlfriend Carol and Carol's mare Lanny. While Carol tacked up and warmed up Lanny, Rick and I got the boys ready. We mounted up and headed out, with me on Ben leading, on a cool, cloudy, breezy day.

We weren't fifty yards from the barn when Ben refused to go forward over the culvert past the pond. We argued for a bit; then Rick went ahead on an eager Commander; Carol and Lanny fell in behind them; Ben and I brought up the rear.

We headed out past the knoll and across the hayfields beyond. Ben felt tense under me, an attitude not helped by Commander's tendency to break into a happy little trot up ahead, especially ascending a gentle slope to a tree-lined ridge. Ben's catchup trot included some nervous headshakes and -- dammit, was that a crowhop? I let Rick know we were edging into dubious territory, Ben-brainfry-wise, and he curbed Commander's enthusiasm to a walk. Ben trudged unhappily at the tail of our little procession, frequent snorts and an occasional headshake or neck snake betraying his unsettled state.

In retrospect, it's all my fault. I should have told Rick to steer Commander rightward, along an open field, instead of letting him ride the bold Morgan down a narrow lane walled by dense underbrush, with trees crowding in, pressing a leafy green ceiling down low upon us, dangling thin whippy branches in our way. Ben was tight with tension by now, but soldiering on obediently, until we had to slide leftward of a sapling half-fallen across the lane, brushing against it as we went by.

Ben was almost past the blockage when something -- a rebounding branch? A smell of deer/fox/coyote in the underbrush? An overwhelming blast of "I've had it I can't take it any more AAARGGGHHHHH"? -- lit his fuse and he exploded. In an instant he was bolting, plunging, fighting to get his head free and down for a fullout buck that would send me flying into the underbrush we were careening into the fringes of.

Yikes! Damn! I'm not quite sure how I stayed on, stayed with him, in the adrenaline-charged blur of the next few seconds. (It sure didn't hurt to be riding in my ultra-secure Australian stock saddle.) Somehow I got his head back up, his headlong flight stemmed, and enough of his panicked brain refocussed on me to halt him before he rammed through the bushes or crashed into Commander (we'd passed a horrified Carol and placid Lanny in a heartbeat).

Phew. Holy guacamole. When we'd all caught our breath Rick and Carol offered to call it a day on the ride, but by golly I wasn't about to let a near-death experience spoil our fun. We decided to put Ben in the lead, figuring his going last, with a strange horse between him and his best buddy Commander, was part of what was freaking him out. With some tactful urging my snorty high-headed Thoroughbred marched dubiously but obediently forward, out of the narrow Lane of Doom (which fortunately was opening up at that point anyway), and away to the fields beyond.

I don't mind telling you, for the rest of the ride I put the reins in my right hand and kept my left hand on the bucking strap that's clipped to the front of the saddle (which I hadn't had time to grab when the balloon went up). Often I spoke soothing and encouraging words to my still suspicious Thoroughbred. Where it was open enough to allow it, Rick brought Commander up beside Ben to offer buddy security. Ben continued feeling tense the farther away from the barn we got (and oh, yes, he knew exactly which direction it was, even in fields I'd never taken him through before) but he listened to me, he behaved, and bit by bit his tautness eased, his walk regained its swinging fluidity, and his head came down from Danger! High Alert! to its usual relaxed level-necked carriage. By the time we got back to the barn you'd never know to look at him that He'd Almost Died!!!

Well! That wasn't what I was expecting when we tacked up, that's for sure. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable ride, and I've invited Rick and Carol to come back any time they like for another hack out -- hopefully minus the high drama.