Monday, December 31, 2012

Commander gets out for a bit

After checking the footing from the barn to the run-in, I decided to try taking Commander out today. I put Ben into Counterpoint’s stall so he could look out the window and see everyone, then led the Mighty Morgan out.

He checked out the surface before him when we paused at the step down from the barn floor, then walked deliberately down to the gate. Once inside and unhaltered, he puttered around for a bit, dropped for a good thorough roll in the thin snow, and headed into the run-in to see what there was to eat.

Ben bellowed a bit, from the sound of it did a couple of stall spins as I was releasing his buddy, then settled down to alternating between eating hay and checking on the others at the window.

Commander got to stay outside for the hour-plus it took to do chores, then I brought him back inside rather than leave him till evening’s return for bedcheck. He looked fine, and also looked enthusiastic about going back into his stall. Perhaps that was because he spotted the mash bucket hanging ready for him as he entered.

If conditions warrant, I’ll keep doing this in the days ahead, maybe see if I can leave him out for longer with no ill effects.


Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Commander conundrum

Today’s report on the bay boys: They’re both doing very well. Ben’s moving freely, and Commander’s got his spark back; he’s stepping briskly when I lead him across the aisle to park him in Cholla’s stall while I clean his, and having no trouble spinning and plunging about his stall when he knows his mash is coming. It would seem that a few days completely off the frigid hard damp ground outside has done wonders for his comfort levels.

Which leads to the conundrum: What to do about future turnout? Right now, with Ben laid up, it makes sense to keep Commander confined for his company, but at some point they’ll both have to get out again. It sure doesn’t help that last night’s storm, after lashing us with heavy rain for several hours, finished with a thin sticky layer of snow amid plummeting temperatures and rampaging winds. The paddock behind the boys’ run-in has become mostly ice sheets more or less skimmed with snow; the apron of the structure itself is snowy right now, but who knows what slickness lurks underneath? With the next several days’ forecast of frigid temps and harsh winds, I can’t see the footing improving; if anything, it’s likely to get worse as the meager melt of thin daytime sunlight refreezes overnight.

So: I have one horse with a bum ankle, who’s going to be boinky-Thoroughbred nutty when he finally gets to go out; and another who doesn’t do well on cold damp hard ground, and who’s wearing boots in front that, while they do have treads molded into them, for damn sure don’t provide the traction that winter studs in horseshoes would, and who’s also likely to be feeling boinky when he finally gets out.

About the only thing I can look forward to at this point is ordering more shavings. Lots and lots more shavings.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Update on Ben, and then some

Friday morning I found Ben looking much better; still preferring to point the right hind, but able to move just about normally on it when I asked him to walk across the aisle so I could clean his swamp. I checked in with Derek, and the plan is for a week’s stall confinement, daily Surpass application, bute, and, if I can, cold hosings.

Cold hosings. In January, what’s forecast to be a bitterly frigid to start with January. Yeh, right.

I put Commander out for a few hours yesterday, and put Ben in his stall so the TB could gaze out the window at his buddies below, a plan which seemed to keep everyone content after the first half hour of intermittent pathetic bellows of grief at their separation. But I’m planning to keep Commander in for the next few days, other than perhaps brief sessions outside while I clean his stall.

It’s not just to keep Ben company; it’s also because Commander has seemed less bright lately, and isn’t moving as well. Occasionally, in fact, he’ll point his left front foot. He used to stride right up to the fence when I’d come to fetch them in for the night, but recently he’s been hanging back, staying on the edge of the mat inside the run-in. I’m worried that having him stand around for hours in the raw cold on frozen stone dust and concrete, even mat-covered as it is in the run-in, isn’t doing him any good. And it’s not like he gets much exercise when he’s out, since he appears to spend all his time parked inside the run-in rather than puttering around.

Commander’s not done yet, not nearly done; he’s still got plenty of attitude; but he isn’t doing as well as he was in the fall. So I’ll try a short course of being inside for him and see if that helps. Certainly, given the frigid forecast for the next week, it’s as good a time as any for the experiment.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's deja vu all over again

Remember last spring, when Ben came up three-legged lame on turnout? With what turned out to be a torqued suspensory?

Looks like he’s managed to torque it again – same right hind fetlock attachment – in the comfort of his own stall, on this dark and stormy night.

Derek Cavatorta, lucky fellow, had emergency coverage this evening and came through the spitting snow to check out the horrifyingly immobile TB I found at bedcheck. After history and exam, throughout which Ben was his usual sweetly placid self, we settled on the suspensory as the likely culprit. Not good, but better than a broken pelvis or severed spinal nerve. So Ben got a shot of Banamine and a good rub of Surpass, and I finally got to creep home through the whipping snow.

I’ll be heading over to the barn in midmorning to check on Ben and update Derek. Assuming the diagnosis isn’t altered by what I find, he’ll give me my instructions for the convalescence. So I can look forward to another course of stall rest (with Commander confined to keep him company, no doubt), Surpass, bute, and tincture of time – but I hope Ben won’t require cold hosings this time! Not in January, please please, not in January....


Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Greetings

When you're ringing out the old year and ringing in the new,

Be it hanging out with old friends


Or snug inside, just two


Let your spirits lift, be merry; let nothing you dismay

'Cause life will see to that, no doubt

So while you can, make hay!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dogs! On the Beach!

Oh, joy! Oh, bliss! Oh, happy happy day, when a dog may romp and run free, unfettered by leash or law! Poor dogs; they were made to run – well, most of them; I daresay a bulldog would beg to disagree; but for most canines in modern times, time off the leash, unfenced, unfettered, is hard to come by. A free-roaming dog can be a nuisance, occasionally a menace, sometimes, sadly, a pathetic heap in the road. We confine and circumscribe them for their good and our own, and mostly they adapt and cope. But do they not, now and then, pine for freedom to run?

 In my town of Ipswich, there is a time and a place for such glorious liberty. The vast sandflat sweep of Crane Beach is thrown open to Canine Americans and their attendant humans every year, from October 1 through March 31, and while part of the beach still requires the four-legs to be leashed (though there are always owners who ignore such strictures), one end of the beach is officially a leash-free zone.

The day after Thanksgiving, brilliantly blue-skyed, tolerably warm, light-breezy pleasant, I went for a walk there, and had a ball watching the dogs have a ball.

 The first reaction once the dog realizes the leash has been unclipped is usually a gleeful bolt, flat-out, all the pent-up RUN! exploding across the vast inviting sand.


It’s true some of the more sedate fellows will take off in a stroll rather than a cavalry charge, especially with a newfound buddy along.


 And some dogs, well, they’re just not built for ballistics.


But running running running – well, that’s the whole point of a no-leash zone, isn’t it? The dogs certainly think so.


They make new friends, too.


And so the solitary dog, packless at home save for its human, gets to play with a packmate, to romp and run with a temporary soulmate.




 Some dogs find the beach itself fascinating – the strange new textures underfoot, the strange new smells assailing the nose.


And then there’s The Tennis Ball of Bliss.


 The Object of Desire hurled by their human – Chase it!


Don’t let it escape!


 Capture it!


 Bring it back and do it again!

There was a boxer on the beach who was passionate about the fetch game, utterly obsessed with the ratty old frisbee his human flung for him.


And I do mean ratty.


 He locked onto each toss like an outfielder running down a high fly ball.


He timed his leaps perfectly.


Even another dog racing to intercept couldn’t throw him off his laser-precise aim.


 No way he was letting an intruder have his toy, nossirree.


 No, that ratty old thing was HIS ratty old thing, and the boxer was proud of it.


 Matter of fact, every dog playing fetch was joyfully into the game, from the pursuit...
Photobucket the capture...

Photobucket the triumphant return.


Yep, it’s a dog’s life on the beach, and it’s a damn fine life for a dog.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Today I rode Ben

Four simple words: Today I rode Ben.

But what a mess of emotions lie beneath them: Fear, uncertainty, doubt; resignation to reality; stubborn refusal to capitulate; shaky determination; tiny but satisfying triumph.

It was June of 2011 when I wrote this:

 I’m afraid.

I’m afraid to ride my lovely, sweet, well-trained, well-mannered Thoroughbred.

 I may never get on him again. If I do, I may never again take him out of a walk. 

And from then until today, I did not try again. Oh, I’d think about it, now and then; I’d toy with the thought, but always there was some excuse, some reason why “Not today.” I might have tried it last spring, I was so close to doing it -- but Ben blew his suspensory and that, it seemed, was that. Never mind that Ben healed just fine from it; still there always, always was some reason not to try. If Commander had been ridable, I’d have been happy to get aboard him; but Ben? Too big, too strong, too quick when he spooks; not today, anyway.

Today, though, became The Day: The day I put up or shut up; did or did not; pushed past fear or forever surrendered to it. Finished with chores, I was looking out the barn window at Ben and Commander below, and thinking about getting on Ben, maybe, might, possibly. The weather was conducive; the bugs were gone; he’d had his lunch so he wouldn’t be thinking about it; nothing was going on that might spook him.... And the thought came oozing in: “Now or never. This is your last chance. Ride today or give up.”

 So I went to the tackroom, brushed the dust and the cobwebs from Ben’s gear, carried it down to the run-in; led my mildly surprised horse to the fence, did a quick grooming, and tacked him up. Ben was (as my rational self knew he’d be) unfazed by the whole thing. So what if more than a year had gone by since last he’d had all this done to him? No big deal. I led him out, led him up and down the drive for a few minutes to let his back adjust to its unaccustomed burden, then brought him to the mounting block and swung aboard.

 It felt strange and utterly familiar.  It felt mildly scary and quietly satisfying and precarious yet secure. My body remembered and did what it knew how to do. Ben yielded to light cues as easily as if he’d been in daily work for the last decade. We walked around the ring, up and down its length, Ben stumbling a bit at first on its uneven surface, then settling into a relaxed walk. He didn’t seem unsettled by the tension coiled within me, and the tension gradually uncoiled and trickled away.

When we’d walked a few circuits of the ring, I made my next choice: I closed my legs on Ben’s sides. He broke into a little jog, unworthy of the word “trot”, and I sat to it for several strides, then seat-shifted him back to walk and told him what a wonderful fellow he was. After a few more circuits, we did it again, walked a bit more, then I rode him out of the ring, slid off onto shaky legs, and told him again what a marvelous horse he was. The whole grand adventure couldn’t have taken more than ten minutes – if that.

So, that’s my triumph today. It’s such a small thing, such a foolishly unremarkable thing – but it was big enough for me.

Will I ride Ben again? We’ll see. But the odds of it happening have gone way up.  And who knows? Maybe I'll even get as brave as I was in 2006: Photobucket

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Commander meets his master

Why is Commandser still walking?  And not only walking, but moving with reasonable comfort on his Soft-Ride boots (and 3 grams of bute/day)?
Why, in light of these x-rays from August 20, is he still with us?


Commander was seen by the vet today. It was time for fall shots for my two and the white boys, but Helen recommended not giving Commander the vaccinations; they offered a risk of laminitis flareup, and given his isolated life he’s at little risk of falling ill to begin with. So while the others got their shots, he was spared.
He did not spare us a tantrum in return.
Helen asked to have him taken out so she could watch him walk. When he re-entered the barn, he spotted the veterinary cases and freaked out – “Needle demon! NOOOOOO!” I got the ballistic boy into his stall and he started into his patented defiant-fury stall-spinning resistance to letting Helen get near him so she could check his pulses, dragging me around to his left, then trying to duck away rightward and yank the rope out of my hands. Since this time I had the chain shank running from the off side upper ring to lower ring, under his chin and out the lower near ring, and wasn’t letting him sling his body weight into me, he couldn’t manage to do it.
Helen wasn’t having any of that nonsense. And without once raising her voice or bullying the Mighty Morgan, Helen got his escalation de-escalated in a few minutes.
How? Patience, quiet firmness, and a second lead rope. 
After Commander had hauled me around the stall a few times, Helen handed me a lead rope as we whipped past the door, and I was able between his surges to get it clipped to the off side of his halter. Helen took hold of it, we triangulated our pulls and got him halted facing the door, and then we out-stubborned him (Helen leading, me following her example).
When he tried to lunge forward or sideways, we quick stopped him before he could get any momentum going. When he stood still, wound up and stiff with outrage, we talked quietly to him and scratched his neck. When, after a minute or two, he relaxed a bit, he got a carrot. It took a few rounds of this before he gave up all defiance and accepted his fate, but then I was able to take his boots off, Helen was able to pick up his feet and check him, and I was able to reboot him, with just one person holding the ropes while he stood reasonably quietly. When we were done and I took his halter off, a calm Commander metaphorically shrugged and went back to his hay.
It was a small but definitive horse-handling master class.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Catching up

First, the latest on Commander: He's thriving in the boots. He gets six or so hours of turnout every day, and is handling it well. I do need to maintain him on a gram of bute at midday and two in the evening; I tried cutting back somewhat and it didn't work. Oh, he wasn't in frank pain, but his bright-eyed vigor was dulled a bit, and what the hell -- as a friend put it: "The founder will get him long before the ulcers." Blunt but true. So I went back to what I had been doing and Commander went back to the paddock-sound-enough baseline of the boots.

The left boot does look toed-in a bit. I've tried resetting it square and within a few hours it's back to slightly canted. Oh, well, as long as he's comfortable in it, that's all that matters.

What else has occupied me? Well, there's this:

I’ve added a third gun to my little collection, a Colt Officer’s Target .38 Special. It was made in 1950, so it’s one year younger than me. Here’s a picture of the revolver I found online – my own isn’t as bright and shiny as this like-new one, but it’s in very good shooting condition.


I haven’t had time and/or favorable weather to get to the range much over the last few months, and it shows in my shooting. Not that I'd ever give Annie Oakley a run for her money, but I was doing better when I was doing it more often. I got out today for the first time in a several weeks, and only the second time shooting the .38.

I started today (as is my regular habit of rotation) with the Colt Woodsman, at 30 feet:


Yep, I do need to get out and practice more. But my shot pattern formerly tended to fall high and left. Now it appears I’ve gotten better at locking onto the center of the target, at least horizontally; I just need to narrow down the vertical dispersion. That’ll be apparent in the other two targets as well.

Second target: shooting the .38. I’m still getting used to it being louder and having a bigger kick than the Woodsman. Also, by then I had gun oil on my right hand, since I make it a habit to do a quick clean-and-oil on each weapon after shooting and before putting it back into its carrier – not a breakdown, but a Q-tip scrub at every surface I can reach, then running the snake through the barrel, followed by a drop of oil Q-tipped all over on the sliding surfaces and then a rub of the outside with a lightly oil-impregnated cloth. Got a few drops on my hand and there it was, all slick and impossible to get completely dry.

So, anyway, with my excuses all in line, here’s how I did with the .38 at 25 feet, standing, modified Weaver (my left hand cupping the butt rather than wrapped around the grip and my right hand, as I do with the Woodsman):


Yes, I shot 12; one shot went wild when the thing let loose while I was still lining up the sights after cocking the hammer. This is a double-action revolver and I always cock before firing; the one time I tried shooting single-action, the stroke was so hard I wound up going way off target. I'm finding I have to be careful between the cocking and the shooting because the cocked trigger has a very light pull.

So, still sorting out how to shoot the .38 most effectively; still working out what's right for me for this gun, as I've done with the other two. I need to practice more, of course. The cool dry fall weather should help to encourage that.

All right, then; after cleaning and putting away the .38, I finished today's range session, as I always do, with the CZ Lux, today at 45 to 50 feet. The results? Looks a lot like the Woodsman, but even tighter on the horizontal spread, about the same on vertical dispersion, and with more hits in the sweet spot:


Okay, well, so I had one wildish stray with the Lux. Wouldn’t want to offend the gods by being too excellent, right?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

So, what's the latest on Commander the Booted Wonder Pony?

The Mighty Morgan is mighty happy I bought him those boots. I’m mighty happy too, even though it’s still a (much smaller) pain getting him back into them after they’re removed for cleaning. He’s much improved in picking his feet up without fuss or (much) resistance for taking off and putting on, but those hooves don’t stay elevated for long! It still takes a few tries to get everything precisely aligned in the brief seconds the foot’s airborne.

As to the larger boots I’d mentioned getting for him: They arrived, with the standard orthotics (bright turquoise color) inside, and fit him very well. He seemed at first all right in them, but after about 24 hours he was looking stiff-legged again. Verdict: the standard orthotics are just too firm. So I put him back into the smaller pair, and he went back to being comfortable.

The fit of the second pair was snug; not all that much different from the first pair. Why? Because the vet-prescribed orthotic pads in the first pair crush down somewhat and become thinner than the Soft-Ride ones, so there’s more room inside the boot. This means I can continue to use the first pair as backups and switch-outs for the larger pair, which I can now use as his primary boots because I exchanged the founder orthotics bought for the first boots for a pair of size-larger, super-duper-softer, screamingly-bright-purple orthotics. When they arrived on Thursday, I stuffed them into the larger boots, stuffed the MM in after them, and through last night Commander was still quite comfy on them.

Courtesy of Patty at SRH Vet (egad but those are great folks there!) I also have a custom-trimmed set of the hockey puck orthotics to put in the larger boots, if the purple pillows don’t work out after all.

Ben’s now getting turnout from breakfast to supper, with access to the field all the time except when Commander’s with him. He hides a lot from bugs in the run-in but is enjoying his expanded freedom. Commander gets a couple of hours out with him at midday, weather and my schedule permitting, spends the rest of the afternoon in the corner vacation stall, and goes out for another half hour or so at suppertime while I fluff pillows before bringing them both in to their stalls for the night. At the midday and sometimes at the evening turnout I take Commander for a walk around the driveway loop for a bit of added exercise. If the MM continues to thrive on all this I’ll be trying to expand him to all-afternoon turnout.



In a word: Success.

Commander got put out around 12:30 today. In the hour or so I was there doing chores, he and Ben drifted in and out of the shed, nibbling at grass nubbins, nibbling from haybags, nibbling on each other, or just hanging out. When I got to the barn about 6:00, Commander and Ben were in the run-in snoozing side by side/front to back. The manure piles indicated they’d continued their eddying when I was gone.

I led Commander out and walked him up and down the driveway. He was a little bit stiff at first (as he is when coming out of his stall; I think it’s from immobility rather than foot pain) but then strode out freely. After a few minutes’ exercise I parked him in the corner stall and got his and Ben’s rooms ready for the night. (I muck both stalls at midday but don’t pull down the clean shavings; instead I leave the wet spots bare to air out for the afternoon.) Then I took him out for another driveway jaunt before tucking him into his overnight quarters.

Commander’s swinging from the shoulder when he walks now, picking up his knees and stepping long. It is still a somewhat odd-looking gait compared to pre-founder, but I think that’s just from the clunkiness of the boots themselves rather than discomfort. It’s the best I’ve seen him move (and Maria and Peter, watching from the house, agreed) in quite a while.

So it looks like we’re good to go for a New! Improved! schedule: Ben out at breakfast, free to the field; Commander out at midday, the boys confined to close quarters; Commander in when I arrive at suppertime, while Ben gets a bit more grass time before curfew while I do evening chores.

What? Let Ben take off for the field at suppertime? Won’t it be a problem catching him? Ha! When I went to fetch him this evening, I walked a little way into the grass paddock where he was grazing, held the halter out open in front of me, and called him. He walked right up and shoved his nose into it. Ben’s not the brightest horse I’ve ever known, but he is well aware that coming in for the night means: (1) no more bugs, (2) lots of hay, and (3) mash!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

These boots may be working too well!

Why? Why on Earth would I say something like that? “Too well? You’re kidding, right?”

No, not kidding. Not when they’re working so well that yesterday Commander bolted when I was leading him, dragging me willy-nilly along on a Nantucket sleighride, dry land version.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me plod through the story preceding the wild climax, yes, at my usual length, but this time with pictures.

First, some photos of the boots themselves. Here’s a view of the outer side. You can see the opening along the side that lets air flow in to hold down the yuckiness buildup, and the rubber circlet that helps keep the Velcro end in place. There’s an inner strap that Velcros down forward onto the front flap; then the visible strap Velcros up over it. If the boots fit perfectly you wouldn’t be able to see any of the understrap.


And here’s a view of the inner side, helpfully without the S-R logo, so that one can be sure to put the right boot back on the right (or left, as the case may be) foot:


And here’s a view from the front. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the toe is rockered to make breakover easier.


What’s that you say? Is that my foundered horse with his face in grass? What’s up with that? Am I crazy?

What’s up with that is that I am giving Commander limited – and when I say “limited” I mean like maybe 45 minutes per day – turnout in the tiny-paddock-and-run-in area, which does have pathetic remnants of greenery along three sides. There isn’t much there to begin with, even reaching under the fence; it’s August and midday when the grass is most likely to be dormant, least likely to be churning out sugars; but yes, it does run the risk, however minuscule, of triggering another laminitic flareup.

And yet I have done it for the last few days and intend to continue doing it on nice days, hopefully even expanding his time out, so long as he’s comfortable. Why? Because he’s got to be able to go back into turnout. He can’t spend the rest of his life stuck in a stall. If he had to be locked away forever, never seeing sunshine and the outside world, never breathing fresh air, never chumming with Ben save through the bars of a stall front, it would be kinder to put him in the ground.

And so, starting Wednesday, I have been turning him out with Ben when I arrive for midday chores, and the two of them are loving it. The first day, they grazed at first, then interspersed that with fierce grooming sessions. After about half an hour I brought out their mashes and they spent the rest of the time in the run-in munching hay and schmoozing. Commander came back into the barn without fuss when chores were done and got tucked into his afternoon stall.

Thursday the routine repeated without incident. Friday I remembered to bring my camera along. Here are the boys, together and happy:


Ben tends to get nudgy about “Hey, let’s groom, okay? Wanna groom, huh?” while Commander is more single-minded about finding something green and good to eat.


Commander’s been thriving on his new liberty. Also quite comfortable despite the hardness of the surfaces he stands on out there: hardpacked stone dust, mat-covered concrete, and just plain concrete. He’s moving in the Soft-Ride boots with a freedom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Even allowing for the lousy angle of this shot, you can see what big strides he’s taking:


What’s further heartening is that he’s picking up his knees in a normal stride now, rather than taking stiff straight-kneed steps. His whole body language in motion has changed.


He’s standing foursquare, not favoring one forefoot or the other.


Even standing downhill, so hard on a horse in pain from a rotated coffin bone, doesn’t faze Commander in the Soft-Ride boots:


Make that even standing downhill with one forefoot taking all the weight doesn’t faze Commander in the Soft-Ride boots!


But hey – *smacks forehead* -- I was supposed to be telling you about Commander bolting with me.

So, anyway, Friday things were different. For starters, Counterpoint, one of the pair of grays living in the other side of the run-in and fields complex, was three-legged lame from what turned out to be a stone bruise or abscess when I arrived at midday; after conferring by phone with his owners, I brought him hobbling and lurching into the barn. His buddy Cholla came in to keep him company (and to assuage my own worries at leaving the old guy out all alone and unsupervised for hours when his humans were away and I wasn’t there to keep an eye on him). That left Ben and Commander outside by themselves, which they were fine with at first. They grazed, schmoozed, snarfed their midday mashes, and hung out in the run-in as I worked in the barn.

But then something changed. Something caught their attention, seized it with disturbing force, away southward toward the next farm down the road. I learned later that farm was haying; perhaps that routed some animal(s) whose panicked flight my horses perceived. Whatever it was, it put them on high alert, and kept them there, drew them out of the run-in to stare that way, to circle back inside, to come out again and again, on guard.


Meanwhile, I was done with chores and needed to get both horses back into the barn – Commander because he’s still on limited time out, and Ben because he can’t handle being out solo. I waited a bit, hoping they’d settle down, but no. Still on alert.


It’s hard to say who was more keyed up: the timid Thoroughbred or the spirited Morgan, but There. Was. Something. There. and they couldn’t get their prey animal minds off it.


Oh, well, nothing for it but to do what must be done. I took Ben first, since he’s more inclined to have a meltdown over being left all alone and abandoned to the wolves. He came in nervous, staring and sidling a bit, but without too much trouble; turned free in his stall, he strode to the window to stare southwards at whatever the impending doom was still lurking over there.

I hurried back to fetch Commander, who was circling, anxious, taut with worry. Drat – the leadrope clipped on the halter I’d left hanging on the fence had a simple snap, not the chain shank I use under his chin to keep him from hauling me off course for grass. He’d been so polite lately, I’d gotten careless. Well, no time to run back into the barn for the other leadrope. I haltered him, got the gate open, pointed him through it....

Commander surged out, stared south, and bolted up the drive. Galloping? Just trotting way fast? I dunno; I was too busy flailing along with him at a stumbling run, desperately clinging to the last bit of the leadrope that he’d yanked through my hand, trying not to get slammed into the fence we were careening past.

Commander swerved left after the fence, onto the lush grass under the huge elm that shades the back of the farmhouse, and feverishly grabbed at it. I tried to haul his head up and barnward; got whipped around as he circled and plunged back to frantic grazing; hauled again on his head, slammed my shoulder into his and led, shoved, out-stubborned him the rest of the way into the barn. Got him into his stall, whipped the halter off, and bolted out, sliding the door shut in his face.

Then I went to the entrance and sat on the step till my heart rate dropped and the shakes wore off.

I’ll give those boots credit: Not only is he comfortable enough in them to run away with me, he’s so well cushioned that all that craziness didn’t hurt his feet at all, nor did the boots shift even a bit. Commander was moving just fine that night at bedcheck, and went out today looking equally good.

With the chain shank threaded onto his halter.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to Outsmart a Morgan

The problem: He doesn’t like having his booted feet messed with. He’s been tied in the aisle with his mash bucket the last few times it’s been done. He knows this. He’s not fooled and not inclined to stand still for it any more.

What’s a poor human to do? The left boot needs removal, reaming out, replacement, this fine evening. What’s to be done?

Use guile. Guile and trickery. Guile and misdirection and trickery. Not to mention flattery and shameless sucking up to.

So the mighty Morgan, with Ben safely back in his stall for moral support, is led out, tied in the aisle (single tie facing his stall; on cross-ties he’s too likely to surge forward toward the exit), and allowed to sniff the grooming box sitting on the upended shavings bag nearby him. The wily human scratches his neck – just SO – then picks up a brush and begins going over him – just SO – and the mighty Morgan relaxes.

The wily human asks him quietly to pick up his right front, touches the boot lightly when he complies, and puts it back down. The MM is praised. The WH brushes her way down his side to his hindquarters. She quietly asks him to pick up his right hind, touches the hoof, and puts it back down, praising the MM. Around to the left hind; repeat. Brushing, brushing, brushing up to the left front. The WH brushes down his leg, quickly but calmly undoes the Velcro, then asks the MM to pick up his foot.

Success! The foot comes up briefly; the boot’s stripped off; the mass accumulation of shavings gets shaken and scrubbed out; the pad gets a dusting of Gold Bond powder. Then it’s time to get it back on the much-praised MM.

The return does not go as smoothly as the removal; it appears the MM finds it insufficiently comfortable to stand on one forefoot for very long, and communicates this fact by snatching his foot free and snapping it back onto the floor. It takes several swift but calm and careful attempts until – voila! – the foot’s inserted exactly where it should be and the hoof’s back flat on the mat. Quickly, quickly: Close the two understraps; praise softly; close the two overstraps; praise softly and wait while the MM frets about a bit, just a bit; then pull into place the rubber-band-like keepers over the strap ends, and it’s done.

The MM gets bountiful praise, enjoys a thorough face-brushing, and is put back into his stall to enjoy his supper. The WH tidies up and goes home to enjoy her own.

The MM can’t be bullied. But he can be bamboozled.

More Booty Goodness

The morning report:

Sigh.... As if this weren’t costing me enough already....

Just got off the phone with a very friendly, helpful rep for Soft-Ride, who spent almost half an hour cheerfully chatting with me about the boots – their care and fit primarily, although we wandered off topic more than once.

I asked about care: how often to remove for cleaning, how to care for, that sort of thing. Turns out the recommendation is initially, for the first week or so with a horse wearing them 24/7, to take them off twice a day for removing and rinsing off the pad, cleaning gunk out of the boots, and to check the heel bulbs for signs of chafing. Oh, and be sure to put the correct pad back into the same boot, and put the correct boot back on the same hoof. Oh, great. Let’s hope Commander gets blase about standing still for the whole thing real fast.

We turned to fit, since I thought the boots he’s wearing now might be a bit too small. Yep, the rep thought from my description that, while he was doing fine in them at the moment, as his hoof grew out we’d have problems. So I’ve ordered a new pair, the next size larger. Hey, I’ve already sunk more than a grand in vet bills into Commander during this episode; what’s another couple of hundred bucks? (sob) At least I can return the unused laminitis orthotics from the first pair for a credit.

Oh, hey – look at the time (11:40). I’d better head over to the barn for the midday chores, see how the mighty Morgan is doing after his first night in booties. More later.


More later:

Good and not-so-good news.

The good – all right, let’s just go ahead and say the GREAT news is that Commander is amazingly comfortable in those boots.

Walking out freely comfortable. Bending his knees like a regular horse when he walks comfortable.

So comfortable that, after hand-walking him in the driveway for several minutes and seeing how well he did, I actually put him out with Ben in the run-in and its adjoining dry lot for about 45 minutes while I did stalls. Where he picked at the scattered pathetic nubbins of grass available, groomed with Ben, puttered about looking as if nothing was wrong with him, and for the most of it hung out in the run-in alternating munching hay and Ben-grooming. He walked back in as comfortably as he walked out.

The not-so-good news: He’s still being a pig about having his feet handled. With his bucket of beet pulp mash hanging in the aisle to occupy him, I was able to get his right boot off, wiped down, cleaned out, Gold Bond powder dusted, and back on, but by the time I tried to take off the left he was escalating into antsy, too antsy to get it done.

Okay, so he had distractions: He’d just come in, leaving Ben behind, and Ben was bellowing for his lost love; a truck and horse trailer were parked outside the barn and a strange horse had just gotten hosed down out there; I slid the barn door shut but even so he could still hear Ben yelling; it was all too much and he would not stand still or let me handle his left foot. I gave it up after a few minutes and put him back in his afternoon stall.

I’ll try to do the left foot again tonight, when Ben’s in and things are quieter. This is a continuing nightmare in so many ways, but seeing him look so at ease, for the first time in ages, is making it worth all the cost and struggle.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Booted - yet another tediously longwinded recital

The Soft-Ride boots came yesterday and today they went on Commander.

What a simple little declaration. So straightforward. So easy-sounding. So matter-of-fact.

So far removed from the reality.

Oh, the boots came on schedule, and they look sturdy and well-constructed, with easy to understand and use fasteners – all hail Velcro! Just in time, too, since Commander’s left pad was inching out of position, creeping forward on his foot despite the entire roll of Elastikon securing it. So, with the vet scheduled to arrive around 11:00, it looked like we were in business.

Hitch the first: The vet had an emergency call, a fracture, and didn’t even make it to the barn till after 2:00.

Fine. Such is the nature of waiting for the vet. He’s there – “he” being Derek Cavatorta, a young fellow (at least from the perspective of my 63 years), recently joined the practice, who’d been riding along with Helen and seen Commander when she x-rayed him. Good tidings: He thought the mighty Morgan looked better today than when he’d last seen him. Bad tidings: Those lovely expensive laminitis orthotics I’d bought extra for the boots? Helen thinks they’re a bit too hard for Commander and wanted to use the same kind of pads he’s been on. Good tidings: the hockey pucks fit perfectly into the boots, and the Soft-Ride company is known for working with its customers so hopefully I can return the orthotics for a refund.

We took Commander out into the aisle and I held him while Derek, with some assistance from Vicky the vet tech, removed the left wrapped-on pad and

Whoa. Let’s rewind that.

Hitch the second: Derek began trying to get the pad off. He didn’t have bandage scissors with him; his regular scissors refused to cut easily; the ends he freed and pulled on ripped off in small segments; the Elastikon clung on like a demented limpet; it was struggle struggle struggle till at last the thing ripped free. Getting the boot on wasn’t too hard, and the mighty Morgan seemed comfortable in it.

The mighty annoyed and increasingly impatient Morgan seemed comfortable in it, all right – comfortable enough, and pissed off enough at the whole process that as soon as the thing was secured he surged forward, determined to charge out of the barn to freedom! Away from the hassle! Freedom! GRASS! The three of us just barely managed to wrestle him to a stop at the very edge of the exit.

We got him turned back and decided to do the other foot in his stall. By now Commander had decided that Derek was the Spawn of Satan and he wasn’t having any more of this jerk messing with his feet, hell no! We hadn’t given him a sedative to start with; we decided we’d better; the sharp-eyed needle-phobe spotted the dread implement in Derek’s hand, and hooeee, it was charge around the stall rodeo time. I love Commander, and I love his spirit, but dammit! When he decides he’s had enough, when he gets pissed off at being asked to do something, he turns into a monster of defiance. Even with a dose of sedative finally aboard, it took ages and some narrow escapes from the vet and myself being body-slammed through the stall walls before Derek got the second pad off.

By this point the somewhat woozy but still angrily defiant Morgan was standing with me holding his head in the corner, no longer hurling himself in circles around the stall but continuing the fight by pawing furiously whenever Derek approached his hoof, before and after the wrap-and-pad removal. “Put that second boot on me? Ha! No way in Hades!” I’ll give the vet credit: He’d already had a rough day before he got to me; he patiently and calmly kept trying to do what he had to do despite Commander’s best efforts to thwart him; but by this time he could have offered Commander a cookie and the Morgan would have flung it back in his face.

So I suggested that Vicky hold Commander while I tried to put the second boot on. I wasn’t too thrilled about putting my head and hands down into the thrashing-leg region of my horse, but it was clear this was our only hope at this point. So Vicky took the lead rope and schmoozed with Commander, who had yet to put her into the Spawn of Satan category, while I coaxed him into picking his foot up high enough to fit his hoof into the boot without triggering another bout of angry flailing.

Did it! And went to fasten it.

Hitch the whatever-it-is-by-now: The boot seemed a bit small. Oh, with a bit of tweaking I got it fastened; with a bit more tweaking I tightened it somewhat; Commander walked out on it in apparent comfort; it seemed securely in position for the half-hour or so afterwards I observed him; but we’ll see if it continues to work or whether I’ll need to get the next size up for that foot.

I’ll say this about those boots: If he could charge around the stall like that with one boot on his worse foot, they must be making him mighty comfortable all right. I just hope he behaves a lot better for me when I take them off for cleaning.

I also hope they’re still on and in proper position when I go back to the barn in a few hours for evening chores.

At least by now I’ve stopped shaking.


The evening update:

So far, so good.

At bedcheck Commander was still booted and still comfortable. I led him out onto the driveway and he moved in what seems to be the new normal mode for him: Stiff-kneed but long-strided and moving briskly, eager to keep going till the mosquitoes drove us back inside. He took one ouchy step on the right turn into his stall but other than that he did fine.

I had him out into the barn aisle again to undo and reset his right boot because I thought it originally went on just a skootch off-center. Distracted by his bucket of evening beet pulp hanging from the wall, he stood for me more or less quietly.

More or less, well, yeah; every time I picked up his foot he did flap it about, and it took several tries to get the hoof correctly back into the boot. But I did it, and got the flaps Velcroed back in place, without too much trouble. I must hope that, as we keep doing this over time, he’ll come to accept it as no more annoying than having his feet picked out, and stop the foot-flapping. Still, it was reassuring to be able to handle this alone.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another Commander Update

So it’s been a while since my last update on the mighty Morgan and the mighty mountain of trouble he’s in. What’s up? How’s he doing?

He’s holding his own. He continues hobbled but undaunted, padding about stiffly on his pads but upheaded, greedy for goodies, and as smugly convinced of his own high worth as ever. His coat shines; his ears are pricked; he’s hugely interested in everything going on around him, at least if there’s not food in front of him to seize his attention.

On Wednesday, Commander got his feet trimmed and measured for his Soft-Ride boots, his last chance at getting comfortable enough to go on for whatever the long term turns out to be. He behaved like a perfect gentleman for my farrier through the whole thing, but then, Ken's very good with my horses, calm and gentle, and they like him and trust him. Ken wrapped the pads back on when we were done and I gave Commander a dose of Banamine even though he seemed unfazed by the whole thing.

I chose not to do any hand-walking at all, other than stall-shuttling, after the Wednesday work on him. I stuck to that through Friday, but yesterday and today I’ve taken him for tiny outside jaunts, and I mean like a few dozen yards outside the barn. He loves it, gets eager as soon as he’s turned that way, and despite it clearly being less comfortable for him on the hardpacked stonedust/gravel of the driveway, he relishes these small adventures – especially when he can yank my arm off and grab a mouthful of greenery. I hesitate to expand this till he’s in the boots, given how unforgiving the ground is.

Commander was perhaps slightly less comfortable overall on Thursday, with one or two ouchy steps as I led him between stalls, but truthfully, it’s hard to tell whether he’s really worse or better when I’m hovering over each step looking for Signs and Portents. Overall between midweek and today, Sunday, I’d say he’s maintaining at a baseline of stiff-legged but unhesitating to move when asked; more freedom of movement as he moves; and really really big strides when there’s FOOD! at the end of them. He can turn without much trouble in either direction as long as he’s free to choose the arc and pace of it. I can tell from the shavings on his coat and the stains on his flank that he does lie down, but he’s always on his feet when I arrive. I guess it was a good idea not to show him his x-rays, huh?

The boots and laminitis orthotics were ordered Wednesday evening. I hope to get them Monday and get Commander into them ASAP, allowing for the fact I’m going to want the vet there for the first fitting, to help me get the pads off, to make sure the fit is right, and – please, please not – to repad and rewrap Commander if the fit isn’t right and I have to exchange the Soft-Rides.

Meanwhile, Ben gets put out at midday and brought back in at dusk, and seems happy with the arrangement; Commander's fine with it too, and there's no more of the desolate hollering they indulged in the first few times I cruelly wrenched them apart. Ben has full freedom of the square paddock, with its well-eaten-down grass, and as of midweek the gate to the first field, ungrazed and unmowed all summer, has been open to him. He does go out there now and then, but the paddock appears to offer tastier grazing -- go figure! -- and besides, it's a much shorter distance from there to the shelter of the run-in, with its waiting well-stuffed haybag, when the flying pests get to be too much for the sensitive Thoroughbred.

I bring Ben over to Commander's stall when I lead him back in to let them sniff noses through the chainlink stallfront. I look forward to the time when I can turn them out together again. Oh, what a frenzy of mutual grooming there'll be then!