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.