Friday, September 30, 2011

A minor setback as the Pacific Northwest welcomes in winter.

Our plan had been to sign up for our first ride in August. It was a ride just next door, which I thought would be a good experience for both Deli and I since we could (assuming we could find a ride) go to the ride and then home again when finished. No overnight stay – which neither Deli or I have done yet – required.

I’m sure she would have been ready to do the limited distance (25 miles) at that ride. I was more worried about my own physical ability, but was pretty sure I could pull it off and suffer for it in the week following. She had been doing great on our trail rides, and recovering quickly after doing frequent 8 mile rides that included a decent amount of trotting and 12-13 mile rides at the walk. Our trails behind our barn are extremely hilly and rocky, which limits what we can do. If anything has been an issue, it has been her lack of enthusiasm with moving forward into a trot when we were out by ourselves. This has made it difficult to do proper conditioning. I attributed this to laziness or her normal tendency to be a worrier and didn’t push her much. Since I spent a lot of time walking her in-hand (which I always did for the last big hill up and down) I also trotted her in hand a little.

So for two months we were in trail-heaven. Then I had my masseuse come by to adjust and work on Deli, because I had noticed the inevitable buildup of muscle tension in her hamstrings and pectorals. My masseuse, as I have mentioned before, has this excellent thermography camera. We were both ecstatic to see that Deli’s primary injury of concern – her groin and hamstring tear – was completely gone. As in, the heat signatures matched in all her legs. Unfortunately, the backs of her pasterns on all four feet were inflamed. This was a surprise, because Deli has great leg conformation that includes great medium-length pasterns. She is a smidgen toed out, but it’s barely noticeable unless you know you are looking for it or you have owned her as long as I have. My masseuse wanted me to consider that her workload was too heavy, but that didn’t sit right. Her back and other soft tissue all looked great, with the exception of a rib being slightly out on her right side (and no surprise that this is right under the spot where my bad hip is).

Then it occurred to me – her boots!

The BLM roads are tough on a bare foot.
I’d been riding her with Cavallo Simple Boots for her front feet and Cavallo Sport Boots for her hind feet exclusively almost every time we went out on the trails. The long stretches of harsh gravel BLM roads necessitate the foot protection we had, and I refuse to put shoes on Deli unless she has some traumatic reason for their need. However, the Cavallo boots have a pretty hard leather “lip” in the back. When I considered it more closely, this lip would press into the back of her pastern at some point in her natural footfall, but particularly when she trotted or cantered and picked up her feet more. My masseuse agreed that this interference could definitely be the cause of the inflammation we were seeing on the thermography camera – particularly since every foot had such a freakishly identical pattern.

I’m extremely thankful for the thermography camera spotting this issue before it became serious. For one, you couldn’t feel any heat in her pasterns. Because the inflammation was equal on all four legs, she also wasn’t moving lame at all. Now I believe some of her hesitation to move forward and trot on the trail to be because it was painful, to some degree, to have the boot jabbing into the back of her pasterns.

So our tentative plans to try for our first endurance ride were shelved. My masseuses recommended three weeks of light work, with cold hosing 3x a week, so that’s what we did. And then I started work at a new job while retaining my summer job, meaning my time to ride or do anything other than sit in front of my computer working has evaporated, so she has gotten more like six or seven weeks of light work. The muscle from our summer work is fading from both of us, and I feel somewhat discouraged that things worked out as they did. Particularly since my own fitness and weight is a serious problem going forward with our competitive trail-riding dreams.

On the other hand, the EasybootGlove Wides are finally out, and we have been experimenting with them. It seems they will work well for Deli eventually (when the size we need actually comes into stock!) and I believe they are the better option for trail riding because they do not have any hard “lip” or anything hard at all above the hair line. I feel some wariness that the gaiter (which is completely soft and shouldn’t cause any pressure points) will be a problem because of heat buildup on her pasterns, but hopefully that won’t be a serious problem. We have done some test-rides and I have found Deli is much happier to move forward in the Gloves, so I am hopeful we will be successful using them. If and when we do compete I plan on doing Glove Glue-Ons, if I can.

Front hoof in progress!
In the meantime I have given up completely on farriers after going through seven individuals since moving up to Portland two years ago. Deli has good feet, but they like to flare and my most recent farrier was not taking off enough toe despite my encouragement. She has some white-line separation as a result. Having taking farrier science classes at UC Davis, I’m somewhat handy with a rasp and hoof knife and decided that I need to brush the dust off my old farrier science books and attempt to do her feet myself. In the past I have been worried about hurting Deli or worried about hurting myself, since I have a bad back. After obsessively reading everything I could find about barefoot trimming, I started work.

So far, the results of my work on her feet have been noticeably good. She moves out more comfortably on gravel now, where she would mince before. I’m taking it very slowly for my own comfort and mental health, meaning I trim her a little more each week. It’s more enjoyable than I thought it would be, although all my study has made me realize how many horses are improperly shod! It’s become somewhat of an obsession – I now see a horse’s feet before I take in anything else about the animal.

The Gloves for Deli don’t fit quite like they should because of her toe flare, but they don’t move at all when we walk or trot on rough ground, so I’m going to stick with them. If we have issues, a little “bootlegging” with sport tape should do the trick. The boots are difficult to get on and off, so I'm not anticipating a need for a powerstrap.

Deli finishing up lunch in her shelter.
Also, with my busy schedule I have decided that doing in-hand hikes with Deli is a more productive use of our time. I need the mental break after my long days at the office and the exercise, and she loves being out and about in the forest rather than confined to the arena. I also caved and bought a fancy (and expensive) Skito bareback pad so that we can focus on MY fitness this winter when we do arena work. The pad is made of foam specifically designed to carry the heavier rider because I am constantly conscious that my weight gain since my accident has put me above what Deli is mathematically designed to carry. Again, I keep a sharp eye on her back health and have seen no adverse effects, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

Overall, things continue to move along. We have had setbacks, but Deli is otherwise healthy and I have a plan for my own fitness needs.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Long over-due update: more than sound!

It has been a long time since I’ve updated simply because law school and caring for Deli has taken priority over blog posts. However, the news has been good! In mid-February, 2011, Deli had her veterinary re-check with respect to the significant injuries she had suffered. After doing flex tests and watching her trot and canter on the lunge, they said she looked 100% sound and could go back into full work! I was more than confident about their diagnosis because I had ridden her right before they arrived and she had been in one of her moods, and was acting quite spooky and fearful of something going on inside the arena, meaning she got a tough workout and was tired when they assessed her lameness.

At that time she still had some clear muscular atrophy, which has improved over the past two months so that the difference is only apparent to me. I believe I have acquired hawk-eyes now when it comes to hind-end lameness and weakness due to this groin and hamstring injury of hers.
The weather in Northern Oregon has been unusually wet this year, meaning the trails are still quite muddy. While the BLM roads with their graded and graveled surface have been passable, they have offered little entertainment for us. When we have been hitting these hilly roads I have been doing a lot of hiking in-hand with Deli. The hills have helped her muscle tone and I’m slowly losing the weight I gained after my own accident. My own fitness, however, has been slower to return than Deli’s. I’m still struggling with right hip pain and right leg weakness, and my lungs feel constricted and resistant to deep breathing.
Deli and I on the trails. With her new rump warmer!

Still, my physical issues and the muddy state of the trails I’m really impatient  to explore hasn’t dampened my mood. Even with our level of riding ramping up, Deli has remained sound and happy.  We have found a route that winds through our temperate rainforest that is approximately 9 miles long, and Deli has taken to the steep inclines and variable footing with ease. I have been hiking alongside her for the steepest of the hills to spare her back and get my own exercise.

New breastplate!
I have also found that Deli is incredibly sure-footed when it comes to obstacles – including muddy treacherous slopes – on the trails. Since we only started doing true trail riding this year, I suspect this skill is due to her younger days running semi-wild with a herd in the foothills of San Luis Obispo. She likes to point her nose off-trail when my attention wanders and explore the woods. She’s a pro at high-stepping over massive logs blocking our trail when she clunks into ground poles in the arena.
Even though I know more experience and conditioning under her metaphorical belt will be good for her, she is a natural-born trail horse.