Sunday, December 13, 2015

Demoing the Ghost Firenze.

I am just finishing up my saddle demo for the treeless Ghost saddle. It wasn’t the best week the demo a saddle because of the epic storm that has been thrashing the Pacific Northwest since Tuesday. And my “epic” storm I mean downed trees, SIGNIFICANT flooding, closed freeways, mudslides…

And for those who don’t live here and think its weird someone living in Portland would comment about the rain: this isn’t normal.

I still got a couple good test rides in on the Firenze, though no long trail rides unfortunately. I am fairly new to treeless saddles but I’ve tried a Startrekk and a Freeform on Deli before. She disliked both and there is little more to say. I have personally ridden in an older Ansur, but not on Deli. Ansurs are WAY out of my price point, anyway.

The Ghost Firenze with Ghost pad - size 18" seat.
The rigging , the pad, and the stirrup attachments.
The best “trail” trial I had for this was riding 3 miles up the road and back in the freezing rain today (luckily, I have a waterproof saddle cover that fit). Deli was kind of pissy (wanting to go home), but it was hard to tell whether it was the weather, all the cars, or the saddle. We did some more trot work in the arena upon returning and she was nice and forward still, which is usually a good sign.

My general impressions:
  • Well-constructed, fairly minimalist with a more ridged but flexible base, a stiffer pommel arch which gave it the most structure, and areas for both the leather seat and panels to be Velcro on (seats are interchangeable). This would allow the panels to be adjusted. I messed with that very little.
  • The Ghost pad also seemed well-constructed - the foam is different than what I'm used to seeing in Skito, though.
  • I like the panels system that gives the spine lots of clearance (*note, when I tried the Freeform it did NOT have the sympanova panels, just a bulky treeless pad).
  • Sit’s “higher up” on the horse due to the extra padding – typical for a treeless.
  • Initially it was tipped way to far forward due to Deli’s sway back and the fact the saddle does squish when you sit in it. The saddle dealer included some felt seat inserts which I placed under the seat as a bolster. That really helped. I might want an even bigger bolster if I get this saddle.
  • Deli was initially wiggly, and then really moved out nicely for some easy arena work. She seemed more comfortable than our old dressage saddle and than just the bareback pad just based on her willingness to trot on and relax her head down with little urging.
  • Comfort for me was decent after I figured out where to have the stirrup leathers (there are two spaces to put them) – except for the bucking rolls. I hate those things. I have a VERY long upper leg and big thighs. Bucking rolls just do NOT work for me. Luckily this saddle comes with the option to have them removed so I tried to ignore them and focus on other aspects of the saddle.
  • I absolutely LOVE the rigging system (see pictures). It worked great for my forward-heart-girth & laid-back-shoulder gal. The saddle did slide forward and back a little when we did some hills.
  • You have to cinch it up much tighter than a treed saddle. Saddles always roll on Deli because she is a barrel, so I had to be mindful of that.
Visual of how it all layers together:

Me on Deli (but before I put the bolster in the saddle pommel:

After I put the bolster in the pommel:

More shots of the "inner workings" of the saddle:

Showing the foam in the pad.

The panels can be peeled off the flexible frame.
Potential issues to be addressed or actual problems:
  • I am heavier than the “maximum weight” of 175. Not much heavier – and given the diet I am now on (for specific health reasons other than losing weight) I’ll probably be 175 or less by the time the weather is nice enough for longer rides. Still. I will never be a lightweight and I have a mental block about the treeless + fat person issue.
  • Her lower back was somewhat tender after our last ride (in the area she gets fatigued easily).
  • MY lower back and crotch were also a bit sore after riding up the road. Again, it’s hard to say why. I still felt like I was being tipped forward sometimes so If I get this saddle – maybe a bigger bolster? Shim the front of the pad? Not sure. I don’t get any soreness when riding with the bareback pad, and I’ve done around 5 miles pretty regularly (before it started raining every day) with that. Related to this: I feel like I could sit more comfortably without the bucking rolls hitting me uncomfortably.
  • The saddle did slide forward and slide back when we hit some minor hills. Not enough to make her fuss, but it was noticeable.
I’m concerned about the slight back tenderness today. Hard to tell if it was saddle related or because she was so tense and “up” for the whole of riding up the road. I also haven’t asked much of her dressage-wise for several months since we have not had a saddle. Still, we only went 4 miles. Can her back remain good for 25 if she’s iffy after 4? Her back didn’t feel tender like that riding 5 miles in the bareback pad, but she was tenser today (due to the weather/timing) and I asked her for more in the arena.

I would like to be able to use Thinline somehow since Deli does really well with that. I think Skito COULD make a treeless pad for this saddle, or I could add Thinline shims into the pad itself (or the panels!). There are lots of ways to adjust and self-modify this setup, which is a plus.

I tried putting our Thinline pad UNDER the Ghost pad, but Deli wasn’t a fan of the layered pads. I wonder how much a treeless pad is needed with the panels and a barrel-shaped horse? I should have tired just the Thinline in the arena but it didn’t occur to me till just now.

Otherwise I am seriously considering getting this model. There were lots of things to like and in general Deli seemed comfortable. She did her lovely power walk reliably without being nudged a lot, which is usually a sign she feels good. She certainly moved more freely than in our old dressage saddle! The pricing on these saddles is also very good – I could get one NOW. The other saddles I was considering (Trailwise, Alleghany, maaaayyybe Stonewall) would all be double the price of this saddle or more. And there is no guarantee they would work long-term either. Finding a treed saddle to fit her particular conformation has been difficult if not impossible so far.

One VERY note-able observation: when I first rode her in the arena when it was dry she picked up the canter easily. With the dressage saddle it was always a struggle in the arena. I thought it was just her but not I'm not so sure... I couldn't canter again after that because parts of the arena were semi-flooded and it was too slippery to canter at all.

It bears musing. I wonder if it's a good idea to get this so I at least have a saddle to RIDE in. If it does not work for Deli and I longer-term we can always sell it (like we would any saddle that did not work). I certainly recommend this saddle based on what I've seen so far. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Don't sweat the small stuff!

  I can’t believe I haven’t done any updating since July! Slacker slacker slacker.

Fall - my favorite season in the PNW - is here.
 The good news is: Deli is doing pretty darn well. The lymphangitis is still a thing but I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. Seeing a puffy leg now just means several things:

  • She got bit by an insect and needs a loading dose of antihistamines.
  • She needs more exercise and/or has been standing around too much.

 So far neither of the above have affected her soundness or general comfort.

Look at her leg on a good day! This is incredible considering the trauma this leg has experienced (so my vet tells me).

I have been riding her – still bareback (with a pad) – about 3 times a week. We do “trail riding” whenever we can. Just loops around the farm fields across the street, but she enjoys that more than arena work. We have also been doing dressage work in the arena. She is sound and not terribly unfit. Now that the cooler weather and some rain has come to Portland at last the insects are no longer a bother. I’ve been able to take her off daily antihistamines. The fact that those drugs really  help her highlights that she has hyper-immune allergy issues that set off inflammation more than anything.


Foggy day on Cow Hill.
I did get Deli tested for Cushings disease this fall and the good news is: she doesn’t have it! We received a big fat (and very clear) negative on the ACTH test. This is a relief for me because her having Cushings would have added another whole management headache. Ironically her top line and the odd fat pads also go better with the use of antihistamines (and perhaps, not using my old custom-fit saddle?!). My vet wants me to watch her heat cycles carefully next spring and have her checked for reproductive issues if I still see some irregularity in her heat cycles.

Brian has even been riding her more!
Despite not having Cushings I still decided to muzzle her this fall. She bloated up HUGE after two days on growing green grass and the muzzle went on. With the drought we have been in this is the first fall season we’ve had where the horses are going from NO grass to the highly sugary fall grass. It’s not even raining much yet but I plan to keep her muzzled until it’s truly winter and the grass is a bit safer. She gets high quality hay 2x a day, her supplements (I’ve added back in some cinnamon since fall is here), and lots of grass snacks as we poke along in the farm fields.

With the muzzle on she now looks good. Oddly she looks less sway-backed since I started just riding her with the bareback pad. And she is FUZZY-PLUSH with her winter coat right now!

I really am trying not to sweat the small stuff. It’s not in my nature but I think it’s about time I adopt this as a policy with my beloved chestnut mare. I push the ache of wanting to do more endurance rides away for the time being and tell myself over and over: what will be will be. The endurance season is just about over in the Pacific Northwest anyway. Next year I hope I can get Deli out more and if not I’ll try and find an appropriate endurance horse to lease or try to find pick-up rides.

I’ll be able to afford it better now because after two years of looking for the right fit I’ve finally found and been hired onto a new job! I’ll be making some predictable money while also doing agricultural policy work – something I am passionate about. It will be reasonable to start looking for a new saddle soon. Maybe down the line we can also invest in a used truck and trailer which will open up opportunities for Deli and I whatever our direction ends up being.

My vet tells me the lymphangitis doesn’t make endurance out of the question: endurance vets are more concerned with a leg that GETS fat than a leg that gets thinner. And soundness, of course. And everything I have seen over the past few months is that the exercise is the best thing for Deli. I hope extensive trail riding (and hopefully camping) is going to be a big part of next year. But with a new job... who knows? I certainly don't!

Friday, July 31, 2015

The positive way to spin this: another fork in the road...

When to give up?

That’s what’s been going through my mind a lot lately when it comes to Deli. Not to give up on her, because she’s going to get my care for the rest of her life whether she is a pasture puff or something else. But whether to give up on doing endurance rides with Deli. To retire her to easy-going trails without a goal other than moving along.

Endurance riding is something I’ve been trying to achieve with this horse for six of the nine years we’ve been together. Because I think she would both enjoy it and be good at it (barring the obvious soundness problems) and I also enjoy and could be good at it. I love being outside on a trail with a horse I love more than anything but the element of goal-setting (not necessarily winning a competition, but the idea that there is some mountain to climb) to endurance riding really appeals to me.

I have that one LD under my belt and that was enough to make me realize I really really want to pursue this sport. I can’t remember doing something that was so hard and yet so fun ever before in my life.

I was all set to take Deli to her first LD (Bandit Springs) at the end of June. She was doing awesome during conditioning rides. So awesome. She was getting obviously more fit and seemed to be enjoying moving out more on the trails (more forward = more fit and confident for this mare). She was ready, too. She was strong and getting stronger. The couple successful intro rides we have under our belt meant I was pretty confident her brain could handle it as well.

Just over a week before the ride I go out early in the morning to sneak in a ride before the blistering heat set in only to find her pawing in her paddock, not wanting to move. She was 3-legged, the right hind leg had a slightly puffy fetlock, and her distress was obvious. I made an emergency vet call. I found the barn owner down in the barn and asked if I could cold hose her where she stood (and create a big mud puddle), and she expressed surprise because when she’d fed Deli about a half-hour earlier she was walking around acting normal.

It was bigger than this, I kid you not. This was taken later when she was comfortably putting weight on the leg again.

I don’t need to go into all the details but as I waited for the vet Deli’s leg got bigger right before my eyes. She got a fever that kept climbing past what would be normal for a horse in pain (eventually getting to 103.7 before the vet was able to administer a nice cocktail of drugs). Concerned about the level of pain she was in – to the point she was almost panting – and knowing the vet was still at least an hour away, I called her to let her know I was giving Deli the last of the painkiller I had left from her last badbad injury.

The final diagnosis was lymphangitis, but based on the circumstances it’s likely that Deli was bitten or stung by a spider or other insect. The vet thinks a black widow bite somewhere on that leg is a possibility. We also have scorpions in the PNW, though I’ve never seen them around the barn. The weird and bad weather we’ve had this year had meant the proliferation of all sorts of insects we don’t normally get much of. 

The swelling was bad. Horrific, one might say. The whole leg from hoof to udder was grotesque.

For non-horse folks... the left leg is normal.

Deli hanging out in a stall the day after the "event".
Deli’s compromised lymph flow in that darn right-hind from her old scar and many bouts of celluitus probably contributed. As did her allergy to insect bites (a hyper-immune reaction which started after she definitely had a bad spider bite on her chest about 3 years ago – her skin melted off that time).

Lymphangitis is essentially inflammation and/or infection of the lymph system. The vessels swell enormously. Lymphangitis can be caused by many things – one of which is the introduction of a toxin. Things get inflamed, lymph gets constricted, that gets infected and… everything goes downhill from there. 

Everything I’ve read and heard now says the same thing: Lymphangitis is a frustrating condition to treat."

In all the articles I've read they end saying something like: it’s a good thing it’s such an uncommon condition. To that I say: no sir, because that pretty much guarantees my horse is going to get it.

Deli went through a long round of antibiotics, and me trying to find something, anything, that would work to abate the swelling. Her leg got huge and nothing helped. It got so huge the pitting edema (meaning you can press a finger into it and it stays like putty) was draped over her hoof. Nothing helped. 
A sweat wrap. Which helped not at all.
I played around with different things. Supplements to help cleanse lymph. Infared light therapy. Cold hosing and icing. 

Topical medication. Anti-inflammatory medications and even herbs of various sorts. Bandaging and sweat wrapping and massage. 

I'm still considering other therapies, too.

Trying some feed-through assistance.
Luckily, other than the pain of having her skin stretched tight Deli’s serious pain went away within a day. Her skin itself wasn’t hot or painful like I saw when she gets cellulitis. Up around her groin/udder area it was more painful and inflamed – there are a string of important lymph nodes in the area. The skin on the inside of her leg from stifle upward got weird bumpy skin, almost like hives, and the lymph system in the area became ridged and hot. That particular area hurt a lot when you poked it. It made me consider that Deli may have been bitten a bit higher up and the first swelling just appeared in the fetlock because of how the fluid circulates.

But I’ll probably never know exactly what happened. The spider bite is our best speculative guess based on the whole set of facts we do have. Her temperature being so elevated so quickly, for example.

I finally found that movement seemed to help a little, so she went back out in the big pasture with her buddy. I went out two times a day (meaning over two hours of driving every day for two weeks) to give medications and hand walk her. The FatLeg remained stubbornly persistent. It would go down a little, but only a little. 

She didn't seem very uncomfortable so I hopped on her to do our walking. I even gave my husband a short lesson on her one day to serve two purposes at once.

Lesson pony?
Haha... no. Only for my husband, who she adores.

When we knew we were not dealing with infection anymore, it was time to try steroids. Adding the corticosteroids dexamethasone had an immediate positive effect. She was on that for 10 more days, ending last Saturday. During which time I obsessed over watching her feet for founder – something that luckily didn’t happen (she’s pre-Cushing’s and Cushing’s horses are more prone to founder. And a side effect of steroids can be founder).

Steroids are a magical thing in some circumstances!

Despite all these drugs and enormous time commitment on my part there is currently a residual swelling left. Longer exercise (the longest so far was an hour and a half trail ride) gets the leg looking almost normal, but I can feel a difference. There is still some pitting edema left. This is pretty common – basically the leg will be permanently FatLeg to some degree. Unfortunately this also makes the severe lymphangitis more likely to recur in a previously affected leg.

Yesterday she was stung by a bee on the neck and today the FatLeg is a little fatter. Antihistamines helped that, so now, on vet advice, we are playing with a large dose of Zyrtec that we will taper off.

A more recent shot of the problem leg before a workout, which takes away some of the puff. Much better, but some residual fibrosis (especially around her fetlock scar). Welcome to the world FatLeg.

I’m exhausted and trying to ignore the stress caused by already-substantial vet bills because there is nothing I can do about that right now. I feel like I don’t have the right to complain, sometimes, because this has been a hard summer for many of my friends (and fellow bloggers) when it comes to pet health. We all seem to be struggling. One friend of mine had to put down her old guy recently due to neurological issues.

Further conversations with my vet highlight that endurance isn’t necessarily off the table. Ride her, work her, my vet says, she how she holds up and watch how she feels. Movement is the best thing for Deli if she can tolerate it. Deli is sorta-kinda sound. If the FatLeg is fat she is a bit inconsistent. As it goes down she moves more smoothly. The stretched skin is no doubt uncomfortable, but a short period of discomfort means more comfort later. And since Deli isn't resisting being worked I know she is not really in pain. This is an advantage to sensitive horses I think: I KNOW she's not hurting if she's telling me she's fine. Not a stoic pain-hiding horse, this one.

So we head back out again to wander at a walk. Happy ears = happy me.
My vet – who also vets endurance rides – also said that having some permanent FatLeg does not necessarily preclude competing in endurance. She is not surprised edema is sticking around in Deli’s scarred fetlock or that there is some stubborn fill in the tendons on that leg. She sees horses with “war wounds” all the time during vet checks – what’s important is the horse vets in sound and stays sound, and that the leg doesn’t get bigger during the ride.


Honestly competing Deli in endurance is not something I’m going to worry about anymore this summer. It’s a hot miserable summer. I need to sell my saddle for various reasons, the main one being that I need the money. And it’s not what I want, going forward, even if non-goal oriented trail riding is all that’s in our future.

While I market my saddle (to help pay for those vet bills!) I’ve returned to my trusty Skito bareback pad. Ironically I am much more comfortable on the bareback pad than in my dressage saddle for long walks. Since my own accident my conformation in my hip seems to have changed such that the dressage saddle really pains me. We’ve been back out around the fields near our barn and Deli seemed happy about that – even asking to trot in the places we have been trotting for conditioning. The footing is still pretty terrible around the fields and I’m not that inclined to tackle it while bareback.

I have mentioned my horse is wide, right?
 My main worry right now is the management nightmare this is going to be. Deli needs movement. Lots of movement. She’d probably do better in a much bigger area than she has now (which is about 1.5 acre pasture without much grass this time of year). She also can’t be in mud past her heels due to issues with skin infections which will only be more serious now that she has lymphangitis. 

Ideally she needs 2x a day supplements fed to her (which the current barn won’t do) so I don’t need to drive out daily to ensure she gets her medications when she needs them. Since she is likely pre-cushings, her being on grass may become problematic sometime in the future. So far she seems okay in that respect, but I have to admit the grass this year was minimal compared to a normal Portland spring and summer. She has always done great on pasture in the past and I’ll likely have to juggle the grass issue with exercise issue. The more safe space she has to move and the more movement she is actually getting, the less grass is going to be an issue (probably). Otherwise, how is she going to have all the space she needs while ALSO being on a dry lot (ideally with slow feeders giving her forage access 24/7)?!

Add to those management considerations her insect allergy, her need to have a fly mask put on and taken off, and her need to have certain fly sprays applied but not others (because she's allergic to some fly sprays, too). Oh, and her social needs which always have to be balanced with the fact that she gets harassed and badly injured so easily when put in with poorly socialized equines. She’s in with two bossy brat mares right now and has never had a mark on her from them – but they are also well socialized. Boarding barns have never cared much about such things from my experience and it’s always me that ends up with the bleeding broken pony and the vet bills to boot.

I feel like I could deal with a lot of these things much more easily if she were on my own property. That has always been the dream, anyway. But life and my career are not working out even remotely as planned (so far) and I’m currently in a limbo that does not give me the option of having my own place. I also dislike driving to the barn so it’s not just a desire to work out the management issues myself that makes me want my own horse place. I’d rather commute to work than drive to the barn.

Another thing I’ve run into many times at many boarding barns is that management knows much less about horse care than I do. Multiple places feed poor quality hay or don’t feed enough of it (one place refused to feed a horse more than 10lbs of poor quality hay a day – when board was upwards of $500!). It seems to be the rule rather than the exception that herd turnout and/or pastures are managed very poorly. Overcrowding is very common as well and the land is usually destroyed and knee deep mud by the time the rains come around.

This new hitch in our plans means I am discarding plans altogether that this point. Screw you, plans. The ever-increasing problems of horse-management considerations for my Deli-pony have left me discouraged and looking for solutions I’m not sure exist. At least not where I currently live where boarding seems to be very poor quality for what is paid and the economy is very bad in comparison to the rest of the United States.

I just have to work on that moving forward thing – it’s the best thing for all of us. Even FatLeg.