Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 2015: Deli’s health and conditioning update.

Some signs have been alerting me to the possibility Deli has something hormonal going on – the unusual fat deposits, a change to her heats where she is even lazier than normal, and being slow(er) to shed out this spring. She could be experiencing early signs of cushings (an equine disease of the pituitary) or have something going on related to her reproductive organs. Or it could be a hormonal issue related to her metabolism (like insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome).  Several of these conditions are inter-related. It could also be something else entirely. She has always carried fat in certain places without a hint of metabolic issues. She does not seem to have one of the first signs of cushings: excessive thirst and urination (though she is pastured, so it’s hard to follow those things) and the pot-bellied appearance without being able to gain weight. She is shiny and has energy and her feet are in good shape – especially now that it is reliably dry.

I’ve put her on chaste-tree berry because that herb has good properties of balancing hormones and is often used for horses leaning toward cushings syndrome. I’ve also put her on a liver cleanser at my horse masseuse’s recommendation. Luckily none of these things are on the AERC banned substance list. We have also switched her and her pasture mate (who is also a fatty) to a lower-quality hay.

If I don’t see some changes within the next two months I’ll be having the vet out to test for cushings and do a metabolic/hormonal panel on Deli. Cushings in particular is an “old horse” disease and can be managed various ways. Obviously, I’d rather something less serious is going on but I’ve slowly learned to take things as they come with this horse.

Sometimes I wonder if Deli is having a sympathy-pregnancy/foal. We just had a foal born on the property and Deli is oddly interested in it when she has never given foals a second look before.  And the day after the filly was born her udder puffed up slightly. I mean, it could have also been a fly bite to her udder but… it is kind of suspicious, isn’t it?

If she does have cushings it is still in the very early stages and I have a viable plan.

Overall Deli has been doing really well, I think. Up until this week, where I have been sick with the flu and not riding her at all, she has been getting regular conditioning. I worry that we should be doing MORE and that I’m asking for too much at the same time. But she seems unaffected by the mileage increase in a bad way. She LOOKS more fit, she has more energy. She’s still a lazy pony in many respects (she says: I conserve energy for when it's IMPORTANT, human!), but she certainly prefers hitting the trails to anything else we could be doing. She can walk all day. If we had better footing to contend with I bet she could trot a lot of it too. The fact that the last time we went out to ride 10 miles she offered to canter up a hill shows she’s more game than ever.

Deli’s skin is doing really well too – I’ve figured out supplements that seem to help her hot-spot flare ups from insects. When she does have a flare up I have developed a system of topical applications that calm down the inflammation. This includes some of the previously mentioned creams/medicines (T-ZON, Tricare, my coconut oil concoction) and now just plain old aloe vera gel. Aloe is just another one of those things that I should have everywhere as it is absolutely essential for my OWN skin care (having red-dead skin, I burn TOO easily). It’s just another Deli-maintenance thing I needed to figure out and keep on top of!

My saddle-future is still up in the air. I AM getting a demo saddle in early July and have saddles I might be able to borrow from folks within the lovely endurance community. Still, I can’t afford to get a new saddle right now unless I am able to sell my current dressage saddle and use that money to get something new. There is still part of me flinching at the idea of making another huge investment when I don’t know if Deli is going to be able to (or want to) to the kind of miles that will make her a successful LD horse. Of course, to most endurance riders LDs are just the easy stuff. Not “real endurance” and pretty insignificant when it comes to distance riding.

It’s still a huge hurdle for Deli. And having her complete an LD in good shape is a huge hurdle for me, too.

I can see myself doing LDs easily. My fitness level is the best it has been in YEARS. I'm not saying I'm the most fit person out there, but I'm on the right path and I intend to stick with it. I am also the lightest, weight wise, that I have been since I was hit by a car and forced into a sedentary lifestyle by injuries in 2009. That feels great, too, though I am still not done with that journey either.

As long as I watch out for heat stroke and dehydration being on a horse for 6+ hours just sounds fun. (The heat stroke and dehydration is a big deal, but it’s also another management problem and not a deal-breaker.)

I am committed to going to the Bandit Springs ride with Deli in mid-July now. I haven’t yet committed to the idea of doing an LD, but it is a possibility. If something doesn’t feel quite right (or it’s in the 90s that weekend), I can opt to do another intro ride. I hear the trails are beautiful there and I don’t want to miss it either way!

My friend from the East coast riding the piggy pony in May.
I’ll have a demo saddle at the time, so I could possibly use that for the ride. I don’t know that it’s going to be a great fit though (it IS just a demo) so it will really depend on Deli’s opinion of the whole thing.

At least there is forward momentum of some kind in horse-life even when most everything else in my life is stagnant right now. Deli, as always, is a bright point. 

She may be a "cupcake" horse (a term I've heard endurance riders use to refer to their accident prone "special" horses), but she is my soul-horse. After all, I'm kind of a "cupcake" human in the same sense. 

We are probably too alike, Deli and I. 

(Except she's the looker.)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Klickitat Trek – Part 2

This post is all about our “test” of other things that pertain to going down the trail with a healthy mind and body. And my long-winded thoughts, of course.

Tack – pads, saddle, and boots (oh my)

My current tack setup seemed to work fairly well. Deli’s back felt great after the ride and stayed in good shape in the following days. There is still some backwards-forwards sliding of my saddle so I have endeavored to tighten my crupper another hole. It really needs to be tight with this saddle, but so far that doesn’t seem to bother Deli. I’ve been smoothing coconut oil her tail and working it into her tail-hair roots after rides to keep the area happy.

Deli loves my new pad – the ThinLine Endurance Sheepskin pad – that I got for my birthday. It’s sad how quickly the sheepskin gets dirty, though, and ThinLine recommends I don’t wash the pad more than 3 times in its 10 year lifespan. Yikes! I did (and continue to have) issues with the pad sliding back which I’m not sure how to fix. Perhaps sewing billet keepers onto the pad is something I should look into doing.

More like "A+"...
My saddle is still painful for me to ride the miles with, but doing more trotting at the Klickitat Intro Ride confirmed that trotting is far more comfortable for my various bits than long hours of walking. The trotting issue shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to endurance competition…

Speaking of hoof boots, her boots stayed on and worked well for the entire ride. But I was foolish and agreed with my trimmer to get a smaller size Easyboot Glove than I thought would work. I got them on, But Deli’s wide heel bulbs and heels and general made it way more of a PIA than I ever want to struggle with. I went back the Renegades I’ve been using on her hind feet on a trail ride yesterday and I think for the time being (until I can afford another set of Gloves – anyone want to buy the basically new 0.5 wides with powerstraps I was convinced to purchase?). I’ve been using the Gloves on her fronts successfully for YEARS, but have never been quite satisfied by any boot on her hind feet, which are more irregularly shaped and have that fat fetlock scar on her right-hind to contend with.

Vetting in – before and after our intro trail ride

The front of our ride card.

Dr. Foss was the ride vet who checked Deli in and out and he had some valuable comments for us. Our starting evaluation she wasn’t as forward for our trot out, which is easily explained to the somewhat rocky area to trot on and Deli freshly trimmed feet. She’s always very careful about stepping on rocks and it seemed like that was the case here. The weird weather we have been having seems to have made Deli’s soles more sensitive than usual anyway – but since I boot her for pretty much all of my trail riding and she moves out comfortably with them on, I wasn’t too worried. Once it dries out more and stops being hot AND wet, her feet will be more comfortable.

And the back of the ride card.
 I’m sure many other Western Oregon/Washington folks can agree that standing on damp soil all day long is never the best thing for horse feet. I like the rain and the cool weather, but it’s not a natural condition for our horse beasties.  

With her boots on Deli trotted off for our final vet check big and sassy. 

The A- in attitude at our vet-in is related to her not being super forward on our trot out and her fussing some for having her capillary refill checked. We have been working on THAT quite a bit at home and she is loads better. As in, he was actually ABLE to check it this time unlike the vet-in at our Grizzly Intro ride.

At our finish, I did ask the vet what he thought about her ability to do a slow LD since we were the only ones there at that time. He asked some questions about my pacing for this intro ride, how stressed she seemed, and our normal “conditioning” regime. He concluded that he thought she could do a slow LD and recommended I work a little bit to increase her cardiovascular fitness in the meantime if I was worried. As it relates to that the vet said our mostly-walking trail rides at home did seem to be getting her in decent shape muscle-wise, and her heart-rate was in a good place for having trotted into the vet check, but that some added cardio work would make an LD less tiring for her (probably).

He also commented that she was a bit chubby, but that I probably knew that. Yessier, yessir I do. Both Deli and her pasture mate are on a sort of-diet. Their hay ration was decreased and they are eating down what they have in their small grass pasture area.

Deli's favorite thing is eating...
which I hear is good for an endurance horse.
As for the “B” on gut sounds coming in, the vet said not to worry about it unless she SEEMED off. He added that many horses have “Bs” on their gut sounds coming in from the first loop – which is essentially what we were doing. My endurance mentors concurred with that statement and Deli immediately began attacking both food and water at our return to camp.

The vet also stated with respect to us TRYING an LD: you won’t know until you try.

I’ve heard that quite a few times from people that have been in this sport for a long time.

Deli’s skin issues and allergies

A couple days after the ride Deli had another flare-up of her dermatitis in her chest and between her front legs. All the classic signs: inflamed skin leading to skin peeling and sometimes-scabbiness. I treated it with my normal methods which have seemed to work so far, including skin soothing shampoo, antihistamines, and one of several various topicals I use. So far there has been no infection or hair loss, which is what I battled with all last summer. The inclusion of chamomile and spirulena into her diet have seemed to help with her recovery time, as have some other supplements like apple cider vinegar and MSM.

I do have some concern about her skin flare-ups making this sport impossible. I don’t like riding her when she’s having a flare-up (because her skin hurts, obviously), and they are unpredictable. I have started riding her when she is recovering from a flare-up without ill effect so far, which is helped by none of the typical inflamed zones interfere with tack.

The skin issue is another thing that I won’t “know until I try” whether it will keep us from competition. Oral antihistamines that have been helping the severity of the dermatitis cannot be used at an endurance ride so she couldn’t be on that medication before or during any LD. She’s not on them all the time – I just give her a round when she has a flare up.

Insect bites and activity still seem to be the root cause of flare ups, so I’ve been religious with fly spray as well. But it only does so much! This year, given our warm weather over the winter, the flies and insects are particularly bad. Bring on the barn swallows, I say!

Thoughts on our next steps…

I am a bit wary just given Deli’s history of injury and her allergies, but I think the vet and my mentors are right… I won’t know if we can do an LD until we try. And this is the first summer in a long time we have actually been able to do meaningful conditioning and rides. I evened out her one-sidedness in a big way (she still clearly has a weaker side that is weaker than what I've felt in her in the past, so this is ongoing) over the rainy months and now my focus needs to be on MILES.

The trails at my home barn are somewhat limited, but I can access a few nice trails if I suck it up and ride up a road. Apparently I have PTSD when it comes to cars and I battle anxiety when it comes to riding among traffic despite Deli being a champ around moving vehicles of all sorts.

No REAL surprise there, since a lot of my own health issues stem from being HIT by a car while riding my bike. 

The best horse ever, but I'm biased. Deli prefers grass to stupid humans.
On the third day after the Klickitat Intro ride I took Deli out to see what we could see. The beginning of the ride it poured and so we stayed off a lot of the slicker trails. We were able to find some nice access that, if I’m creative, should provide the miles we need to increase Deli’s cardiovascular fitness though steep climbs (to walk up) and a few places we can move out. We still have the problem of not having long tracks to trot on, but I’m hoping as long as we can do the miles and trot where we can, a slow LD will still not be a stretch. During this ride I also trotted her on part of the road, having padded her front boots. That actually worked out rather well.

So the very tentative plan is to take her out on long trail rides at least 2x a week and ride a faster shorter ride at least 1x a week. Given my unpredictable work (and need to take on any work I’m offered) I hope we can still manage this. I’ve decided for both our sakes that we will only ride up the road when we can plan our rides in the middle of the day. All the crazy and dangerous drivers seem to come out near commute times and that’s just too stressful for me.

I even took some short video of our 9 mile trail ride on a rainy day this past week. Deli felt good and raring to go, which was great to feel after working her harder than she has done for quite some time at Klickitat.

Here’s the video:

Yesterday, finding myself more limited on time, I opted for a shorter but much faster ride. I tried to see what kind of pace I could manage in the loops around the fields across the street from my boarding barn. We were able to keep a pace of 5.2mph over our period of 3.5 miles of “work”, allowing for a much slower combined warm-up and cool-off where we walked through the more suburban neighborhood back to the barn that totaled 1.4 miles altogether. It was a hotHOT day and Deli got quite sweaty, but she felt good and happy to move out where the footing was okay.

I’m not going to make definite plans, because if I do Deli (or me) will get hurt. That’s just the way it works in Red Mare land. (But I’m thinking we might try for our first LD in early July if everything is going well.)  

We won’t know until we try…

Last time: Klickitat Trek Intro Ride - Part 1 (wherin I talk about the trails and horse camping).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Klickitat Trek Intro Ride - Part 1

I took Deli to the Klickitat Trek endurance ride near Glenwood, WA this past weekend – arriving on Saturday and doing the 13 mile “intro ride” on Sunday. This was a test of sorts for us. She did fine at the Grizzly endurance intro ride, but there were definitely some things I knew we could improve on – namely getting worried when other horses zip past, and not getting too strong. Even though she was never uncontrollable at Grizzly and remained rate-able even when excited, I did want her to pay a little more attention to ME.
Hanging out at the start. (Brian gave her braids.)
Some of my valuable mentors in this sport have indicated that endurance is as much a mental sport as a physical one, and Deli’s mental health is very important to me. As is her physical health.

As anyone who reads this blog knows well Deli has had quite a few serious injuries. She has come back sound again, but I know these injuries do add up. That’s just the nature of a living body – and my body’s own creaks agree! So this little trail ride was also a test of her soundness, how our tack worked, how our boots worked, and all that stuff. In part this is because the trails I have access to at my current barn do not have a lot of areas to move out, and Klickitat had easy, mostly flat, trails.

On Saturday Deli got off the trailer and was immediately interested in eating. Ride camp was a bit cramped, but we found a spot and set up a fairly ghetto high line. I need to learn how to tie some knots to make a high line more effective! This was Deli’s second time camping and first time on a high line – she did great and camped overnight without issues despite never having been tied to anything overnight. In true Deli fashion, she made quick friends with the horse we traveled with – a spunky little mustang gelding named Primo. Primo’s owner was doing her first LD on Sunday so we were definitely a camp of “greenbeans”!
Deli's primary concern is always stuffing her fat face.
With green ribbons on Deli’s crupper and on my helmet, we started out Sunday morning as chill as possible. Her boots were a pain to get on – I made the mistake of believing my trimmer that a smaller size than I thought would work for Deli’s hind feet. I got them on, but it was more difficult than I ever want to wrestle with on a regular basis. Deli has never tossed a boot even when I have been adding pads (for when we ride on asphalt a lot).

Ride camp is always a bit stressful on race mornings – lots of horses screaming and being excited. Deli was bunched up when I mounted so we meandered to the “start” line for our trail ride with my husband snapping pictures of us. We stood around in the start area and Deli quickly lost her bunchy-ness and got bored as I chatted with people. And  my husband took pictures of us. The awesome, kind, ride manager Marilyn matched us up with an experience endurance rider who was taking her horse on a “test” ride as well as he was coming back from an injury.

Klickitat REALLY has some good water crossings – something Deli had next to no practice with. Historically she is a PIA crossing small streams so another reason I wanted to do this ride was to conquer some water crossings. The loop I did had multiple deep FAST streams/culverts to cross, and the water was a glacial milky color. Our riding buddy was kind enough to walk us through the first few crossings and I was VERY happy with how Deli did. I only used my dressage whip once to tap her on the whole ride!

Investigating things before we start off. It's veeeerrrry suspicious!
We trotted quite a bit at first, finding Deli’s normal trot pace was no match for our gaited buddy’s natural pace. I was shooting for consistency in Deli’s gaits in this test ride and I think we did really well. Honestly – she was in heat and LAZY all weekend. This is typical of her when in heat, especially when it’s warmer out. And no, I’m not complaining about her being in heat. I realize I have it rather easy compared to some people with more bitchy mares!

The trails were a mix of 2-track roads and single track winding through brush and open evergreen forest. There were lots of wildflowers and a multitude of birds and other wildlife to be seen. We ended up moving out pretty briskly during the first few miles while riding with our buddy who is clearly a hotter horse than Deli. This ride also confirms what always seems to be the case with Deli: she starts kinda slow and is happier to move out more as the ride goes on. This is, I think, part her temperament (she wants to conserve energy as much as possible when she’s not having an anxious fit) and part her appreciating a good warm up. As already mentioned she HAS had a lot of injuries and is 16 years old now, so the warmup theory makes sense.

She really is a lazy horse despite people with warmbloods and quarter horses always considering her to be “hot”. Moving out when asked and not needing to be constantly harried should not be an indicator of a hot horse, in my opinion!

The things that spooked Deli the most? The check-in humans we rode past (and gave our letter to), the lime arrows on the ground, and… water troughs. Overall she spooked very little and never very dramatically. She did seem a little confused by the ride-and-tie folks we encountered – WHY, she asked, are there horses just being left tied randomly?! What the heck is going on? At one point there were a bunch of big black cows on and beside the road and Deli was absolutely fine with them. Just walked past, looking at them curiously. So I guess our cow-chasing recently has made her realize cows are nothing to be afraid of – which was an issue at the Grizzly intro ride last year.

A section of very beautiful trail.
I was prepared to get off and wade the water crossings but she was so good there that didn’t happen. I did, however, end up getting off to lead her at one point. It was at a MUD crossing where the footing was deep and slick. Deli did have a bit of a meltdown here when she started sinking and slipping. When I felt that she was TRYING to be good, but shaking in fear, something clicked in my mind. Maybe her being a PIA when crossing the little ditches we have done in the past was a MUD issue rather than a WATER issue! She was so willing to trust me and forge the actually intimidating water crossings (that had rocky bottoms) that there was suddenly a stark difference I hadn’t noticed before. And her being adverse to mud – not just stubborn, but nervous and worried – also makes sense given her many times having bad mud fever and celluitus. She may have a pain association with mud

A note for the video below: someone has commented that she is very “looky” here, which is often associated with spookiness in horses. However, this right here is what Deli is like when happy and relaxed on the trail. She is a curious horse and really loves looking at the scenery and checking things out. She’s the kind of horse that will want to explore deer trails and other things. You can tell she’s not nervous because she is walking out confidently on a loose rein here, whereas when she’s nervous her stride contracts. All the trail pictures were taken with my cell phone, so I didn't try and do anything while trotting.

At any rate, I hopped off and found the least mushy path to lead her through and she followed me willingly. At this point we separated from our buddy because I was worried we were holding them back with our slower pace and walked and jogged with her in hand for a bit to see how Deli did with that (absolutely well behaved) before finding a stump to mount her again.

For a time we rode in our own little bubble again, enjoying the beautiful scenery and wildlife as we alternated trotting on a loose rein and walking with her nice forward walk on a loose rein. We were able to get a nice consistent 6mph(ish) trot with her head in a lovely neutral position (near wither height) pretty reliably. Occasionally we sped up to absolutely FLY with Deli’s super fun superwoman trot (which clocks around 14-15mph) and earlier when catching up to our buddy we even did some hand galloping (clocked at 21mph) with the excuse to see if our boots would go flying off at that speed. Deli’s speedy trot does tire her out more and I discovered she appreciated some walking breaks after doing some flying. I think with some more conditioning she will be able to do a nice easy 6mph trot for a long time, however. It seemed very energy efficient and she was very relaxed just clopping down the trail at that speed.

All done! Deli back to eating and drinking...
At different points we were passed by riders going either direction. Ride-and-tie was sharing the loop with us, which was more great exposure for Deli to ride past and around runners. We had one spook when a rider appeared behind us suddenly, but it was just her being a little startled. She was also fine being passed by faster riders, not needing to “catch them”. There was some worry on Deli's part when a rider ran up close to her butt from behind. I find that rather rude, to be honest, but I still think its good exposure for Deli. She is a very submissive horse and it makes sense that she would get concerned with a horse getting that close, but I’m happy to say other than getting a little “up”, she calmed down quickly and we resumed our consistent trot pace.

As another test, I trotted her the last mile or so of the trail, getting a pulse right after I hopped off and loosened her girth. It is a good sign, I think, that she was down to 54bpm at that time. She vetted in great and I spoke with the vet, Dr. Foss, about what he thought about her doing an LD this season. More on that later!

Altogether we averaged around a 5mph pace for the 13 mile trail, finishing the trail in just under 3 hours.
Relaxing back in camp.
Next time: Klickitat Trek - Part 2: my final thoughts on Deli’s future as an endurance/trail horse and my thoughts on our tack “test” at the Klickitat intro ride.