Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Goal at a Time

The title of this post says it all. Focus on one thing at a time to improve upon instead of nitpicking at every little thing. All of the parts will become whole, eventually.
This was my motivation while attending the SAFE show with Mercy on August 7th.
We headed out alone early in the morning, arriving just in time to get groomed and dresses in preparation for our halter and showmanship classes. My family was up in Alaska, so I had to do things myself, which wasn't hard, but much more time consuming then I remember it ever being. This is what Mercy looked like straight out of the trailer:

It was misting heavily and she didn't get a bath the night before. This show was just a fun, schooling-type fundraiser for the rescue, so I wasn't too concerned about pulling out all of the stops for a few classes. She was actively shedding her summer coat and covered in a very fine dusting of sawdust, which, when mixed with the mist, made grooming very challenging. I curried her for quite some time and just started brushing her out when the first call for the first class was called. I finished grooming her by combing out her tail, soft brushing her coat, and wiping out her nostrils. Even though it wasn't sunny out, she glowed so bright when I was done:

I quickly cleaned up myself, threw on my exhibitor number, grabbed Mercy's show halter, and sprinted to the arena, where my class was checking in and lining up.
First up was stock-type halter. I have seen halter lots of times but had never participated. The judge knew this show was for all levels of equestrians so she took her time explaining what was expected of us once the class started. When it was our turn we walked to the judge until she moved out of our way and then trotted straight ahead, turning left around a cone and continuing to the ring steward who instructed us to stand head to tail with the other exhibitors. Mercy decided during our trot that she didn't like the lead chain under her chin and threw her head in the air, even though no pressure was being applied. Shame on me for not putting it over her nose like I always have... I guess I just forgot. Oops.
She set up nice and stood still during the line up. The judge looked over everyone once more and then made her placings. This class is based on a horses conformation and movement, both of which Mercy has faults in. I was surprised to hear when our names were called for third place! :)

Next was our showmanship 18 and over class. The pattern was not that difficult: when instructed to begin, pick up the trot and weave between some cones, at the last cone break to a walk and circle the cone to the left, when lined up with the judge pick up the trot again and stop in front of the judge, set up for inspection, when excused back up a horse length and execute a 90* haunch turn, walk into line. Sounds like a lot, but really it's pretty basic.
I practiced outside of the arena for a while, focusing on the weaving at the trot. When it was time to get started, of course we were placed next to the crazy draft cross that kept rearing and trying to lope out of the arena... Mercy handled it well, however, and eventually the draftX left the arena.
It was soon time for us to set up at the start of the pattern. When acknowledged by the judge, I asked Mercy to trot off with me. She was really with me mentally, so it was no big deal there... until we needed to swerve for the cone. *sigh* She landed right on my foot at the peak of our turn. I don't know if she saw something and over stepped or what, but she came flying at me and my foot took the whole impact. I instinctively lifted my right arm to block her from coming further into my space, at which she threw her head and nearly knocked off my hat.
My foot was throbbing already and it was killing me to "trot" the rest of the pattern. We rounded the cone at the walk and picked up the trot at a limp. I sure didn't care about a happy face anymore. I just wanted to be done with the pattern so I could get my foot out of my boot before it swelled itself in. Luckily Mercy had the same idea and set up perfectly. When the judge excused us she backed up feather light and pivoted like a pro. I was so glad to just stand in line waiting for everyone else to finish up.
But oh no! That wasn't it! The main grounds speaker decided to blow as loud as it could from directly behind us and that's where Mercy had had enough. Someone finally started talking in the speaker, but that didn't calm her any. She didn't dance around or anything, she just wouldn't stand the right way, with her butt away from the judge... When it was all done she was still just not having any of it, and neither was I, so I chained her pretty hard and she quit squirreling around. She was still alert and looking around, but her feet were still.
I didn't think we would place at all. The class had over 10 exhibitors and they only placed to 5th. But, then I heard our names called for fourth! I guess that we were just the best of the worst, since most of the people were off pattern or touched their horses during the back or pivot. After picking up our ribbon we slowly made our way back to the trailer. I used Mercy for support and we made it out there just in time to hear the announcement that the riding classes would begin soon. Great...
I wasn't sure how my foot would look, or feel, so I took my time getting Mercy saddled. Here's what my boot looked like before I took it off:

My pinky toe was swelling already and turning very interesting shades of blue and purple. It hurt like hell, but I put my boot back on; not much I could do if it's broken.

The following pictures were taken by my friend A. She brought me some Starbucks and some moral support for the rest of the wet morning. My next class was walk/jog western equitation. I didn't have much time to get ready and warm Mercy up, so it was a "whatever" kind of class. Of course Mercy knew this too and for most of the class she had her head looking everywhere and held high. Luckily, A is a great photographer and caught many of the good moments. Plus eq. is based mostly on the rider, not the horse. So as long as I held it together, we should place.
I really like this first picture, and yet, it's so revealingly sad. Both of us are momentarily at ease, just plodding along in the arena. And then you see how she is taking that step with her left front. That right there is why she has bone spurs. With every single step she takes, she places all of the force and weight of her motion on the lateral side of her hoof, and thus her joints. The repetitive strain of those motions are what are crippling her so young. Dang.
The judge had us walk and jog both ways, and then line up. I took my time getting to line so I could avoid some of the more *ahem* special horses and their riders...

Guess what?! We won! LOL! I thought we had a good chance of winning, but still. It's always nice to bring home that blue ribbon!

After this class we headed over to the indoor arena to get out of the drizzle and chat. I'm glad they decided to have the show in the outdoor arenas, because Mercy's shows better in them, but with the rain it would have been nice to not worry about your clothes, equiptment, and horse. Right before our walk/jog 18 and over western pleasure class we finished our coffees and headed down to the arena.
Mercy responded better than in the last class to my cues for her to lower her head and round her back. I thought we looked good cause we sure felt good!
Unfortunatly, the judge didn't think so. Both Mercy and I, and another gal and her paint, which were in my opinion, the most pleasurable horses out there, both didn't place. At all. But that's the way horse shows are. Each judge has an opinion and it's not always what the "judging standard" is or what we think is right either.

Before she announced the class placings, the judge explained the reasons for her placings. She said she had a hard time with this class because she would know her placings and then someone would break gait, and she would have to start over again. Then another horse would do something to make her rethink her placings.
I know we didn't break gait. Not even once, so if that was her major consideration while judging, then I don't know what happened. She also mentioned that she was looking at the riders to see how much they were having to cue their horses; claiming that that made for an unpleasureable ride. True. I was having to cue Mercy multiple times throughout the class, but I wasn't constantly pulling or poking her. I don't know what she saw, but I wish she could have talked to each of us. Oh well. Wish they could have posted the judge's comments too, but they didn't. :/
With four classes out of the way, and two more to go, it became time to get serious. My one and only goal for this show was to enter a walk/jog/lope class and survive. I really didn't care if I placed or not. I just didn't want to have a bronc go across the arena and casue trouble for the other riders or handlers. So we headed over to the warm up pen. Good thing we had some time...
As soon as Mercy and I walked into the warm up arena... buck buck buck buck... *deep breath in and out* The Appitude came roaring in with all it's glory! I couldn't get her to walk. As soon as she eralized she was in the arena she just got all flustered and couldn't walk. Not slow, not fast, not in a straight line. Nothing. I let her jog out as long as it didn't get too fast because that's when she wants to break into a lope. And then buck, buck, buck... after a few laps around the very large arena at a jog, she let down and asked to stop. Great! That's just what we did. In the middle and out of everyone's way.
Now with her feeling more comfortable and confident in the arena, I did some bending exercises, making sure I had her hind and front quarters. Then it was time to ask her to lope again. We started to the left, because that is both of our favorite way to go. We are both just so balanced and in sync to the left. It gives her confidence and me a chance to collect my thoughts about my next move with her.
It started out rocky. There were no bucks, but she just wanted to race around. I kept her in a circle, not letting her on the rail, and out of the way of everyone else in the warm up. After a few minutes she relaxed into a nice little lope. She was easy to transition down to a jog and back up to a lope. We circled for a little longer then I let her onto the rail. She did fine. We manuvered between riders and handlers/trainers and found the rail again with little problem.
Coming back down to a jog I went back to the center of the arena to circle, but this time to the right. We started at a jog, striving to be round and fluid. When we got that, I asked her to lope. At the same time, another rider with her paint strung down in draw reins, cut in front of us and we missed the lead. Thankfully Mercy didn't seems phased and we tried again, this time it making it. we loped as big a circle at I could and really tried to hold my balance. Mercy flt really good actually. She was still a little off, not wanting to bring her head into the track we were following, but rather looking out.
Of course, as soon as she get's it, my hat comes flying off. The rain had finally loosened the grips of the hairspray on my head. She held that track until I asked her to stop in front of my hat. A great place to call it quits!
She just really wanted to touch it!

"Hey! Has that always been where you keep that straw contraption?!? I wasn't done with it!"

A and I waited around and watched the other competitors for a little while and then it was "now or never" time for us. Our class, 18 and over walk/jog/lope equitation, was entering the arena. I was so excited that we started to the left, Mercy's good side! We walked one lap around the arena and then the judge asked us to drop our stirrups and pick up the jog! I was a little nervous because Mercy is quite sensitive to pressure on her sides and with my feet out of the stirrups I have to grip a little harder than normal. Bah, no big deal! She just kept jogging her normal speed. After having us pick up our stirrups, the judge asked for the lope. Lucky us we were on a corner and Mercy picked up the lead with no problems! Not only that, she was being quite lazy and I actually had to keep asking her to move out and not break gait!

A lap or two around and the jog was called out. She had us reverse at the jog and we made it only half way around the arena this time before she asked for the lope... after we had passed the corners and Mercy decided to notice something outside the arena. We totally missed the lead. Not only that, I couldn't get her to stop loping. She loped on the wrong lead the entire long side of the fence. We were doomed. I had no doubt. It was a battle to get her to jog, but luckily we were on a corner once she did and she picked up the lope. I continued to show as if nothing happened because that was all I could do really!
And, we won!! I know! No way! The judge didn't see our mistake! The whole length of the arena and she didn't look at us during that time! Score! It's great being able to go to a show and win equitation classes. it means I am doing something right, even if my horse isn't.

Of course all of the spectators saw what happened, and probably most of the exhibitors in that class, so I got some flack from random people I didn't know. Well guess what guys, the judge didn't see it so it didn't happen! That's the other problem with only having one judge, they can't see what's going on 360* around them! Even if she saw the break, I would take a guess and say we still would have won, so what did it matter? It's happened to me too in classes, so whatever. Plus, really. It's just a fun show! ;)
All that was left to do was to go to the trail course. Here's the pattern: walk through the 'L,' back through the 'L' until until you get to the flat board on your left and side pass over the board, pick up the trot and cover the ground poles, break to a walk and weave through the poles, walk over the bridge, go through the gate, carry a cone past a stuffed bear in a chair, walk over a tarp, walk under the 'waterfall', and finish by opening up the mailbox and showing the mail to the judge.
Our trip started out smooth enough. The 'L' was quiite wide, so going in and backing out was no biggy. I wasn't sure about the side pass though. We have sidepassed over the length of many poles, but never sidepassed literally OVER the pole. Well I had little to worry about. Mercy didn't touch it. At all. :)
Jogging over the poles, however, didn't go great. She didn't obliterate the poles, but she wanted to scramble over them once she hit the first pole. I probably should have let her go, but her stride is so long that if I had she would have cleared one and a half at a time. We finally broke to the walk after that was completed and weaved the poles, which were really tight actually.
The bridge was, let's put it nicely, homemade and humble. It was maybe 2 feet wide and a couple feet long. Mercy put one foot on it and jumped the rest. I think that's what she thought she was suppose to do with something that little. I could have left it at that, but I wanted her to do it right, so we circled back and completed the obstical.
The gate, was, well... even more humble. It was a huge heavy steel gate held up with a few 2 by 4's. We opened it with no problem, even though the gate drug on the ground, but closing it was more challenging. When I tried swinging the gate closed the wood holding up the gate would sway and bend, making the gate really unstable. I had to let go to reposition my hand (to support the frickin' mess) but I doubt the judge saw that. I roped the gate shut and gladly moved away from that obstical.
Next was the giant bear in the chair. The judge was lazy and didn't reset the course after the last exhibitor, so I got to go past the bear three times instead of once. Once to get past it and retrieve the cone off the pole, again to walk the cone to the original pole, and again to get to the next obstical. I hope she was impressed that Mercy didn't even look at the bear... three times! >:(
Mercy smelled the tarp and procceded to walk accross it. She willing walks accross the tarps at home covering the compost piles, so this was really no big deal. Of all of the obsticals on the course, I thought the 'waterfall.' seen below, would be our biggest challenge. I guessed wrong.
The streamers meant nothing to Mercy. She was more interested in the pole holding the ribbons, LMAO! She walked straight through. And lastly, the mailbox, a no-brainer for Mercy.
And then we were done! I got to go home around 1pm and nurse my (most likely) broken toe. It was a great day! A little wet, but very nice. A great show, a great venue, and a GREAT cause!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Would I Ever Had Known?

Without those digital X-rays taken well over a month ago, I don't think I would have ever suspected that something was wrong with Mercy's joints. She had never taken a bad step, limped, or refused work. I most likely would have barrel raced and reined her until she broke for good, never realizing that something was wrong until it was too late. And at such a young age... But now I have a chance to keep her as healthy as possible, for as long as possible.
We took over 20 pictures of various angles of her hocks, knees, and front pasterns. Her knees are by far the worst of her joints. On the images below, you can see the sharp little points on the first articulating section of the joint.
You can also see how her knee joint does not "stack up" in a straight line. It deviates to one side or the other. This is what is most likely causing the strain on her legs, thus causing the bone spurs' growth.

In some of the other shots you can actually see some cartilage damage represented in lines and waves, where the image should be smooth. Unfortunately, those images don't show up without some digital editing, which I don't have right now.

Anyway, the game plan is to just assume she is an arthritic horse in order to prevent any further damage to her joints. The more quiet, low key rides we can go on, the more flexible she will stay and the stronger her hind end and back will get. Before and after any strenuous rides I am to bute her to prevent inflammation. It was also advised that I use liniments on her joints after longer rides to keep any swelling down and keep the joints flexible.

Also, after a lot of consideration, I decided to start Mercy on Adequan. It will help maintain the state of her joints as they are currently, as well as help them heal a little. We have had such great results with Star, who is also on it, so why not!? I did decide to try using it a different way thought. Instead of the usual 7 doses every 4 days, and then one injection every 30 days as a maintenance dose, I am going to do 2 loading doses a year; once in the fall and once in spring. This way, I can build her joints up before show season, and then I can help her repair any damage taken during the shows before heading into winter. Thank goodness she is so good with shots! It took me a while to get comfortable giving them, but now it's no biggie.

She still doesn't feel any different. As smooth as ever, really. I guess we will know if it's working if in a few years I get another set of X-rays for comparison, or if she happens to get a bone chip... :/ For now, I am doing what I can for now, short of not riding at all. Which we all know isn't going to happen, lol!

I did, however, get the approval of my vet to continue reining with Mercy. At low level shows, at least, where sliding stops and fast spins don't guarantee a win for anyone. Reining is a great sport to perfect cues and really build a partnership with your horse. So, as long as Mercy doesn't start resenting work or acting out in pain, we will continue to go to a show or two a year. In fact, we have another show tomorrow- the last reining show of the year for us, at least. It's going to be a hot one, but the show starts at 7AM, so it shouldn't be too bad by the time my classes are done. We'll see...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

An Update's Coming

Hey guys, sorry about that long break. And thanks for the kind words. My computer broke and had to be shipped out if I ever wanted ALL of my pictures back... I now have a external hard drive and all of my pictures back! The joint x-rays will be downloaded soon and after a few classes at a schooling show on Saturday, I should be able to get up a new post.