Monday, September 24, 2012

Royal the Explorer

I'm happy to report that whatever was bothering Royal a couple of weeks seems to have gone away. My sister thinks it was the gelding version of PMS, which I agree has merit. Royal and I seem to butt heads once every month or two, and then everything's back to normal. It also got really cold (50s and 60s) last week, which was practically freezing compared with the rest of the year. He's really sensitive to changes in weather, particularly when it gets cold. So, now that's he's had time to get used to it, he seems to be better.

We played OnLine last Monday, and he was quiet. Not lazy, but more like a Right Brain Introvert - a shy delicate flower. I just sat down and let him wander around on the end of the line until he came over.

He seemed much happier and more connected, so I sent him over to the line of Bloks I'd set up earlier. He of course popped right over and then came back and tried to destroy them.

It was then I knew he was fine.

Wednesday we played OnLine again and he was a lot more animated, which might have had something to do with these guys.

Oh hai!
They're baaaaaa-aaaaaaack. The cows got moved from across the street to the pasture behind the horses, and Royal was not sure what to think about this. There was a lot of snorting and prancing, but he did focus and we were able to practice some simple lead changes and canter spirals.

Friday I put his Cavallo boots on and we went for a walk on the road. We went by the big field and he decided he wanted to go in. We haven't ridden in since the redneck landscaping, but he wanted to take a look around. So he walked all the way to the end while munching on various things and we ended up doing one big loop. Then we continued down the road and took in some of the fall colors.

We also did some Game of Contact, but both of us were feeling lazy, so we ended up just meandering around most of the time. Best laid plans and all. I set up a couple jumps today to practice for the Hunt Cup next Sunday, but I neglected to kick the horses out beforehand, and they decided to test the durability of the jumps. Gabby and Royal lead the way, but everyone got some sniffing and chewing in. And this was the result:

Next time, I put them in the other pasture.

He started out sort of lazy, but perked up after we went over the cross-rail a couple times. He was pretty relaxed over the jumps and usually finds a good spot. He took a while to really warm up, which could be due to the fact that it was warmer today. I kept the session short to make sure he didn't get overheated.

He seems good and happy. This is why I was reluctant to try anything until I was really sure there was a problem. A lot of problems just go away on their own, and I'm glad this was one of those. I do think his hip stiffness is returning and I'll have to watch him for signs of arthritis, but for now he seems to be doing really well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


We've had an easy time the past couple of weeks. The first bit of good news is that Operation Reverse Weight Watchers is working! Royal has been gaining weight very nicely for the past month, and is looking a lot better. I switched him to the Senior Glo (and the recently, Cool Calories) and he is doing well on that. Right now, he's on 3 lbs a day, and he absolutely loves it. His hindquarters have filled in really well and his barrel looks a lot better. I would still like to see him add at least 50 lbs before winter hits, but that seems very doable. He knows the sound of the pellets going into the bucket and licks it clean. The weather has been gorgeous and the horses have been basking in the sun.

We've been playing with the figure-8 pattern both OnLine and Freestyle, and working on advancing it with flying lead changes on the ground. It took him a couple sessions, but he's getting better. He switches front consistently, but not always behind. If he's fully focused on the task, everything switches in one clean stride, but if he gets fast and emotional, only the front switches. So, my task was to keep him from getting too emotional, and everything would work.

Until Thursday. I went up Thursday evening and Royal was... odd. Not lame or sick, but not himself. We tried playing OnLine and he was lazy. Really lazy. Until he wasn't. Then, all of a sudden, he would have these wild bursts of energy and almost rip the rope from my hands, and then go back to being lazy. Hmm. Nothing I did seemed to change anything, until I asked him to sideways towards and over one of the Bloks I was using as a marker. Which he did very well.

Still, he felt odd. No elevated temperature, heat in any of his legs, or loss of appetite (he ate all of his grain), so I couldn't quite figure it out.

Friday, he got really weird. He came right up to me in the pasture, but while I was grooming him, he very deliberately stepped on my foot. I say deliberately because he didn't put any weight on it and was looking straight at me while he did it, with an air of "What are you gonna do about it?" Well, I'll have you back up to the end of the line and not come back until you look at me all nice-like. Then he decided to be more of a moving target than usual, so he found himself tied to a tree.

He was less than happy.

I decided to try riding and it was more of the same. Laziness and herdboundness punctuated by really fast trotting and cantering. I couldn't quite get him focused and ended the session on kind of a "meh" note. Still no temp, heat in legs, and he wolfed down his grain. Hmm.

Saturday was pedicure day and he was crabby at first. He was tied close to Coco-pony and decided to try bullying him, to the point where he bit Coco hard. That meant that Coco got untied and was able to graze freely, while Royal stayed tied up. That miffed him very much. He behaved for the farrier and seemed very cheerful afterward.

Today he was still odd. He seemed very happy while I groomed and tacked him up, but riding was really erratic. He kept circling by the gate and again, I couldn't keep him focused. Again, we ended on a "meh" note.

One weird session is no big deal, but three is alarming. It feels like something's up, but I don't know what. The first thing to consider is physical issues, namely gastric ulcers. They seem to be the go-to cause for any "miscellaneous" problems, and he does have a few risk-factors. 1. He gets grain. A grain designed to be easy on the digestive system, but it's still grain. 2. He's active. Light-to-medium work, but part of that was showing. 3. We just did a lot of traveling. We trailed back and forth to Steepleview, which added up to 6 hours of trailering total, and that can take a tole on a horse. But on the other hand, he has a lot of mitigating factors: 24/7 turnout, lives with a bunch of horses, unlimited access to forage, fairly light riding schedule. In addition, he's not showing any overt symptoms, such as girthiness, unexplained weight-loss (quite the opposite, in fact), or frequent colics. So, it's hard to say. The only way I can know for sure is to trailer him to a specialty equine hospital ($$), have him scooped ($$$$), and do a course of Gastroguard and Ulcerguard ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$).

There are cheaper alternatives, such as omeprazole granules ("pop rocks") or a mixture of aloe juice and MSM powder, but I don't want to try anything right now. The horses will be on hay pretty soon, and we'll see what happens then. If it's just a weird blip, then no big deal. If it continues, that I'll start looking into treatment options.

I hope this is nothing serious.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Steepleview 2012 Professional Pics!

Once again, I got pictures from the lovely and wonderful D & G Photography, and once again, they were fantastic. Compared to last year, I feel there's a been a noticeable improvement in both myself and Royal. The information about biomechanics from Linda and Coleen Kelly have really helped my position and stability, and Royal's confidence and ability to play the Game of Contact just keep getting better. Obviously we're not perfect yet, but we're on the right track.

Again, big improvements. We're on our way.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Steepleview Horse Trials 2012 Continued

Sorry for the delay in getting this up. I had another week where I was out of the house almost all the time, and when I was home, too tired to write. Hopefully that phase is behind me for a little while.

Anyway, Saturday started off with a surprise. After walking the XC course (and taking picutres) on Friday night, I had stayed the night at my sister's house so I could get going right away. But one of the other horses, namely Bandit, had other ideas. He'd gotten out sometime in the night, and was pacing up and down the fence line trying to get back in. So I had to go fetch him and lead him around to the gate, which was made harder by the fact that he was all amped up. I get him back in with the other horses, hooked up the trailer, loaded Royal in (who could tell right away that I was NOT in the mood for any nonsense), and we headed out. It took about an hour and a half to get to Steepleview, but traffic was light.

After I unloaded Royal, we went straight to the lunging arena, which overlooked pretty much the whole facility. This gave Royal plenty to look at, but he was able to run most of his adrenaline off. We went back to the trailer and I got him cleaned up and attempted to start braiding him. I say "attempted" because we were parked really close to the XC course, particularly Training Level jumps 4 and 5. So while I tried to get him all nice and braided, he kept moving his head to get a look at the people walking the course and later the horses and riders on the course. Obviously, this did not make for good braiding. I kept trying to figure out where best to position him, but each place had something he couldn't see and he kept trying to move to see it and everything else. So I had to move with him, muttering under my breath that I am going to blindfold him next year. Or roach his mane. Or both.

While trying to braid Mr. Wigglesworth, I ended up slicing my finger on my scissors. Which had nothing to do with Royal and everything to do with my own clumsiness, but it started bleeding very profusely. No problem, I thought, as I usually keep a travel pack of band-aids in my purse. Which I opened up to find completely empty. I searched the truck for a first-aid kit and asked the people at the trailers around me if anyone had any bandages. No one did, so I had to improvise one from Vetrap, which didn't help a lot, but it did stem the bleeding. I finished braiding Royal (which only looked like a tipsy monkey did it, instead of a completely drunk one, like I usually do), tacked up, and headed over to the dressage warm-up. The bit check lady wad very nice and even tighten my girth a smidge for me. And of course the warm-up was completely chaotic. Royal and I had to navigate around bucking and balking horses, people just standing around looking off into space, and shrieking trainers going "REMEMBER TO PUSH! INSIDE LEG! DON'T FORGET TO SMIIIIIIIIIIIIILE!" We were able to get to a quieter spot, but the chaos was making it hard for us to keep a rhythm. He would be going along holding the contact really nicely, and then we have to stop or slow down to avoid crashing into someone. It was really frustrating, not to mention that my finger really hurt and I could tell blood was soaking through the wrap and into my glove. It was such a relief when it was time for my test.

Overall, I think it was the best test we ever did in competition. 75% of the time, Royal held the contact fairly steady. He was mouthing the bit quite a bit out of nervousness, and we had a few blips of dropping the contact, but I felt really good about it. He wasn't too keen about getting close to the flowers, but that will come. But all in all, I thought he was fantastic. The judge, however, disagreed and gave 45.7 penalties. It seems her theme was connection with a bit, and any small loss of such automatically gave you a 6. As we had little blips in almost all the movements, we got pretty much all 5s and 6s. No 4s, and we did get a 6 on our free walk ("needs consistent stretching w/relaxed ?sides?") and 7 on gaits. Apparently Royal shows potential, but needs to be more constantly connected with the bit. Which, hey, I agree with. Pretty much everyone scored lowly under this judge, so I know it's probably just her style.

After get Royal untacked and getting him some water, I peeled my blood soaked glove off and went in search of band-aids. I had to go all the way to the EMTs, who asked me very sternly when my last tetanus shot was, to find one. Finger bandaged, and a hot dog later, I got Royal all unbraided and ready for XC. They were started us off every 2 minutes, so I had to make sure we could get all the time we needed. I instantly loved the warm-up steward when she kicked all the superfluous people out ("If you're not a coach, get out of the warm-up ring NOW!") and Royal and I could warm up in peace. He popped over all the warm up jumps without hesitation, and we were able to mosey around before we had to go to the start box. Just before we were supposed to start, Callae, the person who owns the stable where Royal stays in Bayfield, came over to say hi. She'd brought her horse down and was competing in Training. Then it was "5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go!"

The one in the middle is the BN/Starter jump. The white part was a little sign saying it would be lowered for Starter, and it was still there on Saturday. I like the fact that it was in the middle this year, since it made run-outs difficult. Royal peeked at the white part, but hopped right over. Then it was up the hill a ways and a right turn to...

This also got a look, but he popped over. We kept going down the hill to...

The Return of the Scrabble Jump! Yay! This jump is just made of awesome.  He peeked at it a bit, but again went right over. We kept going downhill and swung slightly right to...

This one was easy. He barely looked at it. We then had to turn left to...

He sort of hesitated a bit at the entrance, but then I reminded him of Lake Superior, and he trotted though. It was then on to...

This one was tricky. You could either go around a big tree and take the long approach, or go between the big tree and a line of little trees for a shorter approach. I choose the short approach, which ended up being a mistake and Royal didn't read it as a jump until we were pretty much on top of it. He skittered to the left and we circled around and popped over with no problem. This is something we need to work on though. We're so used to jumping in big open fields or arenas that Royal is not used to seeing things behind trees. So, definitely have to work on that for next year. We swung left and up hill to...

This was the down bank last year, but we jumped up this year. You could also take a long or short approach to this one, and the short one ended up working well. I felt the hill was easier to navigate that way, and Royal leapt up the bank like he was Superhorse. It was straight to...

He kind of peaked at this one, being that it was sort of in shadows, but went over. We turned leftand came out of the woods to...

This was at the top of the hill and rode really well. We went down the hill to...

I felt this was a sort of half-coffin. You can see the ditch in the background, and there was about 6 strides between them, and no room to circle. I was unsure of how this would ride, since Royal sometimes doesn't realize a ditch is in front of him until it's too late, and then he puts on the brakes. We ended up trotting this and dropped back down into a trot before...

He jumped it, a little bigger than necessary, and, as I realized later, one of his hind boots slipped down to his hoof. He took a few stutter steps, but I couldn't feel any lameness, so we continued on to...

Again, no problems. We continued straight, following the tree line to...

Boing! The skinniness did add a bit of a challenge, but Royal and I are used to that. So we turned left around the trees to...

There was a jump hiding in the bushes on the the approach to this one, which Royal spooked at, but he refocused and jumped this one well. We went up the hill and right to...

He spooked a bit at the flowers, but went right over and down the hill to...

The last jump! We powered right over and through the finish flags.

It was awesome! We went home tired but ready for Sunday's stadium jumping.

Sunday also started early. We arrived fairly early so I could watch Callae's round, and she ended up get fifth! Good for her. The Novice divisions flew past and before I knew it, it was time for us to get ready and warm up. They'd gotten new stadium jumps this year and they were BRIGHT. Really really bright. Almost everything was shiny and colorful, which would make thing interesting. After mounting up, I took Royal to a more isolated part of the warm up and let him hand gallop for a bit to get his feet moving. He seemed ready to go and soon it was our turn.

I really had to hold his hand at the beginning, but soon he realized that the shiny jumps were still safe and we ended up with a DOUBLE CLEAR round! I was so proud of him, and we ended up in seventh place, getting our first ribbon at a horse trial, recognized or otherwise.

It was awesome. He was just wonderful and I could not have asked for more from him. We've come a long way.