Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Shift

We had another snowstorm on Wednesday and the Twin Cities got anywhere from 3 to 15 inches, depending on where they were. The horses go hit with around 15 inches and it was not fun. The horses had trampled down the snow around the hay bale and a path to the water trough, but not many hoof tracks anywhere else. They were having none of this nonsense.

But the weather was merciful and we've had beautiful weather that has been melting the snow rather quickly, which has made everyone rather happy. The horses have resumed molting and everything's become one big slushy puddle. So Royal and I still sticking to riding on the road.

I don't mind. The road is nice and squishy in parts and the rocks haven't come out too bad in the har spots. The wrinkle is that everything keeps changing and Royal's excellent memory remembers the way things were the last time we walked past, and now they're DIFFERENT, which means HORRIBLE DEATH MONSTERS OF DEATH, obviously. So the challenge has been getting him to walk past the HDMOD sanely, if giving them the hairy eyeball. I'm not trying to get him to bravely march past them like they're not there, but I expect him to at least not lose his brain. So far, it keeps getting better. He still gives pretty much everything the hairy eyeball, but not snorting past it like he's got the worst cold ever. But something else has changed.

Royal seems a lot happier to see me over the past few months. He recognizes my car and sees genuinely happy to approach me. He also doesn't need a lot of direction to align his body and stretches on his own. And yesterday while I was warming him up OnLine, he came over to me and held his head against my torso and stayed there for a couple of minutes. It was nice but odd. And then after I got on and we rode off, but when we got to the big dirt road, he wanted to go right instead of left, so right we went. He marched on proudly, until we got the end of the neighbors property and he turned and saw Them. The cows. In their winter pasture, not where he's used to seeing them, and staring at us. That of course, made his brain leave and we skittered around in view of the cows until he could walk sanely. And he kind of hovered back home, but at least he wasn't bolting.

St Croix Saddlery was having their Easter sale, so I dropped off the green blanket to be washed and fixed. While there, I finally bought a bit I'd been contemplating for months. It's a Myler comfort snaffle similar to the one I already have but with eggbutt cheek piece and a slightly thicker mouthpiece. And, after getting Chipotle, I headed home for a tack cleaning extravaganza. I cleaned and conditioned the stuff I haven't touched in years, and may not use again. But it's nice to have it clean again.

Today it was 70 (70!) degrees, so of course we went for another ride. I put on his new bit, but still left the halter on underneath and attached the reins to that.

At first he was confused.

But then he got distracted.

So we were off, and heading down the road. I asked him to trot to stretch his legs, and trot he did. We flew down the road, but he wasn't scared or tense. Just ticklish in the feet. We went down the little side road and he even broke into a canter. Just seemed happy. All pricked ears and bright eyes.

If everything goes halfway according to plan, Carriage House is going to be a blast.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Limits Of Helmets

So I came across this article a few months ago and have been mulling it over ever since.

The short version of it is that helmet use in extreme sports (the author mostly references mountain biking and snowboarding/skiing, but the principle applies to any high risk sport) has been increasing, but so have traumatic brain injuries, the very thing they were supposed to prevent. The author points to the increase in the intensity of the sports, to the point where our safety equipment can't help us beyond a certain point. As has been pointed out, you can sustain a concussion while wearing a helmet.

Debilitating brain injuries get all the press, but the more troublesome issue is the build-up of "small" concussions over time. Get enough minor concussions and they'll have the same long term outcome as a big-time TBI. So, while helmets will most likely keep you from dying, if that's your only safety measure, you may end up with irreversible brain damage anyway.

So how does this apply to horses? Other than the fact that horseback riding is probably one of the most high risk sports available. Right now, there's a MASSIVE push to make sure everyone and their closest blood relative wears a helmet any time they're on or near a horse. And... I have no idea whether it's making a huge difference. Seriously, no one keeps tabs on these things, so while we can see an increase in helmet use at recognized dressage/eventing shows (because they're now mandatory), we have no idea what the average rider is doing. Or if helmet use would really make a huge difference. Because your average backyard/casual rider is not engaging in the same high risk behavior as an eventer or polo player. I am engaging in much more risky behavior when Royal and I canter out of the start box than when we mosey down the trail. And while humans are not the greatest risk assessors, we can tell when something is a bigger risk than another.

And this is where I think the Helmet Police approach falls short. Hyperventilating at people that if they ride a horse without a helmet, they're signing their death warrant is unhelpful at best.

Because unless they take measures to prevent accidental decoupling from the horse in the first place, the helmet is just a band-aid. If you keep riding and taking stupid risks, hoping your helmet will keep you safe, you could ending up sustaining concussion after concussion until your gray matter becomes a happy memory. The better thing to do is focus on prevention, rather than intervention. Don't get on the horse if it's scared of its own shadow. Don't ride on bad footing or places where your horse is likely to slip. And don't anything you're not comfortable with. Get off if your horse starts acting possessed. And, then, your helmet can do its job. The less you call it into action, the better it is for everyone. And the less chance you'll have of concussion buildup.

Please, wear your helmet. But also, don't do anything you'd be embarrassed to explain to the medical professionals.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Starting Fresh

Spring has made its way to Minnesota and it's been glorious. Today it was sunny and in the 70s, so I walked a mile and a half to my favorite tea place, just because I felt like it. Next week it may get a bit cold, but for now, soak it in.

I rode Royal for the first time in months on Sunday, and it was mostly good. I removed about 6 currycombs of hair beforehand, but there were still clumps of hair bouncing down the road after us like tumbleweeds. We made it down to the Sheep Of Death and I could see that he was starting to sweat, so we turned back. I had periodically been asking him to back up as a way of keeping his brain from wandering too far off, but some reason, about halfway back, I asked him to back up and he decided it. Was. Not. Happening. Started skittering sideways and flinging his head in the air. I was laughing and trying to get him to at least try to back up, when he planted his feet and reared. Not very high, but still went up.

Oh hell no.

I was off in a shot and asked him very strongly to back up and back up fast. He, of course, was still in "NO!" mode and kept trying to go sideways or barge forward. It took about a quarter of a mile before he stopped fighting and took a few step straight backwards. He was all sweaty and worked up, but he started yawning and sighing. I got back on and he backed up like a champ. So, I have no idea what all the fuss was about, but happily he seemed to be over it.

It was very nice to have this view again.

So he was having a bad hair day. I haven't unleashed the thinning shears yet.

We'll see what happens next time. Conniption fit or no, we got to get ready for show season.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Slowly Emerging On The Other Side

Still not dead yet, and trying to get back into the swing of blogging regularly again. Winter is doing its usual thing of having around like a most unwelcome guest and making everyone sick with cabin fever. We would like to be able to go outside without feeling like we're going to die, if that's not to much to ask. Please, and thank you.

Still, life continues apace. I'm still spending my days at Grown Up Job and spending a couple nights a week and weekends with Royal, trying to get us back up to speed. Mostly just through walking. Most winters I'm able to do stuff with Royal at least a couple of times a month to keep us in the swing of things, but not this year. The last time we really did anything was in December, so both of us are out of practice. He's in his usual mode of "What? There's dirt? And grass? Under the snow? Ya don't say." that he gets in every spring, so a lot of the walks have been about keeping him focused and sane. He's getting better, although our last walk had him spooking at the shed we've walked past hundreds of times. So, steps forward and backward, every time.

Despite the harsh winter, all the horses have maintained their weight nicely. They were going through hay like crazy (So happy we have the big hay nets!) but have come though to MudSeason looking pretty good.

Although the shedding process sometimes makes him look like he has a skin fungus.

So, not much to report on. Hopefully we'll finally be able to saddle up this weekend and continue prepping for the summer. Right now EHV-1 has made its way to our region and shows all over are being cancelled. The first show I have planned is Carriage House, which isn't until the end of May, but who knows. The Horse Expo is in 3 weeks, and they're on lockdown as far requiring all horses to have a clean bill of health prior to coming onto the grounds, but that's not a guarantee. A horse can be completely fine on Monday morning and near death on Tuesday night. If there's an outbreak at the Expo, all bets are off. I'm watching the news, and hoping nothing bad happens between now and then.