I rode Consolation yesterday. It was her first outing since I laid her off at the beginning of last summer due to her undiagnosed, but obvious, discomfort under saddle. We jogged six miles in the sunshine. She felt good. Content.
But not like an endurance horse. Never one of my most driven mounts, she felt distinctly disinterested in speed and distance. I doubt I’ll attempt to condition her this year. Or ever. She gave me 875 endurance miles, plus countless more in training. That will have to be enough.
Here is the dark side of being goal-oriented. I struggle to give up on this mare. On anything. It is easy to forget, when I fail to reach my destination, the views I enjoyed along the way. My reaction is common, I suppose. It is also a failure of perspective.
Consider this: What is the destination? When does effort become achievement, striving morph into success? Is it at 2,000 AERC miles? 5,000? If I retire a horse at 1,655 miles, have I somehow failed?
If a career path fizzles before I reach the corner office, was my experience wasted? If a relationship crumbles after three years, or five, or ten, have I thrown away that time?
Yes, I am older now. Yes, it takes effort to update my resume, go out and date, start a young horse, shoulder the effort and face the fear of starting over, starting new.
But see the good times had, the completions earned, the accolades received, the scars that strengthen! They don’t vanish because the path on which I found them ends in a cliff. A journey abbreviated is not a journey obliterated. The treasures I claim are mine to keep.
Don’t waste the litter of your past. It gathers about your feet like shale tumbled down a hillside. Step up on it. Feel it shift beneath your soles, and climb.
The last stanza of the poem from which my farm takes its name reads thus: Nor doom the irrevocable past ~ As wholly wasted, wholly vain ~ If rising on its wrecks at last ~ To something nobler we attain. [H.W. Longfellow]
Squint against your tears, my friends. See the shining? Reach out. Take hold. Climb.
It feels strange to be preparing for a ride without packing tack, or feed, or a horse. To take only the truck, with no trailer. To go without Consolation.
But you don’t know about any of this, do you? I’m behind on sharing news. Things have been a little crazy. Here’s the upshot:
Since Fandango, I have taken Consolation to the vet to determine why she hasn’t been herself lately. We don’t have a clear answer on #3 yet, but it appears likely that she has stifle issues. How bad? We don’t know. Maybe bad enough that she’s done with endurance.
I am trying to absorb this. I am also trying to hold onto a little hope, but not too much, that it isn’t as bad as we think. X-rays are scheduled for Monday.
In the meantime, I am grateful to have a couple really good friends. The three of us had been planning to ride the 75 at Spring Fling tomorrow. I was going to take Consolation, of course. But, as it transpires, one of said friends has offered me her second horse instead.
Blue is the sweet, gray Arab I rode a couple days at Canyonlands last fall. I like him.
It’s bittersweet, looking at my first 75 without my own horse. But I couldn’t ask for a better substitute.
Friday night, after the ride meeting, I slathered clay on Acey’s legs and went to bed. The sky was dark with clouds. It rained. Though I slept well, I woke on occasion to note that it was still raining. Near dawn, it quit. And then, just as my alarm sounded, it began again. The rain.
I fed the horses and myself. It rained. I tacked up Consolation. It rained. I joined Karen and Blue for the short walk to the start. It rained. We walked our excited horses for a bit, then mounted up and set off trotting. In the rain.
We climbed up to the flats, where the ground stretched sodden and bleak beneath iron skies. Wind drove heavy raindrops into the horses’ faces. They trotted with their muzzles twisted sideways and ears alternating between forward eagerness and backward annoyance.
Blue seemed more bothered than Consolation, who cheerfully took the lead. She was obviously delighted to be out of her pen. We covered almost the entire first, 25-mile loop at a brisk trot, circling back for a hold in camp, where the rain had miraculously let up.
50 minutes later, having changed into dry clothes and warmed our hands by the camper heater, we were headed back out. In the rain.
It rained as we picked our way — much more slowly now — across a series of “whoop-de-woos.” These washes, crossed perpendicular to the flow, require the horses to ease down very steep hills of a horse’s length or two, then climb immediately back up the other side. It can be tricky at the best of times. In the rain, or more particularly the mud, it was downright challenging.
On one uphill scramble, Blue lost his footing and went briefly to his knees while his hind feet struggled for purchase. He recovered himself admirably while I, coming along behind, quickly redirected Consolation up an alternate path. Still and endlessly, it rained.
Finally, we passed the whoop-de-woo section and were able to trot a little way to the creek. It seemed like we’d been out there forever, but I knew exactly where we were and how long the loop ahead was going to be. At least, I thought I did.
Sure enough, the ribbons led us across the creek and down a stretch of road, then back to trail and a long sand wash. What I hadn’t counted on was the dramatic impact of all that rain. The desert, which dries quickly when given the chance, hadn’t had sufficient relief to absorb the storm. Her soil had turned to deep and greasy mud.
The loop suddenly looked much longer.
Trotting was out of the question, at least for those of us who cared more about our horses’ soundness than our finishing times. The sand wash, though not slick, was much deeper than usual. We walked it, too. And then came the stretch of deep and cloying mud that the horses picked through in boots caked with pounds of clinging clay. Off and on, it rained.
We re-crossed the creek and washed off a little of the clay, but plenty came with us as we splashed — trotting at last — along single track back toward camp. As we passed the old homestead, Blue tore the gaiter off a hind boot and continued without it. We climbed the knife ridge in biting wind.
I was dressed properly and didn’t get cold, but still I was glad to reach the final stretch of two-track before dropping down the slide to camp. We crossed the flat in fits of trotting, pulling up frequently to march through patches slick with mud. We dismounted to walk down the slide, then mounted up again for a triumphant trot along the last mile to the vet.
Consolation earned all A’s and appeared pleased with herself. Despite the adverse conditions, I thought she’d taken on the ride with more enthusiasm than usual. I’m quite sure she appreciated the fit of her new Stonewall. The ride manager said twelve people (so far) had commented that this was the toughest 50 they’d ever done — but Consolation had made it feel pretty manageable. There’s no question our slow, safe pace on the second loop helped.
I cleaned up my horse, plied her with blankets and feed, and even found time for a hot shower before awards. During which, of course, it rained.
I don’t have time to post the details at the moment (places to go, horses to ride!), but Consolation’s ride yesterday went almost perfectly. She switched her tail a few times and gave one, half-hearted head fling during our warmup, and that was it. We proceeded to have a lovely, sane ride along the irrigation canal — 8 miles at 9 mph. Consolation was all business, relaxed and happy, without the hypersensitivity and spookiness that have characterized her behavior for some time. Hooray!
Oh, and I was finally able to sit easy and enjoy her new, custom Stonewall saddle. It’s a prototype of the new mission style that Jackie is working on and wow, is it nice for both of us. I’m excited to see how Consolation does this year in more comfortable tack. This isn’t the best photo ever because I took it when the saddle first arrived in April, with a storm coming in and Consolation annoyed by her itchy back, but it gives you the idea. I’ll get better shots soon.
Today, I’ll start with a canal ride on Acey and then take Consolation to the hills for a ride with Karen Bumgarner and her boy Blue. We took Acey and Thunder up there yesterday; now it’s time for the greys. Late in the afternoon, I’ll forgo hoof trimming in favor of a Mother’s Day (and late birthday for me) barbecue at my mom’s place. Good thing, too. I trimmed so many feet yesterday that my fingers, forearms, and quads are stiff today.
Well, Consolation and I did get to go for our ride Wednesday. Saddling up took extra time, as she clearly anticipated discomfort. (How was she supposed to know she had dexamethosone on board?) I lunged her briefly before getting on just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, then led her out to the driveway and mounted up.
It took only a few steps to know she wasn’t 100%. She didn’t want to move off well, and her tail was too switchy for the bugless day. Then again, she wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as she has been over the past few weeks. The obvious question: How much of this was actual discomfort — and how bad was that discomfort — and how much was the cleverness of a horse that is figuring out that fidgety behavior will earn her a day off?
Decision time. With horses, there can be a fine line between “I want you to be absolutely comfortable” and “Suck it up, Princess.” Endurance horses in particular need to be able to work through a bit of discomfort. If the first cloud of gnats or trickle of belly sweat sweat snaps their delicate psyches, you’re never going to get down the trail.
For the moment, I chose to proceed. Half a mile later, we were still going along reasonably well, and I asked for a trot. She moved out slowly. Hesitantly. I kept asking, and after a while she seemed to discover that her skin wasn’t going to bite her, after all. She did still lash her tail and snap her head around a couple times, but nothing like before. At the first intersection, we took a turn that often loops us back toward home. That sped her right up. Look, mom, I can trot! Wheeee!
Until the first turn away from home. Oooh, then her skin seemed much more troublesome. She switched her tail and flung her head around some more. Trot? Gosh, I dunno, mom… Uh-huh.
Again we pushed through, and again she recovered considerably as she became distracted by passing tractors and a herd of horses across the canal. Now, I don’t mean to say she wasn’t feeling anything at all — I do think she her skin was legitimately bothering her to some extent — but she was obviously able to get beyond the “I’m a fragile Christmas bauble, so please bubble-wrap me” stage. In fact, for the last several miles before our cool-down, she moved out quite normally, steadily and with enthusiasm. When we slowed to walk the last mile in, she remained normal.
Afterwards, she had just a hair of swelling on one side, well away from the saddle area. She was just about 24 hours out from her last dose of dex, though, so it’s unclear whether the ride or the timing was the issue.
So…maybe we’re making progress. Or maybe she’s just leaning on the dex crutch and will relapse as it tapers off. I’m worried about the latter because the affected areas were a bit warm last night — and yesterday was her first day off the dex. She’ll get a smaller dose today, tomorrow off, then still smaller doses ever other day twice after that.
Consolation has been on anti-inflammatories for 2 days now, and she is a much happier horse. Her whole aspect is brighter. She’s relaxed and no longer suspicious about being handled. Her skin is still strange (a bit crinkly under the haircoat, with those strange black flakes) in the affected areas, but the heat, swelling, and tenderness have vanished. Because the saddle area is all clear, I’m going to go ahead and try riding her this afternoon. Stay tuned.
Acey is moving right along toward her first endurance ride. On Sunday, we did 11 miles at a decent race pace of aboaut 7 mph (for beginning distance accumulation, obviously, not winning) in the sandy hills near Adrian. I like this route because it includes 3 sustained climbs for strength and an interval effect when taken at a steady pace, plus long stretches of gently rolling hills that can be trotted with only a couple breaks to walk down steep grades.
Monday afternoon, her legs were firm and cool and her eyes bright, so we saddled up for a speed ride. The maintainance road for the irrigation canal a mile from In the Night Farm makes a perfect track: packed-sand footing, no traffic, nearly flat for a good 6 miles, and a few duck fly-ups to keep things interesting. I like to use this route for the occasional evening trail ride, but it’s even better for sustained, fast trots and extended canters.
Garmin was busy charging, so I didn’t get to record our actual speed and distance. I’d guess we travelled about 7 miles at an average of 10-12 mph — not bad for a 13.1 pony. That that was our cruising speed, though. The workout was periodically interrupted by Acey’s need to ogle the cows and calves populating the BLM land on the opposite side of the canal. By the end of the ride, she was pretty much over it, so hopefully that won’t be as much of an issue next time.
Acey consistently surprises me with her recoveries. I’m going on perception here, but she never seems to get really winded, and she has plenty of spring left to offer just minutes after finishing a hour of effort. I should hook up the heart rate monitor so I can watch what’s really going on.
Consolation is fit and frisky. She could do 50 miles at Tough Sucker tomorrow. I’d like to say that I’m throwing the last bits of gear in the trailer and heading out. But I’m not.
The itch issue isn’t 100% resolved. It seems to be resolving along her topline, but has moved down her sides. I talked with her vet and he suggested treating it like a fungus, as these can present in myriad ways and this could just be a somewhat atypical case. So, I’m slathering her with athlete’s foot cream and keeping an eye on her for a couple more days.
Even if that problem were taken care of, I think we’d sit this one out. It doesn’t seem fair to ask Consolation for a 50 when we haven’t been able to go for some good rides to make sure she’s feeling perfect in other ways. Her new Stonewall appears to fit beautifully, but we haven’t been able to give it a real test yet, so that’s another reason to wait.
Sigh. I’m trying to remember that we’re still well ahead of where we were at this time last year. And I’m (still) learning to take things as they come. There will be more rides.
She’s not 100%, mind you, but she is much improved.
As a test this evening, I saddled her and lunged her for 20 minutes (in 80-degree heat, to get her sweaty since that seems to make the itch worse), then took her out for a few miles’ hack. She switched her tail a bit, and her trot was less than steady, but she didn’t feel the need for head-slinging and bucking every few strides.
Her back was still itchy, but nothing like it has been. If (and it’s definitely still a big IF), this progress continues, we might be able to go to Tough Sucker II next weekend, after all. Fingers crossed.
In other news, Acey and I had a nice ride in the hills today. We took it fairly slowly and soaked up a couple hours’ worth of sunshine over our 11 miles.
(Whoa, that photo looks terrible on my screen. I hope it looks better on yours!)
Well, I thought I had Consolation’s itching issue under control. She certainly seemed normal when brushed and worked from the ground. She still has no hives or bumps or scabs or leisons, just relatively thin hair over the affected area (not bald spots, but shorter and rougher haircoat).
And yet, yesterday’s ride revealed that she is clearly still very itchy — driven to distraction, in fact. She seems to want to move out, but can’t bear to trot more than a few strides without slinging her head around as if to whack a horsefly, or nearly bucking. She moves along with her back hunched up in discomfort It gets worse as the ride progresses (and the area gets warmer under her tack?), but the skin does not appear to change. The behavior continues whether I’m mounted or not.
Over the past month, I’ve tried anti-fungal shampoos, Listerine soaks, and livestock dust. I’ve double-dosed with Ivermectin and removed the only new item in her diet (Strategy). I’ve washed and triple-rinsed her tack and brushes. She already gets flax as part of her Show N Go supplement. She lives in the open air, has access to shelter, and is in a largely dry and sunny climate. Her skin doesn’t seem dry. I considered the season (estrous issues?) but she is obviously itchy, not just ouchy or grouchy.
I’ve scoured the internet for ideas and come up empty. Nothing seems to match her symptoms. I’m at the point of calling her vet again to see if he thinks a fungal culture or somesuch might be in order. On the one hand, I hate to fork over a few hundred bucks for a farm visit and lab tests, but on the other hand, I hate watching more time and endurance rides go by without being able to participate!
In the meantime, I am trying to let gratitude outweigh frustration. At least I have another horse to ride, and more beyond that to train, while we get this resolved.
But still, please please please, can’t we find a solution quickly?
Ha ha! Now you have the Calamine song in your head.
(Please tell me I’m not the only one who remembers that from summer camp.)
Remember when I mentioned that weekend of rides during which Consolation’s behavior was quite unreasonable, ranging from balking to bucking, when she couldn’t go more than a few steps without slinging her head or changing gaits? I noted her extreme itchiness on her back under the saddle area.
This was more than just an “I’m shedding” itch. More even than an “I’m shedding and I’m a mare and it’s spring” itch. This was a “GET OFF ME BEFORE I GO INSANE” itch.
Yes, your majesty. Right away, your majesty.
The itchiness was only one of several issues, some of which required waiting to ride again until her new saddle arrives. (Update: I got an email from Stonewall this morning — it’s on its way! Hooray!) But a few weeks off didn’t cure the itch. I thought it did, at first, because bareback ride #1 went well…and then came bareback ride #2. It was a warmer, sweatier day, and we’d gone less than a mile before her agitation resumed. She was clearly uncomfortable, and I ended up leading her home.
Time to investigate more thoroughly. I found no sign of pain, but boy, did she ITCH! Her withers were the worst, but much of her back was likewise affected. She was mostly shed out, but I took a shedding blade to her for investigatory purposes. Sure enough, it raked up evidence of dirty, oily skin flakes. No apparent mites. No sores or scabs or bumps. No clumps of lost hair. Just itching and oily, shedding skin.
I scoured my vet books and the web for a probably cause. Nothing matched her symptoms exactly. The closest possibilities seemed unlikely due to our dry environmental conditions or other factors. So, I decided to start with the old, cowboy remedy: Listerine. (Don’t worry, Ironman. I bought you a new bottle.)
After another, thorough brushing, I soaked the affected area with a 30:70 solution of mineral oil and generic “Listerine” (the original, amber-colored variety), gently rubbed it in, and left it on. The next afternoon was warm enough for a partial bath — thank goodness, because the mineral oil had left Consolation just as messy as you’d expect it to — and I gave her a good scrubbing with Selson Blue and one of those rubber pet-shedding mitts.
While she was wet, I noticed a smattering of bumps across her withers that I’m almost positive weren’t there before. They were much like mosquito bites — small, raised, and itchy, but not scabby or pus-filled. They didn’t compress like hives. I certainly hadn’t seen or felt them before. Were they a reaction to the Listerine? The shampoo? Hmm…
A breeze came up, so I trotted Consolation in the round corral while she dried, then re-applied the Listerine, this time in a 50:50 dilution with water, and left it on.
Come morning, the bumps were gone. The itch seemed somewhat diminished. It’s was a bit hard to tell since most horses like their withers scratched, especially this time of year, but she seemed more comfortable. The oily-flaky-skin issue seemed to have vanished.
I repeated the Listerine-and-water treatment. The bumps did not resurface. By evening, she seemed less itchy still. Today, I treated her again, and she seems back to normal.
I love it when the cowboy stuff works.