Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Not Quite Right

Do you know those days when you hop on your horse and things just aren't quite right? Like, they don't seem lame, they might even seem sound, but it just feels like there's something going on? Well for the past two weeks, I've just had that feeling with Casey. The best way I can describe the feeling is that she just seemed slightly more stiff than normal and at the canter it felt like there was a moment of hesitation, or almost a stutter, between strides. What was especially weird though was that I felt it a lot more to the right than to the left (the left is the leg that sustained the suspensory injury).
One thing I noticed was that Casey was kicking up a lot more footing with her back hooves than normal
I had my trainer watch us ride when I first noticed this sensation and she didn't see anything, but I knew I could feel something. Since it seemed like her hind end, I suspected it was her hocks and my trainer didn't disagree so I scheduled hock injections for her. While awaiting the appointment I kept going back and forth in my own mind about if it was the right decision to make. Part of the difficulty was that for the most part she felt so sound! She never seemed in pain and the strange sensation was so slight and infrequent that I wasn't sure if I was just being overly paranoid. Ultimately though, I decided that it couldn't hurt to have her hocks injected (even if it was a bit early) and I knew I wouldn't be able to stop stressing if the vet didn't take a look.
Another thing I noticed was the Casey didn't seem to be stretching underneath herself nearly as much with her back legs
This Monday is when the vet came out and it turns out that I was right to trust my gut! According to my trainer (who dealt with this vet appointment since I couldn't take the day off of work), Casey's right hock was dry when they injected the needle and the left hock was watery. Not only does this show that she needed hock injections badly, but it also shows that my gut intuition was right! I thought she seemed worse on her right side, and it was worse on her right side! I'm patting myself on the back over that one.

For those that don't know a lot about hock injections, here is a brief explanation (although I'm no expert). Basically, joints have liquid in them to keep the bones from grinding together. This liquid goes away gradually due to aging, genetics, and exercise patterns. Casey is fourteen, so is of the age where horses start to need joint injections, plus she is prone to having hocks that dry out faster than normal. This is part of how she got her suspensory injury - her hocks were dry, which causes discomfort/pain and so she was over-stressing her ligaments to try to avoid that discomfort. I first injected Casey's hocks while rehabbing her from her suspensory injury, before that I didn't know this was a problem for her. At the time, the vet said that we'd need to inject her hocks again, but wasn't sure when (every six, nine, or twelve months). Since we just injected her hocks for a second time, and it turned out that it was the correct timing, we now know that Casey should have her hocks injected every six months.
This photo cracks me up, "Ohhhhh!!!! Hock injections!!!!"
I'm super relieved that I trusted myself when it came to my gut feeling. Ever since Casey got injured I've second-guessed myself a lot more when it comes to her care, so making the correct choice for her makes me feel better. Not only that, but now we know what schedule Casey should be on and so it'll be an easy thing to keep track of.
Happy horse who should now feel better
The plan for this week is to give Casey four days completely off with Bute twice a day to help with discomfort. It's uncomfortable at first, because the joint is not used to having so much liquid in it. Additionally, the injection has anti-inflammatory properties in it and so she shouldn't do anything too strenuous, because her body wouldn't be able to react properly. The fifth day (this Friday) she can go back into light work and on Sunday we should be back into normal work. I'm really excited to see what she feels like when we go back into work. For the first round of hock injections I couldn't tell the difference it made because she was still so injured. This time I theoretically should be able to really feel a difference in her.
Casey gets a mini-vacay for four days
Have you ever had the sensation of something feeling "not quite right" with your horse? What did it end up being?
Can't wait to see the difference on Friday!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cost of Casey in 2017

Sometimes I find myself wondering how much money I actually spend on my horse. It does really "matter," because no matter the cost I'm going to keep paying it regardless, but just for curiosity's sake.
What does she cost besides all of my love I mean
When Casey got injured, I obviously got slammed by vet bills. I told myself that this is why I had a credit card and just decided to live in denial. I would make payments every month to my credit card, but I didn't want to know how much money I was bleeding. I think that this form of denial really helped me, because it kept me from panicking about the amount of money I was spending. I didn't have a choice but to pay for my horse's care and what I didn't know couldn't hurt me?

However, this December I finally paid of all of Casey's vet bills and so I wanted to know the truth. How much did Casey cost in 2017?
Cost of Casey in 2017
Because I am the nerdiest of all nerds, I obviously made myself a bar graph to represent this data. Since not all people probably care to read a graph though, I'll also explain each section:

Board & Lessons -$1,484

I am actually quite surprised how low this cost is. Considering that this is all of Casey's basic needs (shelter, food, care) AND lessons, I really did pretty good! Part of the reason that this cost is so low is that we really didn't take many lessons at all in 2017, we didn't take any lessons during our 9 month long rehab. I think we only took about 13-14 lessons in all of 2017.
Casey's paddock

Farrier -$385

My farrier bill was crazy low this year, mostly because Casey was barefoot for half of it! It wasn't worth paying for shoes for a horse that was in rehab and could only walk/trot. Now that she's back to work, we've brought the shoes back. Since she's now in full shoes, this cost is most definitely going to go up in 2018.
Casey getting shoes

Vet -$3,309.25

The killer cost of 2017 was 1000% vet bills. This is why I didn't want to know how much they cost at the time of receiving them... This total includes all of the regular things like annual teeth floating and vaccinations, but it also includes not one, but two emergency vet visits for times that Casey cut open her own front leg, and all of the costs from her suspensory injury (a vet checkup every month, hock injections, joint-helping injections, so much Ace, etc).
We spent much more time with the vet than we should have to
The good thing about this, is that I'm pretty sure 2017 was just a bad luck year for us. Surely not every year will have two emergency vet visits plus a major injury?
Casey after mauling her own leg

Misc -$1,461.62

Really what this shows is how much money I spend on things I don't need, but rather want. That includes tack, apparel, safety equipment, basic horse care supplies, and treats. Since 2017 was the first full year that I owned Casey, a lot of this money was spent on things that I needed, but just didn't own yet. I'm expecting that this cost will be lower in 2018 simply because I now own a lot more horse stuff that I did last year.
Gotta supply the goods for the cookie monster

Barn Work $4,351

This is the reasons that I spend so little on Casey's board & lessons. I work at my barn, specifically, I am the Assistant Trainer at my barn. I made $2,010 teaching lessons and $2,341 doing barn chores in 2017. Of course, all of this goes straight back into my horse, but hey, that's a significant amount of money that I saved!
Nighttime feeding schedule
What's most interesting about this data is that it really shows how much more time I spend at the barn during the summer. That makes sense, because my job (teacher) is only 9ish months of the year. I have all of summer off and so I spend a lot more time working at the barn.
The best part of nighttime feeding is when all the horses nicker for me

Total Cost of Casey in 2017 = -$6,639.87

Broken down, that equals $553.32 per month, or $34.58 per ride (assuming that I rode four times per week - probably an accurate estimate). While owning a horse is not cheap (especially when they break), I think that overall I did a pretty good job! Others may keep their horses for cheaper, but I am able to keep Casey at a really nice barn with a really good trainer and give her the best medical care that I can afford.

My goal for 2018 is to hopefully stay closer to $5,000 than $10,000. I'm hoping to do some things that will cost more money in 2018, like weekly lessons and hopefully a few shows so I'm not expecting a dramatic decrease, but if we could spend less money on the vet and more on fun training stuff, that'd be great.
Hoping for more money spent on fun training in 2018!
Who else has been brave enough to calculate the total cost of their horse?

2018 Goals

I anticipated having an easy time coming up with goals for this new year, but ended up having a surprisingly hard time! 2017 was so unpredictable. I would never have guessed that a major injury would be sustained and would require nine months to come back from. So with that in mind, my goals are not as ambitious as they might have been otherwise. Whereas last year's goals were very focused on our specific discipline (jumping), this year's goals are much more focused on flatwork and communication between Casey & I. I don't really know what this year will look like for Casey and I, but I know that my priority is making sure that we continue to work on getting physically stronger and communicating better.

  • NO MAJOR INJURIES IN 2018! This is the goal that I have least control over, but that I most want to achieve. My way of trying to make this goal successful is really being preventative in my care for Casey. She now has full shoes, hock injections every six months, Mare Magic to balance her mood, and a tiny pasture to get her yaa-yaas out in. Hopefully all of that plus a little bit of luck will get us through the next twelve months without any major injuries (*knock on all wood objects*).
Casey agrees. No more injuries please.
  • Get back into jumping 2'6"+. I'm not sure how high exactly we'll be able to jump this year. It really depends on how Casey's leg handles the stress of jumping post-injury. I'd say that 2'6" courses is an achievable goal. I'd love for us to get back to jumping 3' courses, but don't want to prioritize jumping high over my horse's health. Obviously I will be very reliant on my trainer's feedback to determine what is appropriate work for my horse.
I want to jump real jumps again!
  • Continue to work on stirrupless work. I'd love to get to the point where I can ride without stirrups for a whole ride. That'll take a lot of work though!
  • Continue to work on bridleless work. At this point we're able to walk entirely bridleless and can trot with the neck rope (with the bridle on for backup). I'd like to get to the point where I can ride Casey bridleless at a walk and a trot, and be able to canter with the neck rope (bridle for backup).
Bridleless work
  • Get solid walk-canter transitions. We're so close to this. Casey can get them on her right-lead, although it's a bit rough. I'd like to get these a lot more solid.
  • Figure out the sitting trot. Oh boy, oh boy, is this a challenge. I've been working on my sitting trot for the past couple of months and it's gotten so much better, but I still really struggle at this. Practice makes perfect, right?
Sitting trot in progress
  • Find an Casey-acceptable dressage-legal bit & bridle set-up. Bitting has been the bane of my existence with Casey. She's super opinionated and very picky. Right now she goes really well in my Myler Combination Bit, but it's not dressage legal. I'd really like to get back into dressage tests with Casey, but in order to do that we really need to find equipment that will work for us. I've tried many different bits with her and nothing really works, she pulls on the bit and can get her tongue over everything. So far we've tried adding a flash, tightening the bridle, loosening the bridle, a plastic bit with a single joint, an oval-link copper-coated snaffle, a wide port, and a waterford. She hates everything. Right now I'm trying to find ways to replicate things that she might like in her current set-up. The next thing we're going to try is a boucher bit (I think she might like the extra stability it provides) and I'm seriously tempted to get a Micklem bridle to see if that would make a difference.
Casey's reaction to any bit besides the Myler Combination... brat...
  • Ride (or work with Casey) 4+ times per week. Although I easily met this goal last year, I am going to continue to have this be an annual goal, because it is really important to me. If I'm not at the barn at least four times per week, I really don't think that I should own a horse. It's a huge financial burden and so I need to prioritize my barn time. I am adapting the goal though, because I think that hand-walking, lunging, or free-lunging Casey is acceptable on days that one or both of us don't feel up to riding.
Looking forward to lots of good rides in 2018
  • Take a lesson a week. I think that we'd benefit greatly from having my trainer's eyes on us regularly. Thanks to a pay raise this year and finally having paid off my car, I can financially afford regular lessons this year!
This is why we need lots of lessons, both jump and dressage!
  • Go off-property at least once. This can be a trail ride, a schooling show, or a clinic, so long as she is trailered somewhere new.
  • Enter at least two shows (they can be schooling shows). I think that this goal is definitely achievable, because my barn hosts shows every summer. I'd like to do at least one show in a different location, but we'll see what happens.
Now that you've read mine, what goals do you have for the next year?

Monday, January 29, 2018

2017 Goals Review

Now that we are solidly into 2018 (thank goodness for the end of 2017). I thought it was high time to take a look at last years goals to see how we did. I already know without even looking at them that we failed at meeting a bunch of goals due to Casey's injury that knocked us out of regular work for 9 months out of the year, but here we go...

2017 Goals
  • Continue to work on my jumping position. Eyes up, heels down, long-release or maybe even a short-release! Hold my position until after the jump so that I don't jab Casey in the mouth. This goal makes me sad, because I was getting so close to reaching it before disaster struck. Since I haven't really jumped since March I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to restart on this goal in 2018.
I'm pretty proud of my position here. Definitely had more to work on, but it was so much better than it had been!
  • Work on stirrup-less work. Be able to canter the whole arena without stirrups. Also try small jumps without stirrups. Hey, I actually did this! I'm not going to say that we did a ton of stirrup-less work, but I did definitely canter the whole arena without stirrups and I also did jump cross-rails without stirrups. I'd love to have worked more at this, but, again, rehab kinda killed this goal. I had enough trouble staying on my bronco even with stirrups and so was unwilling to drop them.
I promise we did this at other gaits too!
  • Take at least 1 lesson a month. Ummm... no... we kind of failed this one and not even just due to the injury (though that was a part of it). Financially, 2017 was a rough year for us, because of all of the vet bills, and so this became an impossible goal. BUT since I didn't take as many lessons and cut back on extra costs, I was able to pay off all of Casey's vet bills, so I think it's a good thing that I failed this goal?
  • Ride a minimum of 4 days per week. I'm going to give us this one. As long as I was able to ride Casey, I was riding 4 days a week. There were periods of time that I was not riding at all, but that was due to taking care of her medical needs so I think that's a pretty valid excuse.
  • Advance our flatwork. Figure out haunches-in and shoulders-in. We have made significant progress on this. Our flatwork is so much improved after such a long rehab. Although we are not pros at this, I think that the amount of progress we made is enough for me to say that we met this goal.
Casey demonstrating her ability to do haunches-in (did I ask for it at this moment... not at all...)
  • Work on collection & adjust-ability. The way to measure this: be able to ride a jump line that is 5 strides, and be able to make it into 6 and 7 strides. We definitely have worked on this, although can't really measure it in the way that I had originally planned. Due to a lack of jumping, we've not practiced striding in-between jumps (we did work on this pre-injury, but it was still a work in process). The way I can measure it now is that I can have Casey adjust within a gait (both trot and canter) and get a variety of different levels of collection and extension. She is now so much more responsive than she was last January and I feel that she really tries to listen to my little signals.
Slight extension at the trot

And slight collection at the trot

  • Enter 2 shows (they can be small schooling shows). My barn hosts one every summer, so the one at my barn + one away show. I'm not pre-deciding which classes I want to do, because that will really depend on what I think we will be successful at. Total 100% fail, 100% due to stupid injury. The most irritating thing about this is that my barn actually had two schooling shows over the summer, so if Casey weren't in the middle of rehab, we could totally have achieved this goal. Instead we did ZERO shows...
  • Jump a 3'6" single jump (probably in a gymnastics line). If we can go higher, go higher. I haven't hit Casey's jump cap yet, so I will accept it when I get there, but so far 3' is not a struggle for her so I think 3'6" is definitely do-able. Again, we couldn't do this due to the injury. Before Casey got injured though we did jump up to 3'3" so it wasn't a complete fail. Also, 3'3" was still not a challenge for her. She did rely on me for confidence, but the physical aspect of the jump seemed effortless for her. Because of that, I do think that 3'6" is a completely achievable goal in our future (barring any future injury).
  • Jump 3' courses. Before the injury I'd set courses that were 2'9" - 3' (as in some jumps were at the lower height and some were at the taller height). When approaching a single fence that is 3' Casey would start to get nervous and I'd really have to encourage her on, so that's why I never attempted a full 3' course with her, BUT I do believe that she could have done it (I just didn't want to mentally rush her). I'm calling this a semi-meets, because we were so close to it.
I'm pretty sure this jump was 3'3" and one of the largest jumps of the year
  • Mount from the ground! Ok, I can't blame the injury for this one (although I guess I could because rehab made Casey EVIL and there was no way I'd try this while she was attempting murder). I didn't prioritize this and so it just didn't happen. I do still think that this is an important tool for us to have in our toolbox, but it didn't seem worth the battle that I know it will be.
This photo is now over a year old, but it's still an accurate representation of how it goes when I try to mount from the ground
  • Go on an off-property trail ride! Boo... I really wanted to do this and actually almost made plans with my trainer to take the horses to the coast for a trail ride, but Casey's rehab progress went a lot slower than expected and so we ended up not going for fear that sand dunes would be too much for her leg.
A on-property trail ride from a while ago

Actually, we didn't do as badly as I thought! We failed as many goals as we met, I guess I can live with that considering how crazy 2017 was as a year!

Friday, January 19, 2018

The "I'm a Bad Blogger" Update

You know, you would think that I would eventually figure out that dropping the blog from my routine only ever bites me in the butt, but I've yet to learn that lesson. As much as I love blogging, when my life becomes intense and stressful, it is the easiest thing for me to abandon. After all, I'm doing this solely for myself and so nobody will "get mad" at me if I don't keep up. The problem with this theory is that I get mad at myself for it! I love the routine of writing, but when I haven't written in a while I tend to get stuck and overwhelming with how much I feel I need to catch up on. So this is the very "bad blogger" update on what has been going on in my life so that I can feel ok with writing my own random posts again.

Update on my personal life

I never really go into tons of personal details here, but what I can tell you is that my job has been great, but super busy. I've been feeling a bit anxious about not being able to work enough to get ahead, but that's pretty typical for this time of year. Overall, even with the stress, I'm really enjoying my job this year. I feel like I'm starting to figure out how to teach and love how creative I can choose to be. I also really do enjoy my students this year. When I got back from winter break they were all so excited to see me again and I was so happy to see them as well. It's pretty cute :)

Over winter break I got to go to Korea to see the in-laws, which was an adventure in many ways. I also managed to get the worst flu of my life while there, meaning I got to have a super high fever on the 12 hour flight back to the US. Definitely not the best flight of my life.
My in-laws

My favorite place in Korea - MyeongDong!

And perhaps the most interesting part of the trip, meeting all of the extended family and participating in a welcome-to-the-family sort of ceremony. Here I am getting chestnuts thrown at me by a relative. My job was to catch them to determine how many kids my husband and I will have.

And my husband and I are currently house-hunting! Which makes me so excited and makes me want to cry with frustration all at the same time. We're obviously just getting started in our life together and so have a limited budget, meaning in a competitive market it's going to be a little bit of a struggle to find what we want. Even though the competitiveness stresses me out, it is kind of fun to get to try to figure out what we want our home together to be. Adulting is simultaneous the best and worst thing in my life. 

Update on the barn

Barn life is going well. I'm still doing the night-time feeding and am teaching lessons. Right now I have five regular riding clients, which I think might be the perfect number. 

Other than that, the lesson horse that I use most regularly, Willow, the Norwegian Fjord, has been an absolute terror lately. Though she is normally bomb-proof, she's had three melt-downs in the past month. She has 1. Freaked out by gusting wind to the point that she tried to run me over, 2. Decided that she no longer wanted to be a mellow lesson horse, and instead bronco-bucked/galloped with a child on her back, and 3. Freaked out by other horses running to the point that she tried to run me over. Basically lots of trying to run me over. Thank goodness she is a small horse and I have lots of experience with my giant horse trying to run me over, because I can handle it, but it's very annoying that she can't keep her little brain together.
The normally bomb-proof Willow. Why are you being so bad now!

Update on the horse

Casey managed to get most of the month of December off (thus no posts). In the first half of the month, she somehow managed to give herself a giant swollen bruise on her belly, right where the girth goes. It didn't seem to bother her at all and the swelling did slowly reduce, but I didn't feel comfortable riding her when I knew that the girth would rub that area. I did ride her two times when I thought that the swelling had gone down enough, but both times after riding I'd notice that a hard lump had formed next to the girth. It just wasn't worth riding when I was stressing about it, so she had the time off (it's totally gone now).

The second half of December I was gone in Korea and so Casey did not get ridden at all. My trainer made a tiny little pasture for Casey that connects to her paddock and so she had lots of space to move around and get some exercise, but overall she didn't do much of anything. I think Trainer honestly just didn't have the time to do anything extra with Casey, because all of her normal help was gone over the break (myself included). Plus there's that whole thing of the last time she tried leading Casey, my horse was an a** and tried to rear and run her over... 
"Me? A jerk? Never!"
Since Casey had so much time off, when I got back from my trip we were stuck in the position of needing to rebuild fitness... again... Thankfully she is very typical Thoroughbred in that she regains fitness extraordinarily quickly and so after two weeks of some intense flat-work, we are now back to where we were before the break (hour long flat rides, jumping tiny cross-rails). 
Working on trot poles
Besides losing fitness over her break, Casey managed to develop quite an ego. The first week after I got back from my trip, she was the worst she's probably ever been in terms of behavior. She was pushy on the ground, was nippy with treats, and tried to buck me off every single ride when I asked for the canter. Several beatings later, she is now back to her good-natured self and knows to be respectful. It was my first time being away from her for such a long time and I think she thought she was living the good retired life. It was a harsh awakening for her when I got back and all of the sudden she had rules again. 
This is the face she gave me after our first ride post-vacay

Now that we're back to regular behavior and regular fitness, Casey and I are just working on building back up to proper jumping again. We're taking a jump lesson every week as a kind of check-in with my Trainer to determine what rate we should move at in terms of increasing workout intensity. It's really nice to be back in regular lessons again, although honestly when the jumps are just cross-rails I don't think I get enough out of it. It is super helpful to get my Trainer's advice about how much to push Casey though, as my biggest concern is pushing her too hard too fast and getting a reinjury.

In terms of the blog, I'm hoping to get back into my regular routine of posting once or twice a week. So expect to hear more from me soon! Look forward to: my goals for 2018, the cost of Casey in 2017, and some more riding recaps!
And lots more photos of the beast