Friday, August 12, 2016

So much going on – Progress and setbacks

Oh my goodness. Where to begin. There is about five blog posts I want to write but I don't have time so this will be a 'quick' overview. Side note, on the non horse front I am changing jobs. I am going back to work as a graphic designer, what I used to do before kids. I started some training from home and on call work the beginning of August and in September I will close my daycare and work full time as a designer. This means I am super busy right now. Now back to the important stuff...

After our trip to WSU in June, Bunny and I got to work with our rehab program. She looked better and better. I would email the vet videos each week and she agreed, she saw lots of improvement. Before I went to camp she commented that she saw a lot of impulsion in Bunny's stride and that was great to see in a horse with an old back injury like Bunny is dealing with. She said sometimes it took those kind of horses a long time to see that much improvement.

Rehab consists of exercise six days a week. Working on a lunge line at a walk and trot, focusing on getting her to stretch down and engage her back. About an hour of work and then stretching three times a day. Later we moved her into working in polo wraps, not on her legs. You attach them to the bit, run them between her front legs and tie them up on her withers. She loves that since she is a horse that likes connection that worked great for her. She stretches into the polo wraps well. I'll get a picture when I have a minute.

About three weeks into Bunny's rehab I went to camp for just over a week. I felt like I needed to go to camp. I had agreed to do it a long time ago and it's a ministry I really believe in. But I wanted to keep up with Bunny's rehab work. Bless her heart, my friend Kandi did all of Bunny's workouts while I was gone. She came and worked with me several times before I left to learn what I was doing and get the hang of it.

During those sessions I learned something. It's a whole different view from the outside of the circle. Obvious but easy to forget. I saw things I never noticed when I watched Kandi work her.

Kandi said that all the work outs went great while I was gone. Consistent progress the entire time. Bunny had that Saturday off, I got home Sunday and the vet from WSU visited Sunday to check her progress. Well I don't know what she did but sometime between Friday when Kandi worked her and Sunday afternoon she messed herself up. Her left hip was so sore she didn't want you to stretch it all all. That was normally the side she was better on. She was sore just to touch it and she was not sound on it at all at the trot . And that was her good side...

To say I was bummed out would be a big understatement. The vet pointed out all the areas she saw improvement in, which was pretty much everything else but boy was that hip sore. The vet said if she had continued to look like she did in the videos she would have had me start riding her. Now because of the hip we needed to just walk, cut way back on the time and see how long it took to get better.

Talk about discouraging...

The next weekend Kandi and I crewed at Tevis. Boy was that awesome, that's one of the other blog posts I want to write. Everyone agreed Bunny could use a few days off while I was gone.

My friend Kandi and I at the finish line at Tevis. So cool!

When I got back she looked better so I added back a bit of trot. I also scheduled another visit to WSU. The following week she didn't look as good, my guess was overdoing it on that hip.

So back to WSU. The verdict, everything was improved, a lot. But the hip was still a problem. What on earth did that horse do? She is only in her little paddock, no turn out time. Sigh...

The vet tried to keep reminding me of all the other areas that showed vast improvement. She had regained flexibility every where. The vet could see improvement in the joints themselves when she took a look via ultra sound. Bunny was more comfortable in her stride, had nice self carriage again. She was much more even in her stride. You could tell she felt better. Her topline looked so much better and she was willing to eat more, she had gained 64lbs in 6 weeks!

So another round of injections. This time in her back, hip and neck. And after a few days to recover, back to walking for two weeks and then we will decide if that hip has healed enough to go back to trot work.

The vet also took a close look at her and palpated rectally to make sure the injury to the left hip was not more significant. It wasn't so that's good. She apparently just pulled a muscle and made herself really sore.

When I asked the vet about returning to endurance next season, looking to do at least 50 mile rides she didn't hesitate, she said, “Yes, she thought that was a very realistic goal”. That's good! I really want to ride more miles with this horse.

This whole Bunny being laid up thing has been super tough for me. I didn't realize how much of a stress outlet and a source of enjoyment my endurance time had become. With it gone I kind of feel like I have no goals in life any more. I know that's silly. I have more to my life then endurance. I have good friends, a wonderful husband, two great kids and lots more but at the end of the day it is still a HUGE loss for me. I had big plans for this season. Bunny was just getting better and better as an endurance horse! I was looking forward to riding the national championships with her, possibly Tevis next year. Now everything for this year is off the table and next year is a bit question mark.

If there is one thing I have learned from this whole ordeal it is the importance of watching your horse move on a regular basis. On the lunge line is a great way to do this. I used to make this a priority and worked Bunny on a lunge line at least once a week. Somewhere around last summer I quite doing this. I'm not sure why. I started doing other things with her and that slipped. When I started to realize something wasn't quite right with her I focused on the digestive end of things and didn't really watch her from the ground. That was a mistake.

Bunny is a hard worker. When I watched her at WSU I was floored. How could she look so bad on the lunge line and still feel good under saddle, often fantastic. I think the key was that she wanted to go, so she just kept doing it. Her motivation on the lunge line is different, she doesn't try so hard, she just is and boy could you see a difference.

So my advice, take time each week to really watch and analyze how your horse is moving. It doesn't have to be a huge amount of time but do it. As you do this you can also spot weaknesses and start to work on those hopefully heading problems off before they start. Once in a while have a friend work your horse and you watch from the outside, then you will see things from a different perspective.

Someone asked me if I regretted getting an ex-race horse who has turned out to have chronic issue from her racing days. My answer is NO!

When I got Bunny I was a different rider then I am today. I thought I could ride 50 miles but that seemed like a long ways. Bunny has given me wings. She allowed me to dream beyond what I thought would be possible for me at this stage in life, given my limited resources and limed time. She has not only allowed me to dream big but to realize those dreams. I owe her so much. I am a better rider and a tougher person because of her. She has made me brave.

So I am trying to keep my head up. To enjoy the time I spend with her each day and to hope and dream that we will get to hit the trails again because when that girl is on she is nothing short of phenomenal.

See you on the trail in 2017!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mt. Adams and a trip to WSU - didn't expect what they found.

So it's been a bit since I posted an update. Mostly because so many things were up in the air and I HATE that!

After pulling Bunny at Coyote Ridge I started her on 28 days of UlcerGard, chatted with her vet and did a fecal occult blood test. It tests their manure to see if there is any blood present. It can also tell if that's from the hind gut or farther up. Pretty, cool. It's fairly cheep and fairly accurate. Good combo.

Bunny perked up a lot on the UlcerGard and the fecal test came back negative. So the vet and I decided I would ride her at Mt. Adams and see how it went.

I had high hopes for Mt. Adams. I could tell right a way she felt better. She was perky in camp, she was eager but good. She was acting like her old self, only she had learned some manners.

She felt amazing on the trail. She started like a champ, she was eager and forward but easy to handle. I could not have asked for more. At the first several holds she ate well. Not a chow hound but eating well.

Things changed a bit at 45 miles. At the last hold her gut sounds were down a bit and she still ate but she was really just picking. She didn't stop eating but it was slow and lacked enthusiasm.

I decided to finish. I only had 10 miles left. I wanted to see how she was on the trail and see if when I came back in she would eat or what would happen.

She lacked a bit of her normal enthusiasm, not what I expected but nothing bad. We slowed down and stopped to eat several times, which she did. We finished the ride in 6th place. She vetted well but still not great on the gut sounds.

I ran blood work before and after the ride. Pre ride was all right in line. Post ride the CK, AST and TBIL were elevated but several vets agreed they were not elevated beyond what they would expect for a hard 55 mile ride.

It took her 4 hours to really dig in to her feed and and for her gut sounds to come back up. She wasn't in trouble, she just wasn't 100%. I had several people tell me they thought she looked great and they wouldn't worry about it. But in my heart I knew something wasn't 100%.

Back at home I called my vet to have a chat about where to go from here. My guess was that the UlcerGard wasn't enough and she needed GastroGard. It made sense to me. She had perked up so much, eaten better and felt great on the trail almost to the end. I just wondered if it didn't take care of the whole deal and she needed the big guns.

The vet said that she agreed she still might have ulcers and need GastoGard. She was also worried that there might be a second problem. She was worried about her respiratory system. One way or the other she wanted her to go to WSU and have a scope.

So I made the appointment and tried not to worry as I waited. Yesterday was the big day!

First off, WSU is cool! The veterinary hospital there is really something. As we were walking Bunny in to this huge building, past stalls, exam rooms, stocks and all sorts of scary sights sounds and smells, I was super glad to have a wonderful horse. She took it all in stride and just walked right on in. She never panicked, threw a fit or did anything other then behave like the lady that she is.

When we got in the exam room, we were met by two vets, a vet tech and half a dozen fourth year vet students. Bunny just stood quietly as they took a very extensive history on her. I loved being able to chat with all of them. To know that they were trying to think of what might be the issue and they were there to help.

Bunny stood stock still for a very thorough examination. Most of the time she had two people working on either side of her and she never budged.

To test her lungs and see if they thought that theory merited farther investigation they put a large plastic bag over her nose to stress her breathing. Four of them listed to her lungs as it became harder for her to breath, then they watched and listened to how she recovered when they took the bag off. She did all this with no sedation.

The vet said her lungs sounded great and her recovery was better then average. She said that when they did the GI scope they would look down the trachea but if that looked good they didn't think we needed to worry about the lungs.

Before they gave her a bit of sedation for the GI scope they wanted to take a look at her muscular skeletal system. They all agreed that even though she had not exhibited any signs of lameness, that if she was in pain that could explain her lack of apatite later in a ride.

I wish I would have taken pictures. I could not believe how much she let them stretch, flex and tweak her. She never pulled a foot down, nothing. They lifted her front foot almost to the level of her withers. They flexed her whole back leg and lifted it high and up into her hip, almost tipping her to the side she just stood firm and bended this way and that. They kept commenting on how amazing she was and that was great! It would let them see a much better picture then a horse who fought them or had to be sedated.

Early on my brother, who was kind enough to haul Bunny up there, asked one of the students if they ever had horses just get in that room and loose it. Looking around I could just imagine it happening. The vet student grinned and said it had happened. She also said it wasn't uncommon for them to have to sedate horses just to get them in the building, let alone the exam room.

Next we went outside to watch her move. After all the tweeking, she looked terrible in the hind end. My hart sank. Not what I expected or what I wanted to see.

Based on watching her and what they felt during the exam they were pretty sure the problem was low in her back and in her left hip. Interestingly enough, she is a bit higher in the left hip. The area in her back that concerned them is one I have noticed. After particularly hard rides some of the vertebra seem to raise a bit. After some body work and time off they come back down but I've always kind of wondered about it. She doesn't seem sore there but it always kind of makes me uncomfortable.

So back to the exam room for GI scope and then they would move on from there.

This time Bunny got a little bit of sedation and then stood stock still while they shoved a scope up her nose. Almost immediately you could see that her epiglottis was not normal. The epiglottis is the little flap in the back of the throat that closes when they eat. Hers was a bit entrapped. It wasn't closing as it should. It also had a little sore on the edge, odd but could be caused by a bunch of things including a bit of hay getting stuck there. They drew blood to check for signs of infection or inflammation.

They went down the trachea and it looked great so they backed out and went down the esophagus. Her stomach was one of the cleanest stomachs they had ever seen. No ulcers, not irritated stomach lining, nothing! The esophagus looked good too.

By the way, that scope is so cool! It shoots water and air and seeing the picture of what is going on is just too neat!

By this time it was near 1pm so we took a break for lunch. One of the vets was going to consult with a surgeon and show him pictures of Bunny's epiglottis and see what he thought. We were also waiting for the blood work to come back.

Blood work came back “unremarkable”. No signs of infection, the globulin which can point to inflammation was on the high side of normal but still within limits. The surgeon said he didn't think the epiglottis was giving her any trouble, they watched her eat and swallow. They said it explained whey at times she breaths loud but that isn't hindering her breathing or causing issues for her when she eats.

At this time the other vet took over. She said what she wanted to do was ultrasound to get a look at Bunny's hip and spine and then come up with a rehab plan, did that sound okay to me. She wanted to make sure I understood that the success of this plan would hing on me spending at least an hour a day 6 days a week working with her, for at least 4 to 6 weeks. I told her if that's what it took, I was in.

So we headed off to the ultrasound.

To get a look at the pelvis and bottom side of the vertebral structures they use an ultrasound probe and go in through the rectum. Then they look at the vertebra from above and on the side.

The vet students got really excited because apparently Bunny images really well. They were able to see things so much better then they had been able to see on previous horses.

The short answer is that they saw some mineralization on the SI joint on the left side and on a few of the vertebra just back from that spot that gets slightly raised (I do mean slightly, it's not much). You could see the raised vertebra, that's just what it is, it's being pulled up by tight muscles. You could see a bit of muscle scarring on the left side. About what you would expect for her symptoms but nothing really bad.

Several people commented that if you brought in a ton of horses, even ones without issues and imaged them like this, you would always find something. It was just a matter of how bad it was and how it was affecting things.

Sooooo.... The long and the short of it. They suspect the back issues go back to the track. She might have done something in the last year to cause that area to become sore again. When that happened she quite using her back as well as she should and lost some muscle. That muscle is vital to support along the back and just allowed the problem to become worse.

The solution? They suggested injecting those areas with a combination of anti inflammatories and steroids. The goal is to get make her comfortable enough to work those back muscles the way she should and build them back up. The prognosis for long term recovery and what she will be able to do? Not sure till they see how she responds to the injections and rehab. One of the vets told me all the reasons she had to be optimistic, I appreciated that. Bunny is in good health, she is very physically fit, she has already done a lot of miles with this injury and she has a good work ethic, I think as soon as the pain eases a bit, she will work it.

So here is hoping! Hoping she will respond well, hoping she will be able to use those muscles and rehab well. Here's hoping we have more miles to look forward to.

Right now I'm waiting for her to come home on Friday. Today I received word that the injections went great and she was back, eating in her stall. I miss her and can't wait to get to work on our rehab. The doctor is writing out the specifics of the rehab now so we'll see what we are in for.

Hopefully we will see you on the trail again!

Bunny and I at Mt. Adams. This horse loves her job. 
If I didn't believe that I wouldn't ask her to do it.
Riding this horse is so much fun!
Photo by Jessica Wynne

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Working on things - Second guessing everything and fighting the feeling that I am a failure

I've had a lot of mixed feelings the last few weeks, since I pulled Bunny from the Coyote Ridge ride. I feel a bit like a failure. I know that's not logical and that I'm not a failure. I have this crazy idea that if I do everything right (as if that was even possible) that then everything will go well. There are so many flaws with that idea to begin with but somehow I want to believe it. I try so hard to always do my best in everything and endurance is no different.

When I started the sport I read up, learned all I could and did my best to always make wise decisions. It served me well! I was able to move up all the way from 25 mile rides to 100 mile rides. All with no issues. The only pull I had was pulling because I hurt myself and I couldn't ride any more. My horse was great and I worked hard to keep her that way. That was till last fall. I pulled her the last ride of last season and then the first ride of this season.

Now I'm fighting the feeling that I can't do anything right. I thought I had all my things figured out but now I'm unsure. I know it's not all that bad. But I want things to go right, all the time. Unfortunately that just isn't possible.

Little things are now trying to become bigger issues, in my mind a least. Like at the Coyote Ridge ride, my left leg hurt a bit. I think it was because I wore a new pair of tall socks and they were a bit tight, that calf muscle is larger then my right. I ended up with a bit of swelling but once I fixed the sock issue (at the first hold) then I felt fine. But now I wonder, am I not as fit as I should be, I finished 100 miles last summer and felt great, can I do that again or is it all falling apart.

My legs have gotten bigger in general, way to go muscles and now I might need to get a larger pair of half chaps. I feel like I have gone from having everything figured out to being a mess. But that's not reality.

Here's an honest look at where we are at. Let's start with Bunny. She is on her 13th day of Omeprazole. She has perked up a lot. Just in her overall attitude. She is perky, wants to be turned out every night (she had kind of adopted a ho hum attitude about this), she is eager to be fed verses indifferent, she just seems happier. About a week into her treatment I noticed a dramatic change in her overall. My friend Kandi noticed it to. She commented that Bunny sure looked like she felt good. She became super eager about conditioning, that's about the time we started back into light conditioning. She has been focused and good but has really wanted to go, like she is just having fun.

She has started to eat all of her mash before she moves to hay. Sue Summers had commented to me that their horses who had struggled with ulcers had preferred hay to mash, like it was easier on their stomach. She is eating more hay over all and eating more of the day. Her flank has filled in a bit more, a place she always tends to be a bit gaunt.

Bunny's flank. The crazy things we horseman like to look at. 
Ignore the crazy shedding and the remnant of the batman symbol from last fall  :)

All in all I like what I see and am very encouraged. Bunny has a vet appointment for a yearly check up etc next week so I will chat with the vet again then.

Also going forward I plan to use the legal level of UlcerGard when we travel and compete as a preventative measure for the future.

As far as I go, I think it's just my insecurity talking. I am fine. I am working on my personal fitness more and more. I get more fit each day. It makes sense that from time to time I will need to adjust my wardrobe and equipment. It's a good reminder to always try my stuff before hand. I realized after the fact I hadn't tested those socks on a longer conditioning ride, my bad. So yes, I think I can still ride 100 miles and do a good job of it.

I was planning on doing 100 miles at Mt. Adams, our next ride coming up May 21. In light of everything I have changed my plan. I am going to do a 50 miler. I am going to see how things go for Bunny and how I feel about how she is doing. If I feel like she is 100% then I will do a 100 mile ride at Sunriver four weeks later.

I will feel so much better about everything when we get a good completion under our belt. It gives me a lot of sympathy for those folks who really struggle to get this sport figured out and have a lot of pulls in the process. This is a tough sport and to do really well you need to be able to keep yourself in pretty good working order and your horse in tip top shape, in every way. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, that's a challenge.

In the meantime there are a few more things kicking around in my head, like should I try using less electrolytes? Are they part of the problem? I know I do need a pretty decent amount because I know we can get into trouble with not enough. Should I re-think how I do them? Just things I'm thinking about. I'll let you know what I decide. Currently I am doing what Susan Garlinghouse recommended in her latest talk at the PNER convention, about 1oz of Enduramax or a similar product per hour of work. Dr. Garlinghouse also commented on studies that showed horses did better with smaller doses more frequently. The Summers have a good point that if you do a larger dose, do it in camp after your horse has been eating for a bit. So that's what I do. Small doses (1/4-1/2 oz) on trail and larger doses (about 1 oz) at holds. I mix it with PRO CMC, add honey, ground flax seed and ProBios. Anyhow, I'm leaning toward leaving that and seeing how things go but it has crossed my mind. There are those that use much less electrolytes.

So I'll keep thinking, planning and working and doing the best I can and we will see how Mt. Adams goes.

See you on the trail!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First ride of the season – and it didn't go how I expected it to...

I know it's been FOREVER since I have updated my blog.

Here's the short version of a few of the things I was going to write about.

Bunny has been going great! After last season she had a few weeks off and then a couple months of only light riding, arena stuff and short trail rides. In the middle of December we eased back into conditioning. My goal was to do a 75 mile ride at Coyote Ridge. A new ride the first week of April just outside of Moses Lake WA.

I was really excited about this. I really like the 75 mile distance. The terrain around Moses Lake is a lot like around here so it was going to be a great place to do a 75 first thing in the season.

Bunny has just been getting better and better. She was a nice girl when I got her but she is maturing. She is more relaxed, better trained and just a real joy to be around. She still has a kick butt work ethic and riding her is just a joy.

Our conditioning went great. We did our last big ride two weeks before the ride where I rode a 22 mile hill ride. I was thrilled with her conditioning, her attitude, her training everything. I couldn't have felt better about the start of the season. There was just one little thing bugging me in the back of my mind.
That was how our last ride of last season had gone.

There was a lot of little factors that played into OR 100 not going down perfectly but in the back of my mind I was a little bit worried that Bunny might have ulcers. A couple people had talked to me at OR 100 after I pulled and said that ulcers was something they would be suspicious of.

I read up on it a bit. Looked for other signs and kept an eye on her this winter. She was being a bit of a picky eater, but then she never was a hoover machine like Quincy. Quincy ate anything, any time and if he didn't there was a huge problem. Bunny usually eats well, and eats really well on long distance rides but she just isn't quite the vacuum Quincy was. Sometimes it's hard to know what's just her and what's a problem. This winter she was leaving some of her mash for a bit till she would clean it up and I had to work hard to keep her in the body condition I would like to see her at. But there are always changing factors so it's so hard to know what's what.

I had put her on SmartDigest Ultra and aloevera and I felt like she started eating a bit better and she put on just a little bit more weight, had dapples and looked great. But at the same time the grass was starting to come in again, so hard to know what was responsible for what. I planned to talk to her vet when she had her spring tune up this next month.

So I felt pretty good going into this ride. I was going to ride conservative till near the end and then if I had extra horse I would let her speed up. I wanted to try to do everything right and see how it went.

I saw so much progress in Bunny I just can't even tell you how proud I am of her. Dean took his new horse Credence who had never been to ride camp and never been away from Dean's other horses. He was pretty amped up and unsure of things. That didn't seem to phase Bunny at all. She was calm, quite and just did her thing. She waited quietly in a crowded vet line that before she would have not been able to handle, at all. She set a great example for Credence and showed him around on a little ride Friday afternoon. She was calm in camp, ate hay and drank but wasn't crazy about her mash. Usually she licks the pan clean at ride camp.

Same thing in the morning, ate and drank well at night only ate about two bites of beet pulp in the morning.

We had the best start ever. There was only 4 people riding the 75. I let the others take off and left just seconds behind them so Bunny could see them just a few hundred yards ahead of us. She was good! She wanted to go but she listened and was pretty relaxed. We caught everyone a few miles in and rode with them till about 10 miles into the first loop.

There was a nasty bog. It apparently sprang up out of no where. You could see quad tracks and it looked a bit wet but not bad but as soon as the first horse set foot out there it sunk to it's belly. The others of us skirted around to the side only to realize that there was now a ravine, not a small one, between us and the trail. Where we were was steep, rocky and very wet, although not a bog. We could see a ways up there where it looked like you could get across to the trail. So that's what we did. Bunny stayed nice and calm and didn't set one foot wrong. Good deal because I wouldn't have wanted to go through that with a crazy horse that wasn't listening.

Photo by Cassidy Rea, Just before the bog...

As soon as we got cell coverage we called camp to warn others about the bog. After that it was smooth sailing. The others began to pick up speed. They we alternating trotting and cantering on these beautiful soft gravel roads out in the middle of nowhere. The weather was great it was just beautiful. I decided to pull back because when they cantered they were going just a touch faster then I wanted to go. It was still well within what I thought Bunny could do but I wanted to be conservative.

Bunny let the others go with no problem! Another huge triumph. We would catch two of the riders from time to time and then let them go again when their speed didn't match ours. Through the rough stuff Bunny walked faster then them so overall we were going about the same pace just in a little different way.

Along the trail I let Bunny eat several times. She was happy to graze and not only did she drink well at the troughs she drank out of a pond and a big mud puddle. This is the horse that at first would not touch natural water with a ten foot pole.

Along the way there were farming families that lived along these graveled roads that would come out in their yards to watch and cheer us on. It was kind of fun. You felt like a celebrity or something.

We finished the first 28 miles in 3 hours and 54 minutes. On the conservative end of what I had planned for the loop. Bunny pulsed right down and vetted all A's except for B's on gut sounds. The vet just said to make sure she ate well. Sometimes after a long loop like gut sounds can be not quite as good as they would be otherwise so I wasn't to worried.

Bunny ate the entire hold but was a bit picky about it. She didn't want mash, would only eat hay and an apple my mom gave her. I didn't worry to much though because she was eating.

The next loop it was just Bunny and I and we had a great time. Just jogging along enjoying life. She drank well, ate along the trail I couldn't have asked for a better time. We took a few extra minutes to fix our reins. Bunny stepped on her reins while I was peeing on the side of the trail. The snap broke so I just attached the reins to the bit. No big deal but took a few minutes. Then we were back on the trail again.

We did that loop, 13 miles, in 1hour and 47 minutes. Again being conservative, not pushing things at all. She pulsed right down and vetted A's except for a B on skin tinting and a B on gut sounds. Just for reference, at Sunriver 100 this summer where she was a rock star she had A, A- on gut sounds she even had A gut sounds at the finish. The vet was impressed!

This time at the hold Bunny ate for about five minutes, only nibbling at alfalfa leaves and then just quite eating. I walked her around and occasionally she would take a nibble or two but that was it. I stripped her tack and decided to just hang out for a bit and see if I could get her to dig in. She wouldn't I couldn't really even get her to take two bites in a row. She looked great! Bright eye, alert, spring in her step but no interest in food except for the occasional nibble.

By this time everyone was clearing out from the out vet check. One vet was still there and we chatted. I told her about OR 100 and how I felt Bunny just wasn't right. Usually 40 miles in she would be diving into food and I would have to pull her away. She asked a bunch of questions and then said she really wondered if she had ulcers.

I hung around for about an hour and same thing, occasional nibble but nothing more. I had two main thoughts. First of all I didn't want to ride her another loop and then see her look miserable like she did at OR 100. Secondly I didn't want to ask her to go any farther if I thought she didn't feel good. I want her to enjoy this. She has a great work ethic and I know she would go if I asked but that's not what I want.

So with a bit of a heavy heart, I pulled her. The heavy heart was mostly because I had this gut feeling something, most likely ulcers, was going on with her.

Back at camp I had blood work run on her just to make sure her electrolytes weren't all out of whack or something else. Her electrolyte levels were right on. Her CK (muscle enzyme levels were a bit high but just barely) and her total bilirubin was a little high to. I chatted with the vet who saw her at the outcheck and with another vet. Both felt that in light of the behavioral things going on they would highly suspect ulcers.

Bummer. But the good news is it's treatable. I had several people come and talk to me. They told me stories of treating their horses for ulcers and what great results they had and how many miles they went on to do. I had folks tell me how proud they were that I pulled my horse an kept her best interest as the priority. Some folks came and gave me a hug. Our endurance community is the best!

So it looks like it's time for some omeprazole and I'll keep you posted on her progress. In the future I will also be using Ulcergard preventatively leading up to a ride.

Another good suggestion I got was to try not feeding her at all in the morning. Several people, including one of the vets said that worked a lot better for their horses and helped them eat better. I think I will give that a shot too.

Here's hoping and praying we can get her back to 100% so that the two of us can enjoy some more great rides together! Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Hope to see you on the trail again soon!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Make your miles count - don't let yourself get lazy

I have been giving lessons to my friend Kandi and her wonderful horse Syd. Not that I am the worlds best teacher but I work for cheap.

Our goal has been simple; to help Syd learn how to carry herself better and to help Kandi learn how to use her aids. Simple, right? Well as you all know, becoming a great rider takes lots of work and producing a really great horse takes lots of work. But the reward is so worth it!

As I've been helping Kandi a lot of our focus has been on being very “strict” with Syd about what we want. Syd now knows what we are asking for so if we ask for a circle, an oval will not do. If we ask for bend on the corner, collapsing in on the shoulder is not what we will accept. We don't scold her or rant and rave, we merely do it again and let her know that's really what we want and we are willing to work till she does it. Syd is willing and good natured mare so it doesn't take that much. But from time to time she sees if she can get away with less.

This got me thinking. The other night I was out conditioning Bunny in the dark. We were going back and forth on a ½ mile long strip of gravel rode that's out between fields, so no cars. Working in the dark gives you lots of time to think. About two miles into our little workout it dawned on me Bunny was not traveling as good as she is capable of. She was a bit heavy on the forhand and not as light on her feet as I would have liked. She was kind of in freight train mode. In my mind I could hear what I would tell Kandi if Syd was traveling that way. So I followed my own advice. I picked her up, helped her engage her butt and get it under her and pretty soon we were going along much better!

Which brings me to my point. If you are like me, endurance can have a tendency to make you lazy. No not in the, not getting your butt off the couch sort of lazy but in the we focus so much on our miles, we let other things slip through the cracks sort of lazy. We ride so many miles it's easy to start seeing them as just that, miles we need to do to keep our horses in shape. But they should be so much more then that.

(At this point I feel the need to add that I am not going to hard core condition my horse all winter. She gets a brake but I do ride. Mostly because I need that to stay sane. A lot of it is arena work, trail riding and light conditioning rides but nothing like when we really go back to work after the first of the year. )

Each time we ride we should work to better ourselves and our horses and no, that kind of work is not limited to the arena. Our horses don't need to be fancy, they don't need to be flawlessly groomed but the better trained they are, the better and more efficiently they travel, well the benefits are pretty obvious.

So I challenge you this winter, as you maybe do lessons, or take a bit of a break. Set some training goals for yourself and your horse that aren't just about miles. Then work to make those happen. Be deliberate about each time your ride your horse, focus on all aspects of your ride, not just the obvious athletic ones.

I'll go first. Here are a few of my goals for the winter.

Continue helping Bunny to improve her way of going. She has come so far in this, I can't even tell you. My friend Ruth is probably the only one who can fully appreciate this since she saw us when I first started riding Bunny. Even though Bunny has come a long way, she still has the tendency from time to time to become heavy on the forhand. I will keep working on that. I think we'll do some more cavaletti work as well.

Help Bunny to be able to relax. This girl is wound pretty tight. Not in the crazy way but in the overachiever sort of way. Guess what, so am I. I am trying to become very aware of this in both of us and learn to do our work relaxed, not loosing our focus and energy, just loosing the tension that often comes along with it. We've both come along ways with this but we still could use improvement.  

Continue to work on Bunny's canter. I can get a canter, usually going up hill. We are starting to work on reliable canter departs in the arena. I want to continue that work. She falls apart after a few strides, partly because she gets heave on the forhand. What do you know. Crazy how the same issues keep popping up all over the place.

Work on my own fitness and flexibility. One thing that I love about endurance is that it gives me motivation to want to improve my own fitness. I've also discovered that flexibility is huge. When I started having problems with my hamstring last season, the problem, not being flexible and that muscle getting strained because of it. I worked last winter on really trying to gain flexibility in my hamstrings and you know what, I didn't have one tiny bit of trouble this season. This winter I'm working on my hip flexibility. Hip flexibility is huge for being able to ride correctly. Oh and my riding like a drunken sailor at OR 100, caused primarily by tight hip flexor muscles (in that case made worse by a fall).

Every time I ride I am going to do my best to pay attention, to stay present and to work on any issues that arise, with me or my horse.

So what do you need work on, how about your horse? A piece of advice... get all the help you can, both for you and your horse.

So how about it, are you ready to step up your game and make your miles count for more?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The end of the season - it wasn't the season I had hoped for but that's okay!

To tell you the truth, I am struggling not to be kind of bummed out about how this season turned out. I keep reminding myself of all the good things.

For one thing I saw a tone of progress in my lovely mare, in every way. Fitness wise she reached a whole new level. The last few conditioning rides I had preparing for the Hallowed Weenies ride she was focused, she was carrying herself like a pro and she was the fastest she had ever been and she was loving every minute of it, and so was I!

Even more then the fitness side, however, I am thrilled at the progress I've seen on the mental front. She didn't loose it once this season. Yes, she had times she was full of it but she was manageable. We were able to start someplace other then the very back, we were able to ride with complete strangers, almost from the very beginning and have her relax. First ride of the year we rode with Patty and it took Bunny quite a bit to relax. At Oregon 100 I rode with Hannah and her mare and Bunny started to relax almost at once. Now don't get me wrong, she is still all business. That horse hates messing around, but she was relaxed in her all business mode. And let me tell you that is a thing of beauty.

At the first vet check at Sunriver she needed a little reminder about how to behave like a lady. At the first vet check at OR 100 the pulser wasn't sure what she was doing. I was squatted down on the ground in front of Bunny, she had her head down and did not move a muscle for the several minute it took the pulser to figure things out. I was so proud of her, there were horses coming and going and almost running her over and there she stood, like a champ.

This season I just saw a whole new level of maturity from her and it makes me so excited for the future.

The reason I'm bummed is because due to one thing after another I didn't get to ride anywhere near the kind of miles I would have liked to. First ride of the season, Dean (who hauls Bunny for me) had an old retired horse pass away just as he was packing up to leave for the ride. Just one of those things.

Because of my job, running a daycare and preschool out of my home, I can't just change plans at the blink of an eye, I have to give people several weeks notice before I take a day off. So when something comes up and I can't do a ride, that makes it hard.

We did April Daze, which was great. I was able to warm Bunny up right in the middle of everyone and she was calm and focused, I can't even tell you how big that was.

Mt. Adams I was so excited to do 75 miles. I did that last year and loved it. I knew she was a lot more fit this year and I couldn't wait to do it again. But alas I got pneumonia and riding 55 miles took all I had.

Sunriver we rode the 100. That is one of those days that I will always remember. It was just great, start to finish. I was so proud of myself, so proud of my horse and we just had a great time, all day and even came in second place. That was definitely the highlight of the season for us!

Next I was really looking forward to Santiam. I was going to get to ride my 75, but then fire season put and end to that and the ride was canceled. Bummer but I found out in enough time that I made plans to do Prator Mt. Instead, only 50 miles but it would be a great tune up for Oregon 100.

But Bunny had to go and be crazy chasing Syd around and bang herself all up. I just didn't feel quite 100% about her so I made the tough choice to sit it out.

Even though we didn't complete at Oregon 100 I don't feel bad about that ride. My horse was awesome for the 75 miles that we went. I could tell she was in even better shape then she had been at Sunriver. She was so good and it was exciting to see her progress.

I also learned from the situation and will be able to manager her better on 100 mile rides from here on out. I will do a better job of stopping to think about all aspects of the ride and how shes doing and if everything isn't 100% the way I know she can be, take steps early to hopefully get us back on track again.

So then I was really hoping to get to do one last ride. Bunny is fit and she is “on”. She is focused and ready to do business!

We were going to have a great Batman theme for Halloween and have one great last ride which would clear us 250 miles (we only have 205) and hopefully give me enough points to stay in the top 25 for PNER awards.

End of the season body condition shot, and of course you have to appreciate my bat clip :)

But alas it wasn't meant to be. Dean's horse got scratches and he couldn't get them cleared up in enough time and I couldn't find Bunny another ride.

So there you have it.

The good news is, none of this means bad things for the future. Bunny is 100% and I can't wait to see the horse she will be next season, because I have a feeling it's even better than this season so watch out!

So I'm trying to put my disappointment aside and be thankful for all the great things I have like a spectacular horse, great friends to ride with, a friend to haul my horse to rides since I am still to broke to own a truck or trailer. A wonderful husband, mother and in-laws who all know how much this means to me and they make sure I get the time to ride. I am truly blessed.

So here's to next year! I know I want to try to ride two 100 mile rides, other than that, not sure. I'm pondering.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Oregon 100 - where we pulled at 75 miles but that was okay!

One of my main goals this season was to ride two 100 mile rides. I almost hesitated to have that as a goal because I can only go to so many rides and I want to complete all my rides. The more miles you choose to go, the more you need to have everything figured out and the more chance you have of getting pulled, even if you do everything right. But I really like the longer distances, so plan I did.

Of course fires, pneumonia and my horse deciding to skin herself up goofing around in the field didn't help my season any. Seems despite how hard I try, I don't have control over everything. Such is life.

Bunny and I had a fantastic 100 mile ride at Sunriver. The day just could not have gone better! Since then I had turned my sights to Oregon 100. First Santiam got canceled, then Bunny skinned herself up and we chose not to do Prater Mountain. But Bunny felt great! We had gotten in some great conditioning miles. Every ride we did she was, faster, more attentive and seemed more fit. I felt great about the whole thing.

My mom wasn't able to come this time so my good friend Ruth Sheriden had even said she would come and crew for me. This was going to be great.

We go there Thursday and got camp set up. It was a new ride camp and so things were running behind. I couldn't find out any real info about our loops, holds ect... till fairly late on Friday. I tried to roll with the punches but I like to plan.

Finally I did get my info and plotted out my plan. I was planning to average between 7.5 and 8.5 mph of course being willing to slow down if I thought we should. My goal was to finish.

I rode Bunny both Thursday and Friday and got a great feel for how all the loops took off. Bunny felt awesome! I did manage to fall off on Friday. There were lots of other people out riding Friday and in the desert you can see for a long ways. We had stopped and talked to several people, Bunny thinks this is a definite waist of time, and were headed back to camp. She was watching more horses headed toward her and horses to the side and then noticed a large rock beside her. She spooked a bit and I wasn't paying attention either and fell off. How dumb. I felt fine at the time, however and didn't think much of it other than that it was dumb and embarrassing.

The morning of she was ready to go but good. I took her to the back of camp and rode her around till just after most of the pack left. Then we hit the road. Several miles in we caught Hannah Summers. I didn't want to ride any faster than she was going and have always wanted to get to know her a bit so I asked if I could join her. We had a great time. Bunny was good about riding along with another horse. I am thrilled about the progress she has made in that area.

Our first loop was 35 miles with a trot by vet check at 18 miles. Just before the trot by vet check Hannah's mare went down. She was looking at the vet check just ahead the trail went down and became deep sand all at once. The mare looked ahead and didn't expect to stick her toe into deep sand. Luckily both were okay and got up and went on.

We took a few minutes at the vet check to use the facilities and let our horses eat. Then we headed off for our 17 miles back to camp. On the way back we were joined by another gal and passed by the three front runners on the 50. Bunny handled it all well!

As we got into camp I realized that we were coming in at the same time as a bunch of 25 milers. There was only one vet in camp at the time so the line was LONG. Bunny drank, stood like a champ for a pulser who wasn't sure what she was doing and then stood in line eating hay. Ruth ran and grabbed me a protein drink for the wait, good help is so nice to have. Bunny vetted great and during the rest of the hold she ate non stop.

I headed out with Hannah for our second loop, only 11 miles this time. I was realizing that for some reason I wasn't riding great. My shins were sore (something that hasn't happened to me in ages), the outside of my left ankle was sore and in general I just felt like I was beating myself up a bit. My horse felt great, she wasn't the culprit. I tried to ride better but I just didn't feel right.

Later it hit me. My fall on Friday. Even though I didn't feel it then I must have messed things up enough that I wasn't riding my best. When I saw the ride pictures I wasn't surprised. I was listing to the left like a drunken sailor. No wonder that ankle hurt!

Photographic evidence that I was riding crooked! 
Photo by Laura Spears

The trail was great! Last year there was quite a bit of deep footing but this year the footing was awesome. The day was fairly cool, it was smooth sailing.

When we came in Bunny pulsed right down, drank and we vetted a bit quicker but still had to wait in line. My one thought was that I needed to do something about my shins and ankle. So as soon as I got Bunny vetted I turned her over to Ruth and set out to see what I could do to make my ride more comfortable.

I rubbed in some anti inflammatory gel into my shins, due to having Crohns disease I am not supposed to use Ibuprofen. I tried to think through the issue with my ankle. Where it hurt, where those tendons ran and then tape it like Kandi would. I know she could have done a better job than me but with what she's taught me I managed a tape job that did it's duty and kept my ankle from hurting.

All to soon our 30 minute hold was up and I was headed to put the bit back in and hit the trail. Only then did I realize that Bunny hadn't eaten as much as I would have liked. She ate, but not with her normal 100 mile vigor. I was so wrapped up in thinking about the miles ahead and the hold being up that I didn't think much more and headed out.

I joined Hannah again and we set out for a 15 mile loop. I felt a bit better and the horses felt great, things were good. Till we hit water. Bunny didn't drink like she normally does. Normally when she hits water she is all business. She barges in and starts drinking loud enough to be heard half a mile away. If you come to a trough and see you are going to have to wait you better act soon and not let her get to close or it will take an act of God to keep her from drinking. Again, she drank it wasn't like she wasn't drinking at all but the normal attitude wasn't there. That made me worried.

The loop went great and we had a 45 minute hold to look forward to. When we got the camp Bunny drank great my worry lifted a bit. She vetted good except for B- on gut sounds. I was sure that was due to her not eating great at the last hold. I talked with the vet about that and my concerns about her not drinking as much as I would like. He said all her hydration stuff was A's and that if she ate good this hold he wouldn't worry about it.

But here's the question, what exactly is eating good? So on that hold she ate the entire time, but the attitude wasn't there. Bunny usually has an attitude about food on a 100 mile ride. You sometimes literally have to drag her away from it. She was eating, the whole time. I know I watched her like a hawk but the attitude wasn't there.

I debated staying longer but she had eaten the entire time. I debated weather to keep riding with Hannah or to ride by myself. I had a feeling Hannah was going to start speeding up and Bunny and I were probably going to keep going the same speed and slow down a bit at the end.

I decided to leave on time. To start the loop with Hannah and part ways if I felt that was best.

Sure enough a little bit into that ride, Hannah was speeding up. Her mare is a great horse, she has more miles then Bunny and more 100's including tevis. She is a great horse. Bunny felt good at the faster speed but I felt like if she had her way she would slow down just a touch. So when we came to a trough I told Hannah that I was a little worried about my horse and was going to slow down a bit. Bunny and I stayed a few minutes and she ate a bunch of grass and then we headed off.

On our own she was great, ears perked forward, drank like a champ. I stopped to let her eat on the trail and even slowed her down a bit at times. She felt great and my worries were easing up. As we finished that 14 miles I felt good about everything. We had taken extra time to eat, she was drinking great, had great energy and we were 75 miles in. Life was good.

I wasn't worried about riding the last 25 miles alone. Bunny is a champ alone!

We came in and she vetted great, her gut sounds were back to A's on one side and B's on the other, perfectly fine for 75 miles in. So I headed to camp to let her eat and get ready to ride in the dark.

Ruth turned her loose in her pen and she just stood there. She didn't even make a move to eat anything and her eye and the whole look about her changed. Then she tried to lay down like she wanted to roll. I stripped her tack and then she didn't try again. I just didn't like the way she looked so I asked Ruth to take her for a walk. Ruth got back and said she had drank again, good deal so we turned her loose again. This time she stood there looking all hunched. She had her front and back feet close together, like that old picture of the Indian on the dead tired pony. All her spark was gone and it scared me. I marched her right back to the vet.

The vet looked her over, all A's except for the B's on the one side for gut sounds. She did a CRI and it was 48/48. She told me unless I had expressed concern she would have said the horse looked fantastic, good job and keep up the good work. But that what I told her was concerning. At 75 miles it should be next to impossible to keep her from eating. She said to give her some time, try to entice her to eat different things and see what happened.

Several people offered different feed options and Ruth went to get some soaked oats. Back in her pen I tried to feed her goodies by hand and she wouldn't even lip them, then she started to paw, that's totally not like her. Right then I knew, even if she turned around and looked great, I didn't feel comfortable asking her to finish 25 more miles. We were done and if we were done I wanted the vet to do whatever she thought best to help her feel better.

So right back to the vet I went. I told her I was pulling and she suggested a half dose of Banemine and a walk and then see how she was doing. At that point Bunny was standing very guarded and the vet hoped the Banemine would help her relax. She suspected that maybe she had a painful pocket of gas.

Within a few minutes Bunny perked up, pooped and started to eat and I felt so relieved. She started to look like her old self again.

I was bummed about pulling but I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. Bunny gives me her all and we have a great time. But if it's not fun for her then it's not fair to ask her to do it, even if she could have. I care to much about her.

That evening there were many more checks with the vet just to make sure she was doing good and pulling out of it. She was and by that night she was back to her attitude and pulling me around to find food if I stopped to chat with someone.

So after I knew she was okay then my mind switched modes to what could I have done differently... Here are some of my conclusions. Who knows if they would have made a difference or not but they are good things to think about and keep in mind in the future.

Taking more time at holds. It didn't really dawn on me that I should have maybe taken more time to let her eat. That second vet check would have been a good time to think about staying longer. Even though she was eating she didn't eat with her normal vigor,and she didn't have much time to eat due to the lines for the vet. The crazy thing is I totally would have done that, I just didn't think about it. I had to many other things on my mind.

New feed. I wasn't dumb enough to switch feed right before a ride but I did use a feed I don't use all the time. Normally I make mashes with Ultium and beet pulp. A few weeks before the ride I went to the feed store and they were out of Ultium. I got Renew Gold instead. I've fed it before but usually feed Ultium because it's more affordable. Renew Gold is a little higher fat and I figured that would be a good thing and it was a bit before the ride and she had eaten it before. But we hadn't used it at a ride before. Who knows if it played a part but it makes me wonder.

Ride straight! This isn't always possible. I can usually feel if I'm off, but this time I couldn't, I just felt the after affects. If Kandi had been there she might have been able to do something about it on a hold or I could have asked others for feedback on what I looked like and tried to figure it out. But whatever I messed up when I fell off screwed up how I rode and I couldn't figure it out. I know it beat me up and I am sure it wasn't great on my horse either.

You can't finish them all. No matter how hard you try and how many things you do right 100 miles is a long ways. If something is a little off that day with you or your horse it might be enough to end your day early. As much as it pains me to pull, it's okay. There will be another ride. I learned some things and had 75 great miles. To bad I don't get AERC points or miles for those but such is life. Oh and I'm already pondering what 100 miles rides to try next year.

Bunny and I are hoping to do the Owyhee Hallowed Weenies ride at the end of the month. If things work out we'll do one last 50 mile ride there and at least get 250 miles for the season.

Here's looking forward to one last ride this season!