Winter woes in Cajun land

Winter has finally arrived in Louisiana. In fact, we had a snow day yesterday. I think we got about 1/4″…and they closed schools. Of course, it was all melted by 9am.

That snow had me feeling grateful for my new stalls, though. Chip grew a full blown winter coat sometime around mid-October and was sweating his butt off (literally) just standing in the pasture. And riding in 80 degree temps with a winter coat…well, that just wasn’t working out, so he’s been body-clipped for a couple months now. Not to mention, we’ve finally got his feet in order, so it’s awesome to have stalls for the ponies every evening.

Blanketing is still an issue, though. Our temps can drop into the 30s at night and back up into the 70s during the day. Each morning I agonize over whether to let him freeze in the morning so he’s comfortable during the day, or be comfortable in the morning and sweat in the afternoon. I wish I could run home at lunch and adjust his blankets, but that’s not an option. Anybody else have this issue? Drop your suggestions below–I greatly appreciate it!

Anyway, check out the Product Reviews page–I recently ordered a Kensington stall guard from SmartPak for Chip’s stall. Spoiler alert: I loved it so much, I ordered one for Wynni’s! And, Chip also reviewed Snaks 5th Avenchew Unicorn treats.

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The Cajun Eventer Series, blog 2

It took us three trips to get the entire family to Fort Polk from Statesboro, Georgia. The kids and I moved first, tackling a 14 hour drive in two days. Ryan followed about a month later–he had to finish out at Ft. Stewart. To get the house, we had to move in by 15 November. Then, a few days before Christmas, I took off in Bertha Blue Due hauling the gooseneck to pick up the critters.

It was an adjustment for Chip, Wynni and Gretchen. Chip left behind his buddies, Owin & Blackjack; Wynni left behind her girlfriends, and Gretchen…well, Gretchen is one special chicken. She shunned the guineas and promptly moved into our attic.

Winters in Lousiana aren’t too bad, but between the rain, short days, hours at the office, and a baby, I didn’t ride much to say the least. I brought along some hay, but it quickly dwindled, and finding a good source of quality horse hay down here proved impossible. I became incredibly grateful for Standlee compressed bales, beet pulp shreds, and alfalfa pellets. Farriers were another issue altogether. We’re still working on finding a good one, and it’s a sore subject right now.

Being a science nerd with a B.S. in Animal Science, I had already researched feed dealers in the area and was lamenting at the lack of what I deem quality feeds. I’m going to eat my words, though, because I am completely impressed with Purina nutrition. Our local Slagle Mall (they have very broad definitions of malls down here), the combination gas station, feed dealership, hardware store, post office, Uhaul rental, restaurant, and grocery store, carries Purina feeds. Without getting too technical, I’ve always snubbed Purina in favor of Seminole and Triple Crown feeds because I felt the ingredients were sub-standard. However, Chip’s coat and hoof quality are amazing, and he’s building lean muscle quickly and efficiently. He looks amazing, and the grass hasn’t even fully come in yet.

I think that about catches us up through the winter. Blog 3 will discuss our training goals and plans and my desperate attempt to regain fitness.

The Cajun Eventer Series, blog 1

The best and the worst thing about the Army life is change.

Every three years or so, we uproot our family, ship our household hundreds of miles, and adjust to whatever life throws at us. The good side of it is you become adept at making friends, incredibly resourceful, and amazingly resilient. The worst side of it is you’ll make awesome friends, a great life and have to leave it all behind.

We recently uprooted from Fort Stewart, Georgia to Fort Polk, Louisiana. I’d always said I never wanted to go to Ft Polk. It’s number one on the top 10 worst military installations. I fought for Ft Bragg for two reasons: Denny Emerson (the George Morris of Eventing) and Koby Robson (my favorite dressage trainer). Alas, on 14 November, the kids and I were loaded down and headed to meet our household goods shipment at our new home in Leesville, Louisiana.

The good news? We lucked into probably the best rental property we’ve ever occupied. I mean, it doesn’t get much better than this: fruit trees, a barn with a hay loft and electricity, fenced pastures, a stocked pond, expansive trails and more.

But the worst news is I went from eventing paradise to the eventing desert. I joke that I’m probably the only eventer within a 100 mile radius, but the reality is that I’m actually probably the only eventer in a three hour radius. Literally everything is a 3 hour radius. And to top it off, because there’s no possibility of opening a lesson program down here, I’m now working a 40 hour/week office job. *gasp* I know.

So, I’m looking at the bright side of things because I’m an eternal optimist. And, as time permits, I’m going to blog about this period in my life because it’s cathartic. Welcome to the Cajun Eventer series, blog 1.

More gymnastics!

Show season has arrived here in the winter Eventing capital of the world. Aiken is hustling and bustling, and now that I’ve got a few horses to prepare for the season, it’s gymnastics season, full-on, here at High Heart!

For yesterday’s lesson, we began with a simple walk-trot warm-up just to get the blood flowing. To help establish bend and rhythm, I had Allison trot through a series of poles set on a bend. The curved line of poles were set for a working trot through the middle. Spiraling in or out would result in a shortened or lengthened trot. From there, we moved to a small gymnastic to get him picking up his feet and rocking onto his haunches. A simple ground pole set 4.5 feet from a cross-rail with a ground pole on the other side set roughly the same distance (adjust per your horse’s stride) meant that Owin had to trot in over the pole, jump, land, and trot out over the pole–a good one for horses who tend to be a bit careless with their feet. This was all still part of the warm-up. Owin made good work of the exercise by simply trotting over the cross-rail. I wasn’t even mad…it was impressive he could pick up all 4 legs that high! So, we bumped it up to a small vertical and got the challenge we were looking for. Note: keep the trot slow and quiet. Don’t let the horse use momentum to get through the exercise, or you’ll defeat the point.

Then, we moved back up to the curved line, where I’d set a vertical off the end of the poles about 18′ away. Now I asked Allison to trot Owin through the curved line before straightening and trotting to the vertical. Easy enough, but then I asked her to reverse it. She trotted to the small vertical, landed, then asked Owin to establish a rhythmic trot and bend through the poles. If your horse has a tendency to rush after landing, this one will prove fairly difficult. Keep the vertical low enough that the horse can stay balanced, but high enough to challenge him and make him rock back onto his haunches. It’s booty boot camp for horses!!

For the third exercise, I had her trot over that same vertical, but at an angle so that she had a straight 3 strides to a second vertical, then one stride to a wide, ramped oxer. For horses who tend to hang a knee, jumping verticals at an angle can help remind them to snap up that knee. For the rider, it’s a good way to work on holding your line. The three strides gave you plenty of time to build some momentum, but in doing so, you’d jump in too close, miss the 1 stride distance, and have the front rail on the oxer. So, this line has to be ridden fairly accurately. The one stride to the oxer really reminds the horse to sit back and bascule over. The first time through, Owin, a typically flat jumper, rounded his back and caught Allison off-guard. He bumped her out of the tack a bit, reminding her to keep her lower leg secure and not jump ahead.

After jumping that line a couple of times, we returned to our first basic gymnastic and converted it to a low wide oxer with a bounce out over a vertical. By trotting in, you force the horse to really push from his haunches up and over the oxer, then do the same for the bounce out. Using momentum makes this exercise easy, but a slower trot in will really make that booty burn!

Finally, we put everything together, starting with the angled vertical combination. I had Allison enter from the right hand side with instructions to land either on the left lead or to make a simple change before turning left and heading to the wide oxer bounce. From there, she was to land, return to trot, turn right and trot through the bending poles before popping out over the vertical. We capped off the lesson with trot and canter sets around the ring. For the canter sets, I had her push Owin to a hand gallop up the slight elevation, then half-halt and rebalance for the ‘downhill’ grade. Two trot sets–one in each direction–at 2 minutes each, with 2 minute walk intervals between (we focused on walk-halt transitions during our intervals), then 2 minute canter sets in each direction with another 2 minute walk interval between them (walk-halt-reinback this time).

Watch the videos of the wide oxer bounce and then the 3 of them together to see how it all rides.

I’m baaack!

I’ve missed blogging! Running an equestrian facility takes up a whole lot of time, but bear with me, and I’ll bring you up to speed. It’s been nothing short of dramatic and exciting around here for the past 4+ months…

But I had to share with you guys just how amazing it is around here. This morning I woke up in our “master bedroom” (aka, the gooseneck trailer parked outside the barn) and decided to cook breakfast. As I cracked open eggs gathered from my chickens, I realized I needed a few more. So, I walked out to the chicken coop, rummaged under the 3 fat broody girls, and scavenged 4 more eggs. Yes, we ate eggs so fresh, they literally just came out from underneath hens. Mind blown. I LOVE IT.

Chickens: the gateway drug...

Chickens: the gateway drug…

So what’s happened since we left off? Well, you’ll have to wait and see, but here are a couple of sneak previews…

Yes, it really is this idyllic

Yes, it really is this idyllic

We now have a dressage ring!

We now have a dressage ring!

I’ve been banned from the barn?!

What happens when you ban a professional equestrian from the barn? Madness, chaos, and a whole lot of frustrating boredom ensue… Not only have I been ‘banned’ from the barn by my doctor, I have been relegated to the couch. In fact, I have been assigned the most miserable torture device of all medical profession: the crutches. In protest of my inability to function, I am mentally shedding my frustration in a series of blogs that I should have started last week. However, I used up several days completing tasks that have sat long forgotten during my busy days. Today, I am motivated to write, and I have a couple of hours before the pool opens.
By now, you might be wondering just what I did to myself this time. I’m very familiar with crutches; I’ve had a long-standing tradition of knee, ankle, and hip injuries over the years–nearly all of them non-horse related. This all started about a month or so ago. I cannot remember a time when I did not have some sort of back pain. I’ve never had anything definitively diagnosed other than a bit of mild scoliosis, some bursitis in my right hip, and various comments about ligaments being too tight and muscles too weak. Over the years I’ve strengthened my core, quads, and glutes and stretched my appendages as much as possible. I spent nearly a year in solid weight-training after a physical therapist told me I had weak quads and glutes that attributed to my runner’s knee. I became a machine–developed a reputation for out-lifting the boys in the weight room (relatively speaking, of course), out-performing them in the gym, and pushing myself beyond reasonable limits. I had one of the best PT tests of my life post-partum. I became an elite athlete. I ignored pain and pushed past it. Then, I moved back to Kentucky and started working at the barn every day. I didn’t have time to lift weights or hit the gym, but it didn’t matter because I was lifting full water buckets, mucking out stalls, hefting 50 pound feed sacks, and engaging my core in the saddle. I have actually lost weight over the past few months as I literally worked my butt off–and loved every second of it. But, the back pain, my old familiar friend, began to get worse. And two weeks ago, it reached a point that scared me: I actually voluntarily gave up riding. My right leg was weaker, and I knew I couldn’t effectively ride our green horses that needed equilateral support. It was time to visit the doctor. After a physical exam revealed slight weakness in my right leg but no other findings, the doctor ordered radiographs and blood tests. Neither of us expected any conclusive findings, but they would offer baseline exams for my regular physician. I was sent to the pharmacy to pick up a low dose steroid pack pending further examination by my primary care physician. As I left the pharmacy, headed home, as soon as I reached cellular service again, missed phone calls started popping up. Before I could listen to the voicemails, a new call came in. I answered, and the doctor who had just sent me away told me to return immediately to the clinic. I figured they needed a new blood sample; it had taken three people to draw two tubes of blood. Instead, before she even came in, I was being fitted for crutches. I was a bit bewildered. When she sat down, she spoke quickly and cryptically about increased opacity of my right femoral head and compromised vascular supply. I tried to take it all in–I’m very well-versed in medical terminology and understand most doctor-speak as a result of my background. Then she gave me the worse news: you are to stay away from the barn–absolutely no barn chores and no riding whatsoever. I was allowed to walk, but only with assistance from the crutches. And, I was to make the first available appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, by-passing my primary care physician. Furthermore, I sensed the relief in her voice that she was able to pass me off to the surgeon. There was a grimness about her that worried me, but I was more concerned at that point about having to spend another hour plus downstairs in the dungeon at the pharmacy.
After nearly two hours in the pharmacy, I came home and began researching conditions that cause increased opacity in bones on radiographs and effects of compromised vascularization. I came up with only one condition that fit: avascular necrosis or osteonecrosis. To spare you from googling these–it essentially means the femoral head (the part of the hip that joins the socket) has suffered from a limited blood supply and the bone cells begin to die. In later stages, the new bone that grows as a result absorbs the dead bone and glows brighter on x-ray–much like a healed fracture. It’s often found in the elderly. I am thirty-one years old–far from elderly. I called my mom, a nurse who works with elderly folk. I called Ryan’s cousin, a radiology technician. I scoured my A&P text. I did further research. I am now an expert in the anatomy and physiology of the hip joint. And, I still find it difficult to believe there is a possibility I could be diagnosed with avascular necrosis. I suppose I’ll find out soon enough. I meet with the orthopedic surgeon tomorrow at 0800.
I’m not a hypochondriac, and my research isn’t because I’m self-diagnosing–I’ll wait and see what the doc says. That being said, I’ll appreciate any thoughts and prayers that come my way. I’d like to get out to see my horse soon.
Incidentally, I have noticed after nearly a week of non-weight bearing that the pain is actually radiating from my right hip. My guess is that I was compensating and my back was taking the pressure. More to follow…

Horse-Eating Belgian Mules

Well, Johnny has finally settled down in his new home and has thankfully returned to his senses. We had a lovely dressage workout in the ‘indoor’ on Monday; he was very happy to give me long and low stretchy work for the whole ride. Tuesday we jumped, and aside from one mad gallop to a crossrail (for which he got sat on his little hiney), he jumped quite nicely and rather calmly. He even jumped the bounce perfectly, snapping his forelegs up in the blink of an eye.

And, so, for our hack day today, we ventured back out into the Amish fields with the thought of a pleasant walk on a loose rein around the fields. What’s the quote about best made plans laid to waste? Or, maybe it’s the one about the first plan never surviving contact in battle…either way, we encountered the one truly terrifying experience for Johnny: horse-eating mules. Granted, they were a team of eight very large Belgian-cross mules, but you would’ve thought we were facing a pride of starving mountain lions or angry bears. Johnny’s heart started pounding, and in a matter of seconds, he was drenched in sweat. He bravely stood there, trembling, for several long seconds before he came unglued. I knew it was coming; I just wasn’t sure how much of it was coming. He started with a few airs above the ground, but what concerned me most was the warp-speed rein back that I did not ask for. I felt myself bracing for the inevitable rear and potential flip over. I don’t mind riding bucking horses, and I don’t have a problem with spinners or sideways movers or even the bolters. Nope, the ones that worry me are the ones who stop thinking forward and start thinking backward. Then we have problems. I lightened my seat slightly, trying to encourage him to move forward without leaving myself vulnerable to being thrown if he decided to throw in a buck. I asked for forward and sideways movement to no avail. Johnny was in full on panic mode, as I had not allowed him his first response: flight. I only prayed we didn’t spook the team of mules moving closer towards us. If they spooked and took flight, I was bailing–Johnny could figure out how to get away without me. Eventually, we progressed from running backwards to forwards and sideways leaps, and I praised him for being brave and facing his fears. When the team moved far away enough from us to no longer be considered a threat, I pointed us in the opposite direction, and we proceeded to racehorse passage down the edge of the fields. For those of you unfamiliar with racehorse passage, think of a beautiful, well balanced, collected dressage horse elegantly passaging down centerline. Now, imagine a fire-breathing, nostrils-flared, sweat-soaked racehorse with head in the air prancing in a trot on the verge of making a mad dash for an invisible finish line. Yeah, there’s not much similarity, other than they’re both moving diagonal pairs of legs and not gaining much ground.

Finally we moved far enough away from the mules for Johnny to semi relax, and I was able to drop the reins to the buckle while he walked. Every now and then, he’d tense up his back and begin to trot, but he was listening to me well enough that a simple reminder from my seat was all it took to remind him to walk. Yes, I was very proud of him.

Following our ride in the Amish fields, I walked him on the front of the property, next to the highway. Huge tractor trailer rigs rushed by at 60 mph, but apparently those are not scary. Loud, clanging flat bed trailers bouncing along are not bothersome either. He never even batted an eye. But, put a team of draft horses or mules in close proximity, and then we have a problem.