On Struggle and Perseverance

On Struggle and Perseverance

I knew when I bought Duncan that it would be a challenge for a multitude of reasons. I also knew that if I didn’t buy Duncan, I was seconds away from packing it in and calling this whole venture of coming back to riding a failed experiment. Two-ish months in and I can say that I was right, it has been a challenge, but there have been rewarding moments along the way too.

All things considered, Duncan is actually a pretty cool guy. He’s a forward ride and likes to work. While he is a worrier, hes not an overreactor and generally comes around to things pretty quickly. He’s a horse that really wants to do a good job though building his (and mine) confidence has been a slow process.

The first few weeks were rough. His already worried personality coupled with a change in environment/routine and coming from a place where he was stalled the majority of the time made it difficult for us to even have a conversation. His frantic energy kept his brain on lock down, sending his fight or flight response into overdrive. The first time I had him in the round pen I had a feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that if I made the wrong move he would attempt to go over the wall. Shortly after while lunging him in the arena I absentmindedly took a step towards him to send him out on a bigger circle and he exploded, charging halfway across the arena and lifting both my feet off the ground in the process. Under saddle he was stiff and unyielding, unwilling to drop his guard (or his head).

We’ve gone at his pace, spent a lot of time with me on the ground establishing and reinforcing boundaries and the idea that while I am unequivocally the leader in this relationship, I am a fair and benevolent one who means him no harm. He’s made a lot of progress all things considered, our work having been inconsistent due to the weather of this time of year. We’ve worked to address any bodily pain, gotten him up to date on vaccinations and teeth and farrier work. Regular turnout with a calm buddy has helped him immensely as well as our groundwork and we’re starting to develop trust and a language. We hit a milestone last week when he wandered off while I was setting a jump and got his foot through the reins (completely my fault) and while he initially panicked, he almost immediately calmed down and stood still for me to untangle him. A month ago I don’t know that he would have trusted me to do so.

In a weird way, his issues have been exactly what I needed to experience to be reminded that I do actually know more than I give myself credit for. I lost a lot of confidence not only in my riding but also in myself through everything that happened with Quinn, and so it’s been good to see results and be able to affirm that I’m doing the right things. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a been a lot of frustration and sadness too though.

I could not have picked a horse that was more of a polar opposite from Q. Quinn never worried and never said no even when he wasn’t sure. I never had to give much thought to introducing him to something new and riding him, even though he was even greener than Duncan is, was never a struggle (until, of course his injury happened). He and I have one of those rare relationships where we just immediately spoke the same language and his easy confidence only emboldened me. Coming from a horse like that to a horse like Duncan who takes every ounce of my brain power and body strength to ride feels immensely like struggle. Throw in the fact that I still have dips in confidence in my own ability and there are some days where I wonder what the hell I was thinking. I watch green horses canter lines of cross rails like its nothing on their first rides off the track and am green with envy. I miss things feeling easy. Though I’m riding another horse now, I’m still deeply grieving the career that Quinn will never have.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like Duncan or have any regrets about buying him. I’m grateful for the things he’s teaching me and know that I will be the better for having him. Change is just hard. Growth is hard. Moving on from the loss of something you so desperately wanted to work is the most hard. Sometimes though the only way out is through, so Duncan and I will keep plugging along and I know things will become easier in time.

2019 Expenses Year in Review

One of my favorite accounts on Instagram does a horse related expense breakdown at the end of every year. I always find it really interesting to see what people spend their money on so I thought I would do one of my own! I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible without being boring so you’ll find I’ve been more detailed about some things than others.

Lets get to it!

Starting with the basics:

  • Board – $6,600
    • Q was on full care board at $600/month from Jan-Sept, then moved to field board for the final three months at $300/month.
    • Duncan is on full care at $600/month but only December is accounted for since thats when I purchased him
    • I occasionally work off some board so those discounts have been reflected where remembered
  • Supplements – $665.35
    • Q was on SmartPaks of Farriers Formula Double Strength and Omega Horseshine for the first half of the year but mice kept eating the Omega Horseshine out of the packs (apparently they love it because they didn’t touch anything else in the feed room)
    • We switched in June to Platinum Performance Equine and Platinum Performance Platinum Balance in addition to the Farriers Formula Double Strength. I was really impressed with both Platinum Performance products.
  • Farrier – $705
    • Q was in 2 basic steel shoes in front from Jan-June and then we did four rounds (every 4 weeks) of pour in pads. He had his shoes pulled at the end of September and is now barefoot
    • This includes one set of front shoes for Duncan and one set of front shoes for a horse I took on trial
    • This figure was surprising to me as I thought it would be higher but I remembered I did get a couple of free services from my farrier because we had several issues with the pour in pads
  • Vet – $5,915.58
    • Routine vacs and teeth floating for Q
    • 2 trips to Rood and Riddle for Q
      • 1 Bone Scan plus 2 night stay
      • 2 lameness workups including blocks from hoof to hip in hind legs
      • SI injections
      • Multiple xrays/ultrasounds of feet/suspensory ligaments/hocks/back
    • Antihist supplement for the Spring
    • 60 days of Equioxx
    • 1 sinus/tear duct flushing and eye meds for Q
    • Pre-purchase exam for horse I ended up passing on
    • Routine vacs/coggins for Duncan
  • Chiro/Accupuncture – $749
    • This was the one thing I did that actually showed improvement in Q. While it wasn’t enough to fix him I’m a huge believer in the practice.
    • Includes 2-3 months of Chinese herbal supplements

Basics Total: $14,634.93

And now the fun stuff – what did I buy in 2019?

  • Tack/Misc. Items – $1364.71
    • Roma Deluxe Groom Tote
      • I have a love-hate relationship with this. Its way bigger than I thought so it fits a lot but I find it hard to keep organized
    • Hay net
    • Fly mask
    • Shedding blade
    • Full set of Magyk Equipe Sport Boots
      • I bought these for Q in anticipation of him coming back into work and haven’t gotten a lot of use out of them yet but they seem really well made and durable
    • Bath/grooming sponges
      • These are my favorite but I also have gotten a lot of use out of this and this
    • Vetrolin Shampoo
    • Sweat scraper x2
    • Haas Amazone, Military, and Fellglanzburst brushes
      • Of the three, I find I reach for the Military the most as a great all purpose body brush. I am thoroughly obsessed with Haas brushes, the quality is excellent and they have a huge range for even the thinnest skinned and pickiest horses
    • Liniment
    • Equiderma lotion
      • I think I first got turned onto this on the COTH forums but its a staple in my grooming kit for any skin fungus/rain rot/ crud
    • Rubber French link full cheek bit
    • Professionals Choice Bell Boots
      • Duncan has gotten a lot of wear out of these and I quite like them. They don’t move and are easy to spray off after riding. I do find the sizing to be a little odd as they fit okay but the velcro closure almost seems too small
    • Magic Utility Scissors
      • These are my favorite scissors and this is my second pair. I use them for everything from bandage trimming to cleaning up mane pulling
    • Lead rope
    • Shaped pad
      • Theres a monthly hunter/jumper schooling series we take students too frequently and it will probably be one of Duncans first outings. Going to look super cute under my monoflap 😛
    • Amigo Bravo 12 Turnout Sheet
      • Qs backup sheet got donated to Duncan so I bought one more as I like to have an extra in case they put holes in the one they’re wearing (which Q promptly did)
    • 2 Rambo wug midweight turnout blankets (used)
      • One for Duncan and a backup
    • PS of Sweden five point (used)
      • I had a black one and sold it when I sold my black jump saddle and have been looking for a brown one forever since they’re discontinued and one finally popped up on Facebook
    • Devoucoux breastplate (used)
      • Another FB group find. I’ve wanted one of these since seeing it on Justine Duttons ponies and I have to say that I’m not super impressed with the quality of the leather. Its still a nice piece of tack but I expected more from the brand
  • Clothing – $210.14
    • Aubrion Hayden tights
      • Super comfortable for summer with the mesh insert on the outside of the leg, feel a lot like yoga pants. Some people might be put off by the fact that the mesh goes all the way up to the waistband but with a longer shirt its a non-issue
    • Dublin Airflow Performance tights
      • Another summer favorite. Fabric is a bit thicker/more compressiony than the Aubrions. The silicone on the full seat did start to peel quite a bit after a few washes
    • B Vertigo Jenny tights
      • These are my absolute favorite tights ever. They’re a good weight, the fullseat is just right, and they usually come out with a fun color or two every season. They could only get better if they added a phone pocket!

Shopping Total: $1,574.85

Grand Total: $16,209.78

I know a lot of people prefer to keep finances private and I totally respect that, but personally I think being transparent about spending can be interesting and helpful to others. Being an equestrian and owning horses is expensive no matter how you’re participating and seeing real breakdowns of cost is incredibly useful to understand how to budget and prepare for situations that invariably arise.

Overall I feel like I did pretty well with sticking to only buying things I needed (with a few exceptions). There were a few places where I expected to have spent more money than I actually did which is always a good surprise! Hopefully next year we’ll see less money in the Vet column and more in the Show Entries/Fun Stuff column!

Along Came Another

Along Came Another

I started looking at horses well before we knew for sure that Quinn wasn’t going to recover. Does anyone ever really stop looking at horses? I don’t think so. I knew that what I was going to need after this ordeal was a tall order.

  • Sound – like really, really, will-still-jog-sound-if-shot-in-the-leg sound
  • Gelding – due to our turnout situation but also I’ve just never been a mare person
  • Quiet and easy – coming from riding a horse that was unpredictable under saddle left some scars on my confidence
  • Preferably already going a bit – I’ve spent nearly two years not being able to ride and it would be cool to just get on and go
  • Low four figures – vet bills, so many vet bills

Add in that I have a preference for big bodied, ridiculously good looking, and a 10 personality and we have gone from improbable to teetering on the edge of impossible.

Oh, and I didn’t want to have to travel further than 2 hours away to see it.

I see people make ISO (in search of) posts along these lines all the time and frequently have a little internal laugh about the naivety of expecting to find such a veritable unicorn. Suddenly, I was one of them. Several people I know wrote me off as having lost my mind. I also questioned if I had lost my mind. But I also believe that everything that you want is out there somewhere and that if you’re willing to go through the process of looking for it and refuse to settle for anything less, you will eventually find it*.

*No guarantees on a time frame, your mileage may vary.

I talked to a lot of people about a lot of horses who for some reason or another weren’t quite right for me. We looked at several more, even took a few on trial. I found one who I was sure was it but then he had some questionable findings on the pre-purchase and I had to let him go (I still stalk him on Facebook and am still a little heartbroken it didn’t work out). My trainer found another shortly after she was convinced was perfect and on paper he was but something in my gut just said “No, keep waiting, this isn’t it” much to her chagrin (but he wound up being perfect for someone else in our barn so not all was lost).

I had pretty much given up on the whole thing when I received a text from my trainer telling me to look up the horse Parade Float. I perused his Equibase – 11 starts, didn’t race until he was 3, didn’t break his maiden until he was 4, aside from the one race he won never posted a speed figure above mid-50s. Off for 2 years after 4 year old campaign (can you call it a campaign if you only win one race?) and then raced back one time in October 2018. Seemed questionable that they would race back a 6 year old who had never been very promising after a 2 year layoff but I try not judge without knowing all of the facts.

Pedigree was decent – admittedly I’m probably more obsessed than I should be with OTTB pedigrees. Sired by Parading, a turf specialist son of Pulpit (A.P Indy) who had kind of an abnormal career in that he didn’t really get good until his 5 year old year. Pulpit offspring are generally well like for sport as they’re usually pretty balanced conformationally if not uphill, with good strong shoulders and good temperaments. Parading’s damside includes My Flag, Personal Ensign and Private Account (Damascus) which immediately caught my eye as its a line known for producing sturdy, sound horses. I also liked that this horse was out of a Grand Slam (Gone West) mare as horses from that line are generally big/thick bodied with good brains.

I agreed to go have a look even though I had reservations about a horse that was coming 8 and hadn’t really done a whole lot.

The person who had him had received him and another horse as fosters at the beginning of the year. They were skinny and had long shaggy coats that hadn’t begun to shed out even though Spring was coming on. She got them cleaned up and fattened up and started on some basic skills. This woman has a reputation in the area of finding really nice OTTBs and so the other horse found a home pretty quickly but Parade Float had been taken on trial twice and returned, most recently because he kept jumping out of the persons pasture. Nearly every big name trainer between Louisville and Lexington that had come to have a look at him and passed.

Parade Float on arrival in early 2019

I listened as we stood outside her barn and she explained, almost apologetically, that he just wasn’t very fancy. I was pretty sure when we walked into the barn we were going to be looking at a train wreck of a horse who must have some sort of defect if so many people had passed on him – we hadn’t actually even seen a picture of this horse before coming out. I braced myself to smile and say no thank you. Instead, a perfectly normal chestnut head peered over the stall door at us. We noted immediately his kind eye as he reached out inquisitively to us but as we stood talking I noticed that there was something else to the way he was watching us, almost like he was sizing us up.

As she took him out and led him to a small paddock so we could see him move we noted he was a bit pushy to lead and when she set him free I was surprised to see that while he wasn’t what one would call fancy, his gaits were balanced and he moved freely. I didn’t like that as we stood talking he would periodically charge up behind the woman as she stood at the gate but we also learned that he was being stalled most of the day and night so I reasoned that maybe it was just pent up energy. It didn’t seem malicious and despite not being very fancy there was something about him that just screamed “look at me”. For reasons I didn’t totally understand I agreed to take him on trial.

The first day all I could muster was “I don’t hate him”. He was pushy to handle and seemed to be on a hair trigger to nope right out of the round pen if he felt threatened. But as we went along he also seemed to want to do the right thing and seemed teachable. We learned that someone along the way taught him that lunging was simply trotting immediately upon getting sent out on the circle and refusing to stop until he was reeled in so tight trotting was nearly impossible. Under saddle though, he was willing enough and sort of moved off leg queues. He went over poles and cross rails with no hesitance. He definitely needed work but the pieces were all there. His ground manners improved after a few days of turnout and some short lessons about expectations.

My trainer has been trying to plant the idea that the next horse after Q doesn’t have to be a forever horse. Initially I was against this idea but have started to warm to it over the last few months knowing that I was coming up on some free time s my full time job transitions into something else. Weighing the fact that the price was right and most of the other pieces were in place or would come easily enough I agreed to take him.

I don’t know that Duncan (Parade Float just doesn’t quite work as a barn name) will be my forever horse. I really didn’t want to like him but something about him just called out to me. It’s nice to feel excited about riding and going to the barn again. I’m looking forward to seeing where we end up.

An Answer

An Answer

Quinn has had an on and off lameness for a bit over a year now. His most consistent symptoms were being off in the hind end RH>LH, inability to hold either canter lead, and an odd stance when standing in his stall where he would alternate putting all of his weight onto one hind leg while resting the other way out to the side of his body. We would also have periodic bouts of explosions where he would buck, kick out and bolt when working for no apparent reason. The severity of all of these symptoms would range wildly from barely visible to clearly off but have never gotten completely better. While he doesn’t look very off in the video above all together, if you isolate the right hind and watch closely how it moves you can see that it doesn’t have the same range of motion that the left hind does. He doesn’t flex or extend the leg completely and the foot kind of paddles towards the outside of his body rather than following in the tracks of his front feet. Don’t worry if you didn’t see it, last year I could tell something was wrong with the way his hind legs moved but it took a long time to understand what I was seeing (a surgeon touted as one of the best lameness vets in the country also couldn’t see it when he looked at Quinn two months ago but that’s another story).

When this first started I did a lot of research and was pretty sure we were dealing with a proximal suspensory injury (what Q was eventually diagnosed with last year) or some sort of SI issue or maybe both. Every body worker commented that Q was sore in his SI area and a lot of people I mentioned it to (including Mr Best in the Country mentioned above) dismissed it as just something “people say because there’s no way to prove it”. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s legit.

The vet we saw yesterday (who I am absolutely convinced is actually one of the best in the country if not the world) watched my horse jog once, did a quick neuro check and then took two fingers and pressed down over Qs SI region and about dropped him to the ground. Bingo. We did some blocks to the right hind just to be completely sure there wasn’t any issue there since that’s the leg we’ve seen the issue manifest the most and once we determined there wasn’t, made the decision to inject both SI joints with a steroid cocktail. Because this has been going on for so long now and we don’t know what the extent of the original injury was (and the ability to image this area of the body is woefully inadequate), there’s no guarantee that this will work or if it does for how long. It’s possible this is the only time we’ll ever have to do it and it’s possible in a couple months he could deteriorate again. We should know pretty quickly if there’s any effect at all.

I’m frustrated that it took so long for someone to take me seriously but I’m thankful to finally have a definitive answer so I can make appropriate decisions. I’m grateful that even though this process has been soul crushing that I’ve gained the knowledge to be able to properly advocate for my animal if I’m ever in this situation again. I believed in this horse from the moment I laid eyes on him, he’s changed me for the better, and whatever these next few weeks bring I’m grateful for the time he’s been in my life and hopeful that we’ll get to continue our journey.

When the Plan Doesn’t Go According to Plan

When the Plan Doesn’t Go According to Plan

When I first got Quinn I didn’t have any hard and fast plans. I wasn’t concerned with getting out to compete right away though I did want to compete eventually, and I wasn’t in a rush to meet different milestones. I had wanted a partner to go on a journey with, to learn and grow with, and wherever we wound up was wherever we would wind up. “It takes as long as it takes” was my guiding mantra and nearly two years into this journey it’s still something I remind myself often, even if lately it’s accompanied by a sometimes dark, ironic sense of humor. Needless to say, the journey we’ve gone on so far has deviated quite a bit from what I had originally envisioned. I guess that’s how journeys usually go though, right?

We tried to bring Q back into work at the beginning of April, after 8 months off from a (supposed) suspensory strain. Pretty quickly into it (like day 3) we realized he still wasn’t quite right and was displaying many of the same symptoms we saw last year. We immediately pulled the plug and got the vet back out. More blocks and xrays, neither of which yielded anything definitive. Maybe some sketchy spinal processes, maybe the suspensory hadn’t healed all the way, lots of head scratching and confusion. 

After all this we watched Quinn go both directions on the lunge one more time and my vet, a lovely kind man who is well tenured and respected in his field and who’s opinion I trust implicitly, turned to me and after a beat said “You know, you’ve put a lot of money into this horse already…” The statement hung there in space. He was right. In the last year and a half I’ve spent a little more than $10k (about $7k at the time this conversation took place) on vets and lameness exams and scans and chiropractors and body workers and medicine and Chinese herbs. I don’t disclose that figure for shock value or to garner a reaction but because it’s the truth and I think it’s important to be transparent about how much you can spend and still not really know what the problem is.

I knew what he was gently trying to tell me. You’ve spent a ton of money on a horse that’s unproven, that may never be sound, that we have no idea where the problem is. You’ve spent well over the amount of money it would take to buy a different horse, a horse that wasn’t as green, a sound horse, a better horse, a horse I could do more with than hand walk and fret over. I’m a frequent online window shopper. I’m in all the Facebook groups. I’m intimately familiar with the kind of horse I could have for the money I’ve spent on vetting. But that horse wouldn’t be Quinn. 

I told my vet I wasn’t done trying so he referred us back to Rood and Riddle to do a bone scan. To make a long story slightly less long, the scan was inconclusive and after a full lameness workup the answer I was given was to have him reshod with pads in front as he was heelsore in his front feet. They swore up and down that it was his front feet making him sore behind (not that it can’t happen, but given what we’ve been through seemed highly unlikely). I’ll post another day about the frustrations of trying to get professionals to take you seriously. If you’re a woman in the world you already know. Nevertheless, we tried the new shoe setup and saw mild improvement for a short time before he deteriorated again. Semi-unsurprisingly the vet we had been working with at R&R is no longer returning my calls. Classy. 

I’d be lying at this point if I said I wasn’t overwhelmingly frustrated. But I’m grateful too. I’m grateful that despite the fact that he’s been living with an ailment seemingly no one in the world can figure out that Quinn has remained the kind, easy going character I fell in love with almost two years ago, that he still tries his heart out for me. I’m grateful that I was brought up to be a good horseperson before a being a good rider, that I knew to listen when Q started telling me that he couldn’t. I’m grateful for my barn manager/trainer/best friend who has advocated for my horse (and all of the horses under her care) like he was her own, who has been honest with me even when I’ve wanted to believe that things were better than they were. I’m grateful that I live in an area of the country where I have access to some of the best veterinary facilities in the world and that I have a job that even though I’m not rich by any means, affords me the ability to pursue the highest standard of care. I’m grateful that there are professionals in the world like the one I spoke to this morning, who called me from his personal phone number after spending a day reviewing my file with a solid plan of what to do next (including bringing a second vet onto the case for a second set of eyes). I’m grateful that even though I don’t know how it’s going to end, that the journeys not over yet, that there’s still a chance that this all turns out okay. So send Q and I all your good vibes as we pursue our seemingly 47th opinion in a couple weeks that at the very least we find an answer.