Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Of Riding Alone and Vaccines

Saturday morning the girls went to the river to ride again. I had some other obligations and got back to the house just after they left. Ah, this would be a good day for a solo ride. The ipod is loaded up (I even have a "Riding Jessie" playlist) and fully charged.

Once I had Jessie cleaned and tacked we headed out the same we go on about 80% of our rides. It amazes me how the dynamic changes with the number of horses in the ride. As we were alone, everything was especially scary. I decided to try and improve her bravery by making her work at everything she shied from. The day was warm, around 80 degrees, and it didn't take long to work up a sweat. It seemed to me that once we were about a mile out, she gave up on the scary stuff. I wondered if it was that the "magnet" of home had lost it's effect.

We worked on a few exercises, but for the most part we just rode around listening to music. It is a wide open area so I could ride around comfortably with the ipod on because no one was going to be coming up on us. This was not the case on the canal bank we generally ride along. With the occasional four wheeler, I ride with only one ear bud in to be able to hear them coming up on us. (Although Jessie has a good alarm system.)

Sunday, my wife had plans for the afternoon and we had a short ride together in the morning. I got most of my work around the house done by 4 pm and decided to go out again by ourselves to see if Jessie's "solo out" had improved. It hadn't. She balked at the same things we've passed a hundred times, so we got to work a bit harder. We would do roll backs along the canal bank and jogged and loped most of the way out. Once we got to that certain distance, her demeanor changed and she was happy to go just about anywhere. Obviously, this is something we need to work on a little more.

I had given Jessie the West Nile (Encephalomyelitis-West Nile Virus, Eastern and Western, Killed virus, Tetanus Toxoid, Fort Dodge) vaccine on the Sunday, 17th. She had a raised welt a little larger than the size of a quarter until Wednesday. She had no reaction other than that. On Sunday the 25th, it was time to give her the flu vaccine (Equine Rhinopneumonitis-Influenza Vaccine, Killed Virus, Calvenza -03 EIV/EHV, Boehringer Ingelheim). Remember, because she had reacted to this vaccine the last time I gave it to her the vet suggested I give it intra-nasally. I don't think that I wrote that he mentioned I twitch Jessie to give her the nasal vaccine. The last time I gave a nasal vaccine to my gelding 5 or so years ago, I wasted much of it as he fought the cannula going up his nose. I don't own a twitch, but I had been working with Jessie for the last two weeks. Every time we were doing something where she was comfortable and relaxed (grooming, pen cleaning, resting after a ride) I would put my finger up her nose and use the lowering the head cue on her pole. When she dropped her head I would take my finger out. She got quite used to me doing that. The cannula is much longer than my finger though and I wasn't sure how she would handle it. The vaccine is twenty five bucks and I didn't want to waste it. I did have a needle and just figured if she fought too much with the cannula I would just inject her. We took a treat out to her pen, my wife put the halter on her, I rub her head a bit, then just threaded the cannula up there and she took it just fine. The treat afterward seemed to make up for the indignity of it all. This morning there was no sign of the lethargy as there was the last time I had given it to her.

Because my wife's horse, Dusty, had had no reaction to the West Nile and we hadn't worked on the intra-nasal with him, I just injected him in the right hip (an area the vet suggested). Jessie hasn't shown any reaction to the flu vaccine, but Dusty was moving rather gingerly on the rear leg. He was not off his feed, but he did look a bit down. Early this morning he looked like he was walking better. He is still eating and that's always a good sign.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Busy Weekend

Friday evening I got home in time for a short ride - which was perfect. We worked on riding out by ourselves. Everything is always scarier when we are alone. One of the houses along the canal we ride had goats tethered to keep the weeds and grass down. They were a very scary looking bunch. Jessie did well and as soon as she relaxed we turned around and headed back.

Saturday the weather was perfect and we decided to trailer out to the river. We hooked up the trailer in the yard and left it there parked as we finished some chores and got loaded up. The horses have a fit when they see us moving the trailer so we used it as an approach-and-retreat exercise. The first time I walked near Jessie's paddock she kicked up. I had my stick and string and quickly went in and did some lungeing for respect and some desensitizing. Once she relaxed, I left. Then about every five minutes or so I would walk over to her paddock and she would move to the farthest corner. The first time I waited until she walked up to me, I petted her then left. The subsequent times as soon as she moved toward me, I walked away. When it was time to actually load her in the trailer, she walked right in.

The drive to the river is about twenty minutes. We tacked up and headed out. It was a beautiful day. We crossed paths when quite a few other people riding. We ambled up the river trail and crossed a bridge and then back down the other side. The only thing left to do was a river crossing. The Kern river is peaceful right here this time of year. We had to cross about 40 yards of water that was two to two-and-a-half feet deep. The three horses stopped at the bank, Jessie put her head down and took a drink. When she lifted her head I urged her in and we were splashing around. One of the horses at the bank stopped to take another drink so we circled in the middle of the river to wait, before going all the way across. The bank was a little slippery coming out, but it was pretty cool just having them cross.

We had got back to the trailers and had lunch, then headed back home to do yard work. Sunday's ride was just down the canal bank and out to the development where there are some hard packed dirt roads. My wife's horse, Dusty, was showing some tenderness from the farrier's visit five days before, so we took it easy on them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Days are Getting Longer

It's been a busy week, but I was saving Thursday evening for a ride. One of the disadvantages of my job is that I do not get off until 5:30 pm. It's been impossible to get home and ride before darkness falls. Last night I rushed home, changed clothes, got Jessie ready, and was saddled by 6:15.

Our neighbor was out and about and I asked if we could use his arena. He said yes. This was a real treat for us because the rains had the ground packed and it wouldn't be too dusty. We went over and warmed up for about 10 minutes, generally working on bending exercises. Then we loped for the next twenty minutes working on speed control and leads. It is getting more enjoyable loping Jessie. The speed and control are starting to kick in and it is a much more comfortable ride. He lope has slowed down. The horses really seemed to enjoy loping on the soft ground, too. Especially Dusty who has been barefoot for only about 5 months now.

The last ten minutes we spent cooling down by working on our back up and side-pass. Ah, it is a very good feeling to get that mid-week ride in. The temperature was perfect, there was still enough light afterward to put the horses up and clean the pens. No matter how long it is, there's no better stress reliever than a ride.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Weekend Tidbits

Well, after writing about vaccination and worming schedules last week I went to the vet's to pick up the vacs and talk to them about Jessie's sensitivity to the flu vaccine. There were two vets in the lobby and as the senior vet was talking to me about trying to give the vaccine intra-nasally to reduce the risk of reaction the younger vet was nodding her head. Two "yes" votes - motion passed. Four vaccinations $127.

Clinton Anderson had talked about giving vaccinations in the chest muscle. I usually give my shots in the neck or rump so this area was new to me. When I asked the vet he shook his head and the younger vet in the background was shaking her head "no" as well. Two "no" votes - motion not passed. Their argument was the risk for a reaction and how the chest area is tougher to heal. I think the neck and butt muscles are deeper and that's why I like those areas. I've decided to give the two vaccines about a week apart and see if that doesn't lessen the reaction too.

The younger vet in the background was the one who discussed the fecal egg counts last time I was in and was a big reason why I changed my protocol. When I asked the older vet he said that he respected the science but was still leery about how it would apply to horses like ours kept in a dry paddock and fed alfalfa. He went on to say how much of the resistance to worming medications is being seen on pastured horses getting wormed every two months. We just don't do that much here in California. We never have wormed even four times a year. He suggested we still worm in the spring and in the fall. The younger vet had her head down from what I could see.

So, it's good to see they have their differences. I like seeing vets with differing opinions working in the same office. I think it offers greater options of treatments. It shows the office is open to new ideas. No, I didn't expect them to debate the issue in front of me. That would have been unprofessional, but I like that they have different philosophies.

I made it home from family obligations and errands in time to get some riding in. Jessie and I are working on a number of exercises. The tougher ones are a sustained back up, a slower lope, and rollbacks (cue the dramatic music - da,da donnnn). She's a very athletic horse but, like me in high school, refuses to apply herself. We worked on things for about an hour and I thought we had made some good improvement. We were planning a much longer ride for Sunday. The weather changed dramatically and the winds blew like this for about twelve hours. We decided it was a good day to stay inside.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Jessie and Dusty

Thought you might be interested in how we keep our horses. Here's a little run down:

We live in Southern California. We have two quarter horses on our 1/2 acre property. Each horse has it's own 40' x 40' pen. Unfortunately, we do not have cover for them yet. Our climate is temperate and our rainfall averages less than 6" a year. Both my wife an I work so we clean pickup the the manure twice a week Thursdays and Sundays. It's taken to the green waste facility. We use Fly Predators to help keep the population down. There are three horses on the property behind us and three more on the property to the west of us. One of them also use the Fly Predators and that helps as well.

We feed baled alfalfa. It can be a rich food so we try to get the third or fourth cutting (We can get five or six cuttings in our area). Last year we bought a stack of third cutting 3-string bales. That's 5 tons or 88 bales.

I keep the big stacked covered and protected from dust and moisture. We bought it last July and just had to get re-supplied in March. We didn't buy a stack though because this year's hay hasn't been harvested. Prices are currently running $9-$10 a bale. Last year we had the stack delivered for about $8.50/bale.

We feed the horses usually between 16-20 lbs of alfalfa split between two meals. On weekends we will usually feed three times just because we like to space out their feeding as much as possible. In the evenings we make them a little bowl that is 1 cup oat bran, 1/2 cup wheat bran, 5 mg biotin, one cup rolled oats, one cup Nutrena Safe Choice, and either a probiotic or Saccharomyces B. (a beneficial yeast called Karbo Combo Plus I get from The Extra Scoop).

I've owned and operated a health food store here in Bakersfield for the last 26 years ( Cay Health Foods) and I believe in the importance of keeping the digestive system healthy. The extra fiber helps the whole system operate more smoothly, prevents the build up of sand, and the beneficial organisms help provide a healthy intestinal environment. The biotin is for their feet and the Safe Choice makes it taste good. Occasionally, Dusty will need some bute or glucosamine for arthritis (he's 14) and the "bowl", as we call it, makes it easier to administer.

We used to worm every four months rotating through the different pastes. Last year we switched to the Fecal Egg Count (FEC) method. We have manure samples tested for egg parasites and worm accordingly. This seems like a much more sensible way of worming. I spent 7 years of my youth working as a veterinary tech and we never wormed a dog or cat unless we tested for parasites first. Their next test is in June. I'm interested to see how this will work out.

We vaccinate once a year for equine flu, and west nile virus, although Jessie has a reaction to the flu shot. She is lethargic and off her feed for three or four days. I didn't give it last year. I'll see what the vet recommends this year. We give the vaccinations ourselves.

Every other year we take them to the vet for dental work and a hands on check. Every eight weeks we have the farrier out for a trim. I do some filing on the feet in between trims working the chips and rough spots smooth. Both horses are barefoot now. Jessie hasn't worn shoes for at least five years. Her feet hold up fairly well. Dusty had some white line disease last winter so we removed his shoes in January and, while he is a little tender from time-to-time, he appears to be doing well.

So, there you have it. I know everyone does it a little bit different and it's good to see how some one else does things in case what we are doing isn't working. So far, it has suited our horses very well.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It Doesn't Matter if It's Real or Pretend

My wife and I have an understanding when we are riding. We have given each other the right to say anything about riding or horsemanship without fear of recriminations. Now in any other life endeavor this could be potentially a very dangerous situation, but with the horses it's working our for us..so far. Twenty nine years of marriage helps too.

A couple of weeks ago we went on a "wild flower" ride through some cattle graze lands. The grass was high and when we stopped, the horses would nibble. Because we were with other riders who we had just met, we were reluctant to correct this bad behavior. Needless to say, once we got back they were looking to drop their heads and chomp at every opportunity.

I use Clinton Anderson's yielding hindquarters exercise when Jessie tries to eat grass. A couple of corrections and she gave up her union card. My wife was having a problem with her quarter horse, Dusty. He just wasn't getting it. I could tell she was getting frustrated. I couldn't see anything specifically wrong with what she was doing, but never-the-less it wasn't working.

The next weekend we went out, Dusty was still looking to graze. This time I noted my wife was a little slow with making the correction and she wasn't getting the energetic movement of the hind feet. Now, I just had to figure out a way to politely convey this.

Here's what we did: We found a spot away from any grass and I said we needed to practice yielding the hindquarters "energetically". I started demonstrating this. Jessie does this exercise fairly well, but for the purpose of my demonstration I said, "And you can't do this angrily. Just do it like you're enjoying it and as if you could do it all day long."

Then, thinking I was demonstrating some wonderful insight, I said, "Now watch what happens when you raise your voice and scold your horse." And I did that. But even though I was acting, my heart rate increased, my body tensed up, and I could feel Jessie tensing up too. It surprised me. It was amazing the physiological changes that took place just by "pretending" to be angry.

I stopped and looked at my wife and said, "Honey, you gotta try that." She did and she felt the same thing too. We practiced it a couple of more times without the pretending and we both got quicker and more effective. And, there was a lot less anxiety.

We moved back over to a grassy area and she kind of dared Dusty to nibble and when he did, she went into action. He tried it once more on that ride and did not even try on Sunday's ride.

We both learned a bit. A little preparation can prevent frustration. And it's hard to train your horse if you are angry.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Riding vs Gardening

Last weekend the weeds in the garden were up to mid-calf. The alternating rain and sunshine, along with my benign neglect, helped them to thrive. They demanded attention and I knew if I didn't intervene quickly they would soon become a much bigger problem. Add to this that we had the nursery delivering a fifteen foot raywood tree for the front yard and I had to dig a 30" x 30" hole to accommodate it, and the prospect of riding was not looking good.

I decided to use riding as my motivation and was up early working on the hole for the tree. Thirty by thirty is a really big hole! After a break for lunch it was time to tackle the weeds. I ran the rototiller for about an hour and then sprayed roundup for another hour.

I had enough of a sense of accomplishment that I could, in a clear conscious, go riding. Another short break, and I was brushing Jessie. The heavy shedding is almost done now. Her coat is looking shiny. Her tail was a mess and I spent some extra time on that end.

We did a little groundwork. First, we started with some de-sensitizing, then lungeing for respect, then yielding both hind and fore quarters. Jessie was responsive and willing and we were able to move through these exercises with what I like to call alacrity.

There is a foreclosed house with a good sized field at the end of our block and they have taken the fence down. Many of the horse people in the neighborhood have been using the field as an "arena". It is a nice area with only a few gopher and squirrel holes and it has two usable fences. We like to think of it as our way of helping to keep their weeds down.

We worked on some warm up exercises here by doing a little bending, yielding and trotting. Then we worked along the fence doing some turn backs as we continue to grow into a rollback. Jessie has improved on these quite a bit. She used to really lean on the bit when I turned her into the fence. On this day she let me bend her and she changed direction very well.

Once we were warmed up, we loped around the area a few times. I practiced one rein stops and picking up the correct lead. We spent about thirty minutes in the "arena" and then enjoyed a nice ride along the canal bank. It was a beautiful afternoon and great way to cap off a long day.