Monday, July 20, 2015

Show Season: Being the mother of a young eventer out competing.

As in most equestrian sports, young eventers start with schooling shows. When Elizabeth first arrived at Course Brook, she wasn't ready to go out and do much. Events, also knows as horse trials, include 3 phases: dressage, show jumping and cross country. Before going cross country, a new eventer will participate in two phase shows: dressage and show jumping.  Elizabeth did a couple of those then moved on to some schooling HT, all at the pre-elementary level (cross rails, tiny logs) in the first year and mostly elementary the second year (2'3").

Through the winter Elizabeth and I wondered what the show season would hold.  Quizz recovered but between all the uncertainty about her situation and the fact that Elizabeth had yet to finish a recognized Beginner Novice (2'7"), we weren't sure what our path would be.

At first, we thought Elizabeth should spend one more season at schooling shows doing Beginner Novice so I made a long list of shows and started putting together a calendar. The great thing about schooling shows is that they tend to be close by and cost less. This year there is an Area I Schooling Horse Trials Championship so there was even the opportunity for qualifying for something and having some real fun at these shows.

It's not always easy to know where the schooling shows are nor if they are well run. The USEA Area I website does list a good number of shows. In addition, I just started thinking of every eventing barn I've ever seen at a show and googling them. Quite a few ran shows. Friends mentioned a few good ones to me; many of them run their own show series with year end awards.

As the season approached, our trainer told us Quizz and Elizabeth were ready to go to recognized, USEA Sanctioned HT.  Elizabeth had tried one last year on Pumba but was eliminated in Show Jumping. I felt a little nervous, a little out of my depth, but decided to go for it and came up with a new schedule of shows to attend. Our trainer is out competing her own young thoroughbred so we worked together to plan a schedule that we could all manage.

The plan was for Elizabeth and Quizz to do 4 Beginner Novice shows and then, if all went well, move up to Novice. Well, we are going to do 3 before the move up because Quizz is just so awesome it's a little silly and unfair to keep her down at Beginner Novice now that Elizabeth has gained some confidence. We were lucky that a horse competing at Preliminary last year was able to adjust to doing Beginner Novice.  She's such a cool horse! 

The shows are listed in the USEA Omnibus by Area. We live in Area I and some shows in Area II are close by enough to consider attending. We decided to do half the shows close to home and half the shows farther away. When the shows are a bit farther away, the cost goes up. For King Oak we can drive to the show on the day of competition, work out of our trailer, and head home at the end of competition. For GMHA, Fitch's Corner, UNH and Huntington, we need hotel rooms, stabling for the horses and meals on the road. GMHA and Fitch's are two day events which means 3 days away from home and two nights in a hotel.

The cost for a recognized HT varies but entry fees are usually just under $200.00. Stabling also varies but if it is on site it usually costs $125 - $200 depending on the duration of the show, type of stabling, etc. Many of these places are very remote so accommodations are not always straight forward and the first time you go to one of these places it's pretty tough to figure out where to stay. Our least expensive outing would be a day show like King Oak where we pay an entry fee and coaching fee and that's it. At the high end of the range for us is Fitch's Corner where we spent $210 for the entry fee, $195 for stabling for two nights, $400 for our hotel and quite a bit on gas since it was far from home and the commute to our hotel was pretty long. With food and coaching, we are in for about $1,000 for the weekend. Generally competitors cover the travel expenses of their trainer so if they need a hotel room, that should be factored in. If you don't have your own trailer, transportation is an additional cost.

When you travel to a show where you will be staying over night, you need to bring quite a bit of extra gear. You usually need 2-3 bags of shavings. Two bags will fill the stall but you need extra to keep it full after cleaning it. We bring a bale of hay per day and pack all our grain and supplements in ziplock bags so that one bag is one meal, marked with a sharpie with the horse's name and whether it is AM or PM feed. You will need grain buckets, water buckets, sheets depending on weather, a travel trunk (those black Stanley trunks with wheels from Home Depot are awesome and reasonably priced) and all the usual items you need to take care of you horse and go to a show.

Stay tuned for my next post in which I'll give you the unfiltered truth of being a mom AT the show. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Drama: Ever notice how everything falls apart soon after getting a new horse?

Yesterday we found out my horse has a really bad case of kissing spine disease. If you don't know what that is, it involves the vertebrae, which should be separated by a little space, touching, or in the case of my horse, overlapping. But that's not the point. I bought a horse that appeared sound and rideable.  I vetted him but I did not do back x-rays though my vet implored me to do so. So why did this become an issue now?

I've noticed that when horses change homes, things fall apart. I have a theory about this but as you know, I am not an expert so you should always take what I say with a grain of salt. I think that in many cases horses and their people find coping mechanisms that let them keep going despite issues that may be just beneath the surface. I don't think anyone is being negligent or hiding anything. I think that they simply find workarounds or they have a consistent program so that even though an issue is brewing, a horse who knows exactly what to expect each day can just sort of keep going. And sometimes people don't want to know. They will do the little things when a horse isn't coping, just enough to keep things going, but don't want to open the big can of worms because then they would have to tackle the bigger issue.

When you change something as dramatic as the environment and the rider all at one time, the fragile balance just crumbles. A horse that would do anything for an owner he knows and trusts might start feeling like he doesn't want to go through the pain for a new person. Sometimes it is simply coincidence. Sometimes a new farrier or new saddle can create or exacerbate a problem.

It takes time to get to know a new horse. We probably missed signs that both Quizz and Crafty had pain early on because we just didn't know them and didn't understand what they were trying to tell us. I've observed that it takes 6 months to let the dust settle and a year to really know your new horse in a meaningful way. I have been happiest with buying horses in the fall. We worked through the issues in the winter and were able to have fun when the weather got better. Buying a horse in the spring means working through issues when we would rather be riding.

The trainer I work with tends to notice pretty subtle lameness. She won't ride a horse that might be in pain and she engages help if she's ever in doubt. She is less concerned with keeping all the horses in work for the sake of her income and more focused on the wellness of the horses and the safety of the riders. Rather than finding workarounds such as not riding with contact or staying off a horse's back in the canter or throwing the reins away over a jump, she calls in the vet.

Mine is the third horse under her care in the past 6 months to be in a place where he needs to start over completely. They needed to start over before she got involved but she is the one that is willing to draw the line. The other two are doing incredibly well, looking better than ever and enjoying their jobs so hopefully I will be traveling down a similar path.

Yesterday the vet did Mesotherapy (Novocain injected into the skin to stop the pain messages the nerves are sending to the brain, this is a short-term solution), administered Osphos (a bisphosphonate found to be helpful with bone issues, similar to Tildren) and did some steroid injections. Pretty aggressive but the intention is to stop the pain immediately. Crafty will have 5 days off then get back to work on the lunge line with the Pessoa. We will need to build up the muscles around his back and help him work with his back up and round rather than hollow. We will eventually put him under saddle, a new saddle I ordered which will be adjusted to fit him.

All of this started because Crafty had done some things that were just not acceptable. We excused him several times before concluding he might be telling us something is bothering him. He is so sweet on the ground but often very agitated under saddle. There didn't seem to be anything consistently causing the problem. He'd be great for two days then be unhappy on the third. He didn't look lame and he doesn't mind being saddled and stands still at the mounting block. Discovering issues in stoic horses is especially challenging.

Having seen his x-rays, I feel super guilty. On the plus side, his x-rays explain every single thing he has done. Knowledge is power and I feel better knowing what we are dealing with. The steps we took yesterday were reasonable in my book and I felt I owed the horse this chance to see if he can do his job and enjoy his life with me. I am so grateful that my husband agreed with me.

I did some reading on Kissing Spine last night. I'm feeling optimistic that with the proper work and therapy, Crafty can start feeling better and get back to full work. If you are interested, this article was super encouraging and this one explained some treatment options.

My greater concern now is who he will be when he feels better. In addition to finding that most horses have issues lurking beneath the surface, I have noticed that when you make a horse feel good, his personality can change. The sleepy pony with no shoes and no supplements was pretty sassy with shoes, a different diet and hock injections. Yesterday we removed Crafty's pain. Today he was pretty awake and excited.

While the vet was looking at his x-rays yesterday, Crafty kept sort of dozing off on the cross ties. The vet attributed it to the fact that a horse with such a bad back has a really hard time getting good sleep so he's sleep deprived. It makes perfect sense. Having suffered from chronic back pain myself, I have a great deal of sympathy for all that Crafty is going through. I have a sneaking suspicion that as we help him and as he starts feeling better and sleeping more, my very quiet, safe horse might just be a bit more than I bargained for when I bought him.

For now the plan is to help him. I am giving the situation 3 months. At least now we know what the issue is and we can take steps to address it. He still may not work out for me but at least I feel like I'm doing the right thing for him, helping him feel better and, if necessary, finding him a good home and a useful job.