Friday, 21 July 2017

Nancy and Zed keep me out of the nut hut

Obviously, moving house is ridiculous and stressful, so that is what we have chosen to do.

Where some people would drink their way through the nightmare, Zed and Nancy are keeping me propped up. 

It is such a mentally tiring time trying to get it all sorted but when I see their gorgeous little faces all the nonsense evaporates. Disappearing off to the stables or for a walk is where it all makes sense again and I can just take a breath and forget about it for a while. 

Zed is doing really well. We had our first road hack since he came back into work and he was terribly grown up and absolutely un-phased by traffic, stepladders, scaffolding and noisy builders. I think by the end of the summer we'll be happily solo. 

Yesterday we were in the indoor and the yard was exceptionally busy. There were three horses loading up for cross-country schooling, lessons starting and ending and about 200 sheep being shifted about and feeling very vocal about it. Zed was spot on and I even put up a tiny little straight bar for him to try. He stepped through it the first time but after that he jumped it about three times on each rein and did a genuine little pop. It was so much fun and I felt really happy. 

You can see his Welsh heritage in this photos I think 
Spot the Nancy 
None of these little milestones squat to anyone else but to me they mean the world. I'm finally back to enjoying my little sprout and all his majestic-ness.

See you once I've cleared all these cardboard boxes! 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Lucky number 13

We are up to our thirteenth ride since Zed got the all-clear from his minky leg. 

And no headshaking. Dun, dun, daaaaa! Apart from once near the end of a ride but I'm pretty sure he just had a bladder the size of a beach ball because he did a 25 minute two-part epic urine evacuation and then looked mightily relieved.

We're riding in the fields because we're both sick of arenas and I feel it's better for his balance and fitness as they're on a gentle slope which should help build muscle and strength and reduce his Thelwell gut to an acceptable level. Plus Denny Emerson says you should walk, walk, walk your horse to build fitness and confidence and if he says that then I'm in. 

In addition, it's an opportunity for Zed to learn about life and the fact that little rabbits sometimes live in the cattle grids that you have to walk by and sometimes those little rabbits will be hiding right under your hooves and will dart for safety and take you by surprise. At which point you should probably NOT leap into the air, farting and grunting and test your rider's balance.

So it's an education all round. Though not always a relaxing one.


Angry face after we rode in the rain and then I wanted to take photos instead of untack.
My biggest aim is that all of this leads to hacking out on the roads on our own. He's good in company and I prefer it too but feasibly there isn't always someone to go out with and I'd really like to ride him out as much as possible.

I'm so tempted just to give it a go one early Sunday morning before the traffic is bad but at the moment my sensible head is saying he needs to lead a couple of hacks in company first before we take that step. 

It's nice to have goals like this, but it's also nice to remember that things were not looking great for the first half of the year and so everything's a bonus from this point. 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Ideas to move your horsemanship forward

Handsomely fixated by a goat climbing through the hedge
I'm riding Zed again, and this very fact makes we wish to launch fireworks from the roof of my house while performing the can-can. Maybe dressed as Wonder Woman. Or a bumble bee.

He is doing really well, and barely headshaking. He's also back in a full bridle complete with noseband and browband. To be on the safe side he had an endoscope to make sure nothing was stuck up his nose or lurking in his guttural pouches and everything looked as it should. No slime. No pebbles etc. 

I think now that the headshaking happened because he's allergic to something that's no longer in bloom (maybe rapeseed or summit?) or was just some kind of frustration spawned during evil box rest. 

Either way, he's rideable, and for the past week that's just what we've done. Mainly in and around the big field where the cross country jumps live because I'm starting to feel arena-phobia. 

But man-oh-man it has been weird going from schoolmasters back to a youngster. Suddenly all my nasty little habits have sprung up again. Lower leg rammed forward? Check! Hunched shoulders? Check!


So where else to turn but to my Facebook friends, searching for words of wisdom relating to progress and hopefully turning me into an Olympic-style dressage rider in seven days or less.

This was my question. 

Horsey friends, can I pick at your mighty brains? What's the best action you took, or habit you developed, that really moved your horsemanship forward? All ideas welcome! Thank you.

And I was not disappointed. In fact I was really surprised at how different many of the answers are, and how many are actually just really good life advice. Some are super practical, some more philosophical. Number 8 made me laugh, number 4 blew me away because it's simple but so true.

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. I think learning signs of pain was important - so I could differentiate between 'naughty' and red flags for painful. The other major thing for me was to not bring my problems with me when I went out to my horses - if I was having a bad day at work I needed to learn to take a few deep breaths, go catch my horse and turn off to all other things that were outside 'just me and my horse'. I found this to be a conscious thing I had to do.

2. Pretended a fence was just a BIG canter stride! Especially cross-country and hunting. Didn't try and set him up, just got the best approach, with a forward going / thinking canter stride....kept the leg on and looked above and beyond the fence. 

3. Gave total control to my horse.

4. You have to learn to feel, not think.

5. Teach and train the horse don't force.

6. You have to learn to control your own emotions so your horse can control his.

7. Control the horse's feet, don't let them control yours.

8. Best action - ditching the horses and moving to dogs. I'm not even joking. I have no advice. Maybe shut your eyes and kick if you are scared?

9. Patience! Nothing comes easy you have to work for it.

10. Stopped caring about what other people thought and told me to do with my horses and just did what I felt was 'right' myself. Moved off livery yards and got my own place! 

11. Think outside of the box, realise there is never one right answer when it comes to horses and be confident in your decision. If it's wrong you learn from it and move on.

12. Both my horses have taught me great patience, to think outside the box (not something I'm that good at) and that sometimes it's best to take a step back, breath, do something else then revisit and usually we take a step forward no matter how small. One habit I've learned is to take a positive or learning point out of every situation and try not to dwell on the negatives too much - not always easy.

13. The fear of losing my horse made me lose my horse goals and gave me so much peace.

14. Horses will throw anything and everything at you. It never goes according to plan. But there's no substitute for hard work, always stick with it cos when it all eventually comes together it's the best feeling ever.

15. If you can improve just half a per cent each day - in 200 days, you'll be 100 per cent better.

16. Do what you enjoy with your ponies and be brave and do what they love too, the bond you gain is priceless.

As I said before, number 4 really stood out for me and this morning I crept out of the house early to ride in the quiet sunshine. I tried my damnedest to just clear my head and feel what was going on and it instantly made me feel more sympathetic and less reactive. Zed seemed to appreciate it too and was much more relaxed. I'm pretty excited to see where all these ideas take us. 

What about you? What made the crucial difference? Or are you still searching for answers? 

I am concerned Zed will never be slim again. Six months off was not kind to his lard levels

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Heartbreak, headshaking and hope

You don't always know that a situation is crushing your heart if the damage arrives in neat instalments. 

In February, Zed went mildly lame following a field injury to his left hock. As I stood there cold hosing his swollen joint my heart felt concerned. Not broken, just worried.

We did vet visits and box rest and a month later I bought him back into work. But I didn't really feel like he was ok so I turned him away to heal for a bit longer. I still felt alright-ish, just a tiny bit more nervous. 

About three weeks ago I tried again and found we had a new problem - headshaking.

Heart in the blender. 

If you don't like swear words, don't read the next paragraph.

Of all the motherfucking things that you don't want to happen to your motherfucking horse, headshaking is right at the top of the motherfucking list. Motherfucker. 

It is the densest maze of unknown cause and effects, research, hypothesise and trial treatments. There is agreement that it's linked to the trigeminal nerve misfiring and overreacting to stimulus like pollen and dust,  but the 'why' is where things unravel.

Some think there's a link to equine herpes, others believe it's stimulated by a hormone imbalance. There's also agreement that it's presently incurable. 

Read the forums and there's the odd tale of hope versus an awful lot of sad stories. 

Note, I've actually had a horse headshake before, only when riding and through the spring/summer, but with a five quid nose net on he was absolutely fine and business as usual. 

But this time: me being me, I feared that we were looking at the idiopathic, untreatable, unmanageable kind that is unresponsive to nets, supplements, steroids etc and just leaves you with a horse that has shooting pains in his face and no idea why. 


I'd seen Zed headshake back in March when he was on box rest, and also on the walker around that time. I put it down to frustration at being cooped up and thought it would ease when summer turnout kicked in.

The second time I tried to bring him back into work was different. He was very, very agitated. I tried a couple of times and then got off because it was obviously extremely stressful for him. 

I tried nose nets, vaseline around his nostrils, riding him inside and riding him outside and it all amounted to the same thing.

I spoke to two senior vets about it (one was my boss, Nicola Mason, who owns Durham Equine Practice, and the second was Dave Rendle, who is based at Rainbow Equine Hospital where we send our referrals) and was luckily able to pick their brains about options. 

We decided to rule out obvious causes first and to confirm whether he's actually sound, which meant a vet day for Zed yesterday with our locum, Antonia.

In short, he is. He's weaker on the left rein but that pre-dates his injury and lameness. So open-the-champagne news on that front.

After that, Antonia checked his teeth, eyes and ears. His ears were pretty grimey so she sedated him and gave them a good clean and took a swab to run under the microscope to check for mites and other nasties. His teeth and eyes were deemed fine. 

Then he also had a shot of dectomax to kill feather mites and some antibiotic and steroid cream to clear up the small plaques in his right ear. While he was sleeping we also cleaned his sheath, removing two fairly decent beans. 

It was a satisfying afternoon and it felt like a relief to actually be taking action. Zed was well-behaved and good to sedate which made me happy. It made me really, really want to fix him as Antonia asked questions about him and I got to reminisce about all the nice times we've had and his funny little manner. 

With a plan to scope his guttural pouches next week, we called it a day and I clipped his feathers while he came round from the sedation.

The strange thing was though, after he'd done his trot up and the vet had looked at him on the lunge, he didn't show any signs of headshaking. He just seemed absolutely fascinated by all the poking and prodding. It was kind of annoying in the respect that I looked like a liar, but it also got me thinking about why he'd suddenly stopped. 

He'd been pretty lit up on the lunge and enjoying himself as he hasn't done any work like that in months. After a bit of a mad canter he settled well and at the end he had a yawn as if he was ready to relax...

I went home to ponder and to continue researching the condition online and to think back through the past few months.

I began to wonder if part of the issue was exasperated by stress. It seemed to flair up when he was on box rest and he's definitely worse in his box and on the walker which is the two places he spent a lot of time when he was effectively on house arrest. Had the chance to move his feet and blow off steam helped him out? 

He'd also gained a lot of weight since his injury so I'd cut out all hard feed and he wasn't having his magnesium supplement any more which helped him to stay chilled last summer. (it's not confirmed but some studies have shown magnesium can help with headshaking in some horses. Interestingly, fat horses are over-represented in studies of headshaking. Fit horses don't seem to get it - or at least are able to keep doing their job).

Gradually, I formed a tentative little plan on the basis that he's now sound and technically ok to work. I decided to put him back on his magnesium and gastric aid supplement, do a little bit of light lunging to bring his weight down, and remove the nose band and brow band from his bridle to reduce pressure on his face. Just in case. 

Today was day one. He only flipped his head once or twice coming in from the field, ate his chaff and supplements happily and then I put on his modified bridle and took him in the indoor. He was much calmer than yesterday but seemed pretty happy to work and we did ten minutes of walk and trot and two small canters, one on each rein. He didn't headshake at all. He blew a lot through his nose, but definitely no shaking and no dragging his nose through the arena surface.

In fact the only time he did headshake was when I put on his headcollar to lead him back to the field. His headcollar has quite a heavy noseband and that seemed to set him off briefly. 

When I turned him out he stayed at the gate for a few minutes, whereas normally he gallops back to his friends so he seemed to be giving his seal of approval to the experience.

I don't know whether the ear clean helped, or if it was the bridle change or the faster work just to unwind a bit but today was definitely the best day I've had with him in a long time. It may also be a fluke and I'm trying not to get my hopes up. 

But I am finally able to admit that I have a lot emotionally invested in Zed, that the whole thing has made my heart painful, and that I want to solve it. Which may or may not happen, but at least I'm being honest about it instead of pretending it's all fine. 

Ps. For anyone dealing with a headshaker, I thought this article was interesting and informative - the gonadotropin treatment outlined seems less expensive and less invasive than some options and I'd like to know more if today proves to be a false dawn. I'll also consider things like antihistamine treatment and x-raying to rule out issues in his atlas/cervical vertebrae. 

For a more general outline on headshaking, this article is useful. 

Thoughts, feelings and advice relating to headshaking all welcome. I think I've read everything available on the internet but personal stories would be interesting and gratefully received!

Sunday, 11 June 2017

What's your story?

Everyone has a story, but often we're right in the messy middle of it and if someone asked the killer question, we might stumble over what to say.

I was listening to my new favourite blog today Happier in Hollywood, and Elizabeth Kraft and Sarah Fain were discussing the importance of knowing your story in LA - where you need to be memorable to get work and make contacts.

Now most of the world ain't Hollywood, and that might be a good thing (!) but I think it's still a pretty interesting question to ponder.

If our story is the way we see ourselves, then that can lend a huge weight to the direction of our lives. Maybe we don't like our story. Maybe we need a new story. Maybe we love our story and it puts a spring in our step...

My first attempt came out like this.

Former journalist and class swot turned happily married hippy. Yoga and meditation enthusiast. Obsessed with my loved ones. Horses for life.

Of course, no-one is as simple as just one story. We are all a collection, an anthology of good times and bad times, days when we felt confident or weeks when we felt overwhelmed. Instances of triumph and humiliation.

But if you had to sum it up. What would you say? What is your story? 

A good story can keep you on the right road, with a great view

Friday, 26 May 2017

The simple life

Last night's sunset
If this post suddenly cuts out mid sentence then I've been lured back outside by the spectacularly generous weather.

I took a week off work and by some kind chance we have been bathed in unrelenting sunshine and blue, blue skies. The May blossom is out in swathes and glorious is the only way to describe it.

I may well be deluded but I think Nancy is the most beautiful dog
Zed's headshaking didn't stop or improve with the nose net so while I'd normally be riding I've had to tread a different path and find other ways to entertain myself. 

Which has not been hard. My trusty bike has been gathering some miles to and from the stables and I've been overcoming my reluctance to ride on the roads. It's only a few miles to the yard and I've always fancied biking it but I'm a bit wobbly with right-hand signals etc. Phil did a couple of test runs with me and on Sunday while he was out doing an 85-mile marathon, I plucked up the courage and did the trip alone. It was fine. Actually, it was great fun, with some good hills to fly down. Since then I've been going by bike most days as Zed has been put on Fat Camp and needs to come in for a few hours each day before he adds laminitis to his list of woes. 

Nancy has been thriving on lots of early morning walks followed by bountiful sun-worship. She would sit out every minute of every day if she could.

Phil reading under a tree with Nancy
For a couple of reasons we're being careful with money right now (explanations will follow) so it's been a holiday uninterrupted by shopping and spending which is fine by me as I've never liked either.

Instead: biking, walking, yoga and podcasts have been the order of the day. I'm really into the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft and I love their idea that you need to design your summer so it has a good feel to it.

In light of which, I've planned a trip for Phil's birthday involving beautiful scenery, camping and a sadistic amount of hill-climbing by bike. Probably not much fun to many, but definitely tempting for us, strange as we are. 

It's been a simple week, full of simple pleasures.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

I rode Zed on Thursday. Though 'rode' is a strong word in this instance.

I tacked him up and sat on him and asked him if he remembered all this nonsense from before. He turned and glanced at my right toe and gave a non-commital "Maybe."

Then we scuttled up and down the yard a couple of times before circling the indoor.

Somewhere between eviscerating his left hock and growing obese enough to waddle dangerously, he has also developed head-shaking: perfecting the triumvirate of disaster.

While I would very much like to rest his leg longer (he is sound in walk and trot now for everyone who wants to string me up) I am conscious that if he puts any more weight on he's going to crash with laminitis so reluctantly I've decided to bring him back into a bit of walk work.

So there we were on Thursday afternoon, walking around the indoor and he was thrashing his head up and down like a shark killing a seal. It was not fun, and I concluded things quickly. 

When your face feels like it's full of hatching spider eggs the last thing you need is someone sitting on you. 

I returned home and raised my fears with Phil, who furrowed his brow and said he thought I had Munchausen by Proxy. 

Finding no sympathetic audience I decided to try and buy my way out of trouble. 

After looking at equilibrium nose nets online I found a cheaper alternative on ebay that looks exactly the same for a third of the price. 

Our fate now rests on a small piece of netting and velcro. How reassuring.