Yesterday I went down to Woodbine to watch one of my kids race. Jasper. The big grey goofy guy. He is Monster’s older brother and just like that entire family, he’s got a ton of personality.
He had a tough go of it as a youngster. Broke his shoulder at 7 days old and was on stall rest until he was nearly a year old. So when he first starting going outside, he had to learn how to trot and canter. He had never had a chance to get that all figured out. He was underweight, with no muscle, and a huge, ungainly head. Gawky doesn’t begin to describe him.
He’s raced a few times already, but he’s coming back from a year and a half layoff (he had an injury, but it was not quite as bad as that – part of the layoff was just due to a shortage of available stalls and bad timing). That’s a long time to be away from racing, so you kind of expect them to need a race to get sharp again.
However, Jasper adores his job. He is very happy at the track – much happier than he is at home on the farm. He has a whole bunch of little routines, and he LOVES his routines. He knows everyone’s schedule and watches for his favorite people. Only Harri is allowed to groom him. No one else understands the rules. You must always do everything in the same order. Once something is in the routine – it must stay in the routine. He has to look out certain windows when he’s being walked in the barn. He has to go back in the barn as soon as you put the scraper down after his bath. Sooooo many rules Jasper has. And at 17+ hands, it’s kind of hard to argue with the big guy.
He came swanning into the paddock before the race with his ears up, cheerful as can be. He knew what he was there for and he was ready. Not stressed at all, just marching around. READY.
The pony that took him out on post parade was probably an average sized Quarter Horse. But he looked like a 13hh pony with Jasper towering over him. Jasper was good as gold going out. Ears up, looking for the starting gate. He loaded into the gate perfectly. And for a first race back… you couldn’t ask for a better race. He tried his heart out and was a very good second at the finish.
I had a rather stressful week worrying about horses.
At the last ride Diego wasn’t right and while out on the second loop I turned around and walked him back to camp. He was lame behind when I trotted him out, and the vet found a hard knot in the muscle of his left thigh. I thought that he’d probably pulled a muscle in there somewhere (I was thinking groin, which can take quite a while to heal fully) and didn’t worry more than normal for a day or two. But then started obsessing because he’d had that weird dogtracking issue at the previous ride (which was attributed to a small but nasty cut on the hock). He looked sound in the pasture, but finally I decided to get the vet in just in case there was something more that I was missing.
In the meantime, I was also worrying about Monster. When I brought him home from the track he was very uncharacteristically thin. He’s always been on the fat and lazy side, so I was rather shocked to see his ribs (never having seen evidence of their existence since the day he was born….). Other niggling things started to bother me about him too. He clicks, pops, snaps when he walks. It all comes from his hind end. At first I thought he was forging (hitting a hind toe against the bottom of a front hoof while walking). But I had Ana lead him around and tried to locate the source of the click. It seemed to be coming from either his stifles or his hocks. Definitely no lower than that. He seemed uncomfortable and awkward in his hind end. His hind toes started wearing off at the front. He stood with his hind end under himself and would alternate resting hind feet a bit more often than you would expect a relaxed horse to do. The scariest thing was that he didn’t seem to have much appetite. He ate, but slowly. He didn’t always finish meals. Monster has always been an enormous eater with vast enthusiasm for food. He’s been fat most of his life, even while in training at the track. Warning bells were going off all over the place.
So I called the vet to come and look at both Monster and Diego on Friday. Also Dressy who had a swollen leg. I cleaned her leg and found a little scab which I pulled off. Then scrubbed it with Prepodyne (tamed iodine) scrub. It oozed a bit and dried up. So by the time the vet got there and had a look, her leg was much better. He wasn’t too worried about her.
When he looked at Monster’s hocks, he thought he could see some unusual thickness in the joint towards the lower section. He had me trot out both Monster and Diego and did flexion tests on both of them. In a flex test, the vet picks up a hind foot, flexes the hock tightly and holds it for a minute. Then the horse is trotted out as soon as he drops the foot.
Monster was somewhat lame for the first few steps, but it was moderate. He did step right around and across with every step of the left hind at a trot. It was quite odd looking. There were no neurological symptoms apparent. I had thought that maybe it was a stifle problem, but the vet was pretty sure he was looking at a hock issue, and suggested x-rays.
Then Diego. Ana trotted him for me, so that I could watch. And I was floored. He was really lame. Not just for a few strides. But lame all the way down and back. And he was nearly as lame on the other hind after flexing it too. The vet looked really concerned. I have never had a horse flex that lame, and I didn’t know what to think. The vet suggested x-rays for him too.
I had to leave shortly after the vet visit to go to an endurance clinic for the weekend. The clinic was very good (really VERY good). But I was a complete mess and wasn’t focused on any of it. I was way too obsessed about Diego and the flex tests. I had myself totally convinced that I’d never be able to ride him again. I love riding him, and I’ve worked hard and brought him along really carefully to overcome his anxiety issues. It’s a lot of emotional investment. I should really have just stayed home and done some reading on flex tests and hock problems – I’d have been less worried if I’d known more.
So I booked the x-ray session for Wednesday of this week. Because I was completely paranoid after a weekend obsessing about hocks, I had the vet do a quick check of McCool to see if he looks like he is in good order to go to work. He had a look at his teeth and confirmed that McCool is no more than 8-9 years old. He likes his conformation (I knew that already, since he commented very favorably on McCool the last time he was here). He checked all his joints, and had me trot him out. In the end he said (at 5pm after a long day) “Soundest horse I’ve seen all day”. It surprised me just how relieved I was to hear that.
Monster was next, and he was the most amazingly angelic horse through the session. The vet and his assistant crawled around under him with the x-ray plates and the camera thingy with lots of cords snaking around his feet. Monster just rested his big head against my shoulder and napped. Once in a while he chewed thoughtfully on the end of the lead rope. He was not sedated. Just really couldn’t care less what the humans were doing. He didn’t move his feet at all. Didn’t even flick his tail at them.
Diego was not nearly so good of course. He wasn’t bad. Just moved his foot at a few inconvenient moments and shifted when he wasn’t supposed to. It would be hard for any horse to live up to Monster’s absolutely stellar behaviour anyway.
The x-ray results were completely opposite to what I expected. Diego’s were clean. At an estimated 17 years old, you’d expect to see a bit of wear and tear. But really… no. The vet gave him a shot of Polyglycan (like Adequan) anyway, just to be sure. I still think he may have a bit of a groin pull which will take time (and maybe that would explain the rather extreme flex test results). But the vet thinks he’s fundamentally sound. He told me to give him a few days off and then start back slowly with lots of walking.
Monster’s results were not nearly so happy, and kind of startling in a five year old horse that never actually raced. He has spavin in both hocks. That’s a degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis). It’s in the lower two joints, which is at least a little bit positive for his prognosis. The lower joints do not really move like the upper joints do. They are starting to fuse, and if they fuse completely and solidly, then he is likely going to become sound again. It may take a tiny bit of the spring out of his hocks, but he should be quite capable of most activity… just not racing or maybe high-level jumping.
The vet is predicting that it might take anywhere from six months to several years for them to fuse completely. Or they might not fuse at all. If they do not fuse, he will not be sound. There are some more aggressive methods of getting them to fuse which could possibly be tried as well. So Monster’s future is very uncertain at the moment.
His appetite has returned for the most part, and he’s started putting some weight on. The dapples are even coming back.
Linda, who bred and owned him, is going to take him back to the farm and keep him there through his rehab. She doesn’t want me to have to pay for everything without knowing if he’ll ever be sound and comfortable. He may come back to me at the end of it. But for now, he may as well be there where there is lots of flat pasture for him (my hills are steep), and funds for NSAIDS and x-rays, and whatever else he needs.
Monster is a big, classy looking horse. 16.2hh. Big boned and correct with a long, easy stride. Horse people are always very impressed when he strolls by. The vet said that if he came sound, he knew of a place that would love to have him. When Linda spoke to the vet office today, the receptionist also mentioned that she might like to take him. At the track, many people offered to take him when he was finished racing. Of course, I spoke up for him the day he was born, so I always had first dibs. Linda says that she’s never owned a horse that so many people wanted.
His name is Charming Devil. Apparently he really is 🙂
Esmerelda is Exclusive’s daughter. She was born on the day of the Triple Header (in 2011, which makes her a three year old). Three foals in ten hours. What actually happened that day was that we were still dealing with Freckles and her new colt, and neglected to check on Exclusive for a couple of hours in her paddock. When I went out to have a look, there was Exclusive, lying down in the shelter with a newborn filly walking around her. Esmerelda was up before her mom, bright, cheerful, athletic, and smart from the moment she was born.
I ran for the barn to get Linda. I think Linda nearly passed out from shock when I charged in and banged on the wall to get her down from upstairs where she was watching the foal cam. We ran back out with Linda panicking totally about how we would get this newborn in through the snowdrifts and muck and ice. “No problem!” I told her. She hadn’t seen that sprightly little filly yet. Exclusive was up by then and Esmerelda was trying to figure out the nursing thing. Linda led Exclusive and I wrapped my arms around Esmerelda and guided her in the right direction. She trotted along like she was on a mission. “Come ON! Let’s get in that barn so I can get back to that milk bar!!”
Esmerelda is still cheerful and smart. She’s been no trouble to start, and both the Boss and Anastasija have been riding her in the arena with no fuss. She does have opinions, and a strong sense of her own importance. But she’s not the least bit exciteable. Although the two boys, Reno and Al, were sent off to a training centre to get a bit of legging up and schooling before going to the track, Esmerelda really isn’t that complicated.
Monday morning I went in to work with my truck and trailer, and we brought Esmerelda out. She’s never seen a horse trailer before. But I did do some ground work with her, teaching her to walk on plywood, through poles, over obstacles etc. Basically Esmerelda will do anything I ask. So long as I have food to offer in return.
She inspected the trailer ramp. Tapped it with her toe. I gave her a cookie. Okay. She slapped her foot on the ramp and looked at me expectantly. I gave her another cookie. She put her other front foot on. And yep… another cookie. “Good deal!” she told me, and walked on. No fuss at all.
Off we went to a training centre, to pick up Silent Flourish. That’s a new filly that Linda bought a couple of weeks ago. By Silent Name, one of the Adena stallions. He’s been producing some decent runners lately, and the filly seems like a nice sort. She also loaded well, and we carried on down to Woodbine. Esmerelda had been a bit restless before we picked up the second filly. But with company she settled down and rode quietly the rest of the way.
The two fillies unloaded cautiously but politely and other than a few snorts walked directly into their new living quarters. Word is that they are both doing very well and have settled into the routine easily.
Since I was there anyway, I was able to take some pictures of my kids….
William is, of course, still on stall rest. And he continues to be a well-behaved, calm gentleman about it all. I am amazed at just how easily he is handling it.
Ana brushes him every day, and gives him rather a lot of kisses. He looks pampered and smug. I suspect he’s not even really missing turnout very much. The attention seems to be an acceptable replacement.
Even with the pins, the leg is still fragile enough that if he were fussy and upset about his imprisonment, he could easily do irreparable damage. So we are all very grateful for his amiable acceptance of the situation.
Dora is one of the three broodmares at work. She was quite a good racehorse in her day, but she’s an even better mother. She has a very odd, Jekyll and Hyde personality. When she has a foal, she is calm, amiable, and gentle. She loves and trusts the humans to handle her foal, but keeps a watchful eye. She is really the perfect broodmare.
As a racehorse, and also when she does not have a foal at side… Dora is a nasty witch. She used to bite everyone within range when she was at the track. And I definitely would not put it past her to take a chunk of my arm even now whenever she doesn’t have a baby around to turn her into Adorable Dora. She certainly takes chunks out of the other mares if they don’t move out of her way fast enough. She was a tough, scrappy racehorse. Just like her personality.
I hear that, years ago, the boss would stay out very late once in a while. When he finally did turn up and was questioned about his whereabouts, his answer was always “choir practice”. So that’s where Dora’s racing name came from. Choir Practice.
Yesterday Dora ate her dinner at around 4, and was fine when the boss called Ana to check on everything. Two hours later, Ana called me. “Is it normal for the mares to lie down?” Well sure. “and get up and lie down again?” Whoops. Alarm bells now. “I’m on my way”. I ran out the door and called Linda as I went. “Find the boss”.
When I arrived, Dora was lying down in her stall. Gabriella, her foal, was pawing at her. “Get UP Mom! I am hungry!” Dora got up and let the foal nurse for a minute or two but was obviously uncomfortable and lay down again. Then up, then down several more times. Snapped at the foal, then bit the wall a few times. I grabbed my stethoscope and listened for gut sounds. She had lots, but they were not normal. Heart rate was within normal range but probably slightly elevated at 44. She looked very unhappy. I called Linda back. No sign of the boss. She told me to call the vet.
Our regular vet was not available, so I spoke to the on-call vet. Very nice guy. He was quite concerned even though it didn’t look like a bad colic. The first week after a mare foals is a very high risk time period. So he came right away. He listened to her gut sounds for a long time while Gabriella wedged herself between Dora and the vet so she could more thoroughly investigate him. (She’s a bold little thing!). He told us the gut sounds were actually hypermotile (too much activity). He also did a rectal exam on her and found that her manure was kind of hard and dry. So he gave her a shot of banamine and gave her some medication by naso-gastric tube (that’s when they slide a hose through the nose and down into their stomach to pump in liquid medication and/or mineral oil).
Shortly after that, Dora perked right back up and started eating her hay. I drove back down to check on her at 11 pm and she was her normal self again. Lo and behold, the boss had turned up in the meantime and was fast asleep with no idea about any of the goings-on. And since I couldn’t wake him up banging on the door, I just left him and his bad hearing to sleep. Not as though he could do anything at that point anyway. I suspect he’d left his cellphone (with its 17 messages) at the track (a regular occurrence). He was very surprised to hear the saga this morning though!
Dora is just fine today. Lots of normal manure in her stall. So all is well. Most colics do end up fine. But it’s always a relief when they end well.
We’ve been waiting impatiently, ever since Sammy was born last week, for the other two mares to foal. I’m sure the boss was more impatient than any of the rest of us, since he’s been on foal watch every night for several weeks. After which he leaves for the track at around 5am to train the older horses. So I would imagine he’s longing for a full night’s sleep by now.
This morning was exciting though. First, Ana let me know that the boss had called to tell her that Bernice had her foal around 1 in the morning. Ana headed in early to see the new filly. A lovely sturdy little chestnut with some very flashy markings. A big wide white blaze and a hind stocking right up to the hock. She is by Giant Gizmo.
I was just ambling around at home, contemplating a quick cup of tea before going in to meet the new baby, and to help Ana move the yearlings, when I got a mildly panicked call from her… “Dora is foaling!!!! What do I do???” So I abandoned the tea and ran for the car. When I arrived, I found Ana and Linda, both in a bit of flap. Dora had gone down with her tail to the wall. No way for a foal to come out safely, much less for me to get in and help at all.
We got her up (Dora is really quite a cooperative mare) and she went down again. Even tighter to the wall. So once again we had to get the poor mare up. This time she went down in the middle of the stall with plenty of clearance. Big relief!
Two hind feet and a nose were visible. That’s exactly what you want to see, so I relaxed and just let Dora push. Eventually I got hold of the feet and helped her a little bit. But it was all pretty much textbook, and the baby was trying to look around before she was even halfway born. She is a bright little spark with a beautiful, dainty face. I think she might end up looking rather like her mama. Dora has a lovely head. This filly is a bay with a big star on her forehead. She is also by Giant Gizmo.
The fillies seem to be faster to get up than the colts, and faster to figure out where and how to nurse. This filly was no exception. Girls rule 🙂
So we are all done foaling for another year! Everyone has arrived safe and sound, and mamas are all very pleased with their babies 🙂
Loula’s colt is doing very well. He’s not at all shy with humans, and will undoubtedly be pure trouble very shortly. Anastasija came up with a name for the little guy… Sam. And the boss didn’t immediately ridicule it. So Sam it is.
They went out to the paddock to enjoy some sunshine this morning. He started out wobble-legged and worried. But soon gained a bit of confidence. Mind you, he is carefully staying glued to his mama’s side!
It’s always difficult to keep an injured horse on stall rest. They get bored and frazzled, and have no idea that they are fragile and breakable (or at least… MORE fragile and breakable than all horses are at the best of times). Most horses will paw and fuss and call. When racehorses get really fit, they are even more difficult to keep in a stall 24/7. William went back down to the track at the beginning of March, so he’s pretty fit by now. And of course he’s always been a bit anxious anyway, so we were expecting at least some fussing and silliness.
But bless William’s little heart, he is being a remarkably good boy. He is calm and happy. Happier even than normal, not just ‘okay’. It’s hard to know what goes on inside a horse’s head, but the boss believes that William knows that his leg is broken and that we are fixing him. He greets his visitors with regal grace and polite inquiry about the possibility of treats? He stands for bandaging, allows Ana to clean the stall around him without crowding her (so long as he gets an occasional kiss or scratch on the neck). He might be the most gentlemanly invalid I’ve ever seen.
After the original injury, when William had to get on the trailer at Woodbine to go to the vet clinic in Milton for surgery, the boss was very worried that he would fuss about loading. The leg was in a cast, and the fracture was not displaced. But it would not have taken much to shatter it. He’s been difficult to load in the past, and I spent a good deal of time last year clicker training him to load quietly (that was a HUGE breakthrough btw… convincing the boss to let me use positive reinforcement!). Normally I do the trailer loading at the farm, but I don’t work down at the track, so the boss had to load him. And I am pretty sure it’s the first time in his life that he used treats, sort of correctly, to work with a horse. (The boss is a good trainer, and kind. But he is quite traditional.) William walked directly on the trailer, quietly, and without jarring the leg at all. For two treats – a small price to pay! I even got an actual thank you and credit for that afterwards 🙂
At this point, it seems that I have finally convinced the boss that clicker training for trailer loading is a magical thing. He had me work with Reno and Al before they went off to the training centre a couple of weeks ago (where they are reportedly being very well behaved. Amazingly LOL!) and also with Esmerelda (who is too well behaved to even need to be sent to a training centre in the first place – the boss and Ana are both riding her, depending on who has time). It makes trailer loading a much less stressful affair for us all.
On another note… the first of this year’s foals was born last night!!!! A strapping big bay colt by Silent Name. Out of Loula. She was a very good racehorse, and is a gorgeous big mare. She always has lovely foals. This boy is very active, confident, and friendly.
Here are some photos. Click any photo for a closer (and cuter!) view.
William is very happy. Really VERY happy. Harri (his groom at the track) says that he was visibly sad and worried before he went for surgery. And the surgeon apparently reported that he was very lame walking in to surgery, but walked out like a sound horse (albeit heavily bandaged) afterwards. So from William’s point of view he somehow seems to recognize that the humans fixed him.
When I went in to see him this morning, he was thrilled to see me. He loves to be scratched, and I know all his good itchy spots. I’ve been scratching them since he was an itty bitty little guy. Most foals are itchy all the time but William was the itchiest we ever had. He could be instantly immobilized with scratch on the neck. He hasn’t changed one bit either. He gets quite silly about it.
I will have to try to get a photo of the bandage. It’s huge. But he’s standing on the leg and appears to be quite comfortable. He will have six weeks of stall rest, a vet visit for x-rays, and if all is well another six weeks of handwalking (that is always fun…). Limited turnout after that.
So he has months of rehab ahead of him yet. He’s handling it all very well at the moment. Quiet and well-behaved.
He really is a very sweet horse.
Dressy’s new barn offers coaching as well as boarding. So when Brooke told the coach about Dressy, he asked if she was a pacer. Which of course, Dressy was when she raced. Pacing is a natural gait. Standardbreds from the pacing lines are bred for it, just like other gaited breeds (Tennessee Walkers, Rocky Mountain Horses, etc.) And Dressy never cantered or galloped when turned out in the pasture. She paced faster than the Arabs could gallop.
Dressy had a reasonably long career on the track (76 races, 12 wins). So she spent quite a lot of time in a bridle with an overcheck. That encourages a very upside-down and hollow outline (nose up, neck straight, back hollowed). In order to perform the pace, a horse has to stiffen their back muscles, so the overcheck just exaggerates that tendency.
I usually rode Dressy in a loosely fitted running martingale so that she would get a mild reminder to drop her head when she went into her upside-down mode. In the beginning that happened fairly often. And the earliest pictures I have of her under saddle show a long, gawky outline.
I never tried to force Dressy into a frame. I just worked on encouraging relaxation and a low head. She’s a very responsive mare, and just telling her “good girl!” whenever she relaxed and dropped her head made a huge difference. (Do NOT look at my footwear! At least I am wearing a helmet. Sigh.)
Dressy was always able to trot. But the canter was elusive for a few years. We sort of backed into it by learning at first to gallop wildly up hills. It was riding with Arabs (who canter easily and often!) that triggered it. The steeper the hill, the harder it was for Dressy to keep up at either trot or pace. The first couple of breaks were just awful. Crazy eggbeater gait with Dressy’s head straight up and eyes full of alarm. She was just amazed when I said “Good GIRL!!!” and hugged her wildly. “Really? I was SUPPOSED to do that???”
Over time, I was able to get her galloping in a more controlled way with correct leg sequences. And bit by bit we got it slowed down. It was kind of four-beat (it should be three), and she could not sustain it for long distances. But it was available on cue. One of the more interesting consequences was that she started cantering and galloping with the other horses in the pasture. I’d never seen it until a couple of weeks after her first real gallop up a hill under saddle.
Eventually Brooke took over riding Dressy for a season. She did some work in the ring and focused on getting Dressy a little rounder. She used the clicker to really encourage Dressy to frame up a little bit. It still wasn’t collected, or even truly round. But it was a lot rounder than she started out anyway.
I rode her for a couple of seasons after that, and her muscling kept changing. She looks like a whole different horse now than when she came out of racing. One day a friend looked at her, shook her head, and said “You’ve turned that mare into a Thoroughbred!” I suspect, mind you, that Dressy was actually trying to become an Arab… She does the Arab head fling and flipped tail thing with distinctly Arabian panache.
Brooke turned her out in the arena last night and took a couple of very short video clips of her. The new coach happened to come in while she was careening around. And Brooke was able to say, smugly, “See? She canters!”