the humble, happy, and sometimes harrowing hack

lately, auto and i have been logging many road miles. in an effort to get him legged up, reacquaint ourselves to a partnership under saddle, and just get the hell out of the barn, we’ve taken to exploring the paved roads around NSCS. by my estimation, we traveled 30 miles (!) in may, mostly on our own, but sometimes with company.

our road hacking adventures have been mostly happy, but we have had a few harrowing moments involving four-wheeled autos. sunday’s hack was our longest distance to date at 5.63 miles, and i found myself reflecting on the virtues of the humble road hack.

  • texas is gorgeous right now. the fields are green, the air temperature is moderate, and the wildlife is thriving. on our hack yesterday, i saw a black-tailed hare, a water moccasin, frogs, and a few scissor-tailed fly catchers. thankfully the water moccasin returned to his watery depths before we had to cross the bridge he was using to sunbathe. i really need to gopro my helmet to record more pics and vids.
  • paved roads are such a great option for getting out. our arenas are quicksand, and any long stretches of ground are still too soft for auto’s rehab. and, since the grass along the road shoulder is knee-high (not joking) and literally littered with aluminum cans and glass bottles (what the hell is wrong with people?), i’m unwilling to walk on the shoulder. that’s OK, though, the pavement is perfect–level, solid, and dry.
  • most drivers are thoughtful, some are decidedly not. our roads are two lane country roads with ample room for swinging wide to a pass a horse or cyclist. most drivers have been very considerate, but there have certainly been a handful of assholes. accelerating to 45 mph (or more) while passing a horse is not a kind way to share the road. and cyclists: please announce yourselves if you come up from behind. it’s not always possible to hear your approach. auto was weirdly spooking at oncoming cars, but not cars passing from behind. on sunday’s hack, his reactions were much quieter than they had been, and i was very pleased.
  • effective and engaged riding at the walk is toning my core. auto has a really nice, big walk. i can visibly see (and feel) the difference in his gait in response to an active, following hip rather than a still and unmoving body. on sunday i started to think of riding the walk as akin to belly dancing. during these walks i’ve also been able to concentrate on the positioning of my upper body (~10 degrees behind the vertical, please) and maintaining my upper arm parallel to my side and following elbow.
  • auto is learning to stretch his neck forward and down, rather than giraffe. in addition to getting him legged up, these long walks (including up and down hills of varying grade) are really encouraging and reinforcing his stretching. i’m most pleased to see that even when he’s a bit fatigued and climbing the steepest hill, he’s still reaching forward through his neck and covering ground. i’m not sure if i see any difference in his back musculature yet, but i’m hopeful that his strength is increasing and we can carry the stretch into our trot work.
  • let’s be honest, i’m too apprehensive to trot. we have been cleared for trotting for a few weeks now, but i’m too apprehensive. other than his dramatics in reaction to leg pressure at the girth, i never felt him take an off-step. so, at this moment, i’m not willing to trot without “eyes on the ground” and perfect footing. i expect perfect footing is a long way off, so i’m happy to keep on keepin’ on at the walk.

phirst-world problems

i recently upgraded my iphone (get it: phone/phirst-world? ugh, i know!) to the larger iphone 6. i would have stayed with the 5, but then camera on the 6 seduced me. anyway, 5 or 6, i can’t figure out how to keep the damn thing on me when i’m at the barn. it’s too big to be in a pocket, and frankly it’s not comfortable to have it wedged in the bed of my hip (especially when riding). also, in the texas heat, i sweat like a sinner in church, and that does not bode well for longevity.

as i’ll likely be making many, many road hacks and trail rides by myself as i try to bring auto back into work, i need to figure out how to bring the phone along for the ride.

here’s what i found via a very useful COTH thread and a other general searching on the internets.

daresoar phone silks. i’m not sure how i came across this idea–i’ll chalk it up to laine ashker’s serious social media presence. i like the concept, but i’m not sure how i feel about wearing a sleeve.

DareSoar Phone Silk. Available via Kickstarter.

i tend to wear long sleeve sun shirts in the summer to stave off the skin cancer and farmer’s tan. doubling up a layer is not very appealing. what i do like is the easy visual and tactile access to the screen.

spibelt. i came across the spibelt on the COTH forum and was really intrigued. and, i’m thrilled to see that it’s made right here in ATX.

spibelt photo from the spibelt website.

this looks like it might be a really great option: i like the streamlined design and the fact that it expands to fit a phone, but could also be used for smaller things at the gym. i’m not entirely sure what makes this version high visibility beyond the color, but i do like the idea of high visibility.

flipbelt. i’ve been eyeing the flipbelt for a while. i love that it is seamless and nearly invisible. on that note, though, i can’t imagine trying to fish my phone out from under my shirt, if it’s untucked.

flipbelt photo from the flipbelt website.

i’m not sure i love the way the phone is positioned in the photo above, but it doesn’t have to be fulcrumed on your hip bone (not that my hip bones are even visible!).

armpocket. the armpocket is interesting to me for its versatility. on a hack, i’d probably wear it around my calf (assuming the wrap is not too bulky). but, i could also wear it around my arm.
i like that i could see the screen at a glance, and that the phone is not around my hips/belly. don’t want to irritate the muffin top! i do wonder about accessing the phone, though. how easy or difficult would it be to get the phone out of the armpocket if i needed it?

the fanny pack. last in the list of options is the fanny pack. love it or hate it, this is the most functional of all the options. why, you ask: because it can hold a phone and cookies, of course.

they’re not the best looking accessory, in my opinion, but that’s not priority number one. i could easily access my phone (or cookies, or a snack for myself) and don’t need a belt to which to clip a rigid case. i guess i’d either go as inconspicuous as possible with black or grey, or get the lime green for a shock of visibility. and, as an added bonus, i’ll be ready for coachella.

so what do you think, arm band, belt-style band, iphone silk, fanny pack, or something that i’ve not even considered? i’d love to hear how you ride with your phone, especially if you don’t shove it into your pocket.

review: ice horse tendon boot

you might recall my excitement at not having to choose between a pair of magnetic therapy boots and an ice boot. well, after a month or so of use, i can tell you that i am still thrilled with my purchase of the magnetic boots, but not so much the ice boot.

auto has been back under saddle for about a week now. we’re taking road hacks as often as the weather allows. walking on the road is just what he needs to begin to redevelop the strength in his suspensory (i’m thinking “hard ground for soft tissue” will be an interesting post for another day), and to begin getting him fit overall again.

to stave off any inflammation, i have made it a point to apply the ice boot after we get back from our hacks, since we don’t have truly cold water from the hose. honestly, i think i’d rather stand in the wash rack hosing a wiggle worm horse than use the ice horse tendon boot. i think the design is really lacking in simple details that would make it more effective and easier to use.

image via smartpak

as you can see in the image from smartpak, the “ice” packs are long, single-cell packs that you insert into compartments inside the boot.

CCC_2_Legs_1then you fasten the compartments together around the leg and then fasten the boot wrap around them.

well, in my experience, the single-cell packs and the single velcro fastener have nothing on gravity. no matter how tightly i fasten the strap (and i’m loathe to fasten it too tightly), all the “ice” succumbs to the earth’s pull and oozes to the bottom of the pack–precisely not near auto’s high suspensory strain. UGH! not helpful, ice horse.

from what i can tell, all of ice horse’s “ice” packs are single-celled, but there are others on the market with multiple cells, such as these from professionals choice:

or these from reitsport:

i think i’ll try one of the multi-cell inserts in auto’s ice horse boot so that my purchase is not entirely a waste. but for future cryotherapy purchases, i will likely look to another brand.

the perfect barn: lighting

during my barn-sitting gig, i cleaned the stalls quite a few more times than normal, as centex has been enjoying enduring a monsoon. i typically LOVE cleaning stalls. it’s meditative, satisfying, physical work. i don’t even mind cleaning henry’s stall (he is the peeing-est, pigpeniest pony in the barn!). what i do mind is not being able to see what i’m doing when i’m knee deep in shavings, wet and dry, and trying to sift out pulverized apples.

our little barn has 7 stalls on the south side and 5 stalls, plus two cross-ties and tack room, on the north side. an aisle runs down the center. the only electric lighting in the barn comes from classic fluorescent fixtures running across the aisle. there are no lights above the stalls.

the fluorescent light barely reaches into the stalls. not only was it dreary, i felt like i couldn’t see well enough to do a good job. there were shadows everywhere, especially when i had to clean around a horse or turn my back to the light source. and, when i cleaning the stalls on the south side, which receives natural light, i had to contend with looking right into the sun or being backlit. it was a frustrating challenge.

what i realized as i ruminated on the best lighting for a barn is that, at a minimum, stalls should be lit individually and on a separate switch than the aisle lights. (don’t want to jolt everyone awake during bed check!) if i could have turned on the stall lights while cleaning stalls, i bet my work would have been done better and faster! this would be especially true if the stall lights were oriented lower and positioned around the stall rather than a single light source from above. of course, this is assuming the BO has the capacity and funding to redesign the electrical layout of the barn.

I found this perfect summation from nancy ambrosiano, author of Complete Plans for Building Horse Barns Big & Small on stable management:
“Planning for barn lighting is different from regular work-surface lighting, since you have a big equine body in the way of things,” she says. Lighting straight down from above is blocked by the horse’s torso, throwing the stall floor and the horse’s legs and feet into shadow. “Rather than centering a fluorescent fixture over the middle of the stall or grooming area, place lighting at the corners or wall edges, shining inward to light lower-leg focus areas,” she says. (see more at: http://stablemanagement.com/article/tips-to-provide-good-barn-lighting#sthash.SY0p6bXg.dpuf)

you can see the fluorescents running along the aisle. the fans in the center are a nice touch, too.

can i get an amen?! from what i can tell from many threads on COTH, the consensus seems to be to place the long fluorescents above (at least) two parallel stall partitions, thus doing double duty (illuminating the sides of two stalls at once) and covering as much ground as possible. i’d also suggest placing the aisle fluorescents along both long sides of the aisle, to cover more area and illuminate the front of the stall.

i know some of y’all catch shifts doing stall at your barns. any pet peeves about barn lighting, or tips to make cleaning stalls more efficient?

buyer beware: not all shock wave therapy is created equal

ya’ll can probably tell that auto is still lame. i’m not the most prodigious blogger, but i would have been shouting from the rooftops if we had received the all clear for rehab. but no, that was not the case.

it’s not all bad. he’s definitely showing improvement, and dare i say there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. in any event, he needed a follow-up from his follow-up, and i was suspicious he had some ulcers going on, so i called a different, highly recommended vet for an exam/second opinion.

at our april follow-up, auto saw the doc who diagnosed his suspensory strain in early march. he was given a cortisone injection in the ligament to “speed the healing.” he had sprung both his front shoes, so the doc was concerned that was a complicating factor. he prescribed shoeing and two weeks of walking under saddle (on soft ground. that seems really weird to me) before recheck. i wasn’t feeling all that confident in his instructions, but with the bare feet complicating things, i didn’t want to argue.

so, last friday auto got his shoes tapped back on. i saddled him up first thing saturday morning, excited to have my ass back in his saddle. well, that excitement quickly faded. he was as angry and reactive to my leg as he had been before: head straight up, ears pinned, wide eyes. i was deflated. we walked for a bit more, with very few/only absolutely necessary asks to yield to my leg, and i untacked him. i felt pretty confident i was dealing with ulcers (and kicking myself for not putting two and two together sooner), and palpated his ulcer points. DING DING DING. i immediately hit the internet for a plan of action, and decided i wanted a new vet. (more about the ulcers/treatment/rant about how this is related in another post.)

the doc came out on thursday, confirmed ulcers immediately and moved on to the suspensory. he proposed a shock wave session, and likely a second one in two weeks. i explained that auto had SWT when he was first diagnosed–not to avoid the present SWT session, but just as point of fact. the doc said, “great, i’m sure it helped, but let me give you a bit of info about different kinds of SWT.”

he brought out his machine, set it up, and explained that it is an extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) machine, rather than a radial SWT machine, which he believes is a less effective type of SWT for deep tissue injury. i had no idea there might be different types of SWT! i wrongly figured that shock wave is shock wave.

of course the SWT at the original diagnosing vet was radial. shit. the suspensory ligament runs nearly through the center of the leg. it is not at a superficial depth. thus the RSWT probably did diddly squat.

“Radial shockwaves are well suited for indications near the surface. Radial is indispensable for smoothing the muscles before or after focused shock wave treatment. For the therapy of deep local pain points, chronic insertion tendinitis and deeper trigger points, the application of focused [extracorporeal] shockwaves seems to be favorable.

VersaTron depth chart.  the doc used a VersaTron on auto.

VersaTron depth chart.
the doc used a VersaTron on auto.

so the new doc administered the session (no anesthesia, which really pleased me), and even let me feel the shock. when he finished up with auto he turned the machine down as low as it would go and held it to my arm. HOLY COW! and auto received 7 times the intensity and 1000 pulses. no wonder they usually sedate the horses. (don’t worry, auto wasn’t in pain, and handled his session like the champ that he is!).

doc told me that he once treated a 5/5 lame show horse with one session. when he returned in 14 days to do session two, the horse was .5-1/5 on the lameness scale. with the second session, the horse was sound. auto at this visit rated .5/5, so i feel hopeful, even though that is just anecdotal evidence. with one to two sessions of ESWT, his new nimble supreme supplement, his ulcer treatment, and feed changes, i am optimistic that he is on the mend.

i also feel angry that i didn’t know any better at his first session and that we’ve likely lost ten weeks of work to my lack of education. so, buyer beware. not all SWT is created equal. since it has become such a common and effective treatment modality for lameness, i urge you to know which type of SWT is right for your horse!

the perfect barn: a squeeze stile

i am smack dab in the middle of a 10-day barn sitting gig at the barn (NSCS) where amchance and i board the derps. you might recall that we’ve been there since february, and it’s been wonderful. the barn is small–only 10 horses. the BO, BO’s hubs, and the rest of the gang are terrific. it’s a tightly knit group of eventers who genuinely enjoy each other’s company. interestingly, the fact that trainers come in to teach once or twice a week–rather than being on-site full time–has also been great. it’s a really quiet and low-stress environment.

anyway, since i’ve been “managing operations” at NSCS, i’ve been thinking a lot about barn/facility design and efficiencies. don’t get me wrong, NSCS is pretty darn perfect. but i’m an improver by nature–always thinking about how to build a better mousetrap.

i’m doing some research on a few of these items in order to expand on them, so i think i’ll start a series featuring some of the things i think contribute to building a better barn (assuming money is unlimited, of course, and building from scratch):

first up, the squeeze stile and its variants. a stile is an arrangement of steps [or posts] that allows people–but not animals–to climb over or through a fence or wall. i think most people are aware of the stile, but may not know what it’s called. for those of us who have foxhunted or evented, a stile may be even more familiar.

and here is a good example of a human stile:
but the type of stile i’m claiming is utterly necessary for an efficient barn is the squeeze stile. here is the simplest iteration. it’s simply a human-sized pass-through.

pass-through

I am so over latching, unlatching, latching, and wrangling gates and chains when i need to get into and out of a paddock when i need to retrieve a feed pan, or wrangle a hose, or simply smooch my horse.

or there is the Y-shaped squeeze stile. a little more complicated in design, and perhaps a bit less appealing to a curious horse?

V gate

and there is this prefab design, appropriately called the C Gate. (sadly, i can’t find the website again. bad blogger!)

CGate
to me, a squeeze stile in every paddock is perhaps the single most significant improvement i would make to any barn. what to do you think? essential, or silly indulgence?