Monday, 27 June 2011

Update on the patient

He was still lame this morning, although came nearly sound after I sponged half a bucket of cold water over it. I phoned the vet for advice when they opened and they gave me the choice of either carrying on with just the cold water for 2 days and having a call out if it wasn't better or having someone out to see him today. Since I knew I'd just sit at my desk and worry about him without a second opinion (normally I'd have asked my vastly experienced neighbours, but they're away in Edinburgh) I opted for the call out and Guy duly turned up two hours later with a large cardboard box containing pretty much everything that might be needed to diagnose and treat a lame horse.

Merlin took one look at him and went 'YOU'RE THE VET WHO JABBED ME LAST SUMMER!!!' and promptly stomped off to the furthest corner of the field. Sometimes in this mood it can take me 15 minutes or so to catch him, but I'd put him in the strip grazing in the second field, so there wasn't too much space for him to mess about in and he gave in quickly with bad grace for a carrot.

Guy gave the leg a thorough check over from the shoulder to the hoof, but concluded that the problem was only in the fetlock and he'd either bashed it or strained it although there's a very, very slim outside chance it's the onset of arthritis - if it happens again that's an option that will be explored further.

Since Merlin doesn't do jabs without a twitch, Guy decided not to traumatise him and left me with instructions to give him 2 x 2 sachets of painkillers plus 1.5 sachets of antibiotics today, then another 3 days of the same dose of ABs and another 8 days (or as required) of 1 x sachet of painkillers per day. When I checked on him an hour after the first lot of painkillers he was moving MUCH more easily and this evening he was feeling well enough to trot a few paces towards a sheep that was eyeing up his supper. The swelling has gone down to the point where it's just a little bit puffy on the inside but you have to look quite hard to see the difference between the two legs.

Would it have been OK if I'd just carried on with the water? Probably, but he was obviously so much more comfortable with the painkillers in him that I think I did the right thing by getting the vet. Fingers crossed that's it sorted now and we won't need another visit.

Sunday, 26 June 2011


The decision's been made for me, for a few days at least. Went to open the gate for Merlin to have his 2 hours in the second field (I need to rest the bottom two fields but the top two are too lush for him to be on full time, so he and six sheep are on a strip for a couple of hours a day until it's grazed down enough for them to move up) and noticed he was nodding when he walked - swollen front right fetlock, poor boy.

It's a little bit warm and a little bit puffy, but he's happy enough to walk on it and take his weight on it as the front leg while grazing, so I'll keep it cold-hosed tonight and tomorrow morning and then if it's not improved by late morning I'll get the vet. I can't see any sign of a wound, my best guess is that he's charged up the hill and put his foot in one of the two new rabbit scrapes I noticed last night.

Put the weight tape on him this morning, bang in the middle between 484kg and 490kg, so he's put a bit on. He's on less grass though, now that the bottom field is shut off ready for spraying - maybe 2/3rds of an acre shared with the sheep plus the abovementioned 2 hours on richer grass.

UPDATE: 2 hours later, the swelling has reduced and the limp is almost gone :o) Looks like it had only just happened when I went down. Fingers crossed with more cold water he'll be more or less fine by tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Doing the obvious

You know, it strikes me that I have a horse who doesn't really enjoy being ridden and I have me who hasn't really fallen back in love with riding. There is an obvious solution to this one... There's plenty of stuff I can do with him from the ground and it takes the pressure off both of us.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Pushing the edges of confidence

At the bottom of our fields is a beach. It's half a mile of golden sand and there's rarely anyone on it. For a few weeks now I've been looking at it and thinking that I really should start riding on it, but I've wimped out every single time.

Tuesday it rained, so I didn't ride. Wednesday was gorgeous, but I was off into town to visit the waxing salon and let's just say that certain bits of me were too sensitive to even THINK about riding! Thursday I just plain wimped out to the point where I spent the afternoon in my pyjamas on the sofa eating chocolate and shivering.

So when the sun beamed down on me this morning I got my gung-ho head on and after giving Merlin an hour to digest his very tiny breakfast of a handful of soaked beet and a tennis-ball sized handful of chaff, I went down to the field to catch him.

He clocked the jods and boots and had other ideas. Five minutes of unscheduled loose schooling later he decided that cantering round the field was harder work than being caught and let me stick his headcollar on in return for a bit of carrot. He perked up when we didn't take our normal route to the school next door but went through the back garden, through the gate separating our house from the croft on the other side (before we had our own drive, the only access to our house was down their driveway and we still have a right of way) and then down through the fields to the gate at the bottom.

He'd behaved extremely well up to that point, but while I was re-tying the gate he gave me a massive head-butt, my arm jerked and I got a really deep scratch on my finger from the barbed wire strands wrapped round the gatepost. Bleeding quite hard, I led him down the quad tracks to the seat made out of a plank nailed to two old buoys I was going to use as a mounting block. And he was a prat. Swung out, wouldn't stand near it, stepped over it, turned his back on it, tried to graze round it - I had my schooling whip with me and even tapping him over wasn't working. Eventually he got close enough for me to give it a go and I hopped on.

Before I had a chance to pick up my reins, he turned round and power-walked off in the direction we'd come from, away from the beach. I got him to halt, but when I tried to turn him back round he stuck his head in the air, napped and then carried on in the opposite direction to the one I wanted to go in. So I thought I'd go with it, carried on riding him up the path by the stream and for a minute or so it was all quite relaxed until he realised he'd missed the quad tracks and had gone past the field. He stopped and spun, leaving me hanging out sideways with my head far closer to his knees than his ears and about 50:50 odds between being able to get back into the saddle or sliding in an inelegant heap to the ground.

Managed to sit back up (yay!) and as soon as he felt me get my balance back he trotted back down the path. I got him to walk and to stay on the path rather than cutting straight across the meadow as it's riddled with rabbit holes. He spotted the quad tracks from this direction and headed up them. I made him stop and got him to turn. He battled me and turned back again and we yo-yo'd up and down the path with his stride getting shorter and shorter and his head going ever more skywards until he grabbed hold of his bit and essentially ran away with me in walk - VERY embarrassing!

He stood at the gate looking round at me with the smuggest expression on his face and 'what are you going to do about THAT?' ears. If I'd been the confident rider I was years ago, I'd have hauled him round, given him a smack and booted him all the way back down the path to the beach. As my brain was going OhShitOhShitOhShit, all I managed to do was turn him round again and make him walk a few steps away from the gate before jumping off.

At this point he thought he'd won. Nope. The reins went over his head and we did the hack I'd intended to do on horseback in hand instead. He was marched round the beach for 20 minutes and then marched back up the hill, past his field (I'd got angry by this point!) and straight into the neighbours' school. The look on his face was a picture!

He wasn't too much of a pain with the mounting block and I told myself if I rode two circuits on each rein, in walk, that would be enough to settle my nerves and my brain would remember it as finishing on a good experience. And guess what? He was as good as gold.

So, lessons to be learnt from today? Well, I think I tried to take too big a step. I should have tried hacking him around the top two fields rather than going straight to the beach - if he'd napped there, which he probably would have, I'd have been happier giving him a boot because there was only about an acre and a bit of space for him to bugger about in rather than half a mile of open sand and my neighbour was doing her garden so was within earshot if anything disasterous happened. But even three months ago I would have jumped off straight after the spin rather than carrying on trying to sort the issue and I certainly wouldn't have got back on in the school. I'd have left it, cried my eyes out and probably not ridden again for another six months. So there are definite improvements, I just have to remember not to try and canter before I can walk, as it were.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Rider fitness

It's not just Merlin who needs to get fit, it's me as well. I thought I was actually quite fit - I managed to run the Inverness half marathon this year - but my aching stomach muscles this morning were a sign that although I might be generally fairly fit I'm not at all riding fit.

At least the right muscles were aching. Sore stomach muscles and a lack of sore inner thigh muscles means that I was starting to use my core yesterday which is a good sign.

I haven't run properly since 1st May, when I did a 9 mile run on holiday in Northumbria and thanks to a combination of running on a beach and lanes with steep cambers managed to knacker my left foot. I tried doing a mile at home 11 days later, to see if I'd be able to jog around the Castle of Mey 10k, but it was aching when I finished and by the time I'd been round Tesco the following morning I was sore from foot to thigh. I eventually went to see the practise nurse, who gave me a tubigrip and a tube of ibuprofen gel and after a couple of days without the tubigrip with no pain I decided to put it back on and do a gentle mile up and down the road. Even though I took it slowly I couldn't have gone too much further, my fitness has really dropped, but I'm pleased to report that two hours later there are no adverse effects :o)

6th June - 1 mile - 11 mins 59 secs

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A little more progress

I weighed him again this morning with the tape right up behind his front legs - 478kg. I'm still not sure it's accurate, after all a 15.2hh Thoroughbred weighs around 450kg and Merlin's MUCH chunkier, but at least it gives me a number and I can see if his weight is going up or (hopefully) down. At the moment he's getting one handful of sugar beet pellets (soaked) with a tennis-ball-size handful of chaff twice a day. In the morning he has a 15g scoop of garlic powder to help keep the flies away (he comes up in big lumps from midge bites) and if he's been ridden or lunged he has a small handful of Dodson & Horrell Leisure Mix as a treat. It's odd how a horse who can live off fresh air in summer goes so thin in winter - by the end of January he was on four Stubbs scoops of Build Up a day and still losing weight.

Anyway, the poor horse is currently in shock at being ridden twice in two days. I nearly, nearly took him down to the beach, but the wind picked up and I thought he probably wouldn't appreciate sand blowing in his face, so once I'd caught him (unsurprisingly he wasn't too keen on coming near me when he saw the headcollar, but he's a sucker for a carrot...) we went into next door's school again. It only took two attempts to get him lined up by the mounting block and he was good as gold for me after that :o)

We did five minutes' warm up in walk, including a couple of passable 20m circles, changing rein on weight aids and then tried a bit of trot. Not a success. He's willing enough to go forwards off the leg, but he finds trotting in the school hard work because it's deeper going than he's used to and my riding muscles haven't been used in 7 years, so I'm terribly unbalanced. I kept it short and sweet, a few steps at a time, just round a corner or along a short side and when I felt a little bit more confident pushed him on to do a whole circuit of the school. The biggest problem was that I kept tensing my inner thighs which tilted me out of balance. When I remembered to wrap my lower leg, keep my heels down and not over-rise it was much smoother. When I gave him a long rein he stretched down, so although he's not working in an outline yet he's starting to work the right muscles. He was working lower than yesterday though.

I hopped off at that point because I thought the saddle had slipped a bit. I repositioned it and he stood perfectly at the block for me to get back on, so lots and lots of praise for that :o)

And then it went marginally pear-shaped. Mick opened the back door to let the dogs out and Merlin did the tiniest of tiny spooks - it was literally a step sideways and two steps of canter, but I let out a big girly shriek! Bless him, the moment he heard it he stopped immediately, which has given me a lot of confidence in him :o) I know, from the way my brain works, that if I'd cut the session short I would have let that tiny spook build up in my mind, so I pushed him on and we did lots of trot and finished with a very short canter across the diagonal before cooling down on a long rein again.

He can have a day off tomorrow because it's my busy work day, but I'm still going to go and catch him and groom him, just so he doesn't get the idea that being caught always means work.

Saturday, 4 June 2011


The F stands for 'flipping' of course... ;o)

Found a new lunge line in Thurso today and picked up a weight tape as well because he's definitely starting to look podgy - though when I put it round him this evening, it came up at 470kg. Think I didn't have it far up enough, I'd put it round his girth area rather than right up behind the forelegs. I'll try again tomorrow and see what the reading is there.

So as you might guess from the title, I rode today. He was being an eejit about lining up with the mounting block again and as we were shuffling around my neighbour appeared round the corner (it's his and his wife's manege) and asked if I'd mind if he had a sit on Merlin. Not at all, I'd welcome the help :o) He went and got his hat and boots and with his much firmer no-nonsense approach to things was on board at the second attempt and working a very surprised Merlin! After 10 minutes of walk, trot and canter and very few steering issues, he jumped off and I hopped on - MUCH easier :o) Now that someone's made it clear to him he can be made to work it was as if he'd just rolled his eyes and decided to stop pushing the boundaries so hard.

We've got a long way to go, I don't feel balanced enough to canter him, but I got some really nice walk-trot transitions today where he just went with a small squeeze of my leg. I need to get him fitter and then start asking him to work longer and lower because he's still a bit like a giraffe at the moment. Definite progress today though.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

And start again

Oh dear, two week breaks in the schedule aren't going to do him or me any favours are they? But weather and work have conspired against us, so this evening was the first time in a fortnight I'd taken him out of his field. He lunged well on both reins, responded to most of my voice commands and all was good until I let the lunge rein go slack so he could walk through the gate in the electric fence and turn while I closed it - he trod on the loose lunge and the clip broke. That's possibly a 100-mile round trip to Wick at the weekend then, unless there's one in CLB in Thurso. Still, it means I have no excuse now, I'll have to man up and ride tomorrow!