Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cautiously Optimistic. On bits, hay, and coaches.

I decided I needed to take a step back with respect to WIlly's weird mouth issues.  I borrowed a bitless bridle from my friend and plan to use that for the next couple weeks. I think perhaps I didn't give him enough time to recover, though I did try by giving him time off, riding bitless and using wrapped/rubber/happy mouth in the meantime. At least this way I can remove the bit as a possible source of discomfort and hopefully start with a clean baseline.

My first bitless ride (since the one a week and a half ago) was Wednesday. When I brought Willy in I could already tell he was better. I can't really articulate the difference but I'm sure most of you know what I mean. He was himself again. I tacked up and off we went.

He's generally been a lot better this week on all fronts and the last few rides have been a lot better too. I think, in part, something had resolved itself and that his improvement was reinforced by keeping the bit out of his mouth. Still, he did some very minor head bobbing at the very end of the last two rides (bitless) while I was cooling him out.

I do wish bitless bridles were a little more...refined. It's hard to pinpoint what I don't love about them. I've used a bitless now and then with both Brumby and Willy. The bridles available to me are synthetic, Nurtural bridles. I like the design but the problems I find are that it's hard to know how the release and take translates to the horse (I wish the release of the cross pieces under the jaw was more pronounced, for example). I find them fairly crude in terms of contact. The synthetic material also makes his face sweat more and this irritates him. Aside from that, I'm glad I have an option to turn to.
On another note, the lab results of our hay tests are in! I'm working on translating that into what he is actually consuming nutritionally, with the help of some information Jason passed on a few months ago (thanks Jason!). It's a bit of a slow process as I haven't had much time. I spent last night getting ALL the info into spreadsheets which should greatly facilitate my calculations and make any future changes/updates etc. easier to incorporate.

I seem to recall Jason saying something to the effect that determining a horse's nutritional requirements and/or intake is based on a whole lot of assumptions. As I begin sorting through everything in earmest I sure can see what he means. At least the assumptions are based on logical estimates and therefore have to be better than nothing!

I'm really looking forward to getting a better handle on Willy's feed. I'll post more about this soon.


As of today, I officially have a new coach! I know I've hinted about this change but it's been a mentally and emotionally taxing process and I just haven't had the umph to blog about it yet. But now that I have secured coaching from my first choice when I thought about getting a new coach, I am feeling optimistic and excited for the future. Hopefully I'll still have a reader or two to read all about it!

Ok, that's my update. Oh, and I'm working almost every weekend in March. Ugh!! I`m conducting some research and we will be more successful scheduling participants on the weekends so...yeah. I'm just trying to focus on the accrual of some much-needed lieu time!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Willy is...a punk rocker.

Well, we still have mysterious head tossing. It is annoying and worrisome in equal measure. I've ridden twice with the copper bit and although it is not worse, it is not better. It's a single joint and so I can't be fully sure that the lack of improvement is because he prefers a double-jointed bit. This is where I get into the minutia which probably matters more to me than to the horse. But there is no way to know.

He head bobs on the cross-ties. He head bobs under saddle. He does settle down during rides but any time I take a walk break it starts up again. He spent a few minutes biting on a blanket bar outside a stall before the ride. Not cribbing, just holding it between his teeth and occasionally doing a kind of chewing motion. From what I could tell he was using a fair bit of jaw pressure. I let him do it for a few minutes because it was odd and I was trying to see if I could learn anything from it.  Nada. I have no idea what it was about.

A few people are trying to convince me that he's just trying to evade work. While I agree that horses often learn this, I don't think that's the case since he only started the head bobbing a week ago, immediately after our first ride with the wrapped bit. He still had to work the next day and the day after that, so I really don't think he learned to evade.

I can't shake the feeling something else is going on. I have no idea what but that little kernel of doubt won't leave me alone. I have a few bitting options left and if they don't help we will have the vet back out. Seems weird that it's worse since the diagnosis of metal sensitivity, doesn't it? Especially since he hasn't been exposed to that metal since.

I'm at a loss, I really am. My coach (well, technically former coach sorta-kinda - whole 'nother post there!) assured me on Friday that I have steady hands and nothing I'm doing could be causing this. I needed to be sure and I know without a doubt she would tell me otherwise. I should feel more confident in this since I've been with him about 8 months at this point, but I still needed to hear it.

As it stands, my theories are: a) Willy is a punk rocker, or b) brain parasite. Good reasons as any, at this point :-/

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Looking My Gift Horse in the Mouth.

"Maybe he wasn't meant to be a horse," says the Barn/Willy's owner. I laugh, ruefully.

In the last week, I've tried a few new options to make Will comfortable and I'm afraid it's not going well. I was given 4 doses of dexamethasone to give to Will one dose/day, every other day, to help with the inflamation in his mouth. During this time, I rode bitless and gave him several days off. I wanted to make sure he had a chance to normalize before starting my bit experimentation.

My initial thoughts on how to proceed were pretty basic: a) stay away from any metal for awhile, and b) try not to purchase bits without knowing if they will work for Will! I was worried that any metal could contain whatever the metal was that Will was reacting to and since I didn't know exactly what that was (though I suspected nickel), it would be best to avoid altogether. The next "rule" was purely practical as this could be an expensive venture if I purchased everything I wanted to try.

I also decided that I would need to get to know what his mouth was like if I was going to be able to tell if he was ok or not. I know how his legs, feet, eyes, etc look on a daily basis but have never before inspected his mouth! Every day for the last week I briefly inspect his mouth, mostly feel his bars. Honestly, I have NO idea what's normal in there. Hopefully in time...

The first day after his last dose, I rode in a Happy Mouth shaped mullen mouth that another boarder kindly lent to me.
The ride went ok. The bit test was slightly confounded because Willy had too much energy from his extra days off, plus I've never had him in a non-jointed mouth piece before and have almost exclusively ridden him in a double-jointed bit. I got the sense that any weirdness was due to the configuration of the bit, not the composition. Still, the Happy Mouth was inconclusive. I have a bias though - I admit Happy Mouth is my least favorite option since it is plastic, and an "apple-scented" one at that. I will get whatever Willy likes best, of course and without reservation, but I would be happier if it weren't a Happy Mouth.

In the meantime, I contacted Stubben to find out the composition of the "Steeltec" part of the bit I had been using. Turns out it is:
Iron 70%
Chrome 18 %
Nickel 12 %

So I think my nickel suspicion was correct.

Next, I decided to try the "simplest" option that Dr. B repeatedly mentioned, which was to wrap it. Initially, I thought the vet had recommended vet wrap but actually it was another onlooker who said that. I remembered correctly later, but apparently was taking in too much information at the time. I did try vet wrap the very first ride after diagnosis with mixed results. In any case, I soon learned of Sealtex, a thin latex sheet that can be cut and molded to just about anything.

So, on the evening after trying out the first happy mouth I went on a foray to my favorite tack shop, Apple Saddlery. I found some Sealtex and at only $10 decided to pick some up. I also bought a D-ring single jointed copper bit. Yes, I said I didn't want to buy a bunch of bits BUT my DH Alex pointed out that he can analyze the bit and get the metal composition of it. This meant I could be sure that the copper bit (which was a vet recommendation) contained no nickel and, if it did, return it for full refund.The analysis of the copper bit showed it to be (within error):
Copper 90%
Zinc 5%
Tin 5%
I was happy to see the very high copper content. Of course, this is what you'd expect with an "all copper" bit but I was prepared for worse. I was encouraged to see no nickel in the mix, so I will give this bit a go in due course.

For the next day, I decided to try the wrapping approach.Of course, I recognized that this wrapping job, even at it's simplest, would tax my patience. I'm not proud of it but I definitely have limitations when it comes to annoying detailed work like that. I wanted to ask Alex...but kinda didn't want to ask, at the same time.

There are definite advantages to loving someone who knows you very well. When Alex saw me with a bit and sealtex in hand, he essentially asked me if I'd have enough patience to accomplish the task - without actually saying those words. He managed to phrase it so that it was completely non-offensive and was simply a recognition of our relative strengths. I gladly relinquished the task to him (ha-ha!) and appreciated the result immensely. I can't believe I didn't get a picture.

Tuesday was my first ride with the wrapped bit and it went well. I could tell he was a little weird about it but it wasn't clear whether something was still actively bothering him or if it was just the difference in feel with the latex wrap (or if that itself was irritating). After the ride while on cross-ties, he started bobbing his head. This is not something he has ever done before and it made me think it was a response to being uncomfortable but since it only started after the ride I thought it was possible he was just anxious to get back outside.

Wednesday I used the wrapped bit again, since it seemed pretty good the day before. The head tossing began the minute I put Will on cross-ties and continued through the beginning part of the ride. It was an awful situation since there was no real reason why the wrapped bit should be irritating him (I had only a very light, consistent contact) so I didn't want to let him learn that head tossing got him out of work but I also didn't want to ignore his signals of discomfort. So hard! He did settle in and we had a good ride but the head tossing started again as soon as I dismounted to cool him out. After, I handwalked him outside and he kept rubbing his mouth on the snow over and over. Clearly he is uncomfortable.

I am so discouraged. I know I have several options left but it is worrisome that he is still having issues even with the bit wrapped. I guess it's unbearable to know my horse is still uncomfortable or in pain and not be able to fix it right away.

I am trying the copper bit tomorrow - wish us luck!