Saying Goodbye To Toppers + Winter Update

After my super positive year-end post, I guess it was inevitable that 2019 would start out terribly, right?

A couple of days before I headed to Temecula, California, for my first assignment of the year, Oh So started to seem not like himself. I had only been able to hack because of snow, and he just seemed pretty slow. I actually had to kick him along, which is not like him.

I decided to call the vet on the day I left for California because he was sitting listlessly in the stall, and he ended up having a fever and couldn’t lower his head and neck, which was quite scary.

Since I had to get on a plane, we decided to treat him with Banamine and doxycycline because the vet could only assume tick fever. I found that to be a little strange considering it was January, but she said they see spikes in it this time of year. There have been a few horses in the barn who’ve had vague symptoms like his, and that seems to be the go-to diagnosis, but I wasn’t going to accept that as an answer.

He didn’t get any better while I was gone, so I decided to take him to his regular vet at Morven on Tuesday when I got back. No fever, but still wouldn’t put his head and neck down. He hadn’t lost his appetite, which was good though.

Her first inclination was to X-ray the neck, so we did, and discovered “moderate to severe” arthritis in his neck near the withers, but nothing broken. I guess I’m glad I know that now so we can treat him, but he’s certainly never shown my any signs of pain in that area.

Next we ultrasounded his chest to rule out pneumonia since he did have some minor nasal discharge, but only when eating.

His lungs were good, and the vet was about to send me home with more doxy, but I just refused to believe that neck arthritis would suddenly cause him to not be able to lower his head.

Thankfully our regular lameness vet who knows him from over the years came in to consult on the neck X-rays and started palpating his jaw area. He was quite sensitive near his glands, so we did a scope and saw that his gutteral pouches were swollen and had mucus on them.

There was worry that it could be strangles due to the clinical signs, but he’s been vaccinated so the likelihood was low. They sent a sample off for a culture, which came back negative a couple of days later, but it took more than a week for the other one to come back and determine if we needed to change antibiotics, which was extremely frustrating, since I saw no improvement in his attitude or ability to lower his head.

We got the results back last Tuesday and decided to switch to SMZs, and now we’re still waiting for improvement. I cannot believe this has been dragging on for nearly three weeks with little to no improvement. He’s unable to put his head down to graze, and I haven’t been able to ride. I’ve not been given a name for the condition other than an infection of the gutteral pouches due to two kinds of bacteria, one that responded to doxy on the culture and one that responded to SMZs.

I’m more than $2000 in right now, and he’s going to have to go back for another scope at some point, and then maybe we can start thinking about injecting the neck and probably the SI joint as I’d expected for his yearly checkup in March.

This has been a complete nightmare. I know it’s only been three weeks, but it feels like an eternity.

To add to that, no sooner had I been at the show in California on Friday for an hour when my parents called and told me Toppers was choking and nothing could be done. They made the decision to euthanize him at age 28. He’d had a choking episode in December that required a trip to the clinic to unblock, and after that, we were told he would be at risk for another episode due to possible scar tissue on the esophagus and his lack of a few teeth that had been removed earlier last year. I thought we had a pretty good handle on it by changing up the way we fed him, but it wasn’t enough.

We’ve had Toppers since I was 11. 21 years. I can’t remember a time in my life when he wasn’t there, and now he’s not, and I wasn’t able to say goodbye. It was just not the way I wanted to start out 2019, and wasn’t expected so soon after having to put Sam down last year.

So, needless to say, it’s been a bit of a depressing month so far. I’m headed to Florida on Thursday for work, but I’m feeling a little nervous leaving Oh So while he’s still not right. He turns 19 tomorrow, and this is not how I envisioned his birthday celebration.

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Introducing The French Bear and some random updates

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It took more than two months to find him, but I’m excited to introduce everyone to The French Bear, or “Bear”, my new project horse.

Lisa found him for me via Diana McClure of DMC Carousel Racing Stables in Berryville, Va.

Bear is a 2010 bay Thoroughbred gelding (Gators N Bears–Femme De Diable, Devil His Due). He raced 16 times this year and was about to race again when Diana convinced his owner to sell him.

According to Diana, who also broke him, Bear tried very hard on the track, but his best wasn’t good enough. He never won, but he did get several thirds and won about $16,000.

I brought him home last Wednesday and Oh So was immediately jealous, of course!

I gave Bear Ace for the first few times in turnout, but he was fairly quiet. I put him out with Sam this weekend and they seem fine together. Sam actually seems uninterested, maybe because he doesn’t want to deal with a “kid” in his old age! Bear seems independent and happy to graze away from him, but he didn’t like being in a paddock by himself the first two days, so that’s when we decided to put them together.

Our first ride on Thursday started when my jump saddle slipped under his belly when I

Sam's enjoying his new buddy.
Sam’s enjoying his new buddy.

tried to mount! Thankfully, he just stood there, but I clearly need a different girth or a different saddle. I’m looking into a more narrow saddle, but I wasn’t expecting to have this expense. He’s so narrow right now though, so we need to find something. He’s about 16 hands, but I think he’ll grow a bit more.

Our second ride started well enough, but then he started being a bit nappy by the gate. A dressage whip helped, so that’s our new tool! I’ve been walking and trotting him over poles and working on very large circles.

On Tuesday night, I had my first lesson with my dressage trainer, Nicky. We started with some basic lungeing, which he knows, but we added an outside side rein. He was very good to the left, but to the right, he was a little reluctant and kicked out a bit when she asked him to go forward. We ended it on a good note though and then got on.

The first thing Nicky noticed was I need to define exactly where I’m going with him, instead of just trotting around the ring on big circles and straight lines. She said I need to decide which letter I’m turning in and think of square turns for a while so he doesn’t learn to fall in and so he learns to listen to both my leg aids.

We worked a little on dropping my weight into my inside seat bone when turning and she gave me a tool to get him to move forward past the gate instead of stopping and refusing to turn right, which is the only direction it occurs.

She wanted me to prepare for the disobedience by lowering my inside hand a bit, then wave the whip, which would be in my left hand, near his shoulder so he sees it. That seemed to correct the behavior, so we’ll keep going with that!

I’m excited and a little nervous to start with “raw clay”, so-to-speak. I’ve never had a horse so green or young, and Oh So was my first OTTB, but he already had his basics on him and was jumping small things.

I think Bear’s willing attitude will make it a lot more fun. He seems intelligent and willing to try things and I think he’s a real cuddlier, a bit different than Oh So for sure! He actually enjoys being groomed and doesn’t fidget, and he doesn’t try to kick my teeth out when I put on his blanket.

I’ll be sad when the time comes to sell him, but I can’t afford to keep and compete two horses at once. I think we both have a lot to learn from each other. I’ll try to update the blog whenever I can with some videos and/or photos after my lessons.

This fall has been kind of weird for me. On the one hand, I’ve been traveling so much that I haven’t had much time to miss riding, but on the other hand, this is the longest I’ve ever gone without riding regularly in my life and I still just feel a little lost.

I never thought at the beginning of the year that I’d be bringing home a new horse and taking on a challenge like this.

My life thrives on routine, which can be good, but can also be a little bit of a detriment. For the last 10 years of my life, fall has been the time I look forward to the most. The weather gets cooler and I start my competition season in September, move on to Morven Park in October, take a weekend at Fair Hill, then finish up the season with a great time with my

My view for Harrisburg

friends and trainer at VA Horse Trials.

I’ll be missing VA for the first time since I can remember, but it gives me a chance to go to Galway Downs instead, so I’m excited about that. I’m just really missing the competition season.

I won’t be able to get to a lesson with Lisa until next weekend, but I think it’s good for Bear to have a few weeks to settle before we put him back on the trailer.

I had a quiet weekend this week after Harrisburg to get to know Bear and relax a bit. Although it was a long week at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, full of 8am-11pm

days with little to no downtime, I felt that the coverage that me and our intern, Taylor, provided was pretty good. We had fun shooting, especially the jumpers, and we

ended up getting some decent hunter people to talk with, which was a what I was worried about.

A Corn Husk horse at Fair Hill.
A Corn Husk horse at Fair Hill.

Check out our Pennsylvania National Horse Show coverage.

We drove over to Fair Hill for a few hours on Sunday and although I was disappointed to miss cross-country, I was glad just to be there and be outside for a bit after a week indoors.

On Sunday, I went to see Cavalia with my mom at National Harbor, which was a lot of fun. We went to see it a few years ago and really enjoyed it, and this show was similar, but with a little bit different theme. I really love watching the acrobatics. It’s basically like Cirque Du S’Olei with horses.

Toppers and Rocky had a fun trip down to the vet on Thursday so Toppers could have a couple of teeth removed. Rocky went for moral support and so I wouldn’t have to deal with him screaming at home while simultaneously dealing with a new horse and Oh So on stall rest.

The surgery was successful and the vet even gave us his two teeth, one of which was rotted and the other fractured. They shared a stall at the clinic and apparently Rocky tried to help by pulling out Toppers’ catheter!

Now I’m off on my final trip for COTH this year, Galway Downs in Temecula, Calif. I’ve been to one event in northern California as an intern, so I’m excited to see some SoCal eventing. I’m flying into San Diego, and I wish I had some time to check out the city, but I have a pretty packed few days. I’ll be flying home on Monday, then heading to day 2 of the William Fox-Pitt clinic at Morningside in Warrenton where I’ll cover it for our website.

Winter break

I’m coming to the end of my winter break and head back to work tomorrow. It’s been refreshing to have some time off, ride in the light and wake up knowing I have the whole day at my leisure. Unfortunately, at the beginning of my break, my jump trainer called to say she had a family emergency and wouldn’t be teaching until after the new year. I was disappointed to have alot of time off and not feel productive with my jumping, but come the new year, we’ll start back fresh.

My break started by sitting through horrendous traffic on the Beltway on Dec. 21 so I could see my favorite band, Go Radio, at The FIllmore in Silver Spring, Md. There weren’t that many people there, which was surprising for a show put on by DC101, but it made for a nice, intimate feeling, even on the bigger stage. I did photos for avoidthescene.com, and those are up now on my Flickr page.

On Sunday, I had a really good flat lesson with Oh So. He was quiet enough that we could school some walk-canter and canter-walk transitions. My trainer brought her young horse over to school him in a different arena, so that made for some excitement.

photo-4On Christmas eve, I went to see Lincoln with my parents. It was a bit slow and talky, but I can see why it will probably win every Oscar. My mom decided she didn’t want to go to church that night, which makes it only the second time in my life that we’ve missed Christmas Eve service. It’s the only time every year that we go to church, but I think we were all missing my brother, who spent Christmas with his fiancee and her family in Ohio.

Christmas morning was sort of a non-event without my brother there. It took us all of a half photo-5hour to open our gifts, then my mom and I went for a hack. I did get some pretty cool stuff though. I had been wanting a new lens for shooting concerts and I got a 24-85mm f/2.8, which is really exciting. I’ve pretty much been shooting with just my 50mm f/1.4, but now I have the flexibility of a zoom too. I also got a nice set of different flavored hot chocolates to try. I’m not a coffee person, so I’m excited to take these to work.

Throughout the break, I also got a chance to clip Rocky again and work both him and Toppers quite a bit, which I’m not so sure they appreciated! Toppers in particular was looking and feeling quite good for his 21 years!

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On Wednesday, we had pretty awful rain, so my dad and I went up to DC to go to some museums. I usually don’t have the time or energy during the year to go, so it was nice to spend a day not doing horse stuff. We went to the Museum of the American Indian first to see the “A Song For The Horse Nation” exhibition. COTH featured a couple of pieces from it in a recent issue, so it was cool to see the whole thing. We also went to the Air and Space museum briefly and the National Gallery, which had a really cool Roy Lichtenstein exhibition.

Thursday was jam-packed with another flat lesson on Oh So and one on Sam. He was photogood again. We worked on some trot lengthenings and lateral work with minimal tension, which is a win in my book. I haven’t done lessons on Sam regularly for awhile since he’s not consistently sound, so it was nice to have a few reminders on my position and his pace. I tend to lean “at” him a bit since he warms up quite stiff and high-headed. We worked on some counter leg yields and leg yields in walk and trot with more bend than usual to help free up his shoulders, and to my surprise, he came nice and round and got steadier in the contact.

That afternoon, my dad came with me to a travel agency in Fredericksburg so I could start planning my trip to Ireland next year. I came home with quite a few brochures and a lot to think about, but I’m really excited to start researching.

Thatnight, I took my dad to see The Hobbit in 3D since he’s never seen a 3D photo-2movie. I probably should have watched the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy first to refresh my memory, but I thought it was pretty good, and now I have to wait an entire year for the next one!

Friday I spent most of the day outside working all four horses. I had a good jump school with Oh So on my own. I just set up some fences with canter poles before and after them and a few small gymnastics, and he stayed nice and steady and waiting. It’s often a challenge to jump at home because our ring is smaller then the places we usually go, so setting up gymnastics is usually better for both of us.

Yesterday and today were just more of the same. After working everyone each day, I’ve been working on little things that need to be done, but I keep putting off- fixing my music website, cleaning my room and closet, organizing my computer, etc. Now I’m off to work for one day, then off on New Year’s Day, and ready for whatever 2013 brings.

A mid-December update

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I feel like I should be posting more, but since life has slowed down a bit, I haven’t been too inspired. I have a hard time making myself sit down to read a book for a book review, even though I have a big stack of them in my room.

I had a new saddle fitter out for Oh So last weekend and she did a really good job getting his (Sam’s old) jumping saddle to fit better. Now with a new half pad and some flocking, it isn’t slipping anymore, so I’m happy we were able to find a solution for now. I’d still like to get him something custom fit, but I just don’t have the money right now.

About a week and a half ago, we had planning meetings at The Chronicle. It was two long days of sitting in the conference room, but I had so much fun brainstorming with the whole team all in one room. It was informational to me to hear little bits of of how everything works and to hear other people’s processes and thoughts. It was also decided that I needed to do a holiday pets photo for our holiday issue, so with the help of my mom, we put together a couple of costumes for Toppers and Rocky (see above).

We also discussed travel plans for the year and I’ll be heading to the Rocking Horse Winter II horse trials in Florida in February first. I’m excited since I’ve never seen eventing in Florida before. I’m also tentatively going to Jersey Fresh.

Sam’s been feeling pretty good lately. I had a really nice ride on Saturday where we were able to do a lot of sitting trot, some half passes and even some walk/canter and canter/walk transitions, which I haven’t been doing lately because they can be quite demanding.

Oh So has been going quite nicely on the flat and we’re starting to work on our flying changes a bit. I noticed that Fox Chase Farm is going to be hosting some CTs and dressage shows next year, so I’m excited to get going.

Birthday Wishes!

I failed to mention that Topper’s 20th birthday was on Wednesday. It’s hard to believe I’ve had him since he was nine years old. Thankfully he hasn’t slowed down much and still loves to jump and be the boss of everyone on the farm! Here’s to another 20 more (which can actually happen with Minis).

Random musings

This about sums up what Sam thinks of Oh So’s antics!

Well, I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland, as expected. Luckily the snow melted and the ring was never even frozen, so I rode Sam a bit. He feels really good from behind, like the hock injections were almost instant relief. He also promptly came in with a huge gash on the underside of his cheek which began to swell as the day went on. What next…

Toppers still loves to jump.

I’ve found it really interesting as he and Toppers get older. Toppers is the resident old man (he’s almost 20), and hasn’t shown much evidence of slowing down. The only sign I get is that he cross canters a bit when I lunge him, and jumping the higher fences seems to have become more of an effort. He still loves to jump though. With Sam, I’ve noticed that he lays down more frequently outside. He’s always liked to sleep outside instead of in the stall, but I notice him lay down for a few minutes, get up, change sides and lay down again, then lay down in another part of the paddock later in the day. It’s like he can’t get comfortable. He also seems to have no patience for Oh So (well, he never really did) and he won’t really get galloping or excited very much anymore (which is definitely a good thing. No lost shoes!). Sam and Toppers both seem to know when they want to come in and don’t tolerate the weather as much anymore. When Sam is ready to come in, he’s ready and waiting by the gait; same with Toppers.

Other random things:

  • I changed the layout of the blog a bit. The header photo is from Woodside Horse Park in Woodside, Calif. It doesn’t quite represent where I event, but I thought I’d try to take a landscape photo at each event I go to this year and change it up a bit.
  • Besides horses, music and photography, I’m also a huge television fanatic. I love shows like Friday Night Lights, Conan, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and any NBC comedy. But my biggest television passion/indulgence is anything British. I’m a self-proclaimed Anglophile, so much so that I one day dream of marrying a British or Irish man! I love the culture, the accent and the history. I’m pretty obsessed with finding mini-series and movies on Netflix. My favorites are generally featured on Masterpiece Theater and BBC (like Emma, Pride and Prejudice, mostly Jane Austen/early 19th century romance). But this spring, there are a few British mini-series coming out that have me really excited. Camelot and Game of Thrones are going to be awesome. And Mildred Pierce starts tonight on HBO, which stars a Brit, but is set in America. I’m also dying to see the new adaptation of Jane Eyre which is out in select theaters, but not any near me! I’m a huge fan of the 2006 mini-series starring Toby Stephens and I’m afraid this version might not live up to my expectations. But generally anything put out by Focus Features has my attention.
  • Morven Park is this coming weekend, and the weather forecast is up in the air. It has snowed at Morven in the past. I’m not sure we’re going to get that, but I am concerned about the footing. We’ve had quite a bit of rain.
  • My review for ThinLine Reins is out now in the Chronicle Connection. I’ll get the text typed up later, but for now, here’s a screencap. I took the photo, and I think the designer did a great job.