Monday, September 16, 2013

...The Bad...

I'm a little behind on my posts, so when I'm talking about last Sunday's ride, I actually mean September 8, not September 15.  As a reminder, our Saturday ride involved some climbing, but I try to do my Sunday rides on easy terrain and focus more on trotting.  My plan for this ride was to ride about 8 miles at the Manassas Battlefied and get in some trotting sets.

The day was definitely a little hotter and muggier than the previous day, which was kind of disappointing, because I was so ready to lose the August summer heat/humidity and move into fall.  My saddle pad choice reflected my feelings about the day:


And yes, the little design on the pad is a skull and cross bones with red hearts for eyes.  I have no idea what possessed me to buy this pad because it's kind of creepy if I think about it too much - maybe it's the novelty of the thing.

Anyway, we started our ride with the usual suspects of swarming horse flies, and I could immediately tell that Nimo was not feeling as fantastic as he had the day before.  There was a lot of plodding along, and even a little sensitivity on his feet.  I was riding bootless, but I figured that was fine because the previous week, Nimo had quite willingly trotted without boots.  Looking back on it, I think that may have been because we'd had quite a bit of rain before my last ride at the Battlefield, and even though most of the trail is pretty firm/gravelly footing, the added moisture probably made a difference on how the footing felt.

After prodding Nimo along for about 2.5 miles, I called it a day and headed back to the trailer.  And I got to thinking about a lot of little things that had been accumulating over the past few months.  Let me preface my mind meanderings first by saying that I do understand horses have good and bad days.  I have definitely felt fantastic one day and not the next, and it wasn't because I had a horrible illness.  It was just because.

But, my concerns weren't really because of the less-than-enthusiastic performance on this day.  In fact, overall, Nimo has been handling the work very well, and I'm really pleased.  It's just that this day made me start to reflect.  I had been noticing that little by little Nimo was eating less and less of the mash I made for him after rides and was now not eating any of it.  He also didn't want hay or even grass.  He would eat once I got him back to the barn, but my horse has always been a bit of a pig and something just didn't seem right.

It's actually one reason I got the stethoscope.  I was worried that I was working him too hard and not realizing it.  But the HR of 44 the day before and an HR of 40 about 5 minutes after this ride convinced me that the lack of eating probably wasn't related to an overwork issue, at least in the sense of an individual workout.

I had just moved him to a new barn because I got really unhappy with the management of the old barn.  I could probably rant for days about how aggravating it is to find out that you're paying above market pricing for full board only to find out that your horse is essentially on field board in a field with not-very-good grass and no hay and a barn owner who outright lies about how your horse is being cared for.  In the past, I have tried to work with barn owners/managers who start providing less-than-acceptable care for my horse, but I have learned the hard way that these people are not interested in the welfare of the horses in their care or in the happiness of their customers, so I bailed at the first opportunity and found what I think is a much better facility for my horse that costs me a lot less money (of course, you all know what happens when a horse owner has extra money...).  Unfortunately, that also means I added stress to a horse that was probably already under stress.  I don't know how I could have avoided it, though.  I guess I hoped my horse would think the new digs were so fabulous that he would settle in and those older, little problems would go away.

That didn't happen.  My horse, who normally settles in at a new barn pretty easily, was very stressed and anxious all the time.  He completely stopped eating his feed and would only eat some hay and grass.  He had previously lost a lot of weight over the summer due to the aforementioned bad management, but I successfully stopped the weight loss by hauling hay out to my horse every day.  However, just over a week after moving to the new barn, he was losing weight in a drastic way again.  And I knew it wasn't because he wasn't eating his feed.  He was getting a pretty small amount to begin with and can really maintain his weight, even with a fair amount or work, with just hay and grass.

I had watched him out in the field and I could tell he wasn't acting normally or eating enough.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that it's normal for a horse in a new environment to be stressed and off his feed for even a few weeks, depending on the sensitivity of the horse.  And you're right.  If there hadn't been the previous weight loss and lack of interest in eating after rides, I probably would have dismissed the situation as just normal anxiety.  But something told me it wasn't.

In fact, after mulling it around for awhile, I came up with 2 possibilities:  ulcers and cancer (I like to imagine the worse case scenario so that I'm happy when it isn't that and prepared when it is).  I suspected ulcers, but I didn't want to rule out something more serious, so I did some quick research on ulcers, brainstormed with a friend, and called my vet...