Thursday, March 19, 2015

When It's Nothing

Sorry for the silence on the blog of late.  It's not so much that things have been busy, but rather that my mind has been elsewhere for awhile.  I've still been riding, but in the last month, we've been besieged by snow, sleet, ice, rain, and mud more than once, and I managed to come down with a plague that took me out of commission for a week.  And then my daughter came down with a different kind of plague that took her down for about 12 hours, but left an aftermath of exhaustion for my husband and I (it turns out that the stomach flu in toddlers can cause persistent diarrhea for days, which meant being up at all hours and doing a lot of laundry and then there was the diaper explosion at 4 am one day that involved poop everywhere except somehow in the diaper and has resulted in the procurement of two new pillows for the bed...I'll leave you to imagine exactly why).  Plus, my husband had a medical procedure (he's fine, but there was some drama), work has been crazy as grant-making season opens for the agency I work for, and my truck needed to have some work done.

All of that Life culminated in me needing to be a bit creative for this past Sunday's conditioning ride.  I'd originally planned to do a 14 mile ride over at Manassas Battlefield with USTR (a trail-riding organization in my area) on Saturday, but constant rain and mud the week prior to the ride as well as more rain the day of the ride meant it was postponed.  And my daughter was down with the stomach flu anyway, so I decided to scrap riding for the day.  However, I had already made plans with a friend who is not an endurance rider to do a kinder, gentler sort of ride on Sunday at Phelps Wildlife Management Area, but I needed to get a longer ride in somehow.

Luckily, we hadn't planned to meet until 11, so I came up with an idea that seemed awesome the day before and totally sucky the day of.  I decided to get to Phelps a couple of hours earlier than we planned so I could do a pre-ride at a faster pace, and get in at least 12 miles for the day.  The reason this idea was not my favorite on Sunday morning was because my alarm went off at 6:30, and I'd been up late the night before worrying over my daughter's health and trying to keep up with her because she'd slept all day, and was less than inclined to go to bed early or stay asleep, so I think I actually got about 2 hours of sleep and doing a double trail ride was not my idea of a restful Sunday.

The threat of the Foxcatcher 25 ride on April 11 loomed over my miserable head, though, and so I managed to drag myself out of bed, yell at my husband about how stupid endurance riding is, and stomp out the door to the barn.  Once I got the trailer hooked up and loaded, I was feeling better about life, and with the promise of a sunny, warm day, I perked up a bit.

My initial plan was to put in 6 miles before meeting up with my friend and then put in another 6 miles with her.  I wanted to keep a pace of at least 5 mph (I know, I know, those of you with fitter horses or Arabs are snorting now, but we're just coming out of winter and I was tired and there are a lot of hills...), but I wasn't sure how the footing would be.  I debated about hoof boots and finally decided to leave them off.  There are a lot of gravel roads, but Nimo is not usually too sensitive on them, especially when they are wet, and I knew parts of the park would be really muddy and hoof boots are worse than anything on mud, so I opted to see if we could manage without the boots.

As we started our ride, I could tell Nimo felt really good.  He was moving well on the gravel road we started on and he felt a little more forward than usual.  Especially when we ride alone, he has a tendency to putz around, so his motivation was a welcome change.  When I asked for trot, though, he was still a little hesitant.  Part of it was probably the footing, though.  His choices were gravel or mud and he finally settled on gravel.  As we warmed up, he got more motivated and when we turned around to head back to the trailer, he really poured on the speed, and I clocked his trot at 14 mph.

As I am prone to do when I ride, I got to thinking about stuff I've read in endurance books.  One of the things I remember reading had to do with "uphill" horses and "downhill" horses where uphill and downhill don't have anything to do with conformation and have everything to do with how a horse moves up and down hills.  I can't remember which book it was, but I remember the author writing something about how some horses seem to have a better aptitude for going up hills and some horses do better going down them.  Nimo is without question a downhill horse.  I've noticed that he tends to move so much better going downhill than up and while he huffs and puffs his way up, he generally ends up embedded in the butt of the horse in front of us on the way down.  And that isn't just at the walk.  He usually cries a bit and runs out of steam when trotting on the way up, but is quite happy to trot his heart out on the way down, and not in an unbalanced, out-of-control way.  Obviously more conditioning can help him with the uphill difficulty, but many other horses that we've ridden with just seem much more comfortable switching into a high-power gear for steep uphill trails, while Nimo is happy to walk them.

Anyway, Nimo did such a great job trotting that I decided to tack on an extra mile because we had the time before meeting my friend.  The only thing that seemed amiss was that he stopped a few times to pee.  That isn't normal.  In fact, while Nimo will pee out on the trail, it is generally only once, maybe twice, on very long rides.  And I knew he had peed before we left the barn because I saw him, so the first time he peed on the trail, I thought it was strange.  After 3 more times, I was getting concerned.  He didn't seem to be in pain and there was definitely something coming out each time, so I decided to keep an eye on the situation but continue with my plans for a short break at the trailer and a second ride.

Nimo drank on the trail during the first part of our ride, so I just gave him some feed at the trailer while my friend saddled up.  He is standing a little parked out in the picture, but I think it is just because he was reaching into the bucket for food and he was too lazy to move his hind legs.  And yes, I totally and unsafely draped my noseband and reins over his neck and saddle because I was too lazy to store them properly for 15 minutes.

So after a quick break, we were underway for phase 2 of our ride.  We ended up doing another 7 miles, mostly walking, for this part of the ride, which gave us 14 miles for the day.  During the second part of the ride, Nimo still stopped to pee several times and even moaned a little the last time.  However, he seemed quite willing to move forward and his movement felt great.  After the ride, he ate his mash and drank about a gallon of water, which is pretty normal.  The only problem I could think of was some kind of urinary tract infection.

Honestly, normally I would have let things play out for a couple of days before calling the vet.  I have discovered that having a vet do diagnostic work is generally many hundreds of dollars at a minimum and having just paid a sum that would have bought me a second, very nice horse for truck repairs, I was not crazy about incurring another significant expense.  Once again, though, the specter of the Foxcatcher 25 ride loomed over me and the thought of missing it just because I delayed getting treatment for Nimo was too much.  I also needed to have the vet out to renew Nimo's Coggins test, so I figured I might as well have them check him out while they were there.

So on Tuesday, they came out and gave him a physical exam, a sheath cleaning, and took some blood for testing.  (I was supposed to have gotten them a urine sample before they came, but you try to convince a horse to pee when he doesn't want to.)  Based on the physical exam, he was in perfect health and his sheath was clean with no bean, but the vet assured me that if there was a UTI, the white blood cell count would be high and so would another value (possibly it started with an F, but it wasn't something I was familiar with).  She also said that if there was a problem with kidney function that would show up.  I asked what her thoughts were based on what she currently knew and she said she thought it was either a UTI or nothing.  That's right, nothing.  She said it was possible that his sheath may have gotten irritated for some reason, and by continuing to pee, Nimo worked it out.

I have to admit that after spending $400 on diagnostics, I was kind of hoping for a UTI, because if it was nothing, I could have avoided all that expense by simply waiting a few days, like I normally would have.  Well, guess what?  It's probably nothing.  Nimo's bloodwork came back with all values normal and the vet suspects a minor irritation that just needed time to get worked out.  On the one hand, I'm relieved Nimo is in good health.  On the other, I'm worried that it actually is something that isn't showing up because it's weird or in the early stages.  Nimo has seemed the picture of health all week, so I guess the next test will be this Saturday, when we do a hopefully brisk 14 mile ride with USTR.  If he pees more than usual, I may end up taking him to Virginia Tech's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center up in Leesburg just to see if there are any other tests that they can perform.  In my experience, their prices tend to be quite reasonable for the work they do and they can often catch things other vets miss either because their equipment is better or their training is more up-to-date.

So I'm crossing my fingers for Nimo's health to continue to be great and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to keep up with the "big" girls on Saturday's ride.  There are usually several endurance riders and lots of Arabs at the USTR rides, so I like to see if we can keep up as way of measuring Nimo's fitness.  If all goes well, I think we might actually make it to a ride next month:)


  1. Is Nimo on alfalfa? Reason I ask is because alfalfa will make a horse thirstier than normal, which in turn would lead to more peeing than normal.

    1. He is on a small amount, Karen. Probably about 3-5 lbs a day, but he's been on it for months and months, so I would think any additional peeing would have shown up much sooner.

    2. How old is he? And when was he gelded?

    3. He's 12 and he was gelded when he was 14 months.

  2. Crossing fingers for you, and I'm glad your family is feeling better.

  3. Great job squeezing in a longer ride! I've been stressing about conditioning too!

    Regarding Nimo, I would have done what you did. That's a big change and UTIs can turn into kidney infections in a very short period of time. I know how frustrating it is when the vets can't find anything wrong! I hope it was just some irritation in his sheath and he's back to his normal urination frequency tomorrow. I'm glad that your little one and your hubs are both feeling better!

  4. Better safe than sorry I suppose! Glad to hear you're still plugging along. I think you and Nimo will do just fine at foxcatcher :-)