Monday, October 31, 2011

That Small Spark

Failures in treatment contribute to depression and loss of hope, for the owner, and some treatments may even cause an increase in pain for the horse.
For those readers just starting out with Cowboy's story, we discovered he has Head Shaking Syndrome late last spring. The symptoms started small and got worse, especially as the summer days grew longer and when he was under stress.

When he'd have his episodes he was dangerous to handlers, and himself, without wanting to be. There was this involuntary head-bobbing, striking at his nose with his hooves like a bee was stinging him, and crazy belly-itching, even dragging himself across the ground to get relief.

When I'd put him in a dark stall the symptoms would go away, and as the summer progressed, they subsided to the point I thought I'd be riding him again only to have my hopes dashed with another episode.

I sent the video of his worst one to a woman who has dedicated herself to finding a cure for Head Shaking Syndrome and has a website devoted to that purpose, Pam Neff. In my experience, I don't know anyone with more solid information on it than her. The quote I began this post with is from her Homepage.  Click here for the  She writes:
Many articles give numerous (about 60) potential causes for headshaking which include insect irritation, ear mites, dental problems, tack and rider contributions, allergies, sunlight sensitivity, chiropractic issues, vaccinations and so on. These may be triggers for headshaking but they are not necessarily the cause of headshaking syndrome.
I've blamed almost all those things on the head shaking, but she's right, they're triggers. I emailed her with an explanation of Cowboy's situation and she wrote this back:
It might be beneficial to use a mask that has more UV protection such as the Guardian Mask on my website. the custom one is the best. It is a bit pricey but will definitely help reduce symptoms. You need to keep it on 24/7 except when riding or other work. Magnesium, esp. a supplement called Quiessence is helpful at 2-3 or 4 X the recommended dose. Start at the low dose and slowly work up.
At this point, with the short, cool days, Cowboy seems symtom-free. He had his farrier visit last Tuesday and didn't show any signs of stress or head-bobbing. Next year I plan to attack it early in February/March with a combination: darkening mask, dark stall during windy days or excessively bright days, Magnesium supplements, Cyprohepatine, and a riding mask with nose net.   I hope I can ride him this winter, too.

So, I still have the peaks and valleys of hope and hopelessness with him, but right now, the conditions are good for Cowboy and I can enjoy fall and winter while I plan for spring. I've pretty much come to terms with the reality of the situation--that my chances of having him be a go-to trail horse again are low since I have to have a horse I can count on and I'm not sure how much a head-shaker can ever be that type of horse.

As I was sorting through this the last few months, I didn't want to think about horses, write about horses, talk about horses, read about horses, or think too deeply about Cowboy's problems.  I just wanted to "be" with my horses in the most simple way, petting them, cleaning their stalls, feeding, watching them, and getting ready for winter. 

Some days I'd wonder what I could do to motivate myself to the next step and get back the desire and the mental energy and emotion to move forward with saddle-training.  I even contemplated hiring a personal assistant to just come out and hold my hand and walk me to the barn and to the tack room and to the arena until I could get past whatever it is/was (I'm not entirely sure I can write about this in the past tense yet) that was stopping me.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter asked if she could start riding Cia, my five year old Paint, for me.  She knows Beautiful is my personal horse, but Cia (or C'ya, her real name) has always been a family project.  It turns out she wanted to quit her job and dedicate herself to college and horses and see if she could make enough of a living.  (She doesn't need much.)  I have confidence in her ability to work with the young ones, she's done a good job with her own, so I took her up on it.

It didn't take her long and she was off to the barn. I watched from the window, at first thinking I'd just let her be and get some other project done.   But watching them walk together across the field and enter the round pen, I could feel that small spark of excitement.  I couldn't work on a project in the house when my daughter was out riding my green filly. 

I rushed to put my boots on, too.

Shiloh to the rescue.

(To be continued...)

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Horse Training Paralysis

Since I last wrote I went into a terrible horse-funk that I couldn't pull myself out of. The whole thing with Cowboy hit me much harder than I could have predicted. The lesson learned for me was that I had much more bound up in him than horse/human. He was the horse who got me through my fears and helped me find courage again.  He is a large part of who I am today and helping me find and be okay with my happiness. 

Where you'd think I might draw closer to my other horses and find some solace there, the exact opposite was true. I withdrew from them all, even Beautiful. It was like I needed to have a separation, a line in the sand between my horse-life-past and my horse-life-future. I needed to give myself a chance to mourn and, eventually, accept that it was never going to be the same again. There was not going to be any going out and jumping on my long-time partner, Cowboy, and riding off into the sunset with my friends. My new life was going to be all about training young ones and starting once again from that place Cowboy and I had long ago left--the getting to know each other stages. It was sad letting go of my familiar friend...very, very, very sad.

In my personal life, it was the exact opposite.  Where doors were being closed with Cowboy and there was this overwhelming sense of loss--in my home life we were planting gardens, building a sunroom and covered deck, doing a lot of local traveling and biking--there was this great sense of creation and energy.

My husband and I would work (and play) together, then sit on the new deck and watch the horses who would gather about 100 feet away from us or move out and graze the pastures or lie sleeping in the sun. 
Sometimes I'd feel terribly guilty that I'd stopped cold in  my training and I wasn't continuing where I'd left off with Beautiful.   I'd reached this great point with her--saddling and mounting. Then, I quit. When I'd work in the yard, Beautiful was always there in my back-pocket....waiting. And, C'ya, my other sweet filly, needed riding, too.

Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. But no movement.  I was in a sort of horse-paralysis.  I wanted to get out there and ride, but I didn't.

Until my daughter woke me up.

(To be continued...) Sunroom project...still in the making.