Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Housecat Tip of the Month

Housecat Tip of the Month

A few years back, I had an elderly Siamese cat, Indi. Siamese cats are always cold, and the older they are, the colder they are. Ellen bought the neatest item for her—the Snuggle Safe. It made the last few years of her life much more comfortable.
The Snuggle Safe is a hard plastic disk with some sort of liquid in it. You put it in the microwave for 5 minutes or so, depending on the strength of your microwave. It heats up and stays warm for hours. You just place it under some blankets to make it softer and to keep it from scalding your cat if it is really hot.

Once Indi went to the great catnip patch in the sky, I went a few years without a cat. The Snuggle Safe was still used—by me. I would heat it up before bed and put it by my feet to keep them warm. (I have to confess, I still do it.)

Now, Thunder is a long-haired cat and he never complains he is cold, but in the winter, before I leave the house, I heat it up and put it under his favorite cat mat. He then lays there most of the day to keep his paws warm.

I think that most cats would enjoy a snuggle safe—Indi even used hers in the summertime. They are durable, and I have had mine for years.

If you want to make a cold cat happy, get a Snuggle Safe.

Trail Training Newsletter #111 - Just How High is the River?

Just How High is the River?

As anyone who has received this e-newsletter for more than…maybe one issue, knows the trouble we have with our lovely Rocky River. If it is too high, we can’t cross and don’t get much of a ride.

I found this neat website that I thought I would share with you. It is If you go there, and you are lucky enough, you will be able to get nearly current data on how high the river you need to cross is. It is really neat.

They don’t measure right where we have to cross. They measure a couple miles downstream, but it can give me an idea what the river is doing right from my computer. It also tells me the speed of the current and the temperature of the water.

I’m sure it is a website I will be visiting a lot this summer.

Trail Training Newsletter - #111 - One More Ruined Horse

One More Ruined Horse

The other night, the river was too high to cross, so I was just riding up and down the hill on Cruiser. After the first trip, we met someone new at the top. He was from a barn a few doors down from us. He was mounted on a lovely Tennessee Walker mare.

As we rode down the hill, he told me his story. Turns out, this man was new to owning horses. He had rented horses for years, and since he was only able to walk those horses, he wanted to see what it was like to run. He had only been riding his new horse a few weeks on the trail, but all he was doing was running her. I’m not sure if he meant doing the running walk or doing a canter.

The results? He had to ride with an iron grip on the reins as his horse fought the bit to try to go faster than Cruiser’s quiet walk. He was surprised how tightly he needed to hold the reins since he never had to do that with the rental horses. He started to tell me about the other horse he bought—a balky Quarter Horse that didn’t want to leave the driveway and showed him what it was like to ride a buck.

At the bottom of the hill, I knew what was coming. I asked him if he horse walked up the hill, and he said, “No.” I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I told him I needed to walk—a horse with a healed bowed tendon doesn’t need to gallop up a steep hill in a race.

When we got to the spot where the incline began, his horse started fighting with him. I turned Cruiser the opposite way to head the other direction. I was too late. While we were turning, Cruiser saw the other horse bolting. Cruise bolted, too, but at least he went the other direction—away from home. I was able to get him trotting and then brought him to a standstill as we watched the man struggle with his horse until he got about halfway up the hill—and then it looked like he gave up and away they went.

I had trouble getting Cruiser to settle down, but he did. The whole incident really bothered me. Sure, I have seen bad horsemanship before, but in talking to this man, he seemed like he really wanted to do the right thing—but was clueless as to how his actions would affect his horse-and the horses around him.

I think I need to sell him my book.

Trail Training Newsletter #111 - Cruiser and Ranger out for a Ride

Cruiser and Ranger out for a Ride

Finally! Spring! Finally, Ellen and I can go trail riding together! As usual, we have 2 hyper horses out on the trail. The last few years we started out by riding Ranger and Mingo together and Cruiser by himself for the first month or so. It went smoother that way since most of the problems we have stem from Cruiser. He may be 22, but in the spring, the years shed off him like his winter coat. He is back to being a 4-year-old.

This spring, the buddies are back together. The good news is that our horses are always happy to walk along quietly. Sometimes Cruiser will walk a little too fast for Ranger, but Ellen tells me when he is starting to bunch up to shoot forward, and then I will stop Cruise and wait for them.

On the first ride, we did decide to try some trotting. It lasted about 5 seconds before they started to race. It wasn’t a surprise. We just stuck at a walk, after that.

The next ride went a bit better—mostly because we had been riding the horses on the trail by ourselves during the week and the springtime novelty was starting to wear off. We did a series of walk/trot/walk transitions. We would wait until they felt like they were going to misbehave and stopped it before it happened. It worked. Right before we were ready to turn around, we trotted about a minute—and only quit because we ran out of trail.

Maybe we will get the horses behaving before June this year? Anyway, it is a lot of fun to go out and ride with my sister on the trail—even if most of it is at a walk.

Trail Training Newsletter #111 - Friday Night Ride

Friday Night Ride

It was a long, long winter. I only ride Cruiser out on the trail when conditions are good, due to bowed tendon paranoia. That has never been a big problem in the past, because there were plenty of times that I could take Mingo out instead. One cold weather trail ride is enough in a day. This year, of course, that wasn’t the case. I had no winter horse.

Towards the end of December, I was able to ride Cruiser on the hill, but the river was too high to cross. Then, the snow started. Though we had a thaw in January, I still couldn’t get Cruiser out before the weather turned sour. We had so much snow in February that I was still riding in the arena. Ellen and Kevin got to do some hill work, but the river was frozen.

The snow took forever to melt, but finally, in the middle of March, we got some really warm weather and the snow vanished. One Friday evening, I was able to rush out to the barn right after work to get in a quick hill ride—the first since December.

I walked into the barn, and found Mingo standing in the corner of his stall—surrounded by uneaten hay and grain still in his dish. My heart sank, but the sun was doing the same. This was before Daylight Savings. I couldn’t wait—I had to get my ride in before dark.

I hurriedly saddled Cruiser and out we went. He was excited, and so was I. I was halfway down the hill, when I found myself smiling. Yes, even in the sad state I was in, my trail ride lifted my spirits. I was back where I belonged.

Cruiser and I did 3 trips on the hill, that night. The river was way too high to consider crossing, but I didn’t care. I was riding on the trail. It even did some trotting on some of the level areas.

I went back to the barn to take care of Mingo with a little lighter heart. Mingo may have even sensed my mood; because he was in the best mood I had seen him in a month. I had turned him out in the arena, and he came and stood by me to get his face petted, and he stayed there for about 15 minutes. When he started to look like he was getting uncomfortable, I went to get him a treat to lure him in. When I called him, he came to me—the first time in a long time. Instead of going to his stall and leaning on the wall or pouting in his corner, he decided to finish his grain.

It was a good day all around.

I went home with the smile still on my face.

Trail Training Newsletter #111 - Mingo in March

More on Mingo

Things are not looking good for Mingo. He went through a spell of not wanting to eat. First he quit eating his hay cubes and then he stopped eating his grain. He hasn’t been eating much hay all along. We switched him back to the Bute, and that helped a little bit, but we were still having problems.

And then there was the day he was frantically pawing, looking at his sides and trying to lay down. (Of course, he couldn’t lay down, and hasn’t been able to in months.) My sister called me at work, and I immediately called the vet. We thought he might be colicking. Ellen talked to him and calmed him down. She then gave Mingo his morning Bute, and by the time the vet got there, he was back to normal.

The vet examined him and took his temperature, which was high. She felt he wasn’t colicking. She decided to do blood work on him to compare with the blood work from last fall. We put him back on antibiotics because the fever.

In the evening, I was checking on him, and I saw what my sister saw. He was frantically trying to lie down. He did that sporadically for a few more days, but each day was less than the day before. That has since disappeared.

The blood work was essentially the same as before. It was good that things hadn’t gotten worse, but they didn’t get better. After all this time, he still wasn’t absorbing his protein (hence the weight loss,) and he still showed a lot of inflammation. This wasn’t good news.

We went through another week or so with off and on eating problems, but he is doing better, now. He still isn’t all that enthusiastic with his hay, but at least he is eating his hay cubes, beet pulp and grain.

He has so many odd symptoms that don’t make any sense and even odder behavior. The worst part is I can’t touch his sides. (So much for petting, and brushing and such.) He will let me pet his head and neck, at least. I can’t lead him from the left at all. I can lead him from the right or the front, though. He doesn’t like being approached and will sometime trot away, but that is the only time he trots. He is very tired, breathes heavy, has swellings come and go and is so thin. Sometimes his whole body twinges for no good reason. Sometimes he stands really odd or leans on the wall.

He loves treats! He begs all the time, and we can’t resist giving them to him.

In April, the vet is coming out twice to give shots. I know what she is going to say…it isn’t a happy time around here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More on Mingo

Mingo is holding steady, but for as much as he now wants to eat, (everything but hay,) I think he is still losing weight. I am pretty sure of what the vet is going to suggest this week when she comes out for shots, and I am at peace with it—whatever is wrong with him, he isn’t comfortable, and I can’t let him starve to death. I will wait until the second round of spring shots—not the first. We will then have one final week to love him like crazy.

Poor guy. He is such a good-hearted horse. He certainly didn’t deserve this. I have never known a horse who enjoyed being with people more than he did. I think he liked people better than horses. He hasn’t been that way for a while, though. Usually, unless we have food, he doesn’t want a thing to do with us. Lately, though, there have been times when he just wants me to pet his face and talk to him.

He is only 14, and I have had him since birth.
I sure am going to miss him

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Who can resist a face like this?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I haven't updated everyone on Mingo because, honestly, I just don't have the energy.  Since the emergency visist from the vet last week, he has had good days and bad.  Yesterday he hardly ate or drank.  Today, he is eating very well.  The rollercoaster ride has been rough.  I thought I would end up making the final call to the vet in the next few days, but now, I think I can wait...

Overall, he isn't getting better, and he has to have the drugs to make it through the day.  His quality of life is not very high.  Even on 3 grams of bute, he can't lay down anymore.  I know what I need to do, and I am trying to put it off for a few weeks until spring shot day.  His good days are so nice.  When he is his old self, I really realize what I have lost.

I discussed everything with my sister-in-law, who is a nurse practitioner.  That is like being a doctor without the ego.  She told me that if he was a human with his blood work and the symptoms he is presenting, she would say he had an autoimmune disease.  They are hard to definitively diagnose in humans, let alone horses.  They don't ever get better, and with people, the only thing that works well in anti inflammatory drugs--like Bute.  That may be why the bute makes such a difference.

An autoimmune disease would explain everything--even the hoof abscesses.  It explains why it seems like we are trying to hit a moving target.  It even explains why he has been so slow the last few years and walked like he was stiff.  Far more than you would expect for such a young horse.

So, right now, he is in Judi's Hospice Care.  I will try to make him happy and comfortable in the next few weeks, and then I will "set him free."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Emergency visit from vet

My sister called in a panic--Mingo was having problems. He was biting his side and kept trying to lay down--but he couldn't, of course. He hasn't been able to in a long time.

I called the vet. By the time we got out there, he was all right. My sister gave him bute and talked to him, and he settled down.

Our vet practice has 3 vets. This vet hasn't seen him since last fall, and she was surprised at the amount of weight he has lost in spite of what we have been doing.

She did another rectal exam--found nothing. She took blood to compare to his blood work when this initially happened. We are concerned he may have cancer. The calcium level in the blood will indicate it if he does. Of course, blood work shows a lot of other stuff, too.

She is not hopeful, and neither am I. I guess I just need to know something to help me make the terrible decision I will probably have to make. He just isn't getting better.

I am miserable. He's just 14. I have had him since birth. I really am his mother--and he has always treated me as such. My heart is breaking to see him suffer...and my heart is breaking at the thought of losing him. My heart is just breaking...

This has been a tough time for me with Mingo's health problems. The one joy in my life--the only thing guaranteed to put a smile on my face is my Little Thunder.

At the end of the day, when he jumps on my bed and walks up to me to snuggle, I get a rush of peacefulness. For a few moments, my worried evaporate and I smile.

I then give him an update on Mingo. He just purrs.

Cats are good medicine.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

More on Ming

Okay, here is the rest of the story. Mingo had gotten really bad. It wasn’t just the lameness with the abscess. He wasn’t eating. I thought when the abscess started draining, he would start eating. He would eat his grain, but didn’t want his beet pulp or hay cubes anymore. He just picked at his hay. He seemed not himself—aside from the fact that I can’t touch his flanks.

I was too miserable to write about it.

I talked to the vet. We decided to put him back on bute and treat him for ulcers. Because of all the bute he had gotten combined with the stress, it would be surprising if he didn’t have some ulcer issues.
We even put a time frame on it. Yes, we discussed what we would do if he didn’t make a turnaround. He has a month. He even has a date since I already made an appointment for spring shots. I couldn’t allow him to starve to death. He was losing weight, again. He was doing so well just a month ago, I really thought all he needed was time.

I felt sick. My boyfriend disagreed with the way I am handling this. He felt I should do everything in my power just to find out what is wrong. We had some very, very bad fights. He accused me of awful things. He doesn’t know it, but he had a date set, too. If things didn’t improve with us, I figured I’d be better off alone.

Well, he started to eat a little better, but still not like before. Then his abscess came back with a vengeance. I got it draining out his heel and he improved significantly by Saturday. Sunday was a pretty good day, but he still would only eat hay for a few minutes and then rest a few minutes. I was starting to think that is should begin taking the ulcer medication.

Monday, my sister saw him in the morning. He was very quiet and sleepy. She was worried.

In the evening, my boyfriend accosted me at the barn door saying he was just standing in his corner and he looked so sad. I glanced over and saw him eating hay. I walked over to him and took one look at his hoof. My jaw almost hit the ground. Blood and pus had just erupted out of the coronet band on the front of his hoof. The abscess was draining in a second place.

This really gives me hope. That must have been one awful abscess. I have never had one that drained in 2 places at once, before. I’m hoping, once again, that the lack of appetite in the last few weeks has been caused by the abscess and we can get back to healing up the original problem.

I feel this was the same abscess he had last fall before he went to the clinic. I never felt it was resolved. With the extreme swelling he had, we put him on a long-term antibiotics. It is possible that it kept the abscess from fully draining. It waited for another day.
So, I am still soaking. Tomorrow, I will reduce his bute and see what happens. There is hope. He may make it past spring shots. We can give him plenty of time as long as he is eating and not suffering large amounts of discomfort.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Trail Training Newsletter - #110 - part 3 - Mingo Revisited

Mingo Revisited

I wrote the first article on Mingo on Friday. Saturday was a different story. He could barely walk. He was only able to put a little bit of weight on that leg. He wasn’t eating much, and he was standing like his hip was really, really bothering him.

This was the worst he has been since the whole ordeal started. Even without painkillers, he only walked with a slight limp. I felt sick. The only thing we could think of is that he did something to aggravate the original problem. Maybe he tried to lay down? If that is the case, will he recover from this problem and just keep reinjuring himself? I figured I would call the vet on Monday and ask if we could increase his painkiller.

I began to fear that this was the end. How could I let him go on like this for any length of time? Ellen and I were both totally miserable for the rest of the day.

The next morning, I didn’t even want to go to the barn. Ellen had to work, so I didn’t have her for support. I did go, of course.

He didn’t look much better, and he hadn’t eaten much hay. I rode Cruiser before anything else since the arena was empty. I didn’t concentrate well, but at least Cruiser got exercise. Jim, the man who fed that morning, came in to talk to me. He said that when he tossed Mingo’s hay in his stall, he didn’t even walk to it. He dumped his grain, beet pulp and hay cubes into his feed dish. Mingo was close to that, so he did eat all of it, so that was good. (He didn’t the previous morning.)

Jim just shook his head and said, “I haven’t seen a horse this lame since Maverick had his hoof abscess.” At that point, I knew it was even worse than the day before. I finished my ride on Cruiser and went back to see Mingo.

He still looked miserable. I was near tears. I stooped down to look at his leg to see if there was any clues. He wasn’t putting any weight on it, at all. Then, I remembered what Jim said. I reached to his hoof. It was warm. I brought my hand to his heel. I couldn’t believe what I felt. Something was oozing out his heel. I smelled my hand. I started to smile. I tried it again. Mingo told me to quit touching his heel because it hurt. Yep, it smelled like a hoof abscess that just broke open. I started to laugh. I then went to Jim and told him I loved him. He was grinning when I told him the story.

I heated up some water and got out my handy soaking boot. Good thing I had that big bag of Epsom Salt. After about 10 minutes of soaking, Mingo was actually taking all the weight from his good foot and putting it on the soar foot. For the first time in months, I finally felt I was able to help give him some real relief.

Of all people, Ellen and I should have recognized that Mingo was suffering from a hoof abscess—he has had so many of them. Our brains were just cluttered with his other problem. I am certain it wasn’t a festering hoof abscess from the beginning, because an abscess doesn’t keep a horse from laying down or make him lose balance and shake if you lift his foot. There is still the enlarged sacroiliac, too.

I couldn’t say for sure, but this may have been the abscess that he had back in the beginning of the saga. I always felt is was never fully resolved. All the anti-inflammatory drugs and the antibiotics might have prevented it from fully draining out—keeping it for another day. Getting his hoof trimmed might have reactivated it.

What a relief. I went from hopeless to having a glimmer of hope, again. We still have the original problem, though, and he isn’t eating quite as good as I would like. Time will give us an answer. I just need to be patient…

Trail Training Newsletter #110 - part 2 - Ranger and the Farrier

Ranger and the Farrier
Mingo isn’t the only horse who has had farrier issues, lately. Actually, Ranger has been having some troubles with his hind legs for quite some time. He had trouble balancing on one foot while the farrier held up the other foot. Our farrier had to keep his foot very low and give him breaks. Ranger would pull his foot away often. We attributed it to arthritis. Early on, giving him bute helped. Ellen also did spent a lot of time stretching his legs when she cleaned his feet.

Last year, we couldn’t put back shoes on Ranger, and he is a horse who really needs them if Ellen wants to do a lot of riding. He twists his foot when he trots and wears his foot too far down on one side. He used to grind his shoes paper thin in 8 weeks. Ellen had to adjust his riding on the account that he couldn’t be shod.

Well, she saw the success I had with Mingo in lifting his feet, in spite of it being painful, when I used clicker. She decided to see what she could do with Ranger.

She had done target training initially, so he understood the concept of clicker. She then started to click when he lifted his feet up. He decided he really liked this game, and he got very good at lifting his feet.

The next step was to click when she was holding his foot. To do this correctly, she needed help. Due to her work schedule, that means she could only do the “lift and hold” on Saturdays when I was there to give him a treat, and she wouldn’t have to put his foot down to treat him. This meant that we only worked on this 8 Saturdays.

After a couple lessons, she noticed Ranger relaxing his leg. She then decided to only click when he relaxed. This worked awesome! He would relax, she would click, I would treat, she would pull his leg out further and wait for him to relax before she would click again. It was amazing how far and high she could get his leg—and how relaxed he would get.

Then came the real test—farrier night. We didn’t tell our farrier any of our plans, so he was clueless. He got there before Ellen did, and trimmed Ranger. When Ellen arrived, she asked him how Ranger did. He replied, “Really good. As good as he used to be before he started having problems.”

Success! Success in a big way! Ellen’s next step is to get him to lift his foot up even higher. Will he get so good that our farrier will be able to shoe him? That remains to be seen. He is still arthritic. Still, if he can be trimmed with ease and less discomfort for all, it is worth the training. Remember, the real work was only done on 8 Saturdays.

I know I have been preaching a lot about clicker, but we have been having so much success with it in solving practical problems. I always thought it was about teaching horses tricks, but now I know it is about helping horses understand what we want and to help them get along in life with less stress and even some fun. After all, I have never seen a more enthusiastic horse about hoof cleaning than Ranger.

Trail Training Newsletter #110 - part 1 - Update on Mingo

Update on Mingo

Where do I start? I skipped the update last month, so I guess I have to start there. Early in January, something very odd happened to him. He got very grouchy and paranoid—didn’t want anyone—particularly me—to touch him. He would stand in the corner of his stall and bob his head up and down if anyone looked at him. He would even be hesitant to take a treat out of his dish. He would slowly walk up to it, grab the treat and retreat. It was very puzzling and upsetting.

I called the vet out to see him. While leading him, he walked and trotted fine, but he wouldn’t bend his head towards me if I led him on the proper side. There was no problem if I led him on the near side.

The vet had to examine the sore leg from the opposite side just so she could touch it. He was fine with that, and showed no pain in the leg. It seemed like the problem was in his neck. Neck? Could this be?

Just to be thorough, she decided to check for Lyme disease. It was very unlikely that he had it just because we don’t have the offending ticks in our area. As predicted, he turned up negative. It was a relief and disappointment at the same time. I was glad he didn’t have it, but was disappointed that we still didn’t determine the problem.

Each day, his symptoms got a little better. The only thing the vet could come up with is that he may have fallen asleep standing up and hurt himself in the process. You see, he hasn’t been laying down to sleep or roll.

We put him on a big dose of bute for a few days, and he did lay down to sleep. We tapered it off, and he seemed to be doing all right. Eventually, the vet decided he should be on a long-term painkiller, but Bute can be harsh on a horse. She suggested switching to Prevacox. There is a horse version that is a paste, but it is very expensive. They have found out that the dog version, in a pill format, will work on horses. Because of the way the drug works, a horse has the same dose as a beagle. It is easy to give, too. We just put it in his grain, and he eats it. Finally something that is easy.

After a few days of it, Ellen caught him rolling in his stall. We were thrilled. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen him roll, since. He was doing very well, though.

At this point, there were only a few signs left that he had a problem. The first was that he was having a lot of trouble lifting his foot, again. Some days, I didn’t even succeed in cleaning it. He could lift it up, but not bring it back so I could see the bottom of it.
The other symptom, one he had from the very beginning of the whole saga, is that on a small circle, when his bad leg was to the outside, he would step short. One other thing that he had all along was that he didn’t lift that foot up very high. In the early days, he was even stubbing his toe on the ground.

That got me thinking—could he step over a pole? Well, he could, but with much difficulty. With the help of clicker, he would give it a good try, but it was definitely one more symptom.
Physically, there was one more odd thing—he had a hunter’s bump. The joint on the top of his back where his hindquarters start was very prominent. Originally, I thought it was just his weight loss. I did some research. This is his sacroiliac joint. One way to determine if it is bothering him is to see if one side is higher than the other. The other is if the top of his pelvis isn’t symmetrical on both sides. Bingo for both.
Also, each of his problems in movement are signs of sacroiliac troubles. What isn’t a sign is the extreme swelling he had, the original severe lameness at a trot and a sore neck. I talked to my vet, and she said that it could be a sacroiliac injury or even a pelvic fracture. Who knows about the neck and bad attitude. A pelvic fracture would explain the extreme swelling, too.

There are other tests we could do that may pinpoint the exact problem, but even the vet at the clinic I took him too last fall said they may not find the problem. There is nothing we could do at the barn to find out the cause. The next best thing to expensive diagnostics is long-term painkiller and a lot of time to rest. That is where we are at….

Things were going fine, until the neck thing came back with the bad attitude. It wasn’t as bad as the first time. He isn’t too cranky unless I approach or touch his flank. Could he have fallen asleep and fallen again. I don’t really know at this point. What I do know is he is now bending his neck fine, he isn’t stepping as short on the circle, he is trotting normal and he is allowing me to lift his foot up to clean. It is as if his brain hasn’t caught up with his body. Sometimes, though, I do catch a few lame steps and if he moves suddenly, he jerks.

Thanks to clicker and a thoughtful (and wonderful) farrier, we were able to trim his feet. We did a lot of reviewing lifting and holding with the clicker to reinforce him when he did well. He was able to lift his foot and hold it for the farrier. My farrier could feel him shaking his leg, so he lowered it to a position it didn’t shake and trimmed at that level. He also gave him a lot of breaks.

My plan is to just give him a lot of time—as long as he isn’t suffering a lot. He doesn’t mind if I don’t ride him, and at this point I would be happy to have a healthy pet horse to coddle and play clicker games with. If it is his sacroiliac or a fractured pelvis, it should heal in a year or so. If it is some sort of odd groin pull, it might heal, too.

I will keep you updated…