Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Happy 5 Year Annie-versary


And just like that, half a decade has passed.

This morning  I spent some time looking back at all that we've been through the last five years and I can't help but almost laugh at some of my worries and woes that plagued us. The canter struggles seem beyond ridiculous to worry so frantically about.

It's easy to step back and see how insignificant it all was when I can see the bigger picture now. 

Like looking back at her first year showing and 
obsessively worrying about X, Y, Z when all I 
needed to be worried about was giving the horse a
solid experience. (Which, to be fair, I was worried about too ;) )

Although, isn't that always the way? Things seem really bad in the moment, but when you are out of the flames, you can't help but look back and think, "Well, that wasn't that bad."

In the last five years this mare has taught me more about my ability to persevere and to trust my gut instinct more times than I can count. 

Of course, she has also tested me. 

Riding green horses sure is enlightening.

Broke me.

And made me whole all over again.

While I have a good idea of what 2022 has in store for us, I cannot predict everything and am choosing and manifesting that it is going to be a good year.

With the last two years of tumultuous health problems, I can finally see the other side and am hopeful. I feel like we're in a good place and have a good backing of support that we can finally move forwards. Of course, Late Spring will always be a nerve-wracking time as pollen falls and seasonal allergens rear their ugly head but I am remaining hopeful that with the immunotherapy, paddock changes and hay steaming that we have a good solid lead on her triggers. 

This year is going to be full of big, exciting changes and I cannot wait to see my mare's goofy mug poking out over a stall door in my barn. 


What a crazy journey the last five years have been.






While the last two years have looked pretty different, I am looking forward to seeing what this year brings and I am keeping positive that we may just be able to dust off the tall boots once again. Of course, Annie's comfort and health come first, always.

Happy Annie-versary, and here is to many more wonderful healthy years <3

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Into Fall and Winter

As promised - a conclusion to the Year 2021.

This kid started ground driving like a good baby and 
even packed a western saddle around like a pro!

Following the decision to stay home from the BVX, I listed my little horse trailer for sale formally and it was sold nearly four days later to the very first person who came to view it. Watching it pull out of the driveway put both a smile on my face and a tear in my eye. That little trailer was the epitome of blood, sweat, and tears and to see her attached to another rig and being funnelled down the road made a lump rise in my throat. 

We had been through a lot together, that little trailer and I. 

And although I was excited to welcome a newer, bigger, and fancier trailer to my life, I owe a lot to that little trailer.

So much love went into this <3

And since my horses continue to fund my Vet's vacation fund, Maizey was started on some ulcer medication and antibiotics for two separate issues. Moreso because I found she was looking a bit weedy and unkempt. I upped her feed during this time as well, and found the most help came from the omeprazole, which helped her fill out quite a lot more. I was quite happy with the end result, as was our Vet when I updated her a month later.
It's amazing the difference ulcer meds make!

With her on the mend, I opted to take Annie and Spud to the covered riding arena an hour away two weeks in a row - once to just gallop around and have fun during a really awful rainstorm and the second time to ride with a friend. Unfortunately, I was not able to ride her much during our second visit to the arena, as any gait higher than a walk ended up in coughing fits despite her nebulizing clear and being on medication and supplements. 

It worked out alright because we just went for a trail ride and I actually was able to ride my friend's Morgan stallion! It was fun, despite the frustration with Annie's breathing.

We ended up trail riding the surrounding area
which was quite nice.

And I got to ride my friends cool little Morgan stallion! 

Since we had a looming Vet appointment to retest Annie for allergies, I sat on my hands a bit and waited until we could make some definitive heads or tails of the situation. I had spent a majority of the Summer adding, removing and reintroducing so many things in attempts to figure out what was causing the reaction. I came no closer to solving the mystery by the time mid-September rolled around and the Vet appointment was staring me in the face.

However, there was a large snafu when the Vet cancelled her trip up to the area, leaving me utterly crushed and frustrated. I licked my wounds for several moments before springing back into action - if anyone could make it still happen, it would be me. I have a hard time taking no for an answer and if I can see some kind of potential resolution, I'll take it.

So, with a plan of sorts, I managed to make a rather confusing and highly involved game plan which involved the following: 

1. Alternate travelling Vet drawing the blood (this alternate Vet only sends blood to the same lab Annie had had hers sent to back in the Summer, and I did not want to use that clinic). I am thankful she offered to draw blood and do an exam on Annie to facilitate what I was trying to achieve, 

2. My old boss at the Small Animal Hospital spinning the blood at his clinic, 

3. Me packaging and sending off the spun blood to the original Vet,

4. The original clinic receiving the blood and shipping to the allergy testing facility.

Once I had the Vets (all 3 of them!) agree to my crazy plan, I immediately went to work purchasing an unholy amount ice packs and a fancy Styrofoam container that keeps items insulated (ie. cold, in this instance). The blood made it to the Vet still frozen, despite the two day layover it took to get there.

We went to a cube-only diet for a while.

Backing this train up slightly, just before we had the appointment for Annie's blood draw and exam, things went from bad to worse with not only Annie, but Spud. As I attempted to alleviate symptoms in one horse, I was battling them in the other. It was quite exhausting and after an entire mental breakdown (which included a panicked phone call to my old 4-H coach wherein I sobbed for nearly half an hour, and a defeated call to my Vet), a new plan was made.

If Spud was exhibiting the same symptoms as Annie was, I needed to eliminate the remainder of the questions to see if things got better, worse, or stayed the same.

I ended up removing dry hay from the horse's diets entirely and stocked up on alfalfa cubes. As per Vet recommendations, both horses were placed on a soaked cube diet for 30 days to see if symptoms persisted or were eliminated.

I pretty much bought out the Feed Store
several times over. 

Why yes that is the top of the pile.
For reference, I am 5'0".

What ensued was 5am wake ups, lunch hour snacks, and 5pm night feeds while working 10-12 hours a day and travelling 30km 3x a day.

I was exhausted.

But - on Day 4 or 5 of the new regime, the unimaginable happened.

Both horses' symptoms ceased. 

When the alternate Vet came and examined Annie, about two and a half weeks into the new feeding routine, we did an overall exam which included listening to her lungs as well as two rebreathe tests. I was exceptionally nervous when they did the rebreathe exam, as Annie has never passed a rebreathe exam since the entire debacle with her lungs started. (As a hilarious sidenote, it took a while for them to get her to breathe deeply, as Mare thought she was wearing her nebulizer, not a bag over her nose and attempted to play with it for several moments before actually paying attention and breathing properly).

Mash face on a rainy day.

Color me absolutely shocked when she passed both tests and her entire exam and the Vet looked at me with a little bit of disbelief in her eyes, "You know, I do believe you... but she's absolutely fine in this exact moment."

The Vet went on to detail that whatever trigger causes Annie's symptoms is not currently affecting her, but if the trigger is reintroduced or brought back, it will cause the symptoms to reoccur again. The phenomenal news is that the Vet cannot hear any crackling, wheezing or anything to suggest there is long term damage to her lungs. Of course, she did also state that she can only go as far as her in-field diagnostic tools allow. Long-time readers may recall that a previous ultrasound in 2019 showed there were some changes to her lungs, however there were not deemed as "severe".

I laughed and shed a few happy tears, knowing that finally I would get the answers of her allergy test and had some good proof that the regime was helping thus far. We chatted some more about the fact that a lot of horses in our area that this Vet has allergy tested seem to be allergic to tree pollen and she recommended if we could relocate the horses, to do so. (As a sidenote, this was already in the works).

Spoiler. They moved.

After the exam, I sent the blood away and conferred with my Vet once again the findings from the alternate Vet, as well as how the soaked cubes diet was going. There was a long discussion which ensued, outlining how I could continue the path we were on with a little less of a wallet dent and some more freedom (we all know I would do what is best for my animals, regardless of cost or time, but I wanted to see if there was a way we could make things comfortable for the both of us).

What came out of it was looking at hay steamers and attempting to put her (and Spud) back on forage full time. I also opted to move Annie and Spud to my old 4-H leader's home in efforts to get her out of the trees and be in an area that could facilitate me using a hay steamer. While I loved where the horses were, it would be impossible to steam hay without some kind of garage or tack shed to do so. Running cord and trying to keep the machine out of the elements would be cumbersome, awkward, and expensive. Additionally, getting Annie out from under the trees would be a plus, of course pending her allergy test results. 

After going back and forth on buying a smaller
unit, I ended up buying the larger unit for a few 
different reasons (to be explained in my review).

The horses were officially moved on October 17th and remained on their cube-only feed regime until I secured and purchased a hay steamer, which is it's own story in and of itself (because of course it is). The long and the short of it, which I'll lay out much better in a review later this year, is that the chests are massively backordered and after a deal was struck with the manufacturer, they basically told me I had to wait 12-16 weeks for my purchase. 

I managed to chase down a tack shop (in the same province as me to boot!) who had 3 models in stock and could send to me ASAP. I went back to the manufacturer and asked if they'd honour the deal, they said no and I basically retorted that I wasn't going to wait 12-16 weeks when I could have one delivered to my door in two days. The amount of money I'd spend on cubes during the time period wouldn't be worth the deal we had made, so I purchased a unit from the tack store with hopes, dreams, and the promise of my first born (kidding... kind of).

Happy Mare.

I was able to start both horses on hay for the first time in over a month on October 26th and we haven't looked back since. It definitely took some finessing and was a bit of a learning curve to utilize (which will be talked about in my review of the product), but I feel like it's down to a science at this point and it certainly has made my horses life (and my life) much, much easier. 

It isn't as easy as tossing hay out and walking away, and it means I'll have to make some adjustments as to how I keep my horses (ie. going back to feeding square bales vs rounds). The time that is eaten up by stuffing a net, as well as the space required to pull apart a roundbale is exponential and is just... not it for me. It is doable for the time being, mostly because that is all I have to feed for now, but in an effort to make my life easier and keep my horses on a regime that clearly works for them, I'll need to consider moving back to square bales and utilize them in my COPD journey with Annie. Of course there is nothing I can do about it now other than patiently wait until haying season 2022 starts to make that adjustment.

My crazy set up - it isn't perfect, but it works for now.
The bale I strip is in behind and the steamer up front.
Of course, with the -29C temperatures I actually 
had to bring the steamer unit home because it kept
freezing and no amount of insulating was helping.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to ride Annie much during the Fall, as Daylight Savings reared it's ugly head, work doubled down, and we had a side project we were working on that ate up nearly all of my time. But, after years of wishing, hoping and slogging through so much red tape, I was (dare I say it?) happy the reason I wasn't riding was for the much bigger picture.

At some point I'll have to do a post dedicated just to this project, but I'll post some teasers in hopes that someone will guess what we've been up to. 

Any guesses?

On a particularly rainy day, wearing my most beautiful
highlighter flourescent jacket and pants. Standing in what 
will eventually be an aisleway <3

A rear view, and some snow.

Would you believe me if I told you I had to hand shovel most of the snow
inside the foundation out while I was sick?

All covered just in time for a massive amount of snow
incoming nearly two days later. This was taken on December 15th.

We had hoped to be farther along, but there were a few more hurdles in the way which delayed us nearly two and a half weeks and those precious days cost us framing and a roof. With the weather bitterly cold (-29°C or -20°F) and snow incoming for the last several days, we decided to put a lid on it officially on December 17th and let the foundation sit until Spring. Things are ready to rock and roll once the weather warms up and things start to thaw, and once that time comes, there will be no stopping us.

The last piece of the puzzle for the year of course was Annie's allergy panel results, which came to me at a work conference mid-November. Out of the allergens Nextmune tests for, Annie showed reactivity to 23. Perhaps the most interesting (to me anyway), are the items under "Foods". Being allergic to soy and flax is a huge indicator - commercial feeds and grains consistently have these two items in them and trying to avoid soy-based products or flax-based products is nearly unheard of (especially in this area which does not carry an abundance of brands).

Hopefully it shows up big enough to 
be legible on a phone screen.
Before I go any further into it, it's important to know a few things:

1. Grasses section is pollen only - contact or inhaled allergen

2. Food section is during digestion only.

3. Smut mix is a fungus found on grasses (Bermuda and Johnson only).

4. Allergens scoring in the 90s are not of concern; only items over 100, as the test does not have "borderlines".

I am still taking time to go through this report and what it means, as a lot of items are not native to our area and pose no significant risk (ie. Palm trees, Hackberry trees, Bahai grass, etc). Of course, the items that I recognize as being native to us and/or are in foods she could be exposed to have been removed, although I went grain-free a year or so ago so it's kind of a moot point (although helpful to know for supplements). Part of me is trying to figure out the difference between the Cottonwood tree and the Cottonseed itself, so its going to take some dissecting and research to fully understand the results. 

The vials - they come in three different strengths.
I'll go into it at some point here soon.

I officially OK'ed immunotherapy back in mid-November and finally received Annie's specially made vials quite literally just before Christmas. I hesitated on administering them for a while though, as the looming warning from the Vet we had seen in the Summer played over and over in my head. I did in fact begin her immunotherapy process just before the New Year and while we are only four injections in, I can't help but feel optimism and the potential to be able to ride my mare once again - maybe, just maybe like we used to.

There is still so much to learn about COPD and allergies - I am just doing my best to absorb every little thing I can and utilize my knowledge to better the lives of my horses.

And in the near future, looking forward to seeing them comfortably established in my barn.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The Spring and Summer

Well, it's been an absolute minute since I last blogged. It kind of makes me sad in one way, but it also has been weirdly cathartic to not feel pressured to write or share more private and intimate details about mine and my horse's life. 

Not that I don't enjoy writing or sharing, but it has been hard to stay motivated and part of me did not want to open myself up to judgement or criticism. Truth be told, I still don't know where the cards will fall with a lot of things and for a long time felt like I was suspended over a large ravine, clinging to the edge of a rock face with aching fingers... just hoping and praying to get some kind of traction to pull myself up and back onto flat ground again. 

It hasn't been all bad, though, because I have been chugging along with things and am trying to keep a level of indifference to things, as I know that stressing over something to the point of physical exhaustion is not productive or conducive. I mean, I do get pulled into the game of "I'm not doing enough", "I don't deserve these animals", "I'm a terrible owner", but I also remind myself I am quite literally doing everything I can to advocate for them and ensure their health and safety first and foremost.

Regardless of all of those... feelings... I figured it was time to do an update of sorts and while a lot has changed, a lot has stayed the same. We last left off sending Maizey to pasture which was a blessing and a curse all in one and somehow was one of the best and worst decisions I've made in a while (which, we'll get to that). 

Still, things had been moving forwards and the month of May came with sending Maizey off to "big kid pasture" and the unintentional purchase of a new-to-me trailer. It was one of those situations where you couldn't look a gift horse in the mouth because it just played out ever so poetically that even though I attempted to reel myself in and say I didn't need a new trailer, it just kind of... was too good of a deal too close to home to pass up.

And so, I somehow found myself bringing a 3 horse trailer home in the middle of attending a canine behavioural clinic. 


I did end up selling my little straight haul (a few months after purchasing my "new" trailer) that the SO and I refurbished five years ago after doing some touch ups and I was able to offset a majority of the costs spent on the "new to me" trailer. Which, heck ya I'll take that. I definitely shed a few tears as it pulled out of the driveway for the very last time - that trailer has seen so much and was one of my prized possessions. 

The very last picture with her <3

But I'm getting ahead of myself again...

Where was I? Oh, right... 

The month of May closed out with battling off and on flairs with Annie, who continued to baffle me with her inconsistent symptoms. I tried a variety of different medication (and at the time of first drafting this post, had just finished trialing yet another with zero success) and have tried to track her symptoms with borderline obsession with absolutely zero trend... It has been quite frustrating to have an inconsistent horse and no real conclusive or definitive answers to be seen. I remained optimistic for our Vet appointment in July though, and held hope that the allergy testing would at least reveal what her sensitives were so I could eliminate or start to manage them.

Admittedly, I didn't ride much this Summer. Annie fluctuated daily and some rides would be symptom-free outings where I could walk, trot and canter to my hearts delight. Other days, the prospect of even trotting would be met with several deep coughs. And so, on those days, I would simply come back to a walk and that's where we'd work. 

The Summer was.... tough.

And actually, I haven't schooled the mare since early Spring when she was feeling good. My desire to play in the sandbox currently mirrors the light of a dull flame most days, as I feel as though any schooling goals do not align with my current level of horsemanship. Her comfort and wellbeing will always be first and foremost, and with a pending vet appointment looming near the end of July to hopefully give us more answers, I saw no reason to push her for absolutely zero reason.

As June approached, I started taking Spud out for more drives and visited Maizey a handful of times. Things seemed to be pretty good and despite losing some weight initially, she seemed to fill back out as she stayed out on grass and learned the ins and outs of being a pasture-pony. The herd her and AJ were put out with were finally becoming more accepting and I was pleased to see she retained a good level of soundness as the month progressed.

I started hiking more - taking advantage of "less" horsey time and more "me" time, which was well needed. I still got the horses out for scheduled exercise but it was much less structured and still largely is. Some days we toodle, some days we stretch, and some days we walk in a frame and leg-yield like we know what we're doing.

The end of June brought a massive heatwave and with that came the first cut of hay for the year. Since Moo is boarded at a friend's barn and they only feed square bales, we got quite the work out loading 400 bales into the loft. We headed out around 4pm and called it quits around 1:30 in the morning - the humidity and heat was just killer and I distinctly remember looking at the clock and wincing when it read it was still in the high 20Cs (70F+). While some areas of the country are made for that kind of heat, we just AREN'T.

We regrouped the next day around 9am to offload the rest of the hay and finished around noon, which I was incredibly thankful to have that whole adventure behind us. The remainder of my hay will be roundbales which do not require the same level of handling and physical exertion, which brings me much happiness and relief. 

The things we do for our horses.

Regardless of the heat wave, I still got out to play pony and made my biweekly trip to the fairgrounds to let Annie and Spud loose to kick it into fifth gear, play, and buck and roll. They always seem so appreciative of the extra space to kick up their heels and truthfully, I am glad they are located closer to the grounds now so that I can give them that freedom. While their "new" boarding situation is much smaller than the previous one, it is spacious enough to allow some theatrics. Although, neither area (current and previous) would allow for Seabiscuit rehearsals, so the ability to turn them out at the public grounds is a good option.

Following a good visit with Maizey near mid-July I received a slurry of text messages in the middle of the night that some of the horses had gotten out, followed by a redaction that all the horses were in the pasture and not to worry. Upon waking up and reading this, I contacted the barn owner and we chatted for a bit before she realized that AJ had gotten loose on the property mid-morning and it Maizey was actually injured and had sustained a variety of cuts to all four of her legs, chest, and all up her thighs.

That's an unhappy leg, even post-wrapping.

There was a lot of back and forth, as the BO could not determine where the horses were getting out (as two others had made their way onto the wrong side of the property not long after she had put AJ back) and the message she had received the night before about a horse loose on her road became less impossible. Essentially, a concerned passerbyer had posted on social media that there was a loose horse on the road but when the BO went to check, all the horses were accounted for (albeit an hour later than the social media post). The following morning, one horse was out in front of the house and upon returning him to the pasture, two others had somehow gotten out as well.

I'm still not really sure what happened, and I'm not sure we will ever know but it didn't take me very long to decide that I was hitching up the horse trailer and bringing not only Maizey, but AJ home. What had initially seemed like a one-off was now turning into a safety issue, as the BO frantically stated AJ had gotten loose yet again and she had no one to assist her in repairing fences, as her husband was away on business. 

What we assume happened was once AJ got loose, Maizey attempted to join him and got absolutely cut up by barbed wire in the back 40. Thankfully all of her injuries were superficial in nature and despite being clearly sore and moderately lame, it did not appear as though she would need any significant intervention. The BO, the sweet lady that she is, apologized profusely and once she was able to contain all the horses, had messaged me that they found a rotten tree had fallen and taken out 30 feet of fencing in one of the back pastures. 

I still am not 100% sure on what happened and I don't think we will ever really know. I just know that horses are stupid and even with 180 acres to roam, they'll take the first opportunity they can get to exit stage left when they so have the chance.

It took four days to subdue the swelling that Maizey's hind right canon sustained and despite being fidgety (every single time I attempted to wrap her legs, she'd lift her leg, thinking I had wanted to see her hoof. No baby Moo, I need you to stand still) she was a pretty good girl. 

With that over and done with, I was able to shift my attention back to Annie, who waffled between flairing and not, especially during the heatwaves. Her symptoms still continue to be coughing and mucus production, although the mucus has been few and far between this year compared to last. 

The SO and I headed out mid-July for a Vet appointment and hauled 6+ hours for both Annie and Maizey to be seen. We opted to make it a bit of a trip (what kind of sick person takes a vacation for their horses vet appointments??.... me... that's who) and it was kind of nice to be out of town and enjoy ourselves. 

Moo took advantage of the tossed hay to make
herself a bed and have a nap each and every day.

The vet trip went about as well as it could have gone, I guess. The vet was very adamant that allergy testing was not "good enough" and that it is quite inconsistent. I had a hard time convincing her that this was the right test for my mare, and despite her begrudgement, she pulled blood and sent it off (but not before reminding me to "not expect much"). To her credit, I can understand and appreciate that the entire basis of allergy testing in horses remains a bit of a mystery at best. However, as more reputable and thorough studies (because the one I just linked is... mediocre at best) come to light, I imagine that the ideology behind blood test-based allergy tests will go by the way-side. Of course, intradermal testing is the best way to go (but not always possible depending on location). Anyways, I could write an entire tirade about the whole situation because it really left me defeated, but I'm trying my best to not let myself get pulled into that line of thinking. 

The test results for Annie came back nearly a week later and the first thing the vet said was that she warned me that testing was inaccurate and the results did not make sense. Which, fair enough I suppose. The two allergens that Annie showed reactivity to did not make sense, considering we don't even have any of the one (cockroaches) in the Northwest wilderness here. What followed was the basic conversation I have had with several other vets, "She has heaves - you have to manage it, here is more dex."

I don't want dex. 

I want my horse back.

You can see the two allergens depicted near the bottom of 
the page - this was page 3 of 5 allergens. All the remaining
allergens were pretty similar in "severity".

And while yes, what she warned me about appeared to come to fruition (because of course it did), she also stated that had Annie shown reactivity to items that made sense that she would not be able to offer us immunotherapy unless we were to trailer to the clinic to receive the injections. Which, okay... but you're 6 hours away and the only other vet close to us is 3 hours away. I'm not going to trailer my mare 3+ hours to get a shot every 2-3 weeks.

So, it was kind of a bust for Annie. 

I laid there and licked my wounds for a few days in defeat before sharing my results on several of the COPD groups I'm a part of. Several people were quick to respond, urging me to retest, as out of the hundreds of people I've seen share the results of their test, none have had the puzzling results I have had. (Quick note, the lab that was used is NOT one that people typically recommend for allergy testing. So... good to know).

It took a few weeks but I managed to book Annie in with another vet to be allergy tested with the blood being sent to a different lab for the Fall. (At this point I'm basically funding several vets' family vacations).

The Million Dollar Mare.

Maizey's updated radiographs were about as good as can be expected - she's attained a lot of arthritis in the area (surprise surprise) and despite how her radiographs look, the vet couldn't help but say good things about her level of soundness. Of course, since that appointment it waffled and weaved as I knew it would. 

Still, we hold onto the here and now and I've slowly been playing around with ground-driving and continued sacking out, although my motivation-meter is quite low. I don't think it'll make much of a difference in Moo, though, as she is relatively unbothered by most things (unless that thing is a tarp. No tarps please).

And just as August came into bloom, I started to play with Spud more and more and noticed some inconsistencies with him as well. There was some issues with his recovery times in harness, although I chalked most of it up to fitness-related issues and since I wasn't riding much, it seemed very plausible. Of course, that didn't stop me from obsessively checking him over, trying out a few breathing treatments and beginning to track how he felt in harness. 

The bestest boy.

I had anticipated to take him to the BVX at the end of August, but something just felt off and when the entry due date dawned ever closer, I made the decision to not only not enter any of my horses, but to not attend.

This would be the first year Show Buddy and I would not attend the BVX together in a very, very long time. There were a lot of tears shed and I rooted for her from my work desk - a very different scene from the past several years where either her or I would be ringside. It was absolutely bittersweet, but something just felt off about the whole thing and looking at how the following months unfolded, I am glad I didn't push Spud (or myself) to go.

So that's where I have been for a majority of the Spring and Summer - slogging my way through very frustrating and diagnostically impossible ailments in not one, but two of my horses. It's been a heck of a trip the last few years and I can feel it in my bones that I am nearing the end of the pages full of sadness, frustration, resentment and heartbreak because I am ready to start a new book with my herd and we are well on our way.

Stay tuned for a second, certainly more positive update.