Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Lump: Part 2

As promised, the vet came for another visit yesterday. He started out by palpating her thyroid again and doing a physical exam; the thyroid hasn't changed in size that he could detect, her temp is normal, heart rate was slightly elevated (she has been TERRIFIED of him ever since he gave her the stangles vaccine earlier this year), her weight and muscling is good, appetite hasn't changed.

The other vet that he's consulted with recommended doing an ultrasound first to see if the mass was solid or fluid filled.

equine thyroid mass ultrasound
A very drunken Maggie getting her right thyroid ultrasounded

equine thyroid mass ultrasound image
Image on the screen of the abnormal thyroid lobe

He imaged the other lobe of the thyroid too for comparison. The questionable lobe is certainly oddly shaped, but only a little bit bigger than the normal one. 

equine thyroid mass ultrasound normal versus abnormal
Comparison of the abnormal versus normal thyroid lobes, outlined for your viewing convenience (actually so that theor size could be measured)

Then he took a needle and syringe and used it to try and aspirate (just pulling back on the syringe to suck up some cells) the mass. He thinks he got some cells - I guess sometimes you just can't get cells out if it's a solid mass - but we will have to wait for the results to actually know. Looking at cells under a microscope would be able to tell us if they are cancerous or not. He also drew some more blood to run the same tests again, just to be sure the results from the first one wasn't a lab error. So it's another 1.5 - 2 week wait for the results from both these tests... If we didn't get cells from the mass I don't know what the next step would be :-/ so hopefully we've got some!

Until then I get to keep working her as normal. I'm giving her the next couple days off anyway though, mostly just due to being busy, but I also imagine that one would feel a little sore having one's thyroid poked with a needle...

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lump

In the beginning of July I noticed a lump in Maggie's throat latch region as I was grooming her. It was only on right side of her neck and about ping-pong ball to golf ball sized. I couldn't see it, but I was lucky to run into it by feel. The other day I noticed hay I could see it very faintly in the right lighting:

You can only faintly see it. Particularly a curved outline on the right side of the circled area.

Three weeks ago I had the local vet out to look at it, since it hadn't gone away or decreased in size. He said enlarged gland in that region weren't uncommon and that he'd seen some the size of apples with no detriment to the horse. He did say it felt like her thyroid though. I suggested we draw blood anyway and have her thyroid hormone levels screened so that at the very least we could have baseline levels in case it ever got bigger later.

Last week the vet called me with the results. All three of the hormones that they tested for (free T4, T4, and T3) were elevated, which the vet explained was very rate; he'd never seen it before and the lab that processed the tests had only seen it three time before. True hyperthyroidism is rare in horses - there are only two published papers citing cases! My vet also called another (very experienced) vet in the region who said that it was highly unlikely that a lab mistake would yield these unusual results. 

Maggie's blood test results

So according to these hormone levels, Maggie might have a thyroid tumor - fun stuff! I've made another vet appointment for this Wednesday and the vet will take blood again to retest the hormones, plus he will try to aspirate the mass to see if we can get some cells to identify. The mass could either be an adenomas, which is benign, or a carcinoma, which is cancerous. In the latter case, she'd need to have. Thyroid surgically removed :/

On the bright side, Maggie is doing perfectly well and seems totally healthy other than that stupid lump. Her coat looks great, she's well muscled and in good body condition, and totally fine with her current exercise load. The vet said that with a thyroid tumer he'd think she'd be displaying some other symptoms like a poor hair coat and body condition. Very mysterious...

I'll keep you posted as I find out more! For now, I'll be enjoying working her as normal!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WNRDC Pipestave Hill Horse Trials 7/13/14

Two Sundays ago (yes, I've already let myself fall behind in posting...) I took Maggie to Pipestave Hill in West Newbury for their July horse trials. I had competed at Pipestave twice before on a horse I leased years ago and I loved the event. It really is the perfect place to get into eventing - the event coordinators are all very friendly and very forgiving (ie. if you got eliminated in stadium you could still run XC for the experience) and the XC course has the perfect sized jumps and isn't too long or taxing for a young, inexperienced horse. As a whole the event is focused on horse and rider having positive experiences and gaining confidence while still being competitive.

I registered for the Elementary division, so we did Intro Test B again for dressage. Maggie was excellent in the warm-up...loads more calm than she was for dressage schooling at GHF. Maybe she just like Pipestave better for some reason? Either way, we both managed to stay relaxed in the warm up and she felt good. I didn't want tire her out too much before our actual test because it was quite hot out that day (in the 80's an they didn't waive jackets!)

Maggie stayed nice and calm during the test - no "looky" behavior at all - and I felt like we had certainly done better than our last time out. I was completely blown away with the actual results though: a 26.3!!! Forget that one 8 from our BN test at GHF...we just blew that out of the water! And well probably have a hard time beating that personal best. I'm very pleased though that the work I've been doing trying to sit up tall and slow down seems to have helped.

Warming up for dressage. Much more relaxed, but still alert.

Here's the full test:

So checking the scores, we were sitting in 1st in our division by almost 4 points after dressage! At Pipestave, they have arranged it so that the second phase is stadium jumping and you hack down to the start of the XC course right after you finish your round.

This year the stadium course was in a different place than I'd ever seen it: instead of in one of the two rings it was in a small corner of the property that was used in years past for dressage warm-up. I'm not sure of the logic of it - I imagine it was to give more room for dressage warm-up, which I appreciated, but it made the stadium course very tight and also a little spooky for some of the horses.

On course in stadium. 
Fortunately, Maggie was totally fine with it! I think she's really getting keen on jumping. She was very alert and was looking around when we first entered the ring, but then as soon as she figured out that we were there to jump she was very focused. We jumped clear, so off to XC we went!

I've got to admit, I was a little nervous about the XC. After all, this was Maggie's first course! I had only been able to get out and school with her once prior. Turns or I had nothing to worry about though, because she totally owned it! Just like with the stadium, she seems to know what her job is. We did have one little bobble on fence three which was a light blue colored coop. I had purposefully not jumped his gene when we were schooling because I was convinced that it was too big for our division (guess I was wrong!) She hesitated but didn't stop, and with a tap of the crop and some mad clucking from me we chipped over it. The rest of the course went perfectly!

Owning the XC - look at those knees!
Her ears are up in every jumping picture! Photo credit: Sophiea Bitel.
So proud :)

So we ended our first three-phase with a win in the Elementary division! I think all the flat work has certainly been paying off and the bit of jumping mixed in has been good as well. 

Things to work on:
  1. Not jumping ahead.
  2. Giving her more of a release over fences.
  3. Keeping our trot work consistent.
  4. Starting canter work so that we can move up to doing beginner novice tests. The canter work will also help with making her jumping more consistent. If I can get a good canter rythym, then that will help me see distances to jumps and if I can see distances better it will hopefully help keep me from jumping ahead.

And I've got to give a shout out to my wonderful, supportive, and very tolerant husband for the camera work and horse-holding :)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Getting up to speed

I wish I had thought to start this blog roughly 2 years ago, back in November of 2011 when I first brought home "Maggy" as a foster horse from the MSPCA at Nevin's Farm.
MSPCA Nevin's Farm Maggie Adopted Mustang
They let me put the "adopted" star on the sign!

Maggie was part of a herd of mustangs and mustang x Arab crosses that were seized from a farm in western Massachusetts as part of a neglect case. When she came to me she was just halter broke. I spent the rest of the winter doing ground work with her; teaching her to tie, pick up her feet, be groomed, work on the lunge line, etc. By springtime she was getting used to wearing a saddle. My first time on her was bareback and I had friend lead me around as if I were on a pony ride. The second time I put a saddle and a rope halter on her and we puttered around the arena for a little while. For her third ride we trail rode with a few friends of mine down to a local pond and back. She marched along the several mile trail like she had been doing it all her life. 

Last October (2013), I took Maggie to her very first show at Pipestave Hill in West Newbury. We placed 3rd in the "Grasshopper" division (a two-phase) and I could not have been more proud of her!

Pipestave Hill October 2013 Dressage
Riding Intro Test B at PHHT in October 2013

Pipestave Hill October 2013 Jumping
Warming up for her first stadium jumping course

I hope to write more about Maggie's early progress later, but for now I want to get this blog up to speed with the current happenings. 

My goals for this spring and summer were to get her out to more shows, getting comfortable with the surroundings, improving our dressage, and eventually going baby-level XC.

At the end of May I took her to the Groton House Farm 2-phase - her second ever show. With a dressage score of 34.4 and two jumping refusals we took home 3rd. Both refusals came at the first fence of the course. For whatever reason, that fence was downright spooky! Two other people in our division and multiple riders in other divisions were eliminated right then and there. I was extremely proud that we were able to get over it the third time! 

Warming up for dressage at the GHF 2-phase in May. This is one of the better pics, but looking at all of them afterwards I decided that one thing I really needed to work on was keeping myself sitting tall with my shoulders back.

Groton House Farm 2-phase jumping. May 2014
GHF 2-phase stadium jumping. Photo by Elisabeth Pundt Photography
Groton House Farm 2-phase 3rd Place
We got 3rd overall at GHF 2-phase! Pretty psyched!

In June, we went to the GHF Summer Classic, but did the dressage only. I didn't feel like she was quite ready for the slightly more imposing jump and the longer course that the GHF offered. She was pretty nervous warming up this time out for whatever reason. Partly, I think she was hearing the horses over in the stadium warm up. We rode Intro Test B first and came out with a 36.9. Not horrible; looking at the other scores of the day it's still a competitive score, but I knew we could do better than that. We also rode BN test A, which not only was our first time doing this test, but her first time cantering in a test! She was able to relax a little more by the time we went into the ring this second time and we got a 35.8. I was just happy she picked up the correct lead in each direction! We also came out with our first ever 8 for our centerline at the start of the test. Overall a good experience, but I certainly wished she would have relaxed more.

Groton House Farm Summer Classic dressage schooling June 2014
Before our first test at the GHF Summer Classic dressage schooling. She was very "looky" that day.
So that sums up where we are up to this point. There are a couple things that I've been working on since then:

  1. Me relaxing = Maggie relaxing. When I get tense, I tend to shorten the reins and hold too much contact. This makes her get more tense too and then we're both just a hot mess.
  2. Control the trot rhythm with my seat, not my hand. Use my core muscles to control my posting speed.
  3. Sit up tall and keep my chin up and shoulders back. The need for this was very apparent in some of the photos that were taken!
The cool thing is, all these bullet points are interrelated. If I sit up tall then I'm better able to use my core to slow my posting, which helps me control Maggie's rhythm and speed. She likes to pick up the speed when she's nervous and tugging on the reins certainly doesn't help, so keeping myself from getting tense and being able to slow her down with my seat instead of my reins will help her stay relaxed as well!

The next show on the menu is the Pipestave Hill Horse Trails in West Newbury. I plan on entering the Elementary division, which means running our first XC course! Stay tuned! 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Here we go with this blog thing... goes with this blog thing! 

For starters, an introduction/disclaimer: I've never been a writer. I never particulary enjoyed the subject in school, and every journal I've ever tried to keep has always ended up abandoned in a relatively short period of time. But I think there's one good reason that this blogging thing might succeed...because HORSES. 

Yes, horses. Horses are my passion. And as much as I've never really liked writing, I've never really liked the word 'passion' either. I think it's overused and for me it conjures images of doey-eyed people lost in an unrealistic wanderlust. Alas, I don't know what else besides passion would drive me to spend the majority of my free time and money or occupy a large portion of my thoughts on a daily basis. 

So here I am writing about horses as I sit on the train home from work when I should really be studying or doing something more "productive."

I have a few goals/ reasons for starting this blog:

  1. Use it to share/ track my progress as I [hopefully] begin my baby-level eventing career with my horse, Maggie.
  2. Develop my mad writing skillz (not off to the best start here, but oh well, I'm having fun.) As much as I have despised writing in the past and perhaps even held some disdain for blogging, it's actually something that I'd like to improve at.
  3. Chronicle a bit of what it's like trying to balance training a horse with a career, a commute, and a family. Spoiler alert: it's not easy, but so worth it.
  4. Perhaps connect with some other adult amateur riders out there trying to balance similar things as myself. Let's learn from each other!

So, read on if for whatever reason you're interested in what I have to say. Or maybe you'll just like looking at all the pretty pictures I hope to post. That's cool too.