My last update sharing Eliot’s cancer and my fears about letting him go was a bit of a downer. In case you’re worried, let me get to the punchline early: Simon is doing fabulous.
But it wasn’t easy getting here.
Earlier this year, I wrote a tounge-in-cheek post about Simon’s off again, on again’ness. Although that was a fairly accurate portrayal about how things went for us last winter, the truth was a little bit more serious than that. Historically a pretty gastrically sound horse, he kept showing tummy problems. Nothing major, but a series of mild gas colic that usually resolved with banamine but needed tubing at least once.
Now I don’t think I have to explain to anyone the kind of emotional attachment I have to this horse. During these few months, I was an absolute wreck. I worried constantly about his health, and kept imagining scenarios where I lost him to colic. The horse was a giant source of stress, which is the exact opposite of what a horse should be.
So I did what any rational, super broke graduate student equestrian would do — I threw money at the problem.
I got him insured, so I didn’t have to worry about the “can I afford colic surgery?” question. When his weight dipped, I put him on not one but two high end feeds. First we tried Ranitidine to treat his ulcers. After we doubled the dosage and still saw symptoms, I went balls to the wall and used my insurance to get a huge round of GastroGard. That was the turning point, and I finally started to see a happier, more relaxed Simon. Lesson learned – go straight to the real deal if you’re seriously concerned about ulcers. Do not try and pinch pennies. Do not pass go. Just give pharma your $200 (many sets of it) and enjoy a healthier horse.
Now, many months later, we’ve finally found the optimal situation for Simon. He needs orchard hay, no alfalfa (my vet said it can make ulcery horses worse… an unpopular opinion for some but I’m a believer). To bulk his weight up, I fed stabilized rice bran and Total Equine, which is a mix of alfalfa, rice bran and oil. Once we finished the ulcer treatment and his weight stabilized, I took him off of the rice bran and just do hefty amounts of Total. It gives him enough nutrients without adding sugar. I’ve also bit the bullet and started him on Smart GI Ultra, which is not cheap, but does offer ColicCare insurance and provide gastric support while preventing ulcers from re-growing. Any time he steps foot off the property or is in any way stressed, I give him a GastroGard the day before, during, and after the event. Basically, I treat his stomach like it’s super precarious and in return he’s finally glowing with health.
The other big change for me this year is that I’ve become one of those amateurs that has complete and total faith in training rides. Since January, Simon has been in partial training which means two days a week he gets worked by the trainers, and one day I get a private. Lately, I’ve switched to full training because the difference in him is absolutely outstanding.
Honestly, it feels like I went and bought a nicer horse. I know that seems absurd, but it’s true. While he’s never going to win the hack at an AA show, his trot is so much nicer than it was before. He pushes from the hind end, flicks his toes and relaxes his back. He’s straight and forward, and I can actually feel power in his canter when I ride properly. Turns out, jumping is a lot less scary when your horse feels like a powerhouse underneath you.
Long time readers will know that lead changes have been our achilles heel. It’s why we turned to the jumper ring in the first place. However through training magic, he’s getting his changes. He gets them almost all the time with the pro (because mad skills), and it’s starting to happen more often with me. Turns out, if I ask right… he usually does them for me.
Things aren’t perfect, and lord knows I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve never felt so pleased with our progress as a whole. I have loved all of the trainers I’ve ever worked with, and learned something from each of them. That will never change, but this is the first time I’ve been at a barn that treats me and my horse like serious competitors who can win.
They don’t look at Simon like the free Thoroughbred who’s sweet to his flabby amateur mom. They look at him like a talented horse they can improve.
We’ve both improved, and it’s really exciting. After years of thinking I knew how to ride okay, I feel like someone just turned on the lights. It’s (ever so slowly) translating to the show ring too, but that will have to be a different post.