Monday, May 2, 2011

Second (3rd, 10th, 400th?..) Opinions

Sunday was our appointment with Dr. Finn, and I had been greatly looking forward to it.  In addition to wanting to see her approach with P and listen to her analysis of another horse in the barn, Sunday was forecast to be 66 degrees and sunny - which we haven't seen the likes of in Seattle for going on nine months

The weather didn't disappoint, and frankly neither did Dr. Finn.  I got to the barn just as she was finishing up with the other horse (an adorable older Dutch guy who's been cranky but not "off").  While she was interested in working on a couple different parts on the old guy, she was primarily focused on his feet and how they were likely contributing to his increased crankiness.

She led a very informative and interesting discussion on her philosophy with feet (basically following Pete Ramey's principles) that I really enjoyed.  Most interesting was listening to her difficulties with sharing her observations and theories with local farriers as well as other vets.  While she trims her own horses, she tries to leave clients with instructions and goals to pass along to their own farriers for implementation.  I've had my own struggles with diplomatically guiding a farrier's trim, but I was somewhat shocked at how often her opinions were entirely discarded.  Regardless, I was really curious what she would have to say about Pia's shoe-throwing-bull-nosed-newly shod toes.  :)

She started her exam of Miss P with an in depth history of my time with her.  I tried to fill in as many details about her childhood with Supermom  (her preemie birth, slow and steady start, ground work, etc) to which Dr. Finn immediately filled me in on the Chinese medicine implications of an early birth.  Of course, just when I started to think that maybe she was going to head a little farther out to left field than I was comfortable with, Dr. Finn came right back and starting giving me her observations of P's physical condition.

Right off the bat she focused on an overdeveloped muscle where P's neck ties into her shoulder.  This is a large lump of a muscle that's decidedly below her topline, but remains prominent regardless of how much work the mare is doing.  Apparently it's not normal (I guess I knew this) and the rigid tone of it suggests that it's formed as a compensating factor for other inadequacies.

What's the downside? Apparently it's restricting her shoulder's range of motion rather severely and would explain why she sort of hurls herself over cavaletti (especially at the canter), instead of reaching up and out with her shoulders.  It might be somewhat due to her feet, but who knows.  Oh, and also, it would apparently make "moving forward" a bit of a tricky question for the mare.  (interesting)
This pic is from last summer when P had already had 2 months off... topline melted away, but weird neck muscle remains!
Next up we addressed her mouth and jaw, which P was NOT excited to have handled.  We got an "excellent mouth!" comment from the dentist last week, so I was surprised to see Dr. Finn so intrigued by the level of discomfort that P had around that area.

I want to clarify that P is not head shy in the slightest.  I can clip anywhere, shove my hands down her ears, in her mouth, up her nose... but in terms of being palpated, or massaged, there were all sorts of unhappy trigger points going off.  I asked if this could have anything to do with Pia's weirdo stretch (head to side, neck totally extended), and she thought they were probably associated.  Dr. Finn asked if Pia yawned (I said yes), and then asked if she did it normally.


Apparently that means "straight" and not always with a crossed jaw.  I honestly couldn't answer the question, but P's 10 consecutive crossed jaw yawns answered the question for me.  Apparently she does not yawn normally.  Apparently that is also an indication of something being somewhat misaligned in her poll/head area.
P demonstrating her weirdo stretch in Sept 2010
We moved on to P's stomach and ribs, which were ok, until we got to her last few ribs which, apparently are not only "slab sided" (not normal) but very, very ouchie for Miss P.  Mind you I curry the crap out of the mare and she doesn't flinch, but I think Dr. Finn was poking her in a different manner.

Finally she noted P's lumbar area which has her distinctive hump, which she pointed to as being another locked up, self inflicted issue. 

Essentially she was seeing a bottled up, locked up, unhappy mare incapable of moving freely even if she wanted to...

That's when we moved outside to walk/jog for Dr. Finn, but Pia was being a pistol - so she asked if Pia would be happier to free lunge for a bit.  Pia is always happier to be free lunged for a bit, so we moved to the ring and let the mare loose.

By this point, a majority of the barn (BO, boarders, sig others, my dad..) had collected in the corner all just waiting for the Pia show and what insights from on high Dr. Finn would be sharing with us.

I didn't get to hear Dr. Finn's comments while I was chasing the mare in circles, but my heart sorta stopped when after only two minutes Dr. Finn called out "ok, that's good, come on over here..." and waited away from the group to talk to me.

In my head this was the equivalent of being taken into the "little room" at the dr's office to hear the results of a routine test.  No good news is ever delivered away from public ears, and I was pretty sure that since P had only been motoring around for a few minutes, that she couldn't have been deliberating that hard over what she was seeing - or what she wanted to talk to me about.

I stopped, called P (who came right into me) and we walked over to where Dr. Finn was waiting...

She opened the conversation by asking me what my game plan was.

Ummmm, well, I was hoping to get an easy diagnosis that everyone else has missed- give my horse two weeks off, and be home in time to make a tuna fish sandwich then go enjoy the rare emergence of the sun...

What I actually said was a very eloquent "uhhh, what do you mean by gameplan?"

I quickly realized that she was trying to ascertain what my commitment to the horse was, and what my priorities were in terms of treatment options.  OHHHH, you mean am I going to take her out back and shoot her if you tell me I need to spend $$$$ to make her better?

No.  No, I'm not.  In fact I'd probably move into her cute little shed and save on rent if that helped me afford whatever crazy option you're about to suggest.

I reminded Dr. Finn that I was all set to drop $15k on spinal surgery a year ago, and I remained pretty damn open to nearly any option if it had a snowballs chance in hell of making the mare more comfortable and hopefully a little happier under saddle.

Dr. Finn went on to discuss that while P was by no means the most "drastic" case that she had seen, she was confident that in order to begin to unlock all of her weird muscle issues and make some real progress - that we needed to hit a Big 'ol Reset Button.

Reset Button.  I like reset buttons.  I hit them all the time.  On my computer, on my wii, on myself... but I wasn't totally sure where exactly Pia's reset button was located, or how exactly to "hit it."

Dr Finn gave me a quick rundown of how she would approach rebooting Miss P if she had full access to her.  She also made it very clear that she didn't think she could be much help without full access to her....  Which consequently, brought up the rather obvious point of how to give Dr. Finn an all access pass to the Pia Show.

Summer Camp.

Apparently Miss Pia will be going to sleep away camp this summer.

Dr. Finn has big 'ol ranch in the banana belt of Washington just on the other side of Puget Sound.  Apparently for the first 30 days, new horses are slowly introduced to her roaming herd of horses, who eventually P would end up being turned out with 24/7.  The idea is to give new horses as natural a lifestyle as possible.  Letting them socialize, run, and squabble as god intended.  They gallop, they fight, they cross ponds, they sleep, they roll and they get really, really dirty.  (Not too different from Caesar Milan's whole "pack" theory for problem dogs.)

After however long it takes to get the horse thinking and acting like a real horse, Dr. Finn and her cowboy friend work to slowly bring them back to work. They do lots and lots of groundwork, including targeting and some parelli(ish) games before broaching undersaddle work again.  All of this happens hand in hand with consistent bodywork, hoof rehab, and any other necessary treatments from Dr. Finn.

Eventually, cowboy man starts really riding, with the intent to keep the horse moving as naturally as possible as they reacquaint themselves to work again.  Apparently this means full gallops in nothing but a rope halter, which I can safely say is a strategy that I have not tried on my own. :)

Ideally, Dr. Finn wants full owner participation but in considering the 2+ hour drive (and a ferry ride) to get to the ranch.. it's not very realistic for me to be involved more than twice a week..

However, that phase a long ways off and I'm still sorting through things.  Right now I am feeling pretty confident about my decision to jump all in to the process -  Give P time to reset her horsey button, re-muscle and reenter the working world with a few things adjusted from the bottom up.

So again, to recap we spend 30-60 days with the herd, 30 days with ground games, then back to work.  Dr. Finn says ideally horses spend 3-6 months with her before they are ready to go home and maintain their changes.  She's worked with a number of sport horses, and right now her herd has a number of warmbloods all enjoying their little sojourn away from their normal lives.  She's successfully rehabbed jumpers, FEI dressage horses, eventers and even a few reiners.

When I was talking with her it sounded brilliant.  When I regurgitated it to The Boy, I couldn't quite capture the magic, and even as I'm typing this I feel like I"m not connecting the dots as clearly or concisely as I should be.   Maybe it's my RAGING cold, but I doubt it.

Regardless, there are still details to be figured out before P packs her bags for the summer, but I'm really liking the idea of trying something completely different and hoping it helps.

Plus, I really loved going away to summer camp and I'm sure P would too...


  1. So intrigued by the premie stuff. Ozzy had a lot of complications at birth and I often wonder how much of a lasting effect his first months had on his life.

    He also has that hard lump of muscle and I suspect limited range of motion was what restricted his use of his right lead when I first taught him to canter. He also has a bone spur in his right shoulder, which could be what he's compensating for.

    Loved this entry. Learned a lot. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. It sounds like your first impulse was to try Dr. Finn's idea. I think sometimes it takes a leap of faith when you are confronted with new / unfamiliar methodologies. Heck - it's not major surgery with never ending rehab so what could it hurt?

    Go with your gut. I wish you and Pia the best of luck and success!!

  3. I don't know why you think it doesn't sound as magical as she made sure makes me want to try it with *my* problem child. Hm. Any chance you'd be willing to share more info for those of us who might also be interested?


  4. Two things. 1. ROAD TRIP! 2. I'm doing the same thing with Denali, well -minus the whole riding thing, but the herd has helped her so much!! This sounds great!

  5. I suspect Sugar was either a premie or a bottle baby...would love to get a hold of her breeders. Hate to sound cliche...follow your heart and see what happens. If your heart says Dear Pia, have fun at summer camp, make sure you take lots of pictures and share what you learn :D

  6. WOW. I think it sounds like something completely different than anything else you've tried, but that could be really, really good. Her insights on Miss P sounds like they were accurate, and she was able to pinpoint problems in a short amount of time, which is a good sign. Before you jump in, I'd want to talk to some horse owners who have been through their program (or at least see whether they would provide you with some references), but that's just me -- true skeptic over here. Either way, this was a very interesting post and I am so curious to see how this pans out.

  7. I think letting Pia be a more natural horse and see how that works for her will do wonders. I just brought home my 23 yo retired guy who has been on a 15 acre pasture (with hills, his own pond, and three other retirees) for the past 3 years. He is fat, muscled, and his feet look great. Compare him to my friend's 9 yo gelding who lived in a stall 16 hours a day and was turned out in a small paddock with free-choice hay for 8 hours a day. He has no topline, his body is upside-down, and his feet are weak - and he is FOURTEEN YEARS younger. It's pretty obvious to me which lifestyle is better for horses - I'd say give it a shot! I think Pia will love it and you'll have a whole new horse!

  8. My horse went spent two years at Horse “adventure camp” when he was retired from racing. He went from spending 23 hours a day in a stall and little to no horse contact to living on 4,000 acres of pasture with 40+ other retired race horses. I think that it did a world a good for him. During his last race he was so badly injured that he needed to be loaded onto the horse “ambulance” and taken off the track because he couldn’t walk off by himself. When he got to his adventure camp the vet that owned it said that he was in really rough shape. But given the time to rehab and be a horse was just what he needed. If you saw him now you wouldn’t even believe that he was once a race horse. Right now he is staying up at my hubby’s grandma’s house at a shorter “adventure camp” while we get my new house set up for horses. Apparently, he needed a vacation, when we drove away he looked happier than I’d seen him in a very long time, as he was splashing away in a puddle.

  9. Interesting... hope it works out for you guys. At least she could see a problem where no one other than you seemed to before.

  10. Oh wow. When you mentioned Dr. Finn in Washington I wondered if there were 2. But nope its the same one (I think). If she is on the kitsap peninsula she's my horses vet. And my sisters too. Wow small world! Wow Pia could be down the road from me, almost scary. LOL.
    I will say she is a great vet, and I do know many people who rave about her. I also know people who think she's nuts. All I can say is I think she's great.

  11. I expect that Pia would benefit from lots of turnout and a herd of friends. I like the hoof care change, too. But why the cowboy gallop?

  12. Dr. Finn is great. As a person, I don't care for her, but as a vet- she can't be beat in this area, IMO. (I'm from the town she lives in. :) )

  13. Wow, sounds like a big change but just to comfort you a bit...I do a (ghetto) version of this for my Laz, during his rehab, etc. It's been all the diff in the world for our positive growth. He's out 24/7, comfortably barefoot, watch his diet, use Masterson Method as a reset for muscles, trigger points, etc, use some Parelli, tons of ground work mixed now w/ riding, etc etc etc. It's been awesome. There are times where my more business/sensible sides goes "What the F am I doing with his herbs, etc" but then...proof is in the pudding. Pudding is my horse :) GOOD LUCK with all these decisions, etc. It sounds like the camp is run like a "Paddock Paradise" this person runs ones close to you:

  14. Wow, how did I miss all this? FWIW, I think it sounds fabulous. Pia is so gorgeous and talented and you two can do anything you want. If this works she is going to thank you FOREVER for "resetting" her and making her more comfortable. Good luck, can't wait to hear more!


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