Friday, September 6, 2019

Ready for Training: The Eager Learner

(note: this blog post was supposed to be written months ago but Things got in the way. Therefore, the details of its origins may be fuzzy due to my memory bank being overwhelmed with more current cases! But the results remain in active use)

When we train with positive reinforcement, we get eager learners. That is certainly the case with mine. When winter finally started to let go a little in March of 2019, I began working with horses after morning chores. As soon as Percy noticed this new routine, he was excited for training sessions to begin.  When I was cleaning stalls, he would come over to the barn and poke his head in over his dutch door, wondering if I was ready yet. And he would wait there, ignoring the hay in his paddock, nickering hopefully, while I went through all the chores. 

I wanted a way to explain to him that he could go eat his breakfast and I wouldn't forget but that I would come get him when I was ready. I needed a cue to tell him when I was available. I didn't want it to be his halter, because then if I went out with anyone's halter, he would think it was time. I needed it to be clearly visible from a bit of a distance so that he could see it from afar. I didn't want it to be anything I wore because, well, weather. 

Having learned that yellow and blue are both colors which can be seen by horses, I have two other bright yellow objects that I use for different Percy cues. It has become "his" color. I decided to stick with a good thing. The nice thing about bright yellow is that it can be seen from a distance, and with the exception of peak foliage season, it usually stands out against the background. In my tack room, I had some sheets of rubbery material which I thought would be weatherproof, large enough, and yes, there was a yellow one. I had my cue. 

Next to explain it to Percy.  I opted go the route of letting him figure it out. He's a smart boy and I didn't really want to try to train him to come to it or target it because I wanted this, as with my other cues, to be clearly optional.  One thing I have learned from the consent/control type work I've done is that history of reinforcement is a very strong motivator. Anything we teach as a starter cue which is separate from the actual behavior can be deceptive if not carefully trained. "Sure I'll touch that target, but hey!  I didn't know I was going to get a shot when I did!".  This can put the horse in conflict if they know touching the target will earn a treat, but they fear the pain which might occasionally follow. 

If I taught Percy that coming to the yellow sign would earn a treat, then he would certainly come to the sign. But if what I wanted was for him to learn the sign simply indicated my availability for a training session, I decided it would be better to have no reinforcement history for the sign itself. The only consequence for coming when he saw the sign would be a training session. If he enjoyed training and wanted to participate, he could come over.  If the sign was not out, then coming over might earn him some brief attention in the form of tactile rubs, but then I'd go back to my chores. 

Percy's default is that if he sees me approach a door or gate, he comes right over. Now I simply needed to "label" that behavior with my sign. My training process was to take the sign with me when I went to the door with the intention of a training session. If I did anything else near the door, there was no sign, and I did not yield to his requests for a training session. 

He figured it out in three days. 



Without the sign, he ignored me completely and stayed out at his hay pile. As soon as he saw me approach with the sign, he came right over.  I tried to be sure that he never made contact with the sign.  Interacting with it was not the point.  As soon as he approached, I put the sign off to the side, put his halter on, and brought him in to the barn. He did not get clicked or treated for coming, nor for haltering or any other part of the transitional process. His only consequence was a training session. Therefore, if he came over when he saw it, I knew that the training process itself was reinforcing.  A behavior which is reinforced is more likely to be repeated. He continued to come over when he saw the sign = training sessions were reinforcing for him. I loved that he could now stay out and eat breakfast without hanging around hoping for a training session.  He now had a way to know when that would happen. The other thing I loved was that being Spring, I'd give him a thorough 30 minute grooming before training, something which was initially taught with positive reinforcement, but has been conditioned so that they are no longer needed. So he wasn't actually getting any treats for a good half hour after coming in. His decision to approach was based on our history together being an enjoyable time, even if he wasn't sure exactly what it would be. 

This led me to another possibility. Some days we did training sessions in the barn and some days we went for walks. If you read my "Learning to be Brave" post back in February, you'll know that going for walks used to be a very scary thing for Percy and that part of the process in helping him through it was to push through some hesitation on his part. In that process, if he stopped or looked worried, I did not turn around and take him back, but I proceeded in such an incremental process that he was able to go slightly further and further. Reading his body language over time was enough to tell me that he was becoming more comfortable.  

But would he CHOOSE to go for these walks? I wasn't really sure. And I thought my new sign could help me find out. If I went for walks some days and did training sessions in the barn with lots of treats on other days, how would I know if he was just hoping it wasn't a walk day? I needed to give him clear information that today was a walk day, and see what his response was. 

Again, I chose to let him figure it out. He'd figured out the sign in three days so I trusted he'd figure this out too.  The only thing I did differently was where I placed the sign and myself. If I hung the sign over his dutch door, we were going in the barn. He usually got some grooming first but at some point, we'd do a training session. He didn't know exactly what we'd be working on, but I was pretty confident that didn't matter. 

If instead, I was planning on taking him for a walk down the road, I would take the sign and go to the gate which connected the paddock and the barnyard. That is actually what you see in the video above. When he came to the gate, I'd put on his halter, and we'd go directly down the driveway for a walk- no grooming, no clicks and treats. By now I had dropped the Foundation Lessons portion of our walks. There was green grass growing along the roadside and we just went a little further each time, then stop and have a lovely hand grazing session. 

In the months which followed, he never hesitated to come over if I took the sign to the gate.  There was one day when he ignored it when I hung it over the door.  I have no idea why, but I had to be very firm with myself: he knows what this means. He chose not to come over so you need to respect that and walk away, regardless of your training plan or other schedule for the day.  I did, and he never ignored the sign after that. 


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Lessons Learned

Three weeks ago, Percy first injured his knee. He's been home for two weeks after a week at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, where he was treated for a puncture wound into his knee joint. When they told me he'd need 30 days of stall rest, and then handed me the discharge instructions that stated another two months of restricted turnout after that, I knew I had to do some serious planning. I'm certainly not the first person to deal with this but I wasn't sure how best to go about it. So these posts are my way of sharing my experiences, in hopes that if anyone else can benefit from them, it's worth my time in writing them. My previous post in this series details how I began. In this post, I'll summarize some of the lessons I've learned in the two weeks since. 

My good friends, Cindy Martin and Katie Bartlett each gave me sage bits of advice on this stall rest thing. Katie said that she usually found that horses settled in to the routine after about a week. Cindy said I'd probably find a good routine and it would work for a day or two and then I'd need to adapt. Not as contradictory as it might sound, they both proved to be true. I found that I settled in after a week, and for the most part that meant we had a new routine overall that Percy understood.  But yes, we needed to adapt every couple days.

The lessons I've learned:


Nanny Kizzy 
Lesson number 1- ponies are wonderful.  Don't underestimate the value of having some sensible equines under 14 hands around. When one needs a babysitter, they're usually able to provide the necessary resumé, and they work for less than minimum wage. If you have more than one, they can share duties. In our case, Kizzy spends nights with Percy in the barn, mornings on limited rations next to him while he gets his 12 x 12 grass. She gets evenings off when she goes out with Walter for a few hours (picture Walter and Kizzy playing darts at a bar). 

Stowaway fills in when she's off. He was less than pleased the first night he had to stay in for the evening, but he got to go out at late night, and by the next night he seemed to have adjusted. That schedule remains. 

Lesson number 2- enrichment is a no-brainer but Percy told me the best enrichment is the interactive type. If I gave him his carrot ball, he wanted me to hold it for him. When I put it down, he ignored it. Same with the huge chunk of watermelon I gave him and the apples I stuck on a tree branch. The corn husks were great as long as they could be used for tug of war with me.  And so on. Luckily, I had planned on plenty of training sessions and they soon filled in for the bulk of his enrichment. 

Lesson number 3- a Houdini is a Houdini is a Houdini.  Sedation does not reduce one's creativity. On one of the first days, I let Percy loose in the aisle to explore. I have plastic chains across the ends of the aisles and he has always respected them. Not that day. He walked down to the end of the aisle, and without so much as a look back or hesitation, he ducked his head, walked underneath, and trotted (EEK!) over to say hi to Ande and Rumer. Which isn't the first, nor last time, I was grateful for:

Lesson number 4- a long history of positive reinforcement training. It is invaluable during rehab situations. All he wanted to do when he escaped was to greet his buddies. He was no trouble to catch (though I had grabbed an entire freaking bag of peppermints just in case). I have used his history and understanding of learning theory to bandage, remove sutures, begin hand walking, administer meds, and on and on. 


scab on left from previous day's shove
Lesson number 5- transitions are difficult. The careful setup I executed to turn everyone out in the morning worked like a charm.  But it never occurred to me to plan similarly for when everyone came back in.  I blew that big time and just now feel like I'm starting to extricate myself from the fallout. When he hears the others approach the barn to come in, he gets really anxious.  If I open the top door so he can see them coming, he threatens to jump out. If I leave him with doors closed, he spins around in Stowaway's stall.  When I tried putting him in his own stall before bringing them in, he shoved the closed top door so hard both days that he skinned up his nose. Spinning was preferable. I now have a planned routine for that phase of the morning.

I did think to transition carefully to our hand walking and outdoor 12 x 12 turnout. Long before I was allowed to hand walk, I would step outside the barn door and let him graze.  It was only two steps out the door and there was good, good grass. He was surrounded by friends and was happy to drop his head and eat, eat, eat. We went a few steps further each day but I still let him drop his head immediately. Grazing is incredibly soothing. Once I had the 12 x 12 pen set up, I transitioned to that carefully as well. The first day I just left it open and hand grazed him inside it. We had an escape if necessary and he had company. The next day I started by hand grazing, then removed his halter but stayed there just leaning on the pen while he grazed. The next day I began the same way, but after he had been quietly grazing a while, I stepped into the nearby paddock and started picking manure. I was close enough he could see me and close enough I could get to him quickly if necessary. 






12 x 12 outdoor "stall"
front end in
hind end coming in

Over ensuing days, I gradually moved into doing chores that were further away, but I still make sure I have eyes on him. I also let him graze his way into the pen.  I feel like if I led him to the pen and let him go, it could lead to a whoopee moment. Instead he grazes toward the pen. Having eaten most of the route, it doesn't take long to get there. I guide him to the opening and at some point, he volunteers to walk in.  During that time, he often picks his head up high to see if he can see Walter and Stowaway way out in the field, he checks out what's going on up the road, stops chewing to listen for wild critters, etc. I feel that because I am with him and he is not confined, he is less likely to react. After another minute or two of grazing inside the pen, he lifts his head and nudges me.  Anthropomorphism alert: it's as if he is saying, "ok, I'm good, you can go now".  And I do. For the next hour he grazes happily. As soon as I see him start to reach under the panels for better grass, I know it's time to get him out before he gets antsy.  


Walter and Percy eating their hay "together". 
Lesson number 6- Find a way for social interaction. Horses are social animals.  Percy was accustomed to grazing with and playing with his friends, as well as social grooming. I was so grateful that the barn and turnout setup I have allowed some of that to continue. There is good visibility from each stall to the other, as well as the ability to sniff noses. With the dutch doors, Percy was able to feel like he was in a shared space with the others as long as I put hay in the shed.  He was also able to share deep and long withers' scratches with Walter over the top of the door. 

Lesson number 7- have I mentioned grass? Not only was the grazing wonderful for him mentally but it was the best thing to get his digestive tract back in order. He slowly improved with electrolytes and lots of water, but once he was getting 45 minutes of grass twice a day, it was a miracle cure. 

Lesson number 8- I already mentioned the value of all his positive reinforcement training but I'm going to add two more things which I didn't train for the purpose of medical needs (like oral dosing and bandaging), but skills which nonetheless came in very handy in our situation. One was a project I worked on a couple years ago and had published in the IAABC journal. In that article, I described how I used sitting in a chair as a cue for Percy that I was there, but I was not going to offer reinforcement for anything he did.  The purpose was to help him relax around me, rather than throwing behaviors, but the chair became a significant environmental cue that we were just going to hang out together. This past couple weeks I have been able to go back to that as a way to help him settle. I get out the chair and my training journals, park myself outside his stall, and he relaxes. 

The other wonderful happenstance is all the work I have done with him in hand.  Once we could begin hand walking, I wasn't a kite on a string as so often happens with newly released patients, but we could go right back to "work". Mats, rails on the ground (single ones for now), stationing, and backing were all things I could work into our hand walks to keep him focused, earning reinforcement, and feeling a little bit normal. 

Lesson number 9- offer choices in any way possible. Percy's choices had been sorely minimized due to his condition. He had no say in what was done to him at the hospital and not much had changed when he came home.  He needed his medications and bandages and more. I had done all I could to make it as pleasant as possible but he couldn't say no. Until he could. One night after his knee bandage had been removed, I wanted to put a standing wrap on him because his lower leg was looking a little puffy.  I took the materials into his stall where he was eating hay and squatted down next to his leg.  He stepped away. I scootched closer and he moved away again. I looked up at him. He was not eating, but looking back at me with his eye as his head faced forward. I said, "you know what? OK.  I am giving you this one. It's not life or death this time. No wrap tonight".  It just felt like I needed to respect this little request.  I could have worked him through it but it had been so long since he'd said no and I said ok, it felt right to hand it to him. So I did. 

Other little ways I tried to give him choices:

  •  toys to choose to play with
  • Gatorade or water to drink
  • hay on the floor and hay in his net
  • soaked hay or dry hay
  • where to graze
  • opportunities to explore in the barn (with aisle doors closed!)
  • listening to when he was ready, when he wasn't and when he just didn't want to participate

he could eat off the floor or from his net
gatorade in the left bucket, water in the right




Last but not least, Lesson number 10: secondary s*#t is going to happen. Dehydration from stress sweating and sedation; new wounds from bandage rubs (not MY bandaging, he came home with them!); the resurgence of an old cough; and then the switch from dry manure to too loose manure are all secondary things we've dealt with so far. There are new fears and concerns. You don't go through a traumatic injury and treatment without repurcussions to mind and body.  I try to anticipate, deal with it as it comes, and hope things will settle out with time. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Clicking through Residual Trauma


The sound of hoofbeats woke me with a start in the barn at 6:45 the day after bringing Percy home. I jumped off the cot. Walter and Stowaway were trotting around outside for some reason. Percy was watching them a little anxiously so I quickly tossed some hay into the shed to entice them closer and to settle down. Now wide awake, I needed to start my new plan for morning chores. The previous routine dictated that all horses would be let out together for several hours grazing in a large paddock in the big field. The routine needed to change. In working out my attempt at a plan, I took as many physical and behavioral issues into account as I could.  The only thing to do was give it a try. 

First I hayed the baby-sitter and put a flake of hay into Stowaway's empty stall next to her. One of Percy's enjoyable pastimes is being allowed to play in the barn- walking around poking his nose into things and also investigating the other horses' stalls. I'd gotten permission to let him do that amount of walking, but I wasn't quite ready for that myself yet. I still didn't fully know how this sedative affected him. He worked his way into some tight spots but was always clever about extricating himself from them.  Would his coordination and cognitive abilities stand up for that with the sedative? Instead, I slowly entered his stall, knowing not to assume he'd pop his head right into his halter. I let him check it out, and clicked and treated a couple times until he was comfortable pushing his nose hesitantly in. Then I led him across the aisle and put him in Stow's stall where there was more hay waiting for him, and removed the halter. I held my breath to see if he'd panic, but he peered over the edge of the wall down at Kizzy, and circled the stall slowly, stopping to look out the windows as he always did when playing in the aisle. Then he started in on the hay with more steady circling.  So far, no worse. I opened the dutch door to the run-in shed where Walter and Stow were waiting for me to let them out and quietly closed the top doors of both dutch doors.  Now, Percy could not see south of the barn, where Stow and Walter would go far from the barn to a grassy paddock. 

Again, I checked in and Percy was still quietly eating and walking. 

Ande and Rumer live outside 24/7 in a large round pen and run-in shed of their own, west of the barn. Normally, they get led across the barnyard and are turned out with everyone in the morning.  But I wanted to leave them where they were this morning, for two reasons. One was that Percy could see them out the windows. He'd have Kizzy in a stall on one side of him and Ande and Rumer on the other side. Another reason I didn't want to put Ande out is because he goes out to pasture like he's been shot out of a cannon. Every Single Time. I think his ancestors were Pony Express, the way his thundering hooves echo out every morning as he gallops to grass, regardless of weather or what the other horses are doing. That was not something I wanted Percy to hear. 

Instead I carried some hay over to them for their breakfast in bed. They settled right into eating quietly. Now for the tricky part. Percy was watching me through the window and I casually walked toward the arena, south of the barn, then across the arena to the gate which would allow Walter and Stow to go out. At the gate, I was now out of Percy's sight. As quietly as I could, I unhooked the chain from the gate and slowly opened it. Walter and Stow are not wild types, so even though they were anxious to go out, they trotted quietly out in a somewhat dignified manner. I listened for Percy's worried calls and heard none. When I got back to the barn, I slid in through the door, shutting it behind me quickly  so he wouldn't see them way out yonder. All was quiet.  Phew. 

With Percy in Stowaway's stall, I could do a thorough cleaning of his. I was dismayed to see only a tiny wet spot from urine. He could usually flood a pretty good spot when he peed inside. I was keeping the electrolyte imbalance on arrival at Tufts in mind. Even though he had drunk more than two five-gallon buckets of water since being home, not much was going all the way through. 

As I cleaned stalls, filled water tanks and buckets, picked paddocks and all the other morning chores, Percy seemed content to eat and circle. At 8: AM, it was time for some more meds, both his SMZ's again, and some bute. The jar may say the bute is orange flavor but Percy thinks it's nasty. For him, it works better to smash a pill and mix it with peppermint but I didn't have any pills and needed to use up the powder before it expired, so that's what he got. 

He was getting less wary when I entered the stall, but carrying anything in with me resulted in him swinging away. I kept the syringe tucked under my arm and clicked and treated my way through haltering again. Having practiced dose syringing enough over the years, we had our own routine, and he seemed to settle back in to it. He still tossed his head when he saw the syringe, but when I stood quietly and touched the barrel of it to his cheek, he stayed still for me to slip it in his mouth. Squirting it in still ended up with the inevitable wearing of some of it on my end, but most of it was inside him. 

After medicating him, I got his carrot toy and stocked that up as a bit of enrichment for him. He nibbled at the carrot (which he normally loves), as long as I stood there and held it for him, but when I placed it on the ground, he only took a couple more bites before abandoning it to go back to his hay. Later in the morning when I had moved him back to his own stall, I found the carrot ball out on the lawn.  A terrier or two also like carrots. And balls. 

Once I brought Stowaway and Walter back into their stalls for the day, I was less worried about Percy's state of mind. This was normal. Everyone in for the day, eating hay and quietly dozing. 

I spent most of the day in the barn, observing him alone and seeing what he would respond to from me. I brought him out onto the cross ties and curried as much of the dried salt off that I could. He leaned into the brushing happily and stood quietly. I wanted to give him a bath, but did not want to get the bandages wet, or worse yet, dirty water in the wound. 


salt accumulation where sweat had run down his leg
The bandage they had put on yesterday was supposed to be good for 2-3 days but they hadn't counted on it becoming saturated with sweat. The vet had told me the elastikon wrap at the top was to keep shavings out of the lower bandage on his knee. There was currently a huge gap around the top of the elastikon so that not only would it not keep shavings out, it would have caught and funneled them right down in. I knew I would have to change it that day but wanted to wait until I had backup. As good as he'd been before leaving, he had had a lot of invasive behaviors on that knee between then and now. The hospital had sent extensive wrapping instructions and there were multiple layers and supplies involved.  It would be better if I had someone to hand me things so I could be as time efficient as possible on this first re-wrap.

To try to help with his possible electrolyte imbalance, I was going to try some Gatorade. When I was eventing, and then later when my daughter was, we would offer the horses Gatorade after cross-country day. With Percy's curiosity and the sweet taste of Gatorade, I thought he might be willing to drink some. I poured about a cup into his favorite green feed tub. This is the tub that I used since he was a foal, to offer "open bar" hay stretcher pellets for things like hoof trimming. He no longer needed it but he always got really excited when he saw that tub if I brought it out. He perked up when he saw me approach his grill opening with it but as soon as he got a sniff of something different he backed away fast, snorting quietly. He was so suspicious of everything now, he turned away back to his hay. But I was not going to give up easily. I targeted him over to my fist and fed a couple treats. From there, I did just as I had with the halter, shaping him slowly to bring his head out the window, and then to reach for the tub. I kept my body language casual, leaning against the aisle wall of his stall. I finished that session when he would reach toward the tub. 

Later in the day, we did another session, this time ending when he'd dip his nose into the liquid. I just wanted him to taste it and decide for himself whether he liked it, rather than being so fearful that he wouldn't try. The video which follows is our third session. He dipped his nose in repeatedly, licking his lips afterward. At the end of this session, he actually drank a little bit.  By Saturday, he was loving the Gatorade and by Tuesday, I was able to use it as a fun break from suture removal. But that was a week away and we still had more hurdles to conquer.


After dinner, my husband came out to the barn to help while I changed Percy's wrap for the first time. I had all the materials stacked on an overturned muck tub where I could easily reach them. I decided that I'd rather not have Percy tied, so that he could move if he needed to without feeling stuck. I asked my husband to just hold the rope while I worked. My husband has worked around many horses, mine and others' before mine, but he's not a positive reinforcement trainer. He is perfectly capable of holding horses and doing all the chores if I go away, even if he enjoys cattle and sheep more. Using bandage scissors to cut through the elastikon that had sagged so badly, I discovered that everything was stuck to everything else. Not having put the bandage on myself, it was a challenge to figure out where to cut, where to unwrap, and which part wasn't accessible yet. I was clicking and treating frequently but Percy started to fidget. I wasn't surprised since his recent experiences with that knee had been painful ones. 

I mentioned in an earlier post how important it is for Percy that I take the "make it happen" out of requests. Well, "make it happen" is encoded right into the double helix of my husband's existence. It's why we have the life we do and I love him for it. It has saved my butt more times than I can count but it now caused a problem. When Percy fidgeted, my husband stood firm. So Percy left. Right out the end of the aisle and trotted a 5 meter circle around my husband on the end of a short rope while I sucked in a "no trotting, notrottingnotrotting!" I now had an upset horse with a partially unwrapped leg. I took Percy back into the barn and decided to try cross ties after all. I asked my husband to just stand by (over there) in case I got in worse trouble. I resumed cutting and unwrapping (there was seriously a LOT of bandaging material on that leg); and clicking and treating. When I got down to the last layer on the knee, Percy was shaking as badly as he had been when he stepped off the trailer. He just stood and shook. That crack in my heart got bigger. 

He needed a break. I crossed my fingers that what was left on the knee would protect it long enough to give him a break and for me to come up with a better plan. I put him back in his stall.  My husband left to do his own night chores. 

I started to putter around the barn, picking stalls and filling water buckets, knowing I couldn't put this off very long. I also gave Percy his dinner, with the sedative in it. I had no idea how quickly it would kick in, nor if it was possible that it was wearing off since the 24 hours were nearly up since his last dose. I had read it takes days to reach full effect (and it had been days) and lasted for days after taking them off it so I doubted it would make much difference but it was time for it anyway and maybe eating would help calm him. 

When he'd cleaned that up, I entered the stall as he was back at his hay bag. He stopped chewing and froze. I stroked his neck a few times and then reached down and barely touched the remaining wrap.  Click, treat. I repeated that nine more times and left his stall. He went back to eating after I left. 

I did some more chores and returned to his stall, this time doing ten repetitions with click/treat where I placed both hands gently on the knee wrap or stuck a finger into the top of the wrap as I would need to do to cut it off. Then I left his stall again.

The third time I went in, I took the bandage scissors with me. Seeing something in my hand, he froze again. I let him sniff them, and I opened and closed them right there in front of his nose, clicking and treating each time as they made their unusual sound. Then I bent over and opened and closed them by his knee; then while I had a finger in the wrap, but not touching him with them. Again I left his stall after ten clicks and treats. 

One last time I went in after a short break, and this time his body stayed softer, his head followed me down to his knee and he watched as I palpated the wrap. I figured he was as ready as I had time for. After a last little break, I put his halter back on and led him out into the aisle. I cut off the wrap while he stood quietly and I got my first look at the wound since I'd wrapped it a week ago. There were stitches with funny little tubes on the wound, and additional stitches in two more small spots where they had used the arthroscope. I touched it gently, assessing swelling, and showing Percy that I wasn't going to poke anything through his skin. He stood.

About then, my husband returned and I asked him to again stand by, but he only needed to watch. This time, we had approximated our way back to Percy feeling safe and comfortable while I wrapped him at liberty.  I didn't follow the hospital's wrapping instructions to a T, but as closely as I could. I didn't love the results, and I'd have to redo it all again the next day, but we had everything covered and safe, body and mind alike. 

That night as I stepped out of my clothes and into the shower, I realized I'd been wearing them for 36 hours straight- to Tufts and back, through the night on the cot in the barn, and through another day. The shower felt awfully good. 







Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Starting to Rebuild: Physically and Emotionally


When we arrived at the large animal hospital, my husband dropped me off at the office to deal with paperwork and went to hitch up the trailer. I was handed a multi-page list of discharge instructions to review and see if I had questions while they found someone to come answer them. The instructions were thorough so I didn't have many questions when the doctor came out. One was that it stated Percy had mild electrolyte imbalances on arrival.  I asked if that was simply due to the sweating and stress of the trip down. He said most likely it was and that the fluids he received would have taken care of it.  But I knew this would be important for me once I got him home again.

I was also given a small box of supplies, including a month's worth of sedative to be sprinkled on his daily feed.  I was amazed to hear they said he ate it easily as he is pretty fussy about anything added to his food. Once I got him home, I found that he gobbled it right up. I need that recipe. I asked about the possibility of weaning him off it and how to do so if I decided to try. Finally, there was a bottle of SMZ tablets to continue his antibiotics orally for a week. I had told them I had bute at home and didn't need more.

When my questions were answered and my thanks expressed, they said I could go wait outside and they'd bring him to me.  What? I wouldn't get to see where he'd been?  I knew Ally had been in to visit him so wasn't sure why I couldn't go get him, but it wasn't important so I went back outside to wait. 

As anxious as I was to see him again, I wasn't expected a Hallmark reunion. I remembered back to the year he was born and my daughter, who owned his dam, had moved across the country and was gone for several months.  When she returned, Zoë, Percy's mom, acted like she didn't know her. Worse actually because she wouldn't even let her catch her and she wasn't a hard mare to catch. I won't pretend to know why, but I wasn't going to be surprised if he was miffed. I'd just dropped him off at the Worst Summer Camp Ever for a week. 

Finally I heard voices on the other side of the overhead door in front of me. The door went up halfway and stopped.  I saw a familiar chestnut leg and another leg bandaged to the hilt. The door went up the rest of the way and there stood Percy, head straight up in the air and eyes bugging out. If I hadn't seen all Ally's photos of him looking so sleepy, I'd have been asking for eye muscle rehab for the poor boy. 

He was led forward and I think his eyes briefly glanced my way but went right back to staring at his surroundings.  I took his lead rope and offered him the carrot from my back pocket. Nope. Ok, I thought, let's take you home. I sent some wishes up to the trailer loading fairies and walked up the ramp.  He came to the top of the ramp and stopped, looking left and right. This time I had a firm hold on the rope. The connection we'd had when I dropped him off was not there. I knew he was on the sedation drugs and as yet had no idea how they'd affect him.  And after his last trip, followed by the week he had, I couldn't blame him if he'd wanted to take flight. I gave the rope a little tug and he walked in.  This time I asked my husband to deal with the partition, butt bar, and ramp while I stayed up front talking to him. After tying him up, I offered him the carrot again but still no interest.  I broke it in three pieces and stuffed them into the hay net that had ridden all the way down with him. When we'd get home four hours later, they would still be there. I shut the door and we started our journey north.

Just as before, he was in a black sweat at the first check, with drops coming off his midline. At the second check, we stopped long enough to use a bathroom and he looked like he relaxed a little bit in the few minutes we were stationary, but he still wasn't eating any hay. The trip was smooth sailing until we were a mile from the turn onto our own road. A huge manure truck pulled out of a side road in front of us, pulling a flatbed loaded high with round bales. I said to my husband that at least we wouldn't have to follow it far, thinking we'd turn off in a mile. His reply was, "he's probably going to our house".  Sure enough, this was hay being delivered to our sheep barn and we were going to follow it the rest of the way.  It's three miles from the end of our road to our driveway and two of those miles are pretty much straight up. That rig crept up the hill and we crawled along behind it.  I tried not to imagine what would happen if one of those round bales came off the back of the trailer and rolled toward us. The kind of sensible thinking one does in those situations. 

When we finally stopped at the horse barn, I asked my husband to throw a flake of hay to each of the horses before he ran off to his own animals. This was their normal turnout time and no way was I putting anyone out. I wanted everyone else in, quiet, and calm. When I backed Percy off the trailer, the poor guy was shaking from head to toe. His butt and tail were roughed up from the butt bar. I'm guessing he sat on it during our slow climb up the hill. He followed me in to the barn and then stopped dead when I tried to lead him into his stall. Not only had I sent him to the Worst Summer Camp Ever but I'd rearranged his room while he was gone. The stall guard was up over his door and there was a new hay bag hanging in the corner where hay had never hung before.  It was all too much. It took me longer to get him in his stall than it did to get him on the trailer. Luckily my husband was still there and he took the stall guard down and out of the stall. Percy was able to walk in then and investigate the hay bag. 
spots of sweat just dripping off
so much sweat that it pooled and ran






















At first I just unclipped the lead, leaving his halter on, just in case.  But one of the first things he did was throw his poor itchy, sweaty self against the side of his window to rub. I was afraid he'd get his halter caught on one of the new screw eyes so I went back in and took it off. He stopped shaking and took a bite of hay. Then he walked in a circle, looked out his door, took another bite of hay, walked in another circle, looked out the door, another bite of hay, and repeated it. This is what he would do when upset in days to come.  The sedative seemed to take the edge off enough so that what was left was restless circling instead of panic. 

I started to unload things and clean the trailer, making trips back in to check on him.  He seemed fairly quiet so when I had done all I could there, I went in for dinner, leaving windows open to listen and looking out frequently. I ate in record time and went back out to the barn. Now I had to deal with turnout.

The summer routine for my horses is that they go out at about 4: or 5: in the afternoon. The ones who have stalls in the barn: Percy, Walter, Kizzy (sometimes) and Stowaway, spend the night in the paddock attached to the barn.  In the morning, they all go out on grass for several hours until it gets hot and buggy, at which point they come in their stalls. Because we'd left at 8: AM that morning, they had come in earlier than usual, and they hadn't been turned out at 4: when we got home.  I couldn't delay it any longer. Walter actually has his door open all day so he can go in and out but he spends most of the day in his stall. 

After dinner, he had taken himself out and was hanging out in the shed outside Percy's stall. I was glad that this had been the routine previously so didn't worry about Percy being upset with Walter out when he was in. But now I needed to put a pony out too. Percy knows the routine and in the past, he was the first one out. How would he react when Stow went out and he had to stay in?  I had already decided that Stowaway and Kizzy would share babysitting duties. They are both laid back and I thought would be able to handle more stall time than normal. Kizzy, in fact, had decided this summer that she preferred her stall to being outside, since the bugs drove her so crazy. I'd put her out with the others and in an hour or two she was begging to come back in. So she got the first shift. I put hay out for Walter right outside Percy's door and another flake on the other side for Stowaway. That would keep them close at least until the hay was gone. Percy watched closely when I put Stow out, circling slowly, but went back to his hay bag. He looked across the aisle to where Kizzy was eating in her stall and seemed content with that. 

I cleaned all the stalls and then it was time for 8: meds. He was due for his SMZ tablets and his sedative.  As I mentioned, I put the sedative on his feed and he ate it right up. The SMZ tablets had to be ground up and mixed with what I call peppermint juice for oral dosing. Percy loves peppermints and I have found that's the best vehicle for getting oral meds into him. I soak a peppermint candy in hot water until it partially melts, and then dissolve the meds in that water. He accepted it quite well. Before. 
18 SMZ tabs twice a day requires a coffee grinder

Peppermint juice being brewed

mixing up the concoction

I approached his stall and lifted his halter off the hook. Usually this had him right at his stall door, ready for anything. Instead, when I opened his stall door, he turned and put his head in the corner. When I spoke to him and walked up, he turned again, so that his butt was to me. A little crack in my heart. I left his stall and put on my training vest. I don't usually use treats for oral dosing until I'm done (when he gets what's left of the melted peppermint) because food in the mouth just makes it easier to spit out the medicine you squirt in. But we needed something here. I returned to his stall and waited. When he glanced at me, I clicked and offered some hay stretcher pellets. He took them and from there I shaped him into allowing me to put his halter on. Now I understood the four inches of gauze wrap that had been tied hanging off his halter. I bet they couldn't catch him in his stall. 

His head went up when I presented the syringe, but by moving slowly, I got it into his mouth. His reaction when I dosed him resulted in white splatters all over his face, the far wall, and me, but I hoped enough went down for that night. We'd try again in the morning. He seemed happy with the peppermint scrap. 

I still wasn't comfortable leaving him. I've seen horses jump out over the top of dutch doors (and others attempt to and not make it). I've seen Percy lean on his door with all his weight in excitement to get out. Because of his fear of the stall guard, and not knowing if he'd try to push his head around it, that plan didn't seem feasible. I was afraid that shutting his top door would upset him further since he wouldn't be able to see his friends. I wanted to be right there to make sure his first night home was supervised. My husband helped me carry a cot up the hill and into the barn. When everyone had their late night hay and water, I collapsed onto the cot. For several hours I listened as Percy circled and chewed, circled and chewed. At last the circling stopped and all I could hear was chewing. I think that was when I finally slept. 

The circling woke me again at 2:45 in the morning. I wondered if Walter and Stowaway had moved too far for Percy's comfort. There was a lovely full moon and when I got up to look, I could see Walter lying down in the paddock about 20 feet from the shed with Stow standing over him. But Percy's hay bag was empty, the hay on the floor was gone, and his water bucket was empty. All that sweat needed to be replaced. I filled both hay and water, he resumed eating, and stopped circling. I went back to sleep. 




Monday, August 19, 2019

Percy at the Hospital


I won't deny that I was more relaxed on the drive home.  Of course I worried about what was happening, but at least I wasn't the one making decisions and managing the moment to moment. I trusted the professionals at the hospital to do what they were good at and that's why he was there. 

Before I'd left home, I had posted some photos and the situation on social media. Once we were out of the city driving and on the highway that would take us back north into ever more peaceful surroundings, I checked Facebook and Instagram (my husband was still driving). The responses were overwhelming and wonderful. Not only messages of support and confidence, but offers of help. Some people offered to go visit him for me and they lived up to two hours away. Others offered to put me up if I needed to stay closer or visit. Still others contacted my with optimistic stories of their own horses' hospital visits or to give advice on communicating with staff. I hope I responded to each one but if I missed anyone, I'm sorry and appreciate it all! Positive Reinforcement people make up the nicest community and I am forever grateful. 

The surgeon had told me she'd call when the surgery was over and he was in recovery.  She said it would be about 3 hours so by 8:30 (we were still driving home), I started checking my phone obsessively. Finally the call came with word that everything had gone well and they'd flushed nine liters of fluid through his joint to be sure there was nothing left in there which didn't belong. He was in recovery and she'd call once he was up. They'd have ropes on his tail and head just in case. Eesh.  


It was dark when we got home. Another person I am grateful for is the friend/client I sent an SOS to on the way down. I had left the horses with piles of hay and most had outdoor access. But as I traveled down the highway, I found myself worrying about the four dogs confined to the house. There is a dog door but only one of them can use it for complicated reasons. I couldn't think of anyone nearby that I trusted to let the dogs out though. So I texted Cindy, who is not a horse person but is great with dogs. I tried to politely say, "only if it's not too much trouble" knowing it would be at least half hour drive each way. She agreed immediately and I could release that anxiety. She later sent pictures of the dogs outside playing, had fed the terriers, and everyone was back in where we'd left them.  So when we got home, the dogs were very happy to see us, but not as crazed as they would otherwise have been! 

I was definitely ready to collapse into bed but wasn't about to until I heard he was out of recovery. When that call came saying he had gotten up easily and seemed comfortable, the surgeon promised another call in the morning.  I didn't even have to ask. The relevant doctors on his case called every day. I only called them twice, on days that I hadn't heard from them and needed to leave cell range so didn't want to miss. When I did call, they always connected me to his doctor in short order. I got thoughtful reports, they listened to my suggestions, and they answered my questions.  

So the big question is, how did this sensitive, clicker trained, country boy do in the hospital? Honestly I don't have a lot to go on since I wasn't there, but I'll share what I do know. 

From the doctors I spoke with: they knew I was concerned about his behavior. I wanted him as happy as possible of course, but I also made clear that I was worried for their safety. He's not subtle when he's upset. I would say that their reports on his behavior indicated improvement over the week. The first few days I heard, "we had to sedate him pretty well to treat him". For treatment, he had a catheter in his neck so that they didn't have to poke him for his antibiotics and sedatives. He had another catheter in his knee for regional limb perfusions- they put a tourniquet on his leg and then flooded the knee itself with antibiotics. They did that every other day. They also had to check the wound and change the bandages. 

After the first few days, the reports were more along the line of "he was pretty good today".  "I didn't have to sedate him for the bandage change". That, to me, was progress. I hoped that the sedation was keeping Percy relaxed and people safe, and that they were all learning about each other.  The morning after the surgery, the surgeon told me she was transferring his case to two other doctors who would be responsible for his after surgery care. Sure enough, the next day I got a call from one of them. I always tried to express my gratitude and trust when I spoke to them. Percy was in their hands and they needed to be reinforced for that! I told that new doctor about the success with the blindfold and she said that was very helpful. She said the others had told her to keep people to a minimum. That told me that my suggestions were being taken and passed along.  When I asked a few days later if the blindfold was still working, she said, "we don't need it any more.  He's fine without it".  More progress. Yes, he was still getting sedated for treatments but I've seen what he can do even when sedated so I knew that wasn't the only factor. 

After five days, that doctor, who was a resident, was transferred to another specialty and I had yet a third new person to talk to. His comment about him was, "he's quite a character".  Bingo.  

My biggest boost was a visit from yet another friend/client. When I initially heard all the offers to go visit him, I thought I could make a visitation list and he could have a visitor every day. But I wondered if that would be a good thing or a bad thing. Would he appreciate yet another new face every day? These were all clicker trainers offering, and my thought was to have them run through foundation lessons with him but would that be confusing with all those people? Would he get frustrated when some people spoke his language and others (hospital staff) didn't? The general rule is, if the animal doesn't have a choice, it's far better not to offer one, than to have to ignore the answer. Did I need to extrapolate that theory to "this place is about a different mindset"? Again, I had nothing to go on. 

I decided to try one visitor and see how it went. I chose the person the shortest distance away and hoped would be the least inconvenienced. I asked Ally if there was a feed store or something nearby where she might find a toy to take to him.  When she listed several and then said that Smart Pak was close, I was ecstatic.  I called Smart Pak and asked if I could pay for things over the phone for her to pick up.  She said they did that all the time for Tufts clients.  Finally, something I could DO for him. I got online and picked out a food interactive toy that could be stuffed with carrots, a peppermint flavored (supposedly) jolly ball, a bag of treats and a Himalayan salt block on a rope. 


When Ally sent the photos from her visit, it was the highlight of my week. She told me his stall was immaculate and so was he. That was a relief because I knew how sweaty he'd been and was worried he was still caked with salt. She said there was a bucket of brushes hanging on his door. Such nice news. 

Another reason I picked Ally to be the one to go visit is because she had been here for some lessons and had attended our Training Intensive this summer. So I'd seen her work with my ponies and knew that she knew my priorities. When I told her I wasn't sure how interested he'd be with the sedation, she said, "I'll just offer to interact with him and see what he says".  Oh, that was just what I needed to hear. Plus, she's a KPA grad, so I knew she was special. 

She was texting me while she was there and sending photos and videos. She said the salt inspired the most interest so I was glad I'd sent it. She also said he loved the fan they put up for him.  He could stand in front of the fan and lick his salt. He wasn't interested in treats though, so there was no "training". I have to say I was a little concerned with the lack of interest in treats and how depressed he looked. I knew they were sedating him for morning treatments but she visited in the evening so the Ace should have worn off by then. I made a note to ask the doctor on the next call. 

As happy as I was to see the photos and videos of Percy, one of my favorite pictures was: 

Percy is a Houdini and knows how to get someone's attention. He can also get a little panicky when he thinks it's time to go out.  I wasn't sure which of these were the stimulus for his escaping behavior but the fact that he had enough spunk to try to escape was an indication to me that he didn't feel too badly. 

When I spoke to the doctor the next day, I mentioned that the horse I saw in video and pictures was either sedated or depressed. She didn't think he should have still been sedated but assured me they were taking vitals each day and none of that indicated a problem.  [note: now that Percy is home, he does not want those treats either.  Maybe it was just a preference that made him turn them down with Ally. I thought he'd like them as special. Lesson learned!] I also asked her about the escaping sign and said she had not had any trouble with him herself and guessed it was stall muckers who may leave the door open a little. I told her how easy it was to stop him with a "whoa" but they better be ready to "pay" for it or he wouldn't stop the next time. I'm not sure if that information was passed on or not but they probably thought it safest not to risk it. 

enjoying his salt
The day after her visit, the report was that he was going well, the wound looked good, he was looking sound at a walk (on bute) and if all continued that way, he could come home on Tuesday.  More good news!  That would be just six days there. As a result, I decided not to chance any more visits. Somehow with the short duration left, it seemed better to leave him in his semi-sleepy state than get him thinking he could solicit attention for playtime. 

As it turned out, that resulted in my only disappointing communication. I continued to speak with the doctor daily, but on Sunday, she left for her next rotation and I had a new person to speak with. I did not hear from him on Monday and had cancelled all my Tuesday appointments to clear our schedule to go get him.  Not having heard anything, I called about 4:30 and found out that no, it would be better to get him on Wednesday. Grr. When they heard my frustration, the doctor said I could get him Tuesday if I really needed/wanted. But since the reason they were holding off was because they had not transitioned him to the oral antibiotics and sedatives yet, I agreed that I wanted him to transition there and make sure all was good before bringing him home. 

Having already heard that he'd need to be on stall rest for a period of time, I thought a lot about how I would manage that. We put screw eyes up over his dutch door so I could hang a stall guard in case he wanted to jump out, or even lean too hard on his door in his desire to be out. He has already bent the sliding latch from doing so before. I also cleaned all the old shavings out of his stall, swept down the walls and ceiling, and left it to air out. I ordered sheet cotton and vet wrap in bulk. The hardest part was figuring out how to adapt a very active, sociable, and playful horse to stall rest. I had some ideas to try, but I wouldn't know how they worked without trying them. 

Wednesday morning, I packed a bag of carrots with our lunch and snacks for the drive down. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Clicker Training Through an Emergency

Life has a way of throwing us lessons we might not choose to go through, though we learn plenty from them. Ten days ago, the photo above is the sight that met me when I went out for chores in the morning. My initial assessment from this distance was, "well, that's probably going to change my plans for this morning". I had no idea how it was going to change my plans for months. 

The first good news was that, as you can see, the leg was easily weight bearing.  That told me it probably wasn't a break of any any kind or even a bad blow. Also, it was a Tuesday morning so I expected my vet to be readily available. I'm not one to call the vet for every little thing, but that much blood and I was pretty sure I was going to need professional assessment. Unfortunately when I called, (yes that was the FIRST thing I did before going a step further), I learned my vet was away on vacation and I'd need to call the vet on call...an hour away. I was glad I hadn't hesitated to initiate that process. I left a message with his answering service and then started to hay horses.  Why was that the second thing to do in this circumstance? The horses were expecting it, it wouldn't take long, and it would keep the group quiet while I dealt with the injury. The last thing I did before grabbing Percy's halter was to get the hose out where I'd need it so that I had everything I needed before having a seriously bleeding horse on the end of a rope. 

Percy came right to me when he saw me approach and again, I heaved a sigh of relief that he looked completely sound. I was less happy when I saw that it appeared the blood was coming from the knee itself. That was definitely not good. Joints are scary things to get injured. He followed me happily through the barn and out onto the lawn where the very best grass is.  This was a treat in his mind. None of that tall grass that was good for him; this was cookies, candy, and cake grass! 


still happily weight bearing
Percy is not a fan of being hosed. He will allow it as I've spent enough time doing it for both training and need but the only time he actually likes it is when it's about 95 degrees and he's been sweating while standing in his stall. So I take advantage of those situations to show him how good it can feel! Otherwise, I tend to use a sponge which is less likely to have him shrink away. Now I was going to need to hose and hose with cold, cold well water. My hope was that that candy grass would be a sufficient treat to make it tolerable. I needn't have worried.  He happily ate for twenty minutes while I hosed and hosed the knee. During that time I also checked my calendar and made the appropriate cancellations, knowing I'd be waiting for the on-call vet. 

After twenty minutes, I hoped the wound was clean and the cold had slowed the blood but it certainly hadn't stopped it. I put him on cross ties and gathered bandaging supplies and a clean towel. I didn't touch the wound with the towel, but used it to dry the leg as much as possible so that the bandages would have a better chance of staying put. I put a sterile pad over the wound, sheet cotton over that, and then vet wrap on top. Below that I put a standing wrap to prevent the knee wrap from sliding down, as the knee is much fatter than the cannon bone below it.
(note- wrapping a horse can cause more damage than help if you are inexperienced. If you don't have the experience, find yourself an experienced horse person, an upper level Pony Club member or instructor to show you how. Never leave your practice wraps on the horse. Practice many times until your teacher tells you that your tension and coverage are safe). 

Up to this point in the morning, I had not done anything with Percy that hadn't been trained with positive reinforcement before.  Some things were easy for him (coming to put on his halter and leaving his buddies to come with me), some things were not his favorites but I'd put in the time to make them non-issues (cold hosing), and some things had much less history, but I had worked through, step by step, in the past (bandaging). I'd never actually put a knee wrap on him before, come to think of it. But with positive reinforcement in his past, he had learned:

  • to come to me
  • to put his head in the halter
  • to follow where I led
  • to stand still
  • to graze without pulling me around
  • to stand for hosing
  • to stand on cross ties
  • to stand on cross ties when I left the aisle and disappeared into the tack room making rustling sounds as I dug around for supplies
He did not "need" nor receive clicks and treats for any of this on that particular morning. The bandaging was less familiar, and certainly not when there was a potentially painful wound involved.  So I did click and treat through the following even though he had experience with all but the knee and wound.
  • to stand while I waved cotton around
  • to stand when made contact with strange materials on his leg
  • to stand when he heard vet wrap being pulled out
  • to stand when he heard masking tape pulled off
Percy and my other homebreds are not expected to "just handle it" when I do something novel. With a click and treat, I explain what I am doing and what my expectations of them are while I do things. This is the way it's been all of their lives. There have been times when excessive pressure was involved by accident, by frustration, or by chance; but it's never been my plan and it's been rare. They trust that I will explain things to them and go slowly. Which is why what follows was so difficult for me.

Going back to July for a minute, the 5th Vermont Vermont Training Intensive was again held here at Bookends Farm. Cindy Martin, Katie Bartlett, and I spent two and a half days on the topic of cooperation, choice, and consent when interacting with our horses. I was now entering the "when choice is not an option" topic we shared. One of the things we discussed over the weekend is that it isn't a choice when they don't know what is about to happen. The more things we can give our horses experiences with, training through positive reinforcement, the fewer things that will come as a surprise. We can train for hosing and bandaging; for tooth care and oral dosing, for injections and blood draws; for examinations and the taking of vital signs; for handling eyes, ears, sheaths, udders, and more. 

I have done that and more with Percy. But I never taught him to stand for having needles injected into his knee joint. And he'd never been forced to shut down and just handle it. 

I have enormous respect for veterinarians. Large animal veterinarians have to work in some horrendous conditions (outdoors in New England for example), with animals who can outweigh them 10 to 1. The training or lack of training these animals have runs the gamut from unhandled individuals to performance sports athletes. They work with incredibly expensive tools and equipment, all of which can be as dangerous as the animals themselves. And they have to deal with people- the owners who want their animals fixed fast and with the least expense possible. Anyone who gets up and does that every morning with compassion has my respect. 

When the on-call vet arrived, I went out to meet him at his truck. He had come out once before, when my Kizzy pony colicked last Fall. I liked him a lot, but Kizzy is a good patient, and having come from a not-so-pleasant background, she did know how to just handle things. When I saw two other people climb out of the truck, I was dismayed. Something else Percy is not a fan of is multiple people at once. It was time to advocate for my horse. Politely.

I explained that Percy is a highly sensitive individual. I explained how we normally do vet visits. I told him I would stand between Percy's head and him so that if he did snark, I'd be the one receiving it.  I told him that trying to make friends could be counter-productive. I turned to the other two people and said apologetically, the fewer people the better. I suggested that the vet walk within a couple feet of him, no contact, and wait for me to tell him when he could get closer. I'd spent a lot of time this year teaching Percy a "ready for a stranger" cue. I knew there was a good chance this would not be enough, but I had to start out by trying. 

When I went in to get Percy from his stall, he was very lame. Night and day difference from earlier. My heart sank. 

Everything started wonderfully with Percy giving his ready cue when he was ok with the vet touching him. After the initial examination, the vet determined he was going to need to get pretty invasive to properly assess the situation and so he injected him with a sedative, which, thanks to the vet's speed, Percy barely noticed. 

After that, it got a little hairier. Sedation helped a lot but things progressed more quickly than Percy was comfortable with and he wanted to move.  Moving was not advised when there were instruments inside one's knee joint. The vet suggested a blindfold. I was afraid this would cause a real panic but out of respect for him, said we could give it a try. I was amazed how well it worked. Percy settled right down. Of course I was still right at his head, using my voice and tactile reinforcement at appropriate times (food not being safe under sedation). The vet said that for many of them it's more the worry of what will happen than what actually happens. I'm still trying to resolve that with what I know about preparing horses, not to mention my own experiences (the dentist who tried to sneak a novocaine injection in without telling me is no longer my dentist). 


note how far into his knee the forceps go!
Another injection of sedative was needed before he was through- the vet couldn't believe how he burned through it. He certainly didn't stand without moving at all, but he responded well to carefully timed pressure and release if he tried to walk off. I resisted his movement with the rope and released the second he released. Then he would stand again while I scritched bug bites under his forelock. I am grateful for all of the Alexandra Kurland rope handling we'd done. None of that contained this much pressure, but the education was there in both of us. There were a couple times I saw the vet and staff react in surprise when I did things such as giving Percy his "wait' cue before leaving him at liberty to move some things which were behind him. A minute earlier he'd been dancing around and I think they thought he'd bolt if not held tightly, to say nothing of walking away and leaving him loose.  Percy does not appreciate being held tightly. This was obvious when we were through and I needed to put a wrap back on. By this time the other two people had become essential for holding items such as the x-ray, prepping instruments and wound sites, filling syringes etc.  

Percy's ear followed them as they moved around and I asked them to speak as they moved so he wouldn't be startled hearing a voice in a new place with the blindfold on. So when one of them offered to hold him while I wrapped, I accepted the offer, not sure if Percy would hold still after what he'd just been through. But the guy couldn't bring himself to keep the lead loose and when Percy felt that grip he just fought. So I took him back, rubbed his face for a minute, told him to stand at liberty in the aisle, and wrapped the whole damn leg while he stood like a star. 

Now came decision time for my choice/no choice drama. The wound was very deep and into the knee joint. The better medical care would be to send him to the veterinary hospital to fully flush the wound and he would stay for 2-3 days. The hospital was two hours away. A stressful trailer ride, a new and strange environment, many new people and I couldn't stay with him since I had other horses and dogs relying on me at home. The vet really thought he should have the exceptional care offered in a hospital setting and that if he had to come to the farm daily instead, the cost would be comparable. When I tried to express my concerns regarding Percy's behavior, he assured me they would use sedation as needed to avoid drama.

I had absolutely nothing to go on. I had no idea how Percy would respond and how much sedation they would need or use or how it would affect him.  But I also wanted the best chance possible for him medically. I agreed to send him. The vet stepped out to make the referral call and when he came back he had more bad news. The surgeon he wanted to refer to at the hospital was away on family emergency for a week. Now we were looking at hospitals even further away. And in the wrong direction in my opinion. The ride to the initial hospital would have been a winding route through the hills of Vermont but now we were talking about going to another state where there was traffic and congestion and multi lane highways. When we opened the trailer door at breaks, he wouldn't look out to see hills and grass but asphalt and mayhem. I tried not to melt down, but stuff kept seeping out of my eyes. How could I have possibly prepared him for this? Was his life to this point in any way going to stand him in good stead? 

I had already decided that a hospital setting was best and so I stayed on that roller coaster rather than getting off. My husband hooked up the trailer while I tried to gather my wits as to how we were going to leave the farm for nine hours with no planning. He had generously agreed to go with me. I wondered if it would be better to go alone and try to stay down there for the 2-3 days so I could be with Percy whenever they'd let me. I have driven all over the northeast with a truck and trailer but not This Horse in This Condition and going to an emergency hospital.  I decided I needed someone else to drive and my dear husband dashed off to ready his own animals for a long day. The referral was made to the surgeon at the hospital. My phone wouldn't pull up the location so the vet handed me a piece of paper with the address. I tried to express my gratitude to him and his team before they left. They had listened. They had tried. They had helped. 


Would Percy get on the trailer? We practice some but with the setting events we'd just had? His opinion of trailer travel was similar to hosing. He'd do it, but he didn't like it. He was usually in a black sweat in twenty minutes. 

I put hay in the net, threw a couple things in the tack room, and led Percy to the trailer ramp. He walked on without a moment's hesitation and stood at liberty while I walked behind him to push the divider over, put up the butt bar, and put the ramp up. Deep breath. Thankful for reinforcement history at its finest. Then we were on our way. He was alone in the trailer for the first time on this trip. Previously he'd always had a pony companion, either by need or by choice. I considered taking one along but asking a pony to be on the trailer for nine hours since we'd need to bring them back seemed very unfair. 

True to form, Percy was dripping sweat at the first check. He hadn't touched his hay, and his head craned out the door when I opened it as he scanned the sights with huge eyes. I shut the door and got back in the truck. The next time we stopped there was a small pool of sweat on the floor under him, edged in white salt. When I went in to the convenience store for bathroom and caffeine, I saw they had small containers of baby carrots available. I bought one and took them out to him. If I stuffed one in the corner of his mouth, he chewed distractedly and let it fall out of his mouth as he stared around. I got back in the truck and wondered how a horse with that experience of trailer travel was willing to load so well each and every time. I hoped he'd do the same when it was time to come home. 

After four hours on the road, we arrived at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts. Percy backed off the trailer politely, put his head up in the clouds and I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head. Luckily, we'd arrived at a quieter, more farmlike environment than the highways and rest areas. Someone came up from the building and asked if they'd like me to take him and I said no, thank you. I was going to give that boy choice right up to the very last minute I was able. We walked down a slight slope toward the hospital with him walking tentatively, looking all around trying to take it in. When we got close to the building and he could see in, he stopped. It looked like a barn aisle in shape, but was very light, people moving around inside and unfamiliar sounds and smells coming out. I left my hand open. The lead rope lay across my open palm with no chance of "making it happen" going down the line. I knew if he moved too quickly, the rope would pop off my hand. But I also knew that in his eleven years of life, he'd never run away from me. If he startled and I dropped the rope, he'd only go as far as his startle. Maybe it was stupid, but I had to trust that would happen here as well. 

I held out a fist for a target and he came forward to it. A click and treat and inside we went. Talk about stimulus overload. He walked like a long-legged bird, taking slow but consistent steps with his head going forward and back with each, trying to take it all in. I was directed to the scale on the side of the aisle. It was only a couple inches off the floor. I tried a fist target but he was trying to stay away from the edges of the aisle. The woman behind us reached out to put a hand on his butt to push him over and I quickly said, "don't touch him!". Sorry, lady. We walked past it, turned around and this time he walked onto the scale. He's a heavy little monster. 

Then they told me it was time to take him in for x-rays. I took him to the door and now had to hand over the lead rope.  "The looser you keep it, the better he'll be", I said. They responded as if they knew that type, rather than like I was crazy.  They told me to wait in the waiting room while they did the x-rays and then I could talk to the surgeon. 

Standing still wasn't working for me so we asked about leaving the trailer there and they told us where we could park it. Glad we didn't bring a companion pony. Then we went back to the waiting room and I paced slowly around. When the surgeon came to talk to me, she was wonderful. She showed me the films and explained the surgery and after treatment. I again mentioned his unique personality and she said he was much better when she led him alone for the x-rays. Good. I'd told them he was clicker trained and she said they were strong believers in cookie treatments or something like that. Well, better than nothing, I thought. I said if anyone on the staff had any real experience with clicker training, they could use it. I didn't say that if their timing or other skills were off, he'd just blow them off. Oh, and she said he'd be staying 7-10 days. That was a shock so I'm glad I hadn't expected to stay the duration. 

They said I could see him before we left. He was really doped up- they'd had to sedate him heavily for the x-rays. I kissed him on the nose, silently apologized, and walked out the door. 

To Be Continued