5 Reasons I’m Happy Tristan Wears Blankets Now

It occurred to me last night that Tristan has, in the last two years, reversed the natural horse progression. He went from being an easy keeper, barefoot, tough as nails horse to one that had surgery, wears shoes, needs grain to keep weight, is on daily medication, and starts wearing a blanket when it goes below 40. When I lay it all out like that it sounds awful, but I’ve always said that he gets whatever he needs, and nothing has been done frivolously.

I started thinking, though, about finding a silver lining and to my surprise I kept thinking of good things, so I thought I’d share a little list with you.
1. He just looks so stinking cute in his jammies.

Seriously, I can’t even.

2. When he gets his extra layer at night check, someone lays hands on him.
That’s his stable sheet, out to tell the night check person to put it on him. That means that someone has their hands directly on him for a few minutes every night. It just makes me feel that much more secure that someone’s not just looking in the stall at him but is actually interacting with him.
3. True friendship

The day after Tristan had his colicky episode, a good friend of mine had arrived to give him a massage and had brought with her two of her old horse’s blankets. They fit him beautifully, and they were just what I had been about to take a deep breath and order from Smartpak. Some stitching, some new waterproofing, and they are not shiny new but they are practical and they are loved.

4. Matchy matchy

Okay, so I did buy one blanket. Tristan’s old fleece cooler was the long kind, without any straps on it whatsoever. It was less than ideal as a base layer: it moved around quite a bit when he laid down. So I did order this Smartpak fleece cooler, and I got to order it in Tristan’s barn colors of black, gray, and white. (I know, not exciting, but have you SEEN my horse? He clashes with everything!)
5. He’s going to be okay.

It’s not my favorite progression, and in an ideal world he’d still be that tough as nails easy keeper. He’s not. That’s okay. We have a plan, and that plan is feasible, and I have good people helping me out. He needs blankets. He gets blankets. He feels better. The rest is just gravy.

How to Re-Waterproof a Turnout Blanket

My good friend J. dropped off a few turnout blankets for Tristan last week. They are in need of some minor repairs, and re-waterproofing. I dropped one of the blankets off for repair (I don’t have a sewing machine that will punch through the strapping), and yesterday tackled the first of the re-waterproofing.

I thought I’d do a bit of a guide, since many blankets lose their waterproofing after only a season or two but are otherwise good blankets. Since a wet horse is almost always a cold horse, keeping a blanket waterproof is important.

Step 1: Clean the Blanket

No matter what waterproofing you choose, this is important. The waterproofing chemicals have to bond directly with the fabric. So if it’s at all dirty or dusty, toss it in the washing machine before you get started, and let it dry thoroughly.

Step 2: Select Your Waterproofing Method

Waterproofing stuff comes in a variety of options, but the vast majority are going to be a spray-on application. I went to Walmart and spent some time in their camping section reading labels. I chose this one because it had the most volume and only needed one application. I paid $5.97 for this can, which is 13.125 ounces. I used almost all of it on one 72″ blanket, so I’ll need to go back and get more!
Step 3: Apply Waterproofing

Find an airy and sunny place outside – this is the front porch of my family’s house in Maine, where I was this weekend doing wedding stuff. It’s very important that the weather be sunny and dry for a period of several hours, as this stuff really needs to dry very thoroughly or the waterproofing is ruined. It’s also really something you can’t do inside, as the chemicals stink and can be dangerous to inhale.

Hold the can about 8″-10″ away from the blanket and spray the waterproofing on. Make sure you completely coat the blanket and get the fabric good and wet, every nook and cranny. In the past, I’ve waterproofed items by spreading the out on the grass, but I had the porch here and the yard was covered in dew.

Step 4: Let It Dry Thoroughly

Most systems strongly suggest a full 24 hours of drying time. This is something that should be done well in advance of actually needing the blankets. A sunny day is really key here: you can get it a good couple of hours of drying outside at least. I pulled this blanket inside when we were ready to leave for Vermont, and it’s ready to head to the tailor to fix a few small rips on the inside lining that I discovered while washing it.

Any questions?

blanketing · massage

A Massage for Tristan

Whenever I tell people I’m headed to the barn so my horse can get a massage I get such a sideways look. I usually halfheartedly grumble and say that I haven’t ever had a massage, but my horse gets them monthly, spoiled brat, sigh.

The truth is I feel very fortunate to have a good friend who is a talented massage therapist, and a horse who responds very well to the practice. I get to spend an hour or two with one of my favorite people, and get to have a monthly conversation with her about how Tristan is going. One of her daughter’s horses was the first horse I’d ever met with Cushings, and she is a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and pragmatic horsewoman, and has been a source of comfort and information for me as I feel my way through managing the new Tristan.

This month, there was pretty much no bad news. Tristan’s muscle tone has improved dramatically, and she confirmed that my eyes do not deceive me: his topline is returning. He was tight only in his gaskins, from all the hill work, when in the past he has had ongoing hot spots related to his RF and that whole drama. We agreed that he needed a little bit more weight, so he’ll get a little bit more grain and we’ll add some alfalfa pellets to the mix.

Perhaps best of all: J. arrived with two blankets that used to belong to her Standardbred, who was just the most wonderful horse and about Tristan’s size. They are much-loved but perfectly serviceable, and fit him very well. So he has a stable blanket and midweight for the winter! I will take pictures for a fashion show at the earliest opportunity.

adventures with the vet · blanketing · colic · winter

The New (New, New) Normal

Yesterday was not the best day ever.

I forced myself out of bed early to ride, and I was mounted by 7:10 am. It was 32 degrees, foggy, a crisp and damp morning. I had to be at work by 8:00 am (5 minutes away), so I only intended to do a mile. Tristan had already had his grain maybe 15 minutes previously; he was nibbling on his hay when I got there. He hadn’t finished his grain, but had left the scrids of it mixed in with his supplements. Not totally out of the ordinary for him.

There was a thick frost on the grass and I wore my winter tall boots. We went a mile in 19 minutes, just on the flattest of dirt roads and then on a loop up and around the outdoor. My goal right now is to just keep him moving for 20 minutes a day as my bare minimum. Most days we do far more than that, but today I just wanted to sneak in a quick ride before morning meetings and then have the afternoon at home to do some much needed cleaning & relaxing.
I put him back in his stall and pulled his saddle, He nosed his hay, and then pawed at it, and I could feel my stomach start to knot up. He pawed again. He circled his stall. Then he kicked at his belly with a hind leg, then the other hind leg, then he circled his stall. The bottom dropped out of my stomach.
I listened for gut sounds – quiet, but present. Under my hands as I was listening, I could actually feel him start to tuck up, feel those hard stomach muscles clench, and when I stepped back he had clamped his tail down tightly. I went to the other barn and found the trainer’s barn manager, M., and asked her to come look at him when she got back from turning out the horse she was holding.
When I got back to his stall, his flanks had started shivering. This was maybe 10 minutes elapsed time after I’d put him back in his stall. I pulled him out and brought him in to the aisle and started pulling blankets off shelves. He ended up with an Irish knit, a wool cooler, and then a midweight on top of that, none of which were his or even close to his size. Under the blankets, he started full body shivering, and I reached for my phone.
The barn manager got back just as I started dialing for the vet, and while on the phone with her we took his temp – 97.9 – and tried to get a pulse. He’s tricky to pulse at the best of times, and I fumbled the stethoscope repeatedly before handing it over to the barn manager, who couldn’t get a good read either. I would get 3-4 beats and then lose it. It was clearly a little fast, but I couldn’t put a number on it.
Vet and I decided to go ahead with IV banamine, and I told her I’d check in in 30 minutes. While I was on the phone with her he started visibly relaxing and his shivering slowed, even before he’d had the banamine. It eased up even more, and then he got 8ccs of banamine IV. I started walking him – he’d never shown any real inclination to go down, but it gave me something to do.
In another 5 minutes, he had totally stopped his shivering and was looking around and considerably perked up. I walked him for another 5 minutes, and then brought him back to his stall. He attacked his hay and cleaned up his grain, and then I removed his hay from his stall. He was pretty ticked about that, but then took a good long drink and peed up a storm. He hunted around for the last little scraps of hay and started kicking his door to be let out.
I went into storage and dug out his fleece cooler and turnout sheet, and pulled the borrowed blankets off him to swap for his own. He looked and acted 100% normal at that point, barely 45 minutes after the whole thing started. I went into the tack room to brief our barn manager (main barn and trainer’s barn have different BMs; sounds confusing but actually works just fine, since trainer’s BM goes south with her for winter). 
A few minutes of conversation and we had fleshed out what the vet and I had thought: he got too cold. Many Cushings horses lose the ability to regulate their own body temperature. I knew this, and was watching him like a hawk in the summer, but he handled the really hot days just fine. It did not for a single second occur to me that cold might affect him more than heat. In any case, it wasn’t really all that cold – it must have been high 20s at the barn overnight. That’s chilly, but it’s not downright cold, not relative to what it will be in January and February.
I left him to go to staff meeting, and when I got back he had been turned out in one of the round pens, which functions as a dry lot.
He’s just to the left of the tree, in the light blue sheet. I checked in with him and he was happy and relaxed and just fine, nibbling on the hay bits on the ground. He was wearing the fleece cooler + turnout sheet (no lining) and it was about 45 degrees and sunny. I felt underneath the blanket and he felt cozy and warm – not too warm. If you’d told me this time last year that my horse would be wearing layers in 45 degree weather, and not sweating up a storm, I would’ve said you were crazy.
I put out a call on Facebook for some blankets, and as it turns out a good friend of mine – who was already planning on coming to give Tristan a massage tonight – has some that she’ll bring. We’ll go through what she has, and I’ll see what gaps I still need to fill. I had a long conversation with the Smartpak customer service rep this morning and picked out a range of blankets that I will order tonight after seeing what J. brings.

Blanket Repair

I mentioned just before Christmas that Tristan had shredded a corner of his one and only turnout blanket. It’s a midweight that he wears when it’s below zero – which happens more often than it should up here. He borrowed a barn blanket for a week while it was repaired.

I was looking through photos last night and found that I had taken some good pictures of the repair but never shared them! This was a local sewing shop; when I took the blanket in the owner immediately knew what she was looking at – apparently her in-laws have horses!

Here’s what it looked like post-rip, pre-repair:

And here’s the repair:

They did a really, really nice job. It was a fairly complicated fix in a number of different ways. Total cost: $47, far less than a new turnout would’ve been!

blanketing · stupid human tricks · winter

Best Laid Plans

Yesterday was going to be so straightforward: a quick meeting at work (on my day off), followed by a short bareback hack in the new snow, followed by a productive afternoon cleaning the apartment and working on Christmas baking.

That began unraveling with the meeting, which ran long, and then turned into a second, longer meeting, during which I lost my voice several times despite sipping tea constantly.

Then I headed to the barn and found that my idiot pony had shredded his midweight sheet. He only wears it when it’s below zero, which unfortunately means he’s been wearing it a lot lately. Best theory is that he laid down in the night and upon getting up again tangled a hind leg in the surcingle, and ripped the buckle clean away from the sheet, along with a nice rip along the seam. It was torn in such a way that it couldn’t be stitched up easily and quickly by a conventional sewing machine.

No way is the average sewing machine going to punch
through that buckle.

I did get my hack in, though, down and around all the summer paddocks, and it was a beautiful crisp day. The snow was still so new it was clinging to the trees, and the air was clear and thin all the way to the mountains. We forged through fresh drifts and Tristan was happy and cheerful, though not thrilled to be working so hard on a restful walk.

Uncle Tristan babysitting.

Yak or pony?

Can you spot the bridle path?
Yeah, neither can I.

Looking toward the Monroe Skyline,
with Mad River Glen and Sugarbush
ski areas anchoring the ends.

After the hack we fitted him for a borrowed blanket from the barn, because it was due to start dropping in temperature as the sun went down and go as low as -10 up at the barn. It was that cold the night before and when the barn staff took his blanket off in the morning to go outside, apparently he shivered a bit until his coat was roughed up.

So of course now I am questioning myself and wondering if he should be blanketed more; if perhaps the threshold is no longer 0 but 10, and if I should get a stable blanket to add underneath his midweight, and aaahhh. He’s just not holding warmth as he used to, and he went into the winter with less weight than I wanted.

Winter legs – this was AFTER a good brushing.

In his borrowed blanket for the night.

After I left the barn, I stopped by a sewing and alterations store, and showed them the blanket. They said they could definitely fix it, and described a plan of action that made a lot of sense and would reinforce the area going forward. The only catch: even though it was really in good shape for a blanket, it would still need to be cleaned before they would accept it.

Cue a frantic dash to the laundromat, a high capacity washer, and the discovery that the washer had not gone through a proper spin cycle, leaving the blanket dripping wet, and the office at the laundromat had closed at 2pm – 10 minutes before I discovered the problem. Of course. I squeezed it out as best I could and put it in the dryer and stopped it every few minutes to rearrange the blanket so the wettest bits were on the outside. Eventually it got dry enough and I dropped it back at the sewing store.
I then returned home and made a batch of cookies for a work cookie swap, wrapped presents with Lawrence of Arabia in the background, and halfway through realized my cheeks and forehead were much warmer than they ought to be and I was dizzy and a bit disoriented. Great. Perfect way to end the day.

This morning:

So no barn for me tonight! Hope pony stayed warm in his borrowed blanket…