Monday, December 15, 2008

Rescuing a Princess

This weekend I took part in a rescue reminiscent of a fantasy novel. Where the Princess was taken by trickery and held in drudgery. Abused, starved, she no longer looks royal. But some stout lad recognizes there is something special about her, and through adventures, and help from brave companions, she is saved and brought to a place of safety and love.

Last week, a mare was spotted in a kill pen. I won't list any details, because she could have been any breed, anywhere in the USA. By some miracle a rescue group spotted her and asked for information. She was in her teens, in foal, and wonder of wonders, her papers were with her. In the photo it looks like her back has been shaved? Strange, but a rescue list moves into action, appeals go out, and a life chain is formed. Money pours in for her and others. Literally hundreds of people co-ordinate to save these horses. Homes are found, shippers lined up. Volunteers phone each other.

Saturday the mare is picked up by one shipper, brought to a connection point where she is put into a second trailer. By sat night she is in a stall munching hay, and Sunday morning I pick her up and take her to her new home.

This mare was beautiful, had been shown successfully, had produced several foals, had been well cared for and cherished most of her life. But Sunday I picked up a mare that had to be a 1.5 on the scale. I could not only see every bone in her body, even the skin between her ribs was sunken in. What we thought was a shaved back was matted fur lying flat next to her backbone, which stuck up several inches and I could feel every bone of. I don't see how she was walking, I certainly don't see how she could be carrying a foal. But, she walked out of the stall with her head up like the Princess she was. You would have thought she had silk ribbons in her hair, and gold on her halter. She loaded and trailered like a lady, and at her new home walked past lessons, Christmas decorations, and chainsaws without hesitation. We were met by teenager riding students who welcomed her like the returning royalty she was.

Here was a mare that obviously made money for her owners, but not only was she tossed away, they didn't even bother to feed her before they did. Her quality was there to see for someone who knew how to look. Her head was very refined, perfect ears, excellent bone structure (rather easy to see, actually) and 4 of the straightest, cleanest legs I have seen in a long time. Big feet, nice bone, broad chest, I could see what she must have looked like before.

I look forward to visiting her when she is back to her full glory. I also have no doubt she will be back in the show ring sometime too.

Welcome home Princess.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Equine Dentistry

I just had my Equine dentist out to work on our horses. We try to have him out once a year, sometimes twice if we have a new horse who needs work done. I especially was concerned this time for a 6 year old Clyde gelding, who I didn't think was gaining weight like he should. Also I had seen him 'quid' his hay a few times, and it seemed he just swallowed food, with minimal chewing. Now part of this was being a draft..I swear they can just inhale food. But add that to the slow weight gain, and I just felt he needed special attention.

As it turns out, I was right. His teeth were in terrible shape, very sharp, and so grown out of alignment he was having a lot of trouble chewing. He must have been in pain, but never showed any sign. Happily accepted the bit, no trouble in any way, just as we would say in the past, 'unthrifty' or a 'hard keeper.'

It really got me thinking. How often in the past, before Equine Dentistry became more mainstream, did I have horses I considered hard keepers, or difficult to bridle, that were actually in pain from dental issues? I can remember paying so much money for massive amounts of feed, trying supplements, oil, etc to get the weight on. Also the multiple training methods and tricks I used to know on how to bridle a difficult horse. Now I have horses on diets, who lower their heads and open their mouths for the bit.

I remember going to a show clinic about some years ago, where an Equine Dentist came to talk about dental care for horses. Not a person at this clinic had ever had their horse done. No one thought they had to. I will say after his talk, and a demo, most of the people there had their horse looked at. He did a booming business, and sent out a lot of dedicated horse people to spread the word. I have had my horses done regularly ever since.

You would think everyone knows now you have to have dental work done every year. It's in all the magazines, literature, etc. But many people don't even see a human dentist regularly, so it's not as much of a given as you would think.

Every horse I have bought in the last few years, has had terrible dental care, so I know the problem still exists. It's just like regular worming. Yes, it costs money now, but saves it in the long run. Every horse I have is on a diet. They just get a bit of low protein feed and their coat supplement, and hay. Yet I still see people riding horses that are thin, who buy alfalfa hay, and expensive grain and supplements, but won't worm regularly or get the dentist out because it's "too expensive." Here is an eye opener: I go through about 1.5 bags of grain a month per horse. That's say $20 a month/$240 a year. Plus I worm every 8 weeks, $4 each/$24 year (shop online and sales, wormer is cheap)and have the dentist out once a year at $70. So per horse I put out $334 per year for feed, outside hay/grass costs). Now some folks near me worm occasionally, and who knows about the dentist, go through a bag of grain a week, plus supplements. Not even counting supplements, that's $52 a month, $624 a year. Almost double the grain costs, because their horse can't chew properly, and probably had a high parasite load.

My Equine Dentist is knowledgeable, certified, and just the best. My horses love him, and even the 18h draft lowered his head so his teeth could be worked on (I know this was his first time). After I turned the draftie out, he stood at the water tub for 15 minutes, running his tongue in and out in the water, and playing with his new smooth teeth. I have watched horses turn their heads so the dentist can get at teeth that need to be worked on.

On the one hand, I do feel guilty for all the horses in the past I swore at for being such 'hard keepers' or 'difficult to bridle.' I didn't know any better then. But there is no excuse now for a horse to have either issue because of tooth pain.

Put it this way, for those who don't think it's necessary. How well would you eat, if every time you chewed, you cut your own cheek or gums? If every bite caused throbbing pain?

Friday, December 5, 2008

When simple injuries go south

Horses tend to get injured. They scrape themselves, kick each other, trip and step on their own feet, the possibilities are endless. Most of the time, you clean it off, slap some fura-ointment on it, and life goes on.

A few weeks ago my daughter's horse Coconut (buckskin in previous post) got rope burns on both back fetlocks. She lost a little skin, one had a few drops of blood, but nothing really serious. She was walking fine, no issues for 3 days after the ride. But 2 days after the ride it started to rain. While our fields drain very well, we still had mud at the gates. By the 2nd day of rain, I noticed Coconut had stocked up in one ankle. I examined the foot, and she now had bloody scabs, heat and swelling. I figured she had an infection, and we started the regimen of salt water soaks, and keeping her in a dry stall, away from the mud and wet. I washed the leg off daily, but didn't scrub the bloody scab area as I figured that would be very painful for Coconut.

After a couple days of this, she wasn't any worse, but really wasn't getting better. Then one night she couldn't flex or walk on that leg. All my alarm bells went off, and I realized the cold snap we had was masking the growing infection, by keeping the heat and swelling down. I called my vet the next am and trailered her directly to the clinic. My worry was that the infection was going up her leg, or was in the joint capsule itself.

My wonderful vets took me right in, and after a look at the wound, immediately drugged Coconut into oblivion. They clipped the whole area, took a strip of necrosis off (dead tissue) and cleaned the wound up. They wrapped her to the hock, and sent us home with some serious antibiotics and several other meds, and instructions to keep that leg DRY. Two days later they came to my barn for a check up and a bandage change, and pronounced her healing well.

It has now been two weeks since then, fthree weeks since the original injury, and Coconut is still healing. The bandage is off, but she still has to be on stall rest or dry lot. (Much to her disgust) She has a divot now, where the strip of flesh was cut out, and it's still tender and soft. Probably still a few more weeks before she can be turned out or ridden.

So, minor rope burn turns into 6 weeks off and high $ vet bills.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Ok, look at the photo above, do you see anything wrong here?
Beautiful fall day, check. Fields and trails to ride, check. Nice smooth MFT to ride, well cared for and looking particularly handsome that day. Safety halter that leadline tied in a knot instead of a quick release???

How about this photo.

We can plainly see the proper quick release knot. Same safety halter on gorgeous buckskin QH. What could be wrong with this photo?

Hands up anyone who spots the potential disaster? Aha! Yes, both horses were tied to the lower rail on a fence with really long leadlines. What is wrong with that you ask? They could easily get their foot over the rope, get tangled and panic. Which did happen to the lovely buckskin mare. We had a broken rail, a lot of scrambling, and fortunately just some rope burns. It could have been far worse.

Lesson learned? Horses should always be tied at least above the level of their chest. If you want your horse to get in some free grazing, walk them around on the leadline. The more significant lesson learned though was how much it hurts to realize you did something that caused your horse pain and distress, which could have had far more serious consequences.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brain Buckets, why use them?

First, let me say, I too grew up riding horses without a helmet. It wasn't done in the south back in the dark ages. But with age comes wisdom, and I do wear one now. Recently on the MD Horseperson list a member forwarded a story about a tragedy this weekend, where a helmet wasn't worn.

(posted with permission)

Dear RAA Riders, fellow club members and friends,
I am writing this letter to each of you tonight after having witnessed a horrible accident this past weekend. It happened in New York - a weekend "get away" with family reunion and wedding we were attending, but the best thing was we were meeting with friends I've made over the years back where I was raised as a kid. I couldn't wait. We all met at Mendon Ponds, a beautiful park I'm sure, to ride together. We never got to ride. A series of calamities happened that will forever change our lives and snuffed the life of one of our riders. She never got to go home to her son.

One of the horses had a bad time in one of the trailers, so a couple of the other horses were spooked. One of the riders, Patty O'Neal got on her horse to try to settle it down and ride it down a bit before we rode off. She was not wearing a helmet. Another horse, the same one who had problems in the trailer, bucked his rider off and in doing so the saddle slipped, sending the horse flying around the parked vehicles, close to a road and eventually, as the saddle was still hanging under its belly, the horse took off for parts unknown (later he was caught and has some lacerations, but otherwise survived). Patty did not. Somehow, her head was smashed against a low limb on a tree, the next thing we knew, she was lying on the ground. What we thought was her breathing was actually her blood pumping out of her body as her brain was no longer functioning to tell the rest of the body to shut down. We didn't know all that and of course did everything we could, thinking she was still alive. Part of her brain were on the front of her along with a lot of blood.

Why am I sending you this message? Because those of us who were her friends, who were there are still in mourning with this tragedy. Could it have been avoided - we don't know. But what we do know is that a helmet would at least have protected her head and multiple head injury was listed as the cause of death. So, the next time you think that wearing a helmet is not cool or for sissies - try to stop being so selfish about your beauty and think about what an accident like this does to everyone else around you. Thank God she died, as there wasn't much brain left on her left side. Does this sound gruesome? I hope so, because as I'm writing this, I'm crying so hard I can't read what I'm writing. Please, wear a helmet when you ride. The image of Patty lying on the ground with bits of her brain splattered around in a pool of blood is am image that will be with me for years. Please, put on your helmets - think of those who will find you, those you leave behind, your friends and relatives. They care - and maybe you are doing what you want to do, but there are those of us left who need to try to go on with our lives who will forever be left with a bloody, gruesome scene that will never go away.


Before you say, 'Oh, well, that could never happen to me.' Lets list some of the other stories, near misses because they WERE wearing a helmet.

I met a family this past summer at a clinic. Just 2 days before her husband and young son were riding and were on the edge of a road on their way home from the ride. The horses were behaving, and they were having a nice ride, but it was dusk and they needed to get home. Around the bend came a car – he saw the husband’s horse, but thought he was alone and ended up not seeing and hitting the boy’s horse – the child went flying one direction the horse the other. The horse was killed on the spot as it rolled over the car. The boy doesn’t remember much about the actual accident after he hit the ground – however he does know the ONLY reason he walked away from this horrible accident was because his Dad made him put his helmet on that day – a practice that was not always followed in this family. They came to visit us at the clinic that day and shared their story at lunch – the boy, still sad about his lost horse, and they brought the shattered helmet with them. Had that boy not been wearing his helmet this 8yo child would be dead or seriously brain damaged. The horse and rider did nothing wrong other than being out a little too late on their ride home, the horse never would have done anything to hurt that child – but circumstances are NOT always under your control and NEVER be lulled into the thought that you are not going to come off of your horse, you can’t control everything.

My daughter was in an accident this June. My daughter is young--but a very good rider. She steeplechase races, foxhunts, events and plays polocrosse. She is on a horse or pony every day unless sick or weather prohibits it. She also rides MANY different horses--so she is young but has a lot of experience under her belt.

I have always provided safe horses for her--and we do not take these horses for granted. We know they are a beast w/a brain of their own...but her beloved pony had a trip while she was galloping on the polox field. She is fully aware of how to stay balanced at a gallop and knows how to keep the horse/pony off their forehand. The pony hit a small dip in the ground...could NOT regain his footing and he fell.

While I think he and her fell together and he rolled over her due to the momentum of the fall--actually the video shows her being pitched (emergency dismount at its finest) forward. The pony then proceeded to fall and the forward momentum carried him to land on my 77 lb daughter. You could see the panic in his eyes as he knew that he landed on her...and he proceeded to lay there still and get off her gently. He actually had to flip back over off her and he was going about it very calm and slow. It was not until helpful people came over and starting tugging at him that he ended up having to thrash around in which he kept hitting my daughter in the head with his hoof. I yelled at them to leave him alone and once they did he got up off her w/o hitting her again.

While I personally know that I witnessed a miracle that day--and it was only by the grace of God that my daughter walked away from that accident 36 hours later--I know that we gave that miracle a bit of help. That helmet saved her life and her quality of life. It was to date the most expensive helmet I had ever bought (It was a Australian helmet that was designed for polocrosse) but it exceeds our safety standards.

It was an awful feeling watching your little one be on the ground w/o movement--but I know that the crowd around us was in a great state of panic. It would have been a terrible day for all that was there if she had not had her helmet on--and I know how I felt--and I would not wish those feelings on anyone.

I never wore a helmet, until I moved to Maryland in 88. All the farms required them, so I bought one. I was spotty on wearing it, except on trails (spiders!). One time I was riding my calm, dead broke horse with a group. We were cantering across a fallow field that was partially cut. There were lines of weeds about 2 feet high, and as we cantered my horse decided to jump the weeds. I thought this was great fun until just as she started to jump one, she stumbled. As I was already in 2 point (yes, too early!) I fell on her neck a bit. She then lurched, and stumbled again. I rolled down her neck, and fell at her feet. She couldn't stop, and ran over me, one hoof coming down on my head squarely, cracking my helmet, and taking a chunk out of my cheek. She weighted 1200 pounds, and had shoes on. Through no bad behavior, just simple accident, she would have crushed my skull if I hadn't been wearing my helmet.
I saved that helmet for a long time, as an example.

This of course doesn't even bring into horses getting stung by bees on a trail, stepping in holes, getting caught up in briers, none of which are the horses fault. So you can have a 4 legged saint, and still get hurt.

Of course you don’t have to be ON the horse to be seriously injured. About 10 years ago at a Cherokee Raiders show I was involved with helping out at a scene where the lady must have been kicked or slammed into the trailer by her horse – no one saw the accident, we all rushed over to help when the lady was found unconscious on the ground. The horse was tied to the trailer and not tacked up – so it’s clear she wasn’t riding. When she came to, she was combative and incoherent – classic signs of a brain injury. She was flown to shock-trauma and although she did survive from what I’ve heard she never made a full recovery, or if she did, it was long after I stopped hearing stories about the incident.

And people just don't think about the consequences of a brain injury. You can recover from broken bones, etc. Even if you lose a bit of mobility, it's still nothing compared to losing memories, or having your whole personality change because of a brain injury. You never completely recover because you can't regrow brain cells. gone is gone!

A good friend of mine had a gelding that her husband would often ride as well. One day he rode, and tied him to a pasture fence to untack him. Another horse came up, and her gelding reared up, breaking the board he was tied to. The board hit her husband in the head (although he rode in a helmet, he had taken it off already), then her gelding came down on top of her husband with shod front feet. (The details were fuzzy because he doesn't have good recollection now of what happened) He put the horse away, then went to the barn owners house to ask for help. He was incoherent, and had basically a hole in his skull where blood etc was gushing out. They air lifted him to shock trauma, after a lot of surgery, and time in the hospital, he recovered, but he was never the same guy again.

We joke and call it the 'brain bucket' but it makes a real difference if something bad happens.

A helmet should be as much a part of your riding equipment as your saddle and bridle. Better to have helmet hair, and be here tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Equestrian roadside assistance

I'm not talking about one of the companies who do this for a fee, like US Rider. (Great company, by the way). I am speaking of the unwritten law in the horse community that we all seem to follow.

Traveling through the hinterlands of PA recently on our way to pick up a couple of horses, we broke down with a busted hose. We were on the side of the road next to a convenience store, when a smiling lady pulled up in a pick up truck, and asked if we needed help. She explained she also had horses, and a trailer if we needed to unload and put them somewhere while we repaired the truck.

It's a funny thing, once you have horses, if you see someone with a horse trailer, on the side of the road or in an accident, you have to stop. I have done this many times, a horse trailer pulled over on the hwy, stopping to see if they needed help. In the news, these trailer accidents where horses are involved, horse people seem to appear out of nowhere to assist with the horses.

Recently in Calgary Canada, a trailer bound for a feedlot overturned, and staff from Spruce Meadows came over to help. Here are people who daily handle 100k horses, coming out to help auction horses who went for 50 cents a pound. But they were still horses, and they needed help. That's all that mattered.

It's one thing that gives me hope for the horse community. While we may argue and sling mud at each other, malign each others chosen riding discipline and techniques, when it comes down to horses scattered across the hwy, we are of the same mind.

See you guys out on the road, I've got your back.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'The Perils of Pauline' aka: horse ownership

On one of my favorite blogs there is a discussion of how horses can hurt themselves (see whole discussion here) I was going to post my experiences, but I realized that would be pages of stories! So here they are:

The first horse I owned was a black TWH mare, Senator's Rebel Lady (Neysa). I had owned her a year when some kids went into her pasture, and started shooting horses with BB guns. Of course they ran through a barb wire fence, of course my horse was leading the way. The damage? Splints in both fronts from running on the road, but the worst was the loss of pretty much her entire top left leg muscle (can't remember now what it was called)ripped out by the barb wire fence. The vet actually told me to put her down, because she would never be ridable, but I refused. The gaping hole in her shoulder eventually filled in, and all that was left was a small scar and the little flip to her gait with that leg. She developed new muscle, and learned a way to use her leg around her disability.

Same mare, years later on a trail ride, we were riding up the power lines, and there was an old fence. Walking the in tall grass next to the fence, she suddenly stopped, and refused to move. One of the other riders hopped off to come look, and both front feet were tangled in wire. She stood there, until someone lifted each foot out of the wire, then we went on our way. Notice, neither of these were HER fault!

Her daughter, Shadow (another black TWH), whom I still have, had her own collection of incidents. The first time I rode her, I didn't have a girth that really fit, but as long as I kept my balance, I was fine. So we head out, with a friend ponying her, leadline hooked to a halter under her bridle, me on her back. She was doing great, when suddenly she put on the brakes. I look down, and my friend had let the leadline sag enough so it was now tangled in her front feet. I couldn't get down, the saddle would slip. My friend couldn't mount with out help. So I leaned forward, unhooked the leadline from the halter, unwound the line from around her legs, then clipped it back and on we went. In all of this she was perfectly calm, waiting for me to fix it for her. Another time she got tangled up, we had moved to a new place with high tensile fencing. The charge box was broken, which Shadow figured out pretty quick. She was grazing over the fence, pushing on it when she stepped through and caught her hoof and shoe on the fence. She stood there patiently for who knows how long until the barn owner came home, saw her there, and untangled her foot. The barn owner, who hadn't even met Shadow yet said she was amazed. Shadow just stood there, looking at her, saying 'It's about time to came and helped me.' Then she just went back to grazing. (Charge box was fixed the next day, LOL)

Lets see, falling into rivers. I was on a trail ride with Shadow and we came to a water crossing. None of the other horses would cross. The leader of the ride assured me it was a safe crossing, so I led the way on Shadow. We got close to the other back, and Shadow slipped in to a hole. I rolled off onto the bank, and Shadow (who is 16 hands) had her front legs folded under her on the bank, and she hung straight down into the hole. The hole was so deep, her back legs didn't touch the bottom. She couldn't climb up on the bank, so we eventually got a bunch of riders to help, and grabbed her front legs and rolled her over and out of the hole. She was fine, I had a wet seat for the ride home. She stayed calm all though this, just waiting on us to figure it out and save her.

Next time it was worse. We were trail riding after a fall storm The trails were wet, bridges were slippery with wet leaves. My friend crossed a bridge made of I-beams with railroad ties. Very sturdy, used for cars. Her little Arab trotted across, but when Shadow followed, one of the rail road ties was rotted, and both her back legs fell through. I rolled off, and when I saw what had happened, I yelled "Whoa Shadow!" and she stopped scrambling and was still. There we were, two women miles from anyone, without even a leadline to help. My friend tied her Arab to a tree (he was a saint through the whole thing, just stood and watched us) and as she was taller, she went under the bridge to see if she could push her feet back up. They were in the gap just past the fetlock.We got one foot up, braced the other, and I asked Shadow to get up. She scrambled, got up, but both back legs slipped again, and went in the hole even further this time. Now Shadow was lying on her belly, both back legs in the gap up to her hip, with one stifle caught on the bridge. I pushed on her neck and said 'lay down.' This isn't something I have ever asked Shadow to do, but she did, groaning as she did. I realized she was groaning because her front left leg was curled up to the side, so I pulled both front legs out straight. I took the reins off her bridle, and as my friend pushed her back legs back up the gap I looped the reins around them and pulled. Once we had them out, I put all my weight on pulling the reins around her back feet, and told Shadow to get up. She got up, and with me bracing her back legs was able to get away from the gap in the bridge. It was a long walk back to the trailer. She tore ligaments in her hip, and was off for a year, but I still ride her today. She's just a bit stiffer on that lead at the canter.

I have had a few trailering incidents, but the best was a young QH gelding I trailered for student of mine. First they decided to help me out by loading him into the trailer before I got to the barn. Into a trailer.... parked in a field... not hitched to anything and right next to the pasture where all the horses were out. I went out there, no horse in the trailer. They had tied him to the chest bar ring, instead of the tie ring above the door. He had pulled up, realized he was loose, turned around in the 2 horse straight load and jumped out the back. He was calmly grazing on the other side of the fence from his buddies. I then properly hitched up the trailer, we loaded him, being sure to tie him correctly this time. I was about to pull out of the driveway when I looked in the mirror, and saw the gelding's face was pushed up against the window of the trailer. Thinking he had knocked the breast bar loose again, I stopped and went back. No, this time he had jumped the breast bar, and was hanging on it from his hips (was only 14.1) with his face smashed into the front of the trailer. As the owners ran around in circles screaming their horse was going to die, I got a hammer and screw driver, went under the horse's dangling back legs, and took the breast bar pins out. I then pulled his tail until the bar came off. I slid the bar out, closed the trailer and got on the road before he did anything else stupid. Yes, he was a palomino, and so were his owners. :-D

I've had two incidents with horses getting their feet caught in a hay net in the trailer. Both times they were tied short, the net was way above their chest, they had to reach up to get hay. Still don't know how they did it. They both managed to trailer to our destination on 3 legs without problem.

I've only had one Stallion incident, but it was funny in retrospect. I was boarding a supposed Arab gelding. (who it turns out was a cryptorchid) He was in a stall, as he was new, my mares were out. I got down to the barn in the am to find my spotless cement barn aisle looking like the aftermath of a teenager party. Brushes and boxes everywhere, coated in manure (the mares had wiggled the door open and came in) and the gelding/stallion hanging off his stall door looking very miserable. He was 15 hands, but the stalls were lower than the aisle, so his back legs were danging. He was very sweet, just kept looking at me with pleading eyes as I took his stall door off the hinges. Once I had the bolts out, I grabbed his halter and pulled. The door fell down, and almost immediately he peed for about 5 minutes with a sigh of relief. Seems his 'parts' had been pinched on the door all night. He was pretty uninterested in the hussy mares for a while after that.

My daughter was untacking her first horse after a ride, and as she was in the pasture, just turned her buckskin Paint Willow loose. She went in the tack/feed room with her brush box, halter and lead, and turned around to find Willow calmly standing right behind her. She thought my daughter still had her on the leadline, and followed her through the small doorway and into the room. We had the center of the room filled with four flats of hay, so Willow was standing curled around the corner of the hay, looking at my daughter rather puzzled. She then proceeded to calmly eat hay until we backed her around the corner and out. No damage except for my daughter's nerves, LOL!

This is just a sampling, horses always manage to hurt themselves, no matter what you do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Babysitting duties

Over the years, I have witnessed many instances of other horses, usually mares, taking on 'babysitter' duties for foals. Some active, protecting the foal from other horses, some just passive and tolerant. It has always worked well for me and the foals, and made weaning and training easier. While I have had babysitter geldings, tolerant sweet boys who basically just didn't beat the foals up. I never thought about any role for a stallion in babysitting.

Two years ago for Christmas, I bought my husband a MFT gelding. His first horse was a mare (our entire herd was mares), and he had decided he wanted a gelding (it's a guy thing).

We determined that Mithril (Reg name was Finesilver's Flying Shadow) was 11 years old, and barely green broke. He had been used as a herd stallion for probably the first 8 years of his life, then gelded and shown. (He parks out and 'looks pretty' at the slightest hint of a camera) He had 2 speeds, flat out rack, and stop and park. He quickly took over lead of our little band, but other than a tendency to herd the mares and challenge the geldings across the back fence, he had no other stallion tendencies.

That spring a mini mare I rescued produced a surprise foal. The foal had many (expensive) problems, and was tiny so we kept the two of them separated in a corner paddock. From the moment the foal was born, Mithril guarded the fence line. No one else was allowed near the foal. When we finally turned the mare and baby out, he carefully herded the two away from everyone else. Once the foal got bold enough to explore, Mithril would herd her back to mom. If we were working on the foal, training or giving meds, he would stand guard until we were finished and take the foal back to mom.

We found a home for mare and baby, so didn't have to go through the weaning. But this spring, of course, history repeated it's self. The Morgan rescue (who wasn't in foal) produced a surprise baby. As you know, we decided because of mom's tendency to kick to wean the baby early. Last week we did that, and what occurred was fascinating.

We sneakily put Rocket in a stall with grain, loaded mom (Cricket) in a trailer, and off she went. Rocket Man came out of the stall, and started calling for mom. Mithril came up to him, and followed him around as he ran the pasture calling. I saw Mithril herd him away from the fences, away from the 'evil' gelding neighbors, generally watching over him.

I went out in the pasture to get some photos of this, because Rocket Man was looking amazing with his tail up in the air, all alert. But as soon as I went in the pasture, Rocket came up to me for comfort. Since all he wanted was me to scratch him, I decided to leave. As I walked back to the barn, it suddenly occurred to Rocket that mom may still be in the barn!! He went charging back to the barn, with Mithril right behind him. While Rocket just wandered around and called, Mithril went up to the barn, and looked in Cricket's stall for her! He them looked at me, then in all the other stalls. Once he realized Cricket was really gone, Mithril put his ears back, and trudged away from the barn. When he got to Rocket he nipped him, and herded him back to the mares. I could just hear him thinking "Cricket is gone, and now 'I' have to babysit!!"

It has been two weeks now, and Mithril is still looking out for Rocket. If Killian (my 15 month old MFT colt) gets too rough, Mithril separates them. Since Rocket is the last to finish eating, Mithril waits at the gate for him. He takes his responsibilities seriously.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Foal are cute, but...

They grow up, and they get hurt. It is amazing, how an animal that large, who for eons has lived in the wild and survived, can't make it to weaning in suburbia without getting hurt.

But lets go back to the beginning. First, this foal wasn't supposed to be. A Reg. Morgan mare ended up in a meat dealer's yard (yes, horses are still being sold and slaughtered for meat, they just ship them a few miles further to Canada and Mexico). A Morgan rescue group was trying to save her, but no one had space for a 3 yr old mare not under saddle. I saw her, and she looked exactly like the former horse of a friend of mine. I had the space, so I took her. Picked her up, no problem, snorty but a good girl. Brought her home and while I had her in quarantine I'm thinking 'She's really got a belly.' Most horses I get from the dealers are underweight, but I reasoned this was a Morgan, a breed that can almost live off air.

She came down with an upper resp. infection, so while I had the vet out, I asked them to palp her, and see if she was in foal. The vet checked her out, nope, no baby. Ok, then once quarantine was over, and the weather decided to warm up, I was going to hitch her and do some driving. But by the time all that happened, she was REALLY big, and I'm thinking she's really wormy, or she pulled something over on the vet. Worming makes no difference, but then the baby 'drops' and I know she is really in foal.

Now I'm a bit panicked, dealers yards are full of drafts, donkeys, all sorts, and she was only 14.2 and a maiden mare. Was I about to have a mule or huge draft cross arrive? With some e-mails to Morgan folks (very helpful!) I got the previous registered owner's contact information, and gave him a call. Yep, she was bred, and yay! to a Reg. black Morgan stallion. Whew! Dodged the bullet there. A reg. foal at least has a better chance in this too many horses too little hay economy.

On July 10 the mare had her foal. Black, gorgeous, and HUGE! See slideshow here.
He earned the name Rocket Man because he would fly around the pasture.

As foals do, he grew, got more active and bold. He also got even more adorable, and would do anything for scratches. Next slide show here.

When he was 6 weeks old, we left town for a family wedding, leaving a friend in charge of the horses.

So of course someone got hurt. (you knew that was coming) Of course it was the cute adorable baby. When I got the voice mail I am wondering what hazard was there that I didn't clear. What could he have cut himself on? I called some friends, who dashed over to give me an idea of how bad it was. I could tell it was bad but I wasn't prepared for the cell phone photos.

Fortunately, both my friends are level headed, and while I got the vet on the phone, they hosed him off, and put a nicely professional pressure bandage on to get the swelling down. (just in case there was enough skin to stitch together)

Talking to them, and looking at the photos, my conclusion was that he had been kicked. He and his mother were in a pasture with two other mares, both former broodmares, and both tolerant beyond reason to babies. I had seen his mother kick him in the past (she doesn't share food) so the only conclusion we could come to was that he had been nailed by his own mother.

He was sore, ouchy, and not a happy camper, but was very good about being caught, having a halter put on him (wrong one and too big, his was not to be found) standing to be hosed, and them wrapped.

When my vet got there, she decided there wasn't anything she could stitch up, so she trimmed the wound, scrubbed it out, and wrapped him up like a mummy. Nothing major was cut or damaged, just a lovely scoop of skin and muscle taken out. She also concurred it had to be a kick.
The main concern was to keep it clean, and allow the wound to fill in the missing areas.

He is now running around the pasture like nothing happened. At first it was a bit of a wrestling match to get his meds in him, but now he looks for them (it must be food, right?). When I gave him his first worming, I made sure it was apple flavored, so he really thinks that is the good stuff now!

He over 2 months old now, and is happily pestering the other horses, running, playing and totally ignoring his bandage. Still comes up and begs to be scratched.

But, as mom is getting even more insistent he stay away, we will be weaning him soon. (before she hurts him again!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Friday, August 22, 2008

More Olympic humor

In honor of the Olympics with a less serious twist (see other blog here), here is Men doing Dressage:

Funny Commercial

Pas De Duex

Texas Dressage

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Did you know?

That Olympic horse Poggio II was a TB picked up for $2500? He was a pack horse in the Cascade Mts. when he was bought because of his pedigree. Here is his story.
From $2500 pack horse to world class competitions. Granted, his rider fell off in cross country, due from what I could see to a too late take off on a coffin-type jump. It was ugly, but no one was hurt. It totally looked like a loss of focus moment. It happens to the best of us.

I am just thrilled to see American TB's in the upper echelon of competition. Yes, they can compete, and very well, thank you. I believe the majority of the horses in the eventing competition were TB's.

Oh, and just for the record. To that person who wanted to do a little BBN, a little trail riding, and maybe some local showing and turned down my TB gelding (despite the fact she loved him and he went beautifully for her) because your 'trainer' saw the video and said not to buy him because he paddles a little with one front hoof. Poggio II paddles exactly the same. Hmmm..didn't seem to affect his career, did it? Actually, if you watch all the dressage tests, when that horse comes down the center line, darned if they all don't paddle a little, some a lot. You know, they seemed to win at the Olympics anyway.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Picture this scenario: A rural neighborhood of small farms. Just about everyone has 10-15 acres with horses in fences. A dead end road with a private gravel drive, horses in pastures on each side. What in this scenario says "Drive onto this private property with your dog or kids, and go in the pasture with the horses?"

We had a lady pull in the driveway, park next to the barn and get out with her dog. She ducked under the electrified high tensile fence with her dog and was walking around. (how she did that without getting shocked I don't know) The land owner saw her, went down to the barn, and asked her what she was doing. She replied "I wanted my dog to meet the horses." She was informed this was private property and told to leave, but really, WHAT WAS SHE THINKING? Hasn't everyone seen that You Tube where the guy gets kicked by the horse (and dies, by the way)?? Surely she is aware some dogs chase and bite other dogs, wouldn't that be a whole lot worse if a 1200 pound horse decides to do it?

A month ago our Morgan mare produced a colt. Granted, he is a stunning little man, solid black, and convinced he is the lord of all creation, but that birth did not turn us into a free petting zoo. The typical example: minivan full of moms and kids pull up. Kids pile out of the van, run to the gate and start climbing. Moms sit chatting in the van and ignoring what the little flip flop clad darlings are doing. Never mind that horses, and especially foals bite, and can sever little fingers without effort. Never mind they can step on toes and break or remove them. Never mind mother horses are just as protective as other mothers and may kick without any warning. Never mind this is private property, way off any main roads and NO ONE INVITED YOU THERE! Why in heavens name would you EVER take your kids and let them run around in a strange place without getting out to watch them?? What kind of mother of the year award do you get for letting you kid run up to a strange 1200 pound animal, with teeth and hooves? What about snakes, wasps, rusty wire, stray dogs? Do you think at 4 or 5 they are ready to start 'taking care of themselves?'

My son grew up on a farm, knows all about those dangers, and STILL I would never allow him to go some place and take off without me watching him. Just how stupid are these people?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

OTTB saga...

After years of being content with her two warmblood geldings, a friend of mine suddenly decided to adopt a OTTB. This boy was currently on the track, had run a couple days before and came up lame. The trainer had been talking to her, trying to convince her to take him, and I was the voice of reason saying "He's gonna cost you a lot of money, etc etc.." Now my objections were nothing against TB's, I have one myself. It's not that I don't think she can handle him, she used to work on the track as a teenager, and her current horse is not an easy ride. But I know unfortunately from experience, free often equals 'damaged.' Well, she went to look at him, and cute TB face won.
Yes, he is damaged, he has chips in his knee, but my friend researched the cost of the surgery, talked to the trainer (who was completely committed to a good home for her horse, and will take him back if it doesn't work out), and decided to bring him home. This was last Sunday, the 20th.

Now, we both board at the same farm. It's pretty minimal. We have pasture, and marginal fences. Her barn has 2 big run in stalls, a hay area, and a fenced paddock that used to be used for cattle. (in other words, not goofy TB safe!)She brought her boy home, put him in the paddock, with access to the stalls, and he proceeded to snort, cut up, and generally act like a silly TB in a new place. Granted, he has come from complete stall rest on the track to a paddock where he could at least play a bit. He talks to her boys over the fence, everyone snorts and squeals. After 2 days he was settled, and calm, and really looking longingly at the grass over the fence.

So, Wednesday, thinking they had all met over the fence, and better to intro them while we are there and can intervene if needed. She turned him out. There were a couple rushes, more squealing, but everyone sort of stayed in their area and grazed. Great, we think, that wasn't so bad. As we are talking, we see the horses get riled up in a corner of the pasture. Her big warmblood gelding charged the new guy, and ran him into the woods. He doesn't appear out of the woods, so we send one of the barn urchins to run down there, and make sure he is ok. After all, it's just the woods, right?

The urchin comes running back up saying he was trapped in the woods and 'sitting' on a log. So the TB's new owner jogs down to have a look, thinking surely the kid was exaggerating. Next thing I know I'm getting a call to 'come down now!'. So I grab leadline, halter and lungeline, and head for the far end of the pasture. When I get there, I had to force my way into the brambles, to get to him. This poor TB had charged blindly into the woods, fallen over a log and managed to trap himself all tangled in the branches, with indeed, his butt sitting on a 32" high log. He couldn't come back, the way he went in, so she and another horsey neighbor cleared the trees and brambles in front of him. While all this was going on, this poor TB was shaking like a leaf. He was terrified, and I could tell his new owner was thinking he was about to launch into the usual TB response to fear. But even in his fear, this boy never moved, and he kept looking at me, even tried once to turn around and come to me (would have been bad, I was behind him). So pulling out my best riding instructor voice, I told him to "Stand!" and told them to put a halter on him and hook the lungeline up. I heard some 'buts' and dithering, so I said "Do it!", and told them. "This is a track horse, his security is his halter and leadline. He is waiting for you to take control and make it all better." (yeah, I yelled. It's ok, she's known me for years, LOL!)

Once the halter was on, and they actually stepped up to him, he stopped shaking. They cleared his path, stepped back to give him room in case he jumped out, and asked him to move forward. After a minute of thinking, he scrambled out of the tangle of branches, and calmly followed her out of the briars. Once we took over the situation, he was totally calm. We led him out, hosed him down, and got a look at the damage. Of course the knee with the chips was the size of a cantaloupe, and he was dead lame on it. He was a mass of cuts and scrapes from head to tail, but all were really superficial.

So after a bath and a lot of Swat, back in the paddock he went. Through all of this, and the next day doctoring his cuts, he was a perfect sweet gentleman. I'm thinking even with the chip surgery, she has gotten a really nice horse. He's put together extremely well, and has shown he trusts humans and has a nice temperament. The swelling was down on his leg, and he was walking on it. I admit to her maybe I was wrong about her getting him. But, the fates were listening..

The next day, I get a call from the barn. The TB had been pushing a gate trying to graze, got a foot caught in a rusty panel gate, and sliced his foot open. The whole paddock was covered in blood. The only vet she could get was going to be a while, and one we didn't have the best confidence in. I drove to the barn as quick as I could. It's amazing how much blood a horse can lose, there were pools of blood everywhere, and all 4 hooves were red like they had nail polish. My friend had immediately put on a proper pressure bandage, which was slowing down the bleeding, but it still was dripping out. He had a cut downward from about midway between the coronet band and the bottom of the fetlock. The slice was about 5 inches across, and 3 inches down to where we could see something, bone, tendon, we didn't know what.

This horse is going to need stitches at the very least, tetanus booster, antibiotics, etc. The pinch test shows him a bit dehydrated, and who knows how much blood he has lost. I push for taking him to my vet, who happens to have an excellent clinic that can take emergency surgeries. She decides to take him there, where we will have everything we need no matter what they have to do. Through all this, the TB is calm, eating grass, standing for his bandages, being a very good boy. Until we decide to load him in a trailer!

If you have ever loaded a difficult horse, you know all the tricks we tried. He actually probably would have loaded in the first 15 minutes, except for all the 'helpful' non-horse people who kept stopping to see what was going on and offer advice. Eventually I got my TWH mare, Shadow, who loads happily and munches hay. The TB decides she is quite the hot chick, then realizes he is missing some food in the trailer and walks right in. At least an hour, and 7 people helping..but we were on the road. Shadow came along as a babysitter, and when we got there the TB stood quietly, unloaded without a problem, and was a wonderful boy while the vets worked on him. Seven stitches, and a lot of drugs later, all it takes is a shoulder up his butt to load him again, and we are home. The cut was all soft tissue, and he should heal with no problem. They also found an ulcer on his cornea, which they scraped and cleaned. He wasn't dehydrated, and blood counts were fine.

So now he is in solitary in the barn while he heals, and my friend figures out how to completely TB proof her paddock. Meanwhile we have my vet on speed dial. :-D

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vets are not infallable..

First off, let me say I love my vets, they are the greatest. They are super enthused about their job, go above and beyond, and have a clinic with equipment out of Star Trek.


They told me my mare wasn't in foal, palped her, etc. But July 10 she foaled a huge black colt just to prove them wrong! It was great, the vet who palped my mare happened to be the one who responded to my 'New Baby' call and said "Isn't this the mare I checked in Feb. as not in foal?"
I replied "Yes, does this mean I get a refund?" No reply. This often happens as many people don't think I am as funny as I think I am. :-D

Fortunately this surprise baby was very healthy, and has flourished in all of his 2 weeks of life. Click Here for a slideshow of photos.

The long story is that mom is a registered Morgan mare who was pulled out of a meat dealers yard with hours to go before making the long trailer ride. She was spotted by a couple of rescue groups, Another Chance for Horses and Forever Morgans, and they worked together to rescue her. I came on the scene when they didn't have a place for her to go. I offered to take her, and drove up to PA to get her.

When I got her I thought she looked pregnant, she had the belly. I got her back and had my vet check her out, and see if she was in foal. I was worried because she was only 3 years old, and 14.2, and you never know what they have been around in a dealers yard. Drafts, donkeys, etc. I was more concerned about size. But, the vet assured me she wasn't in foal. Well, that was good news! I gave her time to settle in, wormed her, worked with her a bit. She was supposed to be broke to drive so I got a cart and harness offered to me by a friend. All good, but in the meantime, she's getting rounder and rounder, and hasn't been in season. With visions of mules and draft crosses, I called her last recorded owner, to see when she was sold, and how long she had been making the auction rounds. I found out from him she has been bred in Aug. to his lovely black Morgan stallion, so yes she was in foal, and Yay! it was a nicely bred cross.

So I picked up the late pregnancy shots from the vet, and got my foaling kit together, and started waiting. We had milk, the baby was in position, but instead of foaling she just kept getting bigger. Finally she foaled, of course surprising us by not showing a single sign she was ready, sneaky mare! She was fine with anyone coming up to her baby, great with everyone until I went out with a halter to catch her for the vet. We then had 30 min of running around the pasture before I finally got her herded into the barn. That's when the baby got named Rocket Man, because he was sure flying around the pasture! The whole time the vet was checking everyone over, she was shaking her head wondering how she missed on the check.

Rocket Man now has 4 teeth, has discovered butt scratches, and playing with the hose.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some of you will understand this..

I had a great ride this weekend. Not because my horse was especially good, she was the same as always, but because I finally trusted her, and let go.

Now a lot of you are going to get why that is such a big deal but not everyone. So I have to set up the story a bit so you understand how it happened, and why it was so special. First, understand I am approaching 50 with warp speed, I have a bum leg, the legacy of a spoiled TB broodie who fractured it, and I realized some time ago I don't bounce like I used to. I have a 21 year old Tennessee Walking Horse mare, that I bred, trained and showed, she is a versatility champ. She is also one of the most forward horses I have ever ridden. At one time I reveled in this, my friends and I blasting through the hunt trails at full gallop, jumping everything in sight. BUT I now am not in shape, and not so fond of high speeds and higher jumps. So I spend a lot of time holding my mare back. She is well schooled, and accepts this for the most part, but frustration will get the better of her, esp since lately I have spent a lot of time baby sitting greenies and newbies on the trail. So she gets faster, I take hold, she starts fretting and jigging, it goes downhill from there. Lately, when I do let her go, she explodes in a hard gallop, which with my noodle legs I find hard to stay on.

Fast forward to friday, July 4th. We decide a trail ride is in order for our fourth, and I decided instead of a quickie schooling of my 17+ hand Perch gelding, I'll take him on the ride. The next day I have a beginner coming to look at him, so I figure I should get him out and make sure he will move. We had used him for beginners to ride on the trail, and he was very good, but very slow, and tended to stall out and stop. I saddle him up, and realize even with my 3 step mounting block, he is so tall I can't get my foot in the stirrup! My hubby has to help. I hop up there, grab my dressage whip, and off we go. Well, sort of. Snails are passing us on the road, and the big guy stops several times to look at horses in pastures, the grass, or else just because he forgot what we were doing. I use legs, voice and dressage whip to enforce the forward momentum. Meanwhile my hubby on his Missouri Foxtrotter is making loops back and forth, circling, even my daughters QH, usually the last in the line up is having to slow down for us. We finally got to the park after about 20 min (normally a 10 minute trip) and my horse completely stalled halfway across the cross country course. By then, I was exhausted! I had never had to use leg so much in my life. I was urging him on, using seat, legs, weight, everything. I finally got him going, and got him into a trot! He them procceded to try to crowhop and throw a fit, which I pushed him through and up the hill. (Yay me!) But then it seems like a light bulb went off in his brain. If the human squeezes with her leg, and I stand there, she keeps squeezing, then kicking, then swats me with the crop. But if I move forward, she stops and says good boy. If she squeezes and says TROT and I trot, she says good boy and scratches my neck, and I catch up with my buddies. Ding! the bell went off. We worked on these concepts the whole ride, over 2 hours to do a loop which usually takes 1, LOL! The next day, I hop on him for the beginner who was horse hunting, and not only was he super, sweet and willing, he walked, trotted and cantered! They loved him.

The next day the 3 of us (hubby, me and daughter) decide to go on one of our favorite rides. Woods, river crossings, and lunch at a local dive on the trail. As we are tacking up, I decided today, I am not going to hang on my girls mouth, no matter what. After fighting to keep the draftie going, I was going to really appreciate my well schooled forward girl. We head off down the trail, the MFT and TWH gaiting along, QH jogging behind, and we had a wonderful ride. On the way back, we decided to take a trail where we could canter for quite a distance, then canter up a hill to a meadow. Normally I get up in 2 point and let my girl go. I just don't have the strength to keep my seat on her and control the canter. But throughout the day, I have had this incredible seat, no trouble keeping my legs in position, so I decide I will sit the canter, keep my leg on, and keep the pace nice and relaxed. So I ask for a canter, and work to control the pace with my seat and body. No problem, we have a lovely long canter, and when I ask for a drop to a walk, I just shift my weight back, and my girl happily drops to a walk. We get back to the trailer tired (did about 10 miles), but with very happy horses. All because I 'threw the reins at my horse' and let her go.
It was my best ride ever. :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The basics, getting up there!

Last Sunday Dear Abby had a letter from a 17 yr old girl who was having trouble getting on her horse. Read letter here.
I thought Abby's response wasn't very helpful so I fired off an email with some helpful hints. Since none of the emails I have sent to Dear Abby have ever been answered, I'm guessing this one disappeared into cyberspace as well. So lets address this here where all 2 of my readers can benefit. :-D

First off, this girl was being ragged on by the barn and fellow students because she had trouble mounting. I'm guessing it's a barn where mounting a 17 hand horse from the ground is your measure of being a horseperson. You aren't a 'Real Rider' unless you can. I have run into this all my life, and once bought into it as well. Sure, I used to be able to swing on those tall horses with the best of them. I also used to grab the mane and vault on bare back. Neat trick, never mind that the horse never seemed to think it was so great.
Now fast forward to today, where many studies have shown (don't ask, I know I read them in Equus, The Horse, and several other magazines, can't find a link to them now. If you do, sent it to me and I'll add them here) that repeated mounting from the ground torques the saddle tree against the horse's spine, and causes damage. If you think about it, it makes sense. It really doesn't take much of a twist to put anyone's back out, but imagine your horse, with all your weight suddenly slamming against the side of his spine, over and over. It's no wonder horses get girthy, or sore backs. I just paid for 3 chiropractic treatments for my horses to fix misalignments in their backs, and they weren't that bad. I can't imagine some poor old school horse, doing 6-8 lessons a day, bounced on, yanked on, and spine slammed to the left multiple times a day.

I have used a mounting block ever since the first article came out. All of the upper end barns in my area also use them. But many of the lower end barns still promote the 'You aren't a rider unless you always mount from the ground' mentality. I have one answer to that, watch Robert Dover in 'America's next Equestrian Star.' Does anyone doubt Robert's ability to swing up on any of those horses? Does anyone want to dispute his spot as one of the top horsemen in the world? No, I didn't think so. Not only does Robert use a mounting block himself, he brings them over for his contestants. He isn't being nice to the people, he is taking care of the horses.

Now, all that being said, I do believe there is benefit to learning how to mount from the ground if you are going to trail ride. You need to be able to mount and dismount as needed, in case there is an emergency. Granted, I am almost always able to find a rock, stump, or just put my horse down hill from me to make it a bit better for her. But there are several things you can do to make things easier.

First: Stretch. Muscles warmed up work better, that's basic. There are exercises you can do to get your muscles more flexible, and make things easier. Here is a good diagram.
Remember, you use all your muscles when you ride, not just your legs. This is true for mounting as well.

Second: Check your tack. Make sure everything is tight and won't slip. Drop the stirrup a hole if you need to. Have someone hold the opposite stirrup for balance if you need to.

Third: Balance your horse. Get them to stand square, and keep them still with the reins in your hand as you mount.

Here is a series of photos of my 5' daughter mounting a 17+ hand Percheron gelding. (yes, she should have had the reins in her hand, he was tied)

It can be done, if necessary. Just don't see why it's necessary any place where another option is available.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lets hit the trails!

Ok, you are tacked up, everything is put away in your trailer. You have done 20 questions with the kiddies and their parents have dragged them away. Now you are ready to go. But wait, who's in charge here? It's best to decide who will lead the ride (preferably the one with the map). Who will be drag? No, not A Drag, but the 'Drag rider', the person who rides last in the group, making sure no one gets left behind. You can trade off positions as the ride progresses, to give everyone the experience of both.

So now you gallop off down the trail, right? Not such a good idea. You are still in the parking lot area, with lots of people, other horses, etc. If your group goes charging off, the other horses may spook or kids may dart in front of you and get run over. It's always better to walk your horse the first 15-20 minutes to warm them up anyway. So mosey quietly out of the staging area and out on the trails.

While on the trails, remember the Trail Etiquette guide. Be polite to other trail users, but also be prepared for them to not understand horses. Don't hesitate to call out if someone has a loose or barking dog, but be sure to thank them after they have caught Cujo and restrained him. Let safety determine your speed, and always remember to ask the group if they are ready before a change in speed. Nothing more alarming than taking your feet out of the stirrups to stretch just as the person in front of you decides to work on racing departs. Call out to the riders behind you if you spot any trail hazards, such as low branches, holes, glass, etc. If you are leading the ride, remember the pace (and difficulty) of the ride is determined by the lowest level horse and/or rider. If you have a 'white knuckle' rider, you aren't going to be galloping the trails that day leaping every tree and deadfall you find. If you have a green horse along, probably not the day to explore the cliffs and slides along the river. Keep track of your group, and make sure no one is left too far behind. When you get to an obstacle, such as a log or water crossing, stop, give everyone a chance to catch up, then slowly cross. After you have crossed, move on so the next horse has room, but do it at a slow walk so the following horses don't suddenly think they are being left behind. Always wait until the last horse is clear of an obstacle before speeding up the gait. Any horse can feel abandoned on a ride, and rush to catch up. That's when horses slip, get caught, etc. and riders come off. A little common courtesy prevents a lot of possible problems.

Remember, the goal is for everyone to have a fun and safe time.

Now get out there and ride!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

You're ready to ride!

Well, almost...there are still some rules of engagement to consider.
  • Trailering - be considerate of your horse and other drivers. Take corners smoothly, and don't accelerate until the trailer is straight behind you. Accelerating through a turn is like playing 'Crack the whip' with your horses. They can lose their balance and slip or fall. Give yourself extra time to stop. hitting the brakes suddenly can also throw your horse off balance. Don't follow too closely, and give other drivers plenty of notice if you change lanes. For practice, put a bucket of water in your trailer, and drive your usual route. If you don't spill any water, you are doing it right. Or attend one of the wonderful trailing clinics TROT and other horse organizations put on. It will be an eye opener!

  • Parking - Again, be considerate. Give yourself room to tie your horses, and drive away at the end of the ride. Give everyone else the same consideration. There is nothing worse than getting to a great trail location to find out someone with their big rig has parked across the parking lot blocking everyone else from getting in (or out!).

  • Trash Patrol - Always pick up your trash, left over hay, manure, everything! Many areas are sensitive environments, and fellow park users are certainly sensitive to road apples left in parking lots.

  • Be an Ambassador - If you are in a public park, someone will come up to admire your horse. Take a moment to talk to them, let them pet your horse if it is ok. Take the opportunity to teach them a bit about horses, and make it a positive experience. Everyday we lose more places to ride. It doesn't take much for parks to decide they don't want horses there any more.

  • Never let them ride - Kids always ask, it's not a good idea. The liability issues boggle the mind. Let them know about a local barn with lessons instead.

Lets hit the trails!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

But wait, there's more..

Ok, so you have decided on the place, you are ready to go, but before you leave the barn pick up some essentials. First, bring water. Many horses will not drink water from streams, and you shouldn't count on there being good drinking water available. Bring water from home (rinsed out cat litter containers work great!) and a bucket! Bring extra. You never know how much they will want to drink, and you may want to rinse them off after the ride, or have an injury to clean out, etc. Bring water for yourself, even in winter you can get dehydrated. Bring fly spray. doesn't matter where you ride, you will need it. I would suggest spraying it on yourself as well, flies and ticks aren't picky. I also bring fly bonnets for the ears, and soak them with fly spray before putting them on. Nothing more miserable for your horse than flies biting their ears. Make sure you have all your tack, and it is appropriate. You may want a thicker saddle blanket, to reduce the chance of soreing. Does your saddle slip easily? think about a breast collar. No fun trotting up a hill and sliding back to your horses tail. Bring extras, just in case. Extra halter, lead line, bridle. Things can break at the worst time. Bring a first aid kit, for human and horse. Bring a muck bucket and fork. You should never clean out your trailer in a parking lot. Bring bribes. Apples, carrots, grain, whatever. You may have to catch a horse that just broke that 'unbreakable' lead line, or convince your horse to get in the trailer to go home, etc. Don't forget tail ribbons for appropriate personalities, red for horses that kick, yellow for stallions, plaid for the unbearably fashionable.

You're ready to ride!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So go ride already!

I know a lot of people with wonderful horses, who listen wistfully when I describe my adventures on trails. But they never ride on trails. Why not? Well, usually because they have either never ridden trails before, or their current horse hasn't, or any of the other myriad reasons we find to not do what we really want. Now I'm not saying you should just grab a horse and hit the trails, there is some prep involved. But for those wishing to take the plunge, and wondering just how they should do it, I've put together some guidelines.

So you want to go trail riding....

Good! I encourage you to. I happen to think it is one of the most fun things to do in the world. But, a little bit of planning and thought, will make the experience more fun and safe for you, and more importantly, your horse.

Before you go..

Know where you are going. That seems simple, right? Map Quest, directions off the site, or plotting on a road map will get you to the trails. But planning where to go, involves so many other facets.

  • Do you know the trails? If not, you will need a map. Often park trails connect to trails on private land. Without a map you could inadvertently trespass. Or get lost, or take a hikers only trail and get stuck on the side on a mountain with no way to turn around. The mind boggles at the number of things that could happen. It also helps if you can read a map, but that is another discussion.

  • Is this trail appropriate for you and your horses level of condition and experience? Are you ready for 10-15 miles of hills and rocks? Is your horse? If you have never ridden more than an hour in the ring, neither you nor your horse is ready for the outback yet. Start with one of the smaller beginner friendly parks so that you are never more than 30 min. from the trailer. If you ride for an hour or so, and feel you both can go on, you can ride another loop, or take another trail.

  • Has your horse ever crossed water? Best not to find out when faced with 10 yards of belly deep water. Pick a park with small stream crossings and make sure one person in the group has a horse that has crossed water. (follow that horse!)

  • Do you have appropriate preparation? Shoes, insect repellent, etc. Walking back to the trailer because your horse is footsore from the rocks is not fun. Nor is riding a horse constantly fretting and fighting flies.

  • Have you checked the trail conditions? If it has rained recently, and you are thinking of lowland trails, you may be facing knee deep mud. If there has been a storm, there may be downed trees. If there is a river to cross, think not only of how much rain we have had, but also upstream from the park. Rivers in flood are not safe to cross, not just because of the current and water depth, but also hazards swept down stream by the water, sharp metal, tires, etc. Often you can call the park and check on conditions, but usually it is left to your own judgment. When it doubt, ride somewhere else! It's not worth risking yourself and your horse.

But wait, there's more..

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I haz 2 many horsez...

I do, really, just ask my husband! I have my TWH mare Shadow, who is 21 yrs old. I bred her, trained her, and have forced her to live a life of hardship and servitude (just ask her!). I also have my husbands MFT gelding and my daughters buckskin QH cross mare (somehow, even though they aren't mine, they count in my total....male logic!). I do have Killian, a yearling MFT colt I bought at auction last fall (surprise dear!). But really, who could look into panic stricken and bewildered brown eyes and not taken him home?

I also have a TB gelding I have had since last year, supposedly a 'recycling' project. You know, OTTB turned into nice eventing/trail/dressage horse. Well, he is still around. I have a sweet 3 yr old morgan mare who, Surprise! is pregnant..sigh. She was a rescue I took in for a friend, and now is not only still around, but going to add to the horse total pretty soon. Finally, I have another recycle project, a 16.3 Percheron gelding. Big, sweet, black, hairy...

So when I decided to start a blog about horse activities, the name was a given, LOL!