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.