Friday, January 30, 2009

Blast from the past...

I was searching online for a file, and came across these photos:

They are from the 1999 Cherry Blossom Parade in DC. That is me on my TWH Shadow, and one of my riding students on her mother, Neysa. Both of us in 1840's riding habits. The lavender one my student is wearing is the first one I had made, but authentic means 22 tiny buttons up the front. Yeah, I decided to try again. The green one I am wearing has a hidden zipper. Not so authentic, but easier to get on and off.

The full skirt made riding much easier, and I actually had people who believed we were riding side saddle. Nope, not me. My horses were great, and had done many parades, but experience has shown me other people do not know how horses react, so just not taking the chance of kissing pavement. This was with the Chesapeake Plantation Walking Horse Club, who did the parade for several years.

It's funny, our horses always did very well in all that chaos. We held parade practices, passed around tapes of bands, etc to get the horses used to the noise, and did a lot of bomb-proofing clinics. Except for one year when parade planning fell apart and the horses got cornered against a band who deliberately tried to spook them, everything always went well. Our horses were well trained and trusting.

One year we were waiting in the line up, behind a wonderful group all decked out as cowboys, with a mule drawn chuckwagon. They were seasoned parade riders, having done these parades for years. A band marched by, and I noticed their horses never even looked up. I commented on how calm the horses were, and the rider said "You would be calm too with two tubes of Quietex in you."

I was flabberghasted, it never even occured to us to give our horses Quietex, or something like it. (honestly, most of us had never heard of it) I have to admit, they didn't have the same dancing and snorting we had. Even the calmest and best trained horse is still going to look and snort when I giant balloon goes over head, or a band booms it's drums right in your ear. Plus the crawl and stop, crawl and stop movement of a parade is especially trying on TWH since they really love to move out.

But after hearing this, I was even more proud of our horses, and our club. For novice parade riders, we did well and never had an incident. We eventually did parades ranging from St' Patricks Day in Alexandria, to Fourth of July parades all over Md, to the Thanksgiving Day parade in Philadelphia.

Parades are a lot of work, but it's worth it all for the kids. They love seeing the horses, and I remember being just such a kid, whose only contact with a horse was watching them dance by in a parade. It was the biggest thrill of the day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Prince or Pauper?

Last week a furry, 20+ gelding was listed on a website. He was in a DTS pen, and had a week to live. For those who don't know, DTS means Direct to Slaughter. Horses there have been purchased by meat buyers, who will load them up in stock trailers and truck them to slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico.

Because of the efforts of AC4H, a local rescue in PA who has developed a relationship with several of the brokers (they are a touchy lot, and won't let anyone else come near), photos of horses in the DTS pen are put on their website, for a last chance of reprieve. The brokers aren't being nice, they are businessmen. If they can sell a horse for more than they would get for slaughter plus not have to pay to ship it, they will. It's all money in their pocket.

A Morgan breed rescue group, Forever Morgans looked at the furry gelding, and watching his video, spotted a Morgan hiding under all that fur. He was healthy, well trained (walk, trot, back, did everything his rider asked without hesitation) and sound. There was no real reason for him to be in the 'throwaway bin'. Many horse people think a horse over 20 is too old to work. But those who own Morgans know that they will go strong into their 30's or later! Plus it was really morally wrong, that a horse who has obviously worked well all his life for humans, should be tossed aside because of a number, or because someone lost interest in having a horse.

The group decided if a home could be found, he would be saved. Members made phone calls, and a home was found, with a riding instructor who also does therapeutic riding. Donations came in, everyone digging deep into pockets made light by Christmas, hay and grain prices, and other rescues in the last month. But they were determined. This gelding would have a home.

I volunteered to pick the gelding (dubbed Harry) up, and take him to his new home, saving the transport costs, and getting Harry to his new home as soon as possible. All horses run the risk of picking up diseases in the DTS pens, plus having to fight for their food and water. The longer they are there, the more risk to their health.

I set off Monday morning in snow flurries to drive to New Holland. When I got there, Harry's coggins had just been pulled, so I have a 2 hour wait. No problem, Aunt Annie's Pretzels were there so I grabbed a pretzel dog, and went to watch the auction.

To my surprise, the auction was busy. Lots of horses, lots of people. Most of the horses I saw looked good, well kept, and went for well over meat prices. Quite a few no saled because they didn't bring what the buyer wanted. To my MD eye, the prices were very good even for the no saled ones. $1,700 for a well trained sound w/t/c /jump 16.3 draft cross gelding who was gorgeous? He would have been snapped up in my area.

But there was the lower end as well. A lot of weanlings and yearlings going for $25 or less. STB and TB going for $100-125. A gentleman sat next to me and asked about the prices, why they were so low. I explained a bit about over breeding, and the prices of hay and grain. He then asked who was purchasing the horses at that price, and I explained most were going to slaughter. Shocked, he said "But we don't eat horses in America!" I told him about shipping to Canada, Mexico, he whole slaughter pipeline. He commeted that he had plenty of hay and left. I hope he went to get a number. So my time waiting wasn't wasted.

Finally the paperwork was ready, and I went to pick Harry up. Lately, thanks to some of the Forever Morgans folk I have gotten close to some real quality Morgans. When I saw Harry, I could look past the fur and see a beautifully refined face, and excellent conformation. Classic Morgan good looks! He was a total gentleman, loaded right up, and except for some calling and pawing at first, trailered like a champ.

It's good he was calm, as I had quite a challenge getting him to his new home. While I was inside the auction, the snow turned from a few flurries, to a couple inches. Shouldn't be a big deal, but obviously no one was expecting it. Roads weren't plowed, and traffic was at a crawl. I had a couple of scary moments from drivers cutting in front of me. Fortunately I was always able to stop, but a few were sliding sideways stops in the icy conditions. Not good with a horse trailer!

We crawled down the hwy at 10 mph. The trip I made up in 2 hours took over 4 getting back. Once I passed Baltimore, the snow disappeared, and the roads were clear. Harry arrived to a lighted pristine stall, with hay, water, and humans with pockets of carrots to welcome him home. I got a better chance to look him over, and I am even more convinced of his quality. Someone has taken good care of him in the past, has probably shown him. He is very well trained, and trusting of humans.

I am looking forward to photos this spring, because while he arrived in paupers rags, I know hiding underneath is a prince.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Horsey IQ

People who have never worked with horses, seem to consider them extremely unintelligent. They are supposed to be placid, obedient, and patient. Sort of like a bicycle, just sits there until you want to ride it.

Yeah, I hear all you horse people out there laughing.

Last night I had another example of horse intelligence and reasoning played out at my humble barn. We currently have 6 horses, my 23 year old TWH mare, my hubby's 11 yr old MFT Gelding, and a 4 yr old Morgan mare, all out together in one pasture. (the Morgan mare needs some horse etiquette lessons, which the alpha mare and gelding are happy to dole out). In the other pasture I have my coming 2 MFT colt, my daughter's 18 yr old Arab/Morgan ? cross mare, and a 6 yr old Clydesdale Gelding.

The Clyde is a horse we are concerned about. He came to us quite underweight, and we have been blanketing him in the extreme cold. Last night I decided since it was very cold and raining, but he wasn't shivering, to leave his blanket off and put him in the barn area for the night. That way no worries about him getting wet or too cold, or putting a blanket on him and having him sweat under it, which has happened in the past. I pulled my mare out, popped him in her stall, and proceeded to put everyone else out. Understand, I am a firm believer in making life easy for myself, all my horses are trained to voice commands, 'get in your stall', 'out', etc. so I do all this with out a halter or hand on the horses.

All went well until I came to my daughter's mare, Coconut. We have just gone through two months of rehabbing her from a rope burn that got infected. All better now, but while it was open, we kept her in out of the wet.

I opened her door, and said " OK, Coconut." Coconut stood there and looked at me. I Looked at her and spoke louder "OUT, Coconut." She looked at me, and walked across the barn aisle, and into the foaling stall we had used for her rehab, turned around, faced me, then put ner nose down to her feet then looked back at me. I tried a couple more times to get her to come out, then just when I am thinking I will have to get a leadrope, I realized she was waiting for room service!

For the last two months, every time it was raining, she had been put up in the stall for the night. Coconut was very plainly telling me, "I don't go out in the rain at night any more, now where is my hay?" It was great! She was right, for two months, she has been a pampered princess, and she saw no reason for that to stop now. I took her hay to where she waited (she hadn't moved) and left her in.

Coconut resting her head on my husband's shoulder as her feet are done.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Holidays with horses

Having horses during the holidays can be a blessing or a burden. If you are rushing around with family to visit, dinners to cook, in between work and school, then going out to the barn to take care of your horses probably seems a chore.

While I have felt that time crunch, to me, they are more a joy. Being at the barn, listening to them munching is my zen moment, away from it all. Even when it's freezing outside. If there is snow, there is nothing more fun that your horses bounding through the snow to the gate to come in. Hooves make the best crunching sound in snow. The horses are warm, furry, and nose you for treats. Don't tell me they don't know about Christmas, because mine certainly know about candy canes! They will line up for their pieces as soon as they see them, or hear the crinkle of the wrapping.

In years past I have hung stockings of horse cookies and treats, and learned the contortions horses can do to get to them no matter where you hang them. We have had barn parties, gone Christmas Caroling on horseback. Christmas parades are always fun, the one time where you can hang ribbons, bells, wear santa hats and never raise an eyebrow. More is always better for a parade!

One Thanksgiving I was kid free, I went to Philly, and rode in their Thanksgiving Day Parade. A group from my riding club went, drove up the day before, stayed in a Youth Hostel, rode in the park, had a blast! Freezing cold for the parade, but good fun. Last year we went trail riding with friends on Christmas day. Good fun, and we met quite a few other people out riding also. This year we had the farrier on Christmas Eve, so all the horses got a complete grooming, while waiting on their pedicure, and lots of treats. But no time to ride over the holidays.

I always do apples and carrots in their dinner, and either for Christmas or New Years a hot bran mash. The last two years they have gotten their very favorite treat, a hot bran/oatmeal/brown sugar/dried apple and carrot/peppermint candy mash. Oh yeah, that's the good stuff! (yay SmartPak!) I've been tempted to sample it myself, it smells so good.

So I hope you took time to see your horses this holiday. I hope you went down to the barn, and enjoyed the sounds of quiet munching and footsteps. Smelled fresh hay, grain and furry horses. Horses don't have a wish list, color doesn't matter. No worries about batteries, cooking times or setting tables. No matter what you bring, even if it's just your company and some scritching, they will be thrilled to get it.

Welcome to the New Year.