Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who Left the Stall Door Open?

Dear Readers:

Stall space has finally opened up in the barn at Horse Channel. So my blog, "Life with Horses" can be found directly on that website. So if you bookmarked this site, please perform a switcheroo and replace it with this link:

Or you may simply go to www.horsechannel.com and access my blog from the home page. I'll see you there!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"High School Rodeo: The Musical"

Act I
Scene: Saturday morning. Riding arena at Cornerstone Equestrian Center. Cindy is giving a lesson on the longe line to Marcie, a nervous adult rider. As Cindy coaxes the trusty lesson horse, Ringo, into a jog, Marcie begins to fret.

Marcie: "I'm so afraid of falling off!"
Cindy: "Marcie, you're fine. Just relax your knee and step down into your heels. And think of sitting in the saddle rather than on the saddle."
Marcie (again): "But what if I fall off?"
Cindy: "Fall off of Ringo? That's not going to happen. Well, not unless you suffer a seizure. Then you might fall off. Slowly."

Song: Put a Pillow Between Me and the Ground

Act II
Scene: Saturday afternoon. Parking lot of Cornerstone Equestrian Center. Cindy and Sue are discussing tomorrow's jumping clinic. Three of Cindy's students and one of Sue's are riding in the clinic.

Sue: "I think they'll all be fine."
Cindy: "But they're so hung up on being perfect. I keep trying to explain to them that a clinic is an opportunity to learn something new."
Sue: "Yeah, look at the clinics you and I have ridden in."
Cindy: "Yeah. George Morris, Anne Kursinski, Kathy Kusner, Greg Best. We've been humiliated by them all. Why should our students miss out on the experience?"

Song: Sometimes Being Bad is a Good Thing

Scene: Two hours later. The riding arena at El Ranchito, home of Cindy's parents. Cindy has Wally tacked up and is about to longe him. Jill, Cindy's sister, is sitting aboard her horse, Topper.

Jill: "How long are you going to longe him?"
Cindy: "Oh, only for a few minutes. But you might want to ride over there (gestures) and stand in the corner. I'm warning you: Wally always bucks like a bronc when he's longed with the saddle on. He was like that when I bought him, and I can't break him of the habit."
Jill (discreetly riding out of Wally's striking range): "Well, I wouldn't blame him this time. He's been layed up a long time. How long has it been since he's had a saddle on?"
Cindy: "It's been three weeks to be exact. But he's sound now, and the vet said I could ride him in the soft footing."
(Cindy begins to longe Wally. The horse breaks into a bucking, kicking, tail flipping frenzy. With each buck he emits an odd high-pitched sound that's half scream/half grunt)
Jill: "Oh my God! He's bucking like a high school rodeo horse!"
Cindy (laughing): "Isn't he just the silliest thing?"
Jill: "Well, besides looking like a big red elephant trying to buck, he sounds like the neighbor's burro."

Song: Wally's Lament

Act IV
Scene: Saturday evening. Cindy's neighborhood. She's riding down the trail on Joey, her new three-year-old Paint gelding. They approach a house that's for sale, complete with a bunch of Open House signs.

Cindy (to Joey): "You're such a good boy. You walked right past the real estate signs and all the little red flags. You're a very brave little man."

Song: Joey Put on his Big Boy Pants
Chorus joins in on refrain. Cast takes stage; bow; curtain

The End

Hope you enjoyed a fanciful recounting of my day. Please feel free to leave your thoughts (or critiques) by clicking on "comments" below.
On March 31 my blog will be moving to the homepage of Horse Channel (http://www.horsechannel.com/) and you can access it there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Oh Happy Day! Wally Gets a Shoe and I Get a New Horse

Don't I look happy? This is Joey, my new horse. Hmmm.... I'm beginning to think that I have a thing for sorrel overo geldings.
In a few minutes I'm heading over to my parents' place to meet up with Ed, our farrier. He's going to nail Wally's front shoe back on, now that the Hoof Abscess from Hell is beginning to heal. I'm eager to see how much of Wally's hoof has to be cut away in the process, which will help determine how long it'll be before I can ride him again.
In the meantime, as you can see by the photo above, I acquired another horse. I know, you're probably thinking, "Wow! That happened fast!" But in reality, this little 3-year-old Paint gelding was one of the first horses I looked at during the beginning of my horse hunt. It was love at first sight: Joey is the perfect size (15-hands), he has excellent conformation (he placed 4th at the big APHA halter futurity as a yearling), he's been in professional training for a year, and he comes from the same training barn as Wally. I knew that I could trust the trainer because she'd been so upfront about all of Wally's idiosyncrasies. My husband, Ron, just fell in love with Joey, too. I think that was mostly because Joey has the disposition of an overgrown Golden Retriever. Yet I'd promised EVERYONE, including my vet, my sister and all of my horsey friends, that I'd look at more than just a few horses before deciding. Indeed I did, and yet every time I inspected or rode a horse, I kept going back to Joey.
The only things that prevent Joey from pursuing a career in the show pen as a western pleasure mount are his size and his movement. To win in the major divisions at the large APHA shows, the western pleasure horses have to be at least 16 hands. Joey will never make that, thank God! They also need to move with long, low, sweeping strides. Joey is not a bad mover, he just has too much knee action. But none of those traits prevent him from being a lovely horse for recreational riding. So, to make a long, tortuous story short... After much whining and moaning about all the unsuitable horses I'd been looking at, my husband bought Joey for me. I believe he actually said, "I'm buying the horse this time around, so it's going to be one that I like. And I like Joey." Fine with me! What made it even better was that the owner was also Joey's breeder, and she wanted Joey to go to a good home. Because the trainer vouched for how well I cared for Wally, Ron and I were able to negotiate a little on Joey's price, which was nice, because originally he was a little above our budget.
Today, after I rode Joey in the arena, I rode down the trail. Those he's only 3, Joey just cruised along, not minding the barking dogs nor the traffic along the street. His ears were up and his head was down as he just strolled down the bridle path. As we turned the corner we came upon a gentleman who was riding a very fancy buckskin mare. I said good morning to the man and he smiled at me and Joey and then said, "Now that's a happy Paint horse." Indeed, Joey is a happy Paint horse. And I'm the happy owner of another horse. Now I can split my riding time between Joey and Wally, and (hopefully) keep all three of us sound and content. I just hope Wally will be happy to see that he has a little brother!
If you'd like to contribute a comment, you can click on "comments" below.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hooray for Hoof Drainage!

Never in my life did I ever think I'd be so happy to witness an oozing infection. But that's how I felt yesterday when Jennifer, my vet, took a paring knife to the sole of Wally's sore hoof. She'd reviewed the xrays and then used the hoof testers to pinpoint the precise spot to begin her excavation in order to open up the abscess in Wally's sole.

She didn't have to dig far.

After just two or three dips and pokes with the tip of her knife, an eruption of the foulest black goo bubbled to the surface. I could smell it from three feet away. The force with which it oozed was evidence of how much pressure had built up inside Wally's hoof. Stuck inside the confines of the hoof wall, the infected material-- primarily old blood that had collected from a severe bruise-- had no place to go. So it had just sat there and brewed for a couple of weeks.

Of course, immediately after the carving caper, Wally was even more sore. But Jennifer packed the incised area and wrapped his foot.

I must admit, today Wally is already walking better! He seemed to feel healthier, too. My sister, Jill, told me that Wally had been prancing and dancing inside his big covered stall all morning.

I've been doing some dancing myself. This is all such a relief! I'm still keeping my fingers crossed, but it looks like Wally is on his way to recovering from The Abscess From Hell. When the day finally comes that he gets his shoe back on and I'm able to saddle him up for a ride, I should hold a party. But what exactly does one wear to a Farewell to the Abscess shindig? The wardrobe would have to include plastic gloves and Vetrap. And what on earth would we have for food? One of those chocolate volcano cakes, where fudge trickles down the sides of the cake, somehow seems appropriate. Party favors are an easy choice: hoof picks.
If you have any suggestions or thoughts, just click on "comments" below!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dog Gone Justice

With Wally still nursing his sore foot, I'm having to beg, borrow and nearly steal other horses to ride. Yesterday I saddled up Topper, my sister's flashy Thoroughbred, and headed down the trail. It's sort of comical to see the big red horse in western tack. By the time I place the saddle pad, the Navajo blanket and my reining saddle on his back, he stands about 17-hands tall. But he is quite handsome, I must say, even if he does look like Secretariat masquerading as a cowpony.

We went be-bopping down the trail as only a skinny woman on a robust Thoroughbred under western tack can do. Fortunately I didn't pass any of the area's local cowboys, because I'm sure they would've done a double-take.

As I loped up and around a hill, past a row of upscale homes, a large black dog came bounding toward us. The hair was standing up on his back and his teeth were bared. He barked at Topper and me and made aggressive moves. Topper reacted like any horse: he dashed away from the black dog, which sent both of us dancing into the street. I glanced down at the asphalt and realized, "Wow. That's a long way down!"

Just as I was contemplating how to wrangle ourselves away from the grouchy dog and still stay upright on the asphalt, a yellow Labrador across the street began barking at the commotion. It turned out that Dog vs. Dog was more appealing to the black monster than Dog vs. Horse. So he left. But that altercation made me understand what a real threat loose dogs can be on the horse trails.

That very day, when I opened my email, I discovered my father had sent me a short article out of our local newspaper. Apparently a woman in a nearby town was riding her horse on the trail. A loose pitbull (never a good thing to encounter) attacked her horse. The poor horse went into self-defense mode and in the process unseated its rider and then, in a last effort to get away from the pitbull, leaped into the street. An approaching SUV hit the horse.

Don't worry. Neither the horse nor the rider were badly injured, other than a few scrapes and bruises.

But when the SUV hit the horse, it tossed the horse... onto the pit bull, crushing the dog.

Now, we all know I'm a dog lover. And personally, I don't have anything against pit bulls, in general. My good friend, Debbie, has always had several pit bulls and they're lovely dogs. But regardless of the breed, any type of dog that aggressively engages warfare against a horse is asking for trouble. This time, "trouble" came in the form of an SUV. And a flying horse.

I see that as a form of divine justice.

Now, if people would just make sure that their dogs-- of any breed and every temperament-- were kept enclosed and not allowed to wander along the horse trails, the world would be a much safer place for everyone.
Want to share your thoughts? Just click on "comments" below!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why Not Double the Fun?

On Friday Wally has a re-check with my vet, Jennifer. Hopefully the Magical Abscess Fairy will have come and, "Poof!" We'll be on our way to recovery! However, Marion left a comment after my last blog posting, and shared that her palomino was off from April to September with a hoof abscess. You can imagine how that jolt of reality smacked me upside the head.

So you won't be surprised that my vet, my farrier and even my husband have arrived at a consensus on one thing: I need another horse. Not instead of Wally, but in addition to him. Once we're over this whole abscess ordeal, Wally will probably be more comfortable if I do more riding in the arena and less on the trails, and if I keep his riding schedule to 3 days a week. That's because he's cursed with those thin soles.

I've had two horses here before, and I did enjoy that. Plus I think it was nice for the horses: they each had regularly scheduled days off, and it gave me the opportunity to ride 6 days a week, even if it was for just a 20-minute stroll around the neighborhood. Call it mental health therapy or stress reduction or just a chance to get my mind focused on other things than my health and physical problems, but being able to tack up my horse and head out for a ride is something absolutely necessary to my well being.

And thus begins the Great Horse Hunt.

I am not having fun.

My barometer for judging whether a horse is suitable for me is based on Wally. I want Wally all over again: his flashy looks, his comfortable gaits, his training, his curiosity and boldness on the trails, and even his quirky personality.

What I don't want are his bad feet.

So that has become the deal breaker. Any prospective horse must pass the "Can This Horse Go Barefoot or at Least Not Cost Me a Small Fortune Each Time It's Shod" test. And that, as I'm learning, is a tough test to pass. The world seems heavily populated with horses sporting long toes and low heels, mismatched front feet, shelly hoof walls and all matter of creative shoeing. I respect owners who work with their farriers and vets to maintain the soundness of these horses. I just don't want to own them. Why? Because I've been in that movie already. Numerous times.

To be fair to all the potential Wally Mates I've looked at, I also have a few other criteria. First off, the daring duo of my husband Ron and my vet, Jennifer, will not allow me to purchase anything young or green. It's not that I don't have the experience or skills to finish its training. It's that my husband (understandably) wants to lessen the risks of me getting hurt again. And my vet (understandably) wants me to have better luck at getting a horse that'll stay sound for years and years.

"Get a horse that has proven it can stay sound. Look for a horse that has, for at least several years, been doing what you want it to do," she explained to me yesterday. That was when I asked her opinion on a darling 3-year-old Paint gelding I'd discovered. "I'll be the voice of reason," Jennifer added. "Do not buy that horse. Even if it passes a pre-purchase exam, it hasn't been under saddle long enough to affirm its suitability, soundness-wise, as a trail horse."

She is indeed right. But I really did like that little Paint gelding.

Next I have to have a horse that has enough schooling that it neck reins and responds lightly to pressure from a curb bit. Unfortunately, the paralysis, stiffness and pain in my right arm and upper back has actually gotten worse in the last six months. A horse that leans on the bit or tugs on my hands in a snaffle won't do. These same physical limitations dictate that the prospective horse also has to have comfortable gaits. That's why I'm seriously exploring breeds I've never thought of before: Tennessee Walkers (flat shod, of course), Missouri Foxtrotters and Rocky Mountain horses.

Finally, this elusive second horse has to be located within a certain region. Ron is being such a good sport, chauffeuring me around on these shopping excursions (hey, he's got the checkbook!), but I don't want to stretch my husband's support too far.

"You can't convince me that there isn't a horse for you within a hour or so's drive," Ron told me last weekend. "There are so many horses out here. Just keep looking."

And so I do.

Periodically I find the whole horse shopping experience soul crushing. That's a useful term I frequently borrow from one of my editor friends, Lesley Ward. I want a horse that's the right horse for me, yet I sincerely also want one that I love. I'm already running low on enthusiasm and patience.

In the meantime, I'm also encountering some rather awkward situations. For example, several times I've looked at horses that were lame. Not 3-legged, head bobbing lame, but a nickel's worth off. On a couple of horses, even Ron nudged me and whispered, "It's lame."

When a husband can tell a horse is lame... it's lame. But I've learned that it's best not to get into a debate with the seller (who's usually also the owner) over the soundness status of their horse, because they truly cannot see that their horse is Not Quite Right. So I simply smile, thank them for their time, and diplomatically explain that their lovely horse just isn't the right match for me. Which, if you think about it, is the truth.

One particular uncomfortable moment occurred due to my horse show judging jobs. Ron recently drove me to look at a strawberry roan mare that, come to find out, I'd judged at a county-rated show. Both the seller and I came to that revelation over the phone.

"You really liked my mare," she said, and gave me the horse's memorable name. "In fact, we won several classes under you that day."

"But I judge hunters," I replied.

"Oh, this mare does everything," the seller said.

Since I recalled the roan horse, and wasn't about to discredit my own taste in judging, I happily went to see the horse. She was very cute and went around the arena and down the trail just fine with the owner. But once I climbed in the saddle, I could tell within about three minutes that the pink hued mare was not the right horse for me. That seemed incomprehensible to the seller: I had liked the horse at the show, why didn't I want to own it?

It took me another three minutes to explain that evaluating a horse from a judge's booth and deciding if it's suitable for its rider, and evaluating a horse from atop its back and deciding whether it was suitable for me to own are two distinctly different determinations.

I also felt a bit uncomfortable-- or maybe startled-- yesterday when I called a stable down south near San Diego that specialized in reining horses. They featured several horses for sale on their website that looked like possibilities. Each one was a well-broke horse that, for one reason or another, wasn't going to make it to The Big Time in reining competition, so it was being marketed as a sensible western trail horse. I began speaking with the stable's assistant, Katie. She told me briefly about each horse, and then I interjected some of my riding history, and how it influenced my criteria in a horse.

There was a pause in the conversation and then Katie asked, "Do you write a blog on the Internet? Because what you're telling me sounds really familiar."

Geez, maybe I should horse hunt under an alias, or wear a disguise!

At least Katie and I had a laugh about our chance meeting over the phone. I doubt that I can coerce Ron in escorting me all the way to that stable, though, since Katie forewarned me that, "We're about two freeway exits from the Mexican border."

I'm quite sure that's outside the Horse Husband Support Range.

Nonetheless, I shall continue in my quest. Somewhere, out there, is a substitute Wally. And I'll know right away when I find it, because I'll be in love, just like I was the very first time I spied Wally and said to my sister, "I'm not leaving without that horse!"
As always, I enjoy reading your comments. Just click on "comments" below to share your thoughts.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Alex, I'll Take 'Things To Do When Your Horse is Lame' for $800"

Oh, how I wish I could become a contestant on a game show like "Jeopardy!" and merely answer a question correctly to get Wally back in my life. For those of you keeping score in Wally vs. The Hoof Abscess from Hell, my horse is definitely better. I see Wally every day, and he's much more comfortable. But even with his sore foot packed and doubly padded with diapers he's still a little bit off. So he's staying at my parents' place where the ground is softer and he has several other horses to keep him company. Plus he's entertained by the antics of the family pygmy goat, Gabby, and my parents' doofusy Labradoodle, Skippy. I, on the other hand, have been forced to find other things to occupy my non-Wally hours. Fortunately, several of my friends are kind enough to loan me their nice horses to ride. And I've delved headlong into another hobby: Making mosaics. Naturally, the themes of my mosaics are all horse-related. Here's a glimpse of the large one I just finished (it's 2' x 3'), which is now hanging on the wall in my bedroom:

Here's the mosaic halfway finished. My inspiration for this design came from thinking about all the wonderful horses I've had in my life, and the great horses some of my friends have owned and loved. We all believe we'll see our dearly departed horses some day, so I wanted a mosaic that conveyed the concept of horses going some place like Horse Heaven. I drew the design freehand with colored pencils to help me visualize the image. Then I used 1/2" squares of opaque stained glass that I cut into smaller pieces with special nippers. It's a tedious process, much like making an intricate jigsaw puzzle. But with a mosaic, the little puzzle pieces can fling up and stab you in the eyeball, which is why I always wear safety glasses!
And here's a snapshot of the finished mosaic. I took the photo while the mosaic was drying outside after being freshly grouted. Don't even ask how messy it is to slather wet, midnight blue cement grout onto a tiled piece of art. Plus I have to wear heavy rubber gloves when applying the grout, because the sand in the grout will abrade my skin, making my hands look even more craggy than the typical outdoorsy horsewoman. By the way, I apologize for the glare of the flash against the polished and iridized glass, but you get the idea of what it looks like. Its title is: "Galloping to Heaven."
Currently I'm working on yet another mosaic. This one is smaller, and it's a more realistic scene: Two horses-- a gray and a buckskin-- beneath a pair of trees, grazing in a meadow. I guess I figure if I can't ride the horse of my dreams I can at least create a dreamy horse through artwork.
Thanks for all the good wishes for Wally's recovery!