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!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poultice Patrol, Part One: "Which Aisle Has the Horse Diapers?"

First let me start off by stating that I am quite proud of the fact that I have never changed a diaper on a baby-- or on any other creature for that matter-- in my entire life. So the fact that I decided to place a diaper on my horse turned out to be a far more momentous occasion than I had foreseen.No, I didn't put a diaper on Wally's butt. I put it on his sore hoof.
One of my friends heard about Wally's brewing hoof abscess, and she asked, "Oh, are you using a diaper for the poultice?"
My response was along the lines of, "Huh?"
Turns out that a Huggies or a Pampers works quite well to hold a poultice in place temporarily. Problem is, you see, is that the person handling the disposable diaper must comprehend the proper application of the aforementioned Huggies or Pampers. I knew I was in trouble when I went to Target and was confronted with an entire wall of disposable diapers, all in different sizes, according to the weight of the baby. I stood there thinking, "How much does Wally's hoof weigh? Is it preemie size? Toddler size?"
Next, I was flabbergasted that I was expected to purchase 40 or 80 of these things. I grabbed a Target employee and asked her, "Don't these things come in a six-pack?"
She looked at me like I was insane. She said slowly, "No..."
Then she got an even weirder look on her face when I began to explain that, "I want these for my horse..."
About the time I figured Target security was scoping out the crazy lady in muck boots on Aisle 15, I simply smiled and said, "Never mind" and grabbed a bag of 40 diapers sized to fit a 12-15 pound baby. (Of course, that weight correlated to nothing in my experience, as I know next to nothing about babies, so I just imagined a 12-15 pound turkey and figured that was approximately the correct size).
Thus I went back to my parents' place where Wally is recuperating in rather lush surroundings. He seems to like being part of a herd, and the softer ground and lots of green grass is much to his liking. I'd say he's about 50% better, but there isn't any drainage yet. However, I can see a definite area on his outside heel bulb that looks about ripe to pop, so maybe we'll have the long awaited eruption o' pus in a few days. Meanwhile, please continue reading the blog post below, where I present my photo essay on the entire diaper debacle.

Poultice Patrol, Part Two: I Officially Change a Diaper... On Wally's Hoof

Once I've thoroughly cleaned and inspected Wally's hoof (nope, no drainage yet), I goop up the inside of the diaper with the poultice. Rather than the standard Icthamol, I'm going with Mag Paste, which is a thick gel about the color of a lime lollipop. It contains tons of Epsom salts and lots of other mysterious ingredients that smell like really strong cheap men's cologne. But I don't care. At least it doesn't smell like baby poop.

Fortunately, my mother coached me from the sidelines. She instructed me on how the little sticky tabs are supposed to magically adhere to the corresponding flaps on the front of the diaper. My mother is so silly. Ha! Like I knew there was a front and a back to a diaper.

Okay, now here's something I know how to handle: Vetrap. It goes over and all around the diaper to secure it in place. I had to figure-8 it around the hoof and then across the sole of the hoof, but those sorts of fine-motor skills gymnastics I can do. After all, I am a horsewoman! Just don't ask me to be a Nanny. And you probably don't want me to babysit any kid who's not potty trained, either.

Once the entire ordeal is completed, Wally was taken back inside to his hospital room, where he's convalescing. Though he's allowed out in a big paddock for part of the day (the footing is soft out there), he's living in one of the former foaling stalls. Wally's biggest complaint seems to be that the vet ordered him placed on a restricted diet. Wally says, "The view is nice but this hospital food leaves much to be desired. Where are my peppermints and horse cookies?"

If you'd like to leave a comment, just click on "comments" below. I'll read them all to Wally. It'll keep his mind off the food he's not getting.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Praying for... Pus?

Can there ever be an end to the drama in my horsey life?

After the extensive vet exam and the x-rays, plus the designer shoes with pads and silicone, I got exactly two rides on Wally before he went lame in the other front foot!

The first ride, a week after he got his new shoes and was pronounced, "Good to go" by my vet, Jennifer, I took him on a lovely ride. I was so pleased with how he strode easily down my cement driveway as I led him to the bridle path. It was obvious that his feet didn't hurt him at all. Oh, blessed day! Then we headed to the arena where I worked him at the walk, jog and lope. I even practiced opening and closing the arena gate with my good arm, as if I were competing in a make-believe trail class. Then we rode for about half an hour through the neighborhood, just like in the past. When we crossed the streets, Wally didn't hesitate or flinch when he stepped onto the asphalt. I was overjoyed!

The next day I had too many riding lessons to give, so Wally had the day off.

When I saddled him up the next day, he seemed to hesitate before stepping onto the cement. I patted him on the neck and encouraged him to follow me to the bridle path. Though he walked okay, he seemed to be a little short on his left front... the opposite foot than the one that was so sore before. (We ended up discovering a big bruise on the right front sole). Because I was getting suspicious, I only rode in the soft footing of the arena. Even then, I noticed two or three times when Wally took a short, protective step on that front leg.

No, I wasn't imagining things. So I hastily took him home.

Sure enough, he was off by the time I had him untacked and turned out in his paddock. I gave him a gram of bute, blanketed him and put him to bed in his cushy stall.

When he was even worse the next day, I called the vet. When butazolidin (an anti-inflammatory) doesn't ease pain, I begin to think it's either something really serious, like a fracture, or something infectious, like a hoof abscess.

By this afternoon he was three-legged lame. I was distraught, to say the least. Not only was I distressed to see my dear Wally in such pain, but I kept wondering why, once again, something dear to me was being taken away. Hadn't I given up enough already? As if having that riding accident and suffering the resultant pain and disability in my arm wasn't enough, I had to give up any future dreams of competing ever again. Now, after coming to peace by compromising with recreational riding on the trails, my best pal, Wally, was deteriorating before my eyes. And no matter how much money I was spending on vet and farrier bills, he was only getting worse.

Yes indeedy, I was hosting my very own Pity Party.

When Jennifer left today, after taking what seemed like an entire photo album of x-rays, she actually prepared me for the possibility--however remote--that Wally might've suffered a fracture in his foot that might leave us with no other choice but to humanely euthanize him. As a lifelong horsewoman, I accepted that news. Though putting a horse down is not something I enjoy, I was not about to have my horse suffer in pain for weeks or months simply because I couldn't let him go.

As the hours passed I made myself physically ill with worry.

Then, this evening, Jennifer called with the report. Wally's stack of x-rays were remarkably clean, bone-wise: no fracture, no bone spurs. "However, once again, I have to point out that he does have very thin soles."

But what was also evident was a large black area surrounding his heel. "It's a huge abscess," Jennifer said. She explained that the only time an abscess shows up on plain x-rays is when a gas pocket forms due to the activity of bacteria as it builds up pressure. In other words, it's like a burgeoning, walled off infection inside his hoof. No wonder he was in excruciating pain!

"The good news," Jennifer said, "is that we can fix this. It may take time, but once it opens up and drains, he'll be okay."

To make things easier for both Wally and me, I hauled him over to El Ranchito, my parents' place across town. It took both Ron and me (and a handful of peppermints) to coax Wally down the driveway to the trailer. He was so very, very lame, even with his hoof protected with a plastic pad and wrapped in a thick bandage.

Now Wally is sequestered in the big foaling stall at my parents' place, which is heavily bedded in shavings. Plus, the environment over there is just softer everywhere; the soil is clay rather than the hard gravel, granite and packed sand that I have here. And I can coordinate packing and wrapping Wally's foot with the days that my sister, Jill, is visiting. (Ron, though supportive of my horsekeeping, is not very good at wrangling Wally while he's being doctored).

If you'd like to read more about abscesses (because who among us doesn't like to read all about oozing bacterial infections) you can click on this link back to a great informative article on Horse Channel: All You'll Ever Want to Know About Hoof Abscesses.

So now you can understand why I'm praying for pus. Because when it comes to abscesses, pus and drainage is a good thing. A very good thing.

Ick. I know. I just wrote about something gross. But life around horses can be gross and dirty sometimes. If you'd like to share your thoughts--gross or otherwise-- just click on "comments" below.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Horse to Dye For

Have you heard the age-old comment that people tend to look like the dogs they own? I suppose I've seen jowly fellows that own English bulldogs and curly-haired women walking frou-frou poodles, but I'm not sure that I look anything at all like my Schnauzer, Betsy. However, I am beginning to wonder if, over time, some horse owners begin to resemble their horses. I may even be guilty of that.

During my palomino-owning era, my hair had very distinct blond highlights. That wasn't natural. Though I've almost forgotten the true color of my hair, I believe it's a plain, dark brown, the shade of hot coffee. But as Jessica, my hair stylist, says, "A new hair color is just a bottle away!"

And thus, when I sold both palominos and ended up with Wally as the sole horse on my property, my hair mutated to a golden brown with red accents. It's gotten more pronounced as time goes on. I didn't purposely mean for that to happen. I think subconsciously it happened and my hair color just evolved that way. Though I do recall I kept urging Jessica to "add more red to the mix."

But now, with the economy tanking, I'm dyeing my own hair at home. Yesiree, Lady Clairol (or L'Oreal, whichever is on sale at Target) and I are teaming up to combat the gray hairs on the top of my head. Besides, the $90 or so I was spending every six weeks at the hair salon equates to 4 bales of prime orchard grass/alfalfa hay and a bag of pellets. Even I can do the math there to realize I can save a bundle by doing the dyeing deed myself.

My biggest obstacle wasn't wrestling with the cheap man-sized rubber gloves and the noxious fumes, but in deciding precisely which hair dye color to purchase. Instead of choosing between Lightest Auburn and Golden Brown, I wanted some more descriptive tones. Rather than holding up a little cardboard box in the aisleway and trying to determine if a 3-inch square photograph revealed the color I was searching for, I wanted color terms that were easier to comprehend. In essence what I wanted were hair dye boxes labeled with colors like Warm Sorrel or Flaxen Tail. I know what those colors are!

My solution was to mix two solutions: a dark blond and a warm reddish hue, so that I ended up with a color along the lines of Chestnut Mare. Honestly, I think it looks rather nice! However, I will simply die if my current dye job elicits a comment I got from a complete stranger a couple of years ago. I was trail riding Lexi, one of my former palominos. I was jogging up a hill, my very blond tresses bouncing atop my shoulders, when this lady remarked with a smile, "Your horse is so pretty! And your hair exactly matches her mane! It's so cute!"

If anyone tells me that my hair now matches Wally's rusty coat color, I'm going to dye. Again.

Feel free to contribute your thoughts and comments (and hair color tips!) by clicking on "comments" below.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Education of Cowboy

One of the less glamorous tasks of bringing up a baby is introducing all kinds of tack at an early age, so that nothing is a surprise later on.
Let me make this clear from the outset, just in case anyone thinks I'm endorsing the hair-brained concept of owning a baby horse: Raising and training a foal is not fun. It's a lot of hard work and it's full of boring repetition. I've had many years of experience so I feel qualified to make that statement. I hesitate to reveal how many years ago I raised my first foal (I'm trying to ignore birthdays at this point in my life), so let's just say the years could be measured in decades. I have a photo of me with my very first foal, a bay Thoroughbred colt. My hair is cut and permed in a fluffy disco bob. Does that give you a clue as to the era? If I were to summarize my personal philosophy of bringing up a baby, I guess it'd be this: First teach the foal not to fear you. Then teach the foal to respect you. Then all will be right with the world.
Of course, unexpected things still happen once in a while when you're raising and training a young horse. For example, I've been rather smitten with Cowboy because, with the help of my sister, he's learned to behave like a young gentleman. Cowboy stands tied to be groomed and have his feet cleaned. He loads and trailers quietly. He clips. He bathes. He even has the basics of longeing at the walk and jog and understands what "whoa" means. (I teach rudimentary longeing early on, only at the walk and slow trot, just as an exercise in control and discipline). Yet today when I ponied Cowboy off of Ringo, the palomino colt revealed what an immature, dinky-brained "kid" he really is. All was going well. We'd trotted and cantered side-by-side through the neighborhood, past barking dogs, trash cans, traffic and assorted farm animals. We even tramped through puddles of water. As we turned toward home, I pulled Ringo to a walk and the two horses were just lazily cruising along. But when we reached a particularly sandy patch on the bridle path, Cowboy just plopped down and began to roll! Right there, in the middle of the trail! I yanked on the end of the lead rope and called to him to get up. Cowboy complied, but he had the most quizzical look on his face, as if he couldn't understand why it wasn't perfectly reasonable for a horse to roll in such a lovely spot of clean, soft sand. Do you see how raising a baby horse can have its challenging moments? Just when I'm gloating over the progress of Cowboy's education, something like that happens!
I always read my emails. You can send them to: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com or you can click on "comments" below and leave any thoughts or personal tales there.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Cure for the Common Crazy Horsewoman

Okay. So Wally isn't terminally crippled. However, he's still sore. After his costly appointments with the vet and shoer, he's much better, but not completely sound. I rode him a little bit in the arena yesterday (Sunday), and he felt great. Yet on the trip up and back, over any part of the trail that was hard and unforgiving, he'd take a short step on his right front, the foot with the sole bruise. When I fed him this morning at 6:30 I could tell he was still ouchy.

Naturally I called my vet, Jennifer. At least I had the self-control to wait until 8:03 a.m., so I wasn't bothering her before the start of regular office hours. But it was hard. I swear, I was literally staring at the digital clock over my microwave, waiting for it to click to ":03" before I began dialing the number. After all, I don't want my vet to think I'm a crazy horse owner or anything like that. <*cough*>

I left a plaintive message on Jennifer's voice mail, explaining in grand detail Wally's life history over the whole 72 hours since she'd seen him last. And I ended it with, "So tell me precisely what to do. Like, how long should I lay him up? How much bute, if any, should I give him, because I want him to be comfortable, but I don't want to mask his symptoms and think he's okay when he's not, but I don't want him to be in pain, yet I don't want him to get an ulcer from all the bute, either. I need exact days. I need plan of treatment, Jennifer, a precise plan!"

She probably waited to call me back until she'd stopped laughing at how ridiculous I sounded.

When Jennifer did call she had a very conciliatory tone to her voice, similar to a kindergarten teacher telling a 5-year-old, "There there, now Margie, that's just a scrape. Doesn't even need a Band-aid. Now dry your eyes and head back to the swing set."

She gave me a plan: "Give Wally one gram of bute each morning for a week. Do not ride him, do not longe him, not even in the arena, because while the footing is nice there, the ground is hard on the trail, and we want that bruise to heal, not get worse and go deeper into his sole."

Somewhere in there she said, "He'll be fine." But I forgot that part as soon as I hung up the phone.

I wish someone would come up with a medicine that would calm the nerves of anxious, neurotic horsewomen like me who go into an emotional tailspin when their horses are lame. Or sore. Or ill. Or have a skin rash. Perhaps it could be marketed in feed & tack stores right alongside the multitude of equine supplements. The product should be something benign and non-addictive, because the typical crazy horsewoman would be reaching for it frequently. The product would also need a clever title and tag line. Here are a couple of my ideas:

Vet Bee-Gone Granules
Feeling helpless and abandoned? Natural herbs and honey extract soothe away the fears you feel as the vet drives away.
Lay-Up Time Tea
Kick off your boots, settle back and sip some tea. You won't be riding your horse for a while, so why not relax?
Penniless Powder
Has your grocery budget been decimated by vet and farrier bills? Just add water for a scrumptious drink that provides all the nutrients neccessary for an entire day!
"Is He Sound Yet?" Chewable Wafers
Designed specifically for compulsive horse owners who cannot control their urge to peek at their horse numerous times each day to check on the animal's recovery status. Studies have shown that chewing on these gummy wafers relieves stress and anxiety. (Limit 16 wafers per day).
If you have any creative ideas for curing the worries of the everyday crazy horsewoman (or any other thoughts), just click on "comments" below!

Friday, February 20, 2009

How I Spent $400 in Two Hours

Since I spent much of last night in tears, figuring that Wally was doomed due to his current bout of sore-footedness, it seemed only fitting that I'd awake bleary-eyed, just in time to greet my vet, Jennifer. She brought along her assistant, Mark. He positioned Wally's leg while I held Wally... and the camera. After all, I wanted to document how quickly several hundred dollars can disappear when you're in love with a horse.

Once the x-rays were taken and Wally was sent back to his stall (minus his front shoes), Jennifer went to the back of her truck and tallied up my bill. Hmmm... Why is she smiling?

Within 10 minutes of Jennifer driving away, my farrier Ed arrived. That coincided with a fortuitous phone call from Jennifer, who had already viewed and inspected the x-rays. (More on that later). She gave Ed some instructions, which resulted in Wally being shod with special "no vibration" pads and thick aluminum shoes. Then silicone was injected underneath the pads for even more shock absorbing capabilities. The duct tape was a mere bonus to keep the silicone in place until it dried. Ain't it pretty? It should be, for what I paid. *sigh*

Here Ed writes up my bill. Notice how intent he appears. Hey, don't forget to add the silicone to the bill! That's an extra few bucks. Maybe Wally can get a credit account at Home Depot and buy his own silicone before the next visit from Ed. And that would be in six weeks. Why? Because I have a horse who grows his feet at a remarkable rate, and it's mostly all toe growth. Not a good thing... Unless you're independently wealthy. And I am not.
So much for the bad news. My checking account and my wallet will survive. Now for the good news: the x-rays Jennifer took were fine! I began to be optimistic when he demonstrated hardly any response to the hoof testers. Usually a horse with raging navicular issues will flinch to the application of the hoof testers. Wally did not. The films revealed no signs of ringbone or sidebone. There wasn't any founder; his coffin bone hadn't rotated (which I feared, given the crummy conformation of his feet), so those shots were clean, too. As for the navicular area? I asked Jennifer over the phone, "Are you seeing holes and frilly edges?" She replied, "I am not looking at Swiss cheese. I don't see anything remarkable at all. However," she added, "Wally has very thin soles. That's why he's ouchy on hard ground or over any kind of rocks or pebbles. So no more of that. And have Ed put on those pads with the silicone we talked about." As you now know, that's precisely what I did. Oh. And while Ed was paring out Wally's right front foot-- the sore one-- he discovered a significant bruise on the sole. Voila! Mystery solved! I'd put on a party dress and do The Happy Dance, but right now I'm too poor to buy a party dress.
I'm sure that Wally will still be a little sore for a while, because it'll take some time for his soles to adjust and for that bruise to heal. But now I know he's not facing a certain downhill slide to an early demise. I feel so much better, even if it did cost me a little over $400. Do you know how many bales of hay that is? I do. But when it comes to realizing that my horse will be with me for a long time yet to come, that my friends, is priceless.
Thanks for all of your good wishes on Wally! If you have any other comments or thoughts, please click on "comments" below or email me at: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Judge Has Frostbite

It's amazing the things horse lovers will do to earn money to spend on their horses. As an example, yesterday I judged a regional English horse show for the 4H. Now, before you think I have something against the 4H organization, or those who ride as part of their 4H activities, let me correct you. I think it's wonderful that in today's increasingly mechanized and computerized society, young people still have opportunities to raise and care for animals in a supervised, structured setting. And 4H provides that opportunity. I also like the local leaders I've come to know. They're enthusiastic. They engender a sense of, "Put the animal first" in their philosophy. But judging a large 4H horse show has its challenges.

First of all, a significant percentage of the kids participating do not have a professional instructor. That means that as a judge I spend about 25% of my time educating the riders and their horse show moms on basic rules and regulations that a professional trainer would normally provide. This time, the 4H show manager encouraged me to periodically use the microphone to explain why some exhibitors did not get a ribbon. For example, I reminded everyone to study rules about appropriate tack and equipment so we wouldn't have any more hunters under saddle coming into the arena wearing flash nosebands or huntseat equitation riders entering the arena adorned with roweled western spurs.

Next, a lot of the kids train their own horses. Sometimes, that works out admirably. I was really impressed with one young girl on a pretty pinto pony. She rode quite well, the pony jumped beautifully (I'd love to have him as a lesson pony!) and she was impeccably turned out. She had trained the pony herself. But in general, I have to take certain precautions when judging a bevy of home schooled horses and ponies. I split the large flat classes before they cantered, so only 6-8 horses were cantering (or galloping and bucking in some cases) at a time.

Finally, 4H shows tend to be run in a very relaxed manner, mostly because they're manned by volunteers who are already sleep deprived and exhausted from being overworked. There are no posh surroundings at 4H shows, no cozy, cushy places to relax between classes. Yesterday my only refuge was the mobile trailer that served as a cramped show office. It was kept warm with a propane heater. I ran in there during breaks to thaw out... until the heater ran out of propane. I spent the remainder of the day bundled up in three layers of wool (knitted scarf included), a rainproof parka, gloves and boots. Still, sitting in the judge's booth-- which was perched above the arena-- I was freezing. Honestly, I shivered for the entire day. I forgot what my toes felt like, because they went numb shortly after 10 a.m.

So why did I agree to take this judging job?

Well, I actually like the regional director for the 4H. She has an outrageous, down to earth sense of humor. She promotes good horsemanship and responsible horse care. She also reinforces proper protocol at horse shows. That means that I don't have to worry about horse show moms ambushing me when I rush off to the bathroom or try to gulp down a Pepsi during breaks in the schedule.

But mostly I took the judging job because I needed the horse money. On Friday Wally is getting his new shoes, and I'm sure they're going to cost even more than his already expensive regular set of shoes.

After having a confab with both my vet and my farrier-- we all happened to be at the same place at the same time-- we're going to try a special kind of "floppy" pad called a "non-vibration pad" underneath his regular shoes, and inject silicone underneath the pad for added cushioning power. We're holding off on the eggbar shoes for now. So instead of costing me a fortune, the shoes will only cost me a small fortune.

And between pulling off the old front shoes and putting on the new front shoes, my vet is going to x-ray Wally's feet. She doesn't really think this is necessary, but I want her to do it. That way, if Wally goes sore again, I'll know what I'm dealing with instead of conjuring up images of doom and gloom.

Do you see how this Friday is adding up to be a very expensive day?

But just to reassure everyone-- including myself-- Wally looks perfectly sound and happy in his paddock. Right now he's meandering around, sometimes walking, sometimes trotting, with his big orange cone in his mouth. In fact, I'm sure he's wondering why the heck I'm not saddling him up and taking him for a ride, or at the very least leading him down to the arena for a turn-out. A heavy rainstorm is brewing, so by the time I got him booted up and headed out, we'd be drenched. Besides, I don't want to risk making him sore again before he gets his new-fangled shoes.

Maybe I over-reacted to Wally's sore front foot. My vet and farrier try to console me, saying it could be nothing more than a deeply bruised sole or a sore heel. So maybe Wally doesn't have navicular problems. Maybe I just have to spend several hundred dollars to find out precisely what's going on. Maybe I'm just an incredibly neurotic horse owner.

All I know is that when things are not right with Wally, my world doesn't feel right, either. I'll do what I can, within reason, to make things all better. I'll even freeze half to death at a 4H horse show if necessary.

Thanks for all of your good wishes and comments about Wally. If you'd like to add some further thoughts, just click on "comments" below or email me at: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com

Friday, February 13, 2009

Duck Soup

Have you ever heard the saying, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are... it's a duck"?

Well, unfortunately, in the world of horses if it walks like it has navicular and acts like it has navicular, chances are... the horse has navicular.

Hear that sound? That's Wally quacking like a duck with navicular.

Okay, maybe I'm over-reacting, because we all know that I'm the Number One Most Neurotic Horse Owner in the World. But let's review the signs and symptoms that Wally has presented over the last few months. Combined, they are most of the hallmarks of navicular problems:

1. He is cursed with the long toe/low heel syndrome. When I bought him, his feet looked great, but then, I figured the sellers had just shod him. Yet in their defense, they did tell me repeatedly, "He grows a lot of toe." And, "Make sure your farrier takes off a lot of toe." My farrier does indeed do all that, but within three weeks the growth rate of Wally's toes begin outpacing his heels. He cannot go more than six weeks without being shod.

2. On soft ground, like the arena, he's 100% sound, even in circles. But on hard ground, especially when crossing the street, the concussion of clip-clopping on the asphalt for even a few steps makes him short-strided and uncomfortable.

3. Going downhill on a trail, even the merest of slopes, has become increasingly difficult for Wally. He takes the tiniest of steps, as if that's the best way for him to minimize his discomfort.

4. On some days, he starts out creaky and stiff, and then eventually loosens up and becomes more comfortable. That's typical of arthritic issues, including... navicular.

5. When he's at his worst, he's very sore turning in small circles. On bad days it's most pronounced when I untie him from the hitching post and then turn him around to lead him back to his paddock.

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.

When I bought him, almost 2 years ago, he had clean navicular x-rays. It was his hocks that bore arthritic changes and a couple of non-invasive bone spurs. But he'd also only been a show horse, where his work was restricted to the soft, groomed footing of arenas. Over time, I fear, the combination of his natural hoof conformation and trail riding on bridle paths that are often constructed of hard packed dirt and sand, has set him up for that elusive diagnosis of "navicular syndrome."

A recent issue of Horse Illustrated covered the whole spectrum of navicular issues. I know it's a catchall phrase, and trouble with the navicular area can range from actual bony deterioration (recognizable as de-calcified areas or "lollipops" on x-rays) to strains of the deep flexor tendon that runs down into the hoof and attaches to the navicular bone. There's also palmar heel pain, which is not technically navicular disease, but it's a distant cousin, so to speak.

No, I haven't had recent x-rays taken. But as I pointed out in Items 1-5, it's pretty obvious what's going on. Truthfully, the average horse person would not think anything was wrong with Wally. Except for a few days a couple of weeks ago, he has never been lame. But there are definite times when he just feels NQR: Not Quite Right. I can feel these subtle differences that have been increasing in significance over the last few months.

I'm no stranger to navicular issues. I've lost count of how many horses I've raised, ridden and shown over more than 30 years and certainly some of those horses have had navicular issues that I had to deal with. I know that it's not the death sentence that it once was. I also know that if you're keen on what warning signs to look for, and you're aggressive in treating it from the outset, navicular can be managed and the horse can be useful for many years.

So what's my game plan to prolong Wally's usefulness? First, that long toe/low heel issue has to be more strongly addressed. I can't shoe him more frequently than every six weeks; the hoof wall won't support that many nail holes. So after consulting with both my vet (who agrees with my intuition) and my farrier, we're going to put eggbar shoes and pads on Wally's front feet next week. That should make him more comfortable, because the eggbar design increases the weight-bearing surface of the hoof and also helps distribute the concussion of each footfall. The pads help that, too. Plus, as Wally's toe grows from one shoeing to the next, the eggbar will help support his heel.

I'm also going to restructure our riding routine. Instead of riding him 5 or 6 days a week, I'm cutting back to 3 or 4 days a week. And I'm going to spend more time on the soft footing in the arena versus so much time on the trails. Honestly, I truly do enjoy riding Wally in the arena. There's a large city maintained arena about 4 doors down from my house with excellent footing. Wally has had so much training that it's a joy to work on leg yields, side passes and figure eights. Sometimes I play Let's Pretend We're in a Horsemanship Class and together we work imaginary patterns. So I'll just focus more on working in the arena and strolling down the trails at the walk. Besides, with my own physical ailments, I'm really not up to 2-hour trail rides anymore. Wally and I are becoming the perfect match!

I'm willing to do this because I love Wally dearly. That big flashy Paint with the borderline personality disorder has really found a place in my heart. Ron and I consider him to be a part of our family, right alongside our dog. Wally and Betsy (our Schnauzer) are the kids we never had. Coming up with the money for the eggbar shoes and pads every six weeks won't be easy, but I'll find a way to budget it in. For example, I already cancelled my hair appointment for next week. I was spending $90 every six weeks to have my hair colored and cut at a salon. Now I'll just grab a box of Lady Clairol off the rack at Target and get my hair cut at one of those walk-in places at the local strip mall. And who needs to eat a big meal every night? I can do a lot with a crock pot, some chicken broth and a bag of dried lentils.

If a woman will forego the hair salon and concoct meals that begin with soaking the ingredients overnight, then you know she must really be attached to her horse.

If a woman looks like a horse lover, and acts like a horse lover, chances are... she's a horse lover.

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.
Have any navicular or duck-related thoughts to share? Or simply want to make a comment? Just click on "comments" below or email me directly at: hc-editor@bowtieinc.com

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Do I Even Know You?

I've been married to my husband for almost 26 years and yet, honest to God, sometimes I feel like I don't know him at all. For example, when we bought this house we argued on nearly every detail regarding interior decor. I wanted furniture and accoutrements that evoked early California, and hand-crafted, folksy items from Mexico. He wanted to conjure up Surfin' USA. I kept trying to explain that we had a horse in our backyard. Therefore I saw no use for carved tiki heads and palm fronds. Skip ahead almost two years and what does he buy off eBay? Not a vintage poster of the quintessential surf film, The Endless Summer. Not a table lamp in the shape of a seashell. No. He buys this and sticks it on the wall of our living room, which will serve as Exhibit A in: "Never Give a Man Your eBay Password":

Ron calls this our "conversation piece." Yup. Guests will start each conversation with, "Oh my gosh! You have a dead cow skull hanging on your wall!"


I'm not sure if I should be happy that Ron has finally come around to embracing the ranch themed atmosphere I wanted to create, because my vision really didn't include remnants of dead animals, even if they did once roam an actual ranch. Then again, he's always been a pretty good sport about putting up with me and my horses. Whether he's mucking out Wally's stall when I don't feel well or running to the feed store to order a delivery when I'm writing an article on deadline, he's been a very reliable horse husband. So I guess I'll put up with the cow skull. Things could be worse. I could still be in search of a man who'd tolerate my horsey lifestyle. Things are tough out there for horsewomen trying to find a guy who's not put off by horse hair on the furniture, mud on the floor and alfalfa dust on the kitchen counter. See for yourself by clicking on this link: Wherefore art thou, Oh horsey Valentine? I did some research for this short feature on Horse Channel: I trolled through several online dating sites specifically designed for horse lovers and equestrians, cowboys and cowgirls. And what I discovered is that I'm glad that I have Ron, even if does have peculiar tastes in home decor.
As always, just click on "comments" below to share your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Could Someone Call me a Tow Truck?

I promised you there would be adventures.

Once Cowboy got into the groove playing Follow the Leader alongside Ringo, I began to have a lot of fun ponying the youngster off the wise old ex-police horse. Wally was sitting at home nursing a bruised sole (he's fine now, thank-you!), so I had the time to drive across town to my parents' place and go on these pony rides.

Before I go on with the tale I'm about to tell, I must point out two of the skills Ringo had to learn to be a certified mounted patrol horse:

1. Ringo had to learn to push into and against an object until it gave way. That's a difficult concept to teach a horse, because throughout their lives they're taught to back away from pressure. But a police horse might have to be ridden into a line of protesters, or through a group of rioters, so Ringo had to learn that it was-- under certain circumstances-- fine to push into something until it yielded. To learn that skill, Ringo was taught during police training to push a huge, giant ball.

2. Ringo also had to learn to stand his ground. No matter what. The world could be falling apart around him, but he had to be brave and remain rock solid. That was pretty easy, I think, for Ringo. Since he'd been used for roping in years past, he already knew to hold taut against a calf-- and drag one if necessary.

By now you probably see where I'm headed in this story.

So. Last week I ponied Cowboy off of Ringo all around the neighborhood surrounding my parents' place. Since I want to get Cowboy more accustomed to traffic, I headed down the street that runs past both the high school and an elementary school. Ringo is absolutely bombproof around traffic, and he was a real confidence builder for Cowboy. By the time we reached the elementary school, Cowboy was rather ho-hum about the big orange buses. When we reached the corner, I had a decision to make: Turn right and we'd be on a straight path back home. Turn left, and we'd take the long route.

It was a lovely day, so I turned left.

Cowboy planted his feet like a mule. (My apologies to mule fans everywhere. I'm merely attempting to create a visual image).

I was so shocked at the colt's sudden reluctance that I studied his physical stance. Was he suddenly ill? Lame? Tying up? Bleeding? Exhausted beyond all reason?

Or was he too smart for his own good? Did he know-- even though we'd never been on this exact trail-- that home was just a few blocks away, in the opposite direction?

Was he already exhibiting signs of being BARN SOUR?!?!

Just to make sure, I pivoted Ringo around and headed the other way, which was the short way home.

Instantly, Cowboy brightened up and resumed jogging right next to Ringo. What a brat.

So of course, being the alpha mare that I am, and not wanting this colt to begin masterminding his own agenda at 10 months of age, I wheeled Ringo around and headed back the way I wanted to go. Again, the mule thing. Cowboy splayed his legs in all four directions, drooped his ears to either side like Eeyore and half-shut his eyes, as if to say, "I dare you to make me go away from home."


I dallied the lead rope around my saddle horn, kissed at Ringo and the two of us literally pulled Cowboy down the trail. Ever see a puppy on the end of a leash, refusing to walk? Then you've got the picture.

I made it to the corner of the next street, Rock Springs Drive. I had to hold the dally as hard as I could, though, to keep Cowboy coming forward. Thank God I was wearing my deerskin gloves! He took each step as if each foot was chained to a 50-pound bowling ball. When we got into the street (this is a very, very quiet residential area with lots of backyard horses), Cowboy flat out refused to go any further. He'd been on Rock Springs before, and I'm sure he realized that this was the scenic route home.

Right then, a lady drove up to the stop sign in her horsey pickup truck. She was wearing a ball cap and I could see some rodeo stickers on her back window. Ringo, Cowboy and I were blocking her path; she was stuck at the stop sign and I was stuck in the crosswalk. I motioned for her to go around us, and when she politely obliged-- driving at a snail's pace-- I noticed the look on her face. It said, "I feel your pain."

What could I do? I was not about to give in to Cowboy, however, the prospect of towing him all the way home like a calf being dragged to a branding fire wasn't appealing, either. So I decided to instigate one of Ringo's police horse skills: I turned him into the side of Cowboy, so that his brawny chest was pressing against the colt's side, and clucked. Ringo didn't hesitate. He went into bulldozer mode and shoved Cowboy across the street until we were safely up on the bridle path. What a good man, Officer Ringo!

But now what should I do? I sat aboard Ringo, underneath a sycamore that had shed most of its leaves for the winter. Truly, I contemplated breaking off a stick and using it as a crop to swat Cowboy on his plump yellow butt. I also thought of calling my father on my cell phone and asking him to come, with the longe whip in the back of the truck, so he could "encourage" Cowboy to come along. My final option was to just wait Cowboy out.

In any case, I was not going to turn around. That was out of the question. You see, this wasn't the first time that Cowboy had said, "Nu-uh" to some request. He did it with the clippers. He did it with loading into the trailer. He did it with getting a shampoo. He isn't scared. He gives absolutely no signs that he's frightened. He simply would prefer not to do what the humans are asking.

But of course, I always end up winning: He now clips. He loads beautifully. And he stands patiently for a shampoo. Yet I win not because I beat him into submission, but because I explain that I have all the time and patience in the world, I'm consistent in what I'm asking, and I reward him profusely when he complies. Hence, I decided to just stand underneath that spiny sycamore until Cowboy realized, on his own, that he was not getting his way.

It took about 8 minutes.

Ringo was perfectly happy standing there. He probably figured he was on a stake-out. But Cowboy began to grow restless. Some part of me still believes that horses can somehow understand the essence of what we're saying to them, so I said to the colt, "Have you gotten the impression that we are not going home that-a-way?"

I swear, he looked at me and then nuzzled Ringo.

"So," I said, "would you like to get going, or would you prefer to stand here until dark? Because truly, I have nothing better to do. AND YOU ARE NOT GOING HOME THE OTHER WAY."

I tempted fate. I neck reined Ringo to the left, the direction I wanted to go, and gave the faintest of tugs on Cowboy's leadline. He came along, happily.

We trotted and cantered much of the way home. We went up some hills, down some hills, and across a few more streets. La-la-la-la-la! Cowboy had plenty of energy. He bucked a few times and even pranced when we jogged past The Poodle Farm. (It's a huge house on about an acre and the folks there raise Standard Poodles that roam the property like curly deer).

I didn't make any big whoop-tee-do when we strolled down the driveway. Coming home shouldn't be a grand celebration; that only makes it all the more desirable for a young horse to get home hastily. I want The Great Outdoors to be what's fun, fresh and exciting.

Once I put Cowboy and Ringo away, I was the one who celebrated all the way back to my home. Why? Because Auntie Cindy won yet again. And it must be that way, or Cowboy will grow up to be a spoiled, hog-headed beast. But that doesn't mean that there won't be more adventures. Trust me.
Have a ponying saga to share? Just want to leave your thoughts? Just click on "comments" below!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Have Lead Pony, Will Travel

As I've mentioned before, I give riding lessons at the facility owned by my former show coach, Sue Smith. Sue's husband, Bruce, is an officer with the Arcadia Police Department, and part of his job is to patrol Santa Anita racetrack. Bruce began a mounted patrol unit for the Arcadia PD, and his first police horse was his own AQHA gelding, Ringo. The two of them-- Ringo even had his own badge-- monitored huge race track crowds during big events like the Breeders Cup. They've also searched for 'perps' while cruising through the parking lots of Arcadia's shopping malls during the Christmas season. Though Ringo retired honorably from the mounted patrol unit, he seemed bored just being an occasional lesson horse for novice adults. He's 22-years-old, but he's one of those awesome old fashioned American Quarter horses blessed with incredible soundness and a solid work ethic. So when Sue and Bruce heard I was looking for a lead pony to escort Cowboy, my mom's colt, around town, they offered up Ringo. How could I go wrong?
This photo was taken the first day that Ringo arrived at my parents' small ranch, which is actually just across town from Sue's. Ringo and I have known each other for years, so he's quite trusting of me. But as you can tell by the look in his well-seasoned eyes, he's not quite sure what he's gotten himself into.

The very next day Ringo discovered his new job: Lead pony and mentor to young Cowboy. "Hmmm..." Ringo says, "I thought my pension from the police department precluded me from any more active duty assignments."
The first couple of episodes in the Ponying Department went fairly well. Ringo is very forgiving, but he's not a fool. If Cowboy got too rambunctious, Ringo would do the "Aged Quarter Horse Gelding Stare" and snarl at Cowboy until the yellow colt regained his composure. Ringo also exudes confidence, and Cowboy picks up on that. An added bonus? Ringo had a stint as a roping horse, so if Cowboy ever hinted that he might not want to continue down the trail, I didn't hesitate to dally the lead rope around the saddle horn and allow Ringo to convince Cowboy that it would be much easier for everyone if he just obligingly came along.


After only a few sessions, Cowboy was following Ringo everywhere as we coursed through town along the bridle paths. We encountered barking dogs, water puddles, construction workers, flocks of poultry, other horses, trash bins and lots of traffic. Since Ringo pays little or no attention to any of it-- other than making sure we're all safe and accounted for-- Cowboy doesn't react, either. However, I'm sure some adventures await us. That's how my life with horses always seems to go.

Monday, January 26, 2009

All the UNWANTED Horses

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's living in a region where the neighborhood landscape is slowly taking on the aspects of a boomtown gone bust. The further I ride Wally up the hills, around the more expensive homes that overlook the golf course, the more I encounter foreclosure signs. Many of these "luxury" view homes sit empty, with forlorn front yards and opportunistic weeds creeping up through cracks in the barren patios. Some of these homes were once beautifully landscaped, but now everything stuck in the ground is some shade of brown or rust.

But just as the economy has decimated the housing market, it has also affected the horse market. One of my longtime friends is a USEF hunter judge who has a training barn at the posh Del Mar Horse Park near San Diego. She said she's suffering through the lowest number of clients she's ever had. Another well known hunter trainer, with a longstanding reputation for producing successful young riders, is reportedly down 25 clients. That's a huge loss of income: 25 horses, which were once in full training, have left her care. All of you aspiring horse trainers take note: Being a horse trainer is not high on the list of profitable occupations. That makes sense. Who can afford a horse-- especially a show horse-- when you can barely afford your mortgage? And if you've been laid-off from your job, the last bill you're going to pay is your board bill.

Trying to unload that unwanted show horse isn't working out so well, either. A good friend of mine ended up with a lovely roan mare (complete with four flashy white stockings) that jumps beautifully, does her flying lead changes and suits both adults and kids... for, well, just about nothing. I'm serious. She paid almost nothing for the mare. The previous owners were at their wits' end. They kept dropping the mare's price while still incurring a hefty board bill, until it became more cost effective to just hand the mare over to a good home with someone they knew and trusted.

I know. I'm sounding awfully doom and gloom, but the bad news hits me from everywhere. Nearly every day I receive emails about free horses. I'm not sure how I end up on these mass email lists, but somehow my name is included and you ought to see the fliers and photos that come attached. Each one is worded more frantically. Each one gets more plaintive, more dire. The worst one had pictures of a half-dozen Thoroughbred mares, all in poor condition, that had been whisked away from a local horse rescue site that had become overwhelmed with unwanted horses. The saddest part? The nice person who took these mares in was now faced with feeding them. They had begun to realize that no one in particular wanted teenaged Thoroughbred mares with mediocre bloodlines, especially when they were in-foal to a mediocre stallion.

Another email directed me to a listing on Craigslist. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Craigslist, it's an online site for classified ads selling everything from futons to lawn mowers and designer clothing. Now, apparently, it's also a site for unwanted horses. This ad, accompanied by several photos of a cute greenbroke Paint filly read something like: "FREE HORSE: I love her, but I no longer have the time or the money to care for her. Please come take her."

Yesterday in the feed store, my sister pointed out a poster that featured a photo of a small bay gelding standing in a corral. In ink pen the handwritten message said, "Bring your trailer and $300 and take him away."

Are you getting the idea that there are a lot of unwanted horses?

If you need more examples, click on this link, which goes back to a recent batch of news on Horse Channel: You Know there are a Lot of Unwanted Horses When... If at some point the link doesn't connect you to the newswire stories anymore, I'll sum them up for you:

1. An adoption of BLM mustangs, held in Utah, featured a herd of rare and highly admired Spanish mustangs, descendants from the horses brought to North America by conquistadors. Of the 362 horses available, only 8 were adopted, for a whopping total of $725. According to the BLM representative, it was the smallest turnout she'd ever seen.

2. Officials in North Dakota and Montana are considering re-visiting that whole ugly anti-slaughter thing. Why? Because there are so many unwanted horses in those two states that horses are being abandoned or neglected. Plus, the states' constituents are now being forced to consider paying the cost of euthanizing their unwanted horses. Oh, the horrors! What? You mean if you take on the responsibility to own a horse you should consider ahead of time that you might one day have to pay to have the horse euthanized? (Oops. Sorry. I'm off topic. This rant will have to go on another blog).

Hopefully, you've grasped my point: Things are tough for horses these days. The unwanted horse is a by-product of our broken economy.

I don't have any answers, although I have some wishes. I wish that horse breeders would opt out of producing a huge crop of foals for the next couple of years, even if it means pensioning out older broodmares. I wish that more sellers would cut their losses and seek out the best homes for their horses, like some deserving kid who might not have a fortune to spend, but they'll love the horse to death and give it a wonderful home. And I wish that more mustangs could outrun the wranglers the next time the round-up heads their way, because life on the open range somehow has to be better than becoming yet another passed over, unwanted horse.


Yeah, I know. I rambled a lot today. But if you feel like rambling, too, just click on "comments" below.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My Friend Oliver

If I look like I belong on Oliver, it's probably because I do. I know all of his quirks... and all of his gifts... in much the same way I know my longtime friends.
I made a promise to my husband, Ron, that I wouldn't jump any horses after my riding accident. But ya' know, when it comes to riding and horses there are just some promises you simply cannot keep, not even to your husband. (Single horsewomen, take note of this fact). One of the very few horses I still jump is Oliver. Ron has finally accepted that he cannot keep me off the big bay gelding. But I think he's finally okay with that. You see, Oliver is not a green or unpredictable horse. He's an older teenager, and he's been in training at Sue's barn for nearly 10 years. Over the years I've often been the one to school Oliver. Many times I've climbed aboard him at shows and tuned him up for one of his young owners before they took him into a medal class. Want to know something even more special? Oliver was the last horse I rode right before I hopped on Barbie for the fateful course where I was injured. And Oliver was the first horse I rode when I finally got back in an English saddle a year later. So you can understand why I feel safe on Oliver. He's like an old friend.
Lately I've had more opportunities to ride Oliver because his current owner, Kiersti, is off to school and simply doesn't have time for him. She'd love to lease him to a deserving competitor, but in the meantime I get to ride him. Lucky me! Because he has so much schooling, I get to polish my skills at the counter canter, execute flying lead changes down the center line of the arena, and practice shoulders-in and leg yields. I can almost imagine that I'm back in the show ring, or at the very least, preparing for a competition. And while I'm limited to how high I can jump-- and so is Oliver, due to his age-- that doesn't mean that I can't relive a few medal class rounds by occasionally zipping around a rollback turn to a small oxer or cantering through a bending line.
Like many warmbloods, Oliver is a slow burner: he isn't apt to dash off toward a jump. But he can be a little faint-hearted at times, because his brain is about a half-step behind his body. Fortunately, I'm aware of this, so I synchronize my mind to coordinate with his. I prepare to ask for a canter before I actually press my leg into his side to get the actual transition. I think he appreciates that. I certainly appreciate having Oliver in my life.