Thursday, June 30, 2011

Life

Hey guys,

I've had a long couple of weeks. An immediate family member is in the hospital (not the kidlette or me) and it's one of those eye awakening deals when everything outside the immediate day to day, second by second moments fall away.

I am able to write again because my little immediate world has expanded from guarded to cautiously optimistic.

My thoughts still go to my horses. I've been able to steal away for one brief ride and I'm working to get my horse time back into a regular schedule, I have yet to establish anything remotely resembling a schedule, but the term cautiously optimistic applies here also.

Instead I let my wild and crazy imagination take me away on my horses, much like it did during my horseless childhood days. As I slip into an uneasy doze, the Black has been replaced by my beautiful mare. She takes me for a fast and furious ride. When I drive around town on my mundane errands she travels just outside my peripheral vision, my little dun colt right behind her. Even using "soft eyes" doesn't let me quite see them, but I take great comfort knowing they are with me.

When we hit a difficult patch and I just can't absorb anymore I hear the drum of hoof beats turning to thunder as my horses come to save me, the building crescendo sweeps me away from this reality. I thought this childhood escape was years lost, but it has come back to buffer me and I am grateful.

Our shared horse stories have been incredibly important to me. I'm going to rely on them over the next few weeks as needed. I'll join in on comments and lose myself in them as I read them out loud here in this cold room without the lingering smell of horses go bring comfort.

So I plan on hitting my stockpile of stories you have sent and will add my own as I can. I am going to have to let the tough stories slide for awhile, so expect some more Mort stories and some other warm and fuzzies as they come to me.

I'm a huge believer in the power of story telling, so don't worry if your stories are sad, they will still give us conversation, thought and for me, healing. I'm throwing the blog out to you, I hope you will flood the blog with some grand horse stories and leave me to comments and conversation.I'll still write, but would love the luxury of kicking back and enjoying your tales for a while.

And please forgive me if I turn into Miss Perkypants for, it's temporary and totally fake, but necessary, at least for now.

Mugs


Great Gotlands sent some much needed humor, and Jen, thanks for the kind words.

Gotta Love Horses…

I woke up real cranky this morning.

The Sqwid kept waking up last night (he is teething AND just getting over a nasty cold). Each time he was up at least an hour. So not much sleep... again.

My wrist aches; I have DeQuervins Tenosynovitis, AKA "the Sqwid is a heavy lump that refuses to let me put him down".

Then I look outside. Despite the Almanac saying that it is now Spring, I see no sign that Winter is leaving. It is sleeting. Big, nasty, wet flakes. Mother Nature obviously hates me (Yes, I am taking it a bit personal). The horses are standing at the fence, wet, filthy and glaring at the house. They are PISSED! Good, I'm not the only one!

I sigh and start to bundle myself up against the cold and wet. I had best go out and feed and blanket them.

Evil Poneh is not too bad off, her coat is thick and long and fluffy; the wet rarely penetrates to her skin. But she hates rain. I know, she's a mustang that thinks she's a TB! I can practically hear her plotting nasty things to do to me.

Big Red is not as well off, while his coat is thick and plush it does not seem to repel water. He gets soaked to the bone quickly. And while it is amusing to watch him get pissed and beat up the Evil Poneh, I should blanket him against the cold.

I trudge out and pour their warm slop into their bowls and toss them plenty of hay to keep them distracted. I feed Red first, just to watch EP stomp around thrashing her head. And she does stomp. All four feet. I giggle. I'm mean. Bwahaha. I'm starting to feel a little better.

I pull out Red's shoulder slinky and fancy turnout shell. Swearing as I wrestle the slinky over his wet shoulders. It's like trying to pull off slim fit jeans while wet. Then I toss on the shell... then I chase after him to try and get it done up since I was to lazy to also pull out the halter and lead. More swearing.

Finally Red stands still and lets me do it up and yank on it to try and get it sitting right. Good boy, he gets a pat.

Then it's EP's turn. I pull out the old quilted blanket I got for $5 at a used tack sale and had to do major repairs on. It kinda fits. (See my priorities?) EP is very good and stands still while I toss it on, understanding that it keeps off the rain and is a good thing. I am almost bucked up when I hear a snort behind me.

It's Red. He has just spotted the "new" horse. He prances over to meet this pretty new burgundy coloured mare. She sidles nervously away. After all, she is at "his" hay pile. I flap my arm at him to keep him off until it get her safely done up. Then I stand back to enjoy the show. It goes something like this:

"Hellooo. My name is Redoubtable. I am a big, handsome boy. See my prancing side pass?"

"Uh, Mom?! What wrong with Red?!"

"Spring is in the air, pretty lady. Heh heh heh."

"MOOOOM! Save me! He's gone crazy!"

"I am strong and fast and have a pretty arching neck. See?"

"Ahh! He's chasing me!"

"Come back, mon cherie! It is love at first sight, no?!" (been watching lots of Loony Tunes lately)

I love horses. I walked away laughing. Beautiful day out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mouthy Monday



Rebekah was worried her story was a "same old, same old," about her love for her first horse. As far as I'm concerned, I love these stories and am grateful for your willingness to share with us. This blog is made so much more powerful when we see how much we have in common.


My First Horse

When my parents sent me to boarding school in Sedona, Arizona, I thought it was the end of the world. I begged them not to send me three time zones away from my home in Georgia, far from my friends and everything familiar. I clung to my mother as she tried to leave the school campus after helping me carry in my things, and tears shone on both of our faces as we embraced. Then she was gone, and I was alone in this new world that would be my home for seven months. I was only eleven years old, and I was scared out of my wits.

These were the circumstances that led me to meet Midnite, the horse who would change my life forever. I was an emaciated, emotionally scarred kid, and he was a black Morgan gelding. He was also twenty one years old, but he had the look and bearing of a much younger horse. His mouth was hard from the years of abuse suffered from inexperienced riders, and I would be no exception. He stood 14.2hh and was quite well built, with no obvious conformation flaws. His back was slightly swayed, and grey hairs flecked his thin dark face. His dark eyes had a jaded look to them, and his teeth were often bared slightly when he rested or worked, though he didn’t outwardly show irritation.

I would tack him up and swing aboard for my P.E. classes, and melt into the easy rhythm of his long strides. He was a forward-going horse, and when we trotted, he had a tendency to accelerate into a lope if I didn’t hold tight to his face. He neck reined with a cowhorse’s sensitivity, and I didn’t even need to touch his sides to encourage him faster – a short chirrup was more than enough to make him increase speed. To me, who was used to slower school horses, Midnite was a high-powered Ferrari, and his energy was overwhelming. Out on the trail, he was a tireless, sure-footed mount that rarely broke a sweat. Often when the other horses began to canter, he would grab the bit and race ahead, ignoring any attempts I made to slow him down. He was extremely competitive, and took any opportunity to increase speed.

After our rides, I would feed out the evening hay to the horses, and I would save Midnite’s stall for last. I used to lean against the slatted bars of his little pen, and listen to him contentedly munch his hay. I talked to him, and I just said whatever came into my head. In the background, rap music would blare from the nearest boys’ dorm, but I ignored that. I lavished my love and adoration upon this little horse who was too cantankerous to love me back, but it was enough. I began to put on weight, and I lost my scrawny look. I cantered around campus like a horse, running up hills and sliding down rails, pretending to be Midnite. My confidence blossomed, and for the first time since I could remember, I began to make straight A’s in class. I remember the pride I felt when my name was announced on the honor roll.

Midnite remained my trusty partner throughout the year. When his saddle broke, it was him that taught me to ride bareback. I had my first jump on him, experienced my first canter, and learned the joys of riding. I remember when we had a Ribbon Day, and I became frustrated with Midnite when we were doing the Trail Course. He didn’t understand what I wanted when we came to the gate, and I jerked on his mouth shamefully until the curb chain caused his chin to bleed. I cried so hard afterwards when I saw what I’d done. People thought I was upset because I was out of the ribbons, but I was genuinely grieved to see the pain I’d put my baby boy through.

As Midnite’s chin healed, I rode the other horses, but I was heartsick; I so badly wanted my own mount back. I spent time with him every day, patting him and picking grass for him. When the farrier came to put new shoes on him, I begged one of Midnite’s old shoes from him, and hung it on my wall. Every night, I prayed that my “Nite Nite” would feel better soon. He was my pride and joy, and the sooner he healed, the less pain he would go through. The guilt would not leave me alone, and even to this day, I have remembered my lesson when handling horses.

I can go on and on about my big-hearted little guy. The way he would race head-to-head with our OTTB on the trail, giving everything he had. I would lean forward and chirrup to him in the way we both knew best, and he would shift into another gear, just like in the books, and pull away from the bigger Thoroughbred. I remember exploring the vast Arizona desert from his back, pretending that we were travelers in uncharted territory. That horse was my one inspiration, my lifeline. I’d been contemplating suicide before I met him – yes, at eleven years old – but this horse made me want to live. He was my sun and sky and everything good in my life, and it nearly killed me to part with him forever at the end of the school year.

I wonder what became of him, and if he’s still with the school. He would be twenty nine now, and probably either dead or sold on. One great fear of mine is that he might have gone to slaughter. The idea of him being killed in pain and fear always fills me with an indescribable horror. Horses have come and gone in my life, and though I now own several, I have never felt the same connection with them that I did with my little black Morgan, no matter how fiery or well trained they are. One day, I’m going to go back to the Oak Creek Ranch School. One day, I’m going to visit, and find out what became of my childhood horse. For now, I can only dream, and imagine the sight of him galloping through the green pastures of heaven, as wild and unfettered by age as he was when I knew him.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blame It On Becky

Becky, as in, Blog of, wrote and asked me recently to explain exactly what my problem with Hancock bred horses is. After she finished berating me for being a close-minded ass she threatened to ride her horse, Popsicle Stick Head, to Colorado and beat me up.

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating just a tad, maybe she just asked me very nicely to tell her about my reservations about them because she has fallen in love with a beautiful Hancock bred filly. Maybe I'm just feeling feisty.


While I'm at it I should cover what my problem is with mustangs, egyptian bred arabs, Skipper W bred quarter horses and miniature horses.

I have been busted making a sneering remark or two about these breeds and types of horse.

I've been known to tell the joke, "Do you know why the Nez Pierce really chose the Appaloosa? Because they were the only horses slow enough to catch on foot."

But guess what? I don't really, truly have a problem with any of them, because I like all horses. Every single one of them.

I can tell you why I choose not to own some of them though.


Tally was a Hancock bred mare. You guys are reading about her right now, so you will see the ups and downs of this mare soon enough.


I had a fancy roping bred mare in for training. She was a big blue roan Hancock bred thing. She bucked so hard she threw me, my help and the bronc rider who lived at our barn before I gave her back to the owner. The other horse this gal owned was a finished roper, also Handcock bred. She was a week end trail rider. The gelding ended up bucking her off too.

I helped her get her mare in with a trainer at the T-Cross Ranch (majorly respected ranch). She tore down their 100-year-old round pen, broke the trainers arm and knocked him out cold on three seperate occasions. He finally got her trained. Both of these horses periodically toss their riders to this day.

The last place I worked had a three-year-old black Hancock bred filly and a 5-year-old blue roan Hancock bred mare. The filly started out easy as could be. Then one day she exploded and bucked like a maniac. She would buck on a longe line, buck with a rider, buck in place while at the tie rail.

She kept this up for about 90 days or so and then decided to be broke. From what I hear she's been fine to this day.

The blue roan mare was broke, broke, broke. She had been off for two years being a broodmare. The boss decided she wanted to sell the mare. When we brought her up to tune her up to sell she went out of her mind. She tried to jump the arena fence while tied to it and then bolted and tried to jump it again while being longed.She slammed into the steel pipe fence with everything she had, fell to the ground, got up and tried again.

All of these horses came around, at least to a point. All of these horses were willing to hurt themselves in order to unload a rider or a rope when they come undone.

They were all strong, big-footed and fast. They had solid bone. These are good qualities when they work for you but very tough to overcome whrm used against you.

I know people who love their Hancocks. I have been told they make amazing ranch horses and ropers.

I have been told they are sweet, kind and gentle.

I have been told my quick, early training ways are why I don't get along with them.

I don't disagree with any of those things. I just know I tend to run into problems with them. Hancock bred horses are often bigger and slower footed than I like, although Tally was as maneuverable as I could ever want, but really tough to train. So I stay away from them.

As far as Becky goes, the filly she is fast losing her heart to has been raised by a good friend of hers who owns both the mare and stud this filly came from. She will be available to help Becky and her horses are all good horses.

Becky is no slouch when it comes to her skills and trusts and enjoys these horses. So I say go for it, just don't send me this filly for training, I'll get bucked off.

I don't care for Skipper W's. I live in Hank Weiscamp country, so this is dangerous talk. But, the Skipper W's I have ridden are big muscled, small footed, bad tempered things. They are slow. Pretty headed though. Again, I avoid them.

I'm not ant-Foundation bred horses. I get along with Poco Buenos, Doc Bars, Hollywood Golds, Hollywood Jacks, Gay Bars, King breds, and more.

When you ride a lot of horses you find out the blood lines you get along with and the ones you don't. You tend to lean towards the ones you get along with.

I like the look of Polish Arabs. The only Arabs I have known with sense are Polish Arabs. The goofy ones were Egyptian and I feel like I'll break them in half if I ride them. I'm the first to admit I don't have a lot of experience with Arabs, I only go by what I've dealt with. I'm fascinated with the Shagya's. I'd like to have one for endurance.

Mustangs are too hit and miss for me. I don't believe they're a breed. they are mutts. I don't care if they are called Kigers or Spanish, they are horses who have not come from controlled breeding programs. If they run to type they are inbred, not a breed.

They don't work for what I want a horse to do for me. I have owned a mustang and train several. They were easy to train, a little cold-blooded, sweet and solid. I even trained one I knew would cow and was tempted to buy her and try to show her.The economy squashed that plan but she has a good life as a trail horse.

I do resent the fact the government is paying to house them by the thousands while countless well bred horses are going to slaughter, even though I am well aware it's not the mustangs fault.

Mini's are too short and I can't keep them in a fence.

I make my joke about Appies because I think it's funny but I am very fond of the breed and have known more than one I would own in a heart beat. I'm just mean.

So now you know a few of my terrible opinions when it comes to horses. Blame it on Becky.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mouthy Mondays

Marianne wrote this beautiful piece for her college aplications. She's on her way to C.S.U. in Ft. Collins.

She wrote, " Since I wrote this essay, I've made so much progress with my mare, and we're a better team than ever. She has taught me more about myself than any person or experience, and she's always there as my shoulder to cry on.

Even at the ripe old age of 18, I've decided that she's my "forever" horse, and I will have her until the day she dies. Horses and riding, Bailey in particular, are the only things that have kept me afloat, sane, and out of trouble."


The Seven Stages for a Nervous Nelly

“Yeehaw!” I shout, more to Bailey than to anyone else, the way I often do when she picks up her canter a little overzealously. I can feel my heart pounding under my protective vest, and my whole body trembles as Bailey’s smooth gait rocks us towards the first fence.

Over the skinny log with straw bales on either side, then a long, breezy gallop past the Evil Beginner Novice Log to the inviting fence two. Breathe, ease into the rhythm, feel the power coursing beneath me, command my abilities and my fears. Up the hill – avoid the red flags, those are potholes – to the up bank.

“Never go long to a bank,” my trainer’s words echo in my mind, and we get the perfect distance. A sweeping gallop left to the straw bales, where Bailey hesitates, but we can do this, Bugs. And we do. A smile spreads over my face. This is what it’s all about.

Over the other logs, through the simple water complex – a set-up with a cross-rail to a vertical – and back down towards the start, past the Evil Beginner Novice Log that was the source of our demise yesterday. Just one more jump, followed by a rollback to the ditch and we were done. Easy as pie! Or so I thought.

“Why didn’t you jump the little log stack?” asks my trainer, Sarah. Well, to be honest, that jump doesn’t look so “little” to me. But Sarah calls every jump little, regardless of its size or difficulty. Bailey didn’t warm up well this morning; my back is in pain after flying off my mare and over the Evil Beginner Novice Log the previous day; I want to end camp on a good note; my legs are exhausted; if Bailey refuses, of course I’ll end up on the ground with grass-stained breeches and a bruised ego. But these were all excuses. Sarah gives me one of her “looks,” she knows I’m chicken.

“Just go up there and try it, I think she’ll be fine.” Sarah tries to ease my now-rediscovered nerves. To my dismay, and as all horse people know, when your trainer suggests that you do something, you can’t just say no. It doesn’t work that way. So regardless of how I felt, there we were, with a good forward canter and rapidly approaching the fence. Steady, add leg, heels down, sit up, don’t you dare jump ahead and risk getting dumped a second time. I find myself trembling all over again and I hold my breath. But what was I worried about? Bailey got to the base of the fence and did the “classic Bailey uber-launch,” cautiously overjumping by at least a foot, just in case. Still, who cares? We did it!

On the quiet, five-hour drive back from Tulip Springs Eventing Camp, I had a lot to think about. Me – the Nervous Nelly of all Nervous Nellys, the self-proclaimed grandma, the over-cautious 17 year-old who defies all stereotypes of rebellious, risk-taking teens – what was I doing trying to train a horse to compete in arguably the most dangerous of all equestrian sports?

More specifically, what was I doing trying to train a nervous, inexperienced horse with the athleticism to jump five feet in the air, spin, and dump you in any and every direction all at once? Certainly this is my least safety-conscious plan of all time. But really, this is exactly what I need.

To understand why, I have to rewind back five years. When you least expect it, life has this unforeseen way of hitting you harder than you could ever fathom. I was just twelve years old when my dad wound up in Harborview Medical Center, and in the twelve days between his tragic bicycling accident and his passing, it became clear to me that my life would never be the same.

Many people talk about the seven stages of grief, and in the years to come, I observed them all in my mom and my brother. My mom gave up snowboarding, bicycling, and anything else she deemed too risky, I watched my brother’s attempt to take on a fatherly role in the family, I eventually saw him give up on snowboarding because of its risks, and as I got older, I became more intimately involved with the family’s finances than any teenager ever should be.

Somehow, I managed to postpone my grieving until high school, when the reality hit me: life is a scary state of existence, and if anything happened to me, my family would surely fall into shambles.

Junior year was the one in which my fears climaxed. Suddenly, every car I passed on the road had the potential to swerve into me. I had to watch them and be prepared. Driving after 11pm on a weekend? Forget about safety! Any drunk driver out on the road could kill me. Home alone? Lock all the doors, turn on all the lights, and if anyone rings the doorbell, have the phone handy and ready to dial 9-1-1 in case that person at the doorstep has dangerous intentions. The mail man? Never open the door for him; you just don’t know if he’s the UPS guy or a well-disguised serial killer. Sound like overkill? I sure think so.

Junior year was coincidentally the year I bought my mare, Bailey. As I worked with her, it became obvious that she was a nervous, spooky, barely-trained mess. She was everything I didn’t need, and she did little to aid my confidence for months on end. Yet week in and week out, I was at the barn, riding and giving my all.

Oft times, I would get out to the barn with a pit in my stomach. I would take my sweet time getting Bailey ready to ride. I would procrastinate for all I was worth in an attempt to put off the dread of yet another scary, hectic ride. One way or another, though, every time I relaxed into Bailey’s stretchy walk rhythm and settled my feet into the stirrups, the dread melted away. Up in that saddle, what happened was up to me. If I rode correctly, Bailey had the capability to listen and respond, minimizing her sudden spooks, among other unsettling behaviors. With my mare, I could actually be in control.

Each and every ride, we carry on like this. I gain skills, and I see them pay off in the horse I have trained and created through my own hard work. I know now why I own a crazy horse and compete in the sport of 3-day eventing: This is a challenge I can face head-on, this is something I can control, and with riding, I can work every day to push past my comfort level and fight back against every fear that has held me captive.

I like to think that I never really went through the seven stages of grief. Instead, I will continue to go through my own seven stages of healing: ride, compete, jump, fall off, get back on, love, and persevere.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hay is for Horses

This is not too exciting today. It's my column from the paper.

Hay is For Horses
By Janet Huntington

The first barn I landed a training job with had a very unusual feeding program. They fed complete feed pellets and one small flake of alfalfa hay twice a day.The horses were fat and shiny and seemed healthy enough, but the concept puzzled me.

“I learned to feed this way from an Endurance Race competitor,” the barn ownersaid. “It’s plenty for them to eat and they don’t poop as much.” He also liked the ease of feeding and storage.

It seemed an odd way to feed tome, but they had been boarding horses for a long time, and I figured they knewwhat they were doing. As the years went by I noticed we had an awful lot of colic at the place. Thebroodmares seemed to have a rough time every year with much more than the usualbouts of colic. The boarded horses would have periodic episodes. There always seemed to be an explanation, but it still came down to an unusually high incidence of stressed digestion.

Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVB, a professor emeritus of CornellUniversity's College of Veterinary Medicine and Jaime Elia conducted a study of the dietary needs to keep horses physically and emotionally healthy. They point out the natural diet of horses is grass, which is typically high in fiber and low in calories.

The diet of most domestic horses is high in grain which is high in calories and much lower in fiber. An abstract of their study on www.PubMed.com explains the goal was to determinethe motivation of horses for hay when fed a low roughage diet. The horses were trained to push a panel to receive more feed. The results indicated a greater motivation for hay, the high fiber diet, when fed a low fiber diet. The horses fed the pellets spent much more time pushing the panel to get feed than horses being fed hay. They also spent more time searching the ground for food on the low fiber diet and almost twice as much time standing idle when fed pellets instead of hay. The authors concluded reducing forage will have a major impact on the mental and physical health of horses. Ulcers are a common medical condition in horses and foals. It is estimated thatalmost 50% of foals and 1/3 of adult horses confined in stalls may have mildulcers. Up to 60% of show horses and 90% of racehorses may develop moderate tosevere ulcers. Because they are so common, and can occur as a result of a number of factors, the condition is often called "equine gastric ulcer syndrome" (EGUS)or "equine gastric ulcer disease" (EGUD).

The website Drs. Foster and Smith(www.drsfostersmith.com) suggests low fiber diets are a leading cause of ulcers. “Horses evolved to graze, eating many small meals frequently,” the article stated. “This way the stomach is rarely empty and stomach acid has less of adamaging effect. If horses don’t eat frequently, the acid builds up and ulcersare likely to build up.”

The type and amount of roughage play a role in development. Roughage, because it requires more chewing, produces more saliva. The swallowed saliva helps to neutralize stomach acid. There is an increase in stomach acids when concentrates are fed. A book by Dr. Juliet Getty, Feed Your Horse Like A Horse, wants horse owners to understand their horses are trickle feeders, they need a continuous supply of asmall amount of forage. A horse’s digestive system needs to have food in it most of the time in order toavoid digestive problems. Getty writes, “Horses stomachs continually produce stomach acid, if a horse goes more than three hours without anything to graze on the excess acid can produce ulcers, diarrhea, behavioral problems and colic.”

A full horse is a happy horse. While many complete feeds have the necessary nutrition and calories, they don’t have the “munchability” of an armload of hay. There are hay bags available which will slow down how fast a horse can eat,drawing out the feeding process to last through the day.

Low sugar grass hay can be free fed, even to stall bound horses, and will make for a happier, healthier animal. Economically speaking, I found my horses stayed perfectly healthy on a diet ofalfalfa/grass mix and free choice salt and minerals. Even my show horses stayed strong and healthy on this diet. This approach to feeding saved me lots of money from my previous diets of hay, grain and supplements. I was able to feed quite afew critters on big squares and some well-placed mineral blocks. The barn owners with the weird feeding program lost three studs and a couple of broodmares to colic, on top of many vet calls for the horses who didn’t die but were still sick. I can’t help but wonder if more hay and less convenience might have made a difference in the health and well-being of their horses.

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