Saturday, March 29, 2008

Retraining racehorses, part 2

One of the comments I've received was from someone who had a paint horse and was thinking of adopting an ex-racehorse and it made me think about what all we have gotten into with Bar.

I don't regret it at all, I have learned an enormous amount about horses and about riding, and I am totally enamored with my darling horse.


It is not easy, and it requires a lot of work, dedication, consistency, and time. Sometimes it is incredibly frustrating and difficult, but then again, the rewards have been well worth it.

I don't know that I am the best one to counsel either way, actually. I would hate for someone to get an ex-racehorse without a clear understanding of the challenges it entails. But at the very same time, it has been one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had.

It has been hard to get Bar not to run, or even stay at a consistent gait. I'm glad I started taking lessons because Peter has helped give me some tools that have worked pretty well - like using English reins and using a pulley rein to help correct Bar before he gets too out of hand.

It has also been hard to get him to not be overly aggressive, which would have been an important trait in a racehorse who wins. He wanted to run the show, and sometimes still does, but he has come to accept us most days as the alpha. (Not that we don't have to remind him daily, mind you.)

So. Prepare for a lot of ground work, slow work at the walk and trot until you can get them to pay attention, and trying different things to keep that attention once you get it. Be patient, be loving, be willing to go slow with them, both physically and mentally. If you can do that, the reward is amazing.

Bar is attentive and affectionate, playful and intelligent, and so sensitive to my mood and mind-set that it forces me to focus and has helped improve my riding by sheer default.

He is not easy, and it has not been an easy process to turn him into a horse I can ride and not be afraid of, a horse I can trust and enjoy. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Looking Forward to a Horse Weekend

In a week from today, I'm headed down to Carmel for a clinic with Dennis Callin.
I'm looking forward to it for several reasons - This will be my first big clinic with Willoughby and we've finally graduated from riding in circles so we'll be able to work on shoulder-ins and haunches-in, medium trot, ect. I've only ridden with Dennis once before on Fenway and we had a blast. He was very enthusiastic and encouraging but he also pushed Fenway to a new level of riding. I'm also excited to spend the weekend with one of my bestest friend's who I haven't seen since Christmas. There will be around fifteen of us horse gals and all we'll do for 96 hours is eat, sleep, ride, and talk horses!! I can't wait!!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I wish I could save them all

I am on an email list that sends out information on some of the local horse rescue agencies - like CHANGE, the one I blogged about back in February.

Sometimes, it's hard to love horses the way I do and not be ashamed of my own species and how cavalier we can be when it comes to other humans, let alone animals that depend on us to care for them.

Meet Argus, a 16-year old Thoroughbred who spent about 10 years of his life in a filthy 12' x 16' pen, owned by an animal hoarder, and fed stale bread and rotting produce. His story, though it has vastly improved thanks to his foster home, makes me want to scream, or cry, or throttle his ex-owner. Maybe all three.

But that energy is better spent other ways, including spending time with Lena and Bar, making sure they are ridden, tended, rubbed, carrot-ted, and loved as much as they can possibly stand.

I don't always have hours to spend or energy to burn, but there is always enough time for a head scratch and some carrots, even when I'm too sick to do much else. (Like I've been this week.)

Would I have the time and energy to foster another horse, especially one that would require the kind of rehabilitation some of these horses need? I really can't imagine being able to do that and do it well. Maybe that makes me selfish, or maybe it keeps me from collecting more horses than I can really care for, which is probably a good thing in the long run.

What I can do is scratch a nose, rub an ear, and offer a carrot to any number of the horses at our barn that don't get visited as often, plus make sure my two get all the good energy I can give them. It doesn't seem like enough sometimes, but it is at very least positive input to the universe.

Oh, and I can help get the word out about organizations like
CHANGE which are doing incredibly good things for horses in this area.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bee's Doing Well

The vet came out today to check on Bee Boy and he's doing really well!! She took x-rays and the coffin bone did not rotate at all - which is great news! He's still stuck in a stall for a week or two more and needs a light dosage of bute throughout the weekend. Hopefully by Monday I'll be able to take him out for short walks.
He's starting to get a bit antsy in the stall. He tried escaping twice this evening while I was cleaning his stall! He actually made it halfway down the barn aisle!
I think he's feeling better.

He's a good citizen!

Yesterday, Huck was put to the test! I took him to get his Canine Good Citizen certificate, put on by the AKC (American Kennel Club). And he passed!! I'm so proud!

I was a bit nervous, I've never "shown" a dog, only horses. The test involved walking on leash (no training colors allowed), making him sit, lay down and wait while I walked away, he had to come when I called, behave with a strange dog in close perimeters, and he had to sit with the judge for three minutes - and behave!

He passed with flying colors.

This picture is from when he was just a wee one. He's now almost three years old. I need to post some more recent pictures from the lake photo shoot!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New perspectives

I just started a book called The Tao of Equus by Linda Kohanov. It's a pretty interesting look at the horse-human relationship, though she focuses a lot on women and I know at least a few men that could relate to her insights.

While some of what she writes is a little out there -- though definitely not impossible -- what I like is the basic premise that horses are not stupid, that they are sentient and intelligent beings that not only can but do show us our selves in a safe and non-judgemental way.

I've referred to Lena (and Bar) as excellent bio-feedback, and acknowledged that you can't be elsewhere when dealing with horses. What I didn't always grasp was that "faking" emotions is not effective with horses. You can't breathe your way out of fear and expect your horse to believe you. Bar knows, with every inch of his intuitive Thoroughbred self, that no matter how evenly I'm trying to breathe, sometimes he truly scares me.

But he also knows when I'm relaxed and enjoying him for who he is, even when he spooks at what I think are silly things, and that I love what he brings to my life.

Lena takes a lot of this for granted, being the confident Alpha mare that she is. Yet even she breathes a little easier when I am careful to take the time to be sure I am truly with her and paying attention.

I suspect it is the difference in their upbringing as well as their general temperaments, but they both show me different parts of myself and both provide valuable insight and feedback. And I love them both for what they mirror back to me.

Bee's Foundering

Poor Bee is foundering. Foundering is when the P3 (Coffin Bone or Distal Phalanx) separates from the hoof wall and actually detaches or sinks. The coffin bone is held in place by a complex webbing system, called the lamina. When the lamina gets inflamed, the structure is weakened. Founder can be caused by several things but one of the more frequent causes are lush grasses and overweight horses. Poor Bee is an eager eater and is more heavy set compared to other horses, making him prone to founder. When I pulled him out of his pasture over the weekend, I noticed he was extremely sore and reluctant to move. Yesterday I had the farrier and the vet out and we gave him some anti-inflammatories and put on a special shoe that helped to distribute weight, support the hoof, and protect the vascular structure. Bee is stuck in solitary confinement - a big stall with lots of shavings. I have to go out twice a day to give him meds, ice his legs, and keep him company so he doesn't get too bored. On Thursday the vet will be back and we'll know more. But we suspect that we caught the inflammation before the damage was done.
This picture was taken from It shows the P3 completely detached from the hoof wall, an extreme case.
Must go now and tend to the Bee!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Riding Lesson

I had a great lesson with Peter today, though I almost flaked on it because I'm sick (again) after all my time on the road.

I'm really glad I didn't because it was a really good session and Bar was as well-behaved as he's ever been. We worked at the walk a bit, and then a lot at the trot. I even got the trot down to a sit-able rate - my instructions were to tuck my pockets under and lean back - though smooth is not the word that comes to mind. Posting is definitely better for the most part.

We worked a lot on my position and anticipating Bar's reactions to other things going on in the arena. I even managed to keep him on a nice circle without too much trouble. Steve took lots of pictures, too many to post, but they help me see what I have to work on. Relaxing would be number one, but that's my constant challenge. I can pick out all the things I'm doing wrong in every picture, but the good thing is I'm up there, riding this difficult horse, and getting him to do what I want. Most of the time, anyway. My form may not be perfect - far from it, actually - but at least I'm out there working on it and enjoying time with my four-legged instructor. (Could my toes be pointed out any further? It's really doubtful.) But I digress.

I finished out the workout by trotting a figure-eight with him, keeping that outside shoulder in whichever way we were going and keeping his focus on me and what we were up to, rather than whatever else was going on in the arena. He did great and I gave him lots of pets and strokes for all his hard work. Oh, and some carrots of course.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reasons to come home

There are a lot of reasons I'm glad to be home - Steve and Katie chief among them - but obviously, I have two other favorite folks to come home to.

I spent about 5 hours at the barn yesterday, grooming, cleaning pens, hanging out, and then finished up with a pretty nice ride on Bar.

Oddly enough, it was easier for me to relax after being away, which may be one reason our ride went well. I guess being away from it made me really appreciate how big a part of my life riding has become, and how much I get from it. He wasn't perfect, but he was much more responsive to correction, very focused, and I even got a nice slow trot out of him.

I even shared some snacks with them - nice and organic, of course.

I had to convince Lena she really didn't want any grapefruit, though.

This may be my favorite picture from yesterday, though I took a lot more. I particularly like the wild forelock blowing in the breeze.

There is nothing quite like warm horse neck at the end of a long trip. Well, warm horse neck and your own bed - not at the same time, of course.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Poor Little Mole

Yesterday while I was on my way home from Spanish class, I received a call from Ryan, my fiance. He was very anxious for me to get home but wouldn't state why. I walk into the study and Ryan has this little smirk on his face. I look around the room trying to figure out what he moved, cleaned, destroyed, ect. Then I hear rustling inside a shoe box. He laughs, opens the lid of the box, and inside is a MOLE!
Apparently Faaris has discovered the joy of hunting. I was relieved that the mole was alive and even more relieved when Ryan walked outside far into the field to release the little rodent. Unfortunately the story does not end here. In the middle of the night Ryan woke up to get some water and found the same mole dead in our kitchen :(. AND HE DISPOSED OF THE MOLE IN THE TRASH CAN!!! THE TRASH CAN IN THE KITCHEN!! Ryan came back to bed muttering some quick facts about moles - did you know that moles eat earthworms and that there is some chemical in the moles' saliva that paralyzes the earthworm? Did you know that that there is a certain type of mole that can kill its prey in a 300 hundredths of a millisecond, to fast for the human eye to see? Please note that this conversation is taking place at 3 a.m.! And to make matters worse, now Ryan is proud of Faaris for being a hunter and they have quickly have resurrected their friendship, literally overnight.I just hope the trash has been taken out when I get home tonight.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Horse withdrawal

Did you know this is a medical condition? Though I guess to have withdrawal, you have to start with addiction.

When you're traveling and away from your fix, this particular addiction frequently manifests itself with symptoms like this:

  • Blowing out through your lips to express various emotions, not just exhaustion

  • Finding any excuse what-so-ever to bring up horses in general and your horse(s) in particular

  • Chasing down horses in the street - in this case, Clydesdales pulling romantic carriages - just so you can breathe in warm horse smell and pet fuzzy heads and muzzles

  • Getting homesick from the smell of leather in a boot store

  • Asking where the closest tack store is

  • Taking way too-dark pictures of one of the aforementioned carriage-pulling Clydesdales - this is Star - just so you can blog about how much you miss your horses

It really is an addiction, but it seems to help me more than it hurts me. Spoken like a true addict, of course. The major negative effect seems to be the glazed-over expressions on the faces of most (though not all) of my co-workers when I start talking about my equine obsession.

That's okay. I've met a few fellow addicts here in Austin and they get it. It's an odd club, but one I can happily say I'm glad would have me as a member.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

On the Road Again.. Still

I'm sitting in a hotel room in San Francisco tonight, getting ready to fly out tomorrow morning for Austin, Texas and South by Southwest. If I had horse ears, they might be positioned much as Lena's are in the photo above - annoyed.

This wouldn't normally cause such angst, but I've already been away from home since Sunday night and - quite frankly - I miss the earthy reality of my horses. Okay, I miss Steve and Katie and home, too, but for many of the same reasons. Warmth, comfort, time to be "off" and time to be me, just me.

Bar and Lena don't care if I say the right thing or if I know the title of Bill Gates' 1999 best-seller is, they just care if I am there, doing what they expect me to do.

I know Steve is taking good care of both horses, getting them ridden and tended and loved and carroted. I just miss that little bit of grounding they provide - though not literal grounding, Bar.

A week from today, barring anything too wacky, I'll be home and asleep in my very own bed. After visiting and riding one of my two crazy horses, of course.

As fun as Austin promises to be, I still can't wait to bury my face in warm horse-ness.

Does this qualify as a syndrome? Probably. Will I seek medical help. Not on your life.

No Need To Worry

No need to worry, Mr. Bee Boy is going to make it!! The farrier came out to the barn last night to look at the crack and concluded that it was very superficial and there wasn't reason to be concerned. He doesn't think the crack is going to get any bigger and luckily it's not very deep. PHEW!!!!!
Bee and I ended up having a lovely evening. I rode him bareback in the lower arena (the lower arena has no fence and is surrounded by a lovely stream and lots of trees) as the sun was setting. Riding Bee bareback is like sitting on a wide fluffy couch!
So there is no need to worry, all the horses are well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Crack!

I was out at the barn this weekend grooming Bee when I noticed this awful crack in his hoof!! The farrier is coming out this week to take a look at it.
Bee has never had a crack before and it's probably due to the fluctuation in weather that we've had. The hoof absorbs a lot of moisture and when there are drastic changes in the weather (very wet to dry), cracks can pop up.