Yes, it's New Years Eve and I'm at home, on the sofa, blogging. I guess I'm just not much for being out there with the rest of the world.
It's been a crazy year in a lot of ways. It started off with losing my job of six years, but thankfully finding a new one a month later. (And still liking it so far, a nice bonus.)
It's been a year of watching my father struggle with his increasingly poor health, being sure to treasure the time I spend with him now and value the pieces of myself that come from being raised by him.
It's been a year of balancing both horses with a more professional job--one where showing up disheveled and muddy after going to the barn first doesn't really work. That has been hard for me, because it always seems there is more to do. Steve frequently reminds me our horses get more attention and exercise than 80% of the horses out there, but it is easy to feel inadequate when I see Lena's "I'm neglected" face staring out through the pen rails.
It's been a year that included watching Steve heal and get back to riding after an accident that could have been much worse than it was, but is still causing ripples here and there. (The vertigo tends to pop up sometimes, which is aggravating.) The feeling of mortality is a bit unnerving, but it reminds me to belly up to the bar and live life because the Mack Truck could be waiting right around the corner.
And finally, it's a year in which my daughter has started figuring out her own path--which (as of yesterday) includes her own horse, a sweet little Quarter Horse mare named Sammy. I would not necessarily have recommended this for her, but there are times as a parent you have to step back and let them figure it out. This is one of those times and she will learn something no matter how it turns out for her.
I don't know what 2010 has in store for us all, besides another birthday of course, but the lessons we take from this year are sure to serve us well into next.
As the first decade of the 21st century winds down and I take a moment to reflect, it seems to me that horses in general--and my horses in particular--have given me a great gift.
They have also given me a lot of challenges and--this year in particular--some rather terrifying experiences. I am truly thankful that Steve's injuries have healed, were not worse than they were, and that he will still get on and ride. Someone asked me shortly after the accident if we were going to get rid of the horses and I have to confess it had not even occurred to me to do that. Luckily, it never occurred to Steve, either.
Both horses have had influence on and from us in 2009, each tossing their decidedly different quirks and personalities into the mix.
Lena has gotten less attention from me this year, and I haven't decided yet if that's good or bad. She has definitely made it clear that she would prefer to remain horse numero uno, at least where food and human focus are concerned, but on the other hand, she really doesn't need to be the center of attention for all three of us. I do have some goals for her for next year--mostly figuring out ways to get her out of her spooky little head by giving her other ways to use that big brain besides levitating sideways at the mere sight of something new.
Bar has gotten the bulk of my attention this year, and that will probably continue to some extent in 2010, though with a lot more work from the saddle going forward. Partly as a result of the ground work--and partly because of my own stubbornness and his willingness to keep at it with me--the trust (and fun) level between us has progressed. That's pretty exciting and keeps me focused on what we can do together, rather than what reaction I'll have to have to counter-act whatever thing he might do. Better not to send out those self-fulfilling prophecies in any case.
I don't really do resolutions, but I do like coming up with a plan for each horse for the next year. Nothing exact, mind you, but something that gives us all something to work towards in the never-ending quest to be better horse-humans.
Every winter, our farrier has to visit a little more often than during the dry times of the year. Not because of hoof disease (knock wood), but mostly because Bar has Thoroughbred feet and his shoes do not always stay as connected to his feet as we would like.
Lena has awesome feet--big and well-formed, with solid and thick hoof walls. Mostly, the only time her shoes come off is when she steps on them herself and pulls one off.
Bar, as mentioned in previous posts, has fairly typical feet for his breed. Racehorses are built and bred to be light and go fast, so they don't always end up with tough, sturdy feet. His feet have, however, gotten much better with the work our wonderful farrier, Mike, and Farrier's Formula.
Every winter, it's a dance to see how long we can go between shoeing as the moisture and mud soften Bar's already thin-walled hooves, letting the shoes work themselves loose. Last year, we added clips to the mix during the worst of the wet, but that's a trick, too. Clips can weaken the hoof wall by allowing bacteria to get behind the clip, so it's a balance between keeping the shoes on his feet and adding to the problems. We also use a lot of iodine to keep that bacteria in check and to harden his hooves as much as possible.
The horses were just shod on the 18th, so when I took Bar out today to work him in the round pen, I did a cursory check to be sure he did indeed have all four shoes on--which he did. After his work, I took him up to treat his hooves with the all-important iodine and noticed that two nails in the left front had wandered out of the hoof and gotten flattened out against the bottom of the shoe.
Luckily, Mike is available to come out on Monday and fix it. He knew exactly what hoof and even what part of the hoof because he'd set the shoe to try to give Bar's hoof enough room to flex with the moisture.
Seems like there is always more to learn, always more to try to make a horse's life better.
Steve has recently started playing music with some friends a few nights a month, which means he gets to expand his guitar skills and I get extra time with the horses! Quite the win-win situation!
Most evenings, I have just enough time to work both horses a little (in the round pen), or one horse a lot. Over the last year, this has meant that Bar has gotten the lion's share of my attention because, frankly, he needed it more. However, with winter here, Lena has started to benefit from my slightly lower energy level. After a long day at work, in the cold and dark, ground work sometimes wins out over coming up with a creative under-saddle lesson plan. It also helps that a lot of the improvements in Bar have been due to the foundation work we've done on the ground, so it will be interesting to see if Lena benefits from it as well.
Tonight, the horses both got exercise (and all-important rolling-without-blankets) in the round pen, then plenty of currying, massage, and brushing.
I'm experimenting with a new look and layout, so bear with me as we go through some trials here on Spotty Horse News.
I thought about changing the name, too, since Bar is very definitely not spotty, but I like it the way it is. I guess I'll have to figure out a way to connect the dots to him. Pun (such as it is) intended.
Katie is house/horse/mule/dog/chicken sitting until the 27th and called me the other night because one of the horses had abscesses pop through in the heel bulbs of both front hooves. Poor guy--one would be bad enough!
Cowboy was wearing pads on both front feet--probably to protect his soles--and they seemed to collect a lot of, well, you can guess. Not only collect it, but hold it up against the sole of the foot where it can ferment and do all kinds of good (bad) stuff.
We decided to pull his shoes (with the owner's permission), and Katie needed tools and first aid supplies, so I agreed to head down there early Sunday morning and assist.
It's really amazing what this parent-child bond gets one to do.
Cowboy was not a terrible patient and we did get the shoes off and his feet cleaned up, treated with Ichthamol (a truly nasty but effective substance), and wrapped in diapers and duct tape for the night. I have to say Katie does a nice job of creating a diaper-and-duct-tape boot for a horse. It seems to be in the prep work, which appears to include holding her knife in her teeth.
Last I heard--which was this morning since the cell phone service is a little spotty where she is--the diaper boots were still on Cowboy's feet and Katie was prepping to go out and check on him again. She planned on laying everything out before even going to get him out of the paddock, since he is now vaguely suspicious of buckets and medical supplies.
Silly horse doesn't know yet how good Katie is. Or how stubborn.
Lena hadn't gotten much exercise in a couple days, and it had been four for Bar, so it was definitely hitting critical mass tonight. Weeknights don't offer enough time to ride both horses, but they really needed OUT, so we headed to the round pen.
The first thing each of them did--after being blanketed for several days--was roll. It's not that they don't lay down while in their protective gear, but rolling is really a treat for them this time of year. And roll they did. Lena got both sides at least once, and Bar very thoroughly rolled twice on one side, then twice on the other, before he would even consider any exercise. Not that I blame him, of course. It would be hard to be inside the same clothes, skin and hair starting to itch, day after day after day. Bleh.
And the exercise for both was mostly productive, if only to get at least a little bit of the spit shaken out. Lena was thoroughly distracted by another boarder and her Thoroughbred, Romeo, and proceeded to raise up her tail and gallop around snorting to get his attention. Luckily, Manna is a very good rider and took it all with good humor. "It's good for him," she said, correcting Romeo's dancing. Nice to have people like that around my nutty horses--people willing to take responsibility for their own horses, and also accepting of other horses and their sometimes less-than-docile behavior. Thankfully, Lena did settle down, give me her attention, and get a decent workout.
Bar definitely wanted to stretch his legs, so he got to canter a bit more than usual, though it was peppered here and there with some trotting to get him to work on his transitions some more. And then he had to show off with some bucking when another barn-mate went by with two of his girlfriends from the big pasture. Sometimes he is such a boy. He did also settle down and relax into a nice, smooth, steady trot, listening to me talk to him and sing The Dixie Chicks like I usually do.
Both got carrot stretches, too, so were nice and limber by the time they got back to their paddocks to finish their dinner.
Winter is hard, but it invites more creativity to help keep them entertained and interested in what we're doing. Sometimes it's just a matter of tossing in one thing that's a little different, like a ladder sitting in a different place or asking them to cross an obstacle in a new way. Sometimes it's just trying to ask them for something in a way they understand.
Who exactly is training whom? You have to wonder, don't you?
I'm glad to see the racing industry stepping up to the plate. I know some really wonderful people in the industry, people who really care for their horses and make sure they go to good homes, and I've written before about the bad stuff not being confined to the racing industry.
While I'd like to see the whole industry deal with this issue, the very thing that makes horse racing such a huge target can really allow it to make a difference--across all breeds and all disciplines.
It seems as if winter arrived this week with quite a vengeance. Now for California, anything below 40 degrees is pretty cold, and it got into the 20s this week! It warmed up a little as the rain started--back up to the 30s at night and high 40s during the day. Br.
With winter comes the annual challenge of getting the horses exercised, but not too hot, blanketed but still keeping them aired out, not to mention staying warm and dry enough ourselves to avoid being miserable out there.
My theory with cold is to not even let it in because once that chill starts, it doesn't let go. The trunk of the car contains many layers of clothing at all times--down, extra socks, jackets, gloves, and the all-important hat. Once dressed, I resemble the Michelin Man just a little, but am warm enough to stand in the round pen while the horses get their exercise.
Of course, if there is riding involved, overheating quickly becomes a factor. All good Californians learn to layer and I am no exception. The trick is really to layer in the appropriate order so stripping is both quick and removes exactly the right amount of insulation.
However, the other thing that happens when the days get shorter and the rain really gets started is a distinct lack of motivation to be out in the dark and dismal weather--and not just on my part. Bar in particular hates the mud and the rain. He will stand under his shelter in the back of his paddock looking out over the mud as if to say, "Can't you make it stop?" He does, however, appreciate getting his blanket off and having a good roll in the round pen this time of year, which is helpful when it comes to convincing him to emerge to do a little work.
But even if it means dancing through the roar of rain on the metal roof every year like they've never heard it before, at least we have the indoor arena so there is a place to let them stretch their legs and get out of the weather.
And some days, maybe even most, motivation wins out over wanting to snuggle under a blanket and get out of the rain.
When we got back from our hail-filled trail ride yesterday and put the horses away, we noticed Lena's right eye was a little swollen. It didn't seem to be bothering her, nor did we see any obvious trauma, so Katie promised to check on it today and we went home.
Really, I tried not to worry too much.
Katie got there today and it is still swollen, though not as badly, and there isn't any discharge coming from it. She sent me pictures, though, to try and prevent the worry from increasing.
It's only slightly working, only because Katie will check on it tomorrow and let me know if it looks worse.
What caused it? Who knows. Maybe she got hit in the eye by the hail. Maybe she poked it while sticking her nose back in the trailer window from the outside to grab Bar's hay. Maybe she bonked it while rubbing on something.
Steve asked if I fretted this much about Katie when she was growing up. Um, no, actually not. "Is it bleeding? No? Then you're fine." Not really sure what turned me into such a "Mom" when it comes to the horses, but it appears to be permanent.
Katie wanted to go on a trail ride today, even though temperatures (for California, anyway) were awfully chilly. So we grabbed a lot of layers and headed to the barn to load up the horses.
As we were getting ready, one of our barn-mates pulled in with her truck and trailer (and daughter), headed out on a trail ride, too, so we decided to go together. It's was a good test for Bar, and it seemed like time to see how he'd do with new horses in the mix.
Lisa and her daughter, also named Jessica, go out pretty often. Poupon, Lisa's 20-year old Arab, is an ex-endurance horse. They also have a Mustang named Winston that usually lives next to Lena. Lena likes to pester Winston at home, and was not too different on the trail as it turns out.
It was pretty sunny as we loaded up the horses and not too cold, though not necessarily warm all things considered. However, about half way through our ride, we started to hear the pitter patter of what we thought was rain. Then Jessica said, "It's hail! Mom, what are we doing out here?" Bar kept tossing his head wondering how it was a pampered racehorse was out getting struck by icy bits.
But we made it through the hail and had a great ride, though it turns out Lena needs some more training and Bar needs a little more fitness. It's all good, though. Bar did great with new horses in the mix, and Lena is-as always-entertaining and challenging on a ride.
The work with Bar has really paid off. He responded to direction on the trail really well, even when he made it obvious he wasn't thrilled about said direction. His only transgression came when Lena came charging up the hill behind him--Katie working hard to get her under control--and he got a wee bit competitive or worried. We got got them back under control, but not before someone made a panicked-mom cry. Katie might eventually forgive me for it, but I admit it was not my best moment.
Luckily, Lisa and Jessica said they'd still go out with us, so it seems like we did okay after all.