Saturday, July 31, 2010

Puffy horse

When I got to the barn tonight, I noticed Bar had hives. What?! I thought perhaps he had gotten stung or that the liniment I'd been using could have caused a reaction. I worked him lightly--possibly not my smartest move--but he seemed fine, normal attitude and all, and then he got a nice bath. I thought it would help with the hives, and it did. What it didn't help was the baseball sized nose and swollen eyes!!

Katie said, "Why does stuff always happen to you?!" Meaning Bar, not me.

We called the vet and after a few questions--yes, his gum color and breathing seemed normal--she advised Banamine, elevating his hay and checking on him an hour or so later.

We came home for dinner and then turned around and headed back to the barn. We found a much less swollen Thoroughbred with no hives. Phew. Except Sammy now has a swollen eye! It was probably a sting or bug bite of some kind in Bar's case--it looked like a very allergic reaction--not sure what Sammy did to herself, yet.

If it ain't one thing, it's another.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My other favorite horse

One more picture, because if there is one horse I wish mine would grow up like, it's this one.

Eclipse is Lena's oldest brother and at 27 is still sound and feisty and fun to work with. He is also a remarkable teacher and one of my all time favorite horses. Ever.

Here's to horses like him that remind us of the simple joys to be had in this lifetime.

Too much to write

Looking at my July numbers, I see I've fallen off the blogging a bit. It's not that I don't have anything to say, I just have to find the time to get it all written!

Slide was awesome and we got a lot accomplished, though it was definitely weird not riding this time. We slept well, but not as well as we have in the past after riding hard all day.

On the plus side, we got to see some great horses in training, spend time with Ike and Cheri, and watch Katie and Sammy learn to cut a little bit. We also have a focus for their business and can now tweak the website to match that. Cheri says the changes we have already done have helped a lot--very good news.

Katie loves the responsibility she has at Slide, and Sammy looked as soft and relaxed as we've ever seen her. She was also alert and interested in what she was doing and had started to really collect herself and look much more balanced.

We got to see some of our other favorite horses, like Lena's oldest brother Eclipse. He is the first foal out of Buttercup, their foundation mare, and Lena was the last. He is 27, though it was a little hard to tell his age as he bounced next to me snorting and blowing down the driveway after his bath. Steve's comment was that he was going to be 80 and have Lena doing the same thing someday. He is probably right.

We are planning a trip up in October or so with Bar and Lena. I'm almost afraid they will love it up there so much that getting them back in the trailer to go home could prove problematic. And after Bar gets a chance to work in the super shock-absorbing cedar footing up in the outdoor arena, he'll never want to go back to plain old dirt or sand.

Running away to the mountains with the horses is awfully tempting some days.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Off on a quick adventure

Off on a quick adventure
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Steve and I are off to Slide Mountain Ranch--Lena's birthplace and our favorite vacation spot. It's actually a bit of a business trip, as we are helping refocus the website towards the bring-your-own-horse vacation market.

I checked on both horses and gave Lena a little acupressure before we left. It did seem to bring her down just a notch. The barn owner also knows where the Banamine is, just in case.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Letting go

Being a parent is a balancing act--when to step in, when to step back, when to gently voice opinions, when to bite my tongue. Hard. It's all part of the inevitable, the letting go of this other person who has to be on their own way, their own path. And it starts the minute they're born, I'm afraid.

Nineteen-plus years ago, Katie arrived with a roar and has been the most amazing person in my life this whole time. As I've watched her grow, gain confidence--even if she stumbles a little here and there (as do we all)--it has always been with the anticipation of the next thing she learns, the next step away from me she takes on the road to herself.

All in all, I feel pretty lucky to be a part of Katie's life. She is strong and capable, remarkably self-motivated, and can even still admit when something scares her. Like tomorrow's 5-hour (or so) solo drive up to Slide Mountain Ranch, towing Sammy in the recently-cleaned trailer. She has driven the truck and trailer several times, but the longest trip has been an hour and a half. She is, however, an incredibly competent driver and my only suggestion was to pull over whenever and as often as she needed. She already knows to drive as if everyone else is about to do the dumbest thing possible.

Will I be calm and serene tomorrow while I know she's on the road? I'll try to be, because sending worried energy her direction is the wrong plan. It will help to remind myself of the things I had done at her age, and to know what a great opportunity working at Slide is for her. It is something she will remember all her life and that nourishes her in a way many things in life won't.

There have been many times I've wanted to wrap her up and protect her from the world, and once or twice she's even let me. But mostly she points herself in a direction and goes, knowing I'm there if she needs me, but wanting to try it her way first. When she was little, she would say, "My do it!"

And she usually does.

It is, after all, her fault we have all these horses running around in our lives.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lena and a colic scare

Lena is a nervous, stressy mare. Especially--particularly, actually--at feeding time. She paces, gets agitated, then bolts her grain as if she's been deprived for months.

She is also a dramatic and expressive mare, making it easy to spot--pun intended--when something isn't quite right.

The other night, she started out okay, then started acting a little funny, and I left the barn with Steve walking a spotty mare who wanted to drop down and roll in the driveway. I had a hard time leaving but over-worrying wouldn't help so I headed home.

I waited for Steve, trying not to pace or fuss myself too much. Then our friend Manna called from the barn and I knew things had not gotten better. She asked if I'd gotten the message to call the vet.

I hadn't. I did. And pointed the car back to the barn.

Dr. Leslie made it there before me because I stopped to make Steve a sandwich, grab books and jackets, then got stuck behind a lumber truck. REALLY? NOW??!! Augh!!

A little history. Two weeks after Lena came to live with us (five years ago on August 1st), she colicked so badly we were faced with putting her down. So when the spotty mare acts like her belly hurts, it creates a small panic in her momma, too.

Long story short, heart rate was fine, capillary response time (CPT) was fine, and with some Banamine, the gut relaxed enough to make noises and get Lena interested in eating again. I might also mention that Lena was moving into her heat cycle, and that has been one of the common denominators in the colic routine.

Leslie's verdict is that Lena's cycle helps set it off. Peter let us know that not only does it happen fairly frequently--though usually not as bad as this bout--it always happens at the evening feed. They only (and we only) grain in the evening. She inhales grain like a big, spotty vacuum.

Treatment? Rocks in the grain bucket to slow her down and Banamine at the beginning of her cycle.

Lesson? Lena colics mildly fairly frequently according to Peter--he calls it stress colic. I myself have walked her when she seems off and had her relax and settle into herself, with a soft look in her eye and good, grumbly gut noises. Would she have worked through it like she seemingly does normally if we hadn't hovered? Maybe. Could it be she just wanted attention? Also a possibility with The Spotty Princess.

Only time (and recent experience) will tell.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting into Bar's head

Bar tends to be very routine-oriented, sometimes to a fault. He doesn't quite anticipate my next request the way Lena does, but he does know what usually comes next in our evening workouts.

And he prefers it that way, thank you very much. He likes knowing what's expected of him and doing it.

So I like to throw new things at him fairly often just to prove to him he can handle a wrinkle when it crops up.

The most recent thing I've tossed in the mix is working on his "wrong" (according to him) side. I noticed awhile ago that if he was following me and I drifted so he was on my left, he would nose me back over to the other side. Interesting. Then I watched a video of Tom Curtin working with ex-racehorses and he talked about being sure your horse could deal with things happening on both sides of his body--including being led. (The video is offered by LOPE Texas and proceeds benefit their program.)

So I decided to torture my overly-concerned Thoroughbred and asked him to walk next to me on the "other" side. He tried very hard to convince me it's actually the dark side, the place horses get eaten. The eyes were big and worried as we strolled along, and he continuously attempted to fall back behind me to sneak around to the proper side.

Then I asked him to trot next to me on that side. "What?! Now I know you are a crazy woman!" I had to go to the "correct" side, trot, switch sides and ask again before he did it, but he did decide he would try. Just this once. Just for me.

He even let me mount from the dark side, though getting him to stand still next to the mounting block ("WRONG SIDE!!!) took some maneuvering and patience.

When I introduce something new, I don't ask him for perfection, I just ask him for his best try. We work at things somewhat sideways on occasion but as long as he's staying focused on what we're doing and not blowing up, I'll take whatever he gives and figure a way both of us can learn from it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Worth the risk

As our family has done a nice job proving over the last year, horses and the act of riding the wonderful beasts can sometimes be hazardous to your health. Life without them, however, is unthinkable--despite the risks, even despite the atrophy currently happening under the purple cast.

After my accident, I received a notice in the mail to call Kaiser to go over my accident to be sure no one else was liable. The conversation ended abruptly when I answered "yes" to the question, "Do you own the horse you fell off of?" but it got me thinking about trying to run a horse business in this day and age.

Unfortunately, people get hurt. Sometimes it is the businesses fault--bad or broken equipment, not matching horse and rider properly, or some other "hardware" failure--but I have to wonder if we've bent too far over backwards to protect people from themselves. What are we losing in the process?

Our friends at Slide Mountain Ranch have recently had to stop offering their own horses as trail mounts. It's just become too much risk for them to shoulder. You can visit with your own horses, which we intend to do when I'm healed. You can also use their wonderful bunk house as a hub for nearby adventures, like Yosemite National Park, or enjoy the quiet, rustic setting for itself. You can even pet their horses and rub their velvety noses. But you can't enjoy the same kind of fun and freestyle riding we were able to experience when we started--the very thing that got us hooked on horses in the first place.

Logically, I understand the insurance companies viewpoint. Sort of. Someone has to bear the responsibility for the costs associated with an accident, particularly medical. But part of me rebels against that on the fundamental grounds that I chose to get on that horse--no one forced me. Shouldn't the weight rest at least equally on me?

Learning to ride has been one of the single most rewarding things I've ever done, though obviously it is still a work in progress. There have been bumps along the road I would not have had with different horses. Would I trade my broken arm for an easier horse? Not in a million years.

The passion and the drive to get better was ignited on a trail ride at Slide Mountain Ranch over 5 years ago. Would I be enjoying this rich period in my life if it hadn't been for the chance I took then? Definitely not.

Is it all worth the risk? The itchy skin under the cast? The surety I'll set off alarms in the airports?

Heck, yeah. Every damn day.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Personal space

One of the hardest things I've run into--besides the ground, of course--is teaching Bar about maintaining personal space.

All the reputable trainers (and even some of the disreputable ones) insist that to start to get a horse's respect, you need to teach them to maintain a set distance between them and you. They all insist horses don't really want to be that close to you, and this is all related to safety on the ground as well.

Nobody seems to teach racehorses this rule, nor have they been told snuggling is not horse-like behavior. The concept is completely foreign to them--someone is always there, holding their head, often giving them lead ropes to nibble to occupy their busy little minds and mouths. Now that's okay, nobody needs to teach them this ridiculous "personal space" concept--it's not necessary for them to do their job and do it extremely well.

It does present challenges for those of us who come afterward, particularly when you are in the way when something spooks your ex-racer.

Now, Lena is very good with maintaining "the bubble." Mostly, she doesn't want to be in your space and merely facing her backs her off a few steps.

Bar, well... not so much. He will back off the full length of the lead rope without too much commotion--because I've asked him to--then stare at me with worried eyes, as if he can't understand why I am not right there next to him, keeping him safe.

I admit, I don't push on this issue like I probably should. He does watch out for me now--more than he did when I got him--and he will absolutely back off when I ask for it, but he is much more relaxed when I'm within reach of his nose. The trainer's answer is to slowly expand that safety bubble and I'm sure we could work on that. I'm sure we should work on that. I also know I love hugging my Thoroughbred.

It may be a tough sell on both sides.

Life with an OTTB

Admittedly, there were a lot of blank spots in my horsey knowledge back when Bar and I joined forces in December of 2007. Not so much about horses, or even spirited, high energy horses, but about Thoroughbreds in general and OTTBs specifically.

I had never even been to the horse races except once at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds when Katie was 8. She told me to bet on number 8 to win. I bet Win-Place-Show. She has never let me forget it.

That was eleven years ago, before Bar had even been foaled, and long before he started down the path into my world.

In my efforts to understand him better, to figure out his reactions and how I can help us train each other, I've been lucky to find a lot of resources out there. New Vocations, LOPE Texas, and Retired Racehorse, to name just a few. I've also visited the track more than once, watched morning workouts, and read about famous racehorses like Seabiscuit and Secretariat. Steve jokes about me being a little obsessive, but it seems important to understand--really understand--where Bar is coming from.

We know Lena's background, had ridden her brothers and sisters and are good friends with her owners/breeders. She is not the mystery he is, though sometimes she likes to pretend she is. We have watched babies get started there and know how she was trained, know who her pasture buddies were, and had even ridden and patted her nose before even considering bringing her home.

Bar has some distinct fuzziness in his past. I know his breeding, I've watched (and re-watched) all his race footage, and I know he's an escape artist. Because I'm still in touch with his trainers, I learn more about him every time I see Devon and Howie.

Devon, who has been encouraging and tough with me as required, only came into Bar's life for his last race--the one where he got hurt. She's picking Howie's brain for me for more detail, but did say Bar was "very calm shipping in for that race. He was a very good boy, knew what he was there for, that sort of thing!"

Last time we saw Howie, he told me about Bar first arriving off the van to start training and immediately flopping down in his stall. Howie didn't worry too much initially--it was a long drive--until he went back to check and Bar was still laying down. Howie checked him out and found all four feet were hot to the touch. Bar had hot nails run in all four feet. For the non-horsey folks (Mom), that means he had nails run into the meat of his foot, rather than his hoof walls. Think bamboo under fingernails, then running on those fingers. Makes me cry and rage at the same time. (Crage?)

They worked him in glue-ons for awhile--much more expensive--until they could get shoes on his thin-walled hooves. This could explain his not-so calm reaction to his first shoeing with our farrier. He trusts Mike now, but it was a bit of a long road. The deal may have been sealed the one time Mike thought he ran a hot nail and immediately pulled it out, rather than--despite their early history--simply assuming Bar was just acting up.

In other words, Mike listened. He doesn't cut Bar slack, ever, but he's fair and he pays attention. That's key with any horse, but with a Thoroughbred coming off the track--so sensitive and drilled to rely on their humans for every little thing--it's crucial.

An OTTB is not necessarily the horse I'd recommend for everyone--despite my obvious love for the big, brown subject of so many blog posts. In fact, had I known then what I know now, I might have hesitated longer than a split second. And what a tragedy that would have been! It is important, as Natalie at Retired Racehorse has said, to understand the kind of life they came from to re-train them. Not cater to it--don't get out of bed to feed at 5 a.m. and exercise at 6 a.m. just because that's what they're used to--but keep it in the equation as you move them forward.

It has helped tremendously to exercise patience and reward his littlest try before moving onto the next thing. It seems to almost immediately take the edge off his frustration, before it blows up into bad behavior, because he is (usually, anyway) trying hard to please more often than not.

Of course, not having any particular discipline we're training for or outside schedule also helps. It's just us, just our time and time-frame in play as we roll into the third year of what is framing up to be a great partnership.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Back in the saddle again

Back in the saddle again
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Proverbial saddle in this case as I'm actually riding bareback, but am up nonetheless and happier for it.

I rode a little longer than I normally do when riding bareback and Bar started to get grumpy. Initially, I attributed it to his short attention span and the sound of the grain cart, but after I got off and rubbed his back--where my rear end had previously rested--I decided it may have been something else.

Bar says I need more padding, or a saddle, please.

Saddle is next. Maybe even a bridle!