Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How long can the blankets stay off?

After countless (I refuse to actually go back and count) days of bleak, cold, dreary rain, we finally have sunshine! In fact, temperatures spiked up into the eighties and nineties today! Glorious!

We pulled blankets last night and today Bar had a fluffy layer of dead hair all over him, which he gladly transferred to my person. I'll be spitting out Thoroughbred hair for a week, I know it.

It was so warm, Bar worked up a sweat with a rather mild workout in the round pen, so then he got a rinse down! Since it was 84 degrees when I left the barn at 6:45, I figured he'd dry out in time. He won't be clean for long, mind you, but he will at least not have dried, crusty sweat matting down his hair.

The temperatures are nice all the way through Saturday, so the horses will air out at least until then. They are ready for it, that's for sure.

It's been a long, cold, not-lonely, winter. Spring can hang around for awhile as far as I'm concerned.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Would I do it all again?

I have often contemplated whether--knowing what I know now about the challenges we've faced--I'd go the same route and choose Calabar as my trusty steed.

We were talking over dinner tonight--Steve, Katie, and me--about our horses, the personalities and training differences of all three--and Katie challenged me. With the schedule I have now, the commitment I need to put into my job, would I choose Calabar?

It gave me pause. He's needed all the time I've put into him. Heck, I needed that time, too. Would we be where we are now without it? Would I have survived the relationship without that investment?

It is hard to say. Hindsight obscures the hard times and what I have with him today is worth every bump, every bruise, every doubt I've had up to this point.

Could I have picked an easier horse? Of course. Could I have picked a horse that would watch and respond to my every move, as well as teach me as much as he has? That is doubtful.

If I'd been working then like I'm working now, it would have been different, more difficult. But what he offers me is warm oasis, a haven in the desert that sometimes surrounds me in my professional life. (Healthcare is really a mess, I have to say.)

Life offers opportunities and I think things tend to fall in where they should fit. Not always, mind you, but often enough.

There is no doubt in my mind that Calabar is my horse. Do I wish I had more time with him right now? Absolutely. Do I need to work as hard as I'm working for my company right now? No doubt. Is my goal to balance out the two because I value both? Heck yeah.

If I had not had the time and energy to spend with him before work got so crazy, we would not have the foundation we have now--a foundation that lets us take a few days off and start back where we left off.

I don't think he'll ever be a horse I can just show up and slap a saddle on and go. He needs more from me, just as I need more from him.

So would I do it all again, knowing all I know now? Yeah, I probably would. He's just too awesome to even consider a do-over.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A new baby racehorse

I'm a sucker for horses, but baby horses with their funny long legs and wobbly balance melt me like ice cream on a hot sidewalk. And in this horrid cold and rainy weather, little Miss Chantilly Lace was like a breath of warm spring air.

She is the newest of the Thoroughbred family (with it's many pieces and parts) Calabar and Forrest came from, and we got to see her today. She was born ten days late, early Tuesday morning, and is quite a character already.

Her mama, Ursulita, is not only a calm and patient mare with her cantankerous filly, she did a good job of shielding the fragile humans from the tiny but no-less-powerful "Lacey" on several occasions. Lacey is learning manners from Devon too, but Ursi interposed herself between the bouncy baby girl and the humans in her stall more than once. Being that this is Ursi's first foal, it was pretty impressive to see her taking care of all of us in the stall--not just Lacey--in a calm, understated way. Ursi is also the mare that went to the beach with Calabar and me--her first trail ride, calmly handled. Take that, crazy Thoroughbred stereotype.

Devon and I took on the role of "Auntie Mares" in the herd at one point--me scratching an itchy spot on Ursi while Ursi groomed Devon.

I love that I get to be around babies without breeding Lena and turning both of us (Lena and me) into neurotic basket cases.

This little filly will be fun to watch--such a personality, such energy. It will be a treat, watching her grow and unfold into the horse she will become.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bar and his big mouth

Today was Calabar's own personal dental day. He did not, however, feel special about being singled out.

If Bar's mouth were as good as Lena's, we could do both horses once a year. Alas, it is not. As it is, though, we can let Lena slide until the next time we have to do Bar, so I guess it all evens out. Well, for Lena and our checkbook it does, Bar is not so sure. Unfortunately for him, there's really no other option.

He has a wave--high in the back, sloping down to the front of his mouth with a hump in the middle along the way--all of this creating hooks that poke holes in his cheeks if left to their own devices.

We found this out the first time he had his teeth done, and it's been a battle to stay on top of it ever since. Luckily, it's a battle we are starting to win. His worst hooks develop way in the back on the bottom and are really difficult to remove, even with Leslie's best power tools. Last fall, Leslie spent a lot of time and energy trying to get Bar's mouth pathology more on the normal scale. This time, she wasn't in there nearly as long and there was a lot less blood. All good things as far as Bar was concerned.

Leslie explained that some teeth have more enamel than others and are fundamentally harder than others. In opposing teeth, this can lead to uneven wear. The uneven wear then builds upon itself and creates more wave, more hooks, and more discomfort.

On top of that, Bar apparently has the biggest mouth Leslie has ever worked with. (I know, like owner, like horse, right?)

He was a trooper until the very end, at which point he did not relax enough to let Leslie slide his jaw laterally to check alignment. No. He clenched his jaw instead. He did let me put my hand all the way inside his cheeks--both sides--to feel the newly smoothed sides of his teeth.

And to add insult to injury, we had to pull his hay out to let the sedation wear off. Poor hungry horse. You can see how starved he was, lipping for spilled grain when Katie and Steve visited later in the day.

Bar would like to say that a few months without seeing the vet would be appreciated, but I would like to say thank you to Dr. Leslie for taking such good care of all my horses--especially the cantankerous and not-always-cooperative Thoroughbred.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Horses are easier than people

At least sometimes.

People, especially in the professional arena, have a lot of agendas going on. Those on the surface are relatively easy to discover and work with, but the secret ones? The motivations and insecurities swirling beneath the surface? Those are like sand bars, waiting to snag the keel of your boat and tip you sideways, grounding you in the shallows or worse--trapping you in currents you can't quite ride out and can't quite overcome.

Horses also have agendas, but they are usually much less psychologically motivated and much more straight-forward in nature. Food, safety, fun--not necessarily in that order--at every moment. They aren't easy, no, but once you figure out who your horse is and treat them accordingly, they stay that way. There is no subterfuge. There is no ego (or lack thereof, usually) to direct them to come at you a different way, or pick at that soft spot in your psyche to get their way.


Calabar is always Calabar. He will always test me--particularly when we have lapses in his routine--but I know how he will act when it's been three days. I hope for the best, but prepare for the levitation factor and deal with whatever version of himself he presents.

It's possible I should learn to do this with people, too--now there's a thought. Hm.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Evaluations and things to consider

Bar having his pulse and heart rate taken

The rain let up yesterday just long enough to allow Dr. Leslie to evaluate not only our three horses, but two of our friend's horses, too. The wellness exam consisted of listening to hearts and lungs, a general weight and physical evaluation, checking feet and teeth, and watching movement. Ours were also scheduled for vaccines, which this time were West Nile and Intranasal Flu (their favorite).

Checking Bar's movement. It was good, trust me.

Lisa was there holding Winston when I rolled in, and he came through with a pretty good bill of health, though he could use some groceries. He's getting more exercise, and he was glad to hear that meant he got more goodies, too.

Forrest was next and (as we know), definitely needs weight. When we told Leslie he hadn't been himself Friday night--picking at his food, generally listless, digestive system (always our first thought) working better than fine--she immediately took his temperature. Turns out he had a bit of a fever, poor guy! So no vaccines for him until he's better. Katie gave him some Bute to help him feel better so he'll eat and drink.

When Leslie looked in his mouth, she said, "Oh, he is young!!" He needs his teeth done, and has a new tooth coming in behind (on top of?) the baby tooth in front. Lena actually had the same thing, but never has had the adult tooth come in all the way.

Leslie checking out Forrest's teeth

Next came Lisa's young horse, Whiskey, who was entirely unsure of this whole process, but cooperated fairly well nonetheless.

"What is all this about?" says Whiskey River

All the horses have been poked and prodded and pronounced fairly healthy overall, and Leslie said Bar looks the best she's ever seen him. His coat and musculature look great and he is more in his head than he has ever been. Yay, us and all the work we've done! Of course, then he had to act like a spoiled Thoroughbred when I interrupted his grazing for the trotting part of the exam, but even then he wasn't crazy. Bratty, yes. Crazy, no.

Calabar looking strong and healthy

Lena is beautiful, strong, and her only need is more exercise than she's getting currently. She is blessed with good feet, a good mouth, plus smooth and comfortable movement. Leslie watched her trot past and said, "Oh. She's a really nice horse." Lena heard her, too. It almost made up for the flu vaccine up her nose. Almost.

The lovely Lena Rey and Katie, too

Forrest is on the mend, and Bar and Lena are in good shape. It was definitely worth it ($30 each) to have Leslie look at horses I see every day from a professional and outside perspective. Not only did she catch Forrest's fever, she was able to give good advice and options for us to consider that are geared towards having healthier, happier horses--not ongoing vet care or chemical interference. We talked about the best way to put weight on Forrest, hoof care and the dynamics of the horse's foot, and alternatives to the cycle of medicinal/chemical worming.

One of the things Dr. Leslie advocates is doing regular fecal tests rather than worming arbitrarily. Even mixing up the worming regimen by switching from one wormer to another can contribute to what are becoming increasingly resistant parasites. By doing a fecal, you not only determine IF you need wormer, but what specific wormer you need. Leslie prices it about the same ($15) as a mid-range tube of wormer and the logic seems really sound to me.

Turns out both Bar and Forrest need to be wormed, but not immediately. There are very small quantities of Strongyles in their samples, so we'll wait a few more weeks to be sure we get all the little buggers--actually, large and small--with a good dose of Ivermectin.

We also had an interesting conversation about feet and allowing horses to go barefoot. Bar has had shoes on all four feet (unless he loses one) since we got him because of how shelly his hooves are. Lena has great feet, but we wanted to protect them while out and about on rocky trails, so she has always been shod all the way around, too.

Looking at feet

Leslie brought up some really good points about the natural way a hoof works, and making sure the frog is able to do it's job of helping with circulation by being in contact with the ground. Her point was that you don't really know what kind of foot you have until you let it go natural for a little while, and winter is a good time to try it.

We haven't decided yet what we want to do, and Steve is in charge of talking to Mike. There is no way on earth I want to alienate my farrier, so Steve's particular form of diplomacy is definitely required. Of course, with the rate that Bar loses shoes in the winter, it may just be easier to let him go barefoot! And, of course, invest in regular trims and a full set of boots for both horses for trail riding.

Despite the rain and the ornery Thoroughbred (mine, not Forrest), it was well worth the time and cost to have this done. Not just the vaccines, which are important, but the outside view of this horse I see every day.

The big, brown, fuzzy love of my life

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Vet day tomorrow and minor correction

We have vaccines and a once-over scheduled for the ponies tomorrow. I'm sure they'll be thrilled.

"Oh, yeah! West Nile and Rabies, our favorite!" I suspect it's better, however, than the intra-nasal flue vaccine they get in the fall.

Dr. Leslie is also doing a wellness exam--a check of the basics, weight, heart, feet, etc.--something she's trying out with her clients this year.

We decided to opt in for this for a couple of reasons. One, because the reason we have always had our vet do our vaccines is because she catches things we might miss. Two, I think you need to pay your vet for their time and not just pile on the questions when they are there to do something else. Really, I'm just selfish. I don't want to find another vet so I want to keep Leslie in business as long as possible.

I am fairly certain all the horses are healthy as, well, horses. Forrest is a little underweight and Bar perpetually needs his teeth done, but little prevention is a lot better than a midnight phone call when it all goes wrong. My other not-so-secret goal is to hear Bar's heart. Last time Leslie listened to it, she said you could hear an extra beat because his heart is so big. I just about cried right then and there.

Bar is scheduled for his teeth next Friday. He might still be speaking to me after that, but it will take lots of treats and many fewer missed barn nights.

Oh, and the correction (as kindly pointed out by Joan at Cowboy and Dexter's Excellent Adventures) was to Kathleen's age the day of Bar's win in November of 2003. She was thirteen. Not three. Thirteen. I slipped a decade, apparently.

Oddly enough, it was that very year--her 13th--that we chose a Christmas present of Slide Mountain Ranch because we couldn't figure out anything else more suitable.

Funny how the path of a racehorse careened right into the path of a future horse-crazy woman.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calabar's race videos

Realizing that my RealVideo downloads would disappear with the aging family laptop, I invested a few bucks in some RealPlayer software that has allowed me to post to YouTube and save them to a DVD.

Here is Calabar's win from November 22nd, 2003--two days before Katie's thirteenth birthday:

Here is his last race, the one where he bowed his tendon:

My boy was fast, but I'm almost glad for his injury. Had he made it to the big time, he would never had ended up with me. And that is where he belongs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The art of the roll--step one

The art of the roll--Step one
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Shoulder first, as demonstrated by Calabar, and especially satisfying after three days of rain and blanket.

There was lots of rolling on both sides, leaving me with a big brown dusted truffle of a horse.

But a very, very happy big brown truffle of a horse.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The roller coaster of horse racing

Sitty is there in the middle, number three

I don't honestly know how Howie and Devon do it.

One minute, your horse is running well and training great and the next, something happens that has you scratching your head.

Y'all know Sittytwofitty is my favorite On-Track Thoroughbred. She is a classy girl---beautiful, well-mannered, and a joy to watch run.

She won her first race last month, came in second in the next race (and should have won that one), and was training really well headed into yesterday's race.

Granted, it was a tough field--a $40,000 claiming race with some top horses and jockeys on the ticket. But she had the same jockey up that took her to her win and she had been training really well. Odds had her coming in second to the favorite and the distance was perfect for her style--1-1/16 mile, just enough to give her that last bit of room if she needed it.

She started really well, blowing out of the gate with tremendous power, but never quite clicked in. The jockey said she felt "off" in her left front and while he got her to drive up to a photo for third, you could see in her movement that he was right and she was hurting.

She got fourth by a whisker, so still in the money, but you could tell she wasn't herself--not as much power and speed at the end and off a little during her cool down walk.

It is an up-and-down world, is horse racing. I think I'm glad I'm on the Off-Track side of things. The On-Track side is way too stressful. But kudos to Devon and Howie for hanging in there and taking such good care of their horses. Big Girl is in good hands, of that I am sure.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Back in action

Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Bar got his first workout in nearly two weeks, and he needed it!

The race-breathing returned as he ran himself to the left in the round pen. I just figured out it reminds me of Lamaze breathing--quick, explosive, and rhythmic, "phuh, phuh, phuh."

He even dealt reasonably well with Forrest banging around in the round pen and other commotion. After ten days of cooped up Thoroughbred energy, his antics were not only expected, but welcomed. It all meant he was feeling much, much better and that's all that matters to me.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bar is re-shoed

Having heard (and witnessed) the horror stories around abscesses, I was fully prepared to go several weeks soaking Bar's foot, applying the foul-smelling Ichthammol, and watching him limp around while battling my guilt.

As it turns out, he is as good at being laid up as I am. My friend Joan pointed out that an injured animal is a target for predators, which probably explains the stoic nature of hurt horses as well as the quickness of recovery.

When I got to the barn last night, he was moving very comfortably all the way around. I probably would have left the boot on, but it had worn through at the toe so Katie helped me re-wrap the whole thing.

He was so comfortable, as a matter of fact, that when I called Mike today to report in, Mike decided he would swing by and put the shoe back on. There is the risk of the abscess simply drawing back in and finding another path, but we'll just keep an eye on him and see how it goes.

At the moment, he seems to be sound, happy, and bouncing off the walls. Steve reported that the energy level appears to be normal and suggested I might want to get out to the barn tomorrow to work the big brown bundle of cooped-up Thoroughbred before Bar launches himself into space.

Which is exactly what I intend to do. I even spent an extra 45 minutes tonight clearing out my email inbox so I could escape on time tomorrow to get the boy out. And moving. And probably bucking and farting, for that matter.

We both need it.

Happy Birthday, Lena Rey Flo!

Lena Rey is ten years old today and has been a part of our lives since August of 2005.

She has been an inspiration to try new things, a teacher, and has given us all many lessons along the way. (Only some of them painful.)

Thank you for the adventures, great spotty horse of the north! You are much loved and there will be extra carrots for you today.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Get on and ride

Riding horses is risky, rewarding, and addicting. And sometimes I'm tired and sore and decide not to ride. I often feel guilty about it (as many of you know), but I came across a post today that really made me feel like a wuss.

A 69-year old jockey, still riding after breaking his pelvis (!) last year? Wow. And, as the post says, he's not the oldest one out there.

Time to belly up to the bar and ride? Oh, yes.

The boot remains

Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

Much to my surprise--especially after a solid night of rain--the diaper and duct tape boot we reapplied yesterday was still in place this afternoon. Phew!

Even better than that, Bar is putting weight on the foot and moving much more comfortably than he had been. He even let me pick up the other hind foot without any fuss or obvious discomfort. Yes!

The plan is to see how it's all holding together tomorrow, take a little walk to see how he's moving, and call Mike for next steps. If Bar is doing well enough, we'll probably put a shoe back on in the next few days and see how he does.

Certainly, the energy under the skin is beginning to hum at normal levels, too, which was really good to see.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Abscess makes the horse grow fonder

After I saw Bar last night, I called our farrier (the fabulous Mike Brookfield) who told me he'd meet me at the barn this morning, pull the shoe, and see what we could find out. Mike has been our farrier since right before Bar came along and I hope he never retires. He's there when I need him, he has been known to swing by on Sundays to tack a shoe back on, and I even had to force a check on him today.

But back to Bar who wants to remind everyone it's his foot that hurts.

The second thing Mike noticed--after the funny way Bar lifted his leg to walk--was Bar not being, well, Bar. It's like the energy that normally hums under his Thoroughbred skin is completely redirected right now. He stood more quietly for Mike than he ever does, almost as if he knew this was going to help. Even when there was pushing on the sore spot. Even for the wrapping of said foot in diaper and duct tape.

Mike got into the foot and found a dark spot we thought might be the culprit, but it cleaned out and turned out to be nothing. The sore spot turned out to be just at the point of the frog, towards the toe, but he couldn't see the path (an exit point for the abscess), even after cleaning and removing some of the hoof there. He was just about to slap on the Ichthammol (a drawing agent that smells like and has the consistency of sticky tar) when he decided to go just a little further after feeling some heat in the area.

And there it was. A tiny pin prick. Really, it looks like nothing compared to the 1,200 pound animal it's underneath.

We packed the hoof with the nasty, tarry goo and wrapped it in a diaper and duct tape. Bar was not thrilled about having his hoof incarcerated, but he went along with us. Mike had warned me Bar might walk off worse, and he did, but we'll have a better picture in a couple days or so of where we are with it.

Of course, Bar will have to keep his wraps on and he is not necessarily cooperating in that regard. When Steve and I got back to the barn this afternoon, the diaper was in the middle of his mats, about a foot away from the duct tape. Bar sniffed at both as I walked up, almost as if to say, "Well, how did those get here?"

So while Steve and Lena thundered around the indoor arena, Bar and I re-wrapped his foot. I'll have to buy more diapers (first time in over 18 years), and possibly a soaking boot.

Calabar is normally an affectionate and snuggly horse, unlike his spotty counterpart who--while she is curious, attentive, and loves her humans--only climbs in your lap when she is sick and unhappy. Bar is not only more affectionate, but also more subdued. He may not be fonder of me, but I think he knows I'm trying to make it better.

Friday, March 04, 2011

All week without my horse...

All week without my horse...
Originally uploaded by spottyhorse67

And now it looks like he has an abscess. Drat!

Left hind. The lap horse was subdued and (I had no idea this was possible) even more snuggly.

Dead giveaway he's not feeling so great.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Forrest's first trail ride

Forrest had his first trail ride experience and by all accounts (I wasn't actually there) did an amazing job.

I would love to have been there, but Steve and I had spent all weekend in San Francisco and came back Sunday while Katie and crew were off on their adventure.

Forrest stuck very close to Lena the whole time, but handled sand, wind, waves (not too close), and even a trailer ride with a scrambley Lena Rey.

Katie learned that left turns with Lena in the front of the trailer really need to be taken at, oh, two miles an hour. Lena prefers the back of the trailer, but will ride in the front IF you take those left turns at a snails pace. Otherwise, she feels trapped and scrambles badly, usually banging herself up in the process.

The way back, Forrest had to ride in front and he did--after a bit of convincing.

I am proud of Katie, Forrest, and Lena. They all did a great job. Would love to be there the next time out!