Monday, April 30, 2012

Truck change

We have always loved trucks in this family, but until we had horses we didn't really have a permanent need for one. Then we somehow ended up with two trucks to satisfy two different needs.

Gus was our first, the combination family and trailer hauler--comfortable enough for five adults and with enough power to haul two horses all over Sonoma County for trail rides and up to Slide Mountain to chase cows. Gus (short for Augustus the Alligator Green Towing Machine) came to us at the end of 2006 when we had reached the end of the line with a Volvo station wagon that turned out to be more costly than it was worth to us.

Shortly thereafter, Steve bought Sam (a 2007 Nissan Frontier) to be the camping vehicle. Sam was good, but not great as it turns out. To get all the camping gear in, we had to add a camper shell that then made it nearly impossible to see out of Sam's back end.

Steve is fairly picky about vehicles, as am I it turns out. They not only have to do their jobs, they have to be entertaining to drive.

Sam's demise was that he was less fun to drive than Gus. Gus' demise was he only had a 4-speed transmission and a maximum tow rating that did not allow for a three-horse trailer and/or or altitude.

Enter the Ford EcoBoost--a six cylinder, twin turbo motor with 365 horses under the hood and a tow capacity of 11,100 pounds.  This truck seemed--on the surface at least--to solve both our truck needs in one lovely package.

Max the magnificent towing machine 
Meet Max. (Yes, as a matter of fact I do name all my vehicles.) Max is more fun to drive than Sam--despite being an automatic--and holds more cargo in a better configuration and actually gets better gas mileage. Oh yeah, really. Max also has a six-speed automatic, versus Gus' four-speed, so will drive and haul more efficiently.

Not to mention his obvious physical appeal.

Girls love trucks and I am no exception!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

They all do have value

Calabar by a nose

I wrote a hard but important post over on our NCRR blog, a post that is so much a part of the journey I've made on Spotty Horse News, it needs to be shared here, too. There is value in any horse, but as I've become involved with a re-homing organization, this concept has taken on new meanings--some not so pretty.

The post came out of several conversations and is deeply rooted in my own experiences with Calabar. Experiences I would never have had if I'd waited for the "perfect" horse.

I have the perfect horse for me--an ornery OTTB who tells me when my seat is off center and my focus is elsewhere.

In other words, he tells me to stop fussing around and ride.

Thank you, Bar, for helping me keep it real.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A little soul searching

The swoop
Having Calabar has been an amazing, life-changing experience for me, but it has not been without moments of doubt and sometimes sheer panic. There have been times when it was all I could do to slow my breathing enough to just get up on him and walk. 

But I did. And when I wasn't hyperventilating in the arena, I was trail riding with him and introducing him to cows.

Maybe I'm just crazy. Or stubborn. Or both. 

Mostly I just keep plugging away, not thinking about too much except how to improve us both, but today Lynn Reardon of LOPE fame reminded me to keep pushing on the boundaries. How did she remind me? With the questions at the bottom of this post. When I read through them, a few bells went off -- yes, people have told me they worry I'll get hurt; yes, there have been times I've done more ground work than riding. But I haven't heard the first one in a long time and I'm riding more, though I do still use ground work as part of our routine. 

Routine is the operative word, here. Both Calabar and I are in a very safe zone. I push him a little here and there, but Lynn's post tells me it's time for us to do a little more. He is physically ready for sure--our vet says he looks the best she's ever seen him--and I think he's mentally ready, too. As for me, it's highly likely he is in better shape than I am, but my fitness level isn't too shabby and my confidence has actually been boosted a peg of late, too. The latter may have to do with my stubborn refusal to fall off again leading to, well, not falling off again, but hey. It works, right?

A thank you to Lynn for that bit of thought provocation--it poked me to recommit to this horse, my horse. My horse who, even after all our trials and tribulations, still meets me at his gate ready to work. Not only that, but he loads into a trailer and takes me up and down trails, chases mechanical cows and has even eyeballed a few real cows like he was ready to put them where they needed to go. He would probably even compete with me if I had the desire and could pick an event. 

It's unlikely that I will pick one event, let alone compete, but I can do more with him and he can do more with me. Consider this a late New Year's resolution for us and we'll keep you all posted. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Calabar's mouth

Stoned pony.
Calabar has a mouth on him. A mouth with a wave and a slight over-jet (kind of like an over bite). The first time our vet Leslie did his teeth, it took an hour and a half and three shots. "He needs to go every six months," she said. And she doesn't recommend things just to steal my money. She does not like having to spend that much time in a horse's mouth--it's hard on her and  it's hard on the horse.

So we have spent the last four years or so getting his mouth in better shape and bit by bit, it's been working. Today, she was in his mouth just over a half hour and it really only took one big shot. He got a booster so she could work on his front teeth without major objection, but she was done almost before the full effects hit him.

A horse's teeth erupt continuously until they hit their late teens or early twenties. That means they keep growing out of their jaw and getting worn down--sometimes in nice, even patterns and sometimes not. Yes in Lena's case; no in Calabar's case. Because of his pathology--the wave and the over-jet--he gets sharp "hooks" on the sides of his teeth and at the very back of his bottom teeth. These hooks can (and have) caused ulcers in his mouth. Ulcers where the bit goes are not a good plan.  As a horse gets older and the teeth stop erupting, it leaves you with less and less room to correct the pathology. Big changes in a horse's mouth are not good, so our steady approach will serve us well as he ages.

In fact, it's already served us well. He had no ulcers in his mouth today and can go eight months this time instead of six.

Our funny moment came shortly after the above photo was taken. He looks out of it, right? He was snoring a little, even. I asked Leslie if she was okay watching him so I could go get my checkbook and she said yes, both of us assuming he was not going anywhere. I started up the barn aisle to the door and heard a shout and mild commotion behind me. I turned around to see my big brown horse staggering out the stall to follow me.

"I guess you should put him away, then," Leslie quipped.

So I led the stumble-footed boy to his paddock, didn't let him eat grass (much to his dismay), and reassured Lena and Forrest that Calabar was indeed okay. Stoned out of his gourd, but okay.

And with  a much happier mouth to boot.

Lena and Forrest have their turn on Tuesday. They can hardly wait.

Monday, April 16, 2012


The ever-patient ex-racehorse--as long as he's eating
I must be twisted. And not in the "off my rocker" definition, no. My body is twisted. It must be. What other reason could there be for what was causing the look Calabar kept tossing me over his left shoulder the other day as we were cantering to the left. The repeated look, actually. Repeated every time my right stirrup connected with his right "elbow." 

"Stoppit!" He said, looking irritated with every stride.

"Stop what.. oh!" I said, realizing that his aggravated looks coincided perfectly with the thunk I felt at my toe. 

My saddle is an endurance saddle, complete with wide foam-cushioned stirrups. Wide both ways--sideways and back to front. The front of the lightweight but substantially shaped piece of metal with my foot in it was what was connecting with his elbow, causing much consternation and annoyance. 

I adjusted myself and we tried again. Same result. I turned him and cantered to the right, no interference. Turned him back to the left, thunk, followed by evil eye.

"Are you on the wrong lead?" I asked. 

Bar snorted. "No, you're being lame."

I contorted myself in several ways, trying to uncurl my spine, but still clubbed him with my foot. What was I doing? 

I never did figure it out exactly, but I did put my English stirrups on to negate the likelihood of elbow interference and it has helped. Our canter to the left still needs work--it's just not as smooth and happy as it is to the right--but at least I'm not getting a look, now, so we're making steps in the right direction. 

Bar says I need to visit the chiropractor anyway. Plus sit in the hot tub and do more yoga. Who am I to object if it makes him more comfortable, right?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


"You has hat hair, Mom."
With all the other exciting news going on in my world, there has been a little blog neglect over here at Spotty Horse News. And there are actually some really cool things to report from Calabar-land.

You didn't know he had a land? Well, he does. It is special and things there revolve around his awesome brown self.

Lena has a new friend, someone who rides with a gentle hand and treats her with respect. This is good because Lena needs more riding. How is this related to Calabar-land? He can relax and not worry. He worried before, with good reason as it turns out. The other person we let ride Lena did not treat her gently and she was upset and sore before we figured it out. Steve is still kicking himself over that, but Calabar assures us he will let us know when things are amiss with his spotty lady friend.

In fact, he did so with me just the other day. He and I were riding in the indoor arena and he got a little agitated. He didn't buck or try to dump me, he just put his head down and ran a little harder than was called for. He responded when I told him "easy" and then I heard a slight ruckus from the outdoor. I thought it was just Lena running, but it turns out Steve had fallen off after Lena had stopped faster and harder than anticipated and both of them were a little upset. How my horse knows this through arena walls is not clear to a mortal such as myself, but it is empirically obvious.

Speaking of mortal experiences, I touched a higher plane a few days before that. My horse asked me for contact. Yep. He reached right down and grabbed that bit. Twice. That is the first time--or at very least the first time I recognized it. I was so excited I am mildly afraid I did not respond correctly. I think I squealed. I know I laughed and said, "Good boy," very enthusiastically.

He may have sighed in resignation, stuck with an owner who does not know immediately what to do with that gift of connection he gave.

And THEN! After that lovely stretch down, standing in the cross ties, he let me rub his neck. This is not normal. He has sore spots in his neck that he sort of wants me to rub but when I do so, it makes him chew hard on the cross ties. He knows better than to try to bite me at this point, but he also is very clear on how much pressure is too much. Mostly, the pressure has always been too much, but the other day? It was just right in Calabar-land. Not one, not two, but three blows out as I rubbed. Three! Plus a head shake or two.

So despite my recent preoccupation with other Off-Track Thoroughbreds, Calabar is pleased to have things in his land going along as he expects. As long as I don't bring any of these others home, all will still be well in Calabar-land. He says there is enough for him to manage with just Lena and Forrest, thank you very much. And good night.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Super duper announcement

The eye of my inspiration
If you think I have been sitting on my hands doing nothing and simply avoiding my blog, you could not be further from the truth. In fact, there is much afoot in my OTTB world.

Over the last few months, it came to my attention that there are several organizations doing a really good job at promoting the OTTBs they have for adoption--photos on Facebook pages, email marketing, all very good. There could be blogging and story telling, too, but for the most part the word was getting out. What struck me was that most of the posts I was seeing were from East Coast organizations with a smattering from Southern California.

How could it be that here in Northern California, with a prominent track, we didn't have someone helping horses transition to new careers? Ah, but we do! As I hinted at in my last post, we did connect with NeighSavers--a group that has been doing this since 2007. We are still looking for the right facility up here--preferably one with a good arena and access to trails--to do the rehabilitation and retraining these horses need, but the team is ready.

We actually get our first horse next Sunday, a long-term rehab named Queen of Paris, or Paris for short. We met her that rainy night we met with NeighSavers and she handled six of us in her stall, petting her, picking up her feet, surrounding her, with calm curiosity. She got smooches. She is lovely.

She needs sponsors, by the way, but back to the mission. Oh, wait. That's part of the mission. Paris needs sponsors to help mitigate the costs of caring for her as she recovers.

Paris raced around and about the same time Calabar did--she's a year older--and then retired to become a brood mare and went out to pasture. She is currently suffering from laminitis and fractures of her coffin bone, but the vet has assured us she can heal and be rideable after her rehab. No, she won't ever be a jumper or eventer. But she is sweet and even tempered and we have a year to make her into a pleasure horse. Which makes me incredibly glad to be working with this team of women.

This team of women rocks.

Karen came from the icy land of Canada where she worked on the tracks for several trainers. It was there she found her Bobby (Halograph). He came off the track with fractures and pain. After three months of body work and light, gentle exercise, the same vet who pronounced him no better than a permanent pasture ornament didn't recognize him. The improvement was that dramatic.

Devon has been around horses for years, shown various disciplines, and now spoils her on-track Thoroughbreds rotten. She rides and trains her own and when they can't run any more, she finds them homes. She is brave enough to get back on horses that travel 35+ mph even after ending up underneath one a few times--something that encourages me when I'm feeling terrified.

Katie got me into this whole mess but I am the reason she ended up with an OTTB, so I think that means we're even. She loves the energy Forrest has and his willingness to learn. They have tossed a lasso around me and Forrest thinks it's actually rather amusing. He does gates almost as well as Lena does and better than Calabar ever will. She is training him to be the horse she wants and he is responding with, "Okay, what's next?!"

Keri was introduced to OTTBs by her aunt and uncle--polo people who take Thoroughbreds off the track and teach them to play, well, polo. Keri's first OTTB, Ink, taught her a lot and took her to the Expo in 2009. She has had to deal with the loss of Ink, which helped her find found Reason, and her writing and creativity is so valuable to what we are trying to accomplish.

Then there is me. I am the rookiest rider of the bunch--likely I should have started with a nice, old, quiet Quarter Horse but instead I started with Lena who is anything but. Lena led to Calabar and all that led to my passion for Thoroughbreds. He is curious, he is smart. He is not easy. He has taught me volumes about riding and about myself. What do I have to offer this fine group of women? My ability to put pieces together, to find the correlations between this goal and that potential sponsor. My complete willingness to send emails to people that should intimidate me. What? The worst they can say is 'no' and very often they simply ask what we have to offer.

We, this talented group of people and me, have a lot to offer. And it's all focused on helping the rest of the world--or at least the horse world portion of it--recognize the beauty and grace of the Off-Track Thoroughbred.

We call ourselves the Northern California Retired Racehorse Re-Education (NCRR) Alliance. For now, you can find us on Facebook (and please do!), but our own website and blog are coming very soon. Videos are being planned--how-to's for working with horses off the track, from basics about where they've been and what they know, to common injuries and how to treat them, to more advanced topics as we move forward.

We've already reached out to the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) to see if we can show off OTTBs in conjunction with racing. We're working with the Petaluma Arts and Equestrian Festival to secure a booth at their event in July. We'll be at the Western States Horse Expo in June. We even approached the Retired Racehorse Retraining Project about putting some West Coast events together.

Is there a limit? Maybe. Will we find it? Possibly. Are we doing good things? Absolutely. The super duper announcement is we're live and here to help OTTBs in Northern California. And not just our OTTBs, either.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Another birthday wish

Dad and me at the barn, November 2007
My father would have been 70 today and so I wish him a happy, wish-you-were-here birthday.

Dad was, at least as the family story goes (and we know about family stories), due on April 1st but held out until April 2nd. No fool am I, said he. Calabar gladly picked up that moniker many years later and wears it quite proudly as a matter of fact.

My dad was not an April fool per se, but a writer, a wordsmith and a terrible pun-meister--all of which was colored by his often-bawdy sense of humor. He loved words and crafting with them. He loved the lyric of languages and picked up foreign dialects with an impressive ear for accent and intonation.

The fact that he loved my blog filled me with great pride. He never once corrected my writing, though I'm sure there were many occasions to do so. He just read it and told me to keep writing.

So I have.

I love the ease of writing and editing on the computer--very easy to change and rearrange text, thoughts, the entire flow of a sentence. But when I have something serious to write--something that needs a more personal, permanent and visceral feel--I pick up the fountain pen Dad left behind and scratch my thoughts down in a Moleskin notebook, much the way he did for years. Sometimes I can even read what I wrote later--in and of itself another legacy--and I always end up with ink on my fingers when I'm done.

I miss you, Dad. I don't forget you're gone anymore, but your absence still makes me sad. I suspect there will always be times that is the case.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Horse Birthdays and reflecting back to the beginning

All horses get a raw deal by having their birthdays bumped to January first. Luckily, they don't really know or care that they are forced to share their special day with many thousands of fake "siblings," but I know when my horse's real birthdays are.

Lena's is March 8th and Calabar's is tomorrow. Yep. My horse was born on April Fool's day. He really should know how appropriate that actually is--oh wait, maybe he does. (Sorry, Lena, I'm way late on your birthday but you did get a Facebook post on the real day so I didn't totally neglect your beautiful spotty self.)

Lena (and the perfect spot) and Steve, 2006
I thought I would celebrate their birthdays with some photos of our journey from Spotty Horse to OTTB fanatic. I do love both my horses--Lena, from the tip of her curly ears to the perfect spot that circles her tail; Bar from his soft brown nose to the end of his long, dark tail. They have distinct personalities, react in different ways to the same situation, but they delight me in their differences and in what each has to teach me.

Here are my thoughts from Horse Year One, after Lena Rey nearly died and we learned to barrel race.

Steve and Lena turnin' for home
It took us a little while to find our next horse, but we did. It has changed things in many, many ways and led me to what may well be the next chapter of my life.

Hubba hubba
And doesn't Calabar look better now? He's so lovely.

He is so handsome you can just ignore me.
But back to the history, back to when I let other people ride Calabar, before Steve's accident.

Lena, Steve, Katie and Calabar--June, 2008
There have been lots of training ideas and methods along the way, and in going back it seems I've forgotten some of the things I've learned. Like how much we both liked early morning workouts instead--back before I had to dress up for work. Drat.

Bouncy Thoroughbred in the round pen
Along the way have been trail rides and lessons and a few accidents--courtesy of both horses, I might add. Remember, Lena broke my arm and a rib or two before my last fall off Calabar broke my butt (as Dave pointed more eloquently in the comments). 

But since it took me 43 years to actually break any bones and risk-taking was supremely limited in my life (at least physical risk-taking) until I got horses, I'm going to take the average here and figure it's come out pretty well for all of us so far. Besides, I love every minute of it--even the frustrating parts--and there is more on the horizon for us, too.

Trail ride with ANOTHER OTTB! And we all survived! It was awesome.
Trail rides. Cow work. A little dressage training. You name it, both horses are up for it. Because in their world, boredom is a whole lot worse than overcoming something new. Lena would probably even love the track, since she's never had that much room to run her whole life. Maybe as much as Calabar liked his introduction to cows. 

Howz your grass? Mine is tasty.
We will likely never get to try Lena on the track, but Calabar has another chance with cows coming up this month. He did so great last time--going into the herd with me and fending cows off through the fence--that maybe we'll let him try pushing them on his own this time.

Watching for evil cows.
What started as simple fun with a talented, athletic spotty cow horse has--thanks to an opinionated OTTB--morphed into relationships with horses that have taught me to be a better horsewoman  and a better person. Tonight, with the horrible rain pounding on the roof of the indoor arena, I was able to get my horse's attention and have a good ride. Tomorrow could be even better, or it could offer new lessons.

Whatever it offers, whatever appears through the next door we open, I hope that the birthdays this year are followed by many, many more for both horses. 

Happy birthday to both my ponies--you give me gifts every day so there will be something special tomorrow, I promise.