Monday, February 25, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

Gorgeous Day!

But, the ground is slippery! What happened is that the ground underneath is still frozen while the top layer is melting in the sun. Our topsoil tends to have clay in it, so it gets slick. Days like this, being able to ride in the sand company across the way would be grand. I have to talk to them to see if there is a place I could ride over there for a hack. The former sand pit back of me has been restored to nature by the State environmentalists, so that too has the slippery soil.

The good thing is that once the lower layer thaws, the wet will drain quickly as our soils are very permeable. By the by, shoes or no shoes, the horses would slip. My ring is OK, as the sand on top offers grip, but as I've said, if I ride in it too much we cut down into the clay sublayer and wreck that base. Fortunately, all the paddock areas the horses have been in are chopped up enough that they are not smooth enough to be slippery.

So, once more, I did not ride.

Sorry for the sad tale yesterday, but it is a part of my horse owning life that needs to be remembered. These creatures we have chosen to love and who have chosen us can be so fragile. It's really amazing when you also consider how strong and reslient they can also be.

My PJ was a good example of that. When I bought him, he appeared to be a tough customer. The dealer was cautious about handling him because he bit, threatened to kick, and even, as I found out soon after I bought him, would attack in the stall. Since he was a bulky 16.2, built much more like a big warmblood than a Thoroughbred, he was downright scary. But from the first moment I sawy him, I knew he was a Jekyl-Hyde fellow, who really did appreciate a gentle touch.

I really wasn't worried about his behavior because my Russell R. had so often tried to bite--a long story of never being able to cure him of a naughty habit--that I was quite skilled at dodging. As for the kicking, I honestly never saw PJ even try so that wasn't even a concern.

Attack mode was pretty scary, but I noticed two things right off. The first was that he only seemed aggressive towards men. The second was he never really made a real move to connect. And third, he seemed to be provoked by the stall cleaning tools. I quickly began to suspect he had been abused by a groom with a pitchfork in his stall, perhaps because he acted grouchy or just was bigger than all the other horses handled.

I decided to protect him from himself by only using voice corrections when he misbehaved and then reassuring him afterwards that it was really OK and I understood. I was always extra cautious if I went in the stall with a manure fork and warned everyone else not to clean the stall with PJ in it. It was a full year before I raised a hand to him and then, as I recall, he did something potentially dangerous in the stall and I threw a brush at him for it. He backed off at once and stood, looking at me with such a dejected expression, I ended up hugging him in delight because he had not overreacted to my "attack." From that point on, I was able to handle him as a normal horse. But, to be frank, it was perhaps another 5 years before I no longer kept an eye on him when I walked into his stall with the manure fork. Every once in a while, he would still make a move as if to attack the fork.

All that said, I was blessed to be one of the first horsemen in New Jersey to discover equine acupuncture. PJ's training was very erratic with good days, bad days, wonderful days, and horrible days. Vet exams and bute proved to do nothing to change his behavior, so I was getting convinced he had mental problems. Then, one of my friends introduced me to Dr. Joyce Harmon, a vet who was pioneering acupunture for horses.

Dr. Harmon's initial exams of PJ targeted him as a perfect candidate for acupuncture. He was muscle sore all over. For the first treatment, PJ needed to be sedated as he was so reactive and protective of his body, but as time went on, he looked forward to the treatments and stood quietly and, I think happily as his pains were eased.

The change was so remarkable that a fellow dressage competitor I'd been riding against for several seasons was totally convinced I was riding a brand new horse! From that point on, PJ had regular checkups and treatments.

When Dr. Harmon moved away and I moved to a new stable, I was lucky enough to find Dr. James Kenney, an acupuncture/chiropractic vet with marvelous knowledge and instinct. Adding the chiropractic adjustments made an even bigger difference and PJ became a happier and happier horse.

My current vet, Dr. Elden Klayman is also an acupuncture/chiropractic vet and he kept PJ content for the rest of his years here at home.

And this is the moral of the story. The nasty attack horse I had purchased because he was a big, beautifully moving Thoroughbred, became one of the sweetest, wisest gentlemen I have ever known. He was an absolute angel to handle on the ground, good for the farrier, good for the vet, and good for anyone how needed to care for him. He never threatened to bite again that I can remember and he loved to get "chinnies" whenever I was cleaning his stall or picking the paddocks or arena. He would walk over to me as I tried to pick up the manure with that evil fork, put his head on my hand and insist that I scratch him under his chin. He loved it.

And I loved him.

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