Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shoeless Wonder?

I'm pretty sure this is an earlier event photo as the fence is a bit smaller. I don't have any other cross country photos. Somewhere there may be a video, if I have it, but otherwise, the photographers seemed to be pretty scant at my events back then. Ironic that both pictures have a barrel jump as I think they were at different venues. I love how forward he looks here. The jump is nothing to him and he's just galloping on. There's nothing quite like the feeling when a horse is committed to his job like that.
Horses I Have Known: Part 4

Current news: Scott and I decided to pull Tucker's other shoe, so he is now barefoot. The footing/snow/mud are going to be pretty bad for the next month, and I figured I'd be calling Scott every week to replace lost shoes. Scott took a good look at his feet and decided they were in good shape, so it was worth a try. He too agreed that we'd have trouble with the footing for the rest of winter. Please note: Scott also said, "Now it's going to be all over the Internet that you've gone barefoot." Guess he's right, but don't spread it around. *G* I have the supplement Caroline suggested on order since none of the feed suppliers around here seem to stock it. (Might have tried a bit further south, but chose a farmer's co-op near where I used to board.) We'll see how it goes.

But back to the story.

I don't seem to have many pictures of Russell eventing, and the little set of dressage pictures I did find are pretty bad, so you'll have to trust me on this one. I did find copies of a number of scored tests I rode on him, and at training, first, and second level, our scores were nearly all up in the 60% range so we did pretty well. At least one first place showed up, some seconds, and a few other scattered ribbons, so we were competitive. I schooled him to third level before we were done competing, so that wasn't too bad.

But Russell didn't want to be a dressage horse. He wanted to jump, and jump he did. Our first event, as I recall, was at Amwell Valley. The course is long gone, but it was a nice combination of forest and field. Russell ran out at the first fence, as he really had limited experience jumping cross country fences. (Princeton Riding Center had a small course, but not much and we were pretty green to the whole eventing thing.) But once he figured out we were supposed to go over things instead of around them, there was no stopping him. We finished the rest of the course clean and had a clean stadium round as well. I don't think we placed, but who cared? We had a blast!!

Best of all, I had discovered the sheer pleasure of knowing exactly when I was going to ride instead of suffering a long day at the show grounds waiting for my class to be called. I was hooked!

And obviously, so was Russell. He loved it. I honestly can't remember his ever refusing a jump until we moved up to a more competitive level and got in a bit over our heads. (Not our bodies, but our heads....more on that later.) Our dressage wasn't always the best but the rest was always wonderful.

My favorite was our first time out at Training Level--back then, fences of 3'3"-3'6". (It has changed now.) This was a course at what is now the New Jersey Horse Park in the rolling countryside of the wildlife management area. Some of the jumps are still there although the new cross country course--a three star international course--is in a much more confined area.

It had rained for several days before the event and the dressage footing was a bit "iffy." Our score was on the dismal side and had us lying in 9th or 10th at the start of cross country. I'd walked the course at least twice and had all my plans made. I had five fences that worried me a bit. The first was a rather narrow set of rails off line from another fence, the kind that invited a run out if you didn't get a good line. The second had (You'll like this, Caroline.) a hedge sticking up out of it close to 10 inches above maximum height. (The trick here is for the horse to brush through the greenery, so the added height was legal.) The third was a combination of fences. The first was off a sharp left turn, before a dirt road crossing, and the second was slightly off line, and down into the woods on the other side of the road. The fourth one was a hay bale "window" set at the bottom of a steep hill. The last one was a slight drop fence to a ditch. (Russell did not like ditches at all.)

I decided to really focus on my steering at the first one, close my eyes on the hedge and pray, take the long way around on the combination (all the other course walkers seemed to be deciding to cut the corner and approach the first fence from the left, forcing them to then turn right to take the fence into the woods.), and get a straight line to the second fence. For the hay bales, I intended to trot down the steep hill, not worried about whether Russell would jump, but rather concerned about galloping down the hill itself, and getting too flat to be able to jump. By the time we would get to the ditch, I hoped we'd have enough momentum to just go through before he realized what was happening.

We started off, and by the second fence-- a stone wall in the forest-- I was in tears. I could feel Russell's absolute committment under me, and I knew all I had to do from then on was steer and hang on. The narrow fence? Simple? The hedge? Well the photographer had a picture of me that later showed up in a national magazine and to say that I was left behind..."hailing a cab" is a suitable description, as was pretty clear Russell jumped the full 4'6" and didn't brush through anything. My choice of the long option paid off and we hit both fences at the road perfectly and galloped on. The hay bales? Well, Russell would have no patience with trotting anywhere. We galloped full tilt down the hill and through without a second thought. (I didn't have time to think anyhow.) I almost lost the track I was supposed to follow to the ditch jump which was set in a hedge row. Then I heard people yelling, "Heads up, rider coming through!!" There was another rider stuck in between the drop jump and the ditch, which her horse had refused. She dodged to the left just as I arrived. Frankly, I'm not sure I could have stopped if I tried. Russell knew his job and we sailed through, over the ditch and out with the stuck rider urging her horse to follow our lead. One more big log before the finish line flashed under us as I gave out a shout of joy and we were across the line, fault free. Despite my choice of the long option, we didn't have any time faults either.

When I looked at the results of the cross country, Russell and I had moved up to about 4th or 5th place. Apparently the short option at the road crossing had caught a good number of my competitors off guard. Now we were in the ribbons.

Remember the rain? The jumping field for the stadium was a quagmire. It was heavy mud. The kind where the horse sank in up to his pasterns and by the time my division was called, the footing was really sticky. There were some tricky lines again and one narrow fence on a turn to the right. I watched a few rounds before me and there was one refusal after another. Some missed the narrow fence and others simply struggled. Then it was our turn. To this day, I do not know how he did it. I'd get Russell to the bottom of the fence, and I could feel him sink in the mud, and he'd launch himself over. All I had to do was get him to the jump and he'd figure out how to get us up in the air. He never touched a rail and, as it proved later was one of the only clean rounds of the day. I'm in tears even now remembering that feat. There was one fence in a double combination that felt impossible once we got there--the take off footing was so bad. But every inch of Russell's body committed to getting us over it and over it we went.

The competition was over. I was sure I'd placed, but where? The announcer began calling the winners in reverse order. She passed fourth place and still didn't call our number. Third place...nothing. And then, I started to run up the hill to the secretary's stand. Second place...someone else. There was no doubt. We were in first. My marvelous, amazing event horse had won one of the biggest events in the area at that time.

Incredible heart. Super athletic ability. And all those hours of gymnastic schooling. Russell could jump almost anything within his scope from almost any spot, in almost any conditions, because that's how he had been trained. He knew how to jump. He won on that stadium course because we had jumped hundreds of cross rails and been faced with dozens of jumping questions in exercise after exercise. He'd learned to be supple in the dressage, understood how to adjust his stride, to change his balance, and knew his job to the letter.

He was an event horse.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snow Shoed

Here's a picture of Russell and me eventing. This is what he looked like all grown up. No, we're not going in the wrong direction. That number was either for the fence judge or for one of the other divisions. White flag on left...

Horses I Have Known: Part 3

The main heading? Tucker lost a shoe sometime yesterday. This is the first time he's lost one in the snow. Considering how horrible the footing will be for the next month or so, I am seriously thinking of pulling his other front shoe as well, but I will only do that if Scott, my shoer, thinks it will be OK. He knows Tucker's feet and what the possibilities are. Trouble is, with the soggy footing under the snow, I guess, there was mud? As time goes on, all we are going to have is more mud. While I can opt to turn Tucker out in the arena, that is still no guarantee that the combination of melting snow and wet sand will help keep his shoe on. But we will see how it all pans out.

On with Russell's story. You were all kind telling me how beautiful he was, but as I look at those pictures, I still see the immature, not so special baby horse with a beautiful head. The horse pictured above is another story.

I realized after about two years of training on my own that I needed help if Russell was every going to reach his full potential. I'd managed to teach him to walk, trot, and canter under saddle, and he was fairly well along but I wanted to jump. Enter The Princeton Riding Center and Prudence Morgan. After a long search watching lots of lessons, I found Princeton and never looked back.

Pru had been short listed for the US Olympic Eventing Team when her horse Brownie broke a bone in his foot and had to be retired. She had studied at Morven Park in Virginia and was an exceptional horsewoman and teacher. To this day, I still say she was one of the finest teachers of any subject I ever had. And, boy, was she keen on the basics. For the first half year or so, I wasn't allowed to ride Russell in the lessons, but rather had to learn from a wide range of exceptionally well trained school horses. At this point, I'd been riding for at least eight years, and I had no idea of how little I actually knew.
I was put in the advanced class and later found out I was given some of the more complex horses to ride, but my goodness, did I work. I had to completely fix my seat. I had to learn how to use my hands effectively. And, I had to learn dressage basics with tons of flat work, even before I was allowed to jump my first little crossrail. The golden graduation day came when Pru finally told me I could start bringing Russell to the Center to start using him as my lesson horse.

Now by this time, Russell, thinking he was suffering under the new skills I was developing, had decided that I was never to touch him with the riding crop, even to urge him on if I needed more energy. He developed a nasty buck. When Pru saw him let loose with me, she decided to get on him herself and fix the problem. She mounted up and gave him a tap. Russell bucked and leapt some ten feet through the air only to stop as she steered him into the wall. "Well," said Pru, "he mustn't do that." Then I saw the event rider screw her seat into the saddle, turn him around and use the crop again. Up they went, sailing through the air for some twenty feet, with Pru using the crop on his rump while they were airborne. They landed and off they went again, this time landing in the middle of another riding lesson at the far end of the arena. (I can still remember the other trainer grabbing her student's horse's bridle and just kind of gaping in astonishment as they flew by.) One more half hearted buck with the crop swatting him, and Russell, clever fellow that he was, decided surrender was the better option. "H-m-m-m," said Pru as she trotted him in a circle, "I think we'll have to work on this next time." Russell had met his match, and he knew it. From that day on, I could use the crop if I needed it, and although he still was insulted, I can't recall that he ever bucked again like that.

Gymnastics and dressage training were the focus of every lesson at PRC. Just so you know I really did know what I was doing over fences once upon a time, here I am jumping in a clinic with no hands and no stirrups. Oh yes, sometimes when he was being silly, Russell would still offer little naughty bucks and I think he let one fly during one of these jumps that day. But it was no big deal any more and I learned to laugh at his antics. Less than a month after my first lessons with Russell at PRC, I had learned to get him to stretch and use his back correctly on the flat. He won a pleasure horse division championship at a big horse show the next time we competed. There were 25-30 horses in every class and he won them all. For years, he was virtually undefeated on the flat. Our jumping was a bit more challenging, mostly because of me. In hunter classes here in the US, striding to a fence is critical. It's all about creating the perfect round with the horse meeting every jump from the ideal distance. I never had a great "eye" for a fence, so trying to create the ideal picture wasn't always easy for me. However, when I got it right, there was a good chance we'd finish in first place and we often did. Russell had well over 150 show championships and reserve championships before I stopped counting altogether.
I don't remember how we finished the day the last picture was taken, but he looks good to me.
This was all before I discovered eventing.
But that's another part of the story.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Yes, There's a Weather Report Too!

Horses I Have Known: Part 2

We probably have another foot of snow out there. Hard to tell, though as it's been blowing and drifting. The barn did not escape. There is snow in the aisle that blew through the top of the big sliding door on the south side. I really need some kind of baffle up there, but the barn swallows use the opening for passage so.... And Chance's stall despite opening into a run in shed roof was hit. As a matter of fact, I closed his top and bottom doors for the night and left him in. It gave him a bit of a break from getting stuck out if the bully Boys decided to chase him, and it kept his stall a bit drier. As it is, all the stalls are pretty messy this morning. I picked out some to tidy them up, but I'm in for a major cleaning later. But I will need to shovel a path to the manure pile first. Yippee....*sigh* By the way, it's still snowing.

On to the previous tale.

After college (the university) I was hired as a full time teacher in September, 1971. As soon as I had a job, I was off on my hunt for a horse of my own. Back then good horses were to be had for $500 or so. These were show quality animals, ones you'd be glad to compete today. I found plenty of ads to follow up on.

I drove hither and yon. In south New Jersey, I tried a young Thoroughbred that was just a bit too wiggly and green for me. In north New Jersey I found another nice prospect that was a cribber, so passed on him. I found another nice boy a bit closer to home, but when I had the vet look at him, he didn't pass. There was an Anglo Arab I nearly bought, but changed my mind before I closed the deal. And not too far away, at a local boarding stable, I tried and loved a nice show jumper. But again, when my vet looked at him, he too failed to pass. That was a bit of a nasty experience because the horse had been regularly shod by the barn owner, and the job was so bad, it caused chronic, low grade lameness. My vet and the barn owner got into a bit of a tiff about that one, so I certainly wasn't ever going to be able to go back there.

That was when my vet suggested I visit a dealer he knew in South Jersey. He told me the guy was honest and had nice horses.

I called Mr. M soon after, and he told me he had a nice young Thoroughbred for sale at $1500. That was way over my budget, but he insisted I really ought to see this horse, and he'd be willing to work on the price for me.

In less than a week, I met Russell R. for the first time. At just under three years old, he was one of the prettiest horses I'd ever seen. You'll have to understand here that I hadn't known many Thoroughbreds at this point, and Russell had gorgeous head with a lovely expression. To top it off, he had the attitude to match. He was quiet and, although green, walked, trotted, and cantered more willingly than most of the horses I'd been riding for years.
December 11, 1971, the day I tried Russell at the dealer. Back then we didn't wear hemets, and I was still not in breeches. You can just get a little feel for Russell's expression here, but he was a sweetie that day.

Now, whether Mr. M. was giving me a phony sales pitch or not, I'll never know, but he offered to sell me Russell for $1000 because he thought we made such a nice pair and he was sure I'd give him a good home. He said someone else had offered him more, but I had the right of first refusal. At that point, I nearly panicked. Not because I was afraid I'd lose the deal, but because I knew full well that buying a three year old, green Thoroughbred was not the smartest thing to do. I told Mr. M. I'd need to think about it, so he told me that was OK. I was to call him by the next day to let him know.

I went home and tossed and turned the idea in my head. I called some friends, no more expert than I, but at least they knew horses. Before the night was over, I called Mr. M, and the deal was closed. Russell was mine.

Again, I'm not too sure how I found my first boarding barn, but it might have been through the minister at my church. At any rate, in about a week, I'd spent the money to get new grooming supplies, a nice Baker blanket, and was all set up for Russell's arrival. Little did I know my decision was going to take me on an incredible journey, one that's led me now to Toby, Tucker and Chance.
Russell soon after I bought him. That's the barn owner holding him. This was probably around Christmas, 1971. Russell arrived on December 18. The bandages? Probably to wrap one of the many little bangs he got soon after I got him. Better to wrap both legs instead of just one.

Russell bucked me off on the very first time I rode him--out on a trail near the barn. I remember tromping back to the stable, furious and determined to find the barn owners upset and worried about me as they held Russell's reins. I climbed back on, and rode him right back out to where I'd gone off, and finished up the ride in the saddle. I learned that day, and every day afterward that he wasn't one of those kinds of horses I'd ridden before--he was Thoroughbred and taught me to adore the breed with all its quirks and temperaments.

Russell was, by far, one of the most itelligent horses I've ever known. And he loved people. In a lot of ways, Chance reminds me of him. Russell would play with blankets, never miss an opportunity to get into some kind of mischief, and constantly keep me on my guard. He loved life and taught me to love horses beyond imagining. I learned about riding, training, handling, basic vet care, how to enjoy success and how to cope with utter failure from him. He was my rock on the days when my classes at school overwhelmed me, and my laughter when he pulled one of his many pranks.
As I look back now, I know that buying Russell was one of the best things I've ever done.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Am I, Crazy?? It's Gotta Be the Snow

Why I Love to Ride and Horses I Have Known: Part 1

But first we take a station break for a weather report. Guess what? It is snowing--a lot. We may get another 12-18 inches according to one weather forecast. Then again, we may not. But if it keeps coming down like it is now, we will.

OK, enough of that. I'm repeating myself. I'm repeating myself. *lol*

Aside from the fair ponies, I was not a child rider. In fact, I did not officially ride a horse until I was in 7th grade, at about 11-12 years old. My mind is foggy on that now. Was I ever really that young? At any rate, I joined the school riding club, run by the art teacher who just happened to have a farm, horses, and the strange urge to give lessons. As I recall, back then, a lesson was about $2.00 or so.

My "Don't get hurt on those darn horses" Mother, blessed woman that she was decided to pay my way and come to the farm to pick what was left of me up each week and so it all began.

Initially, my teacher used some Standardbreds owned by an eccentric old man in a nearby town. Gee, I nearly forgot that. I know she had her own horses because I can recall an early lesson on a lovely one eyed mare named Bonnie who thought trot was the only possible gait a horse could do out on the trail.

I have a picture of me on one of the Standardbreds at a little show on the farm. No helmet, no real riding boots, just jeans and a look of "I'm cool" on my face even though it's painfully obvious I hadn't a clue as to what I was doing. I don't really remember much about my lessons at the old man's place, but I guess I learned to at least sit in the saddle and steer. But I'm pretty sure that by the time summer vacation rolled around, we were at the teacher's farm using her horses instead.

That's where I took one of my first painful trail rides on Bonnie. For some reason, despite my musical training and a fairly active life, I simply could not figure out how to post the trot. My teacher was not really a very good riding teacher as far as cementing the basics, so she didn't have any exercises to help me. (I have tons of ideas as to how to help a rider develop a seat and learn to post now, so my rather horrid beginning has served me well in learning how to help others avoid the agony themselves.) I think it took me all summer to learn how to go up and down with the horse's rhythm and the day it happened was one of the most wonderful moments of my life! But then again, perhaps my bouncing beginnings did teach me from an early age how to sit the trot really well--at least well enough to stay on.

Progress came slowly for me. I fell off just about once a week. I always dusted myself off, remounted and tried again, and again and again. Eventually, one week I managed to stay in the saddle for the whole lesson and suddenly the psychological barrier was broken. From then on, I tended to stick my landings in the saddle instead of the dirt.

My teacher's horses were varied creatures. There were a few sweet steady ones, like Bonnie and Cameron. Then there was Silver, the little gray pony who delighted in watching his riders cry, but when he was on, he could read your mind about a jump course and just take you around as soft as anything.

And then there were the auction horses. My teacher used to go to the local horse auction--which is still operating--to buy new prospects both for her lesson program and for resale. We kids would get to try them out back at the farm.

Now, mind you, at this point, I was one of the advanced students. I was earning part of my lesson money by cleaning stalls and watering horses, so there was lots of time to spend at the barn. And everytime a new horse arrived one of us would be the first in the saddle. I've lost all their names in my memory bank. One reared up and jumped a fence backwards with one of our male riders--gutsy kid just kept on going. A few were great, and some ran off. One of my favorite memories was of a big, stocky pinto who'd been owned by an old man. The horse had discovered that if he bucked, the guy would get off and put him away. As a result, the horse was as fat as could be with marshmellows instead of muscle and a big attitude about bucking. I was one of the first on his back. He let fly with me and, dumb as I was, I sat it out, let him buck again, and then somehow managed to get him going forward to follow my teacher on her big Thoroughbred out for a long trail ride. When we got back, fat pinto was huffing and puffing, but he'd forgotten about the buck in favor of just tying to keep his legs holding up his body.

In less than a year, fat pinto had won the year end state 4-H trail championship and was in a new loving home, completely rehabilitated.

There was another naughty horse I remember too. A big chestnut who figured out that rearing was a way to get out of work. My teacher decided to take him out on the trail too, with me in the saddle. We got to the end of the driveway, and up he went on two back legs. I was prepared, and knowing his reputation had read a dozen books on how to ride a rearing horse. That was when I learned the method I use today. Drop an inside hand way down low, lean forward, spin the horse in a tight circle and kick or use the whip to keep him spinning. Then, come out of the spin and ride forward.

To my utter surprise, it worked. After about three attempted rears and three spins, the horse surrendered and off we went for a lovely ride. I rode that horse a lot afterwards and at one point wanted to by him for myself. That might have been a good idea because essentially, I was the only person who could ride him safely, as he never stopped rearing with other riders. He didn't even try with me. I think, however, that he died of colic, so it was never to be.

Somewhere along the way, I met a kid at school who had a horse he wasn't riding any more. He was a big dun horse named Tawny Pippett. He would jump anything, but wasn't exactly a quiet ride on the flat. Still, a horse was a horse and soon, when he was handed over to another girl who lived down the road from my teacher, I got myself into a part lease situation and that was that. Tawny and I became a team.

It's funny. As I write this, I find I have lost far too many horse's names and specific moments. Someone once said of me, "You don't have any baggage," and I suppose, to some degree, that's true. I don't tend to hang on to all my memories the way some people do. Fortunately, I have pictures to remind me of the big things, and some long term memory of all the things I learned about riding along the way.

I'll work on the horse names. Perhaps some of them will come back to me as I write about them.

Part 2 will be about Tawny and me as well as a search for a horse of my own.

Hey, at least it's something to write about as the snow falls...and falls...and falls....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Crash of Thunder

Why I Love My Horses

There is another storm coming. Reports vary on what it will be, but right now the best description seems to be a "winter hurricane." Snow? How much? Who knows. Six inches according to one report, but another says, "Potential for heavy snow." Either way, it does not explain why I have been hearing the crash of thunder in my computer headphones. Since I don't have my speakers hooked up, the sound is faint but unmistakeable.

Turns out that after you load the Weather Channel forecast to your desktop, the sound begins. If I understand what I read, it's basically there to warn when there is a severe weather alert in your area, but I'm pretty sure I was hearing it on clear days as well. It's kind of neat, but I'm sure in the long run it would get tiring. I found a link that tells me how to shut if off, so that's fine too. At least I know I am not losing my mind as I wasn't sure at first if it was my imaginination working overtime in this neverending winter.

But on to the topic of the day, since it's so soggy out there horse efforts will once again be curtailed. Although I do have to go get feed and figure out how to back the truck up to the tack room without totally destroying the very wet lawn underneath. Ah well, I'll cross that hurdle when I come to it.

And I do love my horses. I would probably love any horse I'd own, and most horses I don't own as well. The fact is, that for as long as I can remember I loved horses, even before I knew one personally--or is that horsenally.

I've often wondered about that. My paternal grandmother was apparently a horse addict of sorts, so it's possible the trait is inherited. All I know is that from the first time I remember seeing a horse, I was in love. Every year, at the County Fair, I somehow managed to convince my parents I needed a pony ride and when I was a bit older, I think I spent one whole evening leading the pony rides just to earn a ride as payment. I don't recall seeing anything else at the fair that year, just the ponies. It was more than enough for me.

Still down in my basement is an antique rocking horse worn to a frazzle by the hours I spent galloping the plains with him. And from who knows what age, I have a collection of model horses of varied quality many of which are now displayed in my living room cabinets. I used to eagerly shop in the toy department of JJ Newberry's in New Brunswick--a store long gone now because they had the nicest little plastic toy horses you could ever want. I'd save up my pennies until I could afford a new one, and my mother would set me free in the store to shop till I dropped. I still have the collection I amassed. I suppose they might be worth a little money now, but sometimes fond memories are hard to part with.

When I was about ten years old, one of my cousins inspired me with a brilliant idea--to start a savings account so I could buy my own horse. For over tweny years, I put every spare coin I had into that account, building it up to a nice tidy sum for a kid.

When I was in the 7th grade, I entered our then 7-12 year high school and met the art teacher of my dreams. She had horses, and even better, ran a school riding club taking students home with her to give them riding lessons after school. (This was in the days before anyone ever thought of lawsuits.) I was in heaven and convinced my poor mother it was the only thing I'd ever really wanted to do. Since, for the first year or so, I fell off pretty regularly, my mother would come to pick me up after the lesson and sit in the car with her hands over her eyes. I think I all the years I rode, she and my Dad came to perhaps one horse show to see me ride. Other than that, I can still hear her voice nearly every time I head out to saddle up, "Be careful with those darn horses."

And yet, when I had to send my sweet Si--the young horse I later lost on the surgery table--for colic surgery, it was my mother who bailed me out with the large vet bills. She never said a thing but just gave me the money to save my horse's life. (Si died after a second colic surgery some six weeks later.)

When I finally graduated college and was hired as a teacher in the school I stayed with for 38 years, I was ready to buy my own horse. Since I had leased a horse for many years, I was fairly competent at that point, and fairly well prepared for ownership.

I won't in this post, go into detail about my horse search, but I ended up with my Russell R., and that was the beginning of a "love affair" I've never quite gotten over. My time with him taught me the full power of my obsession with horses and how potent that kind of love can be.

Now, horses are a part of my life as essential to me as food and shelter. I thinkt that's why even when the weather is too horrible to allow me to ride, I am essentially content. All I need to do is go out to the barn and drink in the smell of horses. Just seeing one of my Boys walk across the paddock or take a drink of water makes me smile. Better yet if I go out with carrots and listen just one horse bite down and crunch I am delighted. And, oh, I relish the thrill of having a horse lean into my hand as I scratch his chin. Getting slobbered on is a joy and ducking a bite is a just another one of those pleasures I can't seem to escape--my Boys can be quite naughty. My body just "knows" how to move around my horses, nine times out of ten stepping aside just in time to avoid a hoof or swishing tail. While they do "respect my space," the Boys are still horses and sometimes forget me a little. I am ever watchful of their body language, but it is second nature to me, almost as if I am part of their society.

Yes, I wish Tucker were less difficult to train. Yes, I wish riding were easy and we could look like one of those top riders in the Olympics. Yes, I wish I had an indoor and tons of money to throw away indulging my Boys with every luxury a horse could ever want.

And yet, these are my Boys. I would not trade one of them for an Olympic mount. We have a kinship and a mutual understanding. I take care of them and they let me into their world.

It's almost as good as that first pony ride at the fair.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's Raining

Perfect Weather for Ducks

Yesterday morning as I was feeding the Boys, I heard a strange bird squawk outside. It was loud enough to send the Boys scurrying from the barn, despite the fact that their feed tubs will full, to see what was going on. I too hurried out to see two fair sized birds fly by and realized they were ducks. Fine, we have water nearby, so nothing too strange there, except that they were flying only about 10-15 feet off the ground.

The, a minute or so later, the noise started up again. I stepped out to see the pair of ducks walking out in the riding arena. The sqawk was now more of a kind of hoarse, "Quack" I suppose. Tucker and Toby were very interested and headed out to confront the birds. The ducks seemed not at all afraid and just kept waddling along. These were white and gray looking ducks, with a brown band around the larger one's neck. Most of our wild duck population are brown mallards, so this pair was a bit unusual, but I was convinced at the time they were some wild breed.

But once I got into the house and began researching on the Internet, I could not find a matching wild duck anywhere. However, there were a number of illustrations of possible domestic/wild crosses that might match. Trouble is, I thought they were a pair--male/female--which would mean two nearly identical crosses had mated. It's also possible that they were domestic ducks escaped from somewhere into the wild. I think I heard the same sound another morning, so chances are fair that I will see these two again. Wish once more I'd had my camera in hand, but it was in the house.

Still, it is a bit unusual to have ducks actually land and visit my little farm. Wild turkeys, yes, and even Canada geese, but this is the first duck visit. Guess they were anticipating the rain. *G*

The snow is melting slowing in the rain, but it's not really very warm today--in the mid 30'sF. Tomorrow the temperature is supposed to rise, so I have some hope we'll get rid of more of the white stuff. But, as I've said before, that means mud.

Mud means I have to manage Tucker's turnout again, which is a bit of an annoyance. I prefer having my whole little herd together, but I must admit he seems to be pretty good about being separate from his buddies. Then again, I can't say the arena fence fares quite as well. (Note the picture at the top of my blog. *vbwg*)

Claire noted that our blogs lately seem more like weather reports than horse blogs. But that just proves how closely both are related. Unless you have excellent and easy access to indoor facilities, you are at the mercy of the weather.

The perfect situation would be: the barn, attached by a walkway to an indoor. But the indoor, for me, would need the potential to have the sides open in the nice weather. That way, in the summer, you could take advantage of the shade inside without being totally confined. I'd still have an outdoor arena as, given the option, I always prefer riding outside. But an indoor is a wonderful option for bad weather.

Dream on. I do not have enough land here to build an indoor, and I definitely do not have the money. There is a woman I know who has a gorgeous barn and a gorgeous indoor big enough for carriage driving--horses not ponies. Between the barn an indoor is a large garage area with a horse walkway where they store the carriages. It's a place to dream about.

But, if I had a place like that, I could not care for it myself. It's the kind of farm that needs workers to keep it well maintained. In some ways, that takes some of the pleasure out of owning horses for me. Small works for me.

Yet I can still dream.

After all, there's not much else to do when the weather's like this.

Weather addendum: From Paralyzing blizzard nor'easter coming up the coast for Thursday and Friday. You've got to be kidding!!!! Not. It does not look good for New Jersey. Hope this rain washes away what we have on the ground already. This is depressing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rescued Horses And Such

What to Do?

I just came back here after visiting Hercules the Horse on Facebook. If you don't know his story, here it is in a nutshell. Hercules showed up in the kill pen at an auction. Because he was a gorgeous big guy who looked to have once been a star somewhere, and because the horse rescue folk were there, they bought him. A search for his indentity later revealed he had once been a hardworking jumper/show horse for a fairly well known local trainer who had told people he had been put down. Herc had a foot issue and was recovering from white line disease, but his lameness was certainly not debilitating and he was quite a good candidate for a long and healthy retirement. He is now safe in a good rescue with the promise of a happy life.

Good heavens, he already has a Facebook page, a fan club, and is, apparently being spoiled to death. Oh, yes, he has another badge of honor in his book which is that while he was at the auction, he apparently bit a very unloved horse dealer.

OK, so here's the thing. One day, the horse you own will no longer be rideable. Time or injury will take its toll. What do you do? As some of us know all too well, placing our beloved horse in a new home can be a risky business. Unless we are able to check up on his care, who knows what will happen? There are, unfortunately, too many people out there who are less than honest. So, while it can be a wonderful solution, it can also be a snakepit.

Retire your old horse at home? To my mind the best option, but that means you need the place, you need the money, and you will probably want to have another, more able horse to ride in his place, thereby doubling your horse keeping expenses overall. Then again, keeping a horse at home does definitely cost less than boarding out, and if the retiree needs minimal extra care beyond good food and shelter, it can be the way to go.

Put your horse in a retirement "home?" There are a number of reputable retirement farms for horses. I had a friend who did just that with her retired dressage horse and he lived happily to a ripe old age. But this is still boarding, and while it will probably cost less than full board at a working stable, it is money. Do you have it? Again, if you still want to ride, then you will have the added expense of your riding horse as well--two mouths to feed rather than one.

Give your horse to an adoption group and let them do the legwork of finding a good home? This can work, and it can backfire. The trouble is that right now, most adoption groups are at capacity. Finding a safe place for one more horse is not an easy task. Again, you'd have to make sure the adoption group was totally responsible and reputable as well. There have been some horror stories here too.

Just keep your horse where he is and keep on paying? When I was boarding, that's exactly what I did, since as far as I was concerned, I had no choice. My Russell was no longer rideable, due to navicular, but he was healthy otherwise and more than pasture sound. Since he had given me nearly twenty years of hard work, loyalty, and love, the expense was simple payment in return. I was lucky enough to be able to afford board on two horses at the time, so I could manage, and to this day, I never regret a penny I spent on letting him live out his life in the style to which he was accustomed. BUT!!! This is a big expense.

That leave the less appealing, but perhaps kinder alternative--euthanasia. Years ago, my friend and I took on a young Thoroughbred that had failed at the track and was being given away for free. We eventually found him a good home, but his pasturemate, was euthanized by the racehorse breeder. The second horse was lame, his racing career was finished, and, in all probability, he had little hope for the future as a riding horse. While it was sad, the owner refused to send the horse to the kill pens/slaughter and instead chose to end his life humanely.

I have mixed emotions about this that transcend logic. From all I know of slaughter of US horses, it is far from humane, so I know I would never send one of my horses off that way. But, would I euthanize? With Russell, there was no option. He had gone down and could not get up. He had given up and it was clear the time had some to end his suffering (laminitis). But my PJ was lame from ringbone, but still happy and content in his life. He was well able to get around, had a good appetite, and seemed quite secure. Would I have known when it was time? (PJ also had a serious heart defect which did kill him, but from all I could see and from what my vet said, he died a quick, natural death with little pain.)

I know with the cats I have owned, I have always known when the time had come to give up life for a humane end. I hope I will with my horses should that day come. But is it the answer for a retiree who is well enough to live on and has just outlived his usefulness?

What do we owe our horses? How much can we afford to cherish them? I bless the rescuers out there who save the forgotten horses people have thrown away. In an ideal world there would be no need for rescue. But this is not an ideal world.

I know my Boys have a home here for life. But they are the lucky ones.

What about the others?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Sun Day

As The Snow Melts

At last I can see patches of grass/earth where there used to be only snow. From the forecasts, the next storm will be mostly rain, so perhaps we can at last be free of this white prison.

Of course that means controlled turnout for Tucker again as with the thaw will come the mud.

My big thrill of the day was being able to fill the water tub with the barn hose! Hopefully the hose I use for the tub in the arena will be thawed as well because if I have to put Tucker out there, I need water for him. The only other obstacle is that the big sliding door to the barn on that end was also frozen shut the last time I tried to move it. I need to pull the hose in that direction--or I will need to hook up another hose and drag it through Tucker's stall to fill the tub. Kind of a nuisance, but it's certainly better than lugging buckets of water over.

Church this morning and lunch afterwards so I was occupied for most of the day. There was a chill breeze blowing when I got home and still enough snow to discourage riding. I'll see how things look tomorrow and maybe get Chance out for a little ride in the woods. I'll see how the arena looks too. If the snow had melted enough to make a little workout in there feasible, I might do something with Tucker. After that, the week looks pretty bleak with rain or some kind of precipitation for about four days--mostly rain from the looks of it.

Not much to say otherwise. I did meet a woman from South Dakota at the party yesterday. Of course the topic of weather came up and she said how much she loved the snow. The storms we'd had here in New Jersey were "nothing" compared to what she was used to back home, but, I must admit she did offer some understanding of our problems. One thing that was very interesting to me is that she said the snow here is very different than the snow out west. Out there as deep as it gets, the snow is usually the light fluffy kind. Here, the more common snow is wet and heavy as it was in the last storm.

This makes a huge difference in handling it. The first February storm we had was the lighter kind of snow, so shoveling and plowing was annoying, but not a test of strength. The second storm, the one that dropped all the tree branches was wet and so heavy that one shovelful was a chore.

I always enjoy hearing other people's perspectives on the world. The snow "differential" was quite enlightening.

But noting other bloggers' posts about the weather, there seems to be one thing nearly all us horsemen seems to understand in common--mud. I guess unless you live in a world with little rain or very sandy soil, mud is the horseman's common denominator.

Even so, I am almost looking forward to it. It's one of those signs of Spring I have come to long for.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Little Solar Energy

The Warm Weather Continues

The warmer temperatures are still with us, so the snow is gradually melting. When I went to feed the Boys this afternoon, my solar energy panel was lit up and showing that at least a little energy was being generated. A few of the upper panels were uncovered, and if it stays like this tomorrow, I have hopes more will be clear.

The storm that's coming may well be rain rather than snow. That has plus sides and minus sides. The rain would was away the snow, but if it's followed by cold weather, as it well might be, then we will have an ice problem in its place. Then, I read that there is another storm forming out west of us that might turn into something else to worry about.

Ah well. I had a busy day that began with cleaning the aisle of the barn after the horses had spent the night ravaging it. I had left Tucker's stall gate unlatched when I came back in after late night feed. (Speak of the devil--as I did on my blog the other day--and sure enough, he comes...this time, I mentioned the mistake of leaving the aisle gate open and sure enough, that's exactly what I did.

I don't think Chance was involved too much in the raid as the blankets were not strewn all over the place. The few flakes of hay I'd left there were gone and there were several piles of manure tramples into the loose hay. The garbage can was overturned and trash was scattered all about.

I took the coil hose out, hooked it up to the spigot and let it fill the outside water tub while I swept and cleaned. It was a good workout for my morning exercise. I'm so glad I'd not brought the new bales of hay I'd carted over in the aisle, but instead left them on the cart outside the tack room door. Now that would have been a mess more than I could handle.

That done, I came back inside and in a little while, my good friend Shelley arrived. She is working on her doctoral thesis, and I am proofreading it with her. It was a long, exhausting late morning/afternoon in front of the computer, but we had a good time with lots of interesting discussions about the state of education in the US today. Shelley and I see eye to eye on many educational concepts and also agree about what is wrong in US schools, so talking about the concepts of her thesis was really fun.

Then, I attended a late afternoon/early evening jewelry party at another friend's house. I did end up buying something for myself, even though I really do not need any jewelry at all, but sometimes...well, you know how it goes.

Right now I am hoping I doubled checked the Boy's stall gates when I fed them dinner earlier. The last thing I need is to go out later tonight to find another mess to clean up.

Sometimes horses are worse than teenagers. *G*

Friday, February 19, 2010

More of The Same

But It Is Warmer

The sun is shining and the temperatures are above freezing--for the time being at least. The snow is melting, but when you have two feet of snow, that's not saying much and it's a long process. Trouble is, there is another storm headed this way for the beginning of the week. It's still not clear whether it will hit here, how much snow there might be, or if it will be a rainy mix instead. Frankly, this winter has caused enough trouble already.

The snow appears to be melting, although my solar panels are still under several inches of snow cover. The sun is helping but it has a long journey before its rays penetrate to the lower levels of white we're stuck under.

Meanwhile, I am trying to organize all my information for filing my income tax. Each year, here in the USA citizens are required to file a Federal Income Tax form to determine how much tax they are required to pay on their income. This year, mine is a mess. I have all kinds of little complications to sort out. Hopefully, I will have it all organized so I can file sooner than later. It is just a chore getting everything together.

This, of course, has prompted me to to a bit of cleaning. But around here, cleaning one thing triggers the necessity to clean something else, which necessitates something else....and so on. What starts off as a little project of tidying up becomes a large adventure in full scale cleaning. As I am not the most organized person to start off with, the challenge can be daunting. Oh well, it had to be done sooner or later.

I fed the Boys and cleaned the stalls this morning when I fed, so the basic outdoor chores are done, at least. With the horses turned out at will they do not make a big mess in their stalls. I'm a bit surprised this time of year, since I'd think they'd want to stay inside more, but I guess being out is far more entertaining for them.

I often think of horses that are kept in most of the time with very little turnout. I've read that in some of the top competition barns, some of the horses are in for the bulk of the day with the only time out when they are in a supervised exercise/training situation. I simply cannot believe that is good for them.

I grant you, 24/7 turnout may not be ideal and there is a lot to be said for keeping horses in under shelter for part of the day. When my horses were boarded out, they were usually inside either during the day or during the night as the season warranted, and they seemed perfectly content. But even then, to me, turnout was an essential service the boarding facility needed to provide. In most cases, it was turnout in a herd situation of some sort, with the geldings usually separated from the mares.

Horses are social animals and seem to be much more content with the contact and companionship of other horses. But, I suppose of you've spent thousands of dollars on a well bred competition horse, you are highly unlikely to want that horse out with other horses that might bite, kick, or injure him, even if it was in play.

We are our horses' caretakers, that's true, but how far should we go? Somehow I have to feel sorry for the horses that are so taken care of they never get a chance to simply be horses.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Fitness Game

And, Oh No, Not Another One!!

First the other one. When I came home from church last night, as the garage door opened, a gray cat dashed out of the garage. Patches is black and white, Mommycat is a very dark tabby, this cat was a light gray stripey. My big concern was that there was an ominously wide shape to this one in the belly area. I have a fear, a bad fear this may be a pregnant female. The very last thing I want around here is a litter of kittens, especially this time of year. I do not need a cat colony, and the world does not need another half dozen kitties needing homes.

It's too darn cold to set the trap too, although if I put it in the hay and go out to check every hour or so, it might be all right. But then what. I have to contact one of the kitty rescues to try to get a low cost spay, but that would mean keeping the cat "in custody" until arrangements could be made. That means setting up the kitty cage in the sunroom and keeping the kitty inside for a while, all of which requires a lot of due diligence on my part.

Not that I wouldn't do it, but, "What the heck do people think!!" How did these cats get here in the first place?? They didn't just drop out of the sky. Patches has the look of a once cared for kitty and the gray cat looked pretty good too. Now, grant you, Mommycat has been living outdoors for quite some time, but she has been well fed by both my neighbor and me, and she is spayed. It could be that Graykitty has been here longer than I realized and has been eating the dry food I leave out, that's true, but did she just fly in from outer space? Somehow I doubt it. I rather suspect, as with Patches and Mommycat, that someone just decided, "Oh, here's a farm let's dump the cat here. There are plenty of mice to eat and we'll just let it fend for itself. Farms always need cats."

Wrong!! Responsible farm owners like me do love cats, but we don't need any one else's cats. In fact, I don't want any outdoor cats here as our road is far too dangerous, and I don't ever want to have to scrape another dead kitty from the pavement. I will suffer my rats and mice to live until they drive me to distraction and then I will put out some rodent bait to do them in, thank you. And I do have a few resident snakes and perhaps a fox or two who might be of assistance. Most kitties I've known are not quite up to tackling a rat anyhow--that takes a special cat with ratter instinct/skill and I've only met one in my life.

So now, all I can do it worry, keep the kitty dish full of dry food and keep my eyes peeled to see if I can see the new stray again.

Muriel mentioned in her comment about the fact that Thoroughbreds and Arabians are easy to get fit, while other breeds are not. I've never had an Arab, but, as you know, most of my horses were TB's. And yes, TB's do get fit pretty quickly. As a matter of fact, it was one of the things Patrice Edwards mentioned in one of her clinics abouthow you do not have to drill a TB too much because their muscles build so quickly. But, I also had an Appaloosa and a Saddlebred in my care years ago and both of them were also pretty fit.

So what's the key? Regular work, with variation.

I try to never do the same exercises two days in a row. I have two theories about this. As we know, muscles need to get tired, break down a bit, and then rebuild stronger. They need time to do this. The second theory is that the horse's brain also needs to process the workout/lesson. You need to know your horse's individual "learning curve." Some horses need a lesson only once, others require lots of repetition. But most I've trained need a day or so "off" from a particular exercise to process the information so it can become a part of their thought pattern. If you've ever worked on an movement--let's say shoulder-in on Monday, and then found, on Tuesday, that your horse has no clue or seems to have forgotten where to put his feet, then he may well be the kind of horse that needs a day or two in-between the sessions to process the new concept. Again, once a horse really learns an exercise, it's OK to do it more often, but do remember that repeatedly exercising the same muscles and joints in the same way day after day can lead to fatigue and breakdowns.

If you have access to trails, that's great. If you have places to go for long trots/canters/gallops, that's even better. If you have hills, that's super. There is nothing better for getting a horse fit than hill work out in the open where you don't have to make sharp turns or stops. It's even more fun if the hills actually take you someplace so the whole training session can become an adventure.

I used to board across from a State Wildlife Preserve a local fox hunting club used as its "stomping ground." The terrain was varied, there were all kinds of hunt fences scattered about of various heights and difficulty and there were tons of places where you could take a long run if you wanted to. That's the perfect place to get a horse nice and fit.

But we're all not so lucky. The land around me now is relatively flat. I do have a hill in my pasture I can use and one little one in the paddock behind the barn. I this case, when I was "fitting" Tucker up because of his stifle, I'd trot large circles, going up and down the hills repeatedly. Trotting here is the key, because it's the gait that develops muscle in a horse.

Trotting loads and works each of the horse's four legs pretty evenly. For Tuck's stifles, I trotted him for 25 minutes every day--doctor's orders. This was exactly the protocol I used when I was riding and eventing Russell R., my first horse. While it does break my rule of giving a day off for muscle development to some degree, we were working on muscles in general, not specific muscles, and once we'd worked up to the 25 minutes, it was no big deal and simply kept the muscles fit. So, once the muscle is built up, it needs continual exercise to be maintained.

Galloping/cantering does build muscle too, but remember, as a lateral gait, it does not build up a horse evenly as trotting does. What this gait tends to build is stamina and wind. Listen to a relaxed horse breathe during the canter and you can almost hear his lungs at work.

I know I've mentioned this before, but an beloved Hungarian riding master I once rode with advocated galloping the dressage horse every day for at least four minutes. Again, no exercises, just a nice strong gallop--around the arena if there was no place else to do it. He said dressage horses were often worked too much in collection and did not have the stamina horses in other sports did. Again, it was a practice I used years ago and will use again once the weather breaks around here.

And don't neglect the walk. My original event trainer stressed it was a valuable gait. "But don't dawdle," she'd say. "Make sure when you are doing your road work that Russell really moves along at a good forward walk." The walk allows for recovery between periods of higher physical effort, but it serves no purpose if the horse doesn't use his muscles at all and just kind of "falls apart" into a go nowhere walk. Besides, a lazy walk makes it even harder to gear the horse back up to more intense work afterwards.

I know Tucker will be easy to get fit again. Toby, if I do ride him much will be a little trickier and need more TLC because he is now 20 and, even though his muscles were once used to some really hard work, they are very much out of shape now. I don't want to stress him too much at this point in his life, so his fitness will be less intense. Chance will be the interesting one. As a warmblood with a grade mare as his mother, he has the least Thoroughbred blood of any horse I've worked in years.

The good thing is, though, that so far, I can feel Chance start to get tired. The advantage there is that when he reaches that point, I know I need to just push him a little longer and then back off. This way, I can gauge each workout to his fitness on that day--tire the muscles, stress them, then let them rest to build up for the next time. TB's like Tucker and Toby to do not work that way. The will rarely, if ever, give up or give in if they are tired--well Tucker might start to protest. It's bred into them to never quit, which is why a Thorougbred on the track will run with a broken let. (shudder)

Good example here. Put Chance on a lunge line to work off his excessive energy--should he have any-- and after a bit he'll slow down on his own and relax. Put an over excited Tucker on a lunge line and he gallops, bucks and works himself up into a lather, feeding off the exercise as if it's a drug. Nope, I've never been able to "work him down" on the lunge.

So, I have a lot of work ahead of me. My friend noted the other day that he figured the ice in his driveway might melt by July at this rate. If so, I'll have plenty of time to plan my riding strategy for the season. *LOL*

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"The Temperature's Rising"

"Which Isn't Surprising"

"We're having a heat wave." Well, not really, but it does look as if the temperatures are going to go above freezing within the next week or so. Right now, all I want is for the snow to melt off my solar panels so I can start generating electricity again. I hate the idea of potential free energy going to waste under a blanket of snow.

We had another three, perhaps four inches yesterday. At least I know where most of the ice is underfoot, so that I can try to avoid it when I'm out walking.

This morning, as I was feeding the Boys, I heard a very loud cat cry. I looked over to see Mommycat at the tackroom door, meowing at me. She was apparently quite hungry for some nice canned food and wanted me to know about it. She was so insistent that I finished up the graining and went inside to get her food. There, just outside the barn was Patches, the other stray, following in Mommy's footsteps. I had to laugh. So many people think of cats as solitary creatures, but already these two have formed a "tag team" of sorts to get me to follow orders. I have been putting out two dishes of food every day, so this morning was no exception. I just wonder now if the new commanding cat performance will become routine. I usually feed Patches after I am done with the Boys. Today, it was either feed the kitties first or be subjected to a rather loud vocal solo by Mommycat. (I've tried different names for her, including Mitzi, but Mommycat sticks as she did have that litter of kittens here. She spends most of her time at my neighbor's house, but I think the lure of canned food is too tempting here.)

Tucker has lost a bell boot in the snow and I haven't bothered to replace it. (I have tons of new ones I bought during the summer tent sale.) The one left keeps flipping up anyhow, so I'm not so sure they were doing much in the snow--which is still a foot deep in most places. I was contemplating attempting to ride someone in the arena, but I am still in "thinking only" mode about it. Just what is the point, anyhow?

I guess the question is, just what is fair to the horses? They do have the advantage of full turnout, so they are not completely unfit, but with the snow, any exercise they do takes twice as much effort. Add a rider and the effort increases, of course. Even a short trail ride in the woods would be pretty exhausting unless the snow mobilers have made enough trails to pack the snow down.

I've never felt it right to take an unfit horse and work him. I can still remember one clinic where the trainer was griping about how most show riders never really got their horses fit enough for real work. To prove his point, walked over to my PJ who was a rather "round muscled" Thoroughbred, to poke his finger into PJ's shoulder muscle just to show how soft and unfit he was. When he jammed his finger into solid, fit muscle tissue, he kind of gulped and said, "Well not this horse, but most of them." I was laughing inside. Back then, when I was competing seriously, I used to ride six days a week. I'd learned from a short list Olympic rider how to get a horse fit for three day eventing, and although I never competed at that level, I always aspired to keeping my horse's fitness up there.

Once the weather stops fighting me, I have resolved to get Tucker and Chance into good competitive fitness. I'd like to get Toby fit enough for some nice trail rides or even, perhaps a short riding lesson. All this is going to demand some pretty serious work on my part, but as I strive towards the goal, I'll be a lot better off myself.

The fact is, being truly fit is good for everyone. Horses stay sounder, and riders stay healthier. I may not plan to show, but that does not mean my horses won't be ready if I wanted to. We may not be fit enough for a three day, but we'll be fit.

A late New Year's resolution, perhaps? Hope I can stick to it. Meantime, for now, I'll wait until the snow melts a little. Right now, it's just not fair.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

All For the Want Of A Horseshoe Nail

Trivia and Other Cliches

I realized yesterday that my post title, "The grass is always greener," should have finished with "on the other side of the fence," to be clear. The quote is one of those old cliche' expressions that somehow suits hay carousel perfectly. Like so many of us, the horse always thinks that what the other guy has, or what he can't quite reach is better than what he has.

So that led me to look up the expression to find it seems to be a mostly American idiom, although it does appear in a similar form in Latin somewhere. Then I began thinking of all the ways horses have influenced our lives an language. Even after horses became obsolete as the main mode of transportation, it's the poor car lover who doesn't talk about his vehicle's horsepower. And how many TV commercials do I see with fair maidens or handsome men riding along on white horses. Back to the cars you have the Colt, the Mustang and the Pinto, at the very least. They may not all be on the market anymore, but their mere existence tells the world how much the image of the horse is revered.

The Budwiser commercials say it all. If you've never seen one with the majestic Clydesdale eight horse hitch commercials, do yourself a favor and visit Youtube to watch a few. My favorite is the snowball fight, but as I was browsing through, I found a few others I love too. There is, of course, the great 9-11 tribute and one with a zebra referee. I like the Rocky one too and there's one where the Clyde falls in love with a circus horse I've never seen before. The funny thing is that the horses themselves and the advertising method have nothing at all to do with drinking beer, or how good Budwiser tastes, but the ads make the label so well known the message is loud and clear.

That's all a part of branding, and advertising technique where the primary goal is to get the product name fixed in the consumer's mind by some kind of easy to remember symbol or concept. The Clydesdale hitch is a good example. My nephew who worked in advertising for a while told me the Nike swoosh is considered by many to be the most significantly successful branding symbol out there. I'd have to say the Clydes are pretty high up too.

"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," always used to puzzle the students in my English class, especially when I taught them the story of the Trojan horse and added, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts, " to the mix. It was one of those class lessons where I tried to combine thinking skills, figurative language and classical literature all together. The "gift horse" phrase, of course, as all horsemen know, refers to the fact that a horse's true age can be determined by looking at its teeth. So, if someone gives you something for free, then don't spoil it by really trying to assess its value so that you ruin the giver's good intentions. (Well, that's kind of a loose explanation, but you get the idea.) So, I related that expression to the Trojan horse which was, in the myth a gift offering to the gods left by the Greeks. If you know the story, the big wooden horse was filled with hiding Greek warriors and once the gullible Trojans pulled the horse into their walled city--tricked into thinking taking the horse was kind of a slap in the face to the enemy--the warriors inside waited until dark, then sneaked out, attacked, opened the city gates from inside, and let their own invading army in.

Despite warnings from one of their prophets, the Trojans didn't look that particular "gift horse" in the mouth and it cost them their city.

Every time I think of "a horse of another color," I, of course, see the scene in the Wizard of Oz film where Dorothy and her companions enter the Emerald City and see the pony drawing a carriage. The pony keeps changing colors as it goes along, (Wizard of Oz horse) changing from green to blue to orange to red to yellow to violet. (Found out now that they colored the horse with jello and it kept trying to lick itself the whole time they were shooting! *G*) The phrase was taken literally there, but in figurative terms it means that something is just not like everything else in a group.

My title today refers to an old nursery rhyme:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Every time Tucker loses a shoe I think of this one for my own reasons, but once again horsekeeping teaches the world a lesson that it's best to take care of the small things before they escalate into something too big to fix.

Speaking of horseshoes, I'll close with a little trivia as I sit here watching it snow--again--outside. My farrier once told me this one. Let's say the shoer charges by the nail rather than by the shoeing job. Here's the deal. He'll charge 1 penny for the first nail and then two pennies for the second nail and then continue, each time doubling the amount he charges each nail thereafter. (I know there is a mathematical formula for this kind of geometric progression, but I never was very good at that kind of stuff.) Suffice it to say that if the customer agreed to the deal and the farrier put on four new shoes with eight nails in each one, he could retire a wealthy man and never have to shoe again.

Apparently the weather is putting my brain into some kind of logical overdrive here. But what else can I do with over a foot of snow on the ground and more falling? (Won't be much, but anymore white out there is just downright depressing.)

I'm longing for the green grass on the other side of the fence.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Grass Is Always Greener

Horses Are Opportunists

Here's my barn set up. I have a barn with a center aisle and the stalls on either side. Toby and Tucker's stalls are on the east side with a run in roof outside. Chance's stall is on the west side, as an enclosed end of the run in roof on that side of the barn. All the stalls have gates opening into the aisle, and doors opening into the run in sheds. Nice little set up, as far as I am concerned, and nearly all the time the outside doors to the stalls are open so the horses can come and go as they please.

As you may have read in previous posts, I have been known to accidentally leave one of the inside stall gates open now and then allowing a horse--or more to get into the aisle of the barn. This wrecks various levels of havoc, depending on which horse it is. Toby's not bad, Tucker tries to break into the feed room and strews a few blankets about, and Chance the Ripper might do anything to anything that happens to be in the barn.

This is, obviously a source of some kind of entertainment for all. Toby might just come in and stand there, so surely there is nothing in the aisle to lure him in. It's just a matter of principle. The gate is open therefore it must mean something.

When I feed in the morning, I generally do not shut the interior gates until all the little chores are done. Ater all, you'd think that with a feed tub full of nice feed, most horses would simply stay in their stalls to eat.

Not so at Follywoods. This morning, for example, I fed everyone then decided to pick out the stalls while they were eating. I left the barn to dump the wheelbarrow and what did I find when I came back in? Toby was in the aisle eating the hay I'd stacked there and Tucker was in Toby's stall eating Toby's grain. Now it only took a second to sort it all out by my saying, "Tucker, out!! Toby, back in your stall." (My Boys follow verbal directions well--the result of being owned by a talkative English teacher.)

But it struck me as to this peculiarity of horse behavior. Tucker still had grain in his own feed tub. There was no need to eat Toby's. But, nonetheless, as soon as Toby left it unguarded, there was Tucker ready to swoop in. I also have to watch both Tucker and Toby as they will go out of their stalls to reach over the partition in Chance's stall (He has no bars on his stall) to eat from his feed tub before he's finished. As the low man in the herd, he backs away and lets them eat his food.

Have you ever noticed that if you have two horses and you put out two piles of hay, the horses play "Hay musical chairs" or "Hay carousel?" The dominant horse will chase the other horse from one pile, start to eat, and then when the other horse goes to the second pile, number one horse will chase him from that one too. Add another horse to the mix and the dance just gets more complex. If you watch, it doesn't take long to sort out the herd pecking order. The lowest level horse spends more time running from one pile to the next trying to grab a bite while number one horse manages to alway have his head down in the food. The middle horse dominates the poor low man, of course, and in the case of Tucker, will even try now and then to snatch from, the alpha horse's choice selection.

Fortunately here, things have pretty much settled down with all that, so I don't have to put out four piles of hay to assure that all three horses will have enough to eat. I just make sure all three piles are nice and big. Apparently, my Boys have figured out that there's plenty for everyone, so after one or two initial rounds of Hay Carousel, they settle down, each to his own pile. Again, interestingly enough, each horse usually ends up at the same pile each day.

I've also made the mistake of leaving a paddock gate open now and then while I am doing some kind of chore outside. I don't do this if the horses are anywhere in sight--unless I've been extremely careless--but an open gate is a magnet to an opportunistic horse. About a month ago, while the horses were eating grain in their stalls, I went into the paddock with my arms full of hay and didn't quite get the gate relocked. I did close it, but it swung open a few inches. I put the hay out in the paddock and turned back around to see Toby trotting out through the opening onto the back lawn. No biggie again, as the driveway is gated and there was hardly a blade of grass on the frozen lawn to keep him too interested. But Tucker was heading for the opening too and two loose horses causes a frolic which I didn't exactly need.

The open gate was far more attractive than a feed tub of breakfast. It was an opportunity for adventure and perhaps a mouthful or two of dried up winter grass.

I left a bag of used alfalfa cube bags--those plasticy burlap ones--under the fenced off section of the run in shed where I keep the tractor. I thought I'd put them far enough away from the gate so that the horses could not reach them. Nope. The next morning I found the bags off to the side and two of them dragged into the paddock where it appeared a certain Mr. Ripper had been playing with them.

When my friend Donna was doing the stalls for me, she stacked the bedding in the same spot. The first thing I did when I went out later and saw them, was to slide the bales away from the gate. If I hadn't, I would have found ripped up bedding backs and wood shavings all over the place. Donna also fell victim to the "tip the wheelbarrow" trick Chance loves to pull when you are cleaning the stalls. All you have to do is turn your back when he's in the area and he'll grab the wooden handle and over it goes. Opportunity knocked, and Chance simply couldn't resist.

Horses will look for any opportunity to get food or amuse themselves. I'm sure the food part is a natural survival instinct and clearly supports Darwin's theories of survival of the fittest. The lowest horse in the herd is last to eat in the Hay Carousel, so the dominant horses are assured a good diet.

But the amusement part? I think horses enjoy laughing at us.

Addendum side note: Just discovered a new language tidbit. I was reading an article on the Olympics and the author had described the men's downhill race as a "blue riband" event. I paused, confused. I'd always heard, and thought, that a premiere event was known as a "blue ribbon event." (Note, here in the US, blue ribbons are awarded for first place.) Looked it up, and sure enough, the author was correct. "Blue riband" was initially a nautical term which referred to the fastest passage a ship could make. Then it became a reference to anything that was the best....and then, here in the USA, it gradually became changed to "blue ribbon." Apparently, riband is the name for the stripes or ribbons worn on navel badges. So it suits just as well as ribbon and both terms are perfectly acceptable, at least in American English.

The world of language is full of wonders that just never cease.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dodging the Snow Bullet

But It's Still Cold

I cannot remember since having the horses home--over ten years--such an extended period of below freezing weather. I judge this by how long I had had to fill the water trough either with buckets or by using the coil hose--now residing in my bathtub. We've had colder weather, with temperatures below 0 F, but this is many more weeks of cold in the 20's.

We may luck out and be missed by the next storm coming across the country. The latest track calls for it to hit north of us with a chance that we will get some rain instead of all snow.

Good and bad, as rain creates ice--far from my favorite kind of footing.

Which leads me to the topic of the day since I will not be riding again. I am quite amazed as to just how much of my life is governed by owning horses, especially now that I have them here at home with me.

For one, weather is definitely not "take it or leave it." I follow the weather forecasts like an addict. Temperatures, precipitation, the comings and goings of storms all are important in ways the outside world could never understand. Will there be mud? Then Tucker has to have restricted turnout. I'll have to fill the second water trough and make sure the interior fence rails are all in place. Will it rain? Do the Boys need waterproof turnouts? Thunder and lightning? Close off the pasture and perhaps put them in the barn. Too dry? Dust in the arena when I ride. Too cold? Frozen footing makes training impossible. The list goes on and on.

Then, there's timing. There's a feeding schedule to keep. I'd rather be home around 4:30 in the aftenoon to feed, so activities that keep me away might be a no-no. When is the feed store open? Will a holiday interfere with being able to get my hay?

And just when do I need to go get a new load of grain or hay? How many bags do I have? Will they hold me over the weekend? Is there enough hay to carry me over in an emergency?

What if the power goes out? Here, my water comes from a well, and the pump needs electricity. I do have a generator for serious outages, but that means I also have to keep tabs on having enough gasoline to run it. All this, not because the house will get cold--I have a gas fireplace--but becuase I have the horses and they need water.

I'm sure people with children have similar worries, but at least you can pack the kids into the car and go someplace until the crisis is over. Not so with horses.

Well, OK, if you have a trailer and a place to go, you can always evacuate. But I have three horses and a two horse trailer. Who'd get left behind?

Don't get me wrong. I love having the horses home. It is, for dozens of reasons, far better than boarding out. But it is also an awesome responsibility. Everytime I read of some person who';s guilty of animal neglect, I simply cannot understand it. Once you put a horse behind a fence, it becomes your job to see that he has enough food and water--seven days a week--to stay healthy and sound. He cannot fend for himself.

That's why when a person speaks of his/her horses or other animals not as pets, but as "children," I totally understand. Like children, they need care, nurturing and protection.

If I need to mold my lifestyle around them, it's fine by me. I don't regret a moment of it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Surprising Turn of Events, But Not Horsey

My Car Is Back!

I took the car in on Monday because, if you recall, I had backed the tailgate into a tree when I was moving hay to the barn before the storm. The accident was Friday. The car was in the shop by Monday early afternoon.

I had called the insurance company earlier on Monday and they approved my repair shop as one on their list of authorized shops. The repair people told me my car would be there a while as it was "in the queue" with others.

I then received two emails from the insurance company with the second telling me they had paid the repair shop and were authorizing three days of rental car as the repairs should take no longer than that. However, if I needed an extension on the rental, I could call them to make arrangements.

Tuesday night and all day Wednesday we were hit with the blizzard. Thursday morning here was filled with trying to plow out my driveways, again, as you may recall. I'm pretty sure most places were doing the same thing.

So, here I was blogging away on Friday morning when the phone rang. My care was finished and I could pick it up at any time. To say I was shocked is an understatement. Apparently, the body shop had found a new/used tailgate in the same color in excellent condition aside from a scratch that needed some minor painting. On it had gone in record time and voila! my car was finished. While I did have to pay the $500 deductible as specified in my insurance agreement...ouchers....I am more than pleased. The car looks perfect from all I can see and you'd never suspect it had ever been damaged.

Super body shop, super service, super work, and one happy customer make for a good outcome in the end. Costly, but sometimes that's how things are. I'll just have to watch my pennies for a month or so to make up for the payment. Budget, here I come.

It is still cold here and the snow is not melting very much. The big annoyance is that the barn roof and hence, the solar panels are under a layer of six-eight inches of stubborn snow. There is no real way to clean it off. If the temperatures rise, it will melt quickly, but at this rate is doesn't look too promising. And, there is that new storm headed our way.

The horses are making all kinds of pathways through the snow, so I can see they are out and about. But most of the time they seem to be hanging about around the barn. However, I think I will be going out later to saw up the one tree branch that's lying on the front fence. No damage, but I want to get it off before it snows again to weight things down. I'm sure if they see me, the Boys will come out to snoopervise. Anything like that will break up the boredom of the day. They must feel contstrained by the snow as much as I do.

Had to laugh a bit yesterday. My cute little stray kitty uses the horse water trough to drink. It's a bit of a walk from the garage where he/she sleeps and eats to the trough. The other day I saw Patches leaping through the snow which was well over his/her head. I dug a path to the horse trailer where I store the squirrel treats for myself and as I was watching through the window, I saw Patches come out of the garage and then disappear under the trailer. I saw nothing at all for a span and then, the kitty emerged from the path I'd dug and headed for the barn. What was cute was that all the while Patches was in the path I could see him/her at all. Clearly the snow is deeper than a cat. I think I will dig a path from the carport/garage area to the trailer when go out, or at least a path where I see kitty footprints, to make things easier for my little furry friend.

Actually, I'm not sure what kitties I have out there so I've been putting out two dishes of food. Mommycat has been here quite a bit lately and she is not at all shy about the food, so to be sure Patches has enough to eat, I am doubling up. I wish I could make real friends with Patches, but he/she is so afraid right now it doesn't look too promising. As long as he/she looks well groomed, clean, and well fed, I'll just have to be satisfied. But, I am going to be watching for any signs that he/she is a she and pregnant. Then I'll get out the trap and take action. The last thing I need is a litter of kittens. (Been there, done that....)

Watching animals has always fascinated me. While I do feel sorry for strays like Patches, I do have to admire their survival instincts. In this case, I am more than happy to help. Patches has the hay, two garages, and lots of sheltered places to stay. Perhaps in between meals he/she will help out with rodent control in the barn in return for the favors. (or flavors)

I'd much appreciate the help.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's All A Matter of Perspective

How Deep Is The Ocean? Etc.

Callie, at Midwest Horse Blog made a comment that they'd had a foot of snow out there too, "Really nothing for us." I had to laugh, because around here in Central New Jersey, a foot of snow is a rather big deal. Well, it was, although this year the concept might change a little.

I remember visiting some friends who had moved to South Carolina years ago. They told the story of how they'd awakened one winter morning to hysterical newsmen on the radio warning people to stay in, that all kinds of businesses had to close down, and how treacherous the roads were. When they opened the curtains, they saw just an inch or two of snow on the driveway.

It's all a matter of perspective.

It's like that with horses too. Every horse I have owned recently was over 16 h. Russell was 16.1, as is Toby. My PJ was 16.2 and Tucker is 16.3 +, nearly 17.0h. So when I got Chance, I started calling him, "Little Man." He now is nearly 15.3 h, and a nice solid chunk of horse. Yet he is still, "Little Man," to me. Yet when I put a young rider up on him--she's maybe all of 5 feet tall, maybe--he looked like a huge draft horse under her.

A number of bloggers I read ride Western and often Quarterhorses. One blogger commented that her horse, at 15.2h was really big. Meanwhile, when I looked at pictures from Caroline's Smarties Diary, her big boy, Radar, looked like a little guy compared to the hunt master's horse. Radar is 16.3--perhaps a big more now that he's fit and muscled--so you know how big the other horse must be.

But size isn't the only issue of perspective with horses. The most unremarkable looking animals can often be the best performers. I can still remember seeing one of the greatest US racehorses of all time, John Henry, race here in NJ. As the horses paraded out to the track, one very plain bay, with a very laid back attitude, looking less like a racehorse than any of the other competitors, walked along as if he were out on a hack in the country. He was actually a bit common looking in the crowd of flashy Thorougbreds. But, it was John Henry and when he exploded from the back during the last few furlongs of the race and pulled away to win, he didn't look common at all.

I remember once being at a horse show after the competition was over. I was up at the secretary's stand and we were all just talking when a flurry of excitement broke out in the trailering area. There, a group of people were trying to load a absolutely gorgeous big, chestnut warmblood into their trailer. The truck windows were full of ribbons, nearly all blue, from the three day show. The horse, however, was not only unruly, but he was downright dangerous, rearing and battling every attempt to get him to load. I'm not sure how long we watched--there was no point in helping as they already had a whole collection of handlers there--but after a good half hour, I said, "He may have won a ton of ribbons, but as far as I'm concerned, that horse isn't worth anything, right now." Shocked expressions on the faces of people around me made me shrug my shoulders, "What good is he if you can't take him anywhere?" The trailering debaucle went on for nearly and hour more before, somehow the horse surrendered. I'm convinced proper loading training would cure him, but at the moment? Worthless. What if he had to be transported to the vet for some kind of emergency?

And think about horses like Theodore O'Conner or Lendon Gray's Seldom Seen, just two "ponies" who competed with the "big guys" on the International Stage and won. I've seen beautifully conformed horses who can't move worth a darn, and strange looking critters who take your breath away once they start to move.

Like people, each horse is an individual and needs to be looked at that way. There may never be a perfect horse, but somewhere, there is the perfect horse for every job and every rider.

Like the foot of snow, it's all a matter of perspective.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Definitely Needed Some Help

Well, Maybe I Could Have Done It Myself

Or, maybe not. The pine branch across the east driveway was BIG and HEAVY. While I could lift it with the tractor, I couldn't get enough of a grab to move it. I was contemplating getting the tow chain when my friend's son came by to help out. We managed to drag the branch on to the front lawn out of the way. Then I handed the wheel of the tractor over to him and he worked for another hour or more cleaning out the rest of the driveway. Since he enjoys driving the tractor, I was just as happy to have him do it.

The snow is deep and heavy. I would guesstimate we easily have at least 16 inches, and this is wet snow so it's not fluffy. And that is on top of whatever we had the last time. So we are talking about 2 feet in some places. Below are the pictures I promised. The first one is of Mic waiting for me at the back door. I took it though the screen, so it's not as clear as it might be, but this was the face that greeted me.

Then, there are the obligatory snow pictures. The "foggy" looking ones are while it was still snowing. The ruler was from early yesterday before the second storm was finished, and that's at 10 inches already. You can see the tree branches down in a pile by the carport. These are a tangled mess of fairly heavy branches. The poor tree was stripped in the front. You'll see Toby looking a bit disgusted as he hangs out under the run in. There are the snow piles in the back of the house, and if you look to the right on the shot going down the driveway, you will see a mass of evergreens which do not belong at ground level. That is two more big branches from the pine tree. One of them is lying on my fence, so I will have to deal with that one before too long.

I'm OK here for now. I have a nice clear path to the barn, and the driveways are open. But there may be another storm headed this way on Monday or Tuesday. I do have a few more open spots to put the snow, but it's going to be tricky, as I said in the last post. I haven't seen snow like this in years. I do recall some really bad storms when I was a child, so it's not unheard of, but now that it's my responsibility to clear out the mess, it puts things in a different perspective.

While my friend's son was plowing, the traffic was streaming by, one car or SUV after another--many of them driven by women. The road was still pretty bad, but they kept coming. Where the heck was everyone going? Then I called my choir director to see if perhaps cancelling rehearsal tonight would be a good idea and I caught him on his cell phone---at Dunkin' Donuts buying coffee. OK, just how much sense does that make?

Oh, wait, I nearly forgot. For you all there is also, in the middle of the pictures the metaphorical image of marshmallow on the fenceposts. It's my artistic side coming through. *G*