Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Temporary Hold

In Between the Raindrops

We have had two days of torrential rains...well, off and on.  Enough to flood and soak things again.

No horse report as a consequence, even though it did clear up today.  I had already made dinner plans and stayed after school for a student performance.  Time was tight.  I got home in time to feed the Boys and then go off to a lovely dinner with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. 

School is out for "Spring/Easter" break next week, so the plan is to get some riding in and perhaps actually start a more regular riding program of some sort.  I will probably rotate horses once I do get going again, just because my body and energy are not up to coping with working more than one horse a day as long as I am still teaching. 

I will also need to evaluate Tucker and the shoeless situation a little more thoroughly as well.  He's been on the magnesium for about a week now, and I haven't had a chance to see if it's made any difference. 

Tomorrow is supposed to be quite warm so my current plan is to let the Boys go naked again.  Considering what their rainsheets looked like, I suspect I will have mudpie horses when I come home later during the day, but one never knows. 

As frustrating as it is to face the prospect of cleaning three muddy horses, I do have to enjoy (Vicariously, of course) the decided pleasure they take in rolling in the spring mud after a winter of blankets.  It has to feel good.

Maybe one of these days I'll join them. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lockie Always Knew Best

Horses I Have Known: Part 15?

Riding Toby under Lockie Richards's wise council was always a revelation.   He soon decided that Toby needed the challenge of moving up in the levels to keep his mind as occupied as his body. 

So, one lesson, on a sunny summer afternoon, Lockie decided we were ready to do flying changes.  That was shortly after he decided we were also ready to do canter half passes and had us doing them in both directions in a matter of minutes.

Now, mind you, I had already trained and ridden all of these movements on Russell R, and then PJ, so he was not dealing with a total novice as far as the exercises were concerned.  Please note that all of that makes a HUGE difference in pushing a horse's training. 

Apparently, Lockie saw something in Toby's stage of training that told him it was time.  All he had me do was ride a circle at one end of the arena at the canter, and then ask for a change of bend and a change of lead on crossing the centerline.  That was all there was too it.  It took Toby all of a minute to give me a flying change.  And, unlike PJ, he offered one in the other direction just as easily. 

They weren't ideal changes and the second time we tried it, he let fly with some bucks, but they were flying changes, that's for sure.  No big deal.  Little fuss, little bother. 

It took lots of practice after that lesson to get the changes solid and always when I wanted them, but Toby was never a difficult train about them.  Nor was he difficult when it came to the tempi changes as we progressed to the upper levels.  He did not get excited or upset about making a change, so learning to do them every four, then every three, and finally every two strides was not particularly hard.  Even today, when he is not fit, he will do tempis on cue.  I don't ask for them often, because they do require some work on the horse's part and it's just not fair to make those demands of an unfit horse, but he is a master of them. 

Unfortunately, Toby's conformation is not ideal for dressage.  He is, indeed, a lovely mover at all three gaits, but his neck is set lower than it needs to be.  Getting him up in front, carrying his weight on his hind end, is not his natural way of going.  The constant need for rebalancing put an extra strain on his hocks and there were a number of times he had problems because of soreness. 

We competed through Intermediare I with very moderate success--scores in the mid 50's,  so we were adequate.  But, as far as I was concerned, it reached a point where I simply did not want to push him anymore. 

I'm really glad I stopped his intense training when I did.  Now, at age 20, he still feels as sound as he did as a youngster.  I consider that fact one of my major accomplishments of horsemanship. 

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pony Rides

And the Cat Defense

First in response to the rat/cat issue. My pet cats are all kept indoors. It is far too dangerous to allow them outside at all because of the heavy traffic on my road. I have vowed never to lose another one of my pet cat that way.

As for the two strays, I am not sure Patches is a ratter prospect, and Mitzi...Mommycat, is just a little thing. She does seem to spend some time in the barn, so it's possible she has been ratting out there, but I do know it takes a very special cat to tackle a Norway rat. The only one I ever knew was Rug at one of the barns where I boarded. I saw her take down a rat nearly half her size with one well placed bite. But all the other barn cats I've every known were wary of the rats. A terrier of some sort would probably be good at ratting here, but I do not want the addition of a dog in my household. I am hoping the blacksnakes I saw at the edge of the woods might drop by when the weather improves. Otherwise, it's either toleration or hoping the rodents will eat the rat bait bars I've set out.

That said, I am on to the pony ride part.

Shortly after I got home from church and lunch, my phone rang. It was the 9 year old son of a farmer nearby. He wanted to know if he and his sister could come over to "play" with the horses. What he meant by that was to pet them and give them some carrots.

Sure enough, once I'd said yes, three sweet kids showed up in the yard, looking for me and, of course, The Boys. I called the herd in from the pasture with a grain bribe and soon the kids were feeding them carrots and asking me all kinds of questions.

It was a bit chilly out, and a little windy, but M, R, and K asked me if I would ride one of the horses so they could watch. Since Chance was right there on the crossties, as I'd brought him in to let them pet him and have a closer look, I agreed and saddled him up.

As I rode, I explained a bit about how I steered and gave him directions as to what to do. I showed the kids all three of his gaits, and then realized that the sun had come out, the wind was quieted, and Chance was positively chilled out. So, I decided he was settled enough to give some pony rides.

One after another, the three children donned my riding helmet--it has an adjustable band that acutally made it a pretty good fit-- and then mounted Chance for several turns around the riding arena.

Chance was an absolute star. He walked obediently at my side, as careful as could be, paying attention to my every command. The only time he got a little "up" was when K was in the saddle and the two boys started imitating galloping horses in the center of the arena. I asked them to stop running and as soon a they did, Chance's head went back down and he relaxed into the perfect leadline horse again.

After we were all done with the rides, the children helped me feed hay and grain to all three Boys, and I'm happy to say I think they all learned a lot. M is nearly nine, R is "nine and three quarters," and K is twelve. Their visit made for a lovely afternoon and proved to me that Chance is one of those good solid horses we all love to own.

I think Tucker was a bit jealous, but he managed to behave himself with the kids anyhow. Toby was ever the gentleman, but when the carrots were all gone, he just watched the show and didn't seem to mind not being the center of attention. I think he likes being retired.

Fun Sunday. Glad I enjoyed the day outside because there is another huge storm on the way for the next 2-3 days with inches and inches of rain predicted along with flood warnings.

Thank heavens it's still supposed to stay too warm to snow.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sorta Do Nothing Saturday

Preoccupation Consumes the Day

I did go get feed in the morning, so that took some time. I was so cold last night the water trough froze. I put the heater back in for tonight, so all should be well. Although I knew it was coming, the cold was still a bit of a shock considering that for the last few days the temperatures have been up near 70F when the sun was out.

When I got home, I navigated the tree maze and backed the truck up to the barn so I could unload the feed. Then I came in and had some lunch.

Back outside, was once more distracted. The truck was covered with muddy cat pawprints on the hood and roof, where the stray kitties have been using it as a launching pad to get up into the rafters of the garage. So out came the bucket and car washing brush so I could at least rinse off the worst of it.

While I was working at that, my cousin came over from next door where he was picking up his boat--stored in my Aunt's garage for the winter--and we had a nice long chat. I haven't seen him since Christmas, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

After he left, I kind of kicked myself because I probably could have enlisted his aid in unloading the grain. But I did fine by myself. I put the truck back in the garage and covered the hood with a blanket, came back into the house, and picked up my phone messages which included a reminder from one of my friends that we were meeting for dinner later. Shortly after, the phone rang again, and it was my friend Shelley and we ended up having a rather long and vigorous conversation about education and politics. As usual, we didn't manage to solve a single world problem, but we certainly had some great ideas.

Then, I realized I needed to find Tucker's Cavallo boots, just in case I ever decided to ride again and he needed some hoof protection. I had one, and thought the other one was right with it, but had failed in my last cursory search, so I was determined to put the pair back together today.

That inspired me to open the tack cabinet for a good look. Error!! A pair of rather frisky rats had made themselves a comfy little nest in the bottom section of the cabinet, chewing up a leg quilt for bedding. As soon as I moved the first item in there, the first rat leaped out and dashed past. A moment later, the second rat darted out, skimmed across my lap and headed in the opposite direction. Fortunately, it didn't stop long enough to make eye contact with me, which was just as well. I'm not sure who would have won a staring contest at that point.

Needless to say, I was rather cautious emptying the rest of the gear out of there, but suffice it to say that when I was done, I had a feed bag full of stuff to throw out. Some things had been chewed, some things looked contaminated, and some things were just not of any use any more.

I also cleaned a bit more around in the feed/tack room, but it wasn't quite a full spring cleaning, although it was a start. Then I put out some rat poison for my furry invaders, although I am a bit skeptical that they will eat it, and straightened up the place a bit.

I finally found the second hoof boot in a storage bucket right next to the first boot, exactly where I thought I was when I looked for it the first time. It was no where near the tack cabinet, either. So I ended up completing a cabinet sort of cleaned, the rat couple evicted for now, at least, and the two hoof boots reunited at last.

By then it was time to feed the Boys and go take my shower so I could be clean for my dinner out.

Somehow I managed to preoccupy myself for the entire day without riding a single horse...again.

Ah, darn--fox and the grapes--it was too cold anyhow........

Friday, March 26, 2010

To Shoe Or Not To Shoe

That Was The Question

Scott decided to leave Tucker's shoes off for now. He used the hoof testers and, although Tucker showed some sensitivity, he was not too reactive. So, considering the capricious weather with spring rains and slop intermixed with incredibly good footing, he decided it was worth a shot so see how things go.

When I spoke to him on the phone, he did say if Tucker seemed to be too ouchy when I rode him he would come out right away to put some shoes on.

I just started the magnesium this week, so I don't know yet if it's going to have any effect. Once again, it's a matter of wait and see. The good thing is that Tuck's hoofs seem pretty solid and are not showing signs of any cracks or excessive wear at this point. It's just some sensitive soles.

Meantime, Scott emailed me a picture of my buddy Mic, his border collie, waiting at my back door for me to come out to play. Needless to say, I felt really bad about this and apologized to Mic who was by the phone when I spoke to Scott. I told Scott from now until June when school gets out that we really should schedule Saturday shoeings. That way Mic's toy tosser will be available for fun and games.

Below is the picture of Mic.
However, please excuse the tree branches scattered about. Treeman has not yet been back. I did call him to tell him not to hurry as I am still waiting for my income tax refund so I can pay him. Or, perhaps a paycheck from school which will be coming at the end of the month...although I don't know how many days that will be for yet.

If you think I was exaggerating about the trees down here, the following series of photos may change your mind. If you could count the rings in the cut trunk below, it would be over 60--that tree had been growing since the late 1940's and was probably one of my family's first Christmas trees.

Here's the pile of three pines each around 30-40 feet tall. Scott had to back his truck and trailer in through the other side of the driveway because he couldn't back around his usual way with these logs in the way.

Towards the right in this picture, you can see more pines. One of them was also on the brink of toppling, and the power company trimmed it this week.

Below, the broken stump and uprooted section that was the cause of all the eventual logging operation. The tree was nearly ready to fall over and when they pulled it to make sure it fell in the right direction, the roots pulled right out of the ground.
I paced this fallen tree at nearly 40 feet long. Sad to see it go, but once it started to fall over on its own, there wasn't much choice. We could have used cables to stabilize it, but what kind of mess would that be in the yard--especially if the horses got loose? By the way, the Treeman also took down my fence which normally crosses this part of the lawn to keep the horses from getting out on the road should they get out of the paddocks. He will put the fence back once the debris is cleaned up.
This tree will need to come down too as it is already nearly dead. The branch on the ground is deceptive in the picture. It is a lot heavier than it looks, but I was able to drag it out of the driveway by myself the day of the storm.
Well, that's a tour of Follywoods's logging operation. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Still Tired After All These Years

Now I Know Why I Retired

Aside from getting a cold, I am also tired. When I get home from school, it's hard to muster the energy to ride my horses.

It doesn't help that both they and I are out of shape from the winter, either. The task for getting started again is a bit daunting at the moment. Hopefully I will get some inspiration and get some sort of program started.

For you barefoot afficianados out the, my farrier, Scott, may be coming tomorrow. He did leave a message on my phone asking me if he wanted him to come, since it's been some 7 weeks since Toby was last shod. He, of course, also asked about Tucker. Since I wasn't home, I had to leave him a response message when I picked up his call.

I am leaving it up to him as to whether or not to put the front shoes back on Tucker. I know you are all convinced he can go barefoot--Tucker that is, not Scott--but I do trust Scott's judgment on this. If he sees that Tucker is too sore, or bruised, from being unshod, then he will reshoe him--provided, of course, that he thinks the mud will be a thing of the past.

The fact is, Scott is not opposed to barefoot, and is perfectly fine leaving a horse unshod as long as he feels the horse will be fine. So far, Chance is great. But even when he was a youngster and not really being worked, Tucker had some issues with his feet. Scott has done and incredible job keeping him sound and in work despite his having difficult feet.

So, if Scott gets my message, and does come tomorrow, I guess I'll know when I get home what the best option was.

I do feel sad about Mic, Scott's dog, however, as I will not be here to play with him. I guess he'll be sitting by my door again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Whoops, Missed a Day

Horses I Have Known: Part 14

This darn cold wore me out yesterday. I am feeling a bit better today, but still not quite 100%. Typical of what happens when I start teaching again and am exposed to all the kids.

Rain continued yesterday anyhow, so no riding.

Toby's story continues.

Toby's tendancy to explode still existed after he worked with Kenny. He was and is, as I've said before, the kind of horse that protests vigorously when pushed past his limit.

During one clinic with Lockie, Toby reared up in protest. Lockie told me to give him a rap on the head with the dressage whip. Like the colt in the stall with my vet, all that did way make Toby more rebellious, so we quickly ditched that idea. Lockie was so funny after that. He walked over to Toby, took his head in his hands, and soothed him, telling him what a fine horse he was, and reassuring him that he actually could handle the exercises we were attempting. Then, when Toby made an effort to cooperate, Lockie praised him mightily.

"He needs to be told how wonderful he is," Lockie said. "Otherwise, he gets insulted." From then on our lessons included lots of praise, whether Toby had really earned it or not.

Somewhere along the way, although the time frame is a bit fuzzy here, I finally surrendered to my lack of skill at dealing with Toby's tantrums and trailered him up to Massachusetts for a few weeks training with Chris Warner, my dressage instructor at the time. He'd never seen Toby really misbehave, but he figured I had some kind of reason for wanting him to do some of the work for me.

The first two days, as I recall, Chris called with glowing praise for my chestnut wonder. "He's working beautifully," he told me. "Everyone in the barn is talking about what a nice horse he is." I could tell Chris was a bit skeptical about my riding skills at that point.

Day three was another story. Apparently, Toby threw such a tantrum, the same people at the barn simply could not believe it was the same horse. Chris has a seat like glue, and determination of steel, so Toby was well matched. From that point on, he and Chris somehow managed to find some common ground, with Chris's will winning over in the end. By the time I went to pick Toby up to bring him home again, he was a lovely, forward, round dressage horse, ready to progress with his training, accepting a lot more pressure from his rider than he'd been able to tolerate before.

Not perfect, certainly, but he was willing to let me train him, and advance beyond the basics.

We competed at second level, then, in a fit of "just let's do it," we moved up to fourth level, so we could use the double bridle. But that meant having to learn the flying change.

Back to Lockie on a sunny afternoon.

Toby with me riding at Second Level. I looked as if I was having fun!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wet Week Begins

Rain Again

And with it, more threats of flooding. It rained most of the day, into the evening, and is supposed to rain again for much of tomorrow.

Ah, well. I am still battling a head cold, and since I have to work anyhow, the weather doesn't matter too much. I put the sheets back on the Boys to keep off the cold rain, even though the temps are hovering near 50F or so. It's just enough to be chilly out and I much prefer they keep dry whenever possible.

I did lock them out of the pasture because thunderstorms were predicted. There was some thunder and lightning this evening just after dark, so precautions were warranted.

It's always interesting to me that despite having ample shelter, my horses will often simply stand outside in the bad weather. I would suspect that in the summer, the rain might actually feel good, but in the winter??

As always, as hard as I might try, sometimes I simply cannot think like a horse.

I do have a feeling horses are much deeper thinkers than we often give them credit for. I am sure my PJ was a philosopher. Toby is more of general, the kind of leader who does not like to be crossed, but will lead the troops for good when necessary. Tucker is the sensitive, frustrated poet or actor who constantly needs to be understood and, of course, appreciated. And Chance? Well, he may be the charismatic politician, always ready to extend a hand to shake while planning to pursue his own agenda by winning my vote.

I figure I could run the country with these guys in charge.

What do you think??

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Warm Sunday

Horses I Have Known: Part 13

Today it was at least 70 F with warm sunshine. I gave a riding lesson after church and did not work the Boys. I'm coming down with a bit of a cold, so I need to fight that off instead.

But on to Toby's story.

At the riding clinic with Kenny Harlow, Toby was the absolute star. He learned every exercise faster than any of the other horses and didn't really seemed challenged by anything. We even ended up going out on a rather long trail ride on the third day, and I had to let him be in the lead group. I missed out on the training exercises Kenny was doing behind us, but I did sort of chaperone a young rider and two others on horses that simply did not want to walk as slowly as Kenny's group. It was matter of fighting with our horses to make them tiptoe along with the larger group, or let them walk out nicely.

When we got back, Kenny set up some more challenging exercises for everyone, including walking over a blue plastic tarp, and playing with some plastic bags. He knew I'd had issues with Toby's spooking so he took him on as his demo horse. It was again Toby's time to shine. While he wasn't perfect, he responded to the training faster than any of the other horses and quickly was striding over the tarp and dealing with the bags with complete confidence. Kenny kind of looked at me as if to ask, "So what's the problem with this horse??"

"Let's try the mylar balloons," I suggested. These are those shiny special occasion balloons you can find in most gift stores. I'd loaded two in my trailer just for this moment.

When Kenny came walking back into the arena with the balloons, his star pupil exploded into a panic. Toby was leaping about, completely out of control. Kenny worked him in a small circle on the end of the rope reins while Toby leapt and raced around him every time the balloons moved. He had turned into a maniac.

After a while, he finally settled down, and started walking instead of bolting. At that point, Kenny seemed convinced he had overcome Toby's terror. With the balloons still in his hand, on the end of less than three feet of string, he started walking towards the other riders, leading Toby behind him. Suddenly, without any warning, Toby leapt forward, striking out with his forefeet at the balloons in Kenny's hands, popping one of them in a fraction of a second. Kenny whirled around, pulling the other balloon and his arm out of the way, and stood for a second looking at my horse.

"Don't ever, ever challenge this horse when he is scared, " he said quietly. Then he added, "Can you stay for a while after the clinic is over? I need to work this out."

He moved the remaining balloon off to the side, finished up with some more exercises with both Toby and the other horses, and then concluded the clinic.

After everyone else had left, he took Toby from me again. "I've never quite seen a horse react like that," he said. "He's really dangerous." I kind of gulped, and nodded. "I don't think I'd want to work in the round pen with him, especially if he was afraid of something. You're going to have to be careful with him."

Then he mounted up and worked for another 30-40 minutes until he was able to ride Toby past the balloon hanging on the side of the arena without any more spooks. It all ended on a good note, and a year or so later, when Kenny thought he was going to need a demo horse for a clinic he was giving, he asked to borrow Toby because he knew he'd do all the exercises without any trouble, but his warnings stuck with me. Toby was not a horse to be treated lightly.

A word here about his breeding. He was the son of one of the top breeding racehorse stallions in New Jersey at the time, Papa Riccio. Papa Riccio was a multiple stakes winner and a pre-poetent sire whose offspring almost always resembled him. But he also had a reputation as a dangerous horse who had attacked grooms and was difficult to handle. Word was that his offspring were either good or bad. The good ones were exceptional and the bad ones were...well, bad.

My vet had an encounter with a Papa Riccio colt around the time I got Toby. He'd been called to a farm to give the colt an injection. When he got there, he went into the stall and started to treat the horse. The horse reared up once, then again and hit his head on the rafter. Then, my vet said, "That made him really mad." The horse exploded and attacked him. He jumped out the door as the horse came at him, and got the gate closed as the horse reared and plunged, getting its front legs stuck in bars atop the stall. My vet ran out of the barn to get help. By the time he found someone and hurried back to the stall, he found a young woman groom holding the horse safely on the ground. Somehow she'd gotten his legs out of the bars.

She looked at my vet and kind of grimaced. "Oh dear, I hope you didn't try to give him a shot. He doesn't like shots."

No kidding. Thanks for the warning. But it did stamp into my vet's head a darn good idea of the kind of bad horses Papa Riccio might sire.

Blessed that I was, on the whole, Toby was not one of his father's bad sons. He has nearly impeccable stall manners and my vet calls him "The Prince." He stood quietly the first time I clipped him, and is an absolute gentleman for my farrier.

But under all the manners, there lurks the other, dark side of his soul. Whenever the stress level builds too high, he does become the "demon seed."

It's something I try to avoid at all costs.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Short Ride On a Sore Horse

Tucker is definitely sore on his unshod feet. I took him on a very short trail ride through the woods where the leaves and footing were soft. But in the sandy arena, he is definitely short strided.

At the moment, I am betwixt and between about what to do. If I have the shoes put back on, and the weather takes a drastic turn back to wet, soggy spring, then we run into the lost shoe syndrome again. If I leave his shoes off, then I am running the risk of some sole bruising that might take a long time for him to recover from. I have him on a supplement with magnesium in it, but not the straight magnesium oxide yet. I will start that tonight and see if it makes any difference in how he feels.

We are supposed to get rain again this week, so the footing conditions may get muddy again, in which case, shoeless is the better option for the time being.

He does not seem particularly unhappy an he is playing and frolicking about with Chance and Toby during turnout, so I am not as worried as I might be if he were miserable. Still, I'll keep an eye on the situation and just see how things play out.

I don't feel any particular heat or pulse in his feet, so that is a bit reassuring.

Guess for now it's just wait and see.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My, Aren't We Athletic

Horses I Have Known: Part 12

As I look back on Toby's training, it's not a matter of individual events that I can recall with exact clarity. Instead, it's a lot of memories mixed together into patterns of our relationship together.

The first is that Toby was, and still is, even at 20 years old, one of the most athletic horses I have ever ridden. I am sure if I had pursued a career in jumpers or eventing with him, he would have been a star, except for his mental approach to the whole world. Toby was the kind of horse who needed to check things out before trying them.

He spooked.

And if he didn't fully understand something, if I pushed too hard, he bucked.

Athletically of course.

He still does today. Except that today, I know the signals he gives out and usually bail out before he bails me off. The first time I ever tried a hunter pace with him, my partner and I were hardly out of the starting box when Toby'd exuberance got the best of him and I ended up in the dirt. I was still a relatively brave fool back then, so I remounted and we managed to finish up the whole six miles with me still in the saddle, but I'm not sure I'd do it again today. The boy has a big, twisty buck in him, enough to even unseat my former trainer Chris, who has one of those "superglue" seats the world has to admire.

Sometime during the course of Toby's training, we started having some serious care problems a the barn where I was boarding. The horses were not getting enough hay and were turned out in the morning on a decidedly poor, sparse "pasture" with no hay, and I 'm fairly sure that the extra flake or so I gave them at night before I left was being taken out of the stalls after I went home.

The result was that Toby started cribbing. Knowing what I know today, I would treat the whole situation differently, beginning with a course of ulcer treatments for him and a good supply of alfalfa cubes to keep him through the night. Knowing his sensitive personality, I suspect to this day he developed ulcers, and I certainly know he wasn't getting as much roughage as he should have. It took some rather uncomfortable moments, but eventually, I managed to move both PJ and Toby to an excellent farm where the care was great, but by then the damage was done. Toby's cribbing was a confirmed habit, and despite cribbing straps and every effort of have made since--included a very belated course of ulcer medication--he still cribs today.

But the cribbing was a symptom of more than just hay deprivation. Toby is also a worrier. He is an alpha horse in the herd, and really does fret about where the other horses are. And as an alpa horse, he didn't always like to be told what to do. Unlike PJ, whose concern was always whether he was doing things right, Toby's reaction would be a temper tantrum about doing something at all if he didn't understand or simply didn't want to do it.

We toyed with some jumping and I even took some clinics with Stephen Bradley, a top US Event rider. Once Toby figured out how to get over his first fence, he proved to be really talented, but he didn't seem to have the courage to jump a fence on first sight. As long as he got a good look at an obstacle before I expected him to go over it, all was well. But at first look, he was just as likely to run out as jump. I'm pretty sure a lot of schooling would have cured him, but the refusals were even more athletic than the jumps themselves and I simply didn't want to deal with it.

All that being said, I know we entered one jumping class in a a local show and he won second place--I'd been able to school over all the fences before the competition--so he had the potential, but I wanted to focus on dressage.

Toby had mixed feelings about that. All in all, he did quite well at the lower levels, but taking him beyond was a challenge. Every step along the way seemed to offer a battle of some sort or another.

It was during this journey of coping that I met Kenny Harlow, a John Lyons trainer, and I had several really good sessions with him. Toby proved to be a quick study of Kenny's methods and we were making great progress in conquering a lot of his spooks and arguments, so when Kenny came to the area to run a three day riding clinic, I signed up immediately.

Little did I know what a revelation that would be.

Addendum: Beautiful day today. I took Chance out on a nice trail ride--he was a bit frisky but fun. I lunged Tucker afterwards. Hard to tell if his barefeet are bothering him. He looked a little "short" when he started, but he moved out better as he warmed up. Since we will still be likely to have mud/rain/muck as spring creeps in, I'll keep the shoes off, unless he starts to definitely look sore.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dealing With a Redhead

Horses I Have Known: Part 11

I've always been a fan of bays. Of course, when I was a child, I wanted the infamous "white stallion," but a few weeks of horse grooming in my youth convinced me I'd rather have a color that didn't show the dirt quite so much. *L*

Russell was a bay. PJ was a bay, and as leaders of the "Bay Boy Raiders" at one boarding farm, they always charmed me. But, when the time came to start considering a new horse, I forgot about color.

The barn manager and her husband were in partnership with a guy named Pete on a young racing prospect. He was a yearling they called, "Pete's Horse," and one day she invited me over to see him. There, in the paddock was a pretty yearling cavorting about. He was incredibly athletic in his movement. I told her then if they ever decided to sell him to let me know.

A year later, she told me they had decided to get out of the racing business and the now two year old was for sale. Too much money for me, though, so despite the offer, I passed. A few months later, she was back with a lower price. I made a counter offer and soon, we'd struck a deal half way in between. "Pete's Horse," (Petie, registered as Arts Ruler) was mine. We had him gelded, and after Russell passed away, he filled the empty stall in the barn.

A bright chestnut with two white socks behind, Petie definitely needed a new name. Then, my friend Jacquie, knowing I was a Shakespeare fan suggested, "To Be Or Not To Be," from Hamlet, since at the time I wasn't sure if Petie was actually going to be a dressage horse. The name was perfect, and from that day on, Petie became Toby.

While he had been sat on by a rider, Toby was completely green. I decided I really didn't want to do much with him until he was three, at least under saddle, so I began all kinds of ground work with him. We rapidly progressed from simple lunging...where Toby had a determined habit of spinning around from the left hand to the right and bolting long lining.

I had learned the basics of longlining from Lockie, honed my skills on PJ, and by the time I started working Toby, I had pretty much mastered the basics. Toby was a talented, athletic, and bright student. It didn't take long before we'd mastered steering, stopping, and moving nicely along at all three gaits. I tend to line on a circle around me--some people call it "double lungeing" --but at the walk and slow trot, I will also work the horse from the side or behind on straight lines, serpentines, and all kinds of turns.

By the time Toby was three, he was a pro on the long lines. I had no idea how much of a benefit it was until I hired a young rider to do the first few training rides on his back. After her first ride, she came back into the barn and said, "I thought you said he was green. He rides like he's already a trained horse." By the second ride she was already cantering him. After a week or two, when I was sure he was comfortable about having a rider on his back, I got into the saddle myself.

There was no question. The longlining had done the trick. Toby was indeed well past the point of being green. He did ride like a trained horse.

But if you think such an auspicious start was the beginning of an easy road, you are mistaken.

The true training of my red headed boy was going to be a challenge.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dining Out

Having a Few Days Fun
Happy St. Patrick's Day!!

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday, but by the time I got home from going out to dinner with friends for the second night in a row, I was too tired. I am going out again tomorrow with another friend, so I'm not sure what I will say then.

Today, however, the weather was utterly magnificent! The temperature was up around 60 and it promises to be even nicer tomorrow. My arena is dry with excellent footing and while there is still mud in the paddocks, I was actually able to finish stripping the stalls and bedding them anew. I had to wait for things to dry out a bit, because there was simply no point in working hard only to have the rain blow back in and get all the new bedding wet. These nor'easters whip the wind and rain in from the east, west, north, and south at times, so no side of the barn is actually dry.

I did take the time to ride. Guess who? The subject of my next installment of "Horses I Have Known," the famous Toby! When I went out to select a horse, he was the only one close to the barn. The two youngsters had galloped off into the pasture. At first Toby wanted no part of being caught, but then he changed his mind, so I slipped the rope over his neck and brought him in.

I was glad I did. He is shedding like crazy and with the curry, brush, and shedding blade I had a pile of horsehair on the floor in no time. There is still a lot left he has to lose, but at least I made a bit of a dent in the process.

We took the short "Tucker Trail" through the woods, stopping at the salad bar pile of dirt with some nice green grass growing on it. It always amazes me how quickly the green plants and grass start to grow as soon as the spring sunshine starts to warm the earth. Already the front of my house is colored with crocus, and I see signs of some other little spring flowers poking their heads out too.

Some of the trail was a bit slick under the leaves, but to my absolute surprise most of the mud puddles in the woods were dried up already. Mind you, this is after 4-5 inches of rain Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Once more it proves the incredible infiltration of this aquifer. If you dig below the topsoil in most places, you will reach first a layer of fairly pourous sandy clay and then, depending on where you are, after anywhere from 6 inches to perhaps 9 inches, you are more than likely to hit sand. Once the water gets down that far, it filters through and ends up in various underground storage areas. Some records say there are underground rivers, but I don't know if that's true. Still, when anyone digs deep enough around here, they are bound to hit water.

The sandpit across the way is a prime example. It was what was known as a "wet" mining operation because as soon as they reached the sand and gravel, they hit water. Thus, the mining produced a huge lake across the road. My land sits 20-30 feet higher than the lake's surface...perhaps my property dries out quickly as the rainwater seeks the lower water table underground.

Toby and I had a nice quiet hack despite the fact that upon our leaving and return, the two other Boys were chasing each other madly around, leaping and bucking all over the place.

I decided not to work anyone else. Besides, they seemed to be getting plenty of exercise on their own.

Tomorrow, since it is supposed to be even warmer, I am planning on taking all the Boys' sheets off the let them go "naked" for the day. I shudder to think of what they will look like when I get home from school. There are still mud puddles in the "Lake Follywood" part of the arena.

Will they be too tempting?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The End of an Era

Horses I Have Known: Part 10

By now I had moved Russell and PJ to a new barn. We spent several good years there, until the day that Russell nearly fell down going out the barn door to his turnout paddock.

It only took another day before he was severely lame. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not good. Everything pointed to laminitis. This was over 20 years ago and even less was known about treatment of the disease than today. Things didn't look good.

We reshod him with his shoes on backwards, a recommendation of an old time vet whose counsel I had relied on more than once. I cut back his feed to just hay and we put him on 24 hour turnout. It was a matter of wait and see.

But at that point, I knew where things were headed and after about a week of nursing, I had already decided I was going to have to end Russell's suffering. On Wednesday, when I went to care for him, my boy was standing in the little run in shed, staring out into the woods beyond. For a moment or two, he did not even seem to notice I was there and when he finally did, I could see the anguish in his eyes. Still, the Russell sense of humor somehow glittered through the pain long enough for him to wait until I turned my back so he could tip the wheelbarrow over to dump out all the manure I cleaned up out of the paddock, but my smile was fleeting. I had a hard decision to make.

By now, I had established a good relationship with an excellent animal communicator and that Thursday, I put in an emergency call to her for a consultation. I told her what was going on and that I had to decide whether or not to euthanize Russell. She began to "talk" to him for me. He told her he was so very, very tired. I told him it was OK to lie down if he needed to. Then, I asked him what he was doing in the run-in shed when he didn't notice me. He "said" he'd been thinking about "going," but he was worried about what would happen to me once he was gone.

I reassured him. I would be all right, I said. I would be so very sad, but I would be fine. Then I asked him how I would know it was time to say good bye. Russell said when I saw him looking out into the woods, I would know he needed to leave this world. I don't remember much else of the communication except that I had finally reached a kind of painful peace with my decision. I was going to call the vet the next day.

That next morning, I got a frantic call from the barn. Russell had gone down during the night and they could not get him back to his feet. I drove over as fast as I could. When I got there, Russell was lying by the fence, near the woods, with his head, reaching under the bottom rail towards the forest beyond. The barn owner told me, "We keep trying to get him away from the fence so we can help him up, but he keeps pushing himself back with his head into the woods."

"It's all right," I answered. "Just leave him alone. I understand." As soon as I sat down next to my beloved Russell, he put his head in my lap. I remember sitting there with him talking about all the wonderful times we'd had together was we waited for my veterinarian to arrive.

And then, at last, my beautiful, precious Russell breathed his last as I spoke words of love in his ear.

To this day, it is hard to tell this story. My broken heart still aches when I think of that day. I know full well I did the right thing, and I also know Russell died peacefully, surrounded by my love. But that does not take away and sorrow.

For weeks afterward, I was in a lingering depression. Russell was in my thoughts, close to my heart at every turning.

Then, one night as I was driving home from choir rehearsal at church, I had the strongest feeling he was there, his heart still attached to mine with a powerful bond. I burst into tears again and then I told him I was OK. "You need to go, Russell. I'll be OK. But you need to go on now. I don't want to hold you here anymore. I'll be OK."

It only took a moment, but suddenly a great feeling of relief washed over me and it was as if a huge weight had lifted from my soul. For the first time since I had lost my boy, I knew I really was going to be OK.

I had PJ and was now also the owner of a feisty young Thoroughbred I'd bought while Russell was ill, knowing the time to fill my life with a new horse was coming.

To Be Or Not To Be had entered my life just when I needed to surrender the past and look to the future.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

We Interrupt This Program for a STORM

Temporary Writers Block

A horrible storm or two colliding storms swept through Central New Jersey yesterday. Up until about an hour or so ago, my power was out. I just got back from going out to buy a battery operated alarm clock and another flashlight, but when I got back home, the electricity was back on.

That might not last as I have a pine tree at the end of my driveway about ready to tip over onto the power lines. And the pine tree on my aunt's property next door has already dropped some branches on the lines. I called the electric company, but they were swamped with problems already so they were not too impressed.

Yesterday, I was out driving in the storm itself. I'd gone to the Farmer's Co-op to pick up the magnesium oxide I had ordered. On the way I saw a sign already posted that one of the bridges over the canal and river I had to cross was closed. I made it over on another bridge, and on the way back I saw that the water was nearly up to that bridge as well, so I suspect that it closed later.

I stopped at the pet food store to get some cat food, then decided to stop in at Target just to look for my mint M & M's. (I did find them!!) One of the store's in doors was being repaired, so a worker was stationed at the automatic out door to let people in. It turned out she was a former student of mine. We moved partway into the store to chat a bit when suddenly, there was a loud explosion. The double glass doors of the store exploded off their hinges in one of the tremendous gusts of wind. Had we not moved inside, we might have been hit. As it was, my friend was really shaken up. One of the men in the store managed to right the doors again and apparently, they locked them after that and used side doors to let people in and out.

The wind was so bad the rain was horizontal. I had to detour off several roads to finally make it home only to find my power out. And worse, as I sat in the darkening house, I was watching one of the pine trees in the side yard tilting more and more in the wind as the roots started to loosen in the wet earth.

By the time I got up this morning (Sunday) I found four pine trees in serious danger of falling over. At least two would hit the power lines and the third, the same one I backed into with the car, would do some serious damage to the house. I said a quick prayer and called the tree guy who had done a job for be before at a reasonable rate, and he promised to get here before the day was done.

I went to church, went to lunch, came home to still no power. I called the power company who now informed me that my outage investigation would be done by Tuesday at 4 PM. That was going to be problem as my food would spoil and, since I have well water and pumps, I would have no water until then. I called my friend Bill to help me get my generator started so I could at least get my food cooled and the house heated. He got me set up just fine and I had some power to the house, so I felt a lot better.

Just about then, the tree guy showed up. He agreed we were in some serious danger of trees' going down, so we finally settled on a price for a major tree job--three pine trees, a huge maple tree, some other trimming etc.--and he and his team set to work. I guess they were here for several hours, but the main problem trees are now safely down. The pine by the road needs special care as it involves the electrical wires and the power company really should take care of it. (They are, however, totally involved in tree problems and power problems all over the place, so heaven knows when they will come. I did tell them it was their main power wire that would go down, but I guess that's their problem to deal with.)

Well, the tree guys did an amazing job. My yard is now full of safe chunks of pine trees. Everything is piled up out of the way and they will be back as soon as they can to clean up the rest and trim the rest of my trees. After they finished here, they were heading off to another set of jobs where people needed help.

I headed off to shop for some extra flashlights and a battery operated alarm clock to wake me up in the morning. When I got home, I was greeted with LIGHTS in my neighbors' houses, so I shut off the generator switch and put the main power back on in my house and...well, here I am again. Much to my surprise, my Internet connection is just fine, the cable TV is working, and I have power again.

Taking a nice hot shower is going to feel SOOOOOO good!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Dressage Horse

Horses I Have Known: Part 9

Set on a course for a dressage career may not have been PJ's choice in life, but he was one of those horses always ready to try. Physically, had he not had the prior track injuries, he was certainly built for the part. He was well balanced in front, and looked more like a Warmblood than a Throughbred.

His trot had the potential to be amazing. His canter needed a lot of work, but I will blame that on the injuries. The internal hoof fracture I found out about much later would periodically affect his shoulders and I'm sure the concussion of cantering must have caused him discomfort now and again. But lots of gymnastic schooling and suppling improved his gait and while he never developed one of those "lofty" canters so cherished in the dressage arena, he did just fine.

At home.

The stress of shows was another matter. I don't think, in all our competitions, I ever quite got from him the top performance he was capable of offering. Still, he placed well enough over time. We earned a year end award at least twice from two different show series. One was for our third level musical freestyle.

I still have to laugh about that too. Once, in a fairly large rated show, PJ was feeling a bit more nervous than usual. On our entrance into the arena with the initial halt--my music was from the opera, Carmen--PJ let fly with a buck and then stood stock still and square. The judge, a very well educated and respected German trainer wrote as his comment for the entrance,
"Music well interpreted by horse on entry." The music? The Entry of the Toreador. The lyrics? "Here I come into the field of battle." The judge knew the opera well enough to appreciate the irony, and PJ earned a fairly decent score. *lol*

One of the hightlights of my training was a week or so that I spent up in New York State training on a daily basis with Lockie Richards. Lockie was a former three day rider who'd finally focused on dressage and was competing at Grand Prix. I'd been working with him for years with Russell and respected him as one of the finest horsemen and teachers I have ever known. (By the way, if I haven't already told you 100 times already, the horse that plays Brego in Lord of the Rings is Lockie's retired Grand Prix mount.)

Lockie "gave me my dressage seat" during that week, and even though I far to readily slip out of its correctness when I ride now, I can still often hear his voice echoing in my ear, "One, two, one two, hip toward your hand. Feel it? Feel it?"

Under Lockie's guidance and inspiration, I gradually moved PJ up the levels until we reached Intermediare I. It was there we hit a stumbling block I have yet to move a horse past: Passage. PJ had an elementary piaffe, but it was emotionally upsetting for him, probably because he found it a hard exercise. Every time we tried, I could feel his anxiety. While it may have been more an emotional problem than a physical one, I found myself needing to listen to him, so it was there I decided perhaps he had been pushed far enough. We'd play at the exercises every now and then, but I never pressed the issue with PJ.

His heart was too big and I didn't want to break it, or break mine in the process.

Another irony about to hit me harder than I'd ever wanted.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Definitely Out Of Shape

And I Don't Mean for Riding

I mean for teaching, or at least working all day. The drive is a bit longer than I'm used to, the traffic a little trickier, but acutally not a whole lot more challenging than the most annoying drive to my old school.

But add the morning drive, a day full of classes....sort of although only a portion of my old teaching schedule...and some very sweet kids who really do want to communicate with their teacher and I am exhausted.

However, while I am at the school, I have plenty of mental energy and a good amout of physical energy to match. I am however, trying to organize both the classroom and the teaching materials to my liking, almost as if I were starting off a brand new year in my own classroom. I rearranged the student desks--the kids seem to like it--and am still working on setting up the grade and attendance books so I can keep records. And then, there were a few general rules for running the classes that needed some discussion with the Principal and, eventually some of the other teachers involved.

This school's discipline and general rules for students are very different from what I am used to in both good and bad ways. The new principal is trying to tighten things up a bit and I am in total agreement. It is not a matter of the kids' misbehaving or anything at all like that. Instead, it is a matter of keeping better track of where kids are at given times and assuring they are safely being "watched out for" by teachers and supervisors. At any rate, the Principal visited my senior study students this morning to explain some of this to them, and afterwards, I set down some rules they will need to follow. Later, one of the other teachers involved in that senior program came to see me so we could coordinate enforcing the rules as a team.

It will all work out just fine and the students seem quite accepting, so that's good too. I am trying not to make too much of a fuss about it all, but I do seem to be in the thick of things.

I am really looking forward to studying the literature I have chosen with my classes. I think they will really appreciate the ideas and information I have to share with them. They are really wonderful kids--interested, engaged, serious about school, but with great senses of humor and the ability to laugh and enjoy learning. I want to do everything I can to make my class enjoyable.

And I can hardly wait to start teaching Shakespeare! It's going to be a lot of fun!!

All this is because when I finally got home tonight I was far too tired to do any work with the horses and to work on my continuing tale of horses I have known.

I need a nap.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Weather's On My Side

Horses I Have Known: Part 8

First the report for the present.

I lunged Tucker and Chance yesterday after I got home from school. Tucker did not look "sore" but he was not striding out fully. However, as he moved into the session he looked more and more comfortable. The footing is amazing right now, so that was not a factor. Chance is so cute with his little rocking chair canter on the left lead. It looks as if he could to it all day, and the rider would just have to sit there, smiling.

Back to the past.

PJ and I, as I've said, had mixed success in the show arena. I did discover that the best way to settle him down was to do a moderate warm-up about an hour or so before my ride time, then take him back to the trailer, unsaddle him, allow him to chill out for a while and then, about fifteen to twenty minutes before my time, saddle back up and do another short warmup so we could go right into the class.

I'm not sure why, but I toyed with an eventing career for him as well, but I guess my heart had gone out of it by then. I think I evented him twice. I say this because I seem to remember losing my steering on our first ever cross country course and jumping the high side of the first option so I had to go back to jump the correct fence--counting as a refusal. I do know we also placed second in another outing. It was a big division, and we were second to the likes of Bruce Davidson who was there with one of his young event prospects. I figure placing in that kind of company was no mean feat.

I think this is the second fence at our very first event. As you can see, PJ wanted to make sure he cleared it with lots of room to spare. I have two more pictures I will add to the next part of the story.

PJ's lower level dressage was solid, and he was bold and brave cross country. I always felt he would get us to the other side of the fence somehow, and I don't remember his ever even considering a refusal once he figured out what jumping was all about.

But the initial lessons were not all that fun. I had only worked him on crossrails, just introducing him to jumping when I signed us up for a cross country clinic at the US Equestrian Team Headquarters. They had a beautiful cross country course with just about every kind of obstacle you'd meet, set at all different levels. I took PJ, full of high hopes that he would get a nice easy introduction to cross country fences.

Wrong. I'd signed up for the very beginner group. Since there had been very few participant at that level, I ended up in a mixed lesson with some Preliminary horses (That would be just below the Advanced heights and widths now used in International competitions.) The trainer was a very advanced competitor herself with an obvious "eventing" mentality, which meant you just ride the horse to the fence at speed and expect him to jump--even if he'd never done it before.

That was not how I had ever learned how to teach a horse to jump, but so be it. Most of the fences had very low options, so whenever we schooled a fence, I'd take the small side. But then, we met a bank. Again, not so big, but this required a jump down from the top. PJ did fine going up, but at the top, he froze. It was a repeat of the river. He had absolutely no idea of what to do and simply stood there, rooted to the earth.

The trainer had a lunge whip. She began to snap it at him. His feet started to dance, but he still would not go forward. She snapped his legs with the whip, stinging him. We had piaffe. She snapped again and he was trembling underneath me. A second before I was about to tell her to stop, he plunged forward, leaping off the bank. Fortunately, I, in good cross country defense position in the saddle, stuck with him. After that we did the bank a few more times and he was fine. He'd figured out the problem and solved it.

Done with that the trainer pulled the whole group aside to discuss what we wanted to do for the rest of the session. As she was talking, she waved the lunge whip to make a point. PJ panicked, whirled away, and I, far too relaxed in the saddle, tumbled to the ground as he bolted off across the show grounds. The trainer was mortified and apologized as we watched one absolutely beautiful big bay Thoroughbred trot full out across the grass. To be honest, as worried as I was, I was also awed, as was everyone else on the grounds. PJ's trot was huge and dramatically magnificent, and as I ran to catch him, everyone I passed kept telling me what an amazing mover he was. Poor PJ ran all the way to out trailer, and was there waiting for me, more upset than I was by his escape. I don't remember what I told him, but by the time I was remounted, he had calmed down and was ready to continue the clinic.

He was a star for the rest of the day. He mastered the water complex on the first attempt, outshining a number of the more advanced horses and actually offering a lead into the water for several of them. He also took the lead over a ditch for a reluctant horse or two. We mastered a fairly substantial jump up a little bank with jump on top after a tricky first attempt, and by the end of the day, I felt his confidence in full gear.

To this day, I am sure if I had wanted another event horse, he would have been the one.

But, I am also not sure he would have stayed sound with the jumping eventing requires. It was not until years later that an xray revealed that old broken bone in his hoof, and, of course, there were the tendon bows. I tend to think that many such injuries are a result of conformational weaknesses in horses and PJ was no exception. Acupuncture would keep him comfortable, but it would not fix the reasons he became muscle sore.

We would still jump now and then, but PJ's career was headed for the dressage arena, and my eventing days were over for good.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

I Rode!!

Short Post on a Beautiful Sunday

I seriously underestimated the amazing drainage on my property. I had poo picked the arena yesterday and there were some serious wet spots and a few spots still frozen.

But the temperature was up over 50 F. today and by the time I got back home from church, everything was well thawed. I still have some piles of snow where I heaped it after plowing and some on the ground in the shadier spots, but my arena was completely clear and the footing was marvelous. I poo picked a little more as the Boys like to hang out in the sand, and then hooked up the arena drag.

Whew! The mud in the paddock by Chance's stall was really bad. Not so deep, but very slippery and my poor tractor was sliding all over the place trying to pull the drag up the little hill. Four wheel drive be blessed, but it was a skidding struggle to make it up to the arena gate.

One inside, I did a good grooming job, going over most of the footing at least three times to loosen and level it. The Boys were out there "helping" so I had to keep my eye on them to make sure no one tried to play with the drag rake, but it was OK and despite their frolicking, they kind of stayed out of my way.

On the way out of the front paddock, where there was much less mud to battle, the drag got stuck on the gate. Clever Chance took immediate advantage and before I could stop him, he jumped over the end of the stuck drag and escaped out onto the lawn. Toby and Tucker, a bit slower on the uptake tried to follow but I managed to block the way by getting the gate partially closed. It took a lot of convincing to get the two big Boys to move out to the other side of the barn so I could get the drag free. Meanwhile, Chance was trotting all over the lawn disappointed at the lack of grass.

When I finally got the drag free and unhitched, I got a lead rope and very easily captured the wayward Chance and put him back behind the fence.

Then, I saddled Tucker up for a short ride in the arena. Even with the excellent footing, he is definitely "footy" without his shoes. His stride was short, and, although he really wasn't limping, it was clear he was not really comfortable. I still do not have the magnesium oxide, but I did get another supplement that is magnesium based for horses with Cushings and IR, so I gave him a scoop of that with dinner. I only rode him for about 10 minutes, with a little trot and canter, and he was actually quite willing to go without any protest. We'll have to see how the no shoe thing works out. For now, there is no point in shoeing him until Spring is truly settled in. It's supposed to rain for much of this week, so the mud will be back in short order. His being barefoot is the easier option in that kind of weather.

After I finished with Tucker, I saddled up Chance. Since he'd already warmed himself up on the lawn *G* I just mounted up and rode him out into the woods for a nice little trail ride. As always, he was a super boy and we had a nice hack. The footing out there was, however, a bit slippery in places. Again, a lot of the ground has thawed just on top, and under the leaves in the woods, there were some really slick spots. Still, there was a enough good footing to keep us both happy and we had a really good time out.

Toby was not interested in doing anything and by that time I was worn out, so I fed them all and made sure everyone had a nice carrot.

I'm not sure how much work I will be able to do with the Boys now that I am teaching again. Next week, though, we go back on Daylight Savings Time, so I will have enough daylight to do some riding. Now all it will depend on is just how much rain we get and when.

At least, if today is any indication, things should routinely dry out pretty quickly here. There are decided benefits on living atop an aquifer.

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Horses I Have Known: Part 9

PJ was a riddle. After stepping out of the open arena gate in his first dressage test ever, he went on to win his second class and a few others afterwards. But his performances both at shows and a home were inconsistent. On the days he was brilliant, he was beautifully so, but on the bad days, he was miserable to ride.

Part of it was his anxiety. Part of it was simply a physical block with being able to perform in a soft, round, responsive way.

I was not lacking in good trainers to help me. I still had Pru for a while, a German dressage master who came to the barn, and a host of excellent clinics I could attend. I rode with International trainers from Holland, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Canada, the US, and of course, Lockie Richards, my beloved trainer from New Zealand. When PJ was good, everyone loved him. When he was bad, no one was really able to break through. More than once one of the trainers would get on, and frankly, their success at getting him to work correctly through his back on a bad day was no better than mine. At least it would make me feel less incompentent in my own skills.

We competed well through second level with mixed results. PJ's name is on a perpetual trophy from my local eventing/dressage organization as winner of the second level award, and we competed as a member of the dressage team, but even those days had their ups and downs. I did discover that PJ was horrible on the grass. He had a wide, flat foot without much "cup" to it and unless the grass footing was soft, he would slip. As soon as he did, he'd shut down and that would be the end of any good test. I solved that problem by using screw in caulks in his shoes, but it wasn't the answer to all our problems.

Then, one day, a veterinarian came to the barn who specialized in sport horses and was experimenting with acupuncture. When I spoke her about PJ's erratic performances, she took a look at him for me. She quickly pronounced him "muscle sore" and suggested a cours of acupuncture treatments.

Equine acupuncture was in its infancy back then (1989 or so???), as was chiropratic. In fact a chiropractor who came to the barn was ordered off the property by the barn owner--a small animal vet--and had to adjust a horse in a nearby field. At that time, alternative therapies were strongly opposed by conventional medical vets and there was a battle raging between the two groups of practitioners. But because my acupuncture vet was both, she was allowed to work on PJ in his stall.

He needed a tranquilizer before she could do a thing. He was dancing and prancing as the needles went in, but eventually settled down.

The results were nothing short of miraculous. PJ's entire demeanor under saddle changed. I knew he had always wanted to please, but had been too caught up in his "inner demons" to offer his best work every ride, but those days were over. At home, and in unstressed situations, he suddenly blossomed. We continued regular acupuncture sessions for a while, and by the third time, PJ no longer needed to be tranquilized, and actually seemed to be looking forward to my vet's arrival.

The change in him was so obvious that as the new show season started, one of the women I had been competing against the previous seasons congratulated me on getting a new horse. When I insisted it was the same horse, she refused to believe me. "He can't be. He's completely different."

And indeed he was. I won't say we won every class from then on. The competition had stiffened and I will admit I am not the best "show ring dressage rider" in the world. But suddenly, we were in the thick of things doing well enough to be happy, even though PJ's own show ring anxieties never quite disappeared.

Frankly, I think PJ's experiences at the race track had scarred his psyche more than I ever realized. When I "spoke" to him through an animal communicator (Don't scoff if you are a skeptic, this was incredible stuff.) he "told" her of his time at the track, "It was never enough." He had been pushed beyond his limits and part of his heart had been broken. Once, while he was stabled at the US Equestrian Team headquarters, he refused to eat, later, telling the communicator, "That place reminds me of the track."

I do know that training him was at times unsettling because he always tried so hard and would get upset if he couldn't master a new exercise right away. If I were training him today, I would use an entirely different approach, offering constant rewards for small successes and demanding far less each step along the way. But that was then, and this is now. I have learned a great deal since then and understand far better how my horses think.

Still, we were on our way. With regular acupuncture to keep him physically comfortable, I had a wonderful horse to ride nearly every day.

I was definitely in love again.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Time Does Not Stop For Sorrow

PJ's Folly in Maryland. This head held many secrets. It took me years to unlock them
Horses I Have Known: Part 8

After Si's death, I was in a bind. He had not been insured at the $4500 I had spent on him had wiped out most of the money I had set aside for a new horse. Prospects looked bleak. Russell was still able to be ridden, but his competition career was over, so I was at a loss.

I called up Jan, the dealer I had bought Si from and when I told her the news, she was really upset. Immediately, she promised she would find me another horse, and, although she could not get me one for free, she offered to sell me one for the price her husband paid, not taking any profit at all. She said she'd find a horse better than Si, and told me to be patient.
Several months went by with no luck. Then one cold winter day, Jan called to tell me she had a prospect. But the ground was badly frozen and she had no indoor. Still, I took the three hour drive down to look at a very nice, pretty bay. I couldn't see much of his movement, so I wasn't able to decided on whether to take the chance of buying him. By the time I made up my mind after the drive home and a day of thinking, the horse had been sold and I was again out of luck.

It was at least another month before Jan called again. This time the footing was good and she was sure she had a horse for me. At $1500, he was stretching my budget to the limit, but shipping him from the Midwest and some other complications would not let her lower the price any more, so once more I and my friend Jacquie drove down to Maryland to go horse shopping.

PJ's Folly in Maryland. He was not your typical racing Thoroughbred, that's for sure.

PJ's Folly was a strongly built 4 year old. He had a bowed tendon, already cold and set, an adorable face, good basic conformation, and a huge trot. He was a bit reluctant to work, but once he got going, he was quite a boy. In the barn, however, Jan and her workers were just a bit cautious handling him. He was somewhat aggressive in the stall and when the stablehand tried to put back boots on him before I rode, he moved gingerly, ready to leap out of the way should PJ try to kick. None of that bothered me too much. I'd met a lot of difficult horses in my time and had always managed to improve their ground manners once I had them in my control. As a matter of fact, when we were done riding, I went into the stall with PJ and tried to bite me. I simply laughed and told him to cut it out--which he did. Jacquie said she heard Jan breathe a sigh of relief. I suppose she'd thought something like that would ruin the sale.

Here I am in Maryland riding PJ for the first time. I was a little concerned that he might not be big enough for me. He eventually matured to 16.2 h, so that was never a problem. He was all ready to stretch down from day one.

We settled, provided PJ would pass a vetting--which he did--but I'll let that go for now. I had some basic xrays taken and, of course the tendon issue looked at, and soon he was shipped up to me at Prime Time.

Poor PJ was a wreck when he arrived. The entire horse trailer was shaking from his quivering body and he was sweated up. How he must have suffered on that long drive to New Jersey. I knew I was going to have a lot of work to do to make him a happy horse, but I had no idea how complicated it was going to become.

He settled in well in the barn, but it was soon apparent that somewhere along the way he had suffered from some really bad handling. He was definitely aggressive in the stall, and would threaten to go after anyone who invaded his space. Interestingly enough, he did not seem to offer to kick, but would attack with his front end, head snaking out, teeth snapping and his forelegs striking. Since he seemed much better with women, I warned all the men there to just leave him alone, especially after one of the boarder's fathers, hanging over the stall door was charged by a raging horse then proceeded to yell and threaten PJ with his hands. Somehow, that was the last thing I wanted. I yelled back at the father, telling him not to punish my horse. I was totally convinced that PJ had been beaten at some point and did not deserve any more trauma.

Later, when I went into his stall with the manure fork to pick out some poo, he dived at me--or rather the fork with striking front hooves and a frightening determination. I stood my ground quietly and in a second, he backed off and went back to his hay.

PJ had been a racehorse. To this day, I am convinced of several things. He was a big boned, big horse, not like what people see at the typical racing Thoroughbred. His racing record showed only one third place finish in a dismal career, which is why he was sold to the dealer. Obviously he had the bowed tendons (Two, actually) and it later turned out he had evidence of a broken bone in his front foot--so much for a pre-purchase vetting with hoof xrays!! His bulky build and overall size had worked against him on the track, as I also suspect he was rather slow to mature. And, I think it had worked against him in the barn. He was the kind of horse whose massive body would have been quite intimidating to a groom and I am sure someone handling him had used the manure fork as a weapon to beat him, or hold him off.

Just to prove how deepseated a horse's fears can be, for at least ten, if not more, years with me, I still had to be careful going into PJ's stall with a fork in my hand. I would always warn the barn workers where we boarded as well. Even after years of never being so much as threatened by a fork, I can still remember PJ's going after me one day as I was picking his stall with careless abandon because I was sure he'd overcome his terror. The attack was short, and as quickly as he moved to strike he stopped himself and actually looked confused, but the habit was still there. By the time I brought him home here to live with me, I had finally vanished altogether, and I could even use the fork to ask him to move out of the way if I needed to, but that was only after more than those ten years of quiet handling.

And quiet handling was my motto. For the first year I owned him, I never once corrected him with more than my voice for bad manners. If he was aggressive, I simply made sure I was out of harm's way, told him "no," and let it be. The red letter day was the one when I was in his stall grooming him and he made a move to kick at me. Without a thought, I moved out of the way and threw the brush at him, hitting him solidly in the rump. That was the turning point. Instead of cringing away or defending himself, PJ blinked, flicked up his ears and simply looked at me as if to say, "Oops, sorry about that."

Undersaddle, PJ was a different story. He was a contradiction from day to day. On some days he was beautiful to ride, forward and elegant. His enormous trot was lovely. His canter--well, that needed a lot of work. He had no right lead and it took me what seemed forever to try to teach him to take it. Then, a day later, he would not stretch through the bit, or seem to be able to trot, much less canter with any skill at all. It was positively frustrating.

The first time I took him out on the trail, I found out that he hadn't a clue about how to gallop. He offered a nice quiet canter, but we might as well have been in a children's pleasure class. He wouldn't go on when I urged him and didn't relax his back or go into the bit at all as most race horses will. No wonder he never won a race. Years later, I realized if he had been trained right from the start he probably would have been a winner. He had a huge stride and when I rode with other riders on equally sized Thoroughbreds, they would have to canter to keep up with PJ's trot, and if I cantered they'd have to gallop. If I galloped, it was totally impossible for them to keep up. PJ's grand father had been a Kentucky Derby winner (Your Host) and from the pictures PJ had inherited his athletic build and talent. I'm glad his original owners never discovered that because then I never would have owned him--he was that good.

But there was another side to PJ as well. On one early ride, we had to cross a stream. PJ was OK at first going in, but then when we reached a little island in the middle, he stopped. And we simply stood there. He started to shake just a little as the enormity of what he'd done by crossing the first patchof water had been. I kicked, tried to turn him, slapped him a little with the rein, and even had one of my friends try to give us a lead. Nothing worked. PJ was frozen in time and space. I was just about to dismount and soak my own legs in the water when finally, he slowly took a step and made his way to the other shore. His brain had simply overloaded and his body had gone along.

His sensitive nature was clear. But there was much more behind his behavior, and it took me a while to unlock his secrets. It was, at the time, an amazing journey to come.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

We Pause for a Station Break

Where I'll be for a while.

Horses I Have Known on Temporary Hold

And here's why.

I spent the day at school, teaching. I have come out of retirement for the rest of the year to cover for a young English teacher who is going out on maternity leave. I am, frankly, just a little mentally tired, so I can't quite bring myself to write the next, much happier chapter. Sorry to leave you all in misery, but I promise you, the next part gets better!

Meantime, here's the deal. I will be teaching in the same school system at the Academy, a high tech school on the campus of the local County College. The school has quite a different atmosphere from what I am used to.

All of the students are basically honor students, and my impression is that they are all smart and motivated. I had a lot of fun interacting with them. I taught the freshman group (9th grade) today, and the regular teacher worked with the 11th grade. The kids seemed really receptive.

The schedule is far less demanding than the ones I had in my old job. Today, the morning was taken up with supervising a sort of study hall in a computer lab. Senior students work there on projects for their engineering courses and I have nothing really to do except work on the computer myself.

Then there is a pretty long break of 2 hours before I teach two afternoon classes (Except on Monday) of 88 minutes each, which is double the length of the classes I am used to. This is what is called "block scheduling" where the kids only take the class three days a week instead of five, still meeting the same time requirements but in a different pattern. For me, that means teaching only four lessons a week (Mondays all the classes meet for one shorter session, so that's a cinch) instead of twenty. (It would take too long to explain, but that's how the math works out.)

Better yet, I will be able to teach Shakespeare plays and hopefully a bit of mythology. I have nearly all my materials from my old lessons, so I'm all set up there too.

All I need to do is get some of the books from my old school--it's all the same school system, and I can share--and I'll be all set. The only shocker to me was that the job will go to the end of the year instead of just a month or so as I had expected.

So, until June, I am a working girl again.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sunshine on My Shoulder

Horses I Have Known: Part 7

Si was colicking, and it wasn't good. The vet came out. Doses of drugs, mineral oil tubing and all the right medications eased his discomfort enough that we thought he'd come out of it. The barn owners set up a cot for me in the aisle and we put Si in the indoor arena for the night.

We didn't make it much past midnight. He started pawing and trying to roll, obviously once more in agony. I called the vet back and soon it was apparent we were in big trouble. I called one of the other boarders who lived nearby--by this time it was going on one AM. My tow vehicle was at home, some 15 miles away but she was already hitched up and only a few minutes out.

We had arrangements to take him to New Bolton at the University of Pennsylvania's vet school, the only place at the time that did colic surgeries. The drive took well over an hour--going on two, and by the time we got there it was nearly 3 AM. Si, once again in pain after the banamine wore off, was in real distress and a standard exam confirmed our fears. He needed immediate surgery.

But there were other cases ahead of him. They gave him whatever drugs he needed to be comfortable, and with no other transportation available, I drove back home with my friend.

Once I was home, I simply sat by the telephone, waiting for the call from the surgeon. It took hours.

When the call came, quite late in the morning, as I recall, the news was good. Si was resting comfortably. It had been a simple twist, the surgery had gone well and I'd be able to bring him back home in a few days. Relief washed over me and I somehow managed to get some sleep.

I had my own trailer to bring my boy home again, and I will never forget his excitement when we pulled into the driveway at Prime Time. If he'd been able, he would have climbed out of the little front door of the trailer. It was clear Si wanted to be there. He'd found a home and was happy there.

Si back home after his surgery.

Safe again in his own stall, he settled in with his hay, content at last. He had staples in his stomach along what was about three foot long incision. His neck had a shaved spot from the IV, but other than that, he was still the same sweet boy he'd been. Ahead of us were 6 weeks of stall rest with hand walking, then some limited turnout before things would be back to normal. We were in for the long haul.

Hand walking was a challenge. Si was feeling good. Too good. He would bounce on the end of the lead rope, spin around me, act like one of those really bad racehorses you often see heading for the post. He'd settle a little when I'd let him graze, but as the days went on, I was not having a good time of it. But walk we did and finally, after two weeks, it was time to take out the staples.

Si with me in the barn after his surgery. Look at his sweet face.

The man who owned the barn was a small animal vet. I bought a staple remover for him and he did the job neatly and quickly. Si had passed the first phase of his recovery and it was looking good.

Then, one afternoon, I got a call from the barn. Something was wrong. This time, I drove my tow car so I'd have it in case we needed to go. Si was pawing in his stall, clearly once again in pain. The vet didn't hesitate. Within an hour, I had Si loaded in the trailer and was off again to New Bolton. I knew the way by heart.

This time, Si was ominously quiet and calm in his pain. And again, there seemed to be no choice, he was headed back into surgery.

I had to go to school that day, to teach. I don't remember much except that I'd left a message at the main office to page me when the phone call came. It was the longest day I'd ever spent in the classroom. Eventually, the vet called to tell me Si was out of surgery in in recovery. This time, they had had to remove a part of his intestine and it had "died." Once more, he seemed OK, but he'd have to stay down there for a while.

I never saw him again. School and obligations kept me from taking the two hour drive to the hospital for the next two days. Then I got another call. Si wasn't doing well. The vet wanted to do a third surgery to see what was wrong. Perhaps a stitch had slipped.

We had a long discussion. How many times could a horse have colic surgery before the quality of his life would be in jeopardy? What if more of his intestine was dying? How far should we go in trying to save his life?

I made the painful decision. If it was just an easy correction from the second surgery, we'd go on, but if more of his intestine was compromised, then he would be euthanized on the table.

Before the day was over, my sweet boy was gone. There had been no hope. Si was only four years old. He'd never had much of a chance to enjoy life.

To this day, I cherish the memory of seeing him in that trailer when we got back home after his first surgery. He was one of the happiest horses I'd ever seen. I've thought about it a lot, agonizing about what might have been and why he died. But that moment, when we pulled into the driveway comforts me. I think it was the first time in his short life that Si realized he had a home. He had a place where he was loved and cared for, and I'd like to think he knew he had someone to truly love him as he deserved.

Sometimes a horse's soul is just too beautiful for earth.

God works in mysterious ways, they say. I like to think that God chose me to be Si's person for the short time he had on this earth because I was worthy to be his caretaker. It eases the pain just a little to think that, but it will never quite stop the tears.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Thawing Out

One Big Regret
Horses I Have Known: Part 6

We are in a thaw here and the mud has joined the snow to make a bigger mess than we had before. Yesterday, when I went out to clean the stalls, I pushed the wheelbarrow through the mud to the manure pile. On the way back, my muck shoe got stuck in the mud, was pulled off my foot and I stepped into the cold, wet mud with my socked foot. Yeech!! It actually took some effort to get the shoe back out and I nearly lost my other shoe in the process. I think I am going to have to choose an alternate path to the pile if I can find one less boggy. This morning, it was still a bit frozen from last night so I managed better except that the wheelbarrow kept getting lodged in holes making it hard to push. No pain, no gain???

I made one big mistake after I'd officially retired Russell from competition. My trainer, Pru, had built a new lesson farm and needed at least one advanced school horse. Russell fit the part perfectly, so I agreed to let her have him there. I knew he would be well cared for, an I trusted her as a teacher, so I also knew he would be well ridden. By then, I had found another horse (more later) and not having to pay board on two horses was a super idea. It looked like it might work out well.

But we'd misjudged a few things. First, her farm was too far away for me to visit regularly. And once, when I did, the gate was locked as she had established hours that did not fit my schedule at all. Second, she simply did not generate the business she'd hoped and Russell was not getting the exercise he needed to keep himself sound. And last of all, I had seriously underestimated the bond Russell and I had.

After a few months, Pru called to tell me he was not quite sound. Russell had problems with his stifle that required he be kept fit, and an old shoulder injury that also needed exercise. When I asked how much he'd been worked, she told me he was mostly on turnout because she didn't have enough students capable of riding him. Fortunately, the barn where I was boarding had a few open stalls, so I reserved one, just in case, and headed up to Pru's the next day.

Russell was indeed out in a back pasture and as soon as he heard my voice, he came galloping over. His whole expression told me all I needed to know. I could see he had lost a lot of muscling, and it was also clear he was one unhappy boy. My heart broke. I had the trailer up there in no time, and soon he was back with me where he belonged. And I promised him we would never be apart again.

And we never were. Until the day he died in my arms, I spent time with him virtually every day. I can hardly recall a week where I did not make at least seven trips to the boarding stable to take care of him. My only other regret is that I was never able to have him come home here to live with me. That would have been perfect.

So, now, I had two horses to board--Russell and his successor.

But that part of the story has its drama as well. When Russell was 15, still sound enough for a light riding and even occasional jumping, I decided it was time to find new, young horse to bring along. It wasn't going to be easy. I had, what was, even then, a limited budget of around $5000 for a new horse. I'd owned Russell and knew exactly what I wanted in a horse, making it even more challenging.

Eventually, after a fruitless search here in New Jersey, my friend who was living in Maryland, told me there were lots of horses advertised for sale down there, so it was worth a trip. I traveled down and off we went to horse farms. Again, nothing panned out. Some of the trips were amusing, including one to a farm where the woman insisted she had a half dozen 16 h horses all suitable for dressage. When we got there, we were introduced to a muddy paddock of furry Appaloosas none more that about 15 h. They were well cared for, aside from not being groomed or presented to us in any kind of appropriate way, might well have been nice horses. But as far as we could see, there wasn't one even remotely like what she had advertised.

Disheartened by our failure, we made one more stop, at Carousel Farms in Mt. Airy. Jan and Hugh Collins were horse dealers who specialized in buying Thoroughbreds from farms, tracks and trainers all over the US, but mostly in the Midwest. Their barn was nearly full of gorgeous creatures, all destined to be sport horses, and all already restarted with basic training for the show ring. The prices varied, but Jan assured us that she often had horses well within my price range and soon pulled out a few prospects.

One was a dark bay, I think seven years old, beautiful to look at and a super mover. The other was a plain bay, with a huge trot and a nice calm attitude. How it all developed, I can't quite recall, but within two weeks, my friend had purschased the dark bay, and I bought the four year old plain bay.
Idaboy, Si, the day he arrived at Prime Time Farm, where I boarded. That's my good friend Jacquie holding him.

His name was Idaboy, and I figured if he didn't turn out to be my new perfect horse, I could train him for resale and work my way up to something else. I soon renamed him Sudden Impulse, nicknamed him Si, and within a week, was in love. He was a beautiful mover with huge, well balanced gaits. He was still green and the indoor arena may well sport a hole in one of the doors where he connected with his hind hoof kicking out on a left lead canter depart, but! He'd learned to do an extended trot down in Maryland and I'd have to remind him when I rode that there was a working trot we really needed to do instead.

And out on the trails, he was a joy. On one of our last rides, we encountered a herd of deer and all Si did was look at them, wait for them to cross the trail, and then walk calmly on. He was a wonderful horse.

But last ride it was. It might even have been that day, because I know I had just come back from a trail ride when I noticed that Si, just wasn't right. I'd seen the signs of colic before, and knew at once what was going on.

I got someone to start walking him for me and went inside to call the vet.

It was the end of a dream and the beginning of a nightmare.