Tag Archives: horse

Oogy, Yet Fascinating

I’ve seen commentary about this video posted on a few online horse forums, but this is the first link I’ve actually been able to get to work.  Before I post it, a disclaimer:  this is a kind of oogy video. There is blood, and guts, and a deceased racehorse involved. 

However… it is pretty darned fascinating and gives some great insight on how a racehorse “works” – and if you’re into veterinary nerding like me, you will be really into it (I was only sorry they didn’t get into the mechanics of the hind end so much, seeing as that’s the “engine” of the horse!).

One of the things they focus on are how the front legs absorb pressure, paying close attention to the soft tissue of the lower leg.  They also show what happens if there is a “ding” against those tendons while they are bearing the weight of a full gallop.  Another major component of this video is breathing and the equine airway – this part was fascinating to me, mostly because I never fully understood the mechanics of a horse who “flips his palate” until they demonstrated it (along with showing dynamic footage of a horse’s windpipe at a full gallop) with the actual body parts involved. 

If you are sensitive to blood, ooginess, or the idea of a necropsy/dissection, I will advise you not to click this.  But I had to post it here since some of the things it touches on are things we deal with on a regular basis – things like breathing problems, for example.  Plus it’s just plain fascinating.  The horse’s lungs, for example, are a masterpiece.  Just amazing!

Inside Nature’s Giants: Racehorse

Being In Love

I must be fickle, because I always fall for whichever horse I happen to be working with – I loved Klondike because he was fun and responsive.  Rosie because she was simply magic, Afton because he was so confident to fences, Archie because of his sweet nature and how amazing he was to ride once I figured him out, and Mikey because… well who couldn’t resist Mikey?

So I shouldn’t be surprised when a new horse comes along and I find myself her number one fan.  I adore everything about Candace (or as I’ve taken to calling her, Miss Moneypenny – don’t ask why, my brain is just wired strangely).  Over the first week of riding her my primary goal was just to get her moving forward.  She was slow and quiet, and keeping her going was a real struggle. 

I am pleased to report, though, that we now have a “go” button.  Now that she is going more forward, it’s much easier to ride her – I can use my legs to get a better quality walk or trot, or move her over laterally, rather than constantly just trying to keep her going.  I think front shoes have helped and she is more comfortable stepping out, but she’s also gotten more confident and as a real tryer, she is happy to oblige as soon as she “gets it.” 

As she is weak behind still, I’ve been focusing mostly on really making her use herself behind, and travel straight.  She tends to carry her hind end to the left, regardless of which direction you’re going, which is a little hard for me to figure out.  I’ve learned that attempting to push her rear end over with my left leg sort of works, for a few steps, but then she just moves over more with her shoulders, so I’m having to learn to balance where my leg is and stay really consistent with the outside rein (basically asking for a right bend) to just keep her straight.

As she gets stronger that has improved a lot – thankfully our indoor here has mirrors at every end so I am able to visually keep tabs on things (and because I often feel straight/correct when I’m not, the mirrors are my #1 tool right now to make sure I’m not screwing her up).

Taking my cues from Jess, I’m also riding much more on contact and forward than I usually would at this stage.  And I’m using my neck strap. 🙂  This week she seems to be learning a little bit about stretching forward and down – though I don’t get a lot of it from her we’ve had some really great moments where I can feel her back come up as she starts to stretch, and it feels really lovely.  For a horse as petite as she is (she is not short, but she is definitely built like a baby and is quite svelte and petite bodied at the moment), she has a really big stride when she starts to engage, and it feels great.

I have cantered her a few times but because she really needs to strengthen her hind end I’m focusing a lot more on good forward trotting.  I will say, though, that her canter is to die for.  I have no idea what it looks like, but I LOVE to ride it.  She’s very fluid and smooth in her canter, with a nice natural rhythm (especially now that she is more responsive to leg) – it just feels easy and effortless.

Today was supposed to be her first trail ride, but all the rain the last few days made it quite muddy and I’d rather go out without slippery footing as an added variable.  Just from leading her through the field I’ve noted she doesn’t like mud (little princess!) though she will happily go right through puddles in the ring when you’re riding her.

She’s also picked up some weight, which makes me happy.  Some of the horses we’ve had here have been difficult to get weight on (Archie took a while, for example).  She is already broadening and filling out over the back and butt, and I think will be looking much better in another week or so.  We’ve been giving her extra feedings with added rice bran pellets and soaked alfalfa pellets, and I think that’s all she’ll need to continue rounding out.  Since the only picture I’ve posted of her so far was taken while she was still racing, I have to post one to show what she actually looked like on arrival.  They look a little different after they lose all that muscle and racehorse glow, haha!

She has the greatest attitude – nothing seems to phase her at all.  Walking up the driveway today all the boys came galloping across the field, tails and heels in the air, and she didn’t bat an eye.  All the mares are in heat (including her), but her big “acting out” is to whinny under saddle.  She’s learning to respect my space more (she can get a little gung ho about going through doorways and in/out of the barn, so I had to get after her to not get ahead of me or run me over, but she learned that pretty quick!).  She’s been ridden in all three rings here, and is easy in all of them (outside she is more distractable but quite good!).  She has earned many compliments from people on her attitude, they just cannot believe she’s three!  OK, so she’s 4 now by jockey club rules, but her birthday isn’t till March, so she’s still 3 to me!

This one is going to be a superstar – I love riding her, and she has the attitude to go far!  The stronger she gets, the prettier she moves, too. I can’t wait to post an “after” video in a few weeks because I know it will be amazing to see the difference from the earlier video!

And if all that wasn’t enough for me to love her, she sort of has a head like Rosey’s, with a “brain bump” 🙂  I love that.

Me = Spaz

Allie used to say to me that it was sort of weird when people began treating her as an authority on things.  “I’m just a monkey with a keyboard!” she’d say.

I’m starting to “get” that a little more.  I try, and I do my best, but really? I’m a huge spaz.  With a keyboard.  The last several weeks has gone by in a blur.  I’ve been checking paypal, trying to keep my emails organized, and trying to remember all the followups from the great auction of 2010.  My spreadsheet is color coded but too big to see everything on one screen – even the big one I have here.  Some contact info for sellers and buyers is garbled so there’s lots of mad scrambling to get all our information updated. 

Somehow, in all of this, I was called “organized,” and my immediate response (in my head) was, “what? I’m just a monkey with a keyboard!”  I guess things have come full circle?  Ha!

In between all my chaos, life goes on and things are rockin’ and rollin’ at CANTER.  Horses in NC are finding buyers pretty well, and so more from MD are going to be making the journey south later this week. 

In Damascus, Mikey has been coming along really well with his training.  Our volunteer Laura is also coming along really well, which may seem like a funny thing to say, but sometimes it’s as interesting to watch the evolution of the rider as it is to watch the improvement in a horse.  She’s been getting regular lessons with our dressage trainer Stef, and has been working exclusively with Mikey for the last several months.

Mikey, Laura, and Stef

Mikey has learned so much – and he tries his big old heart out all the time.  Unfortunately, we are facing the same sort of thing we faced with Kat.  He’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful horse, but he’s that sort of in-between horse.  He’s not quite sound enough to to be considered a show horse or do heavy training.  He’s not quite quiet enough to be a beginner or bump-along sort of horse.  He’s a comfortable, fun, sports-car of a ride, but the type of rider to appreciate and feel confident riding him is also likely to be looking for a younger, sounder beast. 

Handsome Devil

At the same time, we have a bunch of horses over on Camp Happy Hill who are ready to start work, and will ultimately be much easier to place.  So it looks like, for the time being, Moo will be headed back for a break on the hill, while we get one of those guys into boot camp.  In my heart I know this makes sense.  I know if Mikey could understand it, he’d probably agree – but there’s just something about seeing his face every morning when I go down the driveway to go to work – he’s the horse that everyone should have in their backyard.  I walked out there this morning even though I was running late, just to give him a big hug and scratch his face.  And I’m stopping there because I find myself feeling surprisingly sad.

On the flip side, the horse coming in will be Mr. Bolt, which has me a bit excited – I do really like this horse!  He seems like a nice, honest, good natured sort of guy, and he just LOVES everybody!  I can see this guy doing really well with a horse crazy girl to fuss over him! 

Happy Muddy Bolt

In other news, had a track visit this weekend.  It was pretty standard, except for the first time ever since I have been doing track visits, we got thrown out of a barn.  The contrast was pretty crazy – we went into one barn, and both the trainers there were perfectly pleasant.  One had just come down from Suffolk and knows the folks who do CANTER New England pretty well.  He was nothing but sunshine and roses and was very happy to see us active and doing our thing at Charles Town.  So it was with a nice warm fuzzy feeling we went into the next barn, where a worker directed us to the trainer who was in one of the stalls.

After introducing myself, the gentleman informed us he didn’t think much of our organization, and to get out of his barn.  Didn’t even say please!  It was one of those moments I was laughing about for hours after the fact – I’ve just never encountered it before.  We’ve had trainers who don’t want to participate, sure, but most everyone at Charles Town will stop and say hi, and even those who don’t list horses are always polite about it.   In the years I’ve been going there, I’ve been treated to Chili and cornbread, teased mercilessly, given coffee and cocoa on cold days, and gotten several marriage proposals.  People will stop and chat about all sorts of things, and it’s gotten so that I feel like people actually like us – we’re not just a service but our volunteers are becoming an expected and welcomed part of the scenery.   We have trainers on our facebook pages, and who treat our volunteers like friends outside the track.  I generally feel so welcomed there that this experience was like something out of the Twilight Zone.  Oh well, can’t win them all! 

We saw some very nice horses at the track this weekend – one nice 17 hh grey (we took one picture with me in it – man I need a diet – just to prove he really is above my head! heh). He has the most amazing eyes I’ve ever seen on a horse.  I was sort of fascinated, unfortunately it didn’t come through well in pictures.

Stay tuned – he will be popping onto our Charles Town listings sometime in the next 24 hours 🙂  Along with an absolutely heart-stoppingly gorgeous chestnut filly, another sweet grey, and a macho chestnut gelding who thinks he’s Man O War 🙂

Lastly… after hearing so much about it, I stopped at Borders and picked up “Lord of Misrule” Saturday.  I’m done already.  It’s not a book for everyone, but there’s something intensely real about the feel of the book – it’s not just that the author has the language right, and the characters right – the pacing of the book just FEELS like the racetrack.  It’s not a really traditional novel, or linear storytelling.  There’s no explanations for readers who might not know what people are talking about in the book – but reading it I swear I could smell the backside in my nostrils and see the characters.  It’s worth picking up, though like I said not for everyone 🙂

i am important

No, *I’M* not important, I just looked in the blog stats and got quite a chuckle out of the fact that searching that phrase apparently brought someone to this blog.  I’m going to have to make that a tag.

Anyway, the last couple days have been challenging for me, emotionally speaking.  Without getting into specifics, I’ll just say that horses are always good for a little heartbreak, and with lots of emails and scheduling and vet stuff flying around, I needed a weekend off.  I am very fortunate to be seeing someone who’s good at reminding me of that fact, and so I spent the actual weekend doing fun non-horse related things (despite the last post which listed the horse-lovers weekend itinerary).  I went to the air show at Andrews Air Force Base, and then Sunday a wine festival in nearby Columbia.  It was pretty awesome, and just what I needed.

Of course, that meant Monday hit me like a brick.  Got into work to find out one of my bigger projects was all kinds of messed up, batch testing hadn’t caught some pretty significant issues, and I was going to be having fun all day getting things fixed and re-run.  Too many emails to sort through, both from work and CANTER-related.  All kinds of things I have to look into and check and remind myself of so I can get back to people later with requested information, etc… ugh.  And of course bad personal news too.  So all in all, I needed last night to go well!

Someone is scheduled to come see Archie this afternoon (I do have to check that – the weather is icky and since she wants to see horses out at the layup farm too, which is awfully weather dependent), so I wanted to ride him yesterday and make sure things are all good with him.

Things started on a good note when he was right by the gate when I went to get him – for once I wouldn’t have to slog my way through calf-deep mud! Unfortunately as he came out of the gate he dove for grass to his right, which meant his butt was swinging straight towards my face, and I was completely at the end of the lead rope with the horse in my left hand and the gate to my right.  Determined not to let go of Archie, and to remind him that this was completely unnacceptable, I had to actually let go of the gate. 

At the same time, Archie’s very herdbound companion realized he was leaving, and she came galloping towards the now wide-open gate while I struggled with getting him turned around.  I’m not sure how I managed it, but apparently me standing in the middle of an 18 foot wide open space waving one arm and growling was sufficient means of getting her to stop. Got the gate closed, got Archie reminded (a bit) of manners, and headed up the driveway. 

From there everything was fine until he turned his head at me while girthing up.  Also not acceptable.  Bad Archie! I corrected him (a bit strongly, I’m afraid) and he was then perfectly polite.  When I went to get on, he also started walking before I really had even started to swing up, but I was able to correct him very easily and he backed up and waited politely for the second attempt.

Once on, we had a fairly lovely ride in the indoor.  He is making fewer faces at his reflection in the mirror, but largely because I’m trying to keep him thinking/occupied.  We started at the walk just working on serpentines and figure eights, while keeping his neck and shoulders as straight as possible.  He does seem to have started coming behind the bit or below it, so while working on this I also spent a lot of time with leg on and really emphasizing forward from behind, to discourage.  A couple times I had to practically boot him forward so that he was using himself better. 

Up into the trot and we worked on the same things.  I also spent a lot of time on circles in the middle of the ring, where he can’t depend on the wall so much (he tends to fall inwards through the turn and then bulge his body out towards the wall as he approaches it).  Staying off the wall as much possible, I just alternated direction and started practicing large circle-small circle-large circles.  The next step would be a little more bending work and spiralling in and out, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. 

When I went to work on the canter I found it’s actually much easier on both of us to act from a reasonably organized walk.  On the right lead, you can get a fairly clean transition from the trot but I find everything feels much better from the walk.  To the left, asking from the trot doesn’t really get me anywhere – we keep picking up the wrong lead and he wants to rush, and the second he gets at all disorganized you give up any chance you had at the left lead.  Even from the walk we had substantial issues with that lead, though we eventually got it and maintained it for a few circles.  I think as he gets more strength this will all get much, much easier, but part of me is impatient and wants everything better right NOW! 

When I started getting frustrated about the left lead canter I slowed down, took a breath, and went back to working at the trot.  I figure the canter is hard because he’s weak behind and still somewhat inflexible through his body.  So I went back to the trot, and started working a bit more on bending and lateral movement (not too much, he’s a wiggle worm!) , and more transitions to build up that rear end strength.  We finished on a really good note – I did a series of figure eights (well, more like coming across the diagonal over and over) trying to really encourage him into a more forward trot with impulsion (and straightness! haha! This is the big key to riding him). and really trying to encourage him to stretch his head down and out (he likes to get behind the bit and avoid contact, as I mentioned earlier).  I eventually got what I was asking for – for about ten strides to the left his head went down, but I could feel weight in my hands at the same time, and he kept his forward impulsion.  So we quit with that and called it a night.

Physically he has finally lost the vast majority of his weird hair and is developing a nice shiny coat.  Still needs more weight but things are slowly filling in, and you can see some cover developing on his ribs (finally!) .  Can’t wait for an opportunity to get new pics and video!

Veterinary Nerding

Yesterday I left work early to go meet the vet for a couple of coggins tests and to scope white-nose face.  This is something that has been on the schedule for ages but has taken us a while to get done – typical communication glitches with answering services (“well, you said it wasn’t an emergency!”) and stuff has meant some delays.  Either way, it’s about time. 

So here’s the horse I call Noseface:

"topper" or "haagen dazs" or "Wheezy McSnoresalot"

He’s cute right? So cute we actually get a reasonable amount of mail about him, although he will not be available until after his surgery to repair his respiratory issues.  Scoping him yesterday was the first step in getting him fixed up – getting an idea of the extent of the problem so we can find out what kind of surgery is best (less expensive and faster recuperating laser surgery vs. the more invasive scalpel), and what kind of prognosis he has for recovery, etc.

As a warning, I sort of live for this stuff.  I find veterinary technology amazing, love playing with the equipment, and usually have a lot of fun assisting where necessary.  Even after my first euthanasia last fall, I stuck around to watch the dissection of the bad hoof, because I really wanted to get a good feel and understanding of what was going on.  While scoping a horse is hardly that invasive or oogy, I’d never watched it before and was very curious.

So after a couple hits of sedative and a steroid shot, out came the scope and we went in to see what was going on.

What we kind of already knew:  Topper has had previous tie back surgery.  You can see the scar on the left side of his throat, and through the scope you could see where the one flap had been pulled back.  However scar tissue in the area has impeded the airflow probably as much as the paralyzed flap did to begin with.

What we didn’t know:  The flap on his right side is also fully paralyzed.  So the total obstructed area of his windpipe is pretty large.  Like, if his airway is supposed to be the width of my clenched fist, the actual space he’s breathing through right now is about the size of one of my fingernails.

Additionally there is an area of his throat where there seems to be some pretty extreme muscle wasting.  Which led the vet and I to theorize about possible nerve damage to the area from the original surgery – this is especially noticeable on his right side – which is not the side that had the initial tie back (and where it’s actually pretty rare to encounter this problem).

So, for nerdery’s sake, here’s some images to try and describe what we saw.  Be warned that people who are walking by may not understand that these are pictures of a horse’s larynx, as they look somewhat similar to, um, something else which shall remain nameless.

From the Merck Veterinary Manual Online

Above is a horse whose left flap (the right when looking at the picture) is paralyzed (I use the word flap, they are actually called arytenoids but that’s a big word).  Usually, if anything is paralyzed or problematic, it is on the horse’s left side.  Apparently this is due to the odd configuration of the major nerve running through that area, which is situated in a different way than the left one and making it more prone to damage.  At least, if I read this page correctly (and I do recommend going to that link – they do laryngeal scoping while galloping horses under saddle, and have lots of neat information).

Here’s another image from the above link – a normal larynx vs. one with paralysis on the left (the abnormal pic is zoomed in quite a bit from the normal pic, if you’re wondering):

Normal vs. Left Side Paralysis

Now, imagine the above picture with the OTHER flap also in the same obstructive position.  If anything, in Topper, that right flap is almost more in the way as it wasn’t pulled/tied back in his previous surgery.  If I had to come up with a number I would say about 85% of his airway is obstructed just by the arytenoids.  (I know I’m botching this all up, not being up on my technical wording, but there you go).

In addition, Topper Wheezerface has some scar tissue and stuff in there further obstructing things.  As well as lymphoid hyperplasia (I had to have the vet spell that.  heh).  Basically, if I’m reading the Merck site properly, this is essentially inflammation of the scattered lymphoid follicles (instead of a mass of centrally located lymphoid tissue like people have with tonsils, horses have these follicles essentially scattered about their throat), a sort of immune system “event.”  Apparently it’s relatively normal in young horses, but in a 5 year old maybe not so much.  But as it might represent a response to irritation, etc, it would make sense if it was contributing to the worsening in Topper’s symptoms, as it’s spring, it’s suddenly gotten quite hot, and there’s a lot of allergens and irritants in the air right now.  Steroid shots can help with this, but it’s pretty much the most minor of his problems.

I’ve been trying to find pictures of a post-op tie back operation, and one that has developed scar tissue, but no luck there. 

Either way the next step is surgical consult, and then actually getting it done.  We should be able to help him out tons with surgery, the only real question is the level of improvement we’ll get, and what his future as a riding horse holds.

This is definitely the kind of thing that those interested in purchasing horses off the track need to be aware of.  As tie back surgery is relatively common, later complications from that surgery can also be somewhat common.  If you’re going to look at a horse at the track, always remember to ask about any breathing issues, and if you are getting a prepurchase veterinary exam, make sure the vet is paying attention to that area as well (if you are really serious about that prepurchase go ahead and spring for a quick scope).  Make sure to find out if the horse has had prior tie back surgery, how long ago it was, and if he’s had any other problems since.  Look up the horse’s race records and read the comments.  Often, horses we’ve run into with breathing issues are described as having “stopped” at some point in their last few races.  That said, the vast majority of amateur owners looking for pleasure horses and low level show horses don’t need to worry too much about this stuff.  Most horses with past tie back are pretty much fine for everything you’d want to do, until you start talking about high level competition, or disciplines where breathing noise is considered an “unsoundness.”  It’s just good to know – information to file away in case something comes up later.

This is also where it pays to pay attention to the racing industry a bit.  There’s one race owner in particular who goes ahead and gets throat surgery done pretty much on every horse in the operation, whether they need it or not.  This is the myectomy, not the tie-back surgery, which is done for different reasons (the epiglottis being entrapped by the soft palate – here’s an article from the Thoroughbred Times that goes into more detail).  The reason myectomy is important?  A lot of the effects are unknown, and there seeems to be evidence that it can sometimes result in problems in others parts of the upper respiratory tract. 

Either way, it pays to look over a horse’s racing history and ask these questions when you’re going to look.  None of the above mentioned stuff would stop me from buying a horse, but it’s just really good stuff to be aware of.  Most of us are not going to be pushing a horse to the limits of his physical capability, so even some breathing obstructions are unlikely to become a problem for us.  But it’s always good to know as much about your horse’s history as possible.

As a quick side note, dear friend of CANTER Mid-Atlantic Lynn Reardon, of LOPE in Texas, got the spotlight in the New York Times’s “Rail Blog” – go check it out and give her a little comment of support 🙂  And if you haven’t already, run, don’t walk, to your neighborhood bookseller and get a copy of her “Beyond The Homestretch.”

In other tidbits, keep your fingers crossed – two of our harder to place mares may be going to a new home this weekend.  If this works out it will be like hitting the lottery! 

Also, please continue to vote for us daily at the Pepsi Refresh Project.  I know it’s sort of a pain but it’s a super easy way to help us help more horses.  You also get ten votes daily and there are plenty of other worthy projects on there (my favorites?  Helping hospice patients keep their pets, Baltimore after-school projects, and a project to convert boring old lawns into usable and productive gardens)

Herd Bound Mares

Last night was a funny farm night 🙂  It’s about time too – work has been kicking my butt lately – thanks to a lawsuit we have very limited time to get a LOT of work done, basically major overhauls of our whole system.  Then management decided to be proactive by having us get our stuff in extra early – effectively cutting out three weeks of development and testing time.  I managed yesterday to get pretty much 90% of my stuff completed, and so left work feeling pretty good (of course today is not much better, though thankfully it’s production problems, which at least are more interesting to work on!).  Either way, I was tense and stressed when I left yesterday, so an afternoon out in Adamstown was pretty much exactly what I needed.

First up was Miss Sister.  Some people came out to look at her, and I’m pretty sure it’s not quite the right fit for what they need, but it’s always fun to see her anyway.  I pestered her a little bit about mane pulling, and sat there tugging on hair and not letting up until she stood still.  I figure if she starts to learn that standing still gets discomfort over with sooner, it will be a good lesson for her.  I hopped on her but she was quite fresh (it’s been what, months? Since the last ride) and my gut was saying it was not a good day to ride her too long.  She gets forward, and wants to tear around when she’s fresh, and if you hold her back she gets a little cranky.  It would be fine if I wanted to spend a half hour at a hand gallop, but with all the rain the ring really wasn’t up for it.  All that said, she really is kind of fun and interesting.  But herdbound, and quite unhappy to be pulled in by herself.  I think some more visits and work with her are in order (at least the weather is finally nice!)

Since they were looking for a hunter type horse, I thought I would pull Minnie in out of the field too.  Minnie, for those who don’t know, is Katerina’s daughter, a lovely dark bay mare with no white, just like mamma.  I’ve been salivating over her for a long time, because I’ve thought she was beautiful and my type of horse (but aren’t they all?).  When she first came to CANTER she was ridden a few times (and very good) but then managed to get a pasture injury that landed her in the horsey ICU and cost a fair amount of money to fix up.  Then she sat in fields, which has been all she’s done for a while.  I don’t think this horse has been ridden in a year.

Of course by the time I got halfway across the field, the whole group had migrated not only to the far end of the field, but to the other side of the gigantic hill, too.  I kind of wanted to turn back, but at that point, it’s almost like you can’t.  The whole “I’ve come THIS far!” thing was coming into play.  I tried to run, but Ariats are NOT made for running (truth be told, my old Tredsteps were much better, but when life gifts you ariats, you wear them). My toes were throbbing by the time I got up to Minnie. 

Then came the walk down the hill and across the field, which just seems impossibly long and tedious.  As soon as we got away from the main group of horses, Minnie started acting… well… obnoxious.  She wanted to go back, and wanted no part of being separated.  I’ve noticed this a lot with the mares, and it made me miss the geldings (really, I’ve never had one of the geldings do this to me!).  At this point I really wanted to throw in the towel, but as always, if you give in, it just makes it worse next time, so we kept going in fits and starts, a few times she tried to pivot away from me and run back, and a few times she tried to pivot INTO me and run back.  I was getting pretty testy by the time we got to the gate, but once we were out of the field she began acting like a lady again.

I turned her out to let her trot around a bit, and as always had to smile.  She’s a pretty mover even being very out of shape.  Of course, she was also working herself into a good sweat, going back and forth all anxious about where her buddies were. 

So of course, that means it’s a PERFECT time to ride, right?  Why not.

I listen to my gut a lot, and it hardly ever makes sense.  I’ve been on pretty easygoing horses and just had that feeling that maybe getting off now would be a good idea.  I can also look at a mare running frantically around a pen neighing her fool head off and think, “this is a GREAT idea!!!” 

My visitors had to go, but I’m pretty sure they might think I’m a little crazy.  It’s OK.  It’s totally true. 

So I grabbed the tack and wandered back to the ring.  Minnie immediately came to me at a trot, hoping I would save her (from what? from me?) and I had her tacked up in about ten seconds.

Over to the mounting block, where for sure there would be some shenanigans… except… not so much.

Ho Hum

She shifted her weight but then stood there till I asked her to move off.  I swear that as soon as my butt hit the saddle she stopped worrying about everything else and being upset, and just focused on what I wanted (well, except for wanting to stare out at the field a lot). 

Up into the trot, and she was WONDERFUL.  Magical, even.  She has a nice forward going feel, but her stride is long enough that it’s very comfortable for me.  Horses like, say, Rosey, are always a little hard for me to adjust to.  They don’t go fast, but their strides feel quick to me and it’s a huge adjustment.  Minnie made me feel right at home.  We did some figure eights and circles, and I found her remarkably easy to steer.  A lot like my own horse, actually.  You just kind of think about where you want to go, tighten your hand on the outside rein, and voila! you are turning.

Judge, Here's Your Winner!

Disclaimer:  My independently minded left arm is at it again, I see.  *sigh*

I found Minnie to be really remarkable in her acceptance of contact.  She went pretty much the same whether I had a feel or not, and when I dropped the reins a bit she just stretched out a little.  She started out the ride jawing the bit a lot, kind of like a green horse who hasn’t had a bridle on in a while (huh, imagine that!) but as soon as we started working she stopped and was very nice and quiet with her mouth.  Really, within minutes I felt totally confident riding her on a very loose rein and even adding leg.

Hey! It's a Monkey on Horseback!

The canter was actually much better than it looks there.  She has (again) a nice slow feeling stride, and is very directable.  She picks up both leads and I suspect will do lead changes very easily.  I felt comfortable both in a little half seat and sitting – she didn’t seem to mind either way.  It was just so comfortable that I couldn’t stop grinning. 

When I got off I was exploding with enthusiasm.  Here’s a mare who hasn’t been ridden in… I don’t even know. Seriously.  A lot of them I can say with confidence “four months!” or “six months!” or “yesterday!”  Not so much here.  It’s been at least a year as far as I know, and probably longer.

If she’s that good straight out of the field, while all worked up and anxious, with little fitness and not a lot of flexibility, all I can think is that she will be show-ready in no time.  Put some butt and back muscle on her and she’ll be a star.  I texted Allie immediately: “hey my saddle fits Minnie.  That means she’s mine right?”  Yep. I was THAT happy.  I seriously want this horse for myself, in a really big way.

Of course, I wonder if maybe I’m really fickle, because each time I get on a new one I’m really excited about it… but with Minnie I felt like I could take her to a show next WEEK and it would go well.  She’s beautiful, will clean up very nicely, and was just so freaking easy to ride!  She got every good thing possible from Kat, but with a better hind end and balance (seriously, cantering Kat was possible, but it wasn’t nearly such a delightful feeling!)

It was one of those rides where I totally forgot how crappy my day had been up until then.  The sun was setting, the clouds all pink and purple, she was magic, and there is actual green grass coming up everywhere.  Exactly what I needed this week, and exactly what I needed to motivate me to get my butt over there more often.

This isn't a good picture, but the dorky grin on my face makes me laugh.

Let the De-Fuzzing Begin!

I discovered something sort of cute about Archie the other day.  I pulled into the driveway and saw his pasturemate was not in the field with him.  He was buried in the haypile as usual, but as I drove by I stopped, and rolled down the window.  “Archiiiieeeee!!!  Hi ArchiiieeeeEEEE!!!”  Up came his enormous buffalo face, and he talked back to me.  He’s got this great, deep, low pitched breathy greeting neigh, and it about melted my heart with the cute.  The only other horse that ever “talked” back to me like that is Allie’s amazing horse Phinny (who is pictured on this page – he is magic, pure and simple!).

In any case, this was the weekend of the attempted de-fuzzing of Archie.  I intended to give him a bigger clip than I usually do (normally I do a rough “bib clip” sort of thing) but my clippers couldn’t handle the yak hair.  The blades are dull and his coat is amazingly thick and long – plus he is recovering from a case of skin funk, so there’s some difficult going in there.  My clippers were heating up too much and he was getting irritated, so the only thing he got clipped was his chest and the lower part of his neck up to his jaw. 

Horse? Or Yak?

Looking Slightly More Civilized

I managed to trim down a lot of the excess hair off his jaws. I didn’t want to shave his face, or accidentally take chunks of hair off, so this was a pretty delicate operation.  Overall I managed to do an OK job – I wouldn’t take him to a show tomorrow, but his face looks a lot less like a buffalo now.

After that I hopped on for his first official ride in our indoor.  He was fine to get on, stood at the mounting block like a champ, and then we wandered around for a bit.  He takes a fair amount of leg to keep going, and is much more typically “green TB” than Kat was, in terms of how he goes.  He tends to want to go in a big oval instead of going straight, then turning and bending, and going straight again.  The canter is obtainable – it’s a bit of a big push at this point, especially the left lead (to the left he wants to lean in and cut the turns much more than he does to the right.  Which could be him but is also probably a lot to do with me, too!)

The other hilarious thing he does is try to attack his reflection.  My own horse, sometimes, will snake his head and bare his teeth at other horses while we are in the ring (bad boy!) – Archie does the same thing… to himself.   Every time we went by the big mirror at a speed faster than walk, he pinned his ears at himself and went “GRRRRRR!!!!” (well, if a horse was capable of such a noise, that’s what he did).  His head would come up and he would act all ferocious.  The first few times he did it, I didn’t even realize what was happening – I thought he was just having a tantrum about bit contact, or something.  It took a while for me to catch on but by the end of the ride I couldn’t stop laughing.

I also think part of him cutting off half the ring to the left was seeing his reflection in one of the end mirrors – he could see this “other” dark bay horse coming at him, and wanted no part of a head on collision.  That took some working through, and I’m still not sure he gets it.

It’s funny, psychologist types who study brains and animals and behavior often will remark on the ability to see the reflection and understand it as a sign of intelligence.  Like, rats generally don’t understand their reflection, but chimps do.  It’s a sort of self awareness thing.  Horses are interesting because some of them seem to get it (Kat – when she saw something else in the mirror, besides her, she knew enough to turn around to see it in ‘real life’) and others don’t (Archie).  But I’m not sure it’s a sign of intelligence, because Archie seems to learn very quickly and retains things well (I can tell that in the short time he was with Jess he still has some “buttons” from her, and it’s been quite a while!). 

After the ride I tried to continue the defuzzing by doing some mane pulling, but Archie is NOT a fan.  I will probably work on this over a few weeks and see if I can get him to stand the way I got my horse to (he HATES it – but essentially I rewarded him with a treat every time he kept his feet still, until he stopped trying to move around.  He’s allowed to do whatever he wants with his head and neck, as long as the feet stay put.  It was a long process).  I will probably clean it up with scissors (gasp!!!) and a thinning comb, but will work on this as it’s something that helps his adoptability 🙂

I also took some other ‘before’ photos, for the record.  I really think as he gains muscle and sheds, he’s going to be a really pretty horse.  For now, the masses of 6″ long yak hair are sort of hiding that fact, but you watch!  He’ll look great in a month or two! 

Horse or Moose? You decide!


Cute Face! Minus most of the Beard!

Stephen Bradley Clinic

Just a note to anyone in the MD area –

Stephen Bradley is giving a clinic this weekend at Waters Edge Farm in Sykesville, MD.

We will be manning a table with snacks and hot drinks, along with information about CANTER and listing sheets to distribute.  Additionally proceeds from the $15 Audit fee will be going to CANTER, so it’s a fabulous opportunity to get some education from one of the best event riders around, as well as helping us care for and rehome horses.

I’ve become a bit of a nerd about Stephen Bradley since Allie told me that his horse, Brandenburg’s Joshua, came from Charles Town, which is essentially our home track.  It wasn’t his registered name, but by looking up his breeding, I was able to find out more about him, and realized I knew the people who had bred him from all my meanderings on the backside.  I also found out they have a half sister of his, still racing (she just turned 4 – and she is PRETTY!).

Stphen Bradley and Joshua at Rolex '08

 (credit to our director Allie Conrad for the lovely photo)

I would give a lot to see pictures of Joshua from when he was still at the track.  I’m very curious about what he might have looked like – his muscling, overall demeanor, etc.  I wonder whether it was immediately apparent that he would be very talented, or if he looked like any of the other horses we post – cute, but maybe weedy, or maybe “unremarkable.”  One of the things I’m constantly trying to get better at is improving my eye for track horses – I’ve seen the transformations happen, seen the “afters” of a lot of the horses in our adoption program, but Joshua’s success just makes me very curious. 

I tend to think that there are more “diamonds” at the track than people realize.  Many are appreciated and purchased, but may not reach the level they’d be capable of with the right person in the stirrups (well, any loving owner can be the “right person” but you know what I mean).  Every time there is a thread on a bulletin board analyzing the track listing photos, looking for a good horse, I’m always struck by some of the critical comments, and the things people can’t overlook that seem very trivial.  I’m not talking about conformational flaws (it’s always good to be objective), but the “well he has a chain over his nose, so he’s probably hard to handle” or “there’s poultice on his legs, that probably means there’s a problem.” and those sorts of things.  I see a horse who came off the backside of our little racetrack, from people I know, and wonder how many people might have overlooked him for some reason like that…

Sorry.  My mind is meandering again, it happens when it’s this cold out.

In any case, come to the clinic.  Learn.  Eat cookies.  Visit with us!

There’s A Light In His Eye

So I was going through the photos from Leo’s photo session last night, and in between my thoughts about his conformation and such, I couldn’t help but keep noticing that he really has something special.  ‘Yeah yeah yeah, we KNOW! You keep saying that!’ says everyone and anyone I’ve talked to about this guy, but really.  I mean it.  He has some very noticeable conformational flaws, but he doesn’t appear to know it, and it seems like in every picture, his eyes just have this great spark and his expression is that of a horse who wants to do great things.

First, a series of conformation shots.  Of course, taking them by myself is hard and it was difficult to get him in the right position, but you get the idea. 

leo - 01

leo - 05

He kills me.  The face is just the cutest thing ever.  Of course, I’m biased because whenever I see him I usually get to spend about ten minutes just cuddling his head – he loves that.  In any case, in motion, as I mentioned yesterday, he’s actually pretty cute, and so proud of himself!

Look at me go!!!!

leo - 09

leo - 07

He’s so perky.  I can’t wait for his foot to be better from his abscess, because I think he wants to go for rides.  This horse is going to be so much  better than people might think… mark my words!  🙂

Canter Poles

What a fun weekend!

On Saturday I played hooky from the barn again (I was sick all week- so, excepting one day when I held a horse for x-rays, this meant a full seven days of no riding. Amazing!) and drove up to Harrisburg PA to the open house at Penn Ridge Farm.  In addition to meeting some wonderful and fun racing people, I got to see the wonderful Real Quiet, who still looks every inch the Kentucky Derby Winner.  One of the things I love so much about Thoroughbreds is how many of them have that “LOOK AT MEEEE!!!” personality.  Real Quiet spent his entire time out striking photogenic poses (drat, left the camera in the car! boo!) and watching the crowd like he expected applause at any moment.

In a bit of a small-world  coincidence, I also ran into a trainer who donated a lovely horse to CANTER a while back- Sunshine Admiral.  Who, by further coincidence, has apparently found his way back to us.  Look for more updates on him soon!

Sunday, obviously, meant time to catch up.  Odds and ends from the auction (hopefully, the last of it!  And thank you letters! Whee!), and getting some horses ridden.

Stephen is doing very well.  He is recovered from his illness and being ridden by two volunteers who split duty with him.  His Sunday rider describes him as, “so lazy!!!”  No worries Lea, we’ll find the go button soon!  Stephen is also sort of a case study in the slightly harder-to-keep TB.  He lost some weight with his illness, and in addition had some difficulty adjusting to field board and getting off his racing medications.  So in addition to his daily feeding (mix of pellets/sweet feed, 10/10), he also gets a bucket of soaked alfalfa pellets, with rice bran pellets (for added fat), a probiotic (to aid digestion), and Platinum Performance.   PP is an excellent supplement, consider this a shout-out to that company 😉   I’m going to try and get some condition photos so we can track his progress. 

Afton is, as always, wonderful.  I think that he had all week off (again, I wasn’t there, so who knows!), which would make the ride we had Sunday even more wonderful.   Standing at the mounting block was MUCH better than the last few times I rode.  Also much more relaxed at the trot, or at least, willing to come back to the walk and relax, and even stop and stand.  He’s going into his corners much better and not motorcycling as much, too. 

One of the bigger issues we’re having is control of his shoulder.  Especially to the right, he likes to really bulge that shoulder out on the second half of the circle.  I’m starting to figure out that fixing it involves not only my left leg and keeping outside rein contact correct (resisting the urge to cross my left hand over the neck, heh), but it also involves me learning to shift my weight a little better.  Like when asking to canter, things seem to get a little better when I weight my outside hip more and sit deeper on that side.  So I have to work on that a bunch.

He still has some issues once we canter.  He doesn’t understand regulating the canter, and still likes to increase his speed as we go around.  He’s very sensitive to my weight shifting forward, so this is a great horse for me to ride to really learn to sit deep and upright.  After cantering, coming back to relaxed-walk is much more difficult for him than it is at the trot.  He still seems to get in a mindset that canter = work = “we’re going to work till we’re tired, so why are we walking again? Let’s go!”  I feel a little bad because I got a little forceful a few times, “um, no, I really mean walk now!” but I suppose he knows enough at this point that I can tell him when I mean it, right?

On the other hand, we cantered our first canter pole, which didn’t phase him in the slightest, and increased the trot poles to four, which also was no problem.  Cantering poles is really fun on him, and I think will translate to a good jumping experience, once we get that canter a little better.  He goes absolutely straight on the approach and landing of the pole, and will stop in a straight line easily.  Hopefully the Sunday gymnastic lessons will start soon- despite the not-so-fantastic flatwork, I think he’ll be really good at it and enjoy it.  We just have to perfect turning, so we can actually get straight approaches to said gymnastics (to the right, the tight turn is easy, to the left, not so much, heh).

In other news, a lovely and gracious friend of mine who designs belt buckles and jewelry is doing something very sweet for us this month.  Check it out: