Friday, December 28, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Don't Blink!

After four or five trips around the property in the long lines, the BBW is officially bored out of his gourd with the activity. This morning he thought he'd liven things up with a levade-to-capriole move, which, after I stopped freaking out about, I found pretty impressive.

But clearly, it's time to increase the challenge for him, so it's time to try the driving bridle, with the blinkers.

Fitting went well in his stall tonight, though the only picture that came out at all is this one, before I got things adjusted properly. He's kinda handsome, though, isn't he?

Tomorrow, we give it a try!
Blinkers low, cavesson high, but we fixed both.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Driving Him Sane

First, the hurricane report-- no damage here, just wet and windy, and a barn full of bored, bored horses. Though they didn't have to be in for more than 40 consecutive hours, Sherm and the gang were in two separate days last week, first with the big blow of Sandy, then later in the week with the scattered remnants.  Forty degrees and raining are four of the dreariest words in the horse world, right up there with mysterious soft tissue injury, though I'll take the former over the latter any day.

But the hustle-bustle of hurricane prep and bad weather, followed by unsettled weather, meant that the Germ didn't get any work for a week.  This is never good for his disposition.  Left to his own devices, Sherm was coming up with all sorts of annoying and bratty ways to entertain himself, like pouncing on the chickens when he was being led in from turnout, followed by suddenly bolting into his stall with great verve and enthusiasm.

There is, and always has been only one cure for this condition-- work.  So today we went back to work.

Of course it's windy today, and brisk, and all sorts of ripe for Morgan ya-yas.  But no matter, even if we only managed to have a wild session of buckeroo-lungeing, we were going to work.  Surprisingly, Sherm was pretty good on the lunge, volunteering some lovely, almost-balanced canter-- not bad for him.  Clearly, however, he was eager get long-lining and get out there going cross-country, so on went the long lines, and out we went.

The Boy-o marched out with usual blend of enthusiasm and respectful obedience-- why, oh why, is he only brilliantly obedient when he's working?  Gah!-- We headed out the the hayfield above the riding arena, briskly walking down the path dear hubby mowed with the brush hog three weeks ago.  This field path borders the road, with a wide, scary, thoroughly-habited hedgerow between us and 55 mph traffic.  And Sherm loves it. 

One of the narrow spots between a brush pile and a pasture fence
Unlike dear, loveable Uncle Celby who screams Cougars! every time he hears a bird in a bush, and often mutters, bet there's cougars in there when he gets within 20 feet of a shrub, tree, or other cougar-hiding object, Sherman fears absolutely nothing.  He gravitates towards the hedgerow, the building, the brushpile, the machinery (Gah! Sherman!  Get away from the haying equipment!) and everything else that is new and interesting.  He seems to thrive on narrow spaces. He marched on with relaxed appreciation of his surroundings, and occasionally demonstrated the first tidbits of Morgan piaffe as he attempted to encourage me to pick up the trot he wanted us to pick up.  When I said Walk Easy, he came right back down to a walk, each and every time, though you could tell he would have loved a good trot through the woods.

We came around and were making our way down the side of the pasture he lives in, and he was watching one of our boarders walk her horse up to the riding ring for a morning workout when he suddenly stopped his front feet, but kind of bunched up and kept his back feet moving forward/almost sideways.  With the electric tape fence only inches to his right, I wasn't happy with this skittering sideways, and I asked him for a full whoa, which he gave.  I then vibrated my left rein as I said walk on, and he scooped slightly backwards with his neck and shoulders, took a step left, and walked happily onwards.  After five of my own steps, I discovered that he had stopped dead just at the edge of a huge woodchuck hole that we couldn't see until we were upon it because it was masked by a tuft of long grass.  I couldn't have been prouder of his good sense and attention.  I had thought he was watching the horse heading for the arena, and he probably was, but he saw the hole and recognized the danger.  Wanting neither to step in it, nor disobey my instructions by leaping over it or going off the line I was driving, he stopped and drew my attention to it-- preserving himself and communicating his need.  Good boy, good boy.

When we came back down to the arena and said hello to our boarder and her horse, Sherm was a little whiny about turning down towards the barn-- he still had plenty of go left to his morning, and he was having fun, so he didn't want to quit.  He wanted very much to turn right and head back up the lane to the fields and woods again; that left turn was very difficult.  But he relented after some encouragement, and I rewarded him by offering him the opportunity to do some figure-8 lines around and between the trailers and the manure spreader parked in their customary spots at the center of the circular driveway.

I wondered a bit whether he'd get a little claustrophobic between the tall trailers, with only 6-8 feet of passage between them, and with one trailer lurking beneath a billowing nylon cover.  Silly me, nothing but a thing.  I was so pleased with his nonchalance that my attention wavered a bit, and I suddenly found myself having to encourage him on, out away from the manure spreader, into which he was considering know, for fun.

He stood quietly while I undid the lines and his side reins in the driveway and walked him back into the barn.  Some TicTac rewards, and then back into his stall while I put the tack away, and he was an angel, happy to be at work and have a positive direction for the energy he's been building up.

He was a complete booger as I led him, along with Celby, out to pasture five minutes later, which ticked me off and took some of the shine off his brilliant work performance.  But it just tells me that I've got some catching up to do.  More work required to really restore his full sanity....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bye-Bye Bay Babies!

Just a quick look back at the wonderful Bay Babies who stayed with us this summer.  The last two loaded up today to make their way back to their home farms.  My heart breaks, and my eyes weep, at saying goodbye, but looking back at their photos from the summer, I realize just what a treat it was to have them with us.  I'll miss them for sure, but I can look back and be happy, too.

Chazzy (Chaz-Man, Chazzykins) was the first to come stay with us, arriving in mid-June.  Immediately, he reminded me so much of my own Bay Boy Wonder that I fell in love.  He grew like mad this summer, gaining at least a hand in height, and growing into his shoulders.  By the end of summer, his baby orange at the tips of his black mane looked like so much bleach-blonde surfer hair.  I was torn at having to be at work the day he left.  I wanted to be with him to say farewell, but I didn't want to be bawling my eyes out in front of the commercial shipper.


Our second short-timer, Temper came for two weeks in June, buddying up with Chaz right away.  She came back again at the end of September, and stayed until today.  She's a fast, feisty, ferocious little thing, all petite and adorable, but what a motor underneath!  And the softest coat I've ever felt.  We'll see her again, I'm pretty sure, and I look forward to it!

 Oh, this is the hardest one, Mae (Mae-Mae, Miss Mae).  The kindest little filly, so wise and soft in her eye, an absolute gem of a horse.  Joining us in July, she crawled right in and stole my heart, along with Chazzy's.  He and she spent most of the summer together, a friendship I adored observing.  I found that letting go of her today was harder than I'd ever imagined it would be.  I bawled all over the barn girl who came with the owner to pick her up. I don't know if it was just her amazing personality, her sweet eye, or the fact that she suffered an injury while here, but, wow.  My heart hurts to bid her adieu. 

Mae (l) and Chaz (r), inseparable for most of the summer.
When she first arrived, Mae stood half a hand taller than Chaz.  By last week, he was at least a hand taller than she.  Something about the good grass and turnout here let that boy sprout!

Last, but not least, Alvin, who stayed with us for just a month from mid-September to mid-October.  Alvin, his barn name I'm certain influenced as much by the irascible chipmunk as by the Al portion of his registered name, was introduced to us as "a pisser," and that he was.  What a spunky, happy-go-lucky, friendly, smart little horse.  With unequaled joie de vivre, this youngster was a hoot just to watch.    The fact that he buddied up almost immediately with grumpy Uncle Celby just made me so happy for both of them.  I hope to see him again next summer as well!

So that's a look back at the bays who stayed!
What a privilege to be their caretaker.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


It's been years in coming, but the BBW really does seem to have grown up.  He's always been bold, always been fearless, always been eager to do and try and see, but he hasn't always managed to keep his enthusiasm for life contained in a manageable unit, with four on the floor and operable steering.  He's been getting there, better and more solid every day, but today I saw again just how much he's grown.

I woke to a hard, heavy frost on the ground, with a thick, near-freezing fog socking us in at the farm.  The crisp, spooky weather, to which all the resident horses seem so temperamentally attuned, was ripe for fall ya-yas.  Since it was likely the horses would be staying in just a bit longer this morning in order to keep off the frosty grass until it warmed up a bit, I wanted to take advantage of  having the pastures empty of distractions so I could get the Germ some long-lining work outside the arena.  So off to work we went.

Fatty McBlatterson has been whining that his saddle is pinching again (ugh, so much work to take off the weight, with great success, all blown by a move to a richer pasture and two busy workweeks for me!) so we are lunging for cardio/weight-loss work, and then long-lining because he loves it so much.  (He really thrives on getting to go first.)  So, after a good 25 minute lunge session, on went the second line, and we did a few tours of the arena, followed by a few tours of the grass lanes just outside the arena.

The boy was perfection.  He was forward without pulling, responsive to the slightest rein aid or voice command.  He even stopped and stood still for long moments, which is never his strong suit.  In the long-lines, though, he seems to respect that this is fun enough to be good for, so he stood.

Convinced that I had his full brain, I left the relative safety and familiarity of the arena area, and we headed out in front of the house to make our way westward and up the lane.  My dog Jake, who still hates Sherman (and all horses, really) for this episode, jumped up from his perch on the couch and lunged at the sliding glass doors, barking his fool head off at us from the other side of the glass.  Sherm gave a jump to the left, and, yes, a step to the right, but stayed smoothly in contact at the front of the lines. After the step back to the right, I said "Whoa," and he stopped and waited for me-- the typical Morgan spook and recovery and then right back to business.

We continued on out, up the lane and into the fog.  Sherm was calm, quiet, forward, and perfect.  He did everything exactly as I asked, and in addition waited to be asked to do more-- this really is progress, for he generally likes to volunteer more of all sorts, but today he just waited eagerly and was instantly responsive.  It was marvelous!

We got back down to the barn after the first pasture of horses had actually been turned out, and wow, what a hullabaloo! Frisky fall ponies spring-sproinging everywhere.  Sherm just watched with a posture that said, "well that looks like fun, but I'm working here, see, so I have to behave..."  I quickly untacked and put him in his stall for a few minutes while I put out the two-year old who was rearing and kicking the walls of his stall in his eagerness to get out and join the ya-ya party.  I wrestled said youngster up the same lane Sherm and I had just quietly walked down, and this boy was spooking, leaping, trembling, staring, and goofing at every shadowy boogey in every corner of the farm.  It was exasperating. I turned him loose, and it was a five-buck bolt before he got more interested in forward movement than upward.

I went back down and got Sherm and Uncle Celby and brought those two up together.  After I released them, they both had a good, exuberant canter out to the back of the pasture, demonstrating that they, too, felt good and had some good fall frisky to work off.  I was so pleased to see that Sherm really had been demonstrating great maturity in not having his ya-ya session while we were out there alone in the scary fog, but rather waited until an appropriate moment with the herd.

They grow up so fast...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Two Years On..

It was two years ago today that we lost Bayou Roux, the big, red Saddlebred mare who started this whole crazy horse thing in our lives.  Without Roux, there'd have been no move to this farm, and no introduction to Sherman, the Bay Boy Wonder himself.

In honor of the lovely Roux, I re-post my favorite video-- Sherman, at 2 or 3 months old, playing with Auntie Roux across the fence line.  He was bold enough to to play alone, without his dam, and she was delighted to again have a youngster to fret over.  I don't have a lot of video of Roux, and I am always grateful that I was there that day, with a camera, to capture this fun moment.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Icky Tacky

I picked up the tack this morning and it felt gummy.  Ick.  Definitely time to clean it.  Been saying that for weeks, but today's humidity loosened all the sweat and dirt in the leather just enough to make it sticky.  And icky.

I will confess; I hate cleaning tack.  I know people who say they enjoy it, but I think those are the same people who eat unreasonably hot peppers in front of a crowd just to get attention.  I don't really think anyone likes cleaning tack.  I think we all like clean tack, but that's the adjective.  Verbing it just ain't no fun.

But I did it, sitting there on my kitchen floor.  And now I have that clean tack.  So I'll like that tomorrow.  And perhaps Sherman will appreciate my efforts and give me clean, forward, balanced  movement as a thank you.

Monday, October 1, 2012

4th Quarter: We're All in this Together

This time last week, I was awash in a sea of indecision, disappointment, and self-loathing about my work with the Bay Boy Wonder.  And it was a turbulent, cold North Sea to swim if there ever were one.

I'd had such a great day two weeks ago on Monday-- when I'd put the little socks on the Boy's girth, and made him so happy that we worked twice in one day!  Two days later, nothing I did could make the Boy happy, and I was left with deep gouges in the arena sand where he'd just ripped forward and upward as he expressed his full-on Morgan temper tantrum, tangible reminders of the deep gouges he left in my confidence.

I looked at the late-September calendar, very aware it was marking the end of our "reliably good" riding weather, and asked myself what, exactly, have we accomplished this season? and answered a woeful, not a hell of a lot.  

And then, of course, the inevitable perfectly-reasonable, genuinely-friendly inquiry from my best horse friend about heading off to a hunter pace in mid-October came and just added twenty pounds of anchor chain to carry around while I was swimming in that cold North Sea.  I didn't have anyone ready; there was no way I'd have anyone ready, and really, that's the only thing I actually know I want to do with the BBW, so wow, what a failure am I!

Wallow, wallow.

And then a funny thing happened in the second half of last week.  Weather and work (and, yes, wallowing woe, I must admit) kept me from getting any horse training in, but I became aware of something stirring in the virtual world that feeds my equine addiction in the hours I'm not out in the physical barn.

From Facebook, to CoTH, to the blogs I follow, there was a streak of similar woeful wallowing!  Other people, other riders and writers I enjoy (and from whom I take inspiration), were expressing variations on the same theme I'd been hearing in my own head.  I suck!  I'm not getting anywhere!  Everything is hard!  Maybe I should take up another discipline!  Maybe I should sell my horse...

Everyone was having trouble in the last two weeks of September! Some were dealing with mysterious lameness, some had young brats responding to the brisk fall weather.  Some just hadn't gotten as far as they'd wanted in the summer.  Some had disastrous outings at shows or clinics, or outings that just felt disastrous.  Some were just perturbed that, though all the cylinders seemed to be clicking, the equine engine was still running rough.

I took notice of this wave of  unhappiness and, in a truly classy streak of schadenfreude, I started to feel better... (Author's note: I actually spelled that word correctly from memory; good god, I am a monster!)

Maybe misery does love company, and it was as simple as that.  I know I took tremendous comfort in the post by one self-effacing, always hilarious, generally game, go-getter equestrian blogger who took my breath away when she wrote about quitting.  Quitting?  Her?  No way, never!  But, hell, she's having a bad week, too.  Man, if she's having a bad week, then there must be something going on in the phase of the moon or somesuch.

But maybe it's a little bigger than that.  I'm wondering if it isn't the fault of the Olympics.

Bear with me here while I run this thought by you...

The internet was full of humorous, and sometimes semi-serious, commentary on the Olympic Hangover syndrome that accompanied the ending of all three equestrian sports.  The Eventers hit it first, of course,  and maybe we laughed that off, as they are such an intense, in-the-moment group.  Then the Showjumpers finished up, and it felt sad, too.  And finally, the pinnacle of the dramatic British home-team double-gold in Dressage-- oh!  So much adrenaline to process!  While the Olympics were on, and the entire equestrian internet was mainlining cocaine livestreaming amazing horses and riders doing their thing in the world's most gorgeous and stately venue-- we were there, doing it, riding alongside, and periodically instead of, those phenomenal teams.  It was brilliant and magical and fantastic.

And then it was over, and the next few days were a little hard.  Coming down off that high was a little rocky.

But I think a bunch of us (or maybe it was only me) dealt with the withdrawal by turning the hunger for good riding inwards, and we said, hell, if that doesn't inspire us to get going, nothing will! And we redoubled our commitment to our own work, hoping that if we got only 1/10th as good as what we saw, then we'd be making real progress and feeling like Olympians ourselves!

So off we went to the arena or the XC field or the lunge ring, to get back to work!

And then, reality set back in.  We don't, most of us, get to actually live like Olympians, riding all day, every day, on horses of varying degrees of skill and experience for certain, but most certainly some schoolmasters in the bunch.  We have our regular lives and our regular horses, and we've got to find time, energy, and good fortune in equal measure to get those things to line up nicely.  And that's not easy.

And so we get to the end of September, a good 6-8 weeks after our Olympic booster shot, and we're still not ready for London 2012 ourselves, and we get bummed.

Plus, we Americans had a challenging Olympics, and the USET is now deep in the throes of some serious soul-searching as we look ahead to 2016 and beyond.  So being better and owning up to our shortcomings has become a national responsibility-- talk about 20 pounds of anchor chain for the adult ammie, working at home to just try to get a ride in... yikes!

Or maybe that's just me getting caught up in the zeitgeist and over-empathizing....

Anywhoooo, back at Chez BBW, I've taken all this in and given myself permission to shake off the recent despair as a case of perfectly-reasonable seasonal blues.  I looked back and asked myself what worked, and was again reminded that riding first thing in the morning, before anything else beyond morning coffee got done, was what has gotten me this far.  So, that has to continue, and it requires three specific changes--

  • Getting to bed and turning the lights out by 9pm in order to be out of bed by 5am
  • Prioritizing riding at the expense of dirty stalls a bit later into the day
  • Maintaining a rigorous discipline about getting my day job done early and thoroughly so I have the time to give to riding
The first two are ridiculously easy, so easy that it's stupid to have to write them down, but for some reason I had let those go and gotten myself in trouble.  The third one is also manageable, but requires discipline.  You know, like Olympians have to be disciplined.  So I got that.

Last Friday, I spent a rainy day getting all my grading done, and prepping all my course work for this coming week.  And I started going to bed at 9:00pm, and getting up at 5:00am.  Saturday stuff came up, but Sunday and today I have managed my morning ride with Sherman.  Not perfect, brilliant equestrianism by any means, not going to get me to Rio in 2016, but most certainly getting me out of swimming in the North Sea.

So it's October now, the 4th Quarter of the year.  There is time to salvage 2012, and thanks to hearing from my fellow writing equestrians, I know I'm not in this alone, and I feel like we're going to get there.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bays Galore

With the arrival of two new boarders these last two weeks, Sherm is now one of 7 bay horses on the farm. Twelve in residence, and 7 are bay, wow!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And then the other side...

Cool decal from 
Yes. No. Push. Pull. Michelle Obama. Nancy Reagan.  For everything, there is a balancing opposite force.

Monday was a wonderful day with Sherman, a two-workout day, a balanced, whole, happy, giving, thinking-horse day.

And Wednesday was not.

He was wild, wooly, bratty, uncontrollable, unhappy, snotty, and brainless yesterday.  Feisty coming in from pasture, antsy (with a side of dramatic) in the crossties, and a complete wild thing on the lunge.  I had my boots and hat on, but it was pretty quickly clear that I wasn't getting on that wild child yesterday.

Was it the weather?  There was a front moving through, and it was cool, brisk, dry, and breezy.  And, of course, it had rained for 12 straight hours the day before, so perhaps he was just getting out the ya-yas dampened in Tuesday's rains.

Was it payback for the two-a-day session on Monday?  Was he making it clear that he isn't that sort of workhorse, and just cannot be put to work in such a pedestrian fashion?

Was it just fall hormones?  Though a gelding, he is constantly wooed by the heaty mares in the adjacent pasture and goaded into being a tough guy by the studdy gelding with whom he shares a pasture.  Was he playing jr. stallion wannabe?

Was it just irritation at being pulled from pasture, where everyone else was eating happily in the sun the day after a miserable day in the rain?

Maybe it was any, none, or a combination of these.

Last night, however, I had a frightening realization... Sherman has always, always been a complete, bratty shitbag when he's about to go through a growth spurt.  He couldn't be doing that, could he?

Frederick Meijer Gardens- 

On Monday, I noticed his saddle fit nicely again; I noticed an actual "saddle spot" behind his shoulders, and just the faintest outline of a wither, about the most sign of a wither anyone in his family gets...

Did he not lose weight these last six weeks, but rather heighten into it?  Oh jeez....

Monday, September 17, 2012

Socksy Boy!

No, Sherm doesn't have any socks.  His older brother, Sonny, has a perfect pair of matching hind socks, just short ones, but perfectly-proportioned and mirroring one another, as though hand-painted.  I do envy that touch of chrome, just a little, but not during mud season...or green grass season...

Love the girth, but we can make it better!
No, today's socks were about dealing with a little something that I think has been bothering the BBW (henceforth known as the Delicate Flower or the Princess from The Princess and the Pea) for a while.  The transition point at which the padded neoprene of his Cashel Soft-touch girth connects to the elastics bothers his delicate skin.  It's a thick, padded girth, with a sticky surface, and it works very well for him, except that when the girth is tightened, the elastics stretch and put just a little inward pressure on the point where they are attached, tipping the blunt edge of the neoprene inwards and against his skin.  He hasn't had a rub or any wear spots there, but he has been periodically girthy and will reach around and look at the girth, on either side, from time to time.

And when I ask him to canter on the lunge, with the side reins attached to the girth, that motion pulls the girth forward just a little more, and he kicks out at the start.  Initially, I'd thought he was kicking at being asked to exert himself into the canter, but I should know better.  Sherm loves to be asked to do things, particularly fast and fancy things.  I've been wondering lately whether he was actually kicking at the irritation of the girth right there.

While wondering, I've shopped girths, in person and online, and haven't yet seen one that would do all the good things this one does without this little irritating thing.  I looked at girth covers, but I didn't really want to cover the whole thing-- the neoprene surface is a huge part of why this girth works so well for Sherm, so I didn't want to cover all of it.   I was getting frustrated, and I stopped asking for canter while I sorted it out.  Even without the canter work, Sherm has dropped some weight and is a good bit fitter than he was.  I had secretly hoped that with weight loss, the irritant factor of the girth end would be resolved as well.  No such luck.

So today, to test a theory, I made my own mini-girth covers.  I cut off the above-the-ankle part of both socks in a pair of wool-blend winter socks, turned them inside out to expose the fuzzy soft side, and slid them over the transition spots of the girth, where the neoprene & padding meet the elastic.  They looked a little funny, and I figured he'd be all over that visual distraction, but he didn't even seem to notice.
Blue band at the top of the white sock..

Girth sock!

Well, lo and behold, I think it worked!  He wasn't girthy, other than a slight anticipation wiggle.  Once the saddle was on, and I was tightening in earnest, he ignored me, all the way to the final hole.  Good start.

Socks are Comfy!
But the proof was in the amazing canter work he gave me!  Best work I've seen from him, literally, all year.  He was smooth and round, and was volunteering the prettiest little departs-- not the dramatic kick-and-launch he had heretofore demonstrated.  And emphasis on the volunteering-- he kept cantering, and when he'd lose his balance on the circle (remember, we haven't been doing much of this), he'd gather himself together and re-start the canter out of his own amusement and seeking his own satisfaction at the work!  The body language was clearly saying, "No, wait, I can do better!"

There is no better feeling in horses than to have your boy say to you that he knows what you want, knows how it should be, and wants to go again to do it better.  He got much praise for doing it well, and we ended on a positive note before he wore his little Morgan self out.

All it took was a pair of socks and a pair of scissors.  Who knew?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The BBW's First Show Experience: The Good, The Bad, and...

Well, no, there was nothing ugly at all about Sherm's first outing at the showgrounds!  Much, most even, was good!  There were a couple of blips, but nothing too terribly bad.  All in all, I think it was a success.

First off, we got on the trailer and got there.  Still in the trailer, Sherm did two laps of the grounds while we attempted to sort out a stall-assignment glitch.  We finally got him unloaded and settled into his stall about 30 minutes later than I would have liked, but that was fine.  He ate some hay and sniffed things for a bit; I did a very preliminary grooming, and then we went out for a walk around the grounds.

I was really pleased with how quietly he walked with me-- looking at everything, of course, and very tall (he's not as tall as he looks in this photo... or maybe I'm shorter than I think I am) as he got himself up to his full Morgan 17h in a 15h package posture.  But one small spook at something was all he gave me.  I was very, very happy with how mature he was through it all.  I particularly like how he marched right between the jump standards in the warm-up ring.  A good sign for future endeavors, I hope!

Sydney came and got him working after I gave him a second, more-thorough, grooming.  Yesterday's session with the ShopVac did get a lot of the dirt out, but a night out in pasture probably put it back in.  (This, of course, is why I elected not to bathe him-- that would have just been a wasted effort.)  He was good for her, as well, though getting a bit more keyed up as the traffic increased in all the arenas and in the stabling area.  We have quite a few pictures of Sherm being fancier than necessary-- looping in front of Syd, flagging his tail, giving his Morgan prance a try.  But for the most part, considering it was his first outing, he handled himself pretty nicely.

Moving?  Good!  Standing?  Bad!

Things got pretty chaotic up at the indoor arena where the classes were being held.  The show organizers only opened one gate for all access-- exhibitors lining up for the next class, exhibitors trying to leave from the preceding class, and the holding area (in out of the sun) for all exhibitors in the area.  Quarters were tight, and it was confusingly crowded.  Sherm held his own for the most part, but did lose his cool at the first burst of applause at the announcement of winners from a class.  I had worried about the loudspeaker, but he didn't care about that-- it was the applause that unglued him a bit.  Nothing major, just a few tight, prancy circles, but that looks huge in a ring full of half-dead Quarter Horses.

Oh, did I not say this was a QH-dominated show?  Yeah, it was open to other competitors, and some classes (like "Registered Other Breeds") allowed for some variety, but it was mostly the big hunters and  WP horses, all quiet and low in their carriage.  Sherm would have stood out like a sore thumb even without his roached mane.  So the fancy spook was really quite something in that environment!

And then we missed our first class.

Yeah.  We were waiting in the melee of "staged" horses behind another bay gelding, thinking the handler was taking him into the Geldings/Stallions class, but she didn't, and it was busy enough in there  that by the time we realized that those two were just staging for the next QH class, the judge was placing the geldings and stallions.  We'd missed it.  

But that's probably not a bad thing.  That class had somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 horses in it, most all of them much larger than Sherman.  I think he'd have lost his marbles in that big a class his first go 'round.  So it was probably not a bad deal that he didn't go.  He got to watch, then went back outside for some more waiting.

Oh, and the waiting... there was a hell of a lot of waiting.  And that's not something Sherm does very well.  So actually, he was a champion today, a blue-ribbon earner for how quietly, patiently, and kindly he stood still in the middle of such chaos.  For that alone, I am so very, very proud of him.

Syd, we're standing again.  I hate standing.

Syd was determined not to miss his next class, so she charged right in and went first, something she hates to do.  Sherm seemed a little confused to be working suddenly after so much standing around.  I really wish  they'd had a chance to walk around the whole arena one time before being judged, just so he could have gotten a look at it.  As it was, he was pretty looky and noodly-- not at all the pretty, relaxed sporthorse-in-hand he has been in so many of their working sessions together.  (That's okay; it was a halter class; they'd have had no idea what to do with sporthorse power in that setting.)  And he didn't really want to stand still after their run--  the door was open at the end of the arena, and he caught sight of the lower warm-up rings, where riders were now beginning to really rip around, warming up their horses.  The look on his face was one of, "hey, Syd, let's go out there and do that; this is boring, and we've been here for hours!"  So he was crooked and antsy, and, again, not at all reflective of the work Syd has gotten out of him at home.  But that's how showing goes.

He placed third behind a palomino and an appaloosa.  Those aren't breeds, are they?  I thought they were colors.  The judge had to ask Syd what breed he was, so I guess that wasn't a good sign going in.

He got his "set-up" right after the placings were made!

After that, Syd made the very mature decision to scratch her showmanship class with him, and I agreed completely with her call.  He wasn't quite comfortable yet in that arena, and the showmanship class was going to be huge.  She'd have had her hands full, period, but in a class where she's not allowed to touch him?  Fuggedaboutit-- it was a recipe for a bad experience.

So we all agreed that it was time to call it a day after his good, positive outing.  Back to the stall, off with the bling-bling halter, and into the hay pile.  Munch, munch, munch for 20 minutes or so, and then back on the trailer and home. 

It was good mileage for the boy, and (I think) a good experience for Syd, who really called the shots at this one.  She did a superb job of managing a wiggly, wily, inexperienced 5-year old, and did it with grace and class.  I'm proud of her, as I am of him.

A happy horse, working with a good young woman.

So nothing ugly, lots of good, and just a little oops at missing the class-- we can't even call that bad!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different

For those of you too young to know, the title phrase comes from Monty Python.  Kind of like this:

Life with horses often feels like this-- one moment, it's lollipops and sunshine, developing a gorgeous working trot and seeing your horse come into his own, loving his training, being shiny and fabulous.  And the next moment, something completely different happens.  This is a phrase I use quite regularly, and I think the humor of it helps keep me on an even keel.  Maybe...

So, Sherm and I were supposed to be spending the summer developing a good working canter, learning to jump things, and building to some off-farm, off-road adventures on some hunter pace courses.

It hasn't quite worked out that way.

So now it's time to consider doing something completely different-- like maybe taking him to a local (predominantly AQHA) open horse show to be shown in three halter classes by one of our students.

Not this fat.
No, it's not because he's fat, though that thought has crossed my mind as I watch him work.

No, I blame this one squarely on my friend, Amy.  She sent me an email early last week, asking me if I wanted to go to a show over the weekend, the third in a local show series.  Low-cost entries, no big advance-registration requirement, good mileage for her young horse as well as mine.  Well, I thought, maybe her horse, but Sherman?  Ridiculous!  We're not ready!

Well, the thing with Amy is that she has this way of making the ridiculous seem completely possible.  She made owning my own horse possible by providing a stall in her barn.  She has made numerous horse-related educational outings possible by getting me out of my house to go to them.  She took me on my first hunter pace and let me learn how to gallop, though I'm not sure she knew that was what she was doing at the time.  She's my mojo most of the time, and when she suggests things, I reject them immediately out of hand.  Then I send a follow-up email that says maybe...

So I got to thinking that Sherm does need some mileage, some show experience.  And though I'm not ready to ride him at a show, and I'm not even riding his fatt butt anywhere this week, it might be worth considering the in-hand classes.  Not in time for this past weekend, but maybe by the Labor Day weekend show.  Which of course elicits high school memories of this song.

But I don't want to show him in hand.  I really don't want to show him at all; I don't care for horse shows.  It's not my cup of tea.

Is that a camera?
But, oh boy, does this Boy Wonder love an audience.  It's not my scene, but it will totally be his.  No doubt about it, not since the day he was foaled.

So.... I realized that this student of ours loves halter and showmanship classes.  She excelled at them at her previous barn, and she was hoping to go to this very show with a horse she had out on trial earlier this summer.  When that horse didn't work out, she packed up her shiny show shtuff, and resigned herself to not going.

Well, hell, when you can get a teenager to do it, why not?  Isn't that what they're for?

Trying to learn to "set up"
So I pitched it to her, she caught it, and she and the BBW have been working together for the past several evenings.  He has already caught on to walking and trotting in stride with her, and is getting better with "setting up."  He's got a way to go to find the middle ground between the Morgan parking-out, which I will NOT allow anyone to teach him (and actively discourage accidental posturing in this fashion) and his usual one-hind-cocked-slouch, but they're working on it.

He's a quick study, and he's clearly appreciating the extra attention and the novelty of a new handler.  He's trying really hard for her, and just doing that is a maturing experience for the both of them.

Trotting together
The student is in charge of this-- it's a "discipline" I know nothing about, so she's the one training Sherm.  I've made it clear (I hope) that there are no expectations from this other than that they have a good time and come home safely.  Get Sherm some road mileage, and have fun.  That's it.  His roached mane probably already disqualifies him from even participating, much less placing in the ribbons, so there should be no pressure to bring home bling.

But, oh, speaking of bling... this Bay Boy does look fine in his hand-me-down silver-plated halter, doesn't he?

Yeah, I'm pretty!

Fat Camp for the BBW

So the vet in June, when she did teeth, said that Sherm's looking a little chunky, and I should watch it.

I agreed, and shared the story of the un-stuffing of the saddle to get it to fit him properly.  I said at that time, now that I can get a saddle on him, we are getting to work and will be working off that fat!

Well, I came home from my trip to Maine, having spent several days away from him and in the company of horses who carry a much slimmer physique, and I said, "Oh my god; he's fat!"  I was sure at that time that we'd get back to work and get him trimmed down.

Well, heat ensued.  As did haying, and a summer course, and a week off due to eye surgery.  We didn't get in nearly as much work as I was hoping.  At the same time, two geldings moved out of his pasture, so now Sherm was sharing three acres of grass with just one other horse.  In addition, one of the two horses who moved out was his best friend, Moon, with whom he ran and frolicked and romped.  Now he's alone out there with the old man who doesn't play with him at all. They're just eating.  All the time.

The Chocolate Chunk Pony

The vet at Cornell said he needs to lose 200 pounds.  I thought that was a bit much-- I'd estimated 100.  But they weighed him in at 1,135, a good 100 pounds heavier than I'd estimated with my weight tape!  So we were all on the same page; he needs to lose 200 pounds!
He's a 4, but heading for 5! Augh!

But just before his surgery and his week off for recovery, we were getting in some really good work under saddle.  He was working through his back, and pushing hard with his hinds-- we were experiencing a breakthrough!  So, fat though he is, we'll get there!

Well, his first ride back after surgery was a little fussy, he didn't seem happy.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt-- he'd been off for a week, so maybe he was tired/sore/out of sorts.  

But it didn't get better.  It got worse.

We played with bits a little-- he seems fussy in his mouth, and might have some final teething issues.  Found a bit in which he was least fussy.

But by the third day back, he started to pin his ears back and dance around when I put the saddle on his back.

Sonofabitch!  He's gotten too fat, or else he began to build some muscle tone under some of that fat (unlikely), and his goddamn saddle doesn't fit.  Again.  And this time there's no stuffing to unstuff.

He is FAT.  Dangerously fat.  Scarily into laminitis's neighborhood fat.

So.  Now we do cardio work, all that we can safely do without stressing his joints and his feet.  (New farrier was here last week, who also said he's fat, scary fat.  He helped us out with some good trimming, so his feet are fit for the work he must do.)  Trot and canter on the lunge for 30-40 minutes, or until he's puffing hard.  Five days in to this new program, and he's already better balanced in his canter, and he seems to like the work.

Oy.  It's always something.

A Horse Through a Fence

So I'm lying on the couch on a Wednesday afternoon, the one day I don't have class, and I'm enjoying not prepping like mad for my 3-hour night class.  I'm appreciating the quiet, calm afternoon with no lessons in the arena and most all the horses napping quietly in their cool, shady stalls.  I'm half-way dozing, barely paying attention to a movie I'd DVR'ed the week before, which isn't as interesting as I'd thought it would be.

I'm doing all this casual resting, and truly loving any resting opportunity during this busy summer, when, outside my front window, a horse butt goes moseying by, tail swishing gently.

Um... what?  That's not a location where any unsupervised horse should be moseying...

So my first thought was Is someone here?  Did Boarder M get a horse out?  (Actually my first thought was, did I just see a horse go by? but that seems too ridiculous to even mention.)

I got up, slid the sliding glass door open, and sneaked a peek, just in time to see a horse butt slip around the corner of the house, the horse stepping gently over the downspout at the corner.

Okay, nobody goes off the driveway and walks a horse that close to our house, so I don't think someone is here and got a horse out.

So I turn around and look out the windows on the opposite side of the house to see that the back fence on the pasture behind my house, the one with the run-in shed where the two racetrack horses live outside 24x7 while they're on layup for the summer, is down and straggling out into the hay meadow beyond it.

Uh-oh.  Someone went through the fence. Goddamn helicopter! 
No horses were life-flighted in this episode

The regional medical center's life-flight chopper had strafed the farm an hour earlier.  Though we're in the routine flight path to the hospital 5 miles from here, never before had I seen it come in that close and that hot.  A low visibility ceiling that morning, and clearly an emergent emergency on-board, had them in at about 75 feet and moving fast.  When it had gone by, I peeked out back to check on the two track horses, and saw the colt contentedly grazing.  Because he was so placid, and because they are never more than two feet away from one-another, I figured the filly was right there with him, just out of my field of vision, not bothered at all by the chopper.
Best friends, always together.

Evidently, I figured wrong.

After getting my shoes on, I go out back to find the filly on the outside of her pasture gate, trying to get back in, while the colt stood on the inside wondering how she got out there.  Well, okay, I can catch her.

And then I see her hind legs.

From the hocks to the fetlocks, she is criss-crossed with little slices, most of which are just an inch or two long, and barely even open, not more than a 1/4" deep.  A bunch of nasty little cuts, and I mean a bunch of them-- probably a dozen on the left, and maybe four on the right-- but none too terribly bad.  Not pretty, stinging like hell, I'm sure, but nothing horrifying.  Bleeding, attracting flies, but nothing life-threatening.  I feel terrible that she's been hurt, and even worse when I think about how much she was getting repeatedly zapped by the fence while she was tangled in it, but I am relieved to assess that both legs will likely remain attached and viable.

So, I halter her up, along with her boyfriend, and haul them down to the barn to look at them carefully, in out of the flies.

The big, ugly one...
I decide the one long, and slightly deeper, cut on the RH deserves some attention, so I call the trainer at the track.  As luck would have it, she has the afternoon off, the trailer is on her truck, and she can be here in 20 minutes.  If the cut needs suturing, she can haul back to the track and have the track vet do it much more easily, and quickly, than having us call our vet and waiting for her to arrive.

So, they do just that.  The trainer comes with her whole medical kit, and is 90% certain she could just treat on-farm, but this one cut looks a little nastier, and so she hauls the filly to the track and gets her stitched up.  Filly spends a week in a stall at the track, and then returns to us to continue her summer vacation, healing nicely.

After the filly trailers out, I go out to fix 50' of fence.  I realize during my repairs that, based on the way the fence is  strung out across the hay meadow, the way the insulators are  broken, and the nature of the injuries to the filly, that she tried to jump it and almost made it.  Hmmm... these standardbreds are really nice horses to work with... maybe we need to get one and see if we can make an eventer out of her...

Eye Surgery at Cornell

During their June teeth floating, three of the horses here at the farm were diagnosed with Uveal Cysts-- growths of tissue at the lower edges of their irises.  In two of the horses, these were compounded by overgrowths of the corpora nigra, the little fringe at the top of the iris that functions as a "sun shade" for the horse in a normal eye.

While these growths are fairly common, and do not pose a generalized health threat (such as cancer or other disease process), they do form a barrier to light (and thus all sight) getting into the eye.  In bright light conditions, when the iris closes down naturally in response to light, these cysts and overgrowths can cause a partial, or in some cases, complete, blindness as they block the very small opening left in a constricted pupil.  Left untreated, these cysts can eventually grow together and fuse top-to-bottom and cause permanent blindness (partial or complete) in all light conditions.

Sherman's full brother, Sonny, and half-sister, Twinkle, had very serious growths of both sorts in both  eyes.  Sherman had a small uveal cyst noticeable in the right eye only.

In mid-July, Sonny and Twinkle traveled to Cornell to have laser eye surgery, which involves a simple ablation of the fluid-filled cysts, which the vets describe as similar to popping a water balloon. Sonny's eyes both looked like this pre-surgery:
Uveal Cysts at bottom

After 10 zaps with the laser, both eyes looked like this:

Cysts deflated

The change in tissue in his eyes was pretty dramatic.  Surgery took about an hour, and then the doctors at Cornell monitored the eye pressures (like we test for glaucoma) for several hours.  In the first hour after surgery, pressure normally rises as the eye responds to the fluids from the ruptured cysts being encountered and reabsorbed by the eye.  After that initial spike, the pressures should fall again, and the doctors look for three successive readings of lower pressures before the horse is released to go home.

Aftercare involves banamine and pain-relieving eyedrops for three days and one week, respectively, along with confinement away from sunlight from dawn-dusk for a week.  After that, life resumes as normal for the horse, only with an enhanced field of vision!

Some owners report that formerly spooky, tense horses go through this procedure and those negative behaviors disappear almost instantly.  None of our horses were terribly spooky, though Sonny could be tense and (hindsight causes us to speculate) was perhaps struggling to see a bit.

Sherm himself never behaved as though his eyes were bothering him, or he was trying to see anything, but he's pretty much afraid of nothing, so it's difficult to tell whether he was bothered or not.  It was recommended that he have this surgery particularly because of this family history-- his sire was eventually completely blinded by these cysts in the days before laser surgery was so readily available, and the older siblings' cases were dramatic, which led the vets to suggest he was headed in the same direction.  So even though his cysts were small, dealing with them now was the right course of action.

His procedure went normally, and dilation at the clinic revealed cysts in both eyes, so he got zapped on each side.  He was a good patient, but not quite good enough to stop the action and get photos of his eyes, like his big brother allowed.  His experience was textbook, and his recovery was normal.

The surgery was so uneventful, in fact, that the two major take-home messages from the trip had nothing to do with his eyes!  The first was that Sherm is teetering on dangerously fat, and that Sherm's parents need a bigger truck to haul his fat butt around with.

Neither was great news, but I am perfectly happy with having all the laser stuff go so well that we could focus on other issues.

Where the Summer Went

Yes, this is going to be one of those "ohmygosh, where has the time gone?" posts about all the other things in life that got in the way of blogging these past few months.  Not the world's most interesting theme, but the individual events that made up this lost summer may make for some interesting posts.  I think there will be pictures, at least...

So, where did the summer go?  In addition to the relentless heat (the hottest July on record) which filled the days with many choruses of hmmm, maybe we'll do that when it's cooler, here's the short list of where the summer went, with descriptive posts to follow:

Through it all, Sherm has been a prince and a delight, but, wow... it was another blur of a summer.  Suddenly classes are starting in a week, the nights are cooler and coming earlier, and I'm looking back wondering how we got here. 

Farewell summer!
I know, we do this every year.  So let's call it an annual ritual.

500 Miles on a 100-Degree Day, or Why I Love My Brenderup

We moved two horses from here, the Southern Tier of NY, to Mid-Coast Maine in June.

It was hovering right around 100 degrees that day, and every New England radio station we tuned in was reporting local high temperature records being set as we cruised northeastward.

We caravaned in two big American pick-up trucks, one to pull the Brenderup, and one to bring it back home empty (and also to be a backup in case of emergency).  Both trucks had huge front and side windows, offering a spectacular view of the gorgeous June day.  Neither truck had air-conditioning, offering a spectacular greenhouse effect as the sun beat in on a gorgeous June day.
The people were toasty.  And very nervous about the condition of the horses.  Trailering is one thing, 500 miles is another, and the heat?  Well, we were at about our maximum anxiety threshold.
What?  We're fine.
At every stop along the way, we popped open the door of the B'upster to find the horses quite comfortable, not a drop of sweat on them, and the air coming out of the rolling igloo a good 10 degrees cooler than what we'd been riding in up front.  The white, reflective roof, good air circulation design, and the comfy shock-absorbers kept the horses mellow, cool, and enjoying the ride.  When we checked on them, they just looked at us as if to say, What?  Why have we stopped?  Oh, hay?  Oh, alright then.

We discovered on our journey, one of our first in many years, that the concept of a shady, tree-lined, state-run rest stop has gone the way of the rotary dial telephone.  Rest stops have now become "service plazas"-- all concrete parking lot, fuel station, and giant convenience store/fast-food stops.  Well all that concrete was quite warm that June day, and parking in between idling tractor trailers did nothing to cool us off or lower our anxiety about the horses.  Not until northern New Hampshire, a good 375 miles into the journey, were we able to find a "traditional" rest stop, with trees, picnic tables, and a little bit of off-the-tarmac peace and quiet.  

The horses were still fine there, happy as clams, cool as cucumbers, and utterly unstressed by their journey thus far.

Finally, we reached the state of Maine.  Still more than an hour to go, but proximity to the water meant the ambient air temperature was closer to 80/85.  I suggested that I was getting chilly and might need a sweater.

My dear friend, whose horses we were hauling to their new home, was just giddy with excitement to be getting so close to her new home.
Excited?  Or suffering heat stroke?

Finally, we arrived and unloaded.  Both horses were a little poopy on the backside, but no worse than that for wear.  They moved out, had a good roll, and set themselves to the busy job of grazing their new pasture.

Sherm's buddy, Moon, has a good roll.

We made sure they had a good drink, knew where their shed, their salt, and their water was, and we headed to the house to unwind.

We're good now.  Thanks for the ride!
When we checked on them again hours later, they were both settled in like they'd lived there all their lives, and I swear Moon thanked me for getting him there and then dismissed me from my duties as his caregiver.  

It was then, of course, that the bawling began.  All the focus on the logistics of getting the horses safely to their new home had allowed me to stifle the overwhelming sadness I felt because my dear friend and her horses, whom I have loved as my own, were moving 500 miles away.  

The bawling and weepiness abated somewhat with dinner, but I still miss them all terribly.  
We'll be back for more lobstah!

Getting those horses there safely, particularly in the grueling summer heat of 2012, will probably be one of my proudest accomplishments of the summer.  That's not really saying much, I suppose, because all we did was drive...and drive...and drive.  But they're home with their mom in their new digs, and that's something to appreciate.