Monday, May 5, 2014


Yeah, so when you get the contact right, you get the horse's back back.

He turned at the last second, weirdening the perspective of this shot.

This intermittent spring of ride one day, wait ten days, ride two days, wait three weeks has left us a bit out of sync and searching for Sherman's back.  This morning, I found it.

In my defense, this was the first he's offered it, so it was pretty easy to find.

The difference?  15 minute warm-up on the lunge, with sliding side reins.  He stretched and loosened and strode out, working through his back for the first time this spring.  He also threw in three spring yee-haw bucks for good measure, but mostly settled down to a nice, focused bit of work.

Since we weren't leaving the arena today, I left the side reins on when I mounted.  Sherm was loose, round, and 90% free in his back, the opposite of the 10% he's been up to now in our work this spring.  We just worked at a walk, but his response in hand was light and relaxed, and his back was finally working in a way I had not felt yet this season.

In my classic over-thinking, I'm trying to decide whether his lightness was due to
  • the unburdened warm-up (including the bucks, which he never gives me under saddle, but which he does like to throw after being turned out)
  • the side reins, which 
    • provided a clear contact zone
    • balanced his turning
    • steadied a busy french-link, loose-ring snaffle bit
    • kept him quiet, which induced a quiet pair of hands in his rider
Whatever it was, he was light and calm and steady, which allowed me to be the same.  So I'll keep working this way to see what we get.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Uh, Sherm got fat in January!

Three things happened last month to contribute to Sherm's ridiculous winter weight gain.

First, we switched from the home-grown, weak timothy hay we had filled the barn with in August to the rich timothy hay grown by our hay suppliers. It's all timothy, but theirs is about 50% richer and better quality than the scrubby stuff we grow in our sandy soil.  We always have to feed our own out first because once the connoisseurs have had a taste of it, well, they turn their noses up at our stuff. Then they pee in it, poop on it, and generally waste a lot of it while banging down the doors to get something else. So, scrubby hay first, then the yummy stuff. We made the switch to yummy the day after ringing in the New Year.

The second thing that happened was the wicked cold spell. With overnight temperatures of -15 to -20,  I was going down at midnight to give the kids a snack to keep them warm through the night for stretches of 5-10 days. While it wasn't a lot of extra hay, it was extra rich hay, so it was calorie-dense.

And third, of course, is the secondary problem with the weather-- limited turnout hours and absolutely no training work. Lots of standing around, not much moving.

Eat rich, eat more, move less? Yes, recipe for chubbiness... And then some.

So, time to start weighing Sherm's hay intake. And, um, wow, was that an eye-opener! He was getting a good 20-25% too much hay by weight! He should be getting about 1.5% of his ideal body weight-- which is about 950-- so, around 14.25 lbs per day.  I was measuring by flake and tossing more like 17-19 lbs/day! I know, I know, you have to weigh it, but I'd gotten cocky and complacent.  On top of that, I think my ability to estimate weight has been compromised by my increased upper body strength-- stuff that used to weigh x-amount now feels really light.  Good for my upper-body conditioning, bad for pony!

Five pounds, am & pm! +/- 4 additional pounds in pasture/snacktime.
So, now that Sherm's going to be getting a good bit less hay to eat, he's going to start shredding his stall out of boredom.  He's demonstrated this tendency before, and these long, long nights (and sometimes days as well) of this winter from hell promised complete devastation of both his stall and his teeth if I didn't do something to make the hay last.

Thus, a haynet.  I was pretty skeptical, and I actually bought four of them because I was pretty sure he'd shred an empty haynet out of the same pique that drives him to tear his stall apart.  He also chews any rope/ropelike object within reach, so, hell, I figured a haynet wouldn't last two weeks.  But I had to give it a try.  Besides, weighing the portions is so much easier in the net!

The new routine...

Much to my surprise, Sherm hasn't chewed the net!  I accidentally left the tie strings accessible, and he chewed them up good, but the net itself is, thus far, free of chew-damage.  Imagine.  Perhaps he's so tired of working for his hay by the time the bag is empty that he's lost the urge to grap, grib, and gnaw with his teeth.  Dunno, but I'm glad of it so far.

Hitting the bag

This week, he managed to let himself out of his stall twice, mostly out of boredom, and probably a little bit out of his absolute insistence that he's being starved.  This is not new behavior; he's had a snap on his door since he was two, but it hasn't been necessary since he got started under saddle.  Being a working horse kept him busy enough, but right now he's bored-bored-bored.  So, the snap gets snapped now.  And I elected to make the haynet just a little more challenging/entertaining/confounding by hanging it in the space above his stall door, so there's no resistance to pin it against, forcing him to work just that much harder to get his hay out.  He's handling that like a champ, of course.  Looks at me annoyed, but gets the job done.

Yum-yum chaff

Lastly, I have also started shaking out his hay flakes into a large Rubbermaid container before stuffing the haynet so that all the yummy chaff and seedheads fall out.  BBW is getting nothing but roughage in his hay; all the delicious high-cal stuff is falling into the box and being fed out to Sherm's Uncle Celby, who turns 29 this year and has only 2 grinding surfaces left in his old mouth.  The Celbster is on complete feed and limited hay access due to concerns about choke, but he's loving the yum-yum trimmings!

Bring on the Yum-Yums!

Sherm has been on the diet for about three weeks now, and I'm seeing some difference already.  He's still a bit heavier than I like, but I think we're on the right path.  Don't ask me what we'll do come grass season...

Monday, February 17, 2014

Making Lemonade

Since today started out at -9 degrees, I got started repurposing the never-used guest room as my new office. With arguably the best view of the most pastures, this room allows me the opportunity to watch the BBW and his friends while I wait for our world to thaw.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Enduring the Winter

So last month when I made jokes about that crazy cold spell we had, I was thinking (like probably everyone else) that it was an anomaly, a difficult and slightly-scary episode in below-normal temperatures that would serve to remind us that we are fortunate to live in a part of the country where we get lovely winters, with a dash of picturesque snowfall, but generally don't have to deal with the difficulties and stresses of long spells of extreme cold.
For a month, things have looked like this...

Ah, yes, back when we were naive...

The last full month has seen one day over freezing here at the farm (where we keep records for the National Weather Service, and the equipment they have us use is pretty accurate). One day!  And beyond that, most of the days have struggled to reach 20 degrees, while the nights have hovered around 0 as the straight-up air temperature, with windchills far below.

The riding arena looks like this... that's a 4-step mounting block out there...

This isn't news to anyone, and we aren't the only ones.  The snowbirds who fled to Aiken have had their own stretch of misery the last 10 days.  Their experience of ice storms, snowfall, and, yes, even an earthquake in a region of the country not designed to handle such extreme weather has reminded us that we're fortunate to live in a part of the country that can handle extreme cold and constant snowfall, even if we don't like it much.  Small comfort that, but I suppose it is a comfort.

Amazing hubby out there doing this... 4th time in 10 days right now...

A month ago, I was eager to get to work with the BBW, eager to get started trying to gain back the ground we lost with almost three months off in the fall.  Bwaaahahahaha... again, back when we were naive.  These days I mostly focus on keeping the herd alive and well until the weather breaks, which I now expect around May.

These days I mostly engage with Sherm from the ground like this...
Of course, I know what's coming next.  We will, at some point, see thaw.  And melt.  And mud.  So, mud will come before anything else.  Makes one wonder whether we really want all this freeze to end.  At least the snow is white and clean.

It is time, however.  Out there in knee-deep snow, my sporthorse's banged tail is dragging out behind him on top of the snow like some saddleseat peacock's pampered monstrosity.  That's distracting.

I see a lot of this, too...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Barefoot Again For a While

After a really good autumn in (finally) the right shoes, Sherm is barefoot again.  That's the short version of the story.   The long version is a bit more complicated and fraught with emotion and drama-- like so many things equine, something that should be simple and rational becomes, for reasons I cannot fathom, something absolutely, ridiculously dramatic.  Here's a short version of the long version.

In April, per the vet's recommendations, I had shoes put on the BBW.  We were, remember, shoeing to provide mechanical support for the hind suspensory ligaments that were being taxed by some, ahem, less-than-perfect conformation.  And we saw improvement-- some of the effusion (swelling) in the fetlocks went down, but more than that, Sherm showed a dramatic improvement in willingness to weight his hinds.  Yay-- steps in the right direction.

Lovely eventer-style shoe!

Well, later in the summer the wheels went off the shoeing bus... for reasons I still can't quite fathom, it became impossible to communicate to the farrier exactly what I wanted in shoes, and why I wanted them.  The farrier, who has a great deal more experience than I do, was interested in putting a Morgan park horse package on the BBW, and was adamantly opposed to the eventer-style shoe prescribed by the vet.  With excellent breakover to allow the hoof to roll over naturally at whatever point the horse choses, this shoe, if set back from the toe and extended out behind the hind heels 1/4", would provide the most support with the least interference of any available.  But the farrier was not convinced, and wanted to work with a Morgan park horse package, so he put on a set of shoes in early August that more than undid all the good work the first set of shoes had done.  Sherm's fetlocks blew up huge, and he went completely unsound...  

Within 10 days, I had the vet come pull those shoes off and evaluate his condition.  Yup, messed up, but no permanent damage done.  She invited me to haul up to her barn to have her sporthorse farrier put on the right shoes and get Sherm back on the right track.  Two weeks later I did, and Germ slowly began the work of recovering from minor ligament strain.

At the same time, school started, and my fall-semester-from-hell began.  Though it wasn't good for his wasteline (gah, he put on weight again after we worked so hard to lose it!), it was probably good for Sherm's suspensories that I was so busy-- he was mostly left to his own devices to rest and heal those hind fetlock joints while I worked at my desk for the next two months and began the gut-wrenching process of finding a local farrier who would work with my horse and do what I wanted the way I wanted it done.

At the end of October, yet another regional farrier (my third of the season!) agreed to come to the farm to see the BBW, and put on his second set of Eventers.  The work was good, Sherm responded well, and continued to heal and get stronger as I sat at my desk and did school work.  I was about to call the vet and let her know that Sherm's suspensories looked fantastic-- nice tight fetlocks, no effusion at all-- Sherm came in with his infamous boo-boo, and I learned a lesson about getting over-confident with horses' legs.

Sooooo, anyway... fast forward to the middle of December, and Sherm is healed from both the strained suspensories and the kicked stifle, and life is looking good!  And then we get weather.

Snow. Frigid temperatures. Snow.  Ice.  Snow.  Ice.  Snow. Ice.

Now Sherm is packing ice balls in his hooves, walking around on sno-cone stilts created by snow packed hard into ice trapped by the shoes that were put on long before  snow pads were a consideration, long before we're accustomed to getting this kind of sustained wintery weather-- we aren't due for this stuff until late January!  Why now?  

So we skate (no pun intended) through some dicey weather, and Sherm is remarkably careful and patient, and we are, as we have long been, blessed with good fortune, and he manages not to wipe out on his steel skates.  Because Sherm's natural stride and conformational issues require his feet to be allowed to twist clockwise slightly (sometimes greatly) with each stride, the use of studs or other "gripper" technologies on the bottoms of the shoes would put him back in the strained suspensory category.  So he goes smooth, or he goes without.  So when it comes time to see the farrier again at the end of December, I can take it no more, and I decide to pull the shoes for safety's sake.    With the holidays and the polar vortex, the farrier doesn't make it out until the second week of January.  But on a sunny day, he pulls the shoes and trims the BBW up nicely for 8 weeks of barefoot treading.

We promptly have six days of brilliant, typical above-freezing weather with mud everywhere.  Oh yay, now I'm on abscess watch and second-guessing my blacksmithing cowardice.

But no, while out on vet calls last week, we see a horse who slipped on the ice and broke her pelvis.  On the way to this call, the vet tells me of two other broken pelvises in the last week and a half, neither of which had favorable outcomes.  Our patient managed to break her pelvis in the "best" way possible, and has a decent prognosis... after 4-6 months stall rest.  

So, yeah, I'm feeling better about pulling those shoes.

He's back to his pre-shoes standard slight effusion in the hind fetlocks, something he had for years before we shod him, and he's less inclined to rock back and sit on his hinds under saddle, but he'll manage for the next eight weeks, and then back into his working sneakers for the season!  

And really, if this winter only lasts until the next time the farrier comes, that'll be fine by me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Starting 2014

After much back-and-forth debate about the slipperiness of the icy snow, I did take Sherm for a ride this morning. Just some ring work, but it was at least a ride, any ride; work, any work, this winter is seeming like a major accomplishment.  So we did that.

Then after barn chores, and a look at the weather forecast for the next 36 hours (horrors!), I hauled out the cross country skis I used to use to get myself through the winter before there were horses in my life. Thought I'd give them a go, since we have alllllll this flat, open field to enjoy them on.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also got them out to give myself the opportunity to work out a bit more. Did the 300,000 mile / 45 year bloodwork last week, and the results came back a bit high in the cholesterol department, and a bit deficient in the Vitamin D department.  So I'm getting clogged and need to return to the oatmeal and broccoli I've been missing, in addition to getting some more aerobic exercise.  In addition to the blood chemistry, I can see a full teaching load last semester is showing up in my butt, so if the weather is going to shut down my horsework, or keep it at a less-than-aerobic level, it's time to get skiing.

Sherm thought it was interesting!  He came running from across the field to see what I was doing.

Then he thought he'd try to play with me...

Then he thought it was too freaky, and he took off...

But when I got around the side of the field, he came back...

He checked the skis out...

...decided they didn't taste good enough to stick around...

...and went on about his horsey business...

Not a bad first day of the new year.

Hope everyone out there is having fun with their ponies!