The opinions expressed in previous entries may or may not express the current opinion of the author.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Signs of Harmony

Here are some recent signs of teamwork and fellowship in the horse (and human) tribe:

* All four horses can often now be seen standing together in the shed - even Chloe,
   who stands nearest the exit, has all four feet squarely inside. Originally, George took
   solitary possession of the shed. As time went by, Rose and Bridget started to join him,
   while Chloe still stood outside. Now there is room for Chloe too.

* The other day as I was returning Chloe to the pasture, Rose was blocking the path.
   George came over and - fairly politely - told Rose to budge out of the way. They
   both moved far enough that Chloe was willing to enter the gate.

* There has been an increase in mutual grooming. Rose even started to groom me the
   other day, which was a little unnerving, as she's not used to grooming humans and has
   Big Teeth.

* Team RoseGeorge split up this morning, leaving George and Bridget dozing together in
   the shed, while Rose and Chloe (an unusual combination) came over to camp out by
   the trough for a while, Chloe taking advantage of Rose's tail to keep the flies off her

* George finally wandered over as I was talking to Rose over the fence, but she didn't
   move away, and he didn't make faces, and they stood together peacefully.

It has taken a full year for the horses, living together 24/7, to reach this level of comfort with each other. Many horses are not given the opportunity to forge long-term relationships like this - pasture mates are shuffled and re-shuffled according to the convenience of the barn owners, and friendships are not always taken into account when assigning turnout.

I feel I must guarantee these horses' physical and psychological welfare for the rest of their natural lives. How do I do this? Can I take out a life insurance policy which would ensure that they will be taken care of, no matter what happens to me? Are there horse retirement homes where they could go if, say, I die when they too are old? Could I make such a place the beneficiary of a life insurance policy payout, to cover their care indefinitely? Or if my children take over their care, could I keep funds in trust for the horses so that the money could not be spent for other purposes?

Does anyone have any experience or suggestions about this kind of thing?

p.s. My grandfather, who was a doctor, had a hobby farm. One of his patients left provision in his will for his carriage horses to be cared for at my grandfather's farm until their death. The old man's children were a bit put out at such a substantial portion of their father's estate being set aside for this purpose, and they kept circling like vultures, hoping for the horses' early demise. My grandfather took great pleasure in providing first-class care and veterinary attention for these horses. Legend does not relate how long they lived, but I have seen home movies of these horses galloping round the pasture, looking very sprightly.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Together at Last!

Yes, the day has finally arrived! Today my husband rode Rose for the very first time!

After a certain initial stickiness (described in the previous post), we got Rose tacked up and positioned next to the kitchen steps, and up went husband, groaning loudly at the required contortions (yoga notwithstanding).

I kept a leadrope clipped to Rose's bridle, and off we went down the road, Rose stepping out nicely and looking relaxed. She stopped frequently to look around, and I waited a few moments each time before asking her if she was ready to proceed. She remembered the horses over at the neighbors' and whinnied off into the distance. I couldn't hear any replies, but maybe she could.

After a few hundred yards, she no longer wanted to continue, so we headed home. When we reached the bottom of our drive, however, Rose said, "No, I don't want to go home just yet." I let her pick our next move, which was to set off down the road in the opposite direction.

When a large vehicle went by, I lead her into the alfalfa field, and at that point it seemed to make sense to keep going up the side of the field and home via the back circuit of the property.

Rose continued very happily, and my husband said something like, "It's very big of her to be a good sport and keep going like this." Which I thought was very nice and showed a proper appreciation.

When we arrived home in the back yard, my husband dismounted onto the picnic table. After we'd untacked Rose, I told her she could go back to join the others now and started to lead her off, but she planted her feet, half-closed her eyes and indicated that she planned to stay in the back yard with us. So I gave the rope to my husband and let her stay a bit longer.

Here are two photos - one from near the start of the ride and one from near the end. You can see the confidence in both horse and rider has grown over the course of the ride. Also I fancy I see more of a horse/rider connection in the second photo.

(Made more holes in that new bridle, but it still ain't right.)
Later as the horses were milling around the trough while it was filling, my husband stood leaning on the fence beside them - I think maybe he started to feel the magic just a teeny bit.

Not Taking No for an Answer

Today I went out with halter and rope to fetch Rose in for a Certain Purpose.

She said, "No thanks" and turned away. I kept following her and kept asking, but she kept saying no. Finally I resorted to the old rope-around-the-neck ploy. After which she quite graciously accepted her halter.

And I think she was glad she did, because .... but that's in the next post.

Going Solo

Yesterday Chloe finagled her way into the big empty pasture again - actually it's two conjoined pastures.

Later, I saw her standing by one of the gates into the yard and walked over to see if she was wanting to come out.

No thanks, I'm good here.
I left her where she was, but as I was shutting the gate, she moved closer. So just to be sure, I opened the gate again.

No, really, I'm just going to stay right here.
She spent the rest of the day pottering about, enjoying her freedom from oppression I imagine.

But as darkness was beginning to fall, I saw her waiting by the gate closest to the other pasture. She readily consented to put her halter on and be lead out. As she was reluctant to enter by the gate where the other horses were clustered, we ran together (Quick! Before George gets there!) down to the small gate from the yard, where we succeeded in getting Chloe through and released before the arrival of the others.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Taking No for an Answer

The horses have been humoring me so kindly lately, that I've been getting a little cavalier about remembering to listen to them.

Chloe reminded me again yesterday that my way isn't necessarily the only, or even the best, way and that letting the horse take charge does not have to mean that anarchy will ensue.

Chloe had been loose on the lawn by her herself for a couple of hours when I went out around four o'clock to return her to the pasture. She saw me with the halter and leadrope and walked over to the gate which leads into the pasture across the drive from where the horses are currently residing - "I'll just go in here thanks." She sensed my disagreement with this plan and turned her head away every time I tried to put the halter on.

I explained to Chloe that we were going out for the evening and that she'd be left all alone in the dark if she didn't take this opportunity to be returned to her buddies. Still she refused to put on her halter and walked away.

I followed. She stopped, waited for me, and turned to touch the halter with her nose. This usually means she's ready to put it on, but when I tried to, she turned her head away again. A couple more tries - same result.

She walked off again. I followed. She stopped and touched the halter again but wouldn't put it on.

In this way, she lead me to the other gate which leads into the empty pasture. She stopped in front of the gate and allowed me to put the halter on. Sneakily, I thought I'd lead her in through this gate, through the pasture, and then out the other gate again. But once we were through the gate and into the pasture, Chloe flatly refused to budge.

So then a "practice-what-you-preach" realization kicked in, and I thought - What the heck, it doesn't matter if I leave her here. So I did.

Me heading back to the other gate without Chloe.
Chloe drifted down the field closer to where the other horses were, got herself a drink from a bucket I set out, and proceeded to graze happily.

What's she doing over there?
I gave the horses their supper, and Chloe contentedly ate in solitary spendor, no one forcing her to relinquish her plate before she was quite finished.

This is actually a picture of her water bucket.
We went out and returned late. When I climbed out of the car, I could dimly make out Chloe grazing a few yards off into the field. She whinnied to me, and when I met her at the gate, she was very glad to be haltered and lead back across the drive to the others.

George got right out of the way to let her come in, while Rose and Bridget crowded around to welcome her back. Chloe had no hesitation about entering, diving in between the other mares and turning around to let me remove the halter. She set off at a brisk walk with Rose and Bridget following after her, no doubt demanding to know what she'd been up to.

There was no harm in letting Chloe have a few hours to herself in the other pasture. She managed to tell me - clearly and politely - that this was what she wanted. I really had no reason to disagree.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Uh Oh

Well, I know I shouldn't have left that bridge there in such a state of disintegration. It used to be nice and sturdy, and both horses and humans could use it to traverse the little creek when the water was running high. Despite some emergency repairs last summer so the wedding guests could make their way from barn to bathroom, the bridge finally succumbed to old age, the boards rotting and crumbling.

I've been placing off-putting objects on it to discourage the horses from using it, but it didn't seem necessary as none of them were showing an interest in walking on such a dodgy looking surface anyway. So as time went by and the off-putting objects fell off or blew away, the bridge was left undefended.

Yesterday we had a bunch of kids at the house, and Bridget took a shine to two of the teenage girls, following them about whenever they were in the field. So when they walked across the bridge, she followed.

One foot went right through a board. She got over safely, and I thought she would be scared to cross again soon. Not so. A few minutes later the two girls crossed again, and Bridget went after them. This time, I looked on in fright from across the yard as Bridget went right through with all four legs. She struggled for a few moments, as I ran over, and by the time I reached her, she had extricated herself relatively unscathed, with only a few superficial scratches.

I was full of contrition and sympathy. Bridget, however, seemed to think the whole endeavour had been a challenging experience, and that she could improve her technique with further practice. She turned around, placed her front feet on the bridge again, and said, "Let's see if we can't get it right this time."

So, while I appreciate Bridget's intrepid character, no more delays - the bridge had to go.

The remains
I was so impressed, as I have been before, by Bridget's calmness under fire. But it made me ponder what other dangers may be lurking, and I'm thinking I should finally get around to electrifying the top strand of fence to keep the horses from messing with it and getting their feet caught - something I've been loathe to do, as it would make the horses fearful of sticking their heads over the fence to check things out and say hello to passing humans.

After the incident, Bridget stood by the gate, trying to get our attention. She got hold of a piece of plastic pipe and waved it about, and then walked into the corner of the field where she could reach a piece of old gate and grabbed that with her teeth too. I really think she thought falling through the bridge and getting out again had been an interesting escapade and was looking for a fun follow-up activity. I'm signing her up for Outward Bound.

Meanwhile, sorry for being a bad horse owner and leaving a dangerous bridge in temptation's way.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More Walking

Yesterday Bridget and I had a nice walk together. We travelled over a mile before Bridget quite abruptly, but calmly, decided it was time to head back.

Before the turnaround point, although there had been several occasions when Bridget had to stop and look hard at what was ahead, each time she wanted to continue after the potential hazard had been duly inspected. We passed the sheep field with scarcely a glance, and when we reached the neighbour's horses, it was clear Bridget considered herself part of my team and not theirs.

The other horses, however, called loudly to her.
On the way home, a neighbour stopped to introduce himself. He got out of his car, and as we talked, Bridget acted exactly like a human three-year old: I'm bored, I thought we were going home, no I don't want to stand here and listen to you talking, I don't want to be polite to this person, COME ON let's go!

When we got home, Bridget's reunion with George was much less dramatic than after our last walk - if still heartfelt.

Today, George's girl decided to ride him bareback. He registered no objection to the bridle going on or to my daughter mounting up. However, once she was on board, he looked sour, fussed with his bit, and didn't want to go forward.

We talked about the Happy George that we've been seeing a lot of lately - the George who feels himself surrounded by companions who won't steal his food, who won't be mean to him, whom he can trust, and who will take care of him. I said we want the Happy George to be the one who accompanies us on rides.

My daughter was very patient. When he didn't want to move forward, she just let him to stand facing in the desired direction. If he backed up a few steps, she let him. Pretty soon, the sour face was gone, the ears were lopped again, and Happy George was back.

All of a sudden George decided to set off on a trail ride. He took himself and his rider down the road a ways, and then selected a tractor trail leading off from the road. I came following behind, leading Bridget. At a certain point, we steered the horses left into a large circle around the rear of our property, leading us back onto the road, and then home. George marched along, looking eager and relaxed.

And it was a special walk for Bridget, because today for the very first time .....

she wore a saddle!
I don't think the Wintec is going to fit Bridget, and it slipped forward during the course of our walk, but without a rider, I think it was ok. Half way along our route, I pulled the stirrups down so they'd flap against her sides and get her used to such things. She was not bothered by any of this.

The four of us had a very nice time. We had not been planning to leave the yard, and it was George who took the lead and decided we would go for a proper walk. I'm beginning to feel as if these horses are like the talking animals in Narnia.

And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rose for all her good work with George!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Humans and Horses

My college-student-who-likes-horses daughter has been wanting to ride Rose. Today we girded our loins, fetched Rose and George out of the pasture and set about tacking up.

As my youngest daughter was only planning to lead George on the walk, we put the Wintec Endurance Cair Panel saddle on Rose. It has a good feature:

namely you can adjust this strap so that the
girth can fall more to the back or front.
Rose has a large barrel, and if the girth hangs straight, it slides too far forward behind her elbows, and pulls the saddle down onto her withers and elevates the cantle. But by setting the girth to fall further back, it evens up the downward pressure on the saddle.

End of ride, so the pad has slid back, but you
can see how the girth is farther back.
We also tried out the new bitless bridle on Rose. It was a bit big, and we didn't bother to make new holes yet, but it worked out pretty well.

This is Rose discovering the neighbour's sheep. She looks way less alarmed
than either Bridget or George when they first saw the woolly peril.
Rose was a little tense starting out on our ride, what with leaving Bridget and Chloe behind, and so my daughter started out leading her. After a short while, she decided to mount up. One thing about Rose is that she never has any objection to someone climbing on her back, and today was no exception. Once my daughter was on board in fact, Rose visibly relaxed. I wonder if it was in some way comforting. We continued down the road, with George leading at first.

In the field it's Rose who leads, however, and pretty soon she made it clear that she wanted to go in front. She was full of forward motion but stayed loose and stretched out until we reached the sheep.  At that point, she got a little tight again. This was also the spot where there was an option to go down a lane to the right, and Rose was certain she wanted to head in this new direction. Our neighbour down the lane has horses, and as we approached, Rose got more and more tense. George, in the meantime, stayed lop-eared and calm. No worries for him - Mom was leading the way. Rose and the other horses whinnied to each other, and after a few exchanges, it seemed like a good time to suggest turning toward home.

Rose became progressively more relaxed the closer we got to home. By the time we reached our fence she was really stepping out and stretching, and her eye was calm and happy. As we walked up the drive, Rose gave Bridget (who was on the other side of the fence) the evil eye, which is what she does when she's getting attention and wants Miss Bridget to go away.

With the horses reunited in the field, we stayed to schmooze for a while. Rose must have felt that our expedition had given us a new connection, as she crept up to say hello to me - something she rarely does.

I dunno - I kind of all felt we were all one happy family.

What Me Worry?

The New George. My feeling that George's aggression stemmed from insecurity and alienation seems to be corroborated by his new relationship with Rose. He follows her everywhere, tucked into her side like a foal. His wee ears are always lopping to the outside of his head in opposite directions, and he seems to have no worries in the world. It's a little Oedipal, but he apparently has decided she's his Mom.

Hoof Notes

My first navicular (confirmed by x-rays) horse - when the owner called, I said I'd come look, and if the hoof was already pretty well balanced, there was probably not much more I could offer. The hoofs turned out to be NOT well balanced. The ratio of the back of the hoof (from the widest part of the hoof to the heel landing) to the front of the hoof (widest part to breakover) ideally should be 60/40. In this horse it was probably 20/80, or worse. So I said if we keep the hoofs balanced for a few months, there may well be some improvement. The RF (the worst foot) also noticeably landed toe-first, with a weird flick in the fetlock joint as the weight transferred backwards, which - I believe - is associated with the cause of navicular - namely friction of the DDFT over the navicular bone.

After trimming, I got the ratios to almost 50/50. The horse appeared to be standing better, with his forelegs more directly underneath him instead of parked out in front.  The owner walked him around the yard. On soft ground he walked fine, but on harder ground he noticeably put his RF toe down first. We decided (hoped!) this was due to his frog not being used to contacting the ground, and hopefully it'll callous up and get stronger.

My first club foot - a textbook club foot! Narrow LF heel with straight bars, smaller and more upright hoof than the opposite foot. The horse goes sound. I trimmed according to the sole landmarks, and although both left and right heels were trimmed down to the frog buttress, the left heel still looked taller when both feet were on the ground. First rule of club foot trimming: Don't Try to Make the Club Foot Match the Other Foot. The club foot heel had grown higher than the opposite foot - it'll be interesting to see if this happens again. It may be that this happened just because of the more upright habit of the club foot, while in the normal foot the new growth pressures the growing heel into under-running more.

A "splat" foot - this horse had straight growth of a couple of inches from the hairline, and then - splat. I didn't dare take the toe back to where breakover ideally should be, as the foot was so shallow and I was afraid to compromise the coffin bone. However, the horse had a prominent sole callous growing all the way up each side of the frog and in an arch around the frog apex. Presumably this callous has grown up to protect the coffin bone - marvellous how the foot responds to challenges. This callous was hard, live sole - definitely leave it in place, as it is much needed at the moment. I think this horse may have gotten in a pickle, as I think it's one of those horses whose feet are just naturally really small, and perhaps no one ever dared shorten his toes enough. In the three years since his current owner has had him, he has always had a problem with going splat in the feet. The owner couldn't remember, however, whether his feet were always flat underneath. I asked her to never clean the mud out of his feet, as it will provide extra cushioning and protection. It will be interesting to see how his feet progress.

Another flat foot, although not quite reaching the splat designation. This one had what at first I thought was a lot of false sole - but which turned out to be rock-hard, live sole - surrounding the frog, completely filling in the bottom of the hoof. Again, in such a flat foot, this sole was probably serving the very important function of protecting the inner structures of the hoof. The horse had a prominent toe callous, which I left completely alone, even though this meant leaving breakover forward of where it might ideally be.

And speaking of toe callouses - this horse was one of three whose owner feeds them a biotin supplement - Biotime - and they had the most impressive toe callouses I've ever seen. I mean, Ovnicek's always talking about toe callouses, but his horses are all running around on dry, hard Colorado ground, whereas around here, it's much softer and wetter, and frankly you're hard pressed to find any toe callous at all on the feet in this neighbourhood. These horses' feet were also all in really good shape considering that they hadn't been trimmed since at at least January.

I recently watched a video from the Mission Farrier School about trimming soft-ground hoofs. He advocates leaving a little heel in these conditions, and the mud will pack in and allow the frog to remain in ground contact. Another horse I trimmed this week was a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police horse, now owned by a sweet little girl and her grandfather. This horse again had not had her feet trimmed for a while. But her heels were not terribly overgrown - sure enough her feet were packed with dirt, and the frog, which on dry ground would have been out of ground contact by about maybe 1/4 - 1/2 inch, was healthy and well developed.

Here's what I need to buy - a short-handled rasp which is easy to use with one hand. And a mini horse Hoofjack.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Week of Minis

Five on Monday, two on Tuesday, and two today - each one cuter than the other.

Here's what I learned - minis' feet are teeny, so the hairline is close to the edge of the hoof, so you have to be very careful not to rasp the hairline when you're working on the outside. Sorry, Bonnie.

A couple of these little guys stood out. One was a young chestnut stallion with a penchant for charging round the field, spinning, and bucking, and leaping. "Uh oh," I thought, "we've got a live one here." But he was the sweetest, most cooperative, and most thoughtful of all - so easy to trim his feet.

Another was a yearling gelding, who at some point in the proceedings (it was only his second trim) came to the conclusion that I was showing him a super fun game - maybe rugby, or wrestling, or ballroom dancing. At that point I realized I had to get - not stern - but at least serious, if we were going to get through. But what fun to have a horse who's so little that it doesn't matter if he experiments by climbing onto your lap!

His brother was a much more solemn little fellow, who would back away when he'd had enough and then, if you waited patiently, would step forward into position again and offer his foot.

When you meet a mini, it is good to sit down on the ground so they can inspect you properly.

They are just all so cute and clever, and their little round eyes look at you with such curiosity and intelligence. I swear they are fairies with hoofs.

This is good. I'm getting my mini fix so I won't be tempted to acquire one.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


It's taken a year, but Rose and George are now bestest buddies. I even saw Rose nibbling on the edge of George's dinner dish yesterday while he was still eating.

Moreover, Rose has figured out how to lead the herd. She drives Chloe in the desired direction, and as everyone always follows Chloe, Rose can "lead from behind" and dictate the group's next move.

Being friends makes them both happy.

A Walk on the Wild Side

Most of the time Bridget is her usual 50% Arab, 50% whatever-it-is self. Yesterday, however, she manifested 110% Arabian for a little while - the glamor and drama quotient skyrocketed, and a new name for her appeared in the periphery of my mind, but I couldn't catch it.

After I let the horses onto the lawn, Bridget walked to where the gates formed an overlapping barrier across the driveway and gazed, longingly I thought, at the great world beyond.

So - I fetched the halter and invited her to come with me for a walk. She set off, wide-eyed, down the drive - no thoughts for the folks back home, all her attention focussed on what was Out There.

We walked and jogged together, stopping periodically for Bridget to assess various strange happenings in the distance - a truck pulling a trailer loaded with round bales, and other phenomena visible only to her keen senses. Whenever she was ready to move forward, she would relax her neck and back, drop her head toward me, and off we'd go again.

A few hundred yards down the road, there is a choice - go straight, turn right onto the farm lane, or go home. Bridget unhesitatingly chose the farm lane. She walked forward keenly, and then she saw THEM. The Holsteins.

Consumed with intense interest and excitement on seeing such strange beasts, she wanted to keep going towards them, a few steps at a time. After a few minutes of this, I asked her if she wanted to go home.

As soon as we turned around and were headed back, her pent-up emotion burst forth, and - behold! - there was the new Bridget. Flaring nostrils, snorting, tail high, passage-ing in circles around me. I couldn't help smiling. I was reminded why I like Arabs so much - all that fizz and fire, but - somehow - contained. Because despite the turbo-charged display, Bridget was very much still connected to me - she came close to running into me a couple of times, but a raised hand deflected her, and I didn't feel she was about to take off or lose her mind.

We proceeded thus up the lane toward the corner of the road, where one of the round bale trucks was returning, having deposited its load. I lead Bridget onto the grass as the truck and trailer turned onto the lane towards us. She almost became airborne, but again I had no sense that she was in danger of trying to take off or break away from me.

As we continued along the last stretch toward home, Bridget kept getting ahead of me, and I kept reminding her to stay beside me. When we reached our driveway, George was waiting at the fence, where he and Bridget greeted each other as if she'd been in Australia for fifteen years. Back inside the gate, I let Bridget go - she chased Chloe very officiously, then attached herself to Rose, and seemed to breathe a big sigh of relief.

That's enough of being a grown-up for one day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Liberty on the Lawn provides opportunities for horse-human interaction in a way which is not possible when the horses are confined to their pasture.

The horses must be rather curious about the people they see coming and going from the house. If those people are not particularly horse-oriented, they will remain forever just a distant curiosity. When the horses are allowed access to the human domain, however, they can introduce themselves to anyone they want to, infiltrating their space and working their horsey magic, Svengali-like, upon the unsuspecting humanoid.

Today, I happened to look over to the picnic area of our backyard, where the remains of last night's party were still strewn about. My not-very-keen-on-horses son was standing placidly with a can of soda in one hand, and the other hand resting on George's neck. Over the course of the next hour or two, my son and Bridget and George wandered in and out of each others' space - sometimes the horses seeking him out, sometimes the other way around.

Chloe and I rendezvoused in the field while the others were distracted.

George discovered my son and daughter outside the kitchen door and went over to be with them. As long as he was there, they stayed. When he left, they went inside.

Later, I took a stool outside onto the stoop and sat with George and Lucy the dog. Lucy allowed George to snuffle her, finally losing her equanimity and snapping at him when he nibbled a little too hard.

Here is George inspecting the air
conditioning unit thingie

Here is George just having tried to
get in the window.
Here is the naughty hole he made
in the process.
Speaking of  naughty, when we went outside to cook and eat supper, Bridget and George were determined to be part of it. They knocked over chairs, emptied coolers, tried to steal hot dogs, wanted to sit at the picnic table, and generally did not endear themselves to the human population other than me.

Bridget plans her attack.
When they were all tucked up back in their field and had eaten their own supper, I went in with my book and stool and bottle of beer.

Bridget thinks reading is boring.
She wanted to eat my book.
George succeeded.
Mostly, though, George stood quietly beside me.