Category Archives: Horses

All things equine.

Hitting the Trail

Betsy riding Sophie.

Betsy riding Sophie.

Yesterday we had a “hitting the trail” experience that was encouraging and discouraging all at the same time.  The three kids who have horses (Cecily, Danny, and Betsy) and I hit the trail in the afternoon.  Betsy rode Lacy bareback as she always does.  Danny rode little, stout Sophie.  I just love watching her fat draft pony bohunkus!  LOL!  Cecily rode Spur, of course, and Saxton and I were a team.

Saxton did fabulous again.  Sophie spooked a couple times, though she’s not generally terribly spooky, and Saxton didn’t seem concerned about anything but the next mouthful of leaves every time we got near a bush or low tree!  In fact, the woman who came to try out Saxton Wednesday kept commenting on how she absolutely loved Saxton’s personality, and how well trained he is and how much groundwork I’ve done with him … and how sane and calm he is!  LOL!  She thought I’d been exaggerating when I listed him as a “looker” on the trails and told her that he usually spooks about once every ride.  I couldn’t convince her otherwise because he’s so calm now!

But although Saxton did great and I’m definitely having second thoughts about letting him go, the exhilaration was marred by a passage of sorts.  I was hurt to see poor old Lacy go down on her knees on the gravel at the end of the trail ride.  We were on the road and – I can only guess that Betsy is officially too much weight for her to carry now – she stumbled, landing on both front knees and bloodying one up a bit.  My heart is just crying about it.  Lacy is an angel.  She has been an absolute gift from God to Betsy, and especially to me – balm to my soul during a trying time with my own horse and balm to my little girl after a frightening experience for Betsy with a horse that bit her repeatedly.  But as she is growing so quickly, Betsy has recently crossed the 100 lb. mark.  I guess that even that much weight, though she uses no saddle, is too much for Lacy.  And so we find ourselves again facing her mortality.  I don’t know what to do now with a horse that is too old and frail to be of use, and consequent of her old age and special requirements, quite expensive and time consuming to keep?  I don’t begrudge her the care and don’t have plans to let her go.  But the reality of time and money constraints can be painful.

Beautiful Lacy

Beautiful Lacy

The other horses can be left overnight with some hay and plenty of water and they will be fine when we return.  Lacy needs special feed and supplements mixed up three times a day.  And now we will have to add a fifth horse to our already crowded barn – and – a very real consideration … find something to do with an extra eight to nine tons of manure a year.  I don’t want to see Lacy go somewhere else.  I don’t want to see her growing older.  But as with our human loved ones, change is inevitable.  So this weighs heavily on me now as I ponder our new circumstance.

Once we returned to the barn and cleaned and covered Lacy’s knee, Danny hopped on Saxton and Betsy removed Sophie’s saddle and gave her a try bareback.  They worked great in the arena, though Sophie is a pistol and a half out on the trail – hard mouthed and stubbornly given to trotting no matter what else the rest of us do.  What to do, what to do?

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Horse Update

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I’ve been giving Saxton a specially mixed bottle of Bach Flower Remedies to balance his emotions and calm his fears for about three weeks now.  I must say that I am extremely impressed so far!  He is spooking less, and interestingly (to me anyhow), when something does spook him, it takes him about half a second of spooking, then he’s back to himself like he’d never spooked a day in his life – head low, which is a sign of calm.  Saxton has always been a “head up” kind of guy.  Always looking around to try to see what scary things were out there somewhere, possibly ready to pounce on him any minute!  No more.

We took him on the trail yesterday to gauge how he’ll do this afternoon when we show him to a prospective buyer.  My goodness he was amazing!  So calm!  All he was thinking about was snatching the next mouthful of leaves.  He wasn’t worried in the least!  It was great!  I didn’t expect even these good results.  He is, still, his same old personality.  If I walk up to the stall door he still jerks his head up for a second.  I don’t think you can change fundamental personality traits.  Most of our horses do that, actually.  But calm rules the day with him now, not fear.  I am satisfied with that!

Yes, I still have him on the market, though.  If he doesn’t sell this afternoon I may reevaluate, but I have my eye on a little paint mare that is more of a babysitter horse.  I’m going to look at her this weekend and perhaps bring her home.  Danny would like to keep Saxton for his horse, but I don’t think Saxton, while very smart, malleable, and willing, is quite sensible enough to be a child’s horse.  Still … I will remain open to the possibility of keeping him in our herd somehow if this buyer isn’t interested.

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Using Homeopathics with Horses (or Other Animals)

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Quick rundown on what homeopathics are:  Do you remember learning in chemistry class that molecules vibrate?  And that molecules are different from each other and they vibrate at different speeds from each other?  (Molecular frequency.)  That’s part of what makes up your body.  The tissue in your body vibrates differently than the molecules in the tomatoes growing in your garden.  Similarly, a rock’s molecules will vibrate differently than those in bee venom.  Slightly odd sounding, perhaps, but true nonetheless.  There are plenty of “skeptics” who think homeopathy is just goofy nonsense and who, using non-molecular vibration-related tests, try to debunk it as quackery, and fine if they feel that way.  But you don’t really have to understand how something works for it to actually work.  And my personal experience (along with hundreds of thousands of other people’s) has been that, when chosen correctly, homeopathics absolutely do work.  They correct a slight imbalance in the vibrations in your body, bringing about physical and/or mental balance and healing.  The problem I find with homeopathics is that it is not easy in many cases to choose the correct remedy.  Sometimes it’s a no-brainer.  You get stung, as my daughter did this week, and you take apis mellifica.  The vibrational resonance of bee venom.  And it acts on the homeopathic principle that “like cures like.”  That’s all I’ll tell you.  If you want to know more there are a lot of resources out there with more information.  And no, you can’t just rub bee venom on your sting or take bee venom internally.  It has to be homeopathically prepared.  In fact, some of these substances in pure form could really harm you or even kill you.  But the vibrational resonance that they give off can affect the balance of your mind and body without the negative consequences of the actual substance.

So that being out of the way, one set of homeopathics that I really do like and find easy to diagnose and use is the Bach Flower Remedies.  These flower remedies affect primarily mental symptoms.  If you are burned out and tired from overwork and overcare, such as when taking care of an ill loved one, you take Olive, several drops in a glass of water, all day long for a week or a month or even several months depending on the severity.  That’s one example.  Sometimes the flower remedies do also affect physical symptoms you may be having in a positive way, but primarily they are used for mental symptoms.

I’ve used them on myself – Centaury to help me learn, after some 38 years, that I don’t have to let people walk all over me, tell me what to do, or make me feel guilty.  I’ve used them on my children – Vine to take pushy, bossy characteristics and turn them into their positive form – great leadership!  Or Water Violet to help my once very aloof, independent, and private daughter to open up and let the rest of us into her private world.  I’ve used Willow on another child who tends to become very self-pitying from time to time and evades responsibility.  A few doses and he’s back to himself, accepting the blame for things he’s responsible for without feeling sorry for himself.  And on friends – a dear friend who lived in daily despair, wishing she could die and join her baby son who had died suddenly two years before tried Star of Bethlehem on my insistence (that’s what friends are for – to push you when you need a push, right?)  The flower remedy took hold and brought her back to the land of the living.  The change was so amazing and obvious in her that some of her teenaged children spent some of their own money to buy themselves flower remedies they thought would help with whatever aches and pains they had in their own hearts at the time.  And I’ve experimented with them as often as possible.  You can take half a dozen at time if needed, but by focusing on your top three complaints, you can get those out of the way and see if you really need any others or if you’re simply out of balance due to the few things that are bothering you the most.

My first introduction to using flower remedies with horses or other animals came last spring when we brought our haflinger Sophie home from Whispering Hope Ranch where she’d been staying for about a year and a half.  We had temporarily traded her for Betsy’s mare Lacy, as we did not want to keep five horses at the time – our facilities were only half the size we have now.  Lacy is one of the sweetest, best horses a little girl could have… patient, kind, totally calm.  Sophie, on the other hand, was anti-social, resistant to training and leadership, scared, and stubborn.  We hoped they could use Sophie as part of their string, but she was a little too bouncy for the older riders and too stubborn for the younger ones.  So finally they sent her back to us.  As I was thinking about how on earth I could help her to become more friendly and more malleable for training, it occurred to me I ought to give her some Walnut remedy in her water to help her adjust to the change of leaving the herd at the Ranch and returning to our home.  And as I thought about that, I realized I could give her other remedies as well, so I looked up which ones would help with her particular personality challenges.  Water Violet was a definite yes.  Most horses, being herd animals, need to be around other horses.  Not Sophie.  She wanted everyone – people and horses – to go away and leave her alone.  Being intolerant of her human handlers called for Beech, being resistent to training and learning new exercises called for Chestnut Bud, her resignation and apathy needed Wild Rose and Gentian would be for depression and discouragement.  Not being able to talk to her, obviously, I had to observe her behavior and guess that she was discouraged and depressed (she didn’t want to be around anyone – that was either Water Violet or Gentian, so I tried both since the wrong choice can’t harm you – it just won’t help.)  With animals it’s a bit of a guessing game sometimes, since we can’t ask them questions.  It’s much like working with children, actually, who may not be able to articulate what they are feeling.

The upshot of this Bach Remedy Cocktail was very, very positive!  I was thrilled to see Sophie settle into our home, and within a week she went from being her same morose self that she had been before we ever took her to The Ranch and after we brought her home to being almost a completely different horse.  She is still stubborn, which Danny absolutely loves (silly boy!), but she is friendly – always hanging out with Saxton and the first one to the stall door to get her face rubbed.  Yes, this is amazing to me.  She would walk away from us if we approached her before the remedies.  Now she wants treats and petting?  Wow!  She had no trouble adjusting to the change, is now what I would consider a “happy” personality instead of morose and discouraged, and while I would never consider her a fast learner, she can concentrate on her lessons and make progress now instead of just being a lunatic!  LOL!

I won’t give you every instance where I’ve used homeopathics with animals and people, though I’d love to.  It would become a little e-book and we just don’t want to go there!  LOL!  But our elderly mare Lacy was having such a hard time eating hay or grass because her teeth hurt.  It just hurt to chew.  She’s ancient.  My teeth would hurt, too!  So we give her constitutional doses of Calcarea Carbonica (calc. carb.) for “teeth problems” – which we’ve had great success with in our humans here, too, healing tooth abscesses (Who knew!) and helping new teeth come in and such.  So I thought it would work for her and it has.  She has no trouble eating hay or grass now.  Calc Carb is not a Bach remedy, by the way.

So on to my present-day adventure.  Saxton is my fabulous, gorgeous, amazing gelding.  He’s smart, he loves to learn new things (which is great because I love to teach him new stuff – tricks, useful exercises, groundwork, to work at liberty (meaning that he is essentially free and can come and go as he pleases, but he chooses to stay with me and do what I ask of him.)  When I first got him in 2009 he’d sat, unused, for four years.  So he bucked me off the first few times I asked him to work.  Reflecting on it, I think it was more that he was afraid than anything, but there was definitely an element of simply not wanting to do what I asked.  So I began putting him through Clinton Anderson’s “Groundwork for Respect” series, and I got hooked.  I love Anderson’s exercises, and I love teaching Saxton new things.  He enjoys it, too, and responds very well to learning new things.  But from that first year when he bucked me off repeatedly, I got to be very timid about riding.  Saxton is a spooky horse.  We go out on the trail and he is looking everywhere in an “I’m kinda freaked out – what is that noise” kind of way.  And it scares the bejeebers out of me.  I’m afraid he’s going to buck or bolt or do something stupid.  He hasn’t.  Not since he was new here, before the groundwork series.  He has, however, spooked.  I just expect him to spook once almost every time I ride.  He usually spooks in place, I lose my balance a little, then collect him and we move on.  But last year, if you remember, he spooked, and before I could regain my balance he spooked again.  And I fell off.  And hurt myself.  Badly.

I haven’t ridden since then because I’ve been afraid to.  Oh, I’ve taken Mimulus – the remedy for “fear of known things” but in spite of no longer being terrified, I just have this certain, peaceful knowledge that getting on that horse is a bad idea for me.  I’m not confident, I don’t have a good seat, and the older I get, the harder it is for me to recover from injury – which is no fun in the first place.   In fact, I had given Saxton the Mimulus remedy last year as well, hoping it would help him in the spooking department.  Nope.

I adore Lacy, who is a million years old, because I know that she wouldn’t spook or buck or take off in a million years.  But she’s also little and old and can’t carry my 125-pound carcass along with a 30-pound saddle.  So this spring I finally, reluctantly, sadly, put Saxton up for sale.  He’s a gaited Missouri Foxtrotter, which is an attractive feature, but he’s 19.  And whoever rides him would have to be totally confident and have a good seat, because when he spooks, they need to be able to keep their balance.  But I hate, hate, hate to lose him.  He’s perfect for me in every way except the spooky horse/timid rider combination.

Saxton:  Regal, gorgeous, smart, malleable, respectful ... and spooky!

Saxton: Regal, gorgeous, smart, malleable, respectful … and spooky!  (And slightly goofy looking wearing hay on his head – but Hey!  He loves his food!)

Then it occurred to me.  Mimulus had never been the right remedy for Saxton.  I was afraid of something I know.  Riding a spooky horse that could hurt me.  He is afraid of everything he doesn’t know.  Spooky noises, fluttery objects, movement in the trees, noises in the distance.  And he gets panicky when he gets afraid of all those things.  Aha!  That indicates Aspen for “fear of unknown things” and “Rock Rose” for terror.  So early this week I put an online order in at my favorite Bach Remedy supplier feelbach.com, where the remedies are inexpensive and their partner site bachflower.org has fantastic, pretty thorough descriptions of each of the 38 remedies to help me decide which is the right choice.

My two remedies arrived in the mail last night.  I realize that they may not work.  Horses are prey animals and are designed to flee from danger.  That’s their defense mechanism.  But some horses have a more highly attuned flight mechanism.  I may end up replacing Saxton with this little paint mare I’m looking at that belonged to a pre-teen and is a lot like our Lacy – calm, steady, dependable – but younger, stronger, and able to carry my weight just fine.  But with all the success I’ve had with Bach remedies in the past, I can’t let Saxton go to a new home without at least giving him a chance at finding the right remedy if it will help him.  And who’s to say that even if he does calm down and become steady and unafraid, that I won’t still be too timid to ride him?  But I won’t at least give him up without a fight!

Sometimes we take the long way around through training/education, trying physical remedies such as chiropractic and such, resort to allopathic drugs with potential negative side-effects, or just put up with undesirable characteristics.  It may be that sometimes taking a little time to look into an inexpensive, albeit alternative remedy that may not be as widely accepted as we are comfortable with, nor as familiar as other solutions may be – can be just the ticket to an easy, practically painless solution to whatever ails us – or our horses, dogs, cats, or other animals or loved ones.  If this sounds interesting or promising, I suggest you check out Philip M. Chancellor’s book “Illustrated Handbook of the Bach Flower Remedies” and the descriptions of each of the 38 Bach Remedies at bachflower.org.

It is important to note, however, that the Bach remedies are not a cure-all.  Sometimes other issues need to be addressed, such as poor saddle fit, the need for chiropractic adjustment, possible hoof imbalance issues, and so forth.  But they can be a valuable addition in even such instances, to a holistic approach to horse care.

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Horses in A Winter Rain

It was already dark and it was drizzling when I headed down to take care of the horses for the night. I couldn’t see very well until I turned the floodlight on. The paddock was flooded in spots. Sophie stood expectantly at her stall door. She always starts neighing as soon as the back door up at the house opens. She feels it might help her get food faster if she sounds insistent, which she does. And manly. She’s a very manly sounding mare. Her deep chested draft body takes precedence over her pony femininity. But all her deep neighing doesn’t help her much, I’m afraid. She’s usually last to get her food in the order of things.

The horses were, all of them, wet. Their backs and faces had succumbed to the drizzle that began earlier in the afternoon. They obviously didn’t mind. That’s a funny thing about horses, I think. No matter how inclement the weather, they don’t seem to mind most of it. Except in the worst storms they will walk around outside as if it were a leisurely sunny afternoon. It’s only when the winds really pick up and get blowing fiercely that they head for the peace and shelter of their stalls.

An older or sick horse, on the other hand, sometimes doesn’t have the strength or reserves of energy to keep itself warm. Lacy, our 31 year old mare, falls into that category. She’s always painfully thin, no matter how much feed or what kinds of supplements we give her. She’s what’s known as “a hard keeper,” something many of us humans with an extra bit of padding here and there wish we could master the art of. Lacy has always had a high metabolism, and now that she’s old and her teeth don’t work so well anymore – she’s lost a couple of them – she can hardly eat enough to keep from looking emaciated. The end result is that when the temperature drops and we get a freezing rain, Lacy can’t keep herself warm very well.

For most horsekeepers, the idea of blanketing a horse just because it’s cold out, or because it’s raining, is not a good one. For serious equestrians who train year-round and keep their horses clipped to help them cool out after winter riding, it’s imperative. If clipped horses aren’t blanketed in cold or adverse weather, they have no means to protect themselves. But if someone were to blanket a young and healthy, unclipped horse just because they feel sorry for the horse and don’t want it to be cold or uncomfortable, they’d likely overheat the poor thing and make it sick. Horses have been keeping themselves warm in cold weather since long before they were ever domesticated. Many people often have the mistaken impression that they should keep their horses shut up tight in a warm barn so they aren’t cold. This, too, is a dangerous misunderstanding. Most horses far prefer twenty below in mid-winter to eighty-five and sunny in mid-summer. They can keep warm much easier than they can cool down in a hot sun. Shutting them up tight in a warm barn will lead to lung affections that can result in severe debility, or worse. Horses absolutely must have plenty of good ventilation – meaning fresh circulating air. As long as they have a place to get out of the wind or the weather if they like, and as long as that place gets good, constant air circulation, they can well take care of themselves.

Lacy, as I mentioned, does not have the energy reserves anymore to keep herself warm when it is wet and very cold out. The rain soaks through her coat, eradicating the dry, fluffy layer of insulation her winter coat usually provides, and allows the cold to soak into her and chill her dangerously. So we put on a nice, wool lined canvas blanket and buckle it into place. We must be careful not to keep it on if things warm up, as she’ll begin sweating and get very uncomfortable. But there is little danger of that here in December. It’s more likely to happen during a September cold front. Still, once the freezing rain has stopped and she is dry, the blanket comes off so that her own coat can protect her once more. But for tonight, she’s been given a nice bucket of soaked beet pulp mixed with senior pellet rations. We top dress it with a special weight-building supplement for skinny horses, and a scoop of kelp meal to give her all kinds of extra nutritional goodies to keep her healthy, and of course, we give her all the hay she can eat on the side.

Although I’m always loathe to leave the warm, comfortable house, I rarely fail to instantly chirk up once I get to the barn and begin work. The horses are so happy to have their feed. And it feels good to refill their water, clean out buckets, and rake up loose hay. Sometimes I prefer to be on the mucking team, but these days, the contemplative nature of the feeding job – moving in and out among the horses, rinsing and filling buckets, forking hay – settles deep and provides a much-needed boost of energy.

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Hidalgo Horse

Sophie is a haflinger, a type of draft pony. Apparently she’ll eat just about anything!

When the children and I went down to feed and muck last night, JJ tagged along.  He doesn’t ordinarily do much of the routine chores with the horses, but I had promised him a walk down our two-track lane to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.  JJ loves to talk and visit, so to have me all to himself was a big temptation for him.

While JJ waited for me to finish my chores he did something only a boy(of any age) would think to do.  Recalling the scene in the movie Hidalgo where Frank feeds his horse grasshoppers in the middle of the desert, JJ picked up a grasshopper and offered it to Sophie.  Darned if Sophie didn’t eat the grasshopper.  What!  If Betsy hadn’t been standing there and seen it, I’d have thought he was pulling my leg just to tell a good story.  So I told him to find another one.  He did.  Sure enough, I stood there and watched while Sophie ate a second grasshopper!  Who needs carrots or apples when there are grasshoppers nearby?

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Friends

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Farm Spotlight: Spur

Cecily is practicing exercises in “Bridleless Riding” with Spur. Look, Ma! No hands! Cecily is fourteen now.  Imagine her as a small-sized ten-year-old on this long-legged lady!

Our beloved mare, Shalimar Spur, is the granddaughter of the renowned harness racing superstar Cam Fella.  Cam Fella raked in over $2,000,000 in race winnings over his career and has sired at least sixteen million-dollar-plus earning offspring, and at least 268 other high earners in succeeding generations.  Cam Fella was one of those rare equine superstars with a heart the size of Texas, that just refused to be beaten.  And he rarely was.  Cam Fella “did his winning face-to-face, looking the competition in the eye and not letting it past.” He died at the Kentucky Horse Park, and rests there in their Hall of Fame.

Cam Fella: A major force in the world of Harness Racing.

That “heart” sums up our Spur pretty well.  She takes after her grandsire in her exceedingly long legs and her big heart.  She loves to race, and though she has been retired from the racing circuit many years before she joined our farm, there is nothing she loves more than to be hooked up to a cart.  Every pleasure ride we take is, to her, another chance to shine!  She comes up to the corner down our lane, and, I just know, she thinks “Here it is!  I’m rounding the corner for the home stretch!”  And she invariably speeds up her already breath-taking trot.  In fact, her canter (which she had to be trained to do – Standardbreds are trained “out of” cantering, since they cannot break out of a trot into a canter during their harness races) is not a lick faster than her trot.  Imagine a horse who can trot as fast as she can canter!  And she’ll look any horse in the eye and refuse to let it past.  She just speeds up faster and faster – she doesn’t quite get that a trail ride isn’t a competition, and that it’s okay to let another horse pass her!  LOL!

But I love Spur’s heart.  She’s really Cecily’s horse.  Cecily acquired her several years ago when she was about ten years old and only knee-high to a grasshopper.  And it seemed ridiculous to me that she didn’t want a smaller horse.  Spur is 16 hands tall with legs that go on forever!  But Cecily is nimble, and mounting her from the ground – without a mounting block – has been no challenge for her.

And Spur does love to go.  Oh, she loves to go!  When we first got her she was geeky.  You’d start to mount and the minute your foot hit the stirrup she was off!  Her previous owner liked her that way – geeky to go and mildly crazy.  But she’s not really like that.  Not anymore.  She is patient and kind (unless you’re a horse lower in the pecking order – then she’ll put you in your place).  Cecily has worked with her consistently for three years now and taught her all kinds of things, from basic control, to patience, to riding bridleless.  Who would have thought you could mount a geeked-up ex-race horse, who would stand there patiently and wait for your signal to move out.  And without reins or a bridle.  Cecily is still working on fine tuning that, but she can get Spur to “whoa” and “go” and turn and flex her head all without any reins.  I’m impressed!

Spur is getting older now.  She’s around twenty years old.  She wouldn’t be considered worth much anymore to most people, as older horses are often shied away from when someone is looking to buy – whether for driving or riding.  And her earnings record was never impressive enough for her to be used as a broodmare.  But she gets more valuable to us as time goes by and she learns more and more at Cecily’s hands.  I’d still never let anyone without significant experience ride her outside of the arena, but she’s a valuable addition to our farm, and has been a valuable ingredient in who Cecily is and who she is becoming.

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