Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeding Grass Clippings

It's been a wet spring, and the grass outside practically grows in front of our eyes. We do a lot of mowing of both our lawn and our property, just to keep things looking tidy.

My husband (who just ducked out of this photo) noticed that our two donkeys, Mr. Chocolate and Mr. Big, followed him up and down the fence line whenever he brought the riding mower out. They were not a bit scared of the noisy motor (which would send a lot of animals bolting across the field) and this tickled him immensely.

But we thought it kind of strange, how they'd be attracted to a running lawnmower. Then it dawned on me - they've probably been fed grass clippings at one point in their lives - and they were waiting for someone to toss some over the fence.

Have you ever done this? Don't do it!

Why? - you say - when they eat green grass anyway? Because when animals graze, they have to tear off the blades of grass and chew them. With a pile of grass clippings, they simply gorge themselves, and the lumps of grass in their belly easily ferment and can cause colic.

Why take the chance? Inform your neighbors, also, because sometimes well-meaning people whose lawns border your pasture think either a) a pasture is a convenient place to dump grass clippings, and/or b) they are giving your horses/animals a treat.

Anyone have any experiences with colic from animals eating grass clippings?

Please share your experiences.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Over-reacting or Responsible?

Keeping in line with the previous two posts, mine is also horse-health related.

A little over a week ago, the boarders and students in my barn received an email from the barn owner/trainer that the barn was on "lockdown" for thirty days because of the EHV-1. No horses were alllowed in. If you took your horse out of the barn, you couldn't return it until the lockdown ended.

The barn owner consulted with her veterinarian and read several press releases from reputable sources on the subject. There was also a horse diagnosed about 20 miles away with the virus. Her barn is a busy one, and horses come and go several times a day.

I applauded her quick action as responsible and unselfish. After all, Kari and the assistant trainer stood to lose a month's worth of lesson fees from haul-in students, not to mention entry fees from shows during the lockdown period. I appreciated her willingness to put the health of the horses over her financial gain.

In talking to other friends, the majority of them were not taking their horses anywhere until the threat was deemed passed by those in authority.

Other horse owners I knew were not so concerned. They discounted the EVH-1 threat as over-reaction by the horse community. They continued to go on their group horse activities, were offended when a local show was cancelled, and considered the entire thing to be an unfounded panic. Their lack of concern for their horses irritated me. Especially when they complained about a show being cancelled or chastized their friends for not going on a organized ride.

I held my tongue, but it was difficult. From my viewpoint, the only way to stop the spread of EHV-1 was to cease all horse travel and make sure all people handling your horses take precautions. I considered their actions self-serving and showing little concern for the horse. They considered me an alarmist given to bouts of panic.

Now that the risk of EVH-1 is waning, the people who didn't believe it was a serious issue are defending their stance by pointing out how it didn't become an epidemic and stating those of us who chose to keep our horses home were being paranoid.

I see it differently. I believe it's because of the responsible actions of people like my barn owner who who prevented the disease from becoming an epidemic.

What do you think? Was it all hype and hysteria? Were the extreme measures taken by many barns necessary? What would you expect a responsible horse owner to do in this case?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another Controversial Subject

by Laura Crum

Today I want to discuss something that’s been on my mind for a long time, but the recent “equine herpes” scare has brought it to the forefront. My topic is vaccines, and veterinary wisdom in general.

First off, if there was an effective vaccine against the current equine herpes, I would be lining up with the rest of the world to get it. I am happy to protect my horses from any real and present threat via vaccines. But the fact is that I don’t vaccinate my older horses (who have all been vaccinated for many years) on a yearly/bi-yearly schedule, as veterinarians usually recommend. And the reason is not because I am an irresponsible owner, or because I am cheaping out. The reason is that I don’t think such “over-vaccinating” is in their best interests.

I came to this conclusion because I had to do a huge amount of soul searching and research over whether to give my baby/child the officially recommended vaccines. In case, you don’t know, when my child was a baby, if I had followed the schedule, he would have had roughly sixteen immunizations by the time he was 18 months old. Some of these were for things like diptheria and polio, which are not seen in this country at this time. Others were for tetanus (which is always present), whooping cough (still active) mumps and measles (still around but rare), chicken pox (very much present but usually not dangerous).

I will spare you the enormous amount of agonizing and research I did, and merely say that I came to the (well-informed) conclusion that I would follow a modified shot schedule that I believed would likely give my son immunity to the diseases that were actually around and would not overstress his system. Because contrary to what they tell you, I believe there is a downside (in some individuals) from too many vaccinations. I said this to my small animal vet many years ago and he pooh-poohed me. And yet this same man very recently said to me that he is seeing all these diseases in dogs that used to be relatively uncommon and one of the things he attributes it to is “over-vaccination”. If the subject hadn’t been so close to my heart, I would have laughed out loud.

Both my small animal vet and the best horse vet I know have stopped recommending that I vaccinate my older animals, who have been vaccinated a good deal in their lives, on a yearly schedule. They know, and I know, that these animals probably already have immunity, and more shots will merely stress their system. All the horses on my place right now are in their teens or older and I no longer give them annual shots, though we did vaccinate for both strangles and West Nile, when these two diseases were actively present in our area. If they get a deep cut or puncture wound, I give a tetanus booster.

On the other hand, I am giving my puppy a modified shot schedule for parvo/distemper, and she will definitely get the rabies shot. I am not someone who believes vaccines are evil. As with many things I choose to take the middle road. One of the things I learned in my research on infant shots is that 98% of the population is adequately immunized after two shots (with the correct spacing/timing). The following booster shots (for infants—the shot being the D-TAP) were to immunize the 2% of the population that is resistant to immunization. So all these little babies are being over-vaccinated to insure that that 2% is immunized. This is justified on the basis that the unneeded vaccinations do no harm. I don’t agree with that point of view.

I won’t go into the details of why this approach is pushed by our government and our doctors, but I did, in fact, discover why. And also how nefarious the whole business is.

I’m not sure if the same politics applies to veterinary medicine, but I do know that many things that once were “pushed” by vets are now said to be dangerous, and some vaccines/wormers that burst upon the market as the new “white hope” were later proved to be very problematic and were responsible for not a few equine deaths (remember the injectible wormer?).

So my topic for today is vaccination. Do you, like me, vaccinate your older animals as you feel its needed, or do you continue to vaccinate them on a yearly schedule? I’d be interested to hear your point of view.

Monday, May 23, 2011

EHV 1 Alert!!!!!!!!!!

By Terri Rocovich
Rocking Horse Ranch

I have a VERY serious subject to my blog today. As I am sure many of you have already heard, there has been a major outbreak of the EHV-1 in the western Unites States. EHV-1 is a strain of the Equine Herpes Virus that commonly affects horses around the world. There are actually 5 strains of the Equine Herpes Virus but the most common are EHV-1 and EHV-4. Both of these strains generally manifest themselves as upper respiratory tract infections and/or can cause abortions in pregnant mares.

What is unusual about the recent outbreak of EHV-1 is the number of cases that have resulted in EHM - Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy which is a neurologic mutation of the virus that affects the horse's brain and spinal cord and can lead to paralysis and death.

All of the current reported cases relate initially to a Cutting Horse Championship Show in Ogden, Utah that took place 4/29 - 5/8. The suspected first case exhibited neurologic signs at the show and was taken to a nearby equine hospital where it was later euthanized. So far all of the confirmed cases of EHM are in horses that attended the Utah show or a subsequent Cutting Horse Show in Bakersfield, California. No secondary or unrelated cases of EHM have been reported to date.

As of today, there are nearly 50 confirmed cases in 9 western states plus Canada. There are also over 20 unconfirmed cases. California is one of the hardest hit states with 18 confirmed cases in over 12 counties. Other States affected are Texas, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona.

Precautions to Take

EHV-1 is EXTREMELY contagious and can be spread by either direct or indirect contact (nasal secretions) or infected aerosolized droplets ( i.e. sneeze or cough). People can easily transmit the virus on our hands, shoes or clothing or it can live on other items like tack, grooming equipment, manure forks, buckets, feed tubs, water sources, or even the tires of your vehicle. Therefore good barn hygiene like frequently cleaning water buckets and feed tubs with a 10% bleach solution or other disinfectants like chlorhexidine and biosecurity measures such as not sharing or disinfecting brushes, tack or other commonly shared items. Infected or suspected horses should be isolated at least 60 feet away and extreme sterile protocol should be used when around that horse.

Horses can be latently infected, and potentially infect other horses without ever displaying symptoms themselves. Incubation period of EHV-1 is typically 1 to 14 days. EHM generally appears 8 - 12 days after primary infection. Horses can shed the virus for up to 21 days after they stop showing clinical signs. EHV-1 and EHM are designated as "reportable diseases" which means that a veterinarian is mandated to report any case to the state in which the case is identified and the horses must be quarantined.

Clinical Signs to watch our for.

Fever and/or a nasal discharge are usually the first signs of the disease. Fevers of 102 or greater are of concern and a vet should be consulted. Other clinical signs include: Inappetance, ataxia (stumbling/incoordination), paralysis, lower leg swelling, inability to urinate or pass manure, urine dribble (incontinence), reduced tail tone.

How to stop it.

Most vets agree that the best way to stop any virus is to simply stay at home limiting the mixture/exposure of horse populations. This is the approach I am taking with my facility. Even though no cases have in reported in San Diego county where my farm is and I don't have any clients or known horses near me that were at that Cutting Horse show, I have seen any number of diseases spread like wildfire over the years and no horse show is worth putting any of my horses at any degree of risk. Wisely, several shows in my area have already been cancelled but many others have not including a Rodeo with participants from all over the western U.S. that took place in my area this past weekend. As a result, I have placed my facility on a 21 day quarantine (no horses in or out) from today just in case it could have been brought into the area by horses co mingled at the rodeo. I may be cautious to the extreme, but to me it is worth the peace of mind and luckily all of my clients are in agreement.

Other prevention.

There is no vaccine for EHM and vets are in disagreement as to whether horse owners should booster with the vaccines known to protect against EHV-1 and EHV-4. From what I have read it is important NOT to booster your horse if you suspect any level of exposure. For example, the weekend prior to the announcement of the EHV-1 outbreak, I had been at a Eventing Horse Trials with a few of my students of which one of the horses lives at my barn. After hearing of the outbreak the next day I chose to have my vet nasal swab this horse and send it to UC Davis to test for EHV-1 exposure. After getting a negative test result, we boostered every horse on my facility with Rhinomune a strong modified live vaccine (a killed vaccine like Pneumabort -K should be used on pregnant mares or breeding stock). A few of the horses had mild reactions (not uncommon) to the vaccine but everyone was back to normal within a day. My decision to vaccinate was based on the fact that boostering can reduce virus shedding within farm populations and enhance protection against EHV-1 even though it won't protect against the EHM neuropathogenic mutation.

Not to be taken lightly.

This is clearly a serious situation that every horse owner needs to pay attention to whether you show or not. Many horse owners today keep there horses at stables with large populations and any travel in/out while this outbreak is prevalent can put your horse at increased risk.

The most up to date information that I have been able to find is on the following web sites:


I hope that this danger passes by quickly and that every one's horses remain happy, healthy and sound!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Promotion 101

I just came back from the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Maryland, a well-run book extravaganza held on a perfect day and there were lots of families and book-lovers.

Between my session and a signing, plus driving, I only got to say hi to a few fellow authors and attend one session on promotion. Of course. I add the 'of course' because it seems as if getting my books into the hands of readers is always on my mind. The talk I went to was about using social networks/media to promote your business. The speaker was Jennifer Abernethy a business woman turned entrepreneur who out of necessity began promoting herself and her business on Facebook, then Twitter and Linkedin, and now has a book (another 'of course' goes in here) that would tell me how to sell a million books. Not. I didn't buy it because she has an updated one coming out in 2012, and as she herself said, the internet/twitters/iPhones of today will be obsolete by the time we blink.

A friend of mine also just came back from a writer's panel in NYC. The word there is that editors are looking for great writers, not just writers with great media presence and huge blog followings, BUT(and here's a big 'but')if you don't sell tens of thousands of books when your novel is published, you won't get a contract for a second novel from that publisher. I am experiencing that right now with one of my YA novels.

Hmmmm. It's no wonder I get worried. Those of you who don't write to pay bills or write for smaller presses or self-publish, may not need to worry. Writing to make a living is much harder than writing because YOU LOVE TO WRITE. I know that I DO and SHOULD write because I love to write, but I also pay college tuition for my daughter and buy feed for my horses. It's a dilemma that I have not solved in the twenty-seven years I have been writing and publishing. Some years have been down-right scary! (Which is one reason why I teach.)
So once again, my blog is not about horses but it sure is about books! And how to sell them. Anyone have the magic answer?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Qrac meets Kwintus

Qrac is home! After five weeks at a the equestrian facility where he’d been living since I brought him back from the South of France, I took a deep breath, grabbed my courage with both hands (that’s a French saying, by the way. I just translated it directly and think it came out kind of cute. Does it exist in English?), and, last Saturday morning, hauled him over to “my stables” where I introduced him to Kwintus.

I’d initially chosen to stable him temporarily elsewhere because, as yet, my stables doesn’t yet have an indoor arena, and I thought it would be safer to get to know him in an enclosed area. Also, my trainer lives close by, making it easier for her to come more often than just once a week. It worked out really well, and despite the pickle I got myself into in the two weeks where Marie-Valentine was away coaching at FEI competitions(remember the tumbleweeding I described in my previous “Semi-Floppy” post?), our final week there was brilliant as I managed to have a lesson a day. By our final lesson last Friday tumbleweeding was almost a distant memory. So happy was I that I joked with my trainer about employing her full time! Imagine how cool that would be?! I really need to play the lottery…

Jokes apart, as brilliant as it was to for me to have more regular access to Marie-Valentine’s lessons, I was impatient to take Qrac “home”. For one, I missed seeing Kwintus on a regular basis, and with Qrac stabled at one end of lake Geneva, and Kwintus stabled at the other, it was hard to go to both places in one day. I mean, I could manage it, and did so a few times, but it meant spending hours in the car, leaving little time for anything else. But the main reason I couldn’t wait to take Qrac to live with Kwintus was because he never got any fresh air. His stable was dark and small and dusty and muggy, and I literally felt guilty putting him back inside after I’d ridden him, knowing full well he wouldn’t get any light or air or exercise until I returned twenty-four hours later. None of the horses stabled there were being let out to graze yet, and even if they had been, Qrac couldn’t have joined them because the fencing wasn’t adequate for a stallion. And since I was mostly riding in the indoor arena, the poor guy hardly went outside at all. I lay awake at night, worrying about him, which was probably silly as he was perfectly fine. But still…

Ideally, on a totally selfish basis, I’d have left him there another few weeks, and have continued to take umpteen lessons a week with Marie-Valentine, consolidating the progress we’ve made, stabilizing the contact and the reaching and the tempo. But I wanted him to be able to graze. I wanted him to have fresh air. I wanted him to more room to move around in his stable. And if it meant I’d only see my trainer once a week, then so be it. We’re not going to the Olympics any time soon, so what’s the rush?

Luckily, Stephanie (the owner of my stables) has recently had the small arena fenced in, and so if all hell breaks loose and Qrac goes loopy while I’m riding him (or even just lunging him), he can’t get out and gallop away on a testosterone fuelled rampage. Not that I think he’s going to do anything of the sort, but I’ve got a vivid imagination.

Qrac has settled into his new and improved lodging beautifully. He goes out every morning for about two or three hours, after which he gets a bit bored and bolshy, so he’s brought in again. He seems to be very taken with Kwintus who is now his next door neighbor, to the point where I’m beginning to wonder whether my stallion might swing both ways! Actually, it’s not just Kwintus he’s into; he gets pretty noisy and hot under the collar whenever there’s any equine activity in the courtyard. I’m guessing he’ll calm down in a week or two, as he reacted similarly when we first arrived at the previous place.

As far as working him goes, I began by lunging him in the small, fenced arena for two days. I had every intention of riding him on the third day, only to arrive at the stables to find he’d cast a shoe clowning around in the field and had to call a local farrier to the rescue. I finally rode him for the first time on Tuesday, with mediocre results. Distracted by Kwintus and Coconut in the adjacent field, I had a hard time keeping him focused, and so we did our fair share of tumbleweeding which was a little disheartening , but I told myself to be reasonable and to give it time. And sure enough, the next day he was much better, responding to my “semi-floppyness” and to my half halts, and enabling me to actually ride his hind leg. I was so pleased by how he went that I my self-confidence shot up, and I actually took him for a cool-down ride around the countryside all by myself! And today, after our workout, I repeated this feat of bravery, even pushing my limits by asking him for a trot! How about that? Are you impressed, or what?!

So, all in all, things are going well. There have been some slightly hairy moments, and I’m becoming more and more aware that owning a stallion is far more complicated than owning a gelding. Qrac is a very laid back stallion, but when he starts snorting and prancing and displaying his very impressive equipment I must admit I tend to get a little nervous. Consequently, I’m already considering having him gelded, as I think it will make life easier, both for him and for me. And even if he is an approved stallion, I didn’t buy him with the intention to breed, so why keep his extra bits if his extra bits might cause even the slightest concern?

What do you think? Do you have any experience or advice?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In the Valley of the Gods

by Laura Crum

Yep, that’s us, camped in the Valley of the Gods, near Bluff, Utah, close to the Four Corners. If you look, you’ll see a little bright red spot just behind the camper. That’s me, in my bright red hooded jacket, sipping my tea as the sun rose. And yep, it was incredibly magical.

We had a great trip. And in accordance with some requests, I’m gonna post a few photos and tell you about it. My apologies to those who expect a post about horses (!)

So that camper you see was home to five of us for two weeks. Myself, my husband (who is six foot six, mind you), my son, our old dog, and our new puppy. It was a little tight at times. It was also the puppy’s first road trip. Need I say more? We had our moments.

But overall we had a wonderful time. The first week out the weather was idyllic. Topping out around eighty, a nice little breeze, not too cold at night. It was incredible. Everything is fun in such weather.

Our first big adventure was driving 70 miles on dirt roads to camp in an isolated spot by the edge of the Grand Canyon. The last mile the truck was literally jumping from rock to rock—the road was that rough. I should have taken pictures, but you know what? I was way too white knuckled for the thought to even cross my mind. But once we got there it was amazing. The photo below shows our camp.

Here’s my terrace for margaritas at sunset.

Here’s the view from my terrace, including the margarita. That’s the Grand Canyon in the background. Not another soul around. Very restful.

Lest you think the whole trip was completely idyllic and get too jealous, we had our share of adversity. Like the time our local contact told us about a short (one mile round trip) hike to see some petroglyphs near town. Yeah, right. We wandered around the desert for an hour, confused as hell. The directions he gave us were crap. Finally found the darn petroglyphs, which were underwhelming. By that time my son and I were exhausted, frustrated, and both on the verge of tears. My old dog kept lying down and refusing to go on. You could read her expression perfectly. “Just leave me here to die in the desert, would ya? I’ve had enough.” My husband was annoyingly intrepid. The only one who was just fine was the puppy. My husband carried her most of the way.

Here’s Star (the puppy—she has a white star on her chest) visiting the petroglyphs—you can see one on the rock behind her.

We did so many magical things on this trip. We got to climb into kivas and ruins that dated from 500 AD on private property that we were visiting. And we got permission to camp in the Ute Tribal Park in a solitary spot where we could see petroglyphs and cliff dwellings from our camp—and examine them in complete solitude. The ground underneath was thick (literally) with Anasazi pot shards. It was incredible. Here’s my husband looking up at the petroglyphs.

Perhaps the most wonderful part to me was the space and solitude. The land and its feeling is so different from where I live—I just love it. Here’s my son and I enjoying a quiet moment of desert solitude as afternoon turns to evening.

I don’t usually wear such “big” jewelry as you see in the above photo, but my husband bought me a squash blossom necklace when we visited this area on our honeymoon, twelve years ago. So I thought it was appropriate to wear it for our return visit.

We spent the first week in just such amazing, magical spots as these, and then…the wind came up. For two days we drove around the Navajo reservation in a blowing sandstorm—so bad it was hard to see the road. After that we made a break for civilization and spent a night at the La Posada Hotel, in Winslow, Arizona—a truly elegant old hotel dating from the hey day of the railroads and Route 66. The food there was incredible. I highly recommend it.

After that we headed home down Route 66, camping in the desert every night. The weather was cooler—it even snowed on us once. We had a blast.

When I got home I was greeted by this:

And this:

Don’t you think Sunny looks glad to see me?

And what was the first thing I did after I got home? You guessed it. We took off on a trail ride. The photo below shows our friend/boarder, Wally, on Twister, and my son on Henry (and Sunny’s ears) as we head down the trail. Our horses were bright, lively, eager to go, and perfectly behaved after their two weeks off. What good horses they are. I am so grateful for them.

And what a contrast between our lush, green scenery and the desert. But I love both places.

And just like Shanster said before I left, I really appreciated my home and all I do here when I got back. Traveling always seems to put things in perspective.

Hope you all are doing well—I will try to catch up with your blogs. Cheers--Laura

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boots in the Tack Room

Yesterday I washed Gailey's boots, saddle pads, and polo wraps. I carried them out to my little barn and opened the tack room door. I gazed around the small room, looking for a place to store them because Gailey won't be needing them anymore, neither will I. At least not for the foreseeable future.

I thought I was okay with it. I really did, but a dull pain filled me as I looked at all the tack, different items I'd used over that past thirteen years of owning Gailey, and past twenty-eight years of having a riding horse in my life. An emptiness consumed me, the kind of which I hadn't felt since my divorce.

A week ago the vet checked Gailey yet again because of her on-going lameness. His pronouncement didn't suprise me. Her suspensories have finally "given out" and while she appears comfortable and still leaps and bucks in the paddock, she's not rideable. And won't be. Ever.

If I took her home, he said I could probably take her on short, leisurely trail rides at a walk. For now, she remains at the barn to see if she can have a baby. If she takes, she'll stay there through next year. If not, she'll come home. The vet didn't feel the pregnancy would be a big issue for her legs, just put in extra long bar shoes behind.

At first, I was relieved. Finally, I had my answer. Not having a horse to ride every day freed me up to work on my writing, finish several more books, and publish them. I devised a schedule for the various books I wanted to complete, believing in a year I might be able to earn enough money for an nice horse. The first book in my Seattle Lumberjacks Football Series, Fourth and Goal was released a week ago, my first Jami Davenport release in two years. I drowned myself in promo for the book and writing the sequel.

And I was okay with it, really I was. After all, I'd still be riding once a week in lessons, only on someone else's horse.

I brought home my equipment from the boarding stable--stuff I wouldn't be needing--and began the process of cleaning it and putting it away.

Yesterday as I washed and stored Gailey's boots, it hit me. No longer would I be putting these boots on her legs. I felt this enormous loss similar to when I divorced, this empty hole only a horse can fill. An entire after-work routine which I'd followed the past twenty-plus years was gone. No longer would I be going to the barn to saddle up my mare, put on her boots, ride around the arena talking to the other boarders, practicing dressage movements, while dodging other riders. Oh, I could still go to the barn, but it wasn't the same. I don't fit in. I'm not one of them. I don't have the same experiences as the other boarders do. I'm not readying myself for the next show.

Sure, I still have a horse. I can still visit her, let her graze at the end of the lead rope, brush her, and breathe in the wonderful, unique smell of horses. I just can't go through the routine of preparing to ride, riding, and cooling out. Not with my own horse.

To me it's a grieving process, and I'll survive because someday there will be another horse. I've had doubts I'd replace Gailey. Yet as I placed her boots in a plastic container and stored them in my tack room, I knew I would replace her eventually. Not having a horse to ride was not an option.

For now, I'll have to be content to ride school horses and visit my own horse after work.

But someday...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


No, I don’t have a new bunny. And no, Mr. Prescott is not in urgent need of little blue pills! Semi-floppy is an expression I coined Sunday morning describing the way I need to be when I ride Qrac.
I can see your puzzled expression. Trust me; I’ve been puzzled, too. In fact, for the past two weeks I’ve been beyond puzzled; I’ve been positively flummoxed. Of course, I knew from day one that my new horse is very forward going, that he has a big engine, and that half-halts are my friend. Sessions with my trainer went well, and my daughter rode him without any problem. I felt as though we were on the right track.

So I wasn’t particularly concerned when my trainer told me she would be unavailable for close to two weeks, traipsing around Europe coaching a couple of her higher-level students at FEI competitions. Qrac and I were doing ok, and I figured we’d just work quietly on our own, trying to stabilize the tempo. Over the past month one of my main concerns has been - and still is - his back. Initially I’d thought my Childeric saddle fit him fine, but after a couple of sessions it became clear this wasn’t the case. Not only was it pinching his shoulders, it was also slipping backwards. My other Passier saddle wasn’t any better, and pretty soon Qrac started hollowing while I groomed him. His back was bothering him. So I called an osteopath, switched to lungeing and managed to speak to my trainer about having Qrac fitted for a new saddle. Since the saddler she recommended can only come to measure Qrac next week, and seeing as I’ll have to wait two months for him to make the new one, one of my friends whose horse is off work following surgery has lent me her saddle, and although it fits him a little better, it still slips backwards so isn’t ideal. A sheepskin pad doesn’t help, nor does a gel pad. Qrac has an extremely short, somewhat flat back, and very high withers. I’m guessing he has narrow shoulders too, at least compared to Warmbloods. Saddle-wise, I’m in a bit of a mess.

Seeing as I’m a compulsive worrier, in the two weeks my trainer has been away I’ve worked myself into a total state over this, and I suppose Qrac picked up on my stress, because a few days after the osteopath intervened and I could ride him again, he and I became out of sync. All of a sudden he seemed to be ignoring my half-halts, chucking his head about, leaning on my hands, falling onto the forehand, going faster and faster. I’d transition into trot, and within seconds have to transition back into walk to as he’d just tumbleweed into a horrible rushed and clickety trot (when he “runs”, he tends to click his hind feet against his front feet). I tried shoulder in, shoulder out, small circles, bigger circles, serpentines, shorter reins, longer reins, soothing talk, all kinds of things, but to no avail. It was more than disconcerting, it was horrible. The more he ran, the more freaked out I became, and the more freaked out I became, the more he ran.
Finally, Sunday morning, my trainer came back. She met me at the stables, I saddled up Qrac and, having explained that he and I were experiencing problems, up she hopped.

Did he “tumbleweed”? Did he “run”?

No. He was perfect. Well, maybe not initially, but within fifteen minutes, he was trotting around, all prancy, round and reaching, as light as a feather while maintaining an almost constant contact.

I almost cried. I suck. I’m hopeless. He doesn’t like me. I should stick to knitting. Drama-queen? Yeah, but it was that time of the month.

“Your turn,” said Marie-Valentine, vaulting off cheerily.

Heavy-hearted, heavy-limbed, I lumbered up. As soon as we transitioned into trot, we began to tumbleweed.

“Stop,” called my trainer. We jostled back to walk, and ambled towards her.

I sighed, crestfallen. “It’s me. I don’t understand. What am I doing wrong?”

Marie-Valentine thought about it for a second or two. “You’re too…floppy,” she said, finally. “He’s super supple, you’re super supple, your seat is super supple, and it’s freaking him out. You follow his movement too closely, offering no resistance with your seat at all, so he thinks you’re asking him to go faster and faster.”

“But I keep half-halting,” I moaned.

“You need to think beyond half-halts,” she replied. “You need to stabilize your core, ride him more…well…more stiffly. Not like you’re in a constant half-halt, of course, as the half-halt involves a split second rein action too. You need to ride him with more engaged stomach muscles.”

I circled around her, mulling it over, hauling up my pelvic floor, sucking my belly button to my spine, and generally feeling self-conscious, not to mention constipated. I transitioned into trot and tested various abdominal scenarios, feeling my way.

And Qrac stopped tumbleweeding. Amazing!

“Mais, ouais!!!” cried Marie-Valentine, beaming. I beamed right back at her.

Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. I didn’t get the same result from him as she did, but hey, she’s a pro. She’s a Grand Prix rider. I can aspire, I can admire, but I can’t emulate. For now!

I transitioned smoothly into walk, delighted by the absence of jostling, thrilled that she’d pinpointed the root of my problem.“Basically, I need to ride him…semi-floppy,” I said, screwing up my nose, trying to describe the sensation.

She smiled. “Semi-floppy,” she giggled in her lovely French accent. “J’adore!”

I rode Qrac semi-floppy for her again yesterday morning, with encouraging results. However, having to use my body in such a different way for such a long stretch of time called for massive amounts of concentration, and by the end of the session I was knackered. Because, of course, it’s not just about working my core semi-floppy, it’s about working my core semi-floppy while doing everything else at the same time. And it’s hard, especially when coming off a horse like Kwintus who, with all his wisdom, patience and experience, always adapted to his rider, forgiving all the little cheaty things I do and the bad habits I have. If Kwintus didn’t understand what I wanted, he interpreted to the best of his ability, and generally got it right. My floppiness didn’t bother him; on the contrary, it helped me follow his giant bouncy trot. But there’s a new man in my life, and if he likes me semi-floppy, then semi-floppy I’ll become.

How about you? Have you found yourself having to drastically alter aspects of your riding to suit a new horse? Did it take you long to adapt? Boost my spirits by telling me about your experiences!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The concept of Time.

For many of us Time is such a fleeting, precious commodity it got me wondering about our animals sense of time and do they consider it as hard to come by as we do? God knows neither my horses, dogs or cats seem to stress about time like I do but, how much do they understand of its passage?

For example, now in my 50s I am often reminded of how many years have passed and so quickly. Normally it is only that daily look in the mirror that brings the reality of time crashing in, but then there are those other not so subtle reminders like an invitation to the baby shower of a student that you started teaching when they were not much more than a baby themselves. I often wonder where the time goes and muse at how fast the years whisk by. Are our animals aware of the same concept? Do they realize that they are getting older and that perhaps their time with us is getting shorter with each passing day.

My barn recently had a joint Birthday party (Yes I know I am a little bit crazy) for my horse Pete and my dog Morgan. Pete turned 22 in March and Morgan turned 11 on April 29 so we had a onesy/twosy Royal birthday party since it was the same day as the Royal Wedding. Morgan in particular relished being the center of attention and although I don't know if she understood that it was the day of her birth, she clearly understood that the occasion was for her. Pete on the other hand is an attention hog every day so he was just happy for the extra treats. But do they know that they are both middle aged or better?

I tend to worry and angst about how my animals are and if they miss me or get lonely when I am gone on long trips. My sister loves to tell me that animals do not have a clear concept of time so they don't know they difference between you being gone a day, week or a month. I don't think I agree with that. My dogs are always gleeful at my return even if I have just been gone an hour or two, but I notice a greater velocity to their response when I am returning from a longer absence. What do you think?

Maybe I truly am crazy but I worry about this especially because I have several beloved 4 legged companions that are getting up there in age and I recently lost my favorite cat to kidney disease at age 16. Every time I have to go out of town, are my animals aware that there is less time that we have to spend together?

Now I don't plan on being one of those people who calls her dog from the airport but is there something else I can do to keep my animals from missing me when I am gone. Between horse shows, teaching clinics and pony club testings, I travel a lot more in the summer so I am open for any suggestions. I have people the animals know take care of them when I am gone but they still sometimes act funny when I am gone for longer periods. The dogs get depressed and mope around and sometimes my horse Pete goes off his feed. The cats are the only ones that seem to do fine but they certainly lecture me when I return.

What do you think? Do you experience the same thing with your animals when you travel?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Stop and Smell the . . . Peonies

I love blogs about one well-developed topic, yet I find mine are always either random musings or stress-induced rants. Spring has been crazy-busy, so this will be no exception. My well-intentioned thought on writing about slowing down and smelling the peonies, has gone out the window in my rush to finish this and turn on the Kentucky Derby, chop meat for the crockpot (for tomorrow's Mother's Day dinner for MY mother. And where is my Mother's Day dinner? Good question!), pick greens for a friend's birthday dinner tonight, and feed the dogs--all before we go by 6:30. Will I make it? And what time IS the Kentucky Derby running anyway?

I need a schedule and an assistant but both will be too much work. Laura finished her deadline and went off camping for a month. I just finished a deadline and have a second one right on its heels. I am jealous of Laura, and yet I am not since I like being home. And I am not even complaining about deadlines. I know how fortunate I am in this crazy publishing business to even have deadlines, but sometimes I wonder why they--and kids moving home, and exams needing grading, and sons needing moving--all come when the weather is perfect to ride and the tomatoes have to be planted.

And really, I am NOT complaining because my husband just traveled through Tennessee and Alabama and brought home photos of the tornado devastation and there's a reason to complain! Yet those poor folks are probably too shocked to let out even a peep.

So I will go back to my earlier thought--I need to take time to smell my peonies . . . and iris and horse manure because life is full and exciting and my house still has a roof and my daughter will be home tomorrow from college because picking her up is what I am doing on Mother's Day! So please today or Mother's Day or any other time, rant away in the comments--it is very freeing. And now it's time to check out that Kentucky Derby!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dogs and Horses

Dogs have been very much on my mind lately - ever since we decided to get a second dog as a companion to our lab mix named Homer (otherwise known as the Best. Dog. Ever.) On my personal blog, I listed our requirements, and along with stay home and love cats, one of the big ones is Be Good With Livestock.

Because we've all had our horror stories with dogs and livestock, right? (Well, maybe you've been lucky.) It's hard enough to raise up your own dog to not chase horses or other livestock, but often there are neighbors whose dogs are the problem. You know, the ones who just moved to the country and who think it's "cute" to see their dogs exhibiting a "herding instinct."

In most rural areas I've lived in, this "cute" behavior can be reason enough for the dog to be destroyed, either by the owner of the livestock or animal control.

Sometimes, even your own dog can be the problem. One of my most embarrassing incidents happened at a team-penning. I was there to compete, and had brought our little Heeler/McNab along, who was six months old. Like a lot of horse people, I tend to like these kinds of dogs, but their herding instinct is strong. I had the dog securely fastened to my horse trailer, and she was behaving (or so I thought.)

I was horseback, watching another team compete, when I noticed a flash of black and white, and suddenly a little dog was in the middle of the arena scattering cattle in every direction. With three horses trying to quietly pick out their animals from the herd, and cattle all of sudden bolting like crazy, it's a wonder someone wasn't hurt. Then I heard the announcer's voice over the loudspeaker: "Whose dog is that? Get that *&^%# dog out of the arena!"

*Gulp* I wanted to claim innocence -act like I'd never seen the dog before. But I called her, and she came, and I promptly put her inside my rig, where she couldn't get out. Gosh, I thought I'd never live that down. (And I left her home at future team-pennings.)

And you might have experienced the kind of dog-owners who drive up to your home or stable, and immediately (without asking) lower their tailgate and allow a couple of huge dogs to run all over - just because they're now "in the country." Bad idea, folks. Always ask, or better yet, leave your dogs in the vehicle or leave them home.

Oh, and as far as our dog search? We haven't found the right one yet. Found a wonderful older black lab who is great with our livestock, but she chases cats - badly. And that's a deal-breaker for me. So we're still looking - for another best dog ever.

How about you? What kind of dogs do you have, and are they good with your horses?

Ever had any bad (or embarrassing) incidences of dogs misbehaving around livestock?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It’s Spring, a Time for Love and Babies

Spring is traditionally considered a time for babies of all species to be born and for love to bloom. That’s never been so true for me as it is this spring.

First of all, my husband and I celebrated our fifth anniversary earlier this week. I can say without reservations our relationship gets better and better with age.
Gailey at a show a few years ago, Photo by Showcase Imagery

For the past several months, my trainer and I have been discussing the possibility of breeding my mare, Gailey. At this time in my life, I have no interest in breeding horses and raising a baby. Yet, I’d love to see Gailey with a foal. She’d have a beautiful baby.

A few months ago Kari asked if she might lease Gailey for a year to breed her. Kari has been out of the breeding business for quite some time, but Gailey is such a lovely mare, she’s decided to give it a shot. We made an appointment with our mutual veterinarian. After checking her over, he announced that she was ovulating nicely for an older mare and everything seemed to be as it should. As far as her big leg and other issues, he didn’t feel the pregnancy would add any undue stress to her joints or cause any additional issues with the leg.

While Gailey is an approved Hanoverian, Kari called the Dutch registry to inquire as to what it would take to get her approved as a Dutch horse. After reviewing her papers, they said they’d accept her into the Dutch registry based on her papers and the Hanoverian approval.

 Kari talked to Iron Spring Farms and faxed them a copy of her papers. So it’s all arranged, next month my lovely mare will be bred to the MOST gorgeous Dutch stallion. UB40 (weird name, I agree). The contact person at Iron Springs was quite excited with the match as they’d crossed him with a few other mares from similar bloodlines and the results were outstanding.

UB40, Dutch Stallion standing at Iron Spring Farms

Gailey and UB40 will make the most incredible baby. Who knows, I might even take a chance myself and breed her next year.

On a non-horse-related front, I have other joyous news to report.

I never had my own children, but my former husband and I did have custody of his son, Brandon, when he was growing up. Yes, there are times I regret not having any of my own, as I’ve always craved a big family, but some things are not to be.

My new husband has three grown children. My attempts to establish a relationship with them have been met with polite disinterest, so I’ve resigned myself to anything but the most superficial relationship with the three of them. I reached this epiphany last summer after a very painful and sad process, but it freed me to give my love to others who would return it, rather than shun it.

It also freed me to write again, and I’ve completed three novels since then. My football hero romance titled Fourth and Goal will be released this Tuesday from Loose Id. By the way, football is my other passion next to my husband and horses.

I have since established a closer relationship with Brandon and his wife, who live about five miles from me. Brandon is estranged from his mother and has been for years, which is a sad but true fact of his life. His wife Jade’s mother died when she was three, and her father never remarried. The lack of a mother figure in either of their lives has allowed me to fill a role I’ve longed to fill for years. Brandon’s father (my ex) and my husband have become best of friends. In fact, we introduced my ex to his current wife. Our ability to be friends with each other, has allowed us to morph into this odd blended family made up of ex’s and current’s and step relatives, and we all get along famously. Brandon is the biggest winner of all because he never has to choose between his dad and me. He gets us both and our respective spouses.

You’re probably wondering what I’m leading up to. Well a few weeks ago, Brandon and Jade had a baby, my first true grandchild. I am absolutely ecstatic to have a grandson. I’ve never been much of a baby person; but after holding the little guy in my arms, that’s all changed. I even stayed in the room and watched him being born. What a treat for me. My hubbie and I are already planning his football career. 

I hope your spring is as full of love and life as mine.