Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Proof is in the Doing...and Happy Easter!

                                    by Laura Crum

            I read an article the other day that asserted that horses should only carry 10% of their weight. I stopped and thought about it. This would mean that a 1000 pound horse should only carry 100 pounds. Uhmm…half the horses I know, make that a lot more than half, are carrying quite a bit more than 100 pounds. My horse included. Are we abusing them?
            Well, I can’t answer that definitively. But I can give an answer of sorts. Let’s look at Twister. Twister belongs to my friend, Wally. A registered QH, Twister is 15.2 and not particularly heavily built. I haven’t weighed Twister, but I owned a horse named Burt who was 15.3 and built stouter than Twister and Burt weighed 1250. It’s safe to say that Twister does not weigh more than that—I’d guess him to weigh 1200 or a little less.
            Now lets look at Wally. Wally is 6 foot 2 and weighs 230 (I’m sure he wouldn’t like me telling you this). If you look at the 10% rule, Twister should be carrying no more than 120 pounds. Instead he is carrying almost double that. Certainly double that if you include the heavy roping saddle. Is this wrong?
            Below you see Twister and Wally, along with my son and Henry, at the beach. This isn’t a great photo, but it gives you an idea what they look like. Wally does look big on Twister, though they are far from the most extreme examples of this that I have seen.

            Now, to answer the question. Twister is 16 years old. Wally has owned him and ridden him since Twister was 6 years old. Twister has, on average, been ridden three days a week for this entire time. Mostly team roping, some trail riding. So, ten years of steady riding, carrying about 20% of his own weight. Has it hurt him?
            You tell me how you would determine this. I can tell you this. Twister is 100% sound. I’m good at detecting lameness, and this horse has never once been the slightest bit lame (knocking on wood). Not stiff, not body sore, not off…nada. He goes barefoot in the winter and is shod in the summer. He gets nothing to eat but ample grass/alfalfa hay. No supplements, no injections, no Adequan, no Legend, nothing. Never had a chiropractic treatment or anything of that kind. Never had any bute. For ten years.
            Now it’s my contention that, if packing Wally was hard for him, Twister would show some sign of a problem. Sore back, most likely. But he has never once shown any sign of this. In ten years of reasonably hard riding, if packing this much weight was a negative, there should be SOME sign. But there is not. Twister is a free moving, sound, sixteen year old horse, still going strong. Of course, he’s just one individual.
            But I have, over the years, known many horse/rider pairs with a similar weight balance to Twister/Wally, and I have to say that I think the weight is a very small part of the staying sound equation. Horses go lame if they have obvious structural problems (sometimes), they go lame if they are overworked (sometimes), they go lame if they have a genetic predisposition (sometimes), and they go lame because they have a freak accident. I will add that its my belief that horses often go lame if they are not happy, but this is just my own belief, I can’t prove it. I have not seen any correlation between the weight of the rider and a horse going lame.
            Now I believe it is possible for a rider to be too heavy for a given horse. I think this actually has more to do with a horse’s build than with his weight. Our pony, Toby, came from a home where he regularly packed adults. I am sure that Toby weighed less than 1000 pounds, (he was 13.2 hands), but he was sturdily built and stayed absolutely sound until he died at 22 years of cancer.
            So it’s my contention that the idea that a horse should not carry more than 10 percent of his weight is bunk. Anybody else want to weigh in? (And yeah, that pun was intentional…)

            On another note, we have turned on the word verification on this blog because we were getting so much spam. I know a lot of people dislike this, so I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you find the word verification off-putting enough that you would not comment if you had to jump through that hoop? We are concerned that the spam comments that show up on our posts from time to time may have links that, if clicked on, would put a virus on our reader’s computers. Any thoughts on this?

            And finally, Happy Easter! Look who was outside my kitchen window--could it be? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Feeling Too Good

                                               by Laura Crum

            I am happy that Gunner, my 33 year old horse, feels good these days. But lately it’s been sort of a problem. The old boy wants to charge around, bucking and spinning and galloping up and down his pen at the drop of a hat. He especially likes to do this when I remove the neighbor horse from his pen. Gunner isn’t really worried—and there’s a horse on the other side of him. It’s just a good excuse to pitch a fit.
            The thing is, Gunner was never known for being sensible. A trooper yes, no quit in him. Friendly, kind, cooperative, playful…check. A heck of an athlete, yes. A tremendous amount of cow, super trainable…all of the above. But, sensible, no. My Sunny horse is sensible. Gunner is and always was the sort of horse who saw horse eating monsters everywhere. I believe the new term is a “sensitive, reactive” horse. I just called him a big spook. Also a goofball.
            So its not really surprising that Gunner, at the advanced age of 33, will choose to gallop madly down his sloping pen, slide to a stop at the bottom, spin round and race to the top, neighing wildly. Lather, rinse, repeat. All because the neighbor horse is out of his pen, grazing. Even though Gunner can, of course, see his buddy. He can also see the other horses. He just ain’t sensible. He LIKES getting all worked up.
            I watch these shenanigans, holding my breath. It’s fun to see that Gunner can still move so well when he wants to. But I fear these downhill charges will eventually result in the old, arthritic horse piling it up. I picture him breaking his leg or his neck, and yep, I go fetch his buddy and put the horse back in his corral. That’s how big a wimp I am.
            On the other hand, it’s not fair to Plumber, the buddy, if he never gets out. To my chagrin, I find that horses are very aware if they didn’t get their “turn.” The accusing stares and plaintive nickers that follow me when one horse does not get his turn out time speak louder than words. Plumber is a very people oriented horse and he lets me know he wants his fair share of the attention and grazing. So a week or so ago I turned Plumber out for awhile, and watched Gunner.
            It had just rained and the ground was slick. I had my misgivings. But I had not given Plumber a turn out in a couple of days. What’s a good horse owner to do?
            For awhile Gunner seemed OK. He could see Plumber grazing nearby. But then Plumber moved a little ways away, and the long unhappy neighs began coming from Gunner. He started trotting up and down the top end of his corral, sliding with every footfall. Shit, I thought. It’s too slippery.
            I caught Plumber and hustled back with him. But before I could get there, Gunner loped across the pen, slid to a stop, slipped, went down, and piled it up on the ground. He thrashed on his side, and seemed unable to get up, and my heart went to my throat. I will admit that I screamed, “Gunner!” like a teenage girl. I thought he had broken something.
            I have seen horses break their legs; I have seen them break their necks. I know what can happen. For that moment while my old horse thrashed on the ground, all these horrible scenarios flashed through my mind. And then Gunner got his legs under him and heaved himself to his feet. He limped off, but he was clearly not broken.
            I put the reluctant Plumber back in his pen and kept watching Gunner, who moved around and pretty soon walked out of his limp. He was Ok then. But my problem was bigger than ever.
            Because now I know that I am risking Gunner getting hurt if I turn Plumber out. And I just don’t want the old boy to die because I took the risk.
            What to do? I had the bright idea I might turn Gunner and Plumber out together. I don’t usually do this because my property is 1) Not perimeter fenced the whole way around, and 2) Full of places (like by the house or inside the shop or haybarn) where the horses COULD go, but I don’t want them to. There is good grazing on the verges of the riding ring, along the driveway, and in the barnyard area, and the horses usually stay where they belong. I shut (and lock) the front gate, and the back of the property (not fenced) is very steep and brushy and no horse has ever tried to escape that way (in twenty years). But…
            As a safety precaution, I turn the horses loose one at a time. That way they don’t tend to run and play and get in trouble, and I’m sure that the loose horse will not leave the others. However, I decided to try Plumber (24) and Gunner (33) loose together. Surely two old horses could graze peacefully side by side in the sunshine. Right?
            Bad idea. The very first thing they did was start farting around. Nipping each other, squealing, trotting off together, charging up the hill to the riding ring like a little cavalry brigade. Not at all what I had in mind. They just wouldn’t settle down and graze. They were having too much fun. Never mind that they can play around and nip each other in their side-by-side corrals and this was their one chance to graze on green grass. Nope, they had to go crashing about. And then the old farts wouldn’t let me catch them. Again, having too much fun. I did eventually get them caught and put away…and that was the last time I tried that.
            So now I feel kind of stuck. I turn Henry out.

                              I turn Sunny out.

                              I turn Gunner out.

            And then I catch Plumber and hand graze him, keeping him close to the corrals so that Gunner doesn’t freak out. It’s a solution, but not an ideal one. Plumber would prefer to be free, and I would prefer not to babysit him. But I worry about the downside. What would you do?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Guessing Game

I am in the midst of another month of writing/revising deadlines. Why did they all come at once, you ask? Because a freelance writer like me (meaning I am not paid advances like J.K. Rowling) accepts jobs when they come, not when they are convenient. Major publishers have definite launch seasons, which I understand, so they need a book done by XX whether  I am busy or not.

Right now I am writing for two different publishers who must be on the same book launch timeline. It has been feast or famine. Right now, the feast is leaving me "guessing" if my sanity will hold out because this is also TAX time. Two words that make me (and you?) wake up in a cold sweat because nothing I do is easily figured out, especially since I launched three booths in 2012 in a moment of true insanity.

So today's blog will be something fun tied in to my passion of thrifting, meaning it will be a joy to write. And hopefully fun to read!

I have gotten quickly savvy in my yard sale, auction, thrift shop hunts, picking out treasures from the trash with giddy delight. However, many of the treasures I pick--although I know they are old/vintage (meaning as old as I am at least)--I don't know what they are exactly and what they are worth -- researching these finds is hugely exciting, and I have to force myself back to the real world of revisions and tax forms. So let's see how well you do . . .

Item one is gorgeous art from the early 1900s. But what was it used for? You might know if you smoked cigars.

It's an unused cigar box outer label. These are highly collectible and still cheap enough for anyone to get into -- AND your money will grow faster than a savings account, that's for sure.

 You might guess what photo 2 consists of if you grew up in the 1980s or your kids were teenagers in the 1980s. Give up? They are pog slammers.

Pogs was a hugely popular game with trading pogs named after the tops of milk bottles, which are also called pogs. Kids all over the world went wild for the game. The slammers are heavy brass/metal and were used to 'capture' the plastic/cardboard pogs.

Yeah, my kids were into it.
 I threw this photo  in to give your brain a break. These horse models are plastic, plush with real fur manes (I am assuming rabbit.) and have silky tails of some kind of plastic/fake stuff.  I couldn't ever find a maker so I am guessing they are from China, since the country seems to make everything useless and collectible. I picture the Chinese who are producing stuff like this in the factory asking each other, "What the hell do the Americans do with all this crap?"
If you live in New England you might guess what this is -- a vintage apple corer/peeler. It looks tortuous to use, and then you still had to slice the darn apple. Yup, no wonder I never made apple pies until the food processor was invented.

I had never seen one before, but amazingly when I researched it on Ebay there were dozens. I figured either no one ever used theirs or they never wore out.  They are very sturdy cast iron with red wood handle--cute for display!

If you're British (or Swiss, Francesca?) you will guess what this is, but believe, me it had me stumped for quite awhile.

Clueless? Or are you more sophisticated than I am and guessed it right away?

I am still not exactly sure what it is called but it is a stainless steel toast holder, warmer, whatever. I don't know why someone would need to put their slices of toast in here and I would love to hear from you if you know!

So thank you for putting up with my silly post that had nothing to do with horses or books except that I bet those of you who do have deadlines, whether taxes, books or work related, know how important it is to blow off steam and stress by doing something you enjoy.

Let me know how you did on the quiz--I am sure you will shame me!

Friday, March 22, 2013

How a Series Happens

by Natalie Keller Reinert

Hey guess what, I know how a series happens now.

When I was a kid, I really wanted to read either A) crazy long books or B) absurdly long series of books. I needed my stories to go on and on and on. Walter Farley received gold stars for his twenty-odd  Black Stallion books. Even the Island Stallion. And, grudgingly, The Horse-Tamer. I guess.

Black Stallion illustration. Man. Now I wish my books had illustrations like this.

Now most of the books I read are one-time-only deals. Literary fiction authors tend to write a book, finish the book as tidily or as untidily as they please, and then close the door behind them when they leave. Lights out. On to the next project.

I always assumed I'd do that, too. I have a list of book ideas, and they all contain new characters and settings that I haven't written about yet.

But... but... I like these characters.

Maybe it's a detachment problem, but I don't want to leave Alex and Alexander, the stars of The Head and Not The Heart, behind. What happens next? 

So... I wrote another book about them. Other People's Horses deals with what happens next. It's taken care of, right? Alex goes to Saratoga, she becomes a full-fledged racehorse trainer in her own right, she deals with some grimy characters, she makes some unlikely friends, she has some nice horses. Excellent. Good night.


What happens next? 


This is going to become a problem for me.

I'm just completely invested in Alex and Alexander now, you see. And their farm. And their horses. After all, for two books now, that's more than two years of my life, I have thought about what would Alex do? I went to Saratoga last summer and walked around the beautiful town and thought, Alex would love it here. 

I want to write about Alex in Saratoga.

And so I did. And it became a daily obsession. Alex in Saratoga, lucky girl! Or was she?

Riding on the subway, staring out at the graffiti on the tunnel walls, wondering how Alex was going to fix a problem horse. Walking through Midtown, drinking coffee and dodging tourists, wondering how Alexander will react when Alex tells him about her new horse she bought without telling him. These people are in my head, you guys.

So (Alex and Alexander), as Amazon denotes my series title, is going to become a thing. There will be a third one later this year. I strongly suspect there will be a fourth one. So I hope there are other adults out there who never lost their love of a long series of books, who always want to know more, who always want to know what happens next. 

Other People's Horses is now available as a paperback and an ebook from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. The GoodReads giveaway for a paperback continues through April 4.

There's also an interview with the photographer who provided the image for Other People's Horses at my blog, Retired Racehorse.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Meditation on Horseback

A Clinic with Bernard Sachsé,
By Francesca Prescott

Eighteen months ago I took a lesson with Bernard Sachsé, an ex-equestrian stunt-man who suffered a terrible accident on a film set, lost the use of his legs, yet through sheer determination went on to become French dressage champion several years running, and competed in two Para-Olympic Games (he placed 4th in Atlanta, where he also greatly contributed to the French team’s bronze medal). I wrote a detailed piece about his background and my amazing lesson with him on this blog, and have often thought about that lesson, wishing he would come back to this area of Switzerland (he lives in France, near Paris) and give another clinic. So when I heard he would be teaching at a yard close to Geneva on March 16th and 17th, I immediately signed up, also making arrangements for Qrac to stay overnight to avoid a long journey two days running.

I must admit that I wondered what I’d make of Bernard’s clinic this time around. I’d been so enthusiastic eighteen months ago that I worried I might be disappointed, and that his lessons might not live up to my fabulous memories.

Silly me.

I signed up for three lessons, one on Saturday evening, one on Sunday morning, and one on Sunday evening. Yes, Sunday was going to be pretty intense! Qrac and I travelled safely the eighty-odd kilometres separating us from the venue, although it took us over an hour more than it should have due to a bad accident on the motorway that backed up traffic for tens of kilometres. Qrac unloaded good as gold when we arrived, seeming totally unphased by his unfamiliar surroundings. He settled straight into his temporary stable, cool as the March weather we’re currently experiencing (will someone please tell the sun it’s about time it came out?). I trekked up and down to my trailer half a dozen times, lugging equipment (horses really are worse than babies when you take them anywhere, and that’s saying a lot!), watched part of the lesson Bernard was giving, and then went to get Qracy ready. I was a little nervous as there were a lot of people watching. But once Qrac was tacked up he looked pretty gorgeous, especially as I’d accidentally-on-purpose made us totally colour coordinated! If all else went crap-shaped, at least we’d look blingy-pretty!

I need to lean more forwards!!!

Luckily, we didn’t have to resort to just looking blingy-pretty. Initially a little fired up with nerves, especially when the horse in the lesson before us left the arena, Qrac soon settled down. Bernard and I were connected by walkie-talkies, and through his quiet, incredibly detailed guidance, I forgot about everything but the connection between me and my horse. I was proud when Bernard said he was impressed by the change in Qrac’s physique, by how much he’d filled out, and once we started working, that he was also impressed by our progress. That first lesson gave me the opportunity to show where we were up to in our training, what we could do, and what areas we found difficult. I was particularly pleased by our extended trot; Qrac is not blessed with that natural, extravagant extension, and until very recently simply could NOT extend in trot.  But thanks to another amazing trainer I’ve recently started working with, Qrac has discovered that he can actually do it, and seems to increasingly enjoy powering down the diagonal! Initially only capable of holding it for a few strides, he’s now able to do 60 metres without losing his balance, although it sometimes takes him a couple of strides to figure out what to do with his extremely long legs for the first few metres!

Anyway, on Saturday, even Bernard seemed pleased with our extensions. We also did some pretty good half-passes; Qrac seems to have a natural ability for those, although we do sometimes lose impulsion, especially in half-pass right, as he’s not quite as flexible to the right. Amazingly, we even worked on some “baby” passage! Woohoo! The canter work was good, with some brilliant, meticulous advice on how to help us improve the right lead. I’ve never been more aware of making a conscious effort to independently monitor my buttocks!

Happy me! Qrac looks happy too!
Since Bernard no longer has the use of his legs, he’s had to fine-tune the rest of his body to cue his horses to work towards the higher levels of dressage, and become painstakingly aware of every little thing he does. What struck me particularly during the three lessons I took with him this time was his ability to get me to make minuscule adjustments with my body, as well as with my breath, that had major effects on how my horse moved beneath me. Bernard is also blessed with an incredible talent to convey instructions in ways that allowed me to grasp them on a deeper level. I find it fascinating that you can be told, basically, the same thing by various trainers, yet all of a sudden one particular image, or a particular choice of words, suddenly switches on the floodlights and unblocks things in your riding that you’ve been striving towards for ages. “Aha”, I thought, as Bernard told me to see myself from above, “I need to lengthen my left side as much as my right side, yet lean ever so slightly to the inside while keeping my outside buttock in the saddle. I need to picture my shoulder blades connected to my hips in order to keep them connected to my legs, which also helps my elbows stay closer to my sides, which anchors everything into place! And, wow, suddenly Qrac’s back has come up even further, and his stride is gaining in amplitude, and everything feels so flowing and effortless and beautiful! Please, can we just stay here, like this, forever?”

My lesson Sunday morning was just as great, as we worked increasingly in depth, taking Qrac’s already beautiful walk to a whole other level. His balance improved, his footfalls becoming heavier beneath him as he pressed harder into the ground in order to come up more underneath me. This may sound like watching paint dry to some people, but I find work like this fascinating. From the walk, we transitioned into a lovely soft, active trot, then floated back into a beautiful active walk without any collapsing on the forehand whatsoever.  Was this really Qrac and me? Somebody, pinch me!

Concentration! Look up!!!

Sunday afternoon saw us doing some of the best walk-pirouettes we’d ever done, simply because Bernard told me to slightly arch my back. That’s all it took! And suddenly, the walk-pirouette improved tremendously. We worked on rein back in the same way; arching my back and sticking my boobs out freed Qrac’s back and backwards he went, maybe not perfectly, but without me needing to pester him with the reins.  But my big eureka moment on Sunday evening came with the walk canter transitions, when from a walk-pirouette, Bernard suddenly told me to go straight into canter using the same aides. Our first attempt backfired on me, as Qrac immediately sailed into a lovely canter, but since I hadn’t expected him to do so, because I hadn’t had faith in us, I wasn’t ready and the transition fell apart in mid-air. Which just goes to show!! Anyway, I took my time to put us back together again, to restack all our muscles one on top of another, asked again, and woohoo, we performed a near-perfect walk-canter transition, followed by a lovely, rounded, uphill canter. We then did our first ever flying-changes down the diagonal! Don’t believe me? That last session is all on film, thanks to my lovely daughter, Olivia!

I love having that video of my lesson, as it’s enabled me to relive the experience over and over, to really integrate Bernard Sachsé’s advice. From studying it umpteen times, I’ve been able to go deeper into my understanding of what he was telling me, which will hopefully lead to me further fine-tuning my body language in order to communicate more effortlessly with Qrac.

I came away from Bernard Sachsé’s clinic with a deep sense of peace and gratitude. For me, this is how riding should be, like a moving meditation, a perfect symbiosis between me and my horse. This is what I love to do.

How about you?

Photos by Nevil de Tscharner


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Have a Free Book--Happy Spring!

                                   by Laura Crum

            Since this is the official first day of spring—by the calendar—though it has been spring at my place for awhile—I thought I’d offer the second title in my mystery series for free. Happy spring to all! Hoofprints has always been one of the most popular books in the series—it was the runner-up in my recent reader poll. So, for those who are interested in a fun mystery centering around western cowhorses, with a down-to-earth horse vet as a heroine, and some nefarious trainers and owners forming the cast of characters, along with some absolutely realistic horses, here’s a chance to try the book for free. The Kindle edition of Hoofprints will be free for three days—March 20th, 21st and 22nd—in honor of the vernal equinox. Here is the link, if you’d like to try it.

            I know some of you have read this book already, and I would really welcome your comments letting me (and everyone else) know what you thought of the book—weaknesses as well as strengths. I’d also be very grateful for any reviews you would post on Amazon as well as Goodreads. These reviews are really important to authors nowadays.
            And now, at Alison’s special request and in celebration of spring—here are some photos of my garden in March.

            The vegetable garden at dawn with the plum tree in full bloom.

            Plum blossom—one of the loveliest and most reliable signs of spring.

                                      Algerian iris.

            Henry enjoying spring in the garden.

                   Raindrops on roses.

            Early flowers on rose “Crepuscule” (means “Twilight” in French, right Cesca?). This rose flowers reliably both early in the spring and in autumn for me, as well as its lavish May/June flowering.

            The veggie garden is productive as well as beautiful.

            Happy Spring! I hope you give Hoofprints a try for free. And please, do share this with others--on your blog, website, facebook page or, gasp, in real life. Its a fun read--and right now it doesn't cost a cent.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


The forecast of snow can strike dread in the horse owner's heart. Shoveling out doors, pushing wheelbarrows through drifts and chopping frozen water is all part of horse-keeping in the winter. Virginia had been lucky all season until the beginning of March. And then we got a corker of a storm!

About fifteen inches fell overnight and kept falling the next day until we had twenty inches and the sharp  wind blew drifts as high as two feet. Fortunately, we never lost power although most people in the area did.  After the 'derico' last June when we lost electricity for five days, my husband bought a generator. He was almost sad not to try it out, but he did get to use his new snow blower on the tractor.
However, technology didn't help me much.

I have braved plenty of snowy seasons, and after strapping on my snowshoes, headed across the yard and down the hill to the neighbors (where the horse are pastured over the winter) carrying my little kid's plastic shovel.  It was an adventure, and shoveling out the doorway after plunging through thick snow was exhausting. The horses were safe and dry in the huge loafing shed, but glad to see grain in their buckets and lots of hay.  Snow had blown into the one side and covered the inside fencing, but it didn't take long to clear, and horses like mine that are allowed to grow winter coats are super-hardy.  I, however, was cold, wet and puffing like an old lady after trudging back up the hill to home.
The tiny dogs were not as hardy as the horses and initially dismayed at the storm.  To keep them from doing their business right outside the doorway, I shoveled a poop path for them in our little woods. (Talk about spoiled!) But really, there was no way the Chihuahua princess and Ziggy the hyper-reactive mutt could handle two feet of powder. With coats on, the four of us (Chuck the cat was also excited about our poop path) ventured outside.  Our walk was short, and Ziggy especially did his business quickly and beat it back to the door ready to go inside. Fang was more adventuresome but she has been an outdoor girl since she was a puppy. Poor Ziggy who spent most of his life in shelters, has been clueless about the weather. If he could he would carry an umbrella in the rain and wear ear muffs in the cold.   The snow stuck around for several days, but true to March weather, we soon had 60 degrees and  . . . .  . mud. But that's another story.

Did you get hit by the March snow?  Are you ready for spring? Or is it still a long way off?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

To Vaccinate...Or Not?

                                                by Laura Crum

            I’ve recently read some interesting posts on this very controversial subject (thanks Mel at Boots and Saddles blog—listed on the sidebar.) I’m not why this subject is such a hot button topic, but it is. Just trying hanging out with a mom group—as I have spent the last twelve years doing-- and start talking about your views on vaccination. Half the group will automatically hate you.  Because people seem to fall into two camps regarding this topic. Either vaccinations are evil and of the devil and all their kids are unvaccinated (and yours should be, too), or not vaccinating is evil and of the devil and all their kids are 100% up-to-date on ALL vaccinations (and yours should be, too).
            Animal people are not quite as rabid (oops, didn’t mean this as a pun) as moms, but there is still a tinge of this emotion in conversations about vaccination. “My horses are vaccinated for EVERYTHING!” (Implication being that yours should be, too.) Since my views are somewhere in the middle on this subject, I can be hated by both sides.
            Anyway, brave person that I am, I thought I’d post about my latest conversation with my vet on the subject of vaccinations. I will preface this discussion by saying that I no longer vaccinate my horses on a yearly schedule, let alone twice yearly or whatever is recommended now—so that those of you who are so inclined can begin working on your scathing comments about what a bad horse mom I am. I had my vet out last week to have a look at a large swelling on Henry that I thought was a reaction to a tick bite (my vet concurred). And once I had the poor vet here, I picked his brain about vaccinations.
To be honest, I told him what I was doing and why and asked him some specific questions. So here’s what I said:
“All the horses I have here right now are fifteen or older. They’ve all been vaccinated many times in their lives. I happen to believe that there is a downside to vaccination, in both people and animals. I have seen plenty of vaccine reactions in my life and have heard of many more. I am choosing to vaccinate these older horses only when I think there is a real need.”
And then I went on to talk about the actual risk that these particular horses have. They’re not being hauled to competitions, they probably have pretty good titers, due to being vaccinated many times in their lives, however they ARE exposed to wildlife and mosquitos. I asked my vet if he had ever seen any West Nile in his practice or any rabies.
The answer to both questions was no. In all his years of practicing in this community, he had seen neither—he had not heard of any other vet having a case. He was aware that both diseases were theoretically present here.
I then asked him if he was OK with my not vaccinating my horses—in line with my belief that vaccine reactions probably pose a greater risk to the health of this particular older horse herd than the diseases I would be vaccinating against.
He laughed. I waited, having no idea what he would say.
“I’ve got this one client with an older horse,” he began.
Uh-oh, I thought. He’s gonna tell me how she didn’t vaccinate and the horse died of something. I said as much.
He laughed again. “No. The other way around. Last year she had me hit this old horse with the whole barrage of vaccines. The horse colicked an hour later and almost died. We had to send him to surgery. He recovered, but it was hard. And this year? This year when the time rolled around, she called me to come out and give him his vaccinations again.”
“You’re kidding me?” I said.
“Nope. I tried to convince her of more or less what you’ve been telling me; I suggested we at least skip a few of them, but she wanted him to have them all. An hour later he was down. Colicked again.”
“Oh no,” I said.
“Yep. He got through it OK—he’s fine now. But I wish I could convince her that the downside of those shots is greater than the upside—in his case.”
“So you don’t have a problem with what I’m doing?”
“Not at all.”
“What about the rabies and West Nile?”
“It’s your call, but I have not seen a case in this county.”
I thought about it. I have seen so many horses get sick from vaccines. I’ve known horses to founder and/or get sore-footed. When I hear of someone whose horse gets sore footed every time it is vaccinated and still they persist in vaccinating for a disease that their vet has NEVER SEEN, well, it reminds me of a person who is so scared of being struck by lightning that they won’t leave their house. Never mind that living solely indoors is causing them many real health risks. Never mind that these risks are far more likely to do them harm than the remote chance lightning would strike them. They still persist in staying in the house.
So, with my vet’s blessing, I will vaccinate my older horses only when I see a clear risk. A disease that is actually causing trouble in our area. Mind you, I would vaccinate young horses if I had them. Much of what I am doing comes from the fact that I know my horses have been vaccinated many, many times. Odds are their titer levels are acceptable. But even if this is not so, it’s my call that the risk of negative vaccine reactions in the older horse may be more significant than the benefits of the vaccine’s protection.
On the other hand, if any of my horses got a significant wound, I would booster for tetanus. If there were known cases in my area of any disease for which there is a reliable vaccine --I would booster for that disease. My vet has agreed that he will let me know if there is any vaccine he feels my horses should have. So I’m not neglecting this issue. Nor am I cheaping out. I am happy to pay to give my horses the best possible care. I am making a considered decision—with my vet’s agreement.
So there you go—all of you who are firmly in the vaccinate-for-everything camp can feel free to give me your thoughts. I love a good discussion.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Taking the bad with the good.

By Terri Rocovich

Taking the Bad with the Good

As many of you know, competing with my horse Uiver has taken center stage in my life since I purchased him in June of 2011. Like any horse and rider partnership we have had our ups and downs. At some competitions everything seems to work like clockwork, our timing is on, we are in tune with each other and our dressage tests flow in perfect, or almost perfect, harmony. Other competitions seem to be doomed at every level, bad stalls, things running late, undesirable weather conditions, and Uiver and I clearly not on the same page.

Since the beginning of our competition season last November, Uiver and I have experienced both extremes. As many of you might remember, we culminated our 2012 competition season with a respectable fourth place finish in Prix St. George Open at the USDF Region 7 Dressage Championships which was very sweet icing on the cake of a very fun 2012.

With this success, the trainer I work with, David Blake, decided that Uiver and I should move up a level from Prix St. George to Intermediare 1 (Int.1). So we had our first show at Int.1 in November with only the goal of accomplishing mistake free tests; which is not always easy at this level especially considering tempi changes every 2nd stride, a medium trot to walk transition and full canter pirouettes followed by a flying change. There is a lot to accomplish with movements coming up very fast. Uiver was fabulous at the show and we did better than I could have even dream with scores in the mid to high 60s and winning our classes all three days of the show.

Our next show was in January at the same show facility, a place that Uiver clearly likes, and inspite of cold and windy weather, he was an absolute trooper. The classes were bigger with tougher competition but we still earned a 4th , a 2nd and a 1st in our classes over the 3 day show. David had decided that we needed to start preparations to compete at the CDI level which means you do the first day at Prix St. George (PSG), the second at Intermediare 1 and the third (at the championships) an Intermediare freestyle. This combination of 2 different tests can be tricky if you have a horse that likes to memorize tests, like Uiver does, because the horse can become confused if they anticipate a movement from one test and you are performing the other.

So at the January show, Uiver and I did PSG the first day with one mistake in the tempi changes, but with still a solid score of 66.9. The next day we did Int.1 and had a relatively mistake free test with another score of 66.9. Needless to say I was elated and so was David but the best was yet to come. The judge for my class on the last day was Axel Steiner, a well known and respected “O” judge who has judged at numerous international level competitions. The weather over that weekend had been freakishly cold, especially for southern California, with temps in the high 20s and low 30s. My class on the last day went fairly early with a 9:10 ride time and it was only 32 when we were warming up. Uiver took it all in stride, was as settled as I have ever seen him, and simply went through the practice of our movements like a true professional. The test itself could not have gone better and when we were through David looked at me and said “Wow that was a really nice ride; you better get your FEI Passport in order and time to file a Declaration of Intent.”

“Declaration of Intent?” I asked, not knowing what he was talking about. “Yea, he said, Intent to qualify for the National Championships.” I looked at him dumbfounded and this was all before we even saw what the score was which was even more astonishing! Uiver and I had scored a 71.8, winning the class. The next week in our lesson I asked David if he was serious about us doing a CDI and filing the Declaration of Intent; did he really think that was an even remotely attainable goal, did he think we were ready.

David looked at me and said “You scored a 71 from an Olympic judge at your second show ever at Int. 1.”, “What do you think?”

So I filed all the paperwork, got Uiver’s FEI passport recorded in preparation for entering our first CDI in February at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. A CDI is like PSG and Int.1 on steroids. Test levels of PSG up to Grand Prix fall under the umbrella of the FEI (Federation Equestrian International) but a CDI (Concours Dressage International) is a competition recognized and run under the FEI construct. CDI’s are rated from 1 to 5* and level 1 to 5, depending on the numbers of championships they are qualifiers for and the level of judges used. You have 5 judges of the “I’ or “O” caliber that evaluate your ride with the highest of scrutiny from every possible angle.

Uiver and I jumped into the deep end from the start with our first CDI being a 3*. Being in Southern California, land of the dressage Olympian, I did not have much choice. Most the CDIs in this area are at least 3* and level 5 qualifiers. So with all that comes the big guns of competition like Steffen Peters, Gunther Seidel, Jan Ebeling, Christine Traurig, Kathleen Raine, Sue Blinks and my personal favorite, David Blake – the trainer I work with. I could name many more intimidating names, most of which have competed for years at the national and international level. And then there is little old me, the new kid on the block just trying to not make a fool out of myself or my horse.

Uiver and I waiting for our first formal CDI jog/inspection.

Well I would like to say that our CDI debut was a spectacular, fairy tale showing but alas, it was not. Uiver was spooky and distracted in windy conditions and since he has gotten so fit and strong in the last year, he can be hard to control let alone engage for movements when he is in that frame of mind. To make matters worse, in the middle of our PSG test, a spectator walking with the aid of a walker, walked past the arena, moving slowly as would be expected, but it freaked Uiver out and our extended trot became more of an extended bolt across the diagonal to get as far away from the old man with the walker as he possibly could. And the rest of the test proceeded with Uiver being tense and looking for the killer walker. The poor result was a score of 60. Our Int. 1 test the next day was a little bit better, but with a score of 64, nothing of the caliber we had achieved the previous month.
So Uiver and I licked our wounds of defeat and regrouped for the next CDI in Del Mar this past weekend. A better result?? Not so much. The weather gods have not been with us and after a week of gorgeous weather, a storm moved in and stayed for nearly the entire duration of the show. As a result, all of the FEI classes plus the warm-up had to be crammed into the one indoor ring. Uiver is fine with indoor rings but not great in cramped quarters coupled with tons of scary distractions and cold, wet weather. It was all pretty much a recipe for disaster. So the result was a 63 for PSG and a 60 for Int. 1. Again, not quite the performance I was hoping for. All of my fellow competitors and especially David were very encouraging and consoling but I am disappointed none the less. Before our Int.1 test, Steffen was walking next to me on Legolas and he said “I am feeling a 74 for today.” I replied, “For you?” (Which would be a step down since he had gotten a 78 the day before.) “He said, no for you!” and looked at me with a smile. I replied, “Well that sounds good to me, from your mouth to God’s ears.” And we both proceeded with our riding.

Now, let me say that I was not competing against Steffen on Legolas, but he rides Legolas twice on competition days so he was working him in advance of his Grand Prix test later in the day. I do, unfortunately, have to compete against Steffen on another horse named Vaya Con Dios, which is an up and coming star, especially with Steffen on him.

So, with encouragement from the master, I started my warm-up on Uiver and it quickly devolved into him spooking, bolting, spinning and bucking to get away from the many evil goblins that he was sure resided in the warm-up arena. At one point he spun around, spooking at a spectator and nearly ran into Legolas of all horses. Really, Uiver, run over a multi-million dollar world class Grand Prix horse! Steffen just laughed unaffected and said “yehaw” when Uiver bucked after my attempt to correct him. David said I was riding him for everything it was worth, but by the time Uiver was finished with all of his antics in the warm-up had had little left for the show ring so our test lacked engagement and he was a ton of bricks in the contact.

Uiver and I with my neice.

So we ended the weekend licking our wounds of defeat yet again. When I got back to the barn I looked at Uiver and said “I love you but I don’t like you much right now.” Uiver looked at me with a disgusted unapologetic expression probably because he thinks his behavior was fully justified.

 So what is the plan for the future?? Well it is two fold. Number one, I am going to start working out with a personal trainer, because clearly I need to be stronger to deal with my very fit horse and number two; Uiver and I are going to Arroyo for a 4 day boot camp with David before our next CDI the end of this month. Beyond that it is all about mileage and exposure and a healthy dose of patience for both of us.

How about you all? I am sure that many of you have experienced similar scenarios. Any pearls of wisdoms and words of advice??

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's a Girl!!!

I had to drop by and say hi to everyone. If you've been reading this blog for a few years, you are familiar with my mare, Gailey. She hasn't been rideable for a year, but last year, I leased her to my horse trainer for a baby.

Her very first baby (Gailey is 18) was born this morning at 8:30 am. A little filly, and she is beautiful. Here are some pictures taken when she was an hour old. I just got a new camera and am having a bit of a problem figuring it out, hence the spots on the pics. I hope you enjoy them.

Gailey is a Hanoverian mare and the daddy is a Dutch stallion named UB-40.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Worst Wreck of my Life (and an Encounter with the Queen of England)

                        by Laura Crum

            True story. Well, maybe not the worst wreck of my entire life, but if not, close to it. I remember it perfectly, because it happened the day Queen Elizabeth waved at me. That’s right, the queen of England waved at me. I’ve never forgotten. And I never forgot the wreck that followed, either.
            This would be thirty years ago on the outskirts of a foggy town in California’s Central Valley, right about this time of year. I’d been working all winter for a well known reined cowhorse trainer as his assistant, mostly in the chilly (40 degrees), gray fog that is so typical of the Valley in winter. This particular trainer had won the prestigious Snaffle Bit Futurity a couple of years ago and was a BIG player in the reined cowhorse game. He probably had 50 horses in training. And he had three assistants to ride them—myself, another young woman, and an equally young guy. All three of us were in our twenties and were paid minimum wage. We were all working there because we wanted to learn how to train horses.
            All of us could ride pretty well, and we were given the greener horses and the retrain projects—the trainer rode the horses that were scheduled to be shown. As a matter of fact, the trainer didn’t ride all that often. Mostly he watched us ride and yelled at us. He had a huge voice and as someone else said of him, “He could be abrasive, to say the least.” Most assistants lasted only a few months. He frequently reduced me to tears, still I kept sticking it out. I wanted to learn to ride cowhorses in the worst way, as did the other two kids working for the trainer. The three of us had all been there six months on this particular March day, and we were friends, of a sort. At the very least, we were comrades.
            The trainer had gone to town for the morning, as he often did, and the three of us were working our way through our respective “strings” when the neighbor came driving in the yard, very excited. Apparently Queen Elizabeth had been visiting Yosemite Valley and was on her way to the airport. And the neighbor had just heard (via police scanner—which everybody seemed to have in those parts) that the queen’s convoy would be going down the road in front of our ranches. In ten minutes from now.
            This was big news. As we understood it, the queen’s route was kept secret until the last minute, for fear of snipers. So there was no crowd lining the roadway. We three training assistants had the bright idea to saddle the most “western looking” horses we had and wave at the queen—who we all knew was a horsewoman. I grabbed a loud-colored paint, the other gal took a blanket Appie and the guy saddled a buckskin. We put our cowboy hats and chaps on and lined the three horses up at the end of the driveway, on the shoulder of the road, facing the street, right under the wooden crossbar that marked the ranch driveway. We looked western as hell.
            And shortly thereafter the police convoy came down the road, with a big black limo sandwiched in the middle. We took off our hats and waved and waved and I distinctly saw the queen’s face peering at us through the back window and she gave her signature wave back. So, the queen has waved at me (!)
            Anyway, after that excitement, it was back to business as usual. The trainer came back from town and decided to have me work all the upcoming snaffle bit prospects “checked up” in the round pen. Not the real round pen, because that was a lake, after a rainy winter. But a makeshift round pen had been set up in the covered arena—rusty old portable panels baling wired together. Not ideal.
            The sort of “checking up” the trainer had me do is kind of touchy. The reins are run from the snaffle bit down between the horses front legs and then up to the horn, one on each side. The reins are then tied around the horn.  When the horse walks or trots, the movement of his front legs works the reins in an effect that is similar to a rider scissoring the reins. The horse must bring his head down, and/or break at the poll to get relief from the pressure. If he raises his head or throws it, the reins, tied fast at the horn, will give him a harsh jerk in the mouth. There is no escape. If the person doing the checking up is not skilled, it’s common for a colt to flip over backward. This event is not for the faint-hearted, and it CAN be very abusive. Every single reined cowhorse trainer I ever knew used it at least occasionally. I had used it before and knew how to do it. But I tended to err on the side of kindness and caution.
            I usually started with the reins pretty loose and gave the colt a lot of space to figure out what was wanted. If he seemed upset, I loosened the reins further. Only when I was sure that the colt had figured out the desired response and was comfortable with it, did I drive him into the bridle—which was the goal of this exercise. It is, to be frank, a little like rollkur (sp?).
            Anyway, I was working my way through the three-year-olds, one at a time. Most understood the exercise and didn’t struggle with it. I worked them for fifteen-twenty minutes or so at the trot, as I had been told to do. And I finally got around to Lynn’s filly.
            Lynn was a non-pro with very little money, but she had a three-year-old she wanted to show at the Snaffle Bit Futurity in the Non-Pro class and had put the filly in training. Think about this for a minute. She had very little money, she wasn’t going to have the trainer show the horse, she was going to show it herself. The trainer had at least a dozen Futurity prospects in training that he WAS going to show himself. Take a guess how much Lynn’s filly got ridden. Yep. If you guessed almost never, you’re right.
            The trainer didn’t ride her because he wasn’t interested in her. The assistants didn’t ride her much because we all had plenty of horses we were assigned to ride and the filly was a flighty, goosey little critter, afraid of everything. Lynn rode her occasionally. The filly was WAY behind the other horses in her training.
            I got her out and saddled her and checked her up with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure she’d ever done this before. And sure enough, she reacted by being  freaked out. I had the reins adjusted so they were very loose and I was just sort of babying her along, hoping she would relax and get the idea. But she kept throwing her head against the pressure and running backward. I was worried she would flip over and I soothed her and loosened the reins further. At this point, if I had been in charge, I would have been happy to have her take a few calm steps forward at the walk and I would have put her up.
            But I was not in charge. And the trainer chose just this moment to come lean on the fence and observe what I was doing. In no time at all he was yelling at me to tighten the reins and drive the filly forward into the bridle. I protested, saying that I thought she’d freak out. He yelled louder, telling me that he was the boss here and if I wouldn’t do it he would, and to get my ass in gear and do as he said.
            Well, I should have quit him right there. But I was young and he was a big name, and yep, he was in charge. So I did as he said.
            I shortened the reins under his direction—much shorter than I would ever have chosen to do with this filly. With the trainer yelling at me every second to drive her harder, I used the whip to force her to trot, despite her wildly rolling eyes and attempts to throw her head in the air and run backwards.
“Drive her harder!” screamed the trainer.
            I understood the point. She couldn’t flip over backwards if I could keep her moving forwards. So I drove her hard. And the filly, out of her mind with panic, tried to jump out of the round pen, with her head virtually tied down to her chest.
            She didn’t make it. She landed on top of one of the old rusty panels, which fell apart. The filly impaled herself on an upright. Blood poured out of a gaping hole in her chest.
            The trainer dove into this mess, and got the horse untangled and out of the panels. The vet was called, the filly survived, though she was out of commission for a couple of months. I felt terrible. And the worst part was that I absolutely knew that the trainer would tell Lynn that I was to blame for the wreck. He would say my inexperience caused the problem.
            Lynn was a nice gal. I told her I was sorry, and I very softly said that I had been doing exactly what the trainer told me to do. I did not add that I never would have driven her horse like that by my own choice, and that I had warned the trainer that I thought it would be too much for the filly. Lynn said she didn’t blame me. But she didn’t have much money and now she had a huge vet bill, and her horse, already behind in her training, was going to be even further behind. As I said, I felt terrible.
            Three months after that, and after witnessing many more very abusive things, I quit that sorry son of a bitch of a trainer and finished training my horse, Gunner, for the Snaffle Bit Futurity on my own. We placed in both the Non-Pro and the Ladies, and I was happy with the results. But I never became a star at reined cowhorse, and shortly thereafter I switched to cutting, which was (in my opinion) easier on the horse. And one thing I can tell you for sure. Though I checked up other colts in my life, I was always very careful how I did it, and I never again had a wreck of any sort in the process.

            If you’d like to hear more adventures from my past life training horses, there are many woven into “Hoofprints,” the second book in my mystery series. Hoofprints is on special right now as a Kindle edition. Only 99 cents. Here is the link, if you’re interested.