Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some Kind of Wonderful

I knew I liked him a lot the minute I saw him. Was it love at first sight? Now that I think about it, it was probably more akin to lust. After all, he was a big beautiful black Lusitano stallion. With his thick, long black mane, his smoky dark almond shaped eyes, his cute rounded bottom and very long legs, he was very much the heartthrob.

But heartthrobs tend to be a little intimidating. The low, husky fire-breathing and occasional prancy mannerisms he displayed when I first brought him home made me wonder whether he might be a little too much horse for me. Transitioning from my trustworthy Dutch schoolmaster, Kwintus, was a challenge in itself, and to find myself in unfamiliar surroundings (I switched stables for a couple of weeks to make use of their indoor) with a rather green, very forward-going, seven-year-old Iberian stallion was a bit daunting.

As is often the case, it turns out I should have had a little more faith in myself and not worried so much. The “tumbleweeding” (running) I described in one of my earlier blogs (“Semi-Floppy”) is now almost completely resolved. The rhythm of the trot is getting better, more regular. The canter has metamorphosed in the past ten days. Initially I barely dared go into canter because it felt unbalanced and wonky and all over the place, so I only braved it in the small enclosed arena behind the stable block. And even when I did I tended to favor the left lead canter as the right lead felt particularly bizarre, with Qrac refusing to bend to the right, and instead leaning onto his inside shoulder and constantly changing to the left lead). Gradually however I got braver, he and I became more connected, more trusting of each other and things started to come together. We practiced. We practiced again. I tried cantering him on the gallop loop around the field; the left lead went fine, while yet again the right lead was pretty hairy, particularly when he decided to switch to the left lead and see how fast he could go (pretty fast!)! But he didn’t argue too much with me when I asked him to slow. He’s a good boy.

Next, I started taking him down to the big wide open arena. I worked hard, thinking things over, experimenting, and when my trainer, Marie-Valentine, came to give me a lesson I paid particular attention to all the little details she’s been telling me for years: keep my left hand more upright, sit tall, tall, taller, keep my chin up, keep my ultra-suppleness in check, watch that my lower leg doesn’t slide backwards (Qrac is so short-backed that if my leg slides out of place it’s practically behind him!). I worked extra hard, trying to think about all the little things that are so hard to think about when you’re already doing a trillion other things with every part of your body.

And one day, lo and behold, when I asked him to canter on the right lead, he curled
himself around my inside leg and struck off beautifully. We’ve capitalized on that moment, and although it still doesn’t feel as easy as the left lead, he’s definitely improving. We’re improving. And it’s so rewarding!I'm no longer only in lust, I'm in love!

My confidence and trust in him have improved so much that I regularly take him out on the trails around the property. We go alone, trotting and cantering through the fields with no problems whatsoever. The only thing that makes him antsy and mega fidgety is insects. Qrac HATES insects. He’s virtually impossible to keep calm and steady on days when the insects are bad, and, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of hot, humid weather recently. He stomps around all bad-tempered, lifting his hind legs so high he regularly kicks my feet in the stirrups. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve spent a small fortune on an array of insect-repellents, all of which promise instant insectual eradication, but nothing seems to dissuade the horse-flies
and the mini-flies and the horrid giant buzzy things that swarm around us, taunting him into a mad, frantic high-stepping piaffy thing. I shoo them off, try to coerce him into ignoring them, but it’s beyond him. So I push him into trot, urging him into his work routine to keep his mind busy as best I can, keeping our sessions short but intense. Incidentally, Qrac is a seriously sweaty guy who easily gets foamy bum syndrome! So sweaty is he that I need to wash my saddle blankets (? In French it’s called a “chabraque” – the thing we put under the saddle) after every session! Maybe it’s a macho thing.

Speaking of macho things, Qrac is no longer quite so macho. Well, he is, for the time being, but he had his first “anti-macho” shot ten days ago, and will have the other one in about three weeks. It’s a chemical castration and is completely reversible. It works (if I’ve understood correctly) by inhibiting the production of testosterone, the effects of which last (again, if I remember correctly) about a year. He should start feeling less, well, horny, within two weeks of having had the first shot. So far I haven’t seen any dramatic changes, with my horse still under the impression he’s bringing sexy back to his little French village. Secondary reactions to the shot? He was tired the following day, and, as the vet had predicted, ran a slight fever 48 hours later. I stood him in cold water for twenty minutes and gave him some aspirin.

Seventy-hours later he was fine again and raring to go. Steph, who owns my stables, saddled up one of her horses, I got Qrac ready and we set off for our first proper trail ride up the mountain. He was perfectly behaved, apart from a short and stroppy show of manliness when we passed a field full of stout blonde beauties (semi-heavy Comptois horses, used mainly for driving). I got him past them by raising my voice, closing my legs and acting braver than I felt. How I hate that fizzy adrenaline feeling!

Why did I choose a chemical castration as opposed to the full chop-chop? Because it’s summer, because the flies are horrendous, making the healing process less straightforward. Also, this way I’ll be able to gage how losing his manhood might affect his character and the oomph in his work. As for how long it will be before he is capable of walking by the field full of stout blondes without getting all worked up, I have no idea, but just going on that ride will be a good judge of his sex-drive. I don’t plan on renewing the chemical castration (my vet says it can be done up to five times, but doesn’t recommend it beyond two or three), but will instead have him gelded once the flies are gone, probably sometime in November or December. Some people tell me it’s a pity to geld such a beautiful stallion, especially since he’s approved by the Lusitano stud book, but I’ve decided it’s the right thing to do. As cuddly and adorable as he is (he loves to have his cheeks scratched, so much that he closes his eyes and leans his nose in my free hand!), he’ll probably be easier to handle in sticky situations.

My daughter rode him the other day for the first time since she came back from
University. As you can see, he looked amazing (well, I think so), but was a bit of handful since it was noon and the flies were ridiculous, turning him into a total drama queen. Does anyone know of a highly effective fly repellent? I’m going to try adding garlic granules to add to his feed. Although they didn’t seem to make a scrap of difference to Kwintus, their effect apparently varies from one horse to another. What about cider vinegar in their feed? Has anyone tried it? I bought some, but Steph is reluctant to use it as she’s worried it’s too acidic.

Please tell me your anti-insect secrets; Qrac and I are under siege!


Anonymous said...

There are fly masks you can ride in that also cover the ears, and I believe also fly quarter sheets that will help. You might also carry a fly whisk on trail rides - it's a handle with a mini-tail that you can use to whisk off the flies. I've never found a completely good fly spray.

I have one gelding who thinks he's very "manly" and that's enough for me!

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I loved your post and descriptions of Qrac. Sounds like you are doing great. My horse Sunny hates flies buzzing around him, too, though perhaps not quite as much as Qrac. Sunny merely shakes his head and stomps aggressively--but it still is a bother. I use a fly spray that seems to work--can't recall the name, but it comes in a dark red bottle. However it sounds as though your bugs are a bit worse than ours.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Qrac is breathtaking!!

I'm glad he's coming along for you.

Francesca Prescott said...

Kate: I have a little crocheted competition bonnet I might try on him. I also have a long fringed thing that fits on the bridle, but when we used it on Kwintus he hated it; it even seemed to affect his balance. I've thought about those fly sheets, but wondered if they're not super hot for the horses when they're working. Qrac wears one in the field. Have you ever used one?

I'll have to go find a fly whisk, I've never seen them here. Bummer about never finding a good fly spray. I guess the search is still on!

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: our bugs are terrible this year, probably because we've had such a warm spring. We were attacked by a hornet the other day; scary as heck!

My ride today was relatively fly-free thanks to the torrential rain we had this morning; maybe the little creeps all drowned! I used a fly-spray I bought from the vet when he came to do Qrac's anti-sexy shot. It's one of the best ones in my collection! Of course, I can't recall the name either...

Francesca Prescott said...

Fantastyk Voyager: he's pretty, isn't he! I loved watching my daughter ride him the other day, and couldn't believe such a beautiful horse belonged to me :)

Anonymous said...

Here's some links to the type of things I was thinking about - don't know what's available where you are:

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks so much for the links, Kate. I'll have a look locally, and take it from there. That mesh face mask is great, far better than the one I have that Kwintus wears now he's retired.

Jen said...

Your new man is quite a gorgeous hunk of horse - WOW (and hubba-hubba ;o) We feed Raybon here (I shave a block and feed it as a supplement) to prevent flies from laying eggs in the manure. I also keep a sulfur block with the mineral block as free choice. For fly spray, I just use Zonk (it works as well as anything else out there and doesn't break the bank). I don't think there is any one thing that completely eradicates flies as a problem.

Alison said...

Much sexier post than I would have done Francesca! I put out a call for fly help a while ago but it sounds as if you are getting attacked by more than just flies. Don't forget the fly wasps that prey on stable/house flies but it has to be control done by your barn owner. I use the face masks as well, but they are trickier to ride in. Good luck with your handsome guy!

Terri Rocovich said...

Francesca- He is Gorgeous!!! His canter looks amazing. It looks like you and I are on the same journey right now. I am getting to know Uiver more and falling in love more everyday. I asked my sister if I was smart or wierd that I kept falling in love with 4 legged men not 2 legged. She said it was wierdly smart. There's a sister for you. The flys are horrible here this summer as well. I think they are taking over the world.

Eyes to See said...

The flies here were the worst I've seen since we moved on our place seven years ago. I think it is partly due to the drought. Or mostly. The main fly reduction solution we have is dung beetles. They can't dig in hard ground so until it rained they were not able to deal with the manure piles. But, when we finally got some rain those fellows lept to their role and reduced every fresh manure pile in a few hours! Since then (about a month ago); they've been keeping up with the daily droppings and the fly population has dropped by 80 per cent. Amazing critters. Not easily transported, though.

Francesca Prescott said...

Jen: thanks for the tip. I don't know what Raybon is, or whether we have it here in Switzerland, so will have to look it up. I don't know about Zonk, either! I used Centaura today, which is a flyspray I bought from my vet. It works for a while, but once Qrac sweats the insects just dive in.

Thank you for reading! I'm glad you like the look of Qrac!!

Francesca Prescott said...

Terri: his canter is improving, defiitely. I'd like a little more "up", a little more sitting,but we have to work on the reaching and the stability first, and build muscle. Patience! My trainer rode him today, he looked great. His half-passes were spectacular (in trot)!

I look forward to hearing more about Uiver; he looks like a lovely horse. Good for you!

Francesca Prescott said...

Eyes to See: I don't know whether we have dung beetles in this part of the world. We don't really have manure piles as our horses are on wood shavings, and the shavings are hauled away regularly before they mount up. I don't know whether the drought caused the flies to multiply (we've had a drought here, too); our stables seem to be located in prime insect territory! The mild winter probably didn't help as they all survived, and now we're getting hot and humid weather to top it all off. But I mustn't complain too much as before we know it it will be going cold again. In six months it's Christmas! Ugh!

Alain said...

Congratulation Francesca, Qrac de la Font is a wonderful horse, he is also the father of our filly born in our stables this spring out of our nice lusitano mare Salsa. Baila du Bratt is a wonderful lusitano foal full of qualities, of course with such parents :-)
Don´t hesitate to go on breeding with him, he is meriting it !!
Good luck. Alain

Francesca Prescott said...

Alain, merci beaucoup de m'avoir laissé un message! Je suis ravie de savoir que Qrac a assuré une jolie descendance avec Baila du Bratt. J'aimerais beaucoup voir des photos si vous en avez. Contactez-moi a

Merci encore!