Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gunner Comes Home

by Laura Crum

The photo above shows my 31 year old horse, Gunner, (and me) fourteen years ago. Gunner was 17 and had been retired from competition for a few years at the time the photo was taken, but I still used him for light riding. As you can see, he was happy to pick up the lope in my riding ring, for the local newspaper’s photographer. I’ve used this as the author photo on a couple of my books, and yes, before anybody else says it, I looked a lot better 14 years ago, pre-baby and minus twenty pounds.

Gunner and I have had a very long partnership. I bought him as a three-year old- with ninety days of riding, and did the rest of his training myself. We competed at the Snaffle Bit Futurity and placed in the ladies division and the non-pro, and then I went on to show Gunner as a cutting horse until he was eight, winning a few buckles and year end awards. When Gunner was nine I taught him to be a team roping head horse and competed on him at team roping until he was fourteen, when I retired him from competition due to various arthritic complaints. I used him for light riding until he was about twenty, when I turned him out to pasture. He’s stayed comfortably sound for eleven good years in the pasture, and I was happy to see him running around on the green grass with his equine buddies. In the last few years he lived in a separate field, next to another old horse, so that both of them could be fed a supplemental ration of equine senior feed that worked for each individual.

I brought Gunner home from the pasture on Thanksgiving Day. We had euthanised his longtime companion, ET, previously (see my earlier post “Sad”), and I didn’t want Gunner standing alone in the winter storms, even with his blanket on. Besides, I missed him. I kept him turned out in this pasture five miles from my place for all these many years because I thought it was best for him. In the last few years, either Wally or I drove out there every day to supplement Gunner and ET with the equine senior feed they needed to thrive. Eventually ET was not thriving, even on free choice equine senior and lush pasture, so we made the choice to euthanise him. And this made me come to the decision that it was time to bring Gunner home.

There were a lot of factors involved here. For one thing there is no shelter, other than trees, in the pasture where we’ve been keeping these horses. In our climate this works fine for healthy horses in good flesh, and the two horses we still have turned out there (Danny and Gray Dog), who are in their teens, look just fine. But horses in their twenties and thirties usually need a little more help, and last winter I was out there all the time blanketing Gunner and ET for winter storms and taking their blankets off when it was sunny. It will be a lot easier for me to take good care of Gunner here where he has a shed to stand in when it rains, and I can monitor his condition closely and feed him exactly what he needs.

Another factor is company. I had to keep Gunner and ET in separate small fields in order that each got enough equine senior feed to thrive, but they were right alongside each other and could see each other at all times. The other horses, in the bigger pasture, are frequently out of sight of the small fields. I felt that my poor old horse would feel lonely and left behind by the herd if I kept him alone like that. Here at home he has horses all around him, his corral is big enough to run around (and he does) and I have already noticed that his demeanor seems happier.

And then, I missed having him with me. Letting ET and Rebby go was hard, and really woke me up and brought home to me that if I wanted to spend time with my special old friend, I needed to do it now. And I honestly think that Gunner has already shown that he appreciates the attention and interaction with his human friends, as well as his equine friends. He seems very engaged and interested in everything going on around him, and there is plenty to keep him interested.

Besides the fact that I feed three times a day, we are often down in the barnyard just to hang out with the horses, even if we aren’t catching the riding horses to do something with them. And I often turn the horses out to graze on my property. And, to be honest, my son and I spend time just rubbing on the horses and feeding them cookies. I know, I know, I never used to feed treats as a practice, and I still don’t believe in this as a training aid, nor would I do this with young horses who need to learn what right behavior is, but my kid so wanted to give his loved horses cookies that I caved. (My karma ran over my dogma, you could say.) I simply taught the (all older, well-broke) horses to take the treats politely and now we have a little cookie feeding routine. Gunner loves it.

I don’t have a current photo of Gunner in the computer (as a matter of fact I haven’t been able to download or upload—I never know which it is—any recent photos because my computer is so spazzy I’m afraid that something as traumatic as photos might give it a knock-out punch, so the most recent photos that I can post are from this summer), and it is impossible to get a very flattering shot any more. Gunner is sway backed and peaked rumped, and his face looks old. But there are no ribs or hipbones to be seen or felt, and he has a decent amount of fat on the crest of his neck and over his whole body. He’s in pretty good flesh and his always very fuzzy winter coat is thick and shiny. He’s sound and his appetite is good. I’ve been happy to see that he moves around very freely in his big corral and throws in a buck when he feels like it. Gunner is doing OK. And he’s getting lots of love around here.

Below you see my son snuggling with Sunny in our barnyard—and Gunner is getting his fair share of such attention, too. I think he’s happy that he’s home.

If any of you have some tips or advice about how you keep your very senior equine citizens happy, healthy and engaged with life, I would love to hear them.


jenj said...

What a lovely story about a very special friend and partner!

I too have an older guy (24 this spring) who I brought home recently, and it's very special having him with us. He gets extra alfalfa (he's colic prone), unmolassed beet pulp, and his feed is soaked to get the maximum amount of water in him that I can. I'm lucky that he still has teeth and no issues chewing hay, so he's pretty fat and happy.

He's the lowest in the herd, though, and that makes for a challenge. I separate him at feeding time so that he can eat comfortably. I always sneak him an extra bedtime cookie, and I try to spend a few extra minutes every day with him. I also have a friend who rides him lightly on the weekends (walk and a teeny bit of trot, which is about as much as both of them can handle). I also occasionally take him for a bareback toodle down the street, and he really seems to enjoy that.

The old friends are just the best. I think listening to them and seeing what makes them happy - riding or not, grooming or not, etc. - is the way to go. Gunner is a lucky boy!

Laura Crum said...

jenj--I hear you about the teeth. Gunner still can chew hay at 31 and I'm so grateful for that. My friend's 31 year old can no longer chew hay and it makes the management more difficult. But the "equine senior delight" feed we get from a small mill near here keeps the weight on these old horses in an amazing way, even when they can't eat hay any more.

My son's horse will be 24 this spring and he's still going strong. I just love these old horses.

Anonymous said...

Glad you have him home now. I'm sure he appreciates all the extra attention. I think older horses just like to be with their people - grooming or short hand walks were my favorite activity with Noble.

And I'll take karma over dogma any day . . .

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I love that saying. Finally found a good place to use it.

Leslie said...

Great post,Laura. Laughed about pointing out "I looked a lot better 14 years ago..." My soon-to-be daughter-in-law saw a picture of me from thirty years ago(I was twenty),when we were all looking through old photo albums Thanksgiving Day. She said "OH, with those bangs you kind of looked like Katy Perry.Do you know who she is?" I had to laugh. I didn't look like Katy Perry, ever, but it was a nice compliment and I thanked her.

You have a common sense approach to dealing with your horses which I totally admire. I don't have senior tips, but sure appreciate reading how people deal with senior horses. Thanks for posting your experiences!

So sorry about ET and Rebby. Tough decision, but seems like it was at the right time.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks so much, Leslie. And yes, it can be a bit disconcerting to look at photos taken awhile ago. I am not one of those women who is aging "remarkably gracefully."

AareneX said...

I lol'd about "aging gracefully," Laura. I think the best I can say about myself is that I'm "aging intriguingly." >g<

Equine Senior + beetpulp is my secret weapon for elderly and thinning animals. I know that my favorite equine nutritionist feeds that combination to her elderly mule...and Mildred the Mule is more than 40 years old now!

I also feed treats--but I make horses do tricks for them. You want the treat, PushyMare? Let's see you stretch your head all the way to your buttcheek to get it. The stretching "tricks" keeps them from thinking that they can get treats for free just by being assertive.

Welcome home, Gunner!

Mrs. Mom said...

Well Laura, you don't need advice from this corner on how to keep the old man happy. You're already doing it! Good feed, companionship, interaction with HIS people- he's got it made! ;)

BTW- I love that shot of you and Gunner. I can't figure out which one of you is smiling bigger in it!

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--Now I am going to make an embarrassing confession. Even though I know that feeding beet pulp is the current trendy thing, I have never fed the stuff in my life and know nothing about it. When I was a kid, our ranch had a dehydrator that dried apple pulp (from cider mills) and we fed this dried apple pulp to the horses and it kept them fat. We did not wet it down. I don't know if this would be similar to beet pulp or not. The senior feed I use has some beet pulp in it. So, why is beet pulp special? Does any one want to enlighten me?

Thanks, Mrs Mom--I like that photo, too. I only wish I still looked like that. Gunner probably wishes he still looked like that, too (!)

laverne said...

Enjoy everyday with him.Rice bran supplements are good to help with weight-they are high in fat.No colic issues as compared to feeding lots of extra grain.Just and to the sr feed.Farnam makes WEIGHT BUILDER and Nutrena makes Empower Boost.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Sounds like you are doing all the right things already. I feed beet pulp and grain to all my horses for that little extra. Although I wet it down, they say it can be fed dry. I do give them dry pellets, sometimes as a treat. You can also buy it shredded rather than pelleted and that doesn't need to be wet down. Cost-wise, beet pulp seems to go farther for the dollar, in my opinion.

I have to keep Nadia separated from the others because she eats so slowly and she's at the bottom of the pecking order. I wish I had time to turn her out each day with the others for exercise but with my job, I'm limited on barn time. I am happy to report that she is at a pretty good weight right now, although she could use muscle tone. But then, I could too. lol.

Dreaming said...

I am glad you have Gunner at home with you. It sounds like it will be easier for you and has to be better for him. He is fortunate to have a loving family to care for him.
I can't help with suggestions for care, but I am enjoying the suggestions and comments - some day will come and my guys will need some of that extra TLC.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, laverne, Voyager and Dreaming. I appreciate the suggestions and the feedback.

Alison said...

Love the photo of your son with Sunny!

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I like that photo, too. It sort of shows Sunny's sweet side--he likes kids. With me he always has more of a "testing" expression. But he's really a great little horse. And of course my son is adorable--what can I say? (Except that I am a typical doting mama.)

Once Upon an Equine said...

That is so sweet that Gunner is home and enjoying his new routine. He looks like a very handsome horse and I bet he still is, even if he is sagging in a few spots. Love the picture of Sunny and your son, especially after just finishing Going, Gone. I enjoyed the book very much.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Once Upon. I think Gunner looks good for 31. I'm glad you enjoyed "Going, Gone". It always tickles me when people give my books a try. And thank you also for your comments, which I enjoy very much.

Laura Crum said...
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