Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hands On Activity

Jolly reminded me tonight, of why it is always important to run your hands over your horse daily. Whether or not you ride or even groom your horse daily, a brief run down with the palms of your hands can give you a lot of information about that horse's condition. In the Winter time, I make it a habit to run my hands across my horses' barrels to check for weight loss which may not be visible under a heavy hair coat. However, that tactile inspection is just as important in the Summertime.

I took a few seconds tonight to run my hands over Jolly's coat and noticed he had finally decided it was a good idea to shed out the last of his Winter hair (Jolly is 31 years old and slowing down in a lot of aspects) so I got out his curry comb and tackled what was left of his shaggy-ness. As the hair flew (and dirt and dried sweat and dandruff) and I worked my way back to his hindquarters *queasiness alert - anyone with a low threshold for yucky stuff might want to skip ahead* I noticed a wretched smell and a rough patch at the top of his croup. Further inspection revealed an old bite wound that had scabbed over and underneath the scab was a congealed mess of puss. Ew.

It wasn't a big deal, I scrubbed it out, cleaned it up and dressed it with some ointment. It was relatively superficial so he will be just fine. It was a good reminder to not be in too much of a hurry when going through the motions of daily handling. I always do a visual once-over of each horse that I handle during the day, checking eyes, noses, legs, and general demeanor for any signs of trouble but it's the touch that tells so much more.

I did not see the goopy mess on Jolly's croup because it was above eye level, but also camouflaged under hair and dirt. To be all NCIS about it, it was the smell of the thing that I noticed first, but even without that, I would have found it with my fingers anyway. Grosser that way, but it would have happened.

Regardless of which of the senses discovers something amiss with your horse first, your fingers can be very forthcoming with needed information directly afterward. If you find a swollen leg, exploration via touch will give you vital information. Does the swelling "pit", or leave an indentation when you press into it? Is it cool or hot? Is there crust or peeling skin associated? Does the horse flinch to the touch? Is there a wound (possibly hidden under the hair and dirt and harboring some nasty goo)?

Your fingers will tell you the condition of a horse's skin and coat - is it greasy? Dry? Itchy? Rough? Sticky? If he has lumps and bumps on his skin - are they crusty? Symmetrical? Itchy? Smooth? Hot? Oozing? If your horse is lame, you can check for heat in the hoof or digital pulses. You fingers are needed to check the heart rate by timing the pulse in the jaw. You can press the horse's gums with your fingertips to get a capillary refill time. A horse's ears will very often be hot when it has a fever. If you are so inclined, you can check your horse's teeth to see if they are loose, have sharp edges or may in fact be missing. If you are not inclined, you can use your fingers to dial the phone and call the equine dentist.

Not only are your hands important diagnostic tools but they communicate information to the horse as well. From a touch, the horse can tell if you are timid, angry, excited or weary. Giving the horse a hearty scratch along the neck and over the withers is an excellent way to make friends or soothe an agitated horse. Pressure from our hands is way of asking the horse to move forward, backward, sideways, lift a leg or lower his head. If your horse does not respond to that pressure, you use your fingers to dial the phone and call the horse trainer. My number is in the book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Horse By Any Other Name

Fourteen is the age when I became a horse owner for the first time. Since then, I have owned 14 horses (I am now 37) but I have only had the opportunity to give a horse a name once. 13 horses all had names when I got them but Pooh Bear was purchased at an auction and he had no history, other than a quip from the family who owned him briefly beforehand, that went, "He don't want to lope too much." Before I even legally owned Pooh Bear, I had decided on his name and it turned out to suit him perfectly. He was orange-ish, and rather round in the middle which is why I thought of the name. He also lived up to the label by being really fond of eating and not so fond of doing anything physically demanding.

Some of my horses had names that they kept their whole lives and some had theirs changed before I got them. I never changed any of my horse's names other than to give a few of them a show name. Jolly showed as Just Like Eeyore, April is Wait A Minute, and Ivy was Little Lamzydivy. The other horses all had show names too. Except Gretchen. She was always just Gretchen. Like Madonna, she only needed one name.

All of those names came fairly easily to me and suited their horses perfectly. With the new horse, Dundee, I'm having a harder time coming up with a show name that suits him and maybe has something to do with his barn name.

During my first ride on Dundee, I was thinking about the potential he had and that he was a diamond in the rough so Rough Diamond came to me as a show name. Then, I remembered that there was a Breyer Horse called Rough Diamond and I didn't want to plagiarize. From the first time I heard the horse's name, Crocodile Dundee was there as a consideration. Not the most original name, but I did really like the movie (the first one) when it came out so maybe I could use it if nothing better comes along.

Continuing with the Hollywood theme, I have found myself calling him Dunder Mifflin as in the fictitious paper company used for the tv program "The Office". It's a good show, I like watching it, but I don't really know if I want to present my horse as an office supply store. That's almost as off-kilter as presenting him as a rugged Australian crocodile hunter.

Dundee is very low-key 90% of the time but has shown moments of hysteria. They are short-lived bursts of energy, but enough to keep him from being a complete couch-potato. He's an attractive horse, but not glamorous like Raffles. Dundee is like Robert Redford with just a touch of Rodney Dangerfield.

Even though he's named for a town in Scotland, Dundee is from Ireland, so I guess that makes him Gaelic not Celtic. Maybe there's fodder for a good name in the Gaelic language. However, there are also towns named Dundee in Florida, Oregon, Illinois and New York so I could use a name that references oranges, hazelnuts, deep-dish pizza or big apples.

There's no rule that a horse's barn name and show name have to have some sort of recognizable connection. For example, my Morgan colt was named Valleybrook's Mr. Showoff and called Norman. Dundee's show name does not have to correlate with his place of origin, his color, personality, history or even the letter D. It would be neat if his name did have some kind of relationship to him, but it's not required. Maybe, I could pick a random bunch of words and string them together and pretend it's some hipster kind of thing, so poetic that mainstream people won't get it.

In time, a good descriptive name will come to me. In the meantime, I will entertain any reader suggestions should you care to share them. Dundee is on the light side of chestnut with a small white star. He has a big head. He's a little tubby but has a nice tail. He has a cowlick in his mane and it's white. He's a good, but not great, mover and jumps nicely (so far - has only longed over crossrails). He is bossy with the other geldings and has the scars to prove it. He originally came from Ireland, but I got him from Massachusetts. He's lazy-ish but has a spook too. That's about all I know about him so far. After this week, when I have some lessons on him with my trainer, I'll know him quite a bit better.

Meanwhile, he will be just Dundee. Oh! Wait! I think there's something in that... like, a play on "just dandy"... Hmmm.... That could work. I'll let you know.