Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Perfect Fit

There is not much that I dislike more than trying on jeans.  There can be 12 pairs of jeans in my dressing room, different brands but all the same tag size (my tag size), and not a dang one of them will fit correctly.  One will gape at the waist, one is too short, one doesn't come up past my thighs, one goes up to my armpits, one is too tight, one is so big that I could fit another person in each leg, and so on.  It is also guaranteed that if I do happen to find a pair of jeans that fit and are comfortable, that the manufacturer will immediately stop their production.

Fitting a saddle to a horse is just as frustrating and 30 times more expensive.  Saddle fit is tremendously important for both rider and horse and a saddle that fits both is the Holy Grail of the equestrian world.  There are people with unlimited budgets who can afford to have a saddle custom made that fits both parties equally well.  And then there is us.  The rest of us, most of us, have very limited budgets and must make due with off the rack models.

To imagine how a horse with a poorly fitting saddle feels, put on a pair of shoes that don't fit, fill a back pack with 20 pounds of sand and then jog around the block.  Your feet will hurt, your back will hurt.  Hips, knees, shoulders, all of 'em - aching.  Now, do it again the next day. 

Saddles do not have to be $5000 custom made saddles in order to fit correctly.  An expensive saddle can fit as badly as a cheap saddle, if it's put on the wrong horse.  So how do you know if a saddle fits?  I can share what I've learned about fitting English saddles (excluding Saddleseat) by paying attention to saddle fit experts, reading and watching instructional videos.

First, examine the saddle.  If you pull the pommel and cantle toward each other does the saddle bend in the middle (it should not)?  Does the gullet (the channel underneath) go straight and evenly down the center of the saddle?  Are the panels of even size and shape?  Are the billet straps solid looking (no oval shaped holes, no splits, cracks or thin spots in the leather)?  Is the padding in the panels smooth (no lumps)?  When viewed from the front do the seat and cantle line up evenly (not twist to one side)?  If the saddle passes inspection, it can be placed on the horse. You will have to check if it gives the withers at least 2 fingers height under the pommel, if the gullet gives clearance for the horses spine, if the middle of the seat is the lowest point, if the billet straps point straight down (not angled forward or back), if the panels distribute pressure evenly down the length of the saddle and whether the saddle rocks from side to side.  If the saddle passes that test, you can fasten it on with a girth, which can then greatly affect the fit.  If the saddle is still in contention, it is time to sit on it on the horse's back.  If the saddle still sits level, gives wither clearance and clears the spine.  Then it's time to ride.  Knowing your own horse well, you should be able to tell if he is comfortable by the way he moves.  Is he stepping out freely, willing to go forward and relaxed, or is he mincing, grinding his teeth, carrying himself crooked, reluctant to go forward or round, swishing his tail, kicking, bucking or rearing?  If so, you should get off. Then try the next saddle.

All of the trials should be done sans saddle pads.  Pads can alter the fit for the better or detrimentally.  Sometimes saddles are built evenly and balanced, but horses are not.  A horse that is built downhill or uphill may need a balancing pad to fit a saddle.  A horse that is swaybacked or has tremendously high withers may need extra padding to level the saddle.  If a saddle fits all other criteria but needs a little balancing, then an auxiliary pad can be used.  No amount of padding can make a badly fitting saddle comfortable for the horse.  Do lots of extra socks make your shoes fit nicely - so nicely that you could either dance a waltz or run the hurdles?  It doesn't work that way.

The good news is (Sarcasm Alert:  all gullible people should skip to the end), as soon as your horse either gets in shape, or goes out of work, the saddle doesn't fit anymore!  And we start all over.

While you don't need to take out a loan to buy a saddle, getting the $150 deal (stirrups, girth, bridle and bit - all included!) isn't going to swing it.  The saddle (stirrups, girth, bridle and bit) is cheap because it is made of cardboard and was sewn together by nervous hamsters.  It isn't worth $150.  Unless you want to pay $150 for a saddle shaped paperweight.  Used saddles are certainly a good option, provided they pass all the pre-horse-wearing tests.  The prices can be very reasonable and if it's good quality leather and construction, a saddle can last for decades.  A good quality saddle will aslo have a good resale value should you run into the situation described above (which all the gullible people don't know about because they skipped ahead).

A saddle that fits well for both horse and rider will make your riding time more productive, more comfortable and more fun.  It is worth the time and hassle, much like the hunt for the perfect pair of jeans. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

That's So Lame

There is not much that will sink a rider's spirit faster than a lame horse.  It can be subtle: a hitch in the stride, a bob of the head, a drag of a toe, or more blatant signs like an unwillingness, inability to put a hoof to the ground, or a grossly swollen limb.  The causes of any of those signs are tenfold.

Any person that has ever owned, or looked at, a horse will have an opinion and solution for the lameness.  Those remedies and ideas about a course of action can range from insane to lackadaisical.  I have faith that anyone reading this would fall nicely between the two at reasonable.

Diagnosing lameness can be done very quickly, if a horse owner has wads of hundred dollar bills falling out of her pockets.  It merely takes a quick trip to an equine clinic filled with radiograph machines, ultrasound devices, MRI and CAT and other acronymical (pretty sure I just made that word up) contraptions, lasers, digital images, arthroscope thingies, and so on.  It just takes loads, or wads, of cash to be able to access that type of equipment and the people trained to use it.

Even a vet with a lowly x-ray machine is going to require a fistful (technically: 1/2 of a wad) of dough to examine a horse.  However, most horse people I know will call the vet for a lame horse, but will wrap their own broken hand with some Vetrap and swallow a half-dozen Advil calling it good.  Calling the vet is necessary when the horse is non-weight-bearing on one limb or has a swollen joint because those can be quite serious.  But with the more subtle lameness, it's hard to know if a little rest, Bute, cold hosing, wrapping and/or poultice will solve the issue.  How long should we give that lame horse before calling in a vet?  A week?  A day?  2 days?  Whether or not the lameness is discovered on the weekend can be a factor in deciding when to call due to the cost of a farm visit from the vet on a weekend jumping from a fistful, to a chunk of cash.

Not that any one of our horses isn't worth many chunks of cash to us, but horsepeople operate on strict budgets.   If the vet visit isn't necessary, that money can be used for board, feed, a blanket or something else more essential.  It can be a tough call.  The horses don't help.  They can be so stoic and so willing to work that they will carry on with a significant problem which can lead an owner to believe that it's not that bad.  My own horse gamely tried to trot with a fractured pelvis while the vet and I tried several different treatments before discovering the problem.  In fact, the only reason I knew he wasn't right was that he couldn't canter.  He tried, because that's how amazing horses are, but he couldn't physically do it.  Thankfully, after stall rest, anti-inflammatories and eventually, chiropractic work, he returned to full soundness.

Often, as in the previous example, a source of lameness is determined only by process of elimination.  Meanwhile the horse carries on, jogging a hundred times for examinations, trying his best to comply even with pain.  A horse will still race, compete, trot around the ring when asked - even if he is in pain.  That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt that much, it means the horse is an animal that needs to move to live and aims to please so much, that he carries on.

Lameness in a horse does not just crush our dreams of riding, but it is agonizing to watch a horse move with pain.  They can not speak to tell us where it hurts and what is making them hurt.  We have to guess.  We have to be sleuths.  We have to be interpreters and clairvoyant.  And we have to be patient.

It can take a long time for some causes of lameness to be resolved and even then, if the horse returns to soundness, care must be taken to ease the horse back into work.  Putting a horse back into the same schedule it had pre-lameness, after time off can cause a new lameness, or re-injure the newly healed one.  One of my horses has tendon sheaths that look like shredded wheat because of being put back to work too quickly after an injury.  That was before I got him, so don't accuse me.

Along with deciding when to call the vet comes the decision about medicating the horse so that he can still be ridden.  As a person who often requires NSAIDs to function, I can empathize with a horse that needs a little something to ease discomfort in order to move around.  IF (capitalized on purpose) a horse enjoys his work and is eager to do it and can be lightly assisted by non-harmful means, then there is no reason not to medicate.  An example would be an older horse with signs of arthritis that finds freedom of movement after treatment with Adequan, oral supplements or an occasional dose of Bute.  Masking an injury with drugs, or asking a horse to perform with an lameness that will be made worse through work, is shameful. 

Lameness is inevitable at some point in a horse's life.  The only ways to ward off a lameness are to keep our horses fit, keep their hooves in good condition with regular trimming, be mindful of footing, and pay attention to changes in performance in order to catch a problem early.  There is no way to completely protect a horse from becoming lame so go ahead and enjoy riding your horse and let him live outdoors, as a horse should and continue to walk the line between lackadaisical and insane. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Slaying The Dragon

Here's the situation:  Horse sees something potentially terrifying (dragon, piece of paper, blue bucket) and shies sideways on top of his person in an attempt to either a) hide behind person  b) climb into person's lap or c) maim person so that potentially terrifying object will go for the lamed prey and horse can escape unscathed.

Here's the person:  While dodging 1000 pounds of erratic horse, "It's okay!  You're okay!  Good boy, good boy, you're okay!  Have some cookies.  It's okay!" and petting said horse lovingly.

Here's the horse:  "That was so scary!  And I just got praised for jumping around like a fool.  If I do it again, I bet I'll get more cookies when I am done."

This is not okay.

Horses, in a moment of fear and/or confusion, do not need comforting, they need direction.  As the leader in the relationship, it is the person's duty to give the horse an idea of how to behave when faced with something startling.  It is not about dominating the horse.  It is not about making the horse stop.  In a moment like that, a horse can not stop.  His instinct takes over and he will head for the hills regardless of any humans in his path.  Any time we try to "make" a horse do anything, it doesn't become trained.  Training is a matter of giving the horse a signal and allowing him to respond to it.  As a trainer, the person can choose what signal to use, but it is best to pick something practical and makes sense.  It's not in anyone's best interest to teach a horse to gallop with a voice command of "Whoa".  Oh!  That reminds me of a joke:

A greenhorn approaches a cowboy and wants to buy his his horse.  The cowboy says, I will sell you this horse, but I'm gonna warn you.  This horse is trained to gallop full out when you say "Thank God." and to stop on a dime when you say "Lord, help me."  Thinking that the cowboy is pulling his leg, the greenhorn laughs and buys the horse on the spot.   He mounts up and gives the horse a kick.  The horse does nothing.  Greenhorn slaps the horse with the reins.  Nothing.  He hollers "Giddy up!".  Nothing.  Feeling foolish, he finally says "Thank God" and the horse takes off like a rocket.  The greenhorn is enjoying the speed with which his new horse is covering the ground mile after mile, but up ahead, he can see the edge of a canyon.  He sits back in his saddle and says "Whoa!".  The horse gallops on.  He frets a little and pulls frantically on the reins.  The horse is still galloping full tilt toward the edge of the cliff.  The greenhorn fears for his life and grabs hold of the saddle horn and prays "Lord, help me!"  The horse stops dead, right at the edge of the 200 foot drop.  Feeling tremendously relieved, he wipes his brow and says "Thank God".

I didn't write the joke, but I sure did enjoy telling it when I was a kid. The moral is, don't be a greenhorn.  Be a leader.  Take charge.  Assure your horse that when he is with you there is nothing to be afraid of.  It is necessary that the person in charge isn't afraid of blue buckets or pieces of paper.   A person can not be afraid that her horse is going to be afraid of something.  The horse senses that and becomes suspicious.

Should the person act as if there's no big deal, nothing scary here, no reason to get excited, then the horse will feed off of that calmness and confidence.  That's not all though.  As the leader, the person has to give some direction.  When faced with dragons, the person needs to give her horse's feet something to do so they won't be dancing on her head.  Sometimes, a horse just can't whoa, even if you pray.  The instinct to run away is so strong that an argument will ensue should a person ask a horse to whoa when that dragon shows up.  However, giving the horse a direction to go, especially back, gives him something to do rather than dance on his person's head.

Giving the horse something to do isn't punishing him.  No one is telling the horse he is wrong for spooking.  We are telling the horse, don't spook on top of me. Tell the horse to stay over there, to back up, or to piaffe (as I did with one habitually spooky horse) when he is scared.  Do not praise him him or comfort him when he tries to use you as a staircase to escape.  Just be cool.  Be calm.  Don't get excited.  Be matter of fact.  This is my space, horse.  That is yours. 

Additionally, don't let a horse look at the dragon.  Get his attention.   The leader needs to say "Pay attention to me, not that.   Follow my directions and you will be okay."  When I'm riding a horse and we come upon something scary, I want that horse to turn to me for guidance.  If I let him fixate on the dragon (or cow or mailbox), he's not paying attention to me and I've lost my leadership.  If I give him something to do, it redirects his mind.  If I can get a horse to move it's feet, I can get it's mind back on track

Eventually, the horse will become less surprised by blue buckets and dragons and will hold his ground when faced with such monsters.  It takes time and consistency a horse to develop trust in his person.  The cool thing is that it does happen.  Thank God.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Wrap It Up

This afternoon, I picked up Dundee's shipping boots. They were on the lawn. Like a good horseperson, I had washed them off immediately after using them and then set them out in the sun to dry. Like a slovenly horseperson, I left them out for a several days so that they got rained on and then blown all over the yard. Oops.

Using shipping boots is a fairly new concept for me so I am not quite used to the maintenance. Before this, I was a staunch shipping WRAPS user. Wraps go right into the washing machine after a use. The drying and re-rolling is still maintenance but it's maintenance that I am familiar with and know how to manage. The boots are, by far, easier and quicker to apply. One piece, a couple of Velcro straps and done! Shipping wraps start with bell boots, then a quilt - wrapped evenly and smoothly, in the right direction, snug but not tight, making sure to cover the top edge of the bell boot; then the wrap - even and smoothly applied with enough tension to keep the whole package secure, but not so much as to cause bandage bow (yes, I did that once & felt horribly guilty), making sure to finish with the Velcro closure at the top. A nicely done, completed shipping wrap should look like a brand new tube of toothpaste, not the tube of toothpaste that my 9 year old son has been using and looks like someone tried to strangle it round the middle.

The quilts have to puffy, yet firm. Thin, measly quilts are too hard to use and do not offer enough protection. The outer wrap has to have a little stretch but not too much. The test is whether the cloth gets narrower when you pull on it. Too much stretch can constrict and create pressure spots within a wrap. With so much that can wrong with shipping wraps, it's surprising that they can do any good at all.

The great thing about (correctly applied) shipping wraps is that not only do they protect against bumps and scrapes, but they also support the horse's leg. After a day of showing, or even just a long trip standing in the trailer, good shipping wraps can prevent swelling around the tendons and ligaments of the lower legs. I can attest to the protection factor. One of my horses ( ) was my very own shipping wrap testing facility. Gretchen made several attempts to sever her limbs via horse trailer and while she did sustain injury, everything under the wraps was intact. Previously in this post, I made mention of making sure that the wrap covers the top of the bell boot. Gretchen once cut her leg, just bad enough to require three stitches, in the half inch of space between the bell boot and shipping quilt. I made darn sure to cover that half inch every other time after that.

Since Gretchen, I've had 3 other horses that all traveled quite nicely in the trailer but still, I used the wraps. Just because a horse travels well doesn't mean a thing if someone cuts you off in traffic or some fool rear-ends the trailer, or something worse (which we don't like to think about). Your horse may not be kamikaze like Gretchen, but that doesn't mean an accident won't happen.

However, after spying a set of really nice shipping boots - you know the ones, they look like Kevlar, come up over the knee and hock and all the way down over the hoof - in the consignment section of the tack shop for less than half the original price, I bought 'em. And I used them. And then I got lazy. The thought of taking fifteen minutes to wrap my horse when I could slap some boots on him in about three minutes, seemed foolish. I know the boots don't offer the same protection as a set of hearty wraps, but (here comes my justification) the wraps don't cover the knee and hock like the boots do. Those parts are valuable too, right? So I should take the opportunity when it's presented to protect the upper joints too, right? That means I can take the lazy route, right?

I do not like putting my horse in a trailer without something on his legs. Just like I don't ride without my helmet or drive without my seat belt. You just can't predict when an accident will happen. Some horses don't like having wraps on and they do the Ministry of Silly Walks when getting from the barn to the trailer. I know one horse who would practically turn himself inside out trying to get his shipping boots off while in the trailer. There are horses who will kick constantly in trying to shake loose a shipping wrap or boot. Those ones are the only ones who get a pass. If it's just a matter of him channeling John Cleese or Houdini, the wraps can stay on. If a horse is going to kick in the trailer then I will take the risk of a possible accident rather than deal with the definite damage to the trailer and my horse's legs. Most horses can learn to wear wraps and boots if you put them on and let him wear them while he's in the stall. He shouldn't wear them outside in the paddock, there's too much freedom of movement and the possibility of a wrap coming undone is too great.

It never pays to get lazy with horses. Efficiency is great, but cutting corners is not. Snap the throatlatch on the halter, use a leadline to take your horse to the stall, use the hoof pick, and use some shipping wraps. Practice doing them correctly before hand. It takes a couple of tries to get them right. As a comparative reference, I will send you some photos of slightly strangled toothpaste tubes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Physician Heal Thyself

At one point, while teaching a lesson today, I uttered (okay, I shouted) the following brilliant gem of wisdom:

"Put your legs on and ride!"

Out of context the sentence is baffling. At the moment, it was profound. The situation was such that during the lesson my student was having trouble turning her horse left on a circle. Oh sure, it sounds like it should be easy, but when 1,500 pounds of horse says he'd rather go right than go left, there's not a whole lot a rider can do about it. The horse was doing an excellent job of teaching his rider that should she want to go left, she ought to SEND him there rather than PULL him there. The horse (and who can blame him) did not want to be dragged around by his face. His method of pointing this out was to go around his circle as if there were strong magnets in the fence at the other end, and he was made of steel.

Given the instructions that she could not let go of her saddle pad strap while using her inside rein (to limit pulling), this rider was faced with how she was going to get the left turn. What she had forgotten in the heat of the moment, is that she had many other more influential aids that were at her disposal. What she was trying to do was like trying to win the NBA playoffs with all the best players benched. If I were a person that paid attention to such things I could have provided actual names of some "best players". My familiarity with basketball ended when Michael Jordan retired. The first time.

It is easy to get distracted by what the horse's head is doing. It is right there in front of you. Or at least it ought to be. If it's not, you need more help than I can provide here. Being motivated by our tactile sense, it is easy to use our hands to manipulate that which is right in front of us, but there is a better way. Let's say that someone wants you to move somewhere. The person in charge of moving you can either stand on the opposite side from where you need to go, and then push you there. Or, person in charge of moving you could grab hold of your lower jaw and haul you there. Given the two choices, I bet you'd take the gentle shove.

It does take time to teach a horse to move away from leg pressure and we use the inside rein pull to help the horse understand where to go. Eventually, the aids should be refined such that the horse is able to follow the rider's weight and leg aids and the reins used just to point the horse in the right direction. The horse in this lesson was entirely capable of following leg aids, should they be given. What was happening was that the rider was doing damage control rather than preventative riding. Instead of telling the horse where he should be going she stalled out in the middle of the road and the horse carried on without her. By the time she got back in the driver's seat, she was now stuck trying to change the horse's mind after he'd already made the decision to go the other way.

In telling her to "Put her legs on and ride!" I was reminding her that she needed to push that horse through the reins from her legs, not pull him or get caught up in his efforts to bulge out of the circle. Riding positively and riding forward will help you get to your goal much quicker and easier than flailing around after things have gone haywire. Keep the horse's energy moving forward rather than letting it go bursting out the side and trying to reclaim it. That is what is meant by "Put your legs on and ride!".

After struggling against the temptation to pull that left rein, my student got the horse around the circle to the left and then did some to the right and then came back to the left again. When she was riding, the horse went beautifully around his circles. He was perfectly happy going around those circles once he was asked to do them in a way that made sense to him. She looked like she was in charge of the situation ('cause she was) and like she and the horse were one unit instead of looking like a tin soldier Scotch-taped to a Slinky.

Shortly after that lesson, I saddled up my own horse. We circled around a bit but soon I started having trouble because Dundee was losing focus and balance every time we had to go past the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws. I struggled a bit and grumbled a bit and finally said, not even to myself but right out loud, "Put your legs on and ride!". Once I did - BANG! - went Dundee, jumping forward like the White Barrel With Really Big Teeth And Claws had just pinched his butt. The next time past the WBWRBTAC, Dundee tensed up but moved straighter. The third time, he powered through with confidence. Sometimes we need to take our own advice.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dusting Off my Dorkiness

Recently, in an attempt to watch the Super Bowl, I started playing with my Breyer Horses again. The football game was on, but it just couldn't hold my attention and I started re-organizing and cleaning up my model horse collection. They have been on my shelves but have gathered dust, and more than one of them had a body in one place and a leg in another.

As a youngster, I played more vigorously with the horses. They fought battles, raced, jumped, broke down the barn door, and in a few dramatic scenarios, were airlifted by my brother's r/c helicopter. Model horse legs were not meant for such abuse and they snapped with maddening regularity. My Dad tirelessly repaired them, first with glue, then with epoxies, then with drilling and pegs but each repaired model ended up back into the fray so repairs never lasted long. One poor horse even had a prosthetic leg after his original one was lost. His initial prosthetic was a marker cap stuck onto the stump of his leg. It worked perfectly, but looked ridiculous. An artistically inclined neighbor whittled a more realistic leg from a bit of wood which was then stained chestnut-ish color and taped onto the horse. The wooden leg was slightly more realistic looking than the marker cap, but the masking tape spoiled the effect.

Re-visiting that world, with the Superbowl blaring away in the background, I immersed myself into my list of model horses and their names, dusted the most filthy, did surgery (using a hot glue gun) on some and then nicely rearranged them all on their shelves. There were no races, battles or helicopters involved.

Playing with my Breyer horses was the reason I collected them, but naming my Breyer Horses was the real thrill. My first three had the unimaginative names of Prince, Lightning and Sugar. As my collection grew, I came to love the process of finding just the right name for each horse. Each horse's breed, color, age, sex and pose were considered. I tried out names until I came to the one that fit just right. Some Breyer horses are models of real live, storybook, or movie horses, which meant that they already had names. For some of those, I changed the names, but most "real" horses stayed real. Amongst them are; Sham, Abdullah, Touch of Class, Roemer, Shetan, Misty, John Henry and several Black Beauties. A lot of my horses have names that I got from non-equine tv shows, movies, songs or celebrities. Some have names inspired by the place or time (holidays or season) from which each horse was obtained. Others have names derived from people or horses in my life.

Willie is a blue roan Percheron model that I got at the Kentucky Horse Park. He is named after a horse that was at the barn where I first boarded Ivy. A light gray model Arab mare is named after a light gray real Arab mare that I trained, named Kann Gdanse (Can Dance). The model is Kann Gdanse Too. I have a little bay Quarter Horse mare that looks a lot like another horse, See Stormy, I worked with, so I named that model See Stormy Go. Autumn Fawn is a bright Palomino mare named after the real Fawny, a more subtle palomino. Fawny was a neighbor's horse that I could ride whenever I wanted. She was a darling mare and I had many adventures with her. Alabama Drifter (an Appaloosa) is named for a Standardbred that we had in our barn. He was called Bama, and while not exactly "darling" we also had many adventures with him. Impressive Chief is a name I blatantly plagiarized from a horse that a classmate had. I named my model Appaloosa horse after her real Appaloosa horse. Druska is another name I stole outright. A horse at my instructor's barn was named Druska Muska and I loved that horse. When I got a model that sort of looked like the real Druska, I named mine the same. Without the Muska, though. I thought the Muska part sounded funny so I left it off. My roommate in college had a National Show Horse mare named Driftwood Tishra. The mare was called Tish most of the time, but her pet name was Driftwooooooooood. I named a pair of model Arabs after her, only with less o's. They were Driftwood Seraphina and Driftwood Gabriella. There are two foxes in my collection. One is a bay Saddlebred mare called Springfield Fox (Foxy) named after a little bay mare that was a school horse at my college. The other is an Apppaloosa called X-Tra Super Fox who was named after a college friend's little Appaloosa, Sleepy Fox (who should have been called Super Fox). Last, but not least, although certainly littlest, is a model of a Hackney Pony that I named Whispering Pines' Tipperary, or Tippy. Tippy was one of the ponies that I worked with at my first Summer job. Tippy was sweet and adorable and had a great pony name. I had to re-use it.

People I know, and have known, may be honored to find out that I have a model horse in my collection named after them. Or maybe they will not be honored but instead will be embarrassed that they are friends with such a dork. In an effort to protect the identities of those involved, I will not name them personally, but will print the horses' names. If the people involved are flattered, they may feel free to stand up and wave, saying "Hey, that's me!" More likely, they will slink away quietly hoping that I know some other person by that name.

Me: Hey guess what, good friend! I named this pretty plastic horse after YOU!

GF: You did what?

Me: Yeah, cause I think you're so great and really special and everything so I did this cool thing.

GF: Cool?

Me: Isn't that great?!

GF: (crickets chirping)

Here is the list. Be flattered, or not.

Jazzman Jackson
Justa Summer Squash
Oh Mandy
Andy's Birthday Girl
JJ Singasong
Kim's Poco Rey

Some of those names aren't much of a stretch. It's fairly obvious that I know people named Wesley, Bonnie and Belinda. The rest are like code names. Some of you reading this may recognize your name. Others, like the 9 year old son of a friend's brother-in-law, will not be reading this and thus will not know of their fame. Incidentally, I have never met said 9 year old. He was just born around the same time as my son and I thought his name was cool. A medium size boy that I have never actually met, is cooler than me. Just because of his name.

I could write more pages about the names I've chosen for my Breyer Horses but I will spare you. Next post, I swear, will be about training horses.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Little Lamzydivy

My Dad's plan completely backfired. At the time, Mom had gotten a horse after more than a dozen years of non-horseownership. This one was a big Appaloosa gelding she named Chief. She tried to share him, but he was really her horse. Not too much later after getting Chief, she and Dad agreed that I could get a horse on trial. The local horse dealer, which provided most of the area Summer camps with their horses, needed places to house those camp horses over the Winter. The deal was, people could take a camp horse on lease from September to June. In June, the horse would return to the dealer and go back to camp. This was an ingenuous plan on the part of the horse dealer. Not only were they off the hook for caring for hundreds of horses over the Winter, but a lot of the time, the leasing family ended up buying the horse before the Spring after becoming attached to it. Suckers.

My Dad agreed to let me get a camp horse for the Winter, being very sure that having to take care of a horse when the weather was cold and snowy and windy and not very good for riding, as well as pay for all of its expenses, would be a quick cure to my Cerebral Equuscantagium. Hahaha! Dads can be so funny!

Off we went, my Mom and I, to look at horses (they were all still at the camps at this point) and I found just the horse I wanted. She was almost an exact replica of a neighbor's horse that I had been riding except that instead of palomino, this one was a liver chestnut. The camp horse was named Bailey and I already loved her. One other horse caught my eye, probably because she was bright white in a ring full of brownish horses.

This white horse was being ridden by a teeny-tiny girl wearing a not teeny-tiny enough helmet. As the horse cantered around the ring, TTG would, every few strides, drop her reins, readjust her helmet, pick up the reins and carry on. The white horse never broke stride or left the rail. Now, I can appreciate just how special it was that the white horse didn't take advantage of TTG's distraction. I just thought the TTG was funny. I did not want the white horse because Mom had told me about how hard it is to keep them clean. The nice, dark brown horse suited me fine.

On the day of retrieval of Bailey, we went to the camp to meet the horse trailer that was transporting her to the barn where we were boarding Chief. When we entered the barn, there on the cross ties, stood Bailey. But there was a bucket under her neck (gross part coming up - I will warn you when it gets here). Before we could get closer, the camp staff advanced on us and hastily explained that Bailey couldn't go with us because she had Strangles. The bucket under her neck (Here it comes!) was to collect the pus that was draining out of her abscessed lymph nodes.

"Take Ivy!", the teenaged camp staff chorused. "She's great, you'll love her!" Ivy was, as you probably have guessed, the white horse. I did not want her. But I did not want to complain in front of these older, horsier girls and so, grudgingly agreed to take Ivy.

Any one of the experienced horsepersons reading this will be horrified by the thought that I took any horse from a barn where there was a horse acutely afflicted with Strangles. It should never be done. Strangles is highly contagious. The fact that Ivy never came down with it and didn't pass it on to any of the other horses at our barn is just another eery indication that our pairing was meant to happen. Also, one should never take on a horse without trying it out first. Also, never dismiss a horse based solely on color. Also, even though TTG survived, always wear a helmet that fits when you go riding. That is all.

So Ivy came home with me. The first time I rode her was down the side of the road behind my Mom on Chief. Okay, one more... Also, I do not recommend that someone try a horse out by riding it down the side of the road. Now I'm done. Within the first few steps that little white horse took, I was smitten. I knew she was the one. I felt like I had been riding her my whole life.

Not only did Dad's plan of making me sick of taking care of a horse by letting me have one for the Winter fail, as the kids say, epically, it made my obsession worse. MY plan was, although I couldn't buy her before the Spring, to work all Summer and save every penny I could earn and buy Ivy at the end of the season when she was done with camp. At 14 years old, my job opportunities did not abound, but I babysat quite a lot and had no other temptations. Other than Breyer horses, but I could resist buying them knowing that Ivy was the alternative.

My determined little 14 year old self was pleasantly surprised however, when one afternoon, my parents called me downstairs and told me that I did not have to send Ivy back. As an early birthday gift, they were going to buy Ivy for me. BUT, they admonished as good parents, I would still have to work for all of her expenses and take care of her myself. If they had told me that in order to keep Ivy, I had to shave my head and stand on a streetcorner in a chicken suit playing "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window" on the kazoo, I would have been at the junction of Cottage and Main Streets, bald and feathered, faster than you can say Cerebral Equuscantagium.

Ivy was my horse until the end of her life. I had her for 15 years. To tell the story of all of those 15 years would fill dozens and dozens of pages, even if I used a really small font. Even though people told me I needed a taller horse (Ivy was 14.2, with her shoes on), I never once considered trading her in. She was perfect. The world never looked sweeter than when it was viewed through her little white ears. I've looked through hundreds of other sets of ears now, but I can still remember the sound of her hooves on a dirt road, the feel of her neck under her mane, the swing of her back when she trotted and the way that everything seemed right when I was riding her.

I will never say that I'm glad Bailey contracted Strangles, but I will say that I am forever grateful to those teenage girls that said, "Take Ivy! She's great, you'll love her!"

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weather Or Not

Today was cold; bitter, windy cold, the kind of cold that freezes your eyelashes together. I did not go riding. I barely left the house. Even if I had wanted to go riding, the footing is terrible and my horse would have been quite unhappy. We've gone from mud to frozen, rutted mud to a shallow layer of frozen snow and ice on top of frozen, rutted mud.

My new horse and previous horse are vastly different yet have both been cursed with tender feet. I don't remember my first horse ever having any hoof issues. Ivy had hooves of titanium, I guess. Her feet did chip and crack a little but she never minced around the way that my current horse does. I rode Ivy on all kinds of footing, being completely oblivious to whether it would have any effect on her hooves. The exception was pavement. As much as possible, I kept her off pavement and if I had to ride on it, then only at a walk. Most of my riding was alongside the road with some trails and fields. We rode on the gravel, over the rocks, through water and galloped on dirt roads and through belly high grass. Very little of our riding was in a sand arena. My new horse and previous horse, need shoes to go riding IN the sand arena. Without them, they tiptoe around like they are trying to sneak up on someone.

Not only are my horses sissies, but I feel myself morphing into one as well. As a teenager, I went riding in all weather. For Winter rides, I often rode bareback to take advantage of my horse's body heat. Then it was layer upon layer of clothing until I resembled poor Randy from A Christmas Story ("I can't put my arms down!"). The assemblage went something like this: tights, jeans, sweatpants, socks, leg-warmers and Winter boots for the lower half and up above, t-shirt, turtleneck, sweater, vest, Winter jacket, scarf, gloves, mittens, hat and helmet. There were no fancy thermo-synthetic-polar-fleece anythings. There were no made-for Winter-riding boots, breeches or gloves like these kids have nowadays. The capper was when I went off to college and had regular riding lessons for which a uniform was required. That meant tall boots, breeches, a school sweater or jacket, helmet and gloves. In a feeble attempt to stave off the New England cold, we would buy the biggest wool socks would could find, put them on over our leather boots and then put rubber overshoes on over them. It didn't work.

I still ride in the Winter, often bareback, and with new-fangled weather appropriate riding gear, but it has to be at least 20 for me to get on a horse. Even then, I'll whine about it. It's funny though, how relative temperature can be. No matter what, 3 degrees Fahrenheit is dang cold. But when it's been 3 for a few days and then goes all the way up to 20, it can feel like Spring time. If it's been 75 degrees and dips to 4o our teeth start chattering and we fuss and carry on like the Ice Age just returned. But let the thermometer soar to 40, after temps in the teens, and we will dance around in our short sleeves like loons.

There are times when I have gone riding, under no duress or obligation, in the pouring rain, blistering heat, driving snow, pitch dark, wind, fog, and all manner of Mother Nature's manifestations. I'm glad I did. That doesn't mean I'm going to necessarily do it again, but I am glad for the experiences. Now I'm more cautious and considerate of my horse's comfort and well-being to not going riding in certain types of weather, or at least that makes a good excuse for being sissy.

If you are the type of rider that competes, there are going to be competitions held in less than ideal weather, so training in less than ideal weather only makes sense. The show must go on, and all that. If there is a danger to me or my horse, then I certainly will not risk my horse's or my own well-being to go riding, competition or not. Lightning is one of those circumstances. Dangerous footing would be another. Being older and wiser, I do feel as though extreme heat and cold classify. Some times, weather may not be conducive to a full out training session, but a modified one would be suitable. A walking ride in high temperatures or a short one in frigid temps. is certainly sensible.

No matter how much whining I may do about weather and often having to ride in disagreeable conditions, I am always glad, at the end of a ride, that I did it. The reward outweighs any discomfort, and the discomfort is usually forgotten as my horse and I start working together. However, I'm still going to be on the couch watching a movie when the temperature dips into the single digits, despite thermo-synthetic-polar-fleece anythings.