Thursday, October 30, 2008

First time horse owner four years later

It's been four years since I brought my two boys home. Two black/white Spotted Saddle Horses. The date was October 24, 2004. Like any proud new mom, I have all the dates written down. I've documented everything from deworming to hoof trimming, vaccinations, change in feed, hay types, where we bought hay, you name it, I've got it written down in their little blue book. This is something I am prone to doing anyway so it wasn't anything new for me to do. Although, I have to admit, I keep better track of the horses than I have our dogs and cats, possibly even my sons when they were little.

The road to getting my guys home is not the road you read about, maybe that should be phrased as map. Not the way it's suppose to be done. I did practically everything WRONG, as far as purchasing my two geldings. I saw them once. I rode only one, the other one was a green 2 year old. I didn't get a vet check. I bought the first horses I went to see. I found them on the internet, maybe not wrong, but from what I've now learned, you need to buy horses like you buy cars. Check out more than one. Oh wait, that's how we've always bought our cars too! We've never looked at more than one car before buying because we always knew what we wanted before we started looking. We've had some darn good cars and trucks too!

I had decided a long time ago that if I ever had horses of my own, they would have to be on my own property, otherwise, I would not have felt it was worth it. I was moving these two guys from lush pastures of many acres to a small, valley farm with about 10 acres of pasture that has trouble keeping grass sustained. Definitely wouldn't be lush grass for them all year around.

We've owned 62 acres for 18 years. Plenty of room for horses, at least on the flat areas. We're blessed and cursed with mini-Smoky Mountain type hills and forests. Blessed, because the area is gorgeous in many obvious ways. Cursed, because of the rock and not so good soil, at least back here in the valley.

The years before my horses were filled with me working shift work, growing sons, soccer games, school functions, and things of that nature. There really wasn't time for horses. Every spring I could count on that longing though, I always referred to it as my Spring Horse Fever. I'd pull out horse books, read about horses for a few weeks, get all horse mushy, and long for the time I could have my own. But, I knew, the time wasn't right so I'd just close up my thoughts and continue on with the part of my life at that moment. I knew, one day, horses would happen for me.

So here we are, four years later. My geldings are now 6 and 10. They are thriving. They love attention. We've managed and we didn't even follow all the rules. I have very few real problems with them most come in the form of riding or not riding as the case is currently, which is my issue, not theirs. I've adjusted my thinking on alot of things, like most new moms I've learned to relax and not take things quite so seriously, except for that darn record keeping. These guys are something that have fulfilled me, as I knew they would. My Spring Horse Fever is gone.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

End of October

Cool days and cool nights. Multi-colored leaves on the trees turn our mini-Smoky's into a patchwork of yellows, oranges, bright reds, dark reds, browns, and greens. For these reasons October is my favorite month. I like September because it's almost there. The changing season can be felt. But if I had to pick, I would have to choose October. We've had a good October, not a rainy one. Too bad I didn't take advantage of it like I should have. I did, however, get a good supply of over 100 square bales of the best timothy hay we've ever had and at a good price. For that, I am more than pleased!

I don't like Halloween. I really wish it would just go away, but, of course, I know that won't happen. I feel "celebrating" Halloween is a hideous custom and I have never found it fun, at least in my adult life. I'm sure I saw it as fun when I was a kid and getting a bagful of free candy, but later, I have come to detest it.

Some of these feelings may have come from events that happened in my life, which always seem to happen this time of year. When I was little, about 4, my grandpa died on Halloween. I was in the hospital with pneumonia. My memory of that time is of being in an oxygen tent and throwing up, alot. I didn't know anything about my grandpa. My parents had their hands full Halloween that year.

I was suppose to have been a turtle for Trick-or-Treat and a parade. My mom had gone all out designing a turtle costume for me out of a cardboard box. I remember helping her paint it green. The only time I can remember she really got into helping with a costume for Halloween. But, I can't blame her for wanting to avoid Halloween in later years since it was her father, and then 15 days later, her mother, who both passed away that year.

In 1997 #1 son had to have surgery on Halloweeen. He'd had an accident playing soccer back in July of that year. He'd been a promising goal keeper. Broken femur and compressed peroneal nerve behind the knee, which resulted in paralysis of his left leg. The surgery was a God send because the local doctor had basically told us, deal with it! He won't be playing soccer again let alone be able to run. He will have to have a brace and a severe limp. Well, I knew there was someone who could help us, somewhere, I just felt it in my heart, so I started calling doctors in Columbus, Ohio. To make this a shorter story than it is, I did locate a children's neurosurgeon who felt there was hope.

So, on Halloween, in 1997, when #1 son was 14, he had to have a 3 hour surgery to remove scar tissue from the main nerve that travels down the leg. Removal of the scar tissue would enable the other nerves to grow back and communicate once again. He has a resulting scar that runs from the middle of the back of his his thigh, down to mid-calf. As the neurosurgeon explained, hundreds of stitches both inside and out. Whenever one of #1 son's friends has had a minor complaint, he has been known at times to show them his "war" wound, though he has never dwelled on it for very long. He has taught me about perseverance, that's for sure!

Fortunately, the '97 Halloween was one we could celebrate. His accident is one of those events in a lifetime when you remember things as life before and life after. #1 son was able to regain use of his leg after 6 more months of rehab, he'd had 3 months before the nerve problem was determined.

But, Halloween will often bring me memories of the emotional time #1 son spent before the surgery and his fight back toward use of his leg afterward. Memories of the local doctor telling him the verdict, the pain on his young face at hearing it. I know, I try to think of the positives from this event because at 25, #1 son has accomplished a great deal for himself. He actually ran track his senior year of high school! Though his motivation was a cute little girl on the track team, who is now his wife, the first time I saw him run the mile, I cried. I still tear up about it. Instead of taking a senior trip after his high school graduation in 2001, #1 son hiked 125 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine. He tells me 1997 and his ordeal made him stronger. I believe it. He won the West Virginia Grappling Tournament last year and is involved in MMA. He's now at Ohio Universtiy studying for a Master's Degree in Environmental Studies. I guess we always tend to remember the hurt we feel through our lives. It's just human nature.

My dad has had health problems over the past 5 years and most of them have occured in the month of October, usually around Halloween. Makes me wonder sometimes why Halloween is such a marker for health problems in my life.

A week ago, #2 son had to have surgery to repair a deviated septum. He'd been having problems while away at college but of course, didn't have the time to get anything looked at. Finally, his hearing was involved. So, when he came home this summer, I suggested he get it looked at. He's doing fine. I had to have a FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration aka biopsy) Friday for some nodules on my thyroid gland. Not a pleasant procedure no matter what they try to tell you! My doctor told me she won't have the results for about 10 days, which puts it after Halloween. My adored cat Jinxy (one of the 5 kittens #1 son rescued) died around this time last year, she was only five.

On the good side of Halloween for me, I remind myself, my two beautiful Spotted Saddle Horses, my lifelong dreams, came to me just before Halloween 4 years ago. So, if I look deep enough, with all the hard stuff that has happened around this time of October, I've also had some great stuff going on too. There is a balance. Oh, and I can't forget that Hubby and I had our first "date" in October. We went to the Circleville Pumpkin Show, way back in October 1980. He tells me the little peck on the cheek I gave him at the end of the evening was his moment of revelation that maybe I was "the one". If nothing else, he told me once, "I knew you kinda liked me."

I am always in the process of reminding myself, in this often negative world, to look for the the bright moments, the candle in the window. Where there's dark, light can be found if you look for it. I still don't like Halloween, but I can get through it by concentrating on the candle flame flickering through the dark.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Book-The Horses of Proud Spirit

I read this book a couple years ago. It is a poignant read. A true story. Melanie Sue Bowles writes of her life rescuing abused, abandoned and neglected horses. This is not a light read but it is inspirational. There is sadness as I'm sure anyone who deals with rescue horses can relate to. But there is also triumph for many of the horses Melanie has rescued. Though I cried through many parts of this book, and honestly, I don't do that with books very often, at the end, I closed the book feeling that someone was trying to some good in the world.

Melanie takes the reader into the world she lives every day. She writes about various horse rescues, the indivual horses themselves and what it took to rehabilitate them. She also tells of her trials to keep the Proud Spirit Sanctuary running. Melanie's approach to her story is heartfelt but not sappy. She is realistic about what she is up against but she stays in it for the horses she has saved, and the ones she will be able to save in the future.

Melanie Sue Bowles has written a sequel: Hoof Prints: More Stories from Proud Spirit (March 2008) and I am looking forward to reading it. I also learned that there is a PBS documentary airing nationwide about the first book, though I haven't run across it on my local PBS stations yet.

If you'd like a look into the hard work and dedication it takes to run horse rescues, I recommend reading The Horses of Proud Spirit. If you want to experience the journey these devoted people take in their efforts to save horses this is a good place to start.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

FHOTD is much more than its first impression

When I first started looking around for horse related blogs, I noticed that one blog stood out, often referred to, so I figured I should check it out. The blog is Fugly Horse of the day, aka FHOTD.

At first I was annoyed, a little angry. I don't like negativity, there's plenty of it to go around these days. The first picture I saw on this page was of a severely starving horse. Some of the wording in the blog was harsh. I clicked out figuring it wasn't my kind of blog.

As time went on, more and more of the blogs I like to read were still referring back to FHOTD. Sometimes good, sometimes outraged. Once again, I decided to check back with FHOTD. This time, I read, and I understood the message. I wasn't angered at the blogger anymore. I am a convert, probably like many others. FHOTD brings alot of common sense to nonsensical breeding and horse treatment. I cannot believe the conditions people allow their horses to exist in. I am one of those people who really enjoys life in a perfect little bubble, too bad, life isn't like that.

I hope, through FOHTD blogs, there are people who will change their ways about senseless breeding and treatment of horses. There will always be people who are too, I really hate to use the word dumb, but that's as simple as it gets, to care about the horses in their care. It sickens me to read about the creatures FHOTD posts about, as I'm sure it does anyone who loves horses. I also realize, that out there in the real world, out of my safe little bubble, there are terrible things that happen to horses every day.

So, to FHOTD, sorry for misjudging your intentions. I GET IT NOW!!! Keep up the good work for a good cause! Sometimes folks need a kick in the pants and that's what FHOTD does.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Horses & Mud

Not having lived my life around horses until recently, there have been quite a few things I've learned in the past 4 years about them and their behaviors. The one little item I never realized about horses is that they LOVE to roll in the mud. Honestly, I never knew this! Makes me laugh now. It's really a very simple concept. New rain produces muddy field. Target for horses to go for it!

This morning when I went out to feed, my guys were a little wet when they came in to eat their morning grain. I sort of expected them to already be muddy and was a little surprised they hadn't been at it yet. We've been dry around here for the past month. It's been getting dusty dry. Grass is near nothing. We definitely needed the rain but I was enjoying not having to deal with mud yet.

Fed them their grain, gave them their hay for the morning and then I left to go get some groceries. I was gone for a couple of hours. When I got back, my two boys were waiting at the gate, and yes, covered from ears to hooves in mud! They actually seemed proud of themselves and seemed to be showing me what they'd been into while I was gone.

My illusion of most horses had come from seeing them in shows I'd attended as a spectator or some other event where the horses were always cleaned up and pristine. The thought never once crossed my mind that horses would enjoy mud. Shows how much I didn't know!

We had one little black pony mare, Gloria, at the ranch where I worked. She would always, and I mean ALWAYS, run into the field after we'd bathed her, and roll in the mud or dirt. None of the other horses did it right in front of us, just Gloria. Yeah, we finally figured out that when we bathed her, she needed to go back into the stall for a while and not out to the field right away. It's just so comical when I think about it now.

Then there was big Kleo. She was a 17 h sorrel QH, with a nasty personality but that's for another time, who would literally come in from a rainy night covered in mud. My guys this morning reminded me of Kleo, but even they hadn't gotten anywhere close to being as mud caked as what I remember Kleo. Kleo would have mud caked and baked into(so it seemed) her coat. She had to have rolled with all her weight more than a few times. I hated cleaning Kleo up after one of these episodes, which seemed to be constantly during the rainy fall and spring seasons and just before weekend programs, of course.

Then there was Dusty, who did not like to get muddy. Imagine that! She was always the cleanest horse in the barn. Evidently she didn't care to roll in the mud. We were never quite sure what breeds Dusty was crossed with, but she was a big bodied, almost draft-like mare with the fullest main and tail I'd ever seen. Dusty seemed to pride herself in her cleanliness. She was our little princess as well as our drama queen. But, of all the horses, I don't ever recall seeing her having her way with the mud in the fields or coming into the barn with much more than a small splatter of mud on her coat.

I guess I'm just lucky to have a couple of mud dogs for horses. They do like to roll and get covered in the stuff. Maybe they have a plan in their heads. Maybe they just get covered in mud because they know I'll eventually come out and clean them up when it quits raining. Which works right into their plan of running out and rolling in the mud, again, when I walk back into the house!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ginger-Great little green trail horse.

I met Ginger when I worked at a riding stable, which was known as a ranch, but that's just because "ranch" was in the name of the place. In Southern Ohio, I don't think we have ranches, just farms.

My first impressions of Ginger were: I didn't want anything to do with her. She was young, 4 or 5 at the time. She seemed flighty. She seemed spooky. She seemed to fit her namesake, kind of flaky. She was named after Ginger from Gilligan's Island. Her buddy horse was a big black Walker gelding named Gilligan, who was in love with the fair haired Ginger. She was sorrel with strawberry blonde mane and tail. Don't hate me for picking on sorrels, but there are just so darn many of them. Remember, that was my thinking when I first met her.

The first year I worked at the ranch, I avoided Ginger as much as possible. During the programming season we were busy through the weekends with riding programs and barn maintainance through the week. By December the programs ended and we had the winter months of January and February to fill. The manager divided the 14 horses up among the four of us for down time training. There were three staff members and the manager.

Ginger was assigned to one of the more experienced staff. I was assigned three of the more experienced, older horses. So, for the most part, my students taught me that season. When I saw Ginger being worked through the training/off season, I stopped to watch. Ginger wasn't behaving very well during her training. All the more evidence I needed to determine I really didn't want anything to do with her.

I went about my own methods for my three students. Granted, they knew the ropes better than I did at times but I was willing to learn some things from them. Later, when spring came around and it was time for riding programs to start again, I was happy my students had been checked off all their "tasks completed". Ginger, however, was missing a few.

The staff member who was responsible for Ginger's training, told me one day, in no uncertain terms, that she didn't like Ginger. She told me Ginger wouldn't learn anything and she was just plain crazy. Now, I started thinking about this. I tend to gravitate toward underdogs. And being the strange thinking person I can be, I started feeling sorry for Ginger. I thought, Ginger can't be all that bad or she wouldn't be here as a school horse. Well, that was a misnomer because she had come to the ranch as part of the property deal. When the organization bought the place they acquired half the school horses that the previous owner had at his other farm. I hadn't known that originally. Ginger had been in the bargain and had never been officially trained before she landed in a schooling program. So, I'm thinking, Ginger needs consistency and some ground work for starters.

Well, there wasn't much I'd be able to do that season. Ginger did fine with our riders as long as they didn't try to trot her. So we kept Ginger in the beginning classes which did not allow for trotting or loping. When a rider tried to trot Ginger, she would raise up her head, do all kinds of head tossing and feet came off the ground loose reins and all. As long as we kept her at a walk, and in the horse care part of the programs, she was fine.

The next year we were able to choose the horses we wanted to work with in the next off season training session. After deciding to work around Ginger to get to know her a little better, I chose her. I also had charge of a little Appaloosa named Speckles. We were down a staff member that year, so we decided to work with those horses who seemed to need the most training, and the other seasoned horses the three of us would work and ride as the time allowed.

Ginger had developed a few more bad habits over the year. Or rather, she was never taught what was expected of her. One, she didn't want to raise her feet to be cleaned or act mannerly for the farrier. Two, she had a problem standing quietly under saddle and while tied. I had decided the previous year that part of Ginger's problem had been in her ground handling since the staff member told me she didn't like Ginger. I believe they had been working against each other. I also knew I'd need to work on that trot issue. The manager wanted Ginger to be able to be used in the more advanced riding programs which meant trotting and loping. So began a relationship that turned into me learning not to judge a horse by it's coat color for one thing, and another, what patience and consistency can get you when it comes to working with horses.

Ginger and I started out with her mild problems. Standing quietly and lifting feet for cleaning as well as for the farrier. I don't know what it was with Ginger, but for some reason, she responded to me. I suppose it was my attitude toward her. I wasn't judgmental. The other staff member who'd had problems with Ginger couldn't even go into the stall to put the halter on her without a fuss from Ginger. That was not a problem for me.

Over a period of the two months the other staff member and the manager both told me they saw a big improvement in Ginger's reactions. By the time March rolled around, Ginger was standing quietly for the farrier. I had also been able to get her through her trot issue. We had checked her out making sure it had nothing to do with equipment or her mouth. After a few times of resistence, but I kept persisting, Ginger finally would transition easily from a walk into a trot without resisting the rider, me, or anyone else. I was proud of myself! And of her.

We took her out on trail rides. Myself and one other staff. Ginger was a pro at picking through the rocks, climbing and descending the often steep hillsides, walking over trees. You would have thought she'd done it all her life. I did have to slow her down when it came to ravines and dry creek beds, she wanted to jump them. I made her walk. She had been allowed to jump over those earthy obstacles in the past, I had been told. After my experiences with her, if I had a choice, I always chose Ginger as my trail mount.

Ginger also was not a typical mare, in my opinion. She didn't seem to have moody days. I labeled her as the tomboy of the ranch mares and we had majority mares over geldings. Some days we had hormonal hell with all those mares! My experience with Ginger taught me that not all mares are moody and hormonal. She gave me a different perspective in many areas. Ginger will always be at the top of my list of memorable horses from my time working at the little ranch. She changed my opinion about many ideas in horse training because I worked through her problems with her and she responded.

I'm not sure how Ginger is doing these days. I've lost touch with anyone that worked at the ranch. When I left the job, I told my boss I would miss the horses more than anything. I haven't been back. I sure hope Ginger is still the good girl I tried to coach her to become. I know I'll always appreciate what she did for me!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Five Kittens in a Box

As long as I can remember, the animals I've had in my life have chosen me. With the exception of my two horses, one dog we got at the shelter and one pup we got from a neighbor, the dogs and cats have shown up, in one way or another, in need of a home.

Six years ago #1 son and his girlfriend (now his wife) were walking out of church after the morning service. There on the front steps of the church they found a cardboard box with five tiny kittens inside. Being the caring soul he is, my son decided to bring the box of kittens home.

Upon being presented with his box of kittens, my response was "why?", as in why he brought them home. I love animals but I also tend to have this instant "whoa" impulse when something is thrust upon me. He told me he couldn't leave them on the steps and no one else wanted to take them home.

The kittens were very tiny. Didn't even have their little eyes open. I told him I'd never raised kittens that small before. He told me he'd take care of them. Well, he was nineteen at the time, attending the local university, not some little boy who just says he'll take care of them so I eased up on my hesitation.

We fixed a large box for the kittens in the upstairs of our garage. It was at the end of summer, the weather was still warm. I fixed soft towels for the kittens to snuggle into. At the time I didn't know there was a kitten formula available through the vet office, so I resorted to buying human baby formula to feed them. As a family, the four of us, Hubby, both sons and me, took turns feeding the tiny kittens. Each kitten fit in the palm of a hand, they were so little.

We used eyedroppers at first. Feeding them every 2-4 hours.We would wipe their little bottoms. We had learned from an internet article mom cats lick the bottoms of their babies to stimulate elimination. It worked like a charm! We also gently stroked and petted the babies after feeding hoping we were able to simulate the affection they might have gotten from their mom.

At one point, after a few days, #1 son asked if I'd taken any pictures of the kittens. I was afraid to take pictures because in all honesty, I wasn't so sure about the final outcome for the little guys and girls. Later, I simply forgot, but now, wish I had taken a moment to snap some photos of them.
Over a period of a couple of weeks the little things thrived. They started crawling around in the box, opening their eyes, all except one tiny little guy, who appeared to be the runt of the litter. He didn't open his eyes like the others. We had to clean his eyes constantly. He had goopy yellow stuff coming out of the tiny slits. We read what was the best way to treat it and for the most part, we used warm water and a saline solution. Don't know if this was right, but it eventually worked. I was sure this little guy would be one of our casualities over the long haul. He remained smaller than the other kittens, but he sure put up a good fight to keep up with everyone!

As the days moved along we played with the kittens and tried to get them used to handling. They were all sweethearts. #1 son wanted to name them, but I resisted. I told him we would need to find homes for them. He requested to keep some. I relented and said we'd keep two of them.
I let him pick out the two he wanted to keep with us. He chose the little runt and the sister who closely resembled him, but was bigger. At that point, I told #1 son he could name his kittens. He decided on Buddy for the little guy, and Jinxy for the sister. Both were gray and white, similar markings, often hard to tell them apart. Jinxy had two small white spots on the tips of her ears and her coat was like the fur of a rabbit. Buddy, was just funny looking at the time. He was actually kind of, well, ugly. His head hadn't grown with his body. He was scrawny though we had moved them to kitten chow and a little bit of can food. I was still uncertain about his future.

We found homes for three of the kittens. Two of them went to a farm and one went to a lady I was working with at the time. I felt fortunate to have found homes for them. That left us with Buddy and Jinxy. Amazingly, over the next few months, Buddy blossomed. He still remained smaller than his sister, but he started filling out. Apparently, a late bloomer.

#1 son spent alot of time with Buddy. He worked out a whistle to call the little guy. To this day, Buddy will respond to a certain whistle in a Pavlov way. His ears perk up, his tail goes up and he walks to #1 son. We've all tried to mimic this whistle but never comes out the same as the way #1 son does it. Buddy will respond to us, but he knows we're not his "buddy".

Jinxy always exhibited delicate girl ways. She sort of became my favorite. She loved to sit on shoulders. Pick her up and she would go right to the shoulder. She was so soft and so sweet! Yes, I had a soft spot for Jinxy. Unfortuately, she died last year from an unknown illness. The vet was never able to determine what took her.

We still have Buddy though. He has grown to a very large cat who I believe, is convinced he's a dog. He acts more like a dog sometimes. He follows us around outside. He's nosey! He has to see what's going on and if it meets his approval. He lays among the dogs as if he's one of them. He and Xena, our German Shepherd who died recently, were close. They would curl up together, though Xena would often look at us as if to say "What? I don't know why he wants to lay here with me." But, she accepted his company.

I don't know what became of the other kittens I found homes for but I can only hope they had good lives. For all I know, Buddy may be the only one still living, if so, he's the lucky one. The runt of the litter and he ends up being the one who portrays "survival of the fittest." I wish I'd had a picture of him when he was a tiny mess!
Twenty little pawprints, forever across my heart!