Thursday, May 28, 2009

To Give Advice or Not

I don't beat around the bush, my responses are straight forward and blunt, especially if the welfare of horses, or humans, especially children, are at risk.

Recently one of Hubby's co-workers asked for some advice on buying a horse. He and his wife had decided to buy their eleven year old daughter a horse. Presently, they have nowhere to put the horse, but are working toward building a run-in shed and putting up fencing. Hubby had filled me in beforehand. I was already cringing during the intro chat but........Hubby referred the fella to me. Hubby is still relatively new to the whole horse thing, he usually defers horse questions to me. Hubby's specialty is premise maintenance and construction. He's great at that.

"Bob", not his real name, called me, well, Hubby called, but anyway......Bob asked my advice on buying horses. His first question concerned the age of a horse, as in what's a good age. He said they were looking at a 2 year old. I cringed. I told him for an inexperienced, young rider I would suggest anything between 7-15 years that has been ridden alot. He told me his daughter has been riding the neighbor's horse and knows all about horses. OKEY DOKEY. Has "Janie" taken any lessons in the past? Naturally, the answer was no, but she has learned about some horse care through a group she's in and from the neighbor girl. I am trying to keep my voice calm at this point, figuring I'm talking to a completely inexperienced person when it comes to horses. The family lives out in the country and own property. I thought maybe they'd been around horses in their lifetime. Evidently, only goats.

Though I've not had my fair share of riding lessons in my adult life, a child's parents I will always advise, GET LESSONS. Learn how to ride correctly. Learn about horse care before jumping into horse ownership. At the facility I worked at for a few years, I helped teach kids beginner riding lessons and horse care, I know the importance of safety. To this day I am amazed that parents will simply buy their kid a horse without themselves even knowing much about horses.

My next question concerned gender of the horse. I asked if they were looking at a gelding or mare, and hopefully not a stud colt. Bob hesitated and told me a gelding, he thought. hmmm. I wasn't convinced he was sure that's what the horse was. I told him the difference between a gelding and a stud colt, in case he wasn't sure and just didn't want to admit it to me. I also told him, in no way shape or form, in my opinion, should an eleven year old be trying to deal with a stud colt unless they were going to geld him soon. I could tell from the silence I might have hit on something there.

I also mentioned that if he could find a good trainer for a two year old horse, he would probably be better off to send it there before taking it home. Bob said he felt his daughter would be able to handle it. I feel I'm getting no where now.

Bob asked about saddles which I thought should be the least of his concerns at that point in time, but gave him my insights since he asked about the synthetic vs leather. I thought for a young girl a nice light synthetic would be ideal. We used them for our classes and for the 3 years I was at the facility, they held up well with little maintenance. Not like the leather anyway.

My personal inquiry to him was about a helmet for his daughter. Bob told me she didn't have one. I stressed the importance of getting her a good fitting helmet. He said he'd have to see how SHE felt about that. I was basically deflated at that comment.

OK, so zoom ahead to present time., probably about 2 months from the original phone call. Hubby informed me Bob had purchased a 2 year old mare, which I informed him at two, we're talking filly, but that's probably a mute point. Janie had been riding the filly at it's place of residence since Bob doesn't have their place set up yet. Bob said the horse's main problem was that is wanted to stop and eat grass. I'm getting this picture in my head of this little eleven year old girl, no helmet, pulling on the horse to stop eating grass......................these kinds of stories do make you cringe. It's hard to say how that little filly will act once it leaves it's farm. The man who owns the filly told Bob that she does OK with a group of horses. We all know as horse people, you ofte need to read between the lines when it comes to horse selling. Can't you see all the warning signs here? Hubby told me yesterday Janie was trying to ride the filly but the mare was being moody. I don't know the specifics of what happened, I can only guess. UGH! I'm sure none of them know what to do in that situation, or any of the situations that will probably come up.

I feel bad for the eleven year old girl who has dreams of that perfect horse until it does something not very cute, since it will probably have very little guidance and will act, well, like a horse. I feel bad for the horse. I hope the end result is better than my imagination of events.

I know myself, I have learned SOOO much about horses in the past five years. I was immersed in them through working at a riding facility. I learned things I didn't know, especially about behavior, having witnessed them first hand. I understand why people have problems when they simply bring a horse home or get the daughter a horse for her birthday.

Horses are not like dogs! They are big! They often won't stay when you tell them too, unless properly trained of course. They aren't always ready and willing to take on the day. My biggest concern for Janie and her family is that they get this filly home but she doesn't act "right". They don't know how to deal with her. Someone gets hurt or the horse gets forgotten because things weren't as easy as they thought they would be. Why oh why don't people at least find out what they're really getting into? I cannot imagine an eleven year old girl trying to manage a two year old horse of any kind, unless she's had proper training herself. To me, this situation appears to be a train wreck, one way or another, in the making. I hope I'm dead wrong but right now, things don't look to be on the brighter side.

I've sent my horse magazines to Janie and family. There have been some really good articles lately in Horse and Rider and Trail Rider. Maybe they will take the horse on as a family project. Hopefully they'll get the filly a buddy, if not another horse, then one of their goats. I also sneaked a DVD in the magazines about riding safely.

We all make choices, but as for myself I try to be informed. OK, I bought a 2 year old with very little training, but I was forty four years old and had spent a summer immersed in horses, as well as 3 years after that. I told Hubby to let Bob know I would be glad to help Janie with teaching ground manners to her new horse. I'm not one to teach much more than beginner riding, but I feel I have a good method with ground manners.

I may have overstepped my boundaries with my suggestions and advice anyway. You know, people often hear what they want to hear, and do what they want to do. Hubby mentioned that pricing of the 2 year old had alot to do with the purchase. That saddens me too, especially when an eleven year old child is involved. I remember telling Bob he may have to pay more for a well trained horse, but it would be worth it in the long run for his daughter.

It's times like these you wonder, should I give advice or not? I was asked, so I gave it as I see it. When it comes to the safety and well being of a horse and a child, I will always be blunt and truthful. I hope Janie's dreams of a perfect horse aren't doused. I hope no one gets hurt, including the horse.

Please, please, if you are thinking of buying a horse, but have no background or knowledge of horses, read up, or find someone who can help. A horse is not a dog! It's not that simple.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Detective Work

I'm a straight forward kind of person. I want the facts, straight up. I want to be able to know what's going on, not have to figure things out. Maybe that's called lazy, but at any rate, when you have animals, and especially horses, you'd better be ready to be a detective when it comes to illness or injury.

A week ago, Monday, things were rolling along as they usually do. Fed the horses in the morning. I always eyeball them making sure no one got into anything during the night. Both looked fine. Spirit seemed like himself. I remember a couple of hours later I glanced out the back door, noticed the horses out on the hill near some trees. Everything OK, again.

Around 12:30pm I went out to open the gate to the front field. Both horses were standing in the stall area. Bo standing near the water tank. Spirit partially in the stall with shavings blanketing the left side of this body and mane. I took that in as being a little odd, but then dismissed the thought. Walked straight for the front field gate and both followed though they were hanging back more than usual. Most days, Bo is right up front ready to go through first.

Still not noticing anything amiss, I opened the gate and Bo walked quietly out to the field. Spirit stood right where he was and it was then I noticed he was shaking. His whole body trembling!

Now, I must admit, I sort of went into panic mode. I'd dealt with various injuries and illnesses with the horses in my care at the ranch, from colic, to a slashed leg artery, to hoof abscesses among a few. But, when my own horse was standing there shaking and trembling I became weak in the knees!

Thoughts running through my head "What if he collapses right here? Where will we bury him? Crap! What's my next move? Crap!"

The poor guy tried to walk out into the field to eat some grass. I quickly ran back to building to get his halter and lead rope. I knew I needed to get him back to the stall, at least to see if his vitals were irregular. Then there was the mud he'd have to wade through. My mind simply said CRAP! Although I'm pretty sure I used the other form of the word. "What if he collapsed in the mud? Oh gosh that would be awful." Pushing those thoughts out of my head, I waded in mud up over my boots, and sloshing mud water on my clothes, I gently coaxed him back to the stall. In the mean time I had to close Bo out in the field because if he came in, well, he tends to bully Spirit out of what he deems, his corner.

I get Spirit into the stall. I break out the first aid kit where the thermometer is stored. I check his gums. Capillary refill seems OK. Doesn't look like shock yet. I take his temp. It was up to 102. I try to check his pulse, unfortunately, I am very lacking in that talent and curse myself for not being able to find that darn artery under his jaw. Check respirations, fairly normal, not rapid and not slow. He does not seem in distress except for the shaking. I'm thinking about which vet would be easiest to contact, but, I don't want to jump to that conclusion too quickly.

My next move was to get an old blanket to throw over him for a little while in case it may be some kind of toxic shock. I feel all over his body, his legs, shoulders, ribs, don't see anything out of the ordinary. He's still shaking.

At this point I'm frustrated. I go into the house to find my two horse vet books. I still can find nothing that really fits. Maybe it's wait and see. I spent the afternoon in the stall with Spirit. There was definitely something going on with him. He wouldn't miss an afternoon out in the grass. I gave him some hay. He started nibbling. His manure looked fine and he wasn't dehydrated.

Eventually the shaking subsided. He walked around the stall. He ate some more hay, slowly. He drank the water I offered in a bucket. The only thing that really started standing out was when I ran my hand down his right front leg, he would lift it up. Now, That's not something Spirit does. I mean, he'll give you his foot if you ask, but to just lift it like a dog would lift it's paw, that was odd.

At that point I started pressing on his shoulder and ribs while watching his face. I noticed a bit of a wince on his part and he looked back at me. It was right then and there I decided that Bo had probably kicked Spirit. I found no outward evidence. No hoof prints on the skin. I'd seen that happen with the ranch horses plenty of times. Usually the mares, Kleo or Lena, hauling off and kicking one of the others leaving a dusty hoof imprints.

From this evidence, I deducted that the reason Spirit had shavings all over him was because he had either been down in the stall, lying or rolling, or whatever, and Bo decided he wasn't happy with that, because Spirit was in "his" space. In response, Bo kicked the crap out of Spirit. That's the only thing I can really come up with. Through the rest of the day and evening, Spirit walked gingerly on that leg, dragging it a little as he walked. I'm pretty sure it was a shoulder or rib kick. Bo usually does the double legged kind of kick. Spirit, on the other hand, is more of a cow kicker type.

The next day, Spirit was not dragging that foot. I still had in my mind any type of toxic problems from EPM to Lyme disease, but he didn't fit any of those symptoms. Over the next few days Spirit was back to his almost usual self. The only other evidence of an altercation that I have witnessed is the fact that Spirit appears a little more wary of Bo. I don't like that, but in the horse world, they have their own rules. I don't stand for any kind of aggravating when I'm around, but when I'm not there, well, there isn't much I can do about their disagreements. Most of the time, Bo and Spirit get along fine. I'll never know what sparked the incident, and I'm not even sure if I'm right about it. I'm only going on clues, evidence and gut feelings.

I never did like playing Clue!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Two Book Reviews

Riding With Confidence!
Practical and inspirational advice to help you deal with your fear and enjoy your riding

I originally thought this book was more concerned about breaking through particular fear issues, which it does, but different fear issues than I've actually had. However, the information and format make it an interesting read, nonetheless.

A variety of female contributors from the horse world:
Christina Barlow-instructor and riding school proprietor from South Africa.
Julie Goodnight-instructor and natural horsemanship trainer from the U.S.
Abigail Hogg-author and equine trainer from the UK
Liz Morrison-ICF accredited NLP coach and Level 2 international instructor from the UK
Sharon Shinwell-professional hypnotherapist and counsellor from the UK.

My favorite chapter was chapter 1, Managing Your Fear by Julie Goodnight. Always clear and practical in her teaching she walks the reader through identifying fear, understanding fear, a plan for recovery, making your plan, polish your horsemanship and safety skills, and improve your riding skills. She describes the basis of many fears and how to learn to start dealing with them when they are interfering with your relationship with your horse or simply running your life. The whole fear concept can cover many aspects of life, not just riding or horses. Personally, I have never been afraid of horses themselves but as with anyone who has horses in their lives, there have been times when my own confidence issues with my riding ability have gotten in the way of enjoying my partnership with my horses.

For me, the other chapters weren't quite as interesting, though I did glean some helpful advice in my areas of interest. I think this book is a great read for older women who may be a little intimidated by riding again, or maybe have developed a fear, or lack of confidence in horse skills or riding skills. Very easy to read because it's divided into chunks you can spend as little or as much time as you choose at one sitting.

Chapter topics:
Understanding the Horse-Abigail Hogg
Teaching the Nervous Rider-Christina Barlow
Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis-Sharon Shinwell
The NLP Approach to Confident Riding-Liz Morrison

The forward had some helpful information also as Kelly Marks provides top ten tips for handling fear.

What Your Horse Wants You to Know
What Horses' "Bad" behavior means, and How to Correct It
Gincy Self Bucklin

I'm not sure what I expected from this book, some different insights I suppose. For me, most of the information became "ho hum" and I ended up skimming to the sections I thought might give me some different aspects of common misbehaviors.

Now, not to say this isn't a good book! It's definitely a great insight for people who may never have been around horses at all and have not experienced horse behavior or what their meanings may be. Definitely some great information and insight on horse behavior. If I'd found this book back in '04 (Copyright 2003) I'm sure I would have gobbled it up. It's an excellent source for anyone just getting into horses or who may have questions about some horse behaviors they've been dealing with on their own.

Simple short chapters on topics from Bathing to Tying: won't tie, in alphabetical order. The introduction was an excellent start: What You Need To Know To Help Your Horse. If every new horse owner, who has none to very little understanding or experience around horses, would read this, they'd be giving themselves a gift of knowledge and understanding, as well as their horse.

I appreciated many aspects of this book and believe it is one of the better guides on horse behavior. The importance of learning how to communicate with your horse in the right way and what he's trying to communicate to you can never be underestimated for the loving partnership most people want with their horses. There's an abundance of information in this book from a woman who has tons of experience and years of devotion to horses.

Gincy Self Bucklin has 60+ years of riding and training experience, 50+ years of teaching experience, and 30+ years of managing stables large and small. She is certified as an Expert Instructor by the American Riding Instructor's Association. She is the daughter of of well-known horsewoman and equestrian author Margaret Cabell Self. (excerpt from back cover)

Both of these books are excellent additions to your horse training library though you'll find, as I did, and depending on your own knowledge, you can breeze through some sections while taking in others.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

And do you want some whine with that cheese???

OK, here I go again. I was getting groundwork done with both horses. My guys were responding great, then the rains hit us once again.

I saddled Bo up a couple of Sunday's ago. A beautiful, sunny, spring day! I was impressed and delighted that he stood still while I mounted. We've had to work on that for a long time. He was in the habit of walking off as soon as I lifted my foot to the stirrup. I thought I was going to get some great riding time in that day, alas, Bo decided to be a butt-head. I don't want to talk about the incident in detail right now, but I will later. Let's just say, he had it in his mind he wasn't gonna do one darn thing he didn't want to do that day, except the standing still while mounting part. I was too ticked off to ride him again. I should have, but I didn't. I did make him walk back out to the field on a lead and do some circles, stops, backs and forwards. I was ticked off for a few days over the incident. One thing that happens to me, physically, when I get scared, is that the adrenaline rush makes me shaky and I have to wait to calm down. Result of 13 years of T1 diabetes.

ANYWAY, we have been deluged by rain for almost two weeks now. Mud, once again, up to horse hocks, and my ankles, in the corral area. I'm extremely thankful Hubby extended the roof of the shelter and the mats from the open stall space so the horses have a nice big dry area to spend under roof time, but it's getting out to the field that's like a Florida swamp. There's sloppy mud out in the field. It's really frustrating. I'm not talking mud you can simply work through, if I try to work the guys out in the field, they'll just be slipping. I'll be slipping. It's just not worth it. So, I'm once again back to being behind in my imagined schedule of training and riding. I make a calendar each month to record what I accomplish. April looks pretty sad at the end. May is basically empty so far.

I feel like I'm always whining about this part of my horse life but it's just not something that worked into my "plan". Kind of like the hay problem I couldn't seem to get a hold on. Fortunately the hay problem has subsided a bit. I can turn the guys out into the front field for a few hours of grass grazing now which cuts back on their hay intake. I also have made contact with a very helpful farmer who owns a feed supply store and he's going to try to keep hay for me since we've talked about my need for hay year around.

More rain and storms Friday and Saturday. This too shall pass....................I think I'll go fix a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich while I ponder my predicament for a few more minutes.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My Hummingbirds Have Returned!

Each April I eagerly await the arrival of "our" Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. I can't remember when I first started feeding hummers, but I know there have been a number of generations returning to my feeder every year.

I check a migration map for return dates. This year, they came in last week, though the map stated April 5-15. I had the feeder ready and waiting. I ended up dumping out the original liquid preparing fresh for them. They'd come all the way from Mexico. I heard one expert say it's a non stop flight once they get started.

I noticed one male and one female last weekend. Now, I'm seeing four at a time. By summer, double the number of birds seen flitting around the feeder at any one time, and you'll get an approximation of how many hummingbirds are visiting the feeder.

I enjoy sitting on our deck watching them. Sometimes they'll hover and look at me, seemingly sizing me up. They'll fly away or decide I'm not a threat and land on the feeder to take in the nectar. The females seem to be more timid than their male counterparts.

Sadly, yesterday afternoon, Buddy the cat got lucky. I believe one of the hummers hit my sliding glass door window and fell to the ground. Buddy, being the lazy fellow he usually is, didn't pass up the opportunity. I heard a commotion and went to the door. There sat Buddy with one of my little guys in his mouth. I really don't think Buddy realized what he'd done. He looked up at me, hummingbird in his mouth, and in my moment of anger I told him to "drop it", which he did, surprising me even more. We often refer to Buddy as a cat-dog. I picked up the delicate body but of course, there was no life in it. I felt really guilty having the feeder close to the porch. Buddy hadn't really bothered the birds in the past, which is why I have the feeder hanging on the porch. Now, he lays out there in wait, watching. I may have to move the feeder. Knowing Buddy is really a fairly lazy fella, I'm going to hold out for a while.

Hummingbirds are a wonder. Each spring, upon their arrival, I feel blessed to have a hand in helping them along, at least I always hope that's what I'm doing. They give me my daily dose of "wow, they're really incredible" along with a smile just watching them.