Saturday, May 31, 2008

Louise Firouz

Apparently Louise Firouz died earlier this week. I had never heard of her, but I saw the headline in the paper edition of the Wall Street Journal. Apparently she was a great horsewoman, and was responsible for rediscovering and repopulating a breed of miniature horses that she dubbed the Caspian horse.

This post about Louise Firouz's death has several links to articles about her and the Caspian horse.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Spring farrier visit

My horse had an appointment with the farrier today. It was a much-needed appointment, because Panama's hooves had grown so fast since our last appointment — something about the added nutrition of the new spring grass, I guess.

Unfortuantely, my entire visit with Panama was kind of hurried; a family crisis meant that I needed to move my farrier appointment up by half an hour. The farrier was actually there earlier than that, so we got it done really early, which was extremely helpful for my situation.

Panama did well for the farrier. He's still not crazy about it, but he likes this farrier, and thus tolerates it pretty well. (I also like to think that it has something to do with him liking me, and me being the one holding his rope while the farrier does his feet.)

I mentioned in an earlier post that Panama likes to turn his head and smell my boots when I ride — or, in this case, my toes since I rode bareback and in flip flops. Today he was also very interested in checking out the farrier. As the farrier worked on Panama's feet, Panama kept turning his head and sniffing the farrier's back end. Once he even tried to nibble on his leather belt, but I scolded him for that!

(Panama seems to like leather. He also consistently tries to nibble on people's leather boots. He's not doing it to try to bite, but more like he's testing the material with his teeth. It must have to do with the smell, because he doesn't do it to my manmade, cheapie Payless boots.)

While the farrier was doing Panama's last foot, he did the cutest thing of all: He turned his head around and rested his chin on the farrier's back. I think he must have leaned all the weight of his head on the farrier, because the man laughed and said, "I like you too, big 'un." (The farrier calls him big 'un, but I don't know if it's an affectionate name he uses for all male horses, or a tongue-in-cheek nickname for my short little horse.)

Panama's feet look great now that they're all trimmed up. After the farrier finished, I messed with Panama a little bit more, gave him a few bites of carrot and part of his grain (we decided to split it into two meals today, just in case he's not quite over yesterday's bout of colic), and turned him back out into the pasture before I left.


Video of my horse

You know how when you were a kid and you were sick, you still couldn't understand why you couldn't eat what you wanted? Well, horses are apparently like that too.

Yesterday after Panama recovered from what was apparently a mild case of colic, I had to deny him his usual afternoon grain. When we didn't let him into his stall to go eat, he paced and whinnied indignantly for his grain. I took a couple of videos, because even though I felt bad about his distress, it was still kind of cute.

In this video he nickers right at the beginning, and then sticks his head and neck through the gate to show me that he wants to come through. (As if I hadn't already figured that out!)


Panama pulled through!

I just wanted to let everyone know that Panama pulled through and is doing fine now. He definitely appeared colicky, but it passed quickly, so I think the impaction was probably caused by too much gas in his intestines.

Here's the full story, which I didn't have time to write earlier:

The barn's owner, Karen, called me at about 2:15 this afternoon to report that Panama was behaving rather strangely. After about three hours of grazing on the green pasture (a length of time that he's more than used to by now), she had found him lying down in the mud. She got him to stand up, but he still didn't graze much — he just nibbled at it, like a kid playing with his vegetables.

For Panama, not grazing when there's green grass like that nearby is cause enough for concern, but Karen also noticed that he was acting lethargic. He was carrying his head very low and seemed not to have much energy.

When she called me, we decided that perhaps he had gotten overheated in the pasture. Karen took him back to his favorite trough in the back pasture to get a drink, and he did drink a little. Then she put him in his stall, which we agreed would be good to do, in case he was overheated.

In his stall, Panama kept trying to roll, which is strange behavior for him. Karen put his halter and lead rope on and started walking him up and down the driveway on another of the boarder's suggestion — the other boarder lost a horse to colic last winter. Then Karen called me. It was about 2:45, only half an hour since her last call.

When I heard how the situation had progressed, I was instantly concerned. Since I didn't have access to a car today, Karen called another one of the boarders, and she was able to come pick me up.

By the time we got to the barn, Panama was already doing better. He had pooped, and was no longer constantly trying to roll — though he was still doing this really weird move periodically, like his legs were about to give out and cause him to collapse. He was also kicking his stomach with his back legs, and his belly appeared to be a little bloated.

I walked Panama around a little more while Karen tried (and failed) to find the thermometer she keeps at the barn. (I didn't mind too much, as he didn't feel feverish to me, and I really wasn't looking forward to inserting a thermometer into his anus for the very first time.) We also looked for Butte, which can be given to a horse to help him get past a mild colic, but since Panama seemed to be improving I didn't give him that either.

I took Panama out back and lunged him then, as lunging is one of the things you are supposed to do for a colicky horse — the motion and staying on their feet can help them to pass a mild impaction. Panama certainly wasn't acting sick — in fact, he wanted to RUN RUN RUN, and I had to coax him down from a canter several times! I lunged him for about 20 minutes, then took him back inside the barn and put him in the cross ties.

By this point, Panama was acting completely back to normal. I brushed him, and he acted impatient to go graze. To see if he would try to roll, I turned him out briefly into the green pasture with the other horses. He ate but did not roll.

When the other horses all came in for their grain a few minutes later, I left Panama in the back pasture, which is mostly dirt — he had hay in his stall that I needed to clear out, as a horse that has colicked isn't supposed to eat for a few hours after recovering. He clearly knew that it was grain time, and acted very anxious to get into his stall. He kept trying to push through the gate, which was very cute, and whinnying and nickering to me, which was even cuter. I'll post pictures and videos later.

And actually, I have lots to catch up on from this week, so I'll try to do that this weekend. For now, it's enough just to know that Panama is okay!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Keep your fingers crossed...

The owner of the barn called me today to tell me that Panama was acting funny. He had been grazing in the front pasture with the other horses, and suddenly started acting lethargic.

He was lying in the mud, so we thought he might have gotten hot or dehydrated. I asked her to give him a drink and put him in his stall. She called back half an hour later to tell me that he was continually trying to roll, and one of the other owners — who has lost a horse to colic — was very concerned.

In case you don't know, colic is a potentially life-threatening condition for horses. It is usually a blockage in their intestines, but if they roll their stomach or intestines can turn over, and then they need surgery in order to fix the blockage.

Michael has the car today, so I am waiting for one of the owners to come pick me up and take me to the barn. Keep your fingers crossed for me and Panama.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Do horses have language?

The other day I saw this NPR story about a book on chimps and sign language. Since the study done in the book was triggered by Noam Chomsky's theory that language is unique to human beings, the article launched Michael and I into a discussion about whether animals have language.

I personally get annoyed with many people's need to find something that sets us apart from animals. Scientists have also argued that our usage of tools sets us apart, yet there are many examples in nature of animals using tools. Emotion and higher thought are other things that are supposed to set us apart from animals, yet I think that is arguable, too.

The language thing is definitely arguable. I remember learning in college that there is a school in northern Colorado where they're studying prairie dogs; the researchers there have identified more than 100 unique sounds that the prairie dogs use in different combinations, clearly to mean different things.

I believe other animals, including horses, also have sophisticated methods of communication. I have noticed subtle differences in Panama's whinnies and nickers; if I were a horse, I'd probably know what each one meant. I have, however, been able to recognize general differences when Panama is "talking" to me: for instance, a whinny or nicker that is meant as a greeting, versus the sound he makes when he is excited about getting food.

So do horses and other animals have language? Yes, I believe so. Is it sophisticated? I think the answer to this is yes too. Just because we can't always discern the differences in the sounds, doesn't mean there aren't any!


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Concerns about my horse's weight

I mentioned earlier that when I rode my horse bareback, I noticed how much weight he has lost since the last time I rode him bareback. I could feel his spine much more prominently than I could before. I knew he had lost weight, but it wasn't until I rode him bareback that I realized how much.

The barn's owner and I had hypothesized that the horses might have lost weight due to changes in the hay, so I exchanged a few texts with her, and was delighted to find that she has started giving the horses extra hay to try to make up for it. She thinks the problem might be in that the bales (and, subsequently, the flakes) feel lighter this time, meaning there isn't as much hay packed into each one. She is going to speak to her hay guy about it, but she doesn't know if he'll do anything about it.

I am also going to take some steps on my own to try to increase Panama's weight. In addition to the extra hay he's getting, I am going to change his grain to something a little more fattening. He's on sweet feed now, which my trainer said isn't a very good grain for putting on weight, so this week I will go down to the feed store and get something that is. I am considering put him on a youth formula until he gains the weight back.

Of course, any abrupt change in food can cause a horse to colic, so we'll have to make the change gradually. He still has some sweet feed left, so I'll probably have Karen spread it out to wean Panama off of it slowly while increasing the amount of the new grain.


Time for a quickie

Saturday I was running short on time, so I went to the barn for a quickie with Panama — a quick ride, that is.

In the interest of saving time, I rode Panama bareback and in flip flops. It has been a while since I last rode bareback, and I've improved my balance and control a lot since then, but I still didn't bother trying to trot. For one thing, since Panama has lost a little weight, I didn't really relish the idea of bouncing around on his bony spine; but also, if I did happen to fall off, I didn't want to risk breaking my ankle in those flip flops!

Nevertheless, it was a fun ride. I'd forgotten how much I like being able to feel the muscles of Panama's back work as he takes every step. We practiced stopping, backing, and sticking to the rail at the walk. He did beautifully.

Mounting was interesting. I usually ride in the back pasture, where I can mount using the cement base on one of the supports for the run-in shelter there. In order to mount in the arena, I had to take the plastic mounting block out there. It's the first time I've used the mounting block when Panama isn't in cross ties, and at first he didn't understand that I wanted to put it next to him. He kept sidestepping to get away from it, but I continued to follow him with it until he stopped. Once he figured that out, he stood quietly and let me mount.

Panama was definitely curious about the different routine — in particular, the different footwear. He likes to turn his head and nuzzle my (or my trainer's) boots when they're in the stirrups, particularly when we change riders. He usually only does this once or twice, but during yesterday's ride, he was so interested in my bare toes that he did this just about every time we stopped walking for a moment or two. A couple of times he even started to mouth them a little, but I scolded him every time, as I was a little afraid that he'd bite my toes!

The only other notable thing that happened was that Panama startled once when something rustled in the bushes on the other side of the arena fence. Luckily he just tensed and jumped a little bit, but didn't lose his head or try to break into a trot. Still, though, I was pretty pleased that I was able to keep my seat on his narrow, slippery back!

The entire time I was riding bareback, I could feel that I was using those inner thigh muscles that I've been building with all my posting practice. I even posted a few times at the walk, just to see if I could lift myself off his back using those muscles — and I was pleased to find that I could, a little. I will have to try trotting bareback again sometime, though I think I will wait until he gains a little weight back!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

My first memories of my horse

In honor of Memorial Day weekend, I've been thinking a lot about when I first met my horse.

I remember the breeder's surprise when Panama (though that wasn't his name yet) came up behind me while I sat with his injured mother, and gently bumped me on the back of my right shoulder with his nose. I turned to look and he took off, only to venture back again moments later. "He likes you," the breeder said. Panama had had little human interaction at this point, and had never approached a person on his own.

That is the first memory of Panama that has stuck in my mind.

The next memory is more powerful. It was after Panama's mother had been euthanized, and the vet realized that Panama was injured too. We were trying to catch him so that the vet could take a look at his injuries. There were maybe 6 or 8 of us out there, and we all surrounded the confused yearling, holding our arms out to keep him inside the circle.

As we got closer and his space got smaller, Panama made a break for it, right past the vet's son, who had just recently finished vet school and was helping his dad for the summer. The vet's son threw his arms around Panama's scrawny neck. "That's it, hang on, hang on!" the vet yelled, as Panama struggled to canter with a full-grown man hanging onto his neck.

Panama may have been stunted and half-starved, but a man was still no match for him. The vet's son dropped to the ground and then stood up, brushing himself off. Panama, meanwhile, turned and trotted back through our disappointed little group, head held high and mane and tail flying.

That's the image that will stick in my mind forever when I think of how Panama first appeared to me — not as a malnourished yearling who had just lost his mother, but as the colt proudly showing off that he had (temporarily at least) prevailed over an entire group of humans.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Holiday weekend riding practice

I won't be able to go on a trail ride until perhaps Monday, so today I made sure to get a little riding practice in. I just rode in circles in the makeshift arena, like I usually do during lessons or posting practice.

My practice today actually went pretty well. Panama was on good behavior again, and I was able to replicate many of the things we'd successfully done in yesterday's horseback riding lesson. He even performed well despite the fact that one of his buddies was in the green pasture just on the other side of the fence — something that is usually pretty distracting for him.

We also practiced stopping and backing, two things that Panama has a hard time with. He stopped quickly on command about half the time today; the other half the time, he did his usual trick of sneaking forward a couple of steps. When I asked him to back up, though, he did — something he usually doesn't do for me when I'm on his back.

It was a satisfying ride, even if we didn't go out on the trail, and I'm already looking forward to the next time!


Memories of Memorial Day weekend 2006

Memorial Day weekend is an especially memorable holiday for me, because it was this weekend in 2006 that Panama first came into my life. Granted, we wouldn't rescue him for more than another week after that, but still — if we hadn't been visiting Michael's family that weekend in 2006, I wouldn't have my horse right now.

It also means that there is only about a month until Panama turns 3, since he was 11 months old when I first met him.

If you don't know the story already, be sure to read the details of my horse rescue story and Panama's history!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Panama's love triangle

After today's horseback riding lesson, I turned Panama out into the green pasture. With the help of one of the other owners, I also turned out the rest of the horses, because the barn's owner hadn't made it there yet to do so.

In previous posts, I think I've mentioned that Panama has a little love triangle going on: He and another gelding share the same girlfriend. When they are all turned out, you can almost always find all three of them grazing near one another, like this:

My horse, his girlfriend, and another gelding he shares her with

The dark bay in the middle with the white blaze down her nose is Panama's girlfriend, and the dun behind her is the other gelding. She tends to favor Panama these days, because lately they've been turned out together more often. The other gelding is one of the few horses who gets along with the big bully of the herd, so he's often in a different pasture than Panama and the mare.

I love it when Panama and his girlfriend graze side by side — they look so cute together because they both have similar blazes down their noses. I was sorry not to get a picture of that today, but I'll try again!


Successful horseback riding lesson

I had another horseback riding lesson today. I had planned to practice yesterday, but unfortunately with the high winds (we had tornadoes north of Denver), I didn't get to after all.

Even so, today's lesson went really well. The other horses hadn't been turnout out to graze in the green pasture, so Panama didn't have that distraction. He listened to my commands much better, keeping a constant pace at the trot and sticking to the rail without me having to try as hard.

I was doing better, too. I remembered a lot of my list from Wednesday's lesson, and was able to correct quite a few things. I didn't lurch in the saddle so badly each time I asked Panama to pick up a trot, for example, and I must have been doing better with the reins because Panama was going where I wanted him to go. My post is getting more controlled, and I can tell by the way my inner thighs feel after dismounting that I'm really using those muscles.

Of course, I really don't know what came first — Panama behaving himself, or me doing better. It was just one of those days where we were both naturally in sync with one another.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Possibly upgrading Panama's bit

My horse has had a lot of trouble following directions lately, and my trainer is advising switching to a more aggressive bit.

Right now, Panama's bit is nothing more than a flexible rubber bar through his mouth. I bought that bit for him when we were first beginning to ground drive him. I like the idea of using the gentlest possible bit and keeping his mouth sensitive, but Leslie thinks we may need to upgrade to a tougher bit for a few weeks to remind him to listen.

I'm a little reluctant to take my trainer's advice on this matter, though I am still considering it. I feel like a great deal of the problem right now is that the new green grass in the pasture has all the horses acting crazy. I guess new spring grass tends to be really rich, and is apparently as compelling to a horse as crack is to an addict. Last week when Panama was acting up for Leslie, she was riding him through all that lucious green grass — which, as the barn owner says, is probably like making us walk through a field of chocolate chip cookies and not letting us eat them. And yesterday during my horseback riding lesson, I think Panama was distracted by the fact that he could see the rest of the herd grazing.

I am going to stall on getting a more aggressive bit for at least a few days. (That won't be difficult, actually, considering how busy I am this week.) I'll get in a couple of more practice sessions and maybe another lesson, and then we'll see how Panama is doing. Maybe if he remembers that he has a brain we won't have to upgrade the bit after all.


Sign the petition to save Big Brown!

As if Eight Belles's death isn't enough, the horse racing industry is now faced with a new scandal: the potential sale of Big Brown, the winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

According to the petition for a no-slaughter contract, Big Brown's owners are making plans to sell him. Sending former champions to slaughter isn't as uncommon a practice as you might think, according to this article. Therefore the petition requests that Big Brown's owners make the buyers sign a contract prohibiting them from sending Big Brown to slaughter.

Before reading this petition, it hadn't even occurred to me that you could put such a clause in a horse sale contract — but I'm glad I now know. I don't plan to ever sell my horse, but I will quite happily suggest such a contract to anyone I know who is selling a horse. I think the average horse has just as much right to avoid being slaughtered as the champions, don't you?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another horseback riding lesson

Today I had my first lesson on my horse in almost two weeks. I've been practicing my posting a lot since then, but I have been having some trouble keeping Panama on the rail when we trot around the arena clockwise. I meant to get a little help from Leslie and then let her work Panama herself a bit, but we ended up spending the entire session on me.

With a lot of instruction from Leslie, by the end of the session I was able to finally keep Panama on the rail — in all four corners and going both directions. I didn't succeed in getting him to maintain a constant speed at the trot, but I also know that part of that was due to distraction and frustration — the rest of the herd was grazing in the green pasture right next to the arena.

Now that I've got my posting rhythm more or less down, my trainer is adding in all sorts of other things required for steering and control. As a result, I have a lot to try to remember now while I'm posting:

1) Keep my hands together and my reins shorter
2) Don't overuse my left rein (which I tend to do when riding counter clockwise)
3) Keep my right rein taut when asking for a left turn (so that Panama doesn't just turn his head and continue on in the same direction as before)
4) Stiffen up my hips to slow my post (and therefore check Panama's acceleration) when trotting downhill
5) Use both reins equally when asking him to stop or back up
6) Be ready myself when I ask Panama to trot (so that he doesn't lurch into it and catch me off-guard)

It's a lot to remember — I will definitely need to get some more practice in!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Playing chase with my horse

This evening I went out to the barn, not to ride, but to spend a little time with my horse.

While I was there, another owner showed up. While we were chatting, Panama started getting impatient — he's had a hard time standing and waiting in the cross ties since they started being able to graze in the green pasture (which he can see from the cross ties). He actually got into quite a bit of trouble for pawing the ground, but once he started behaving himself again I decided to turn him out into the green pasture after all.

Panama didn't even get through the gate before he stopped and started grazing. I had to push him the rest of the way through so that I could close the gate. I decided he needed to be harassed a little, so I started twirling the lead rope and chasing him around the pasture.

The last barn I was at had an oval arena, and I used to chase him around it regularly, but I haven't done it much since I moved him to this barn back in December. It used to be quite a tradition, though, and Panama seemed to enjoy it as much as I did — he would buck and dance as he ran from me, just like he used to when he played with his donkey friend.

Tonight Panama seemed to be especially excited about our little game of chase. He flagged his tail as he ran, something I haven't seen him do in a long time (primarily because he doesn't do it during lunging or training — he holds his tail up, but not all the way up). Flagging the tail is a characteristic of Arabian horses, and since I like that Panama is part Arabian, I was thrilled to see him acting like one!

Here is a photograph of an Arabian horse flagging his tail:

Arabian horse flagging his tail
Photo by Aline Sagrabelny

Panama also threw a couple of nice bucks while I was chasing him (though he was cautious about it, and always made sure he was far enough away from me when he bucked, as he got into a lot of trouble about a month ago for bucking too close to me).

I'd forgotten how much fun it is to play chase with my horse. I'll have to do it more often now that we have both rediscovered our little game!


Changes in our hay

When the vet visited our barn last Friday, he said that six out of seven of the horses he saw were underweight. Most of us have noticed a change in the last month, but it took the vet's observation for us to pay attention to it. (I for one had assumed that it was Panama's increased exercise that had caused the change in weight, but I didn't think he was underweight because of his big belly.)

The barn's owner and I have been discussing possible causes for all the horses losing weight at once. The other day she brought up something important: They got a new shipment of hay just a month ago, and she says she noticed that it looked a little more dried out than the last shipment (same supplier, and supposedly the same cut).

We're wondering if the hay lost some of its nutritional content from sitting for a longer period of time. That would definitely explain why all the horses appear to be underweight!

I suppose there's not much we can do about it until this shipment of hay is all used up, but I might need to back off on Panama's grain again if the next shipment of hay has a better nutritional content. Good grief — managing a horse's diet can be a lot of work!

Sugar and your horse's diet

Earlier today I blogged about a natural hoof care website a friend had recommended. This site mentions the importance of diet in several places, and provides a link to a site that discusses the importance of low sugar grass and hay. (If the topic interests you, be sure to check out the articles section — there is some good information there!)

Apparently too much sugar in a horse's diet has been associated with laminitis, a painful condition that happens in horses' hooves. Of course, too much sugar has also been said to make horses "hot," or too energetic and difficult to work with.

I don't know the sugar content in the grass hay that is fed at my barn, but I do have Panama on sweet feed. Right now it doesn't seem to make him too hot, and of course I haven't had any problems with his feet. The vet did tell me to increase the amount of grain I was giving him; I didn't mention it was sweet feed, though, so if Panama starts going bonkers I might have to switch to another kind of grain.


Natural hoof care

A friend emailed me a link to a website for Colorado natural hoof care. Although I am satisfied with my current farrier, I found the website very informative.

I have been thinking of keeping Panama barefoot — he has never worn shoes because he has always been pasture-kept, and has just recently started being ridden more. I have read that shoeing a horse can actually weaken their feet: Going barefoot causes their frogs (a triangular fleshy part on the bottom of a horse's feet) to develop protective callouses, which they lose when they wear shoes. Therefore transitioning back to being barefoot can be uncomfortable for a horse.

According to this website, though, wearing shoes also limits circulation, traction, and the hoof's natural shock absorption. These things are good to know, since I have this opportunity to keep Panama barefoot from the very start!


Monday, May 19, 2008

More posting practice

After hardly riding my horse at all last week, I was so excited about yesterday's successful trail ride that I decided to get in some more posting practice this evening.

I feel like I've improved since the last time I published a video of my posting practice, but my ever-critical eye finds many things to be unhappy about in this video. I'm still bouncing too much, and tonight I caught myself sitting too far back in the saddle again.

I'll have to keep practicing whenever I get the chance. In the meantime, here's another video for you:


More horses with prosthetic legs

Earlier I blogged about Molly the pony and her prosthetic leg, a story I heard about via the horse discussion board I belong to. I also wanted to share two other stories of horses with prosthetic legs, which I also discovered through the horse discussion board.

Rafeanna, a 9-year-old Arabian mare who broke her front right leg in 8 places. When the leg couldn't be saved, it was amputated and Rafeanna was fitted with a prosthetic. And here's a measure of how well prosthetics work on 3-legged horses: Rafeanna was even able to be impregnated and give birth!

Riley, a rescue horse who is currently waiting to have a right rear leg amputated. Afterward she'll be fitted with a prosthetic. The Best Friends Guardian Angel program will continue to give updates on Riley's condition.

Traditionally, horses who broke or badly injured a leg were simply euthanized. However, modern veterinary medicine provides horse owners with all kinds of options to save a horse that has been injured. It's wonderful to read stories like these!

Molly the Pony

Since the death of Eight Belles, the horse discussion board I belong to has been talking about horse racing and injuries. Although this isn't the result of a racing injury, the other day one member brought up the story of Molly the pony, a true story that has also been developed into a children's book.

Molly's owner abandoned her during Hurricane Katrina. After she was rescued, she was attacked by a dog, and the wound on her lower right front leg wouldn't heal. Rather than euthanizing her, Molly's new owners opted to amputate the leg and have Molly fitted with a prosthetic — something that is quite rare in a world where an injured leg usually means death to any horse.

There is an article about Molly that is all over the Internet, but I believe the original source is the Hoofcare & Lameness Journal. I don't want to reprint the entire story here, but there is an excerpt that I think says it all:

'The prosthetic has given Molly a whole new life,' Allison Barca DVM, Molly's regular vet, reports. 'And she asks for it! She will put her little limb out, and come to you and let you know that she wants you to put it on. Sometimes she wants you to take it off too.' And sometimes, Molly gets away from Barca. 'It can be pretty bad when you can't catch a three-legged horse,' she laughs.

Molly's story is heartwarming and encouraging. Although this video about Molly is a little dry, the clips of her walking and grazing show that her owner did the right thing. Molly is obviously a very happy little horse!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

My horse's first encounter with an ATV

Today my horse and I went on our third trail ride together. (Click here to read about my first trail ride and my big fall, and my birthday horseback ride.) We went with just one other horse and owner (Susie and her horse, this time).

Panama did really well on today's trail ride. He did better crossing the street (I led him across on foot, like last time), and was much less panicked than before by things such as children, dogs, bicycles, and unexpected gusts of wind. He even consented to walking through shallow sections of the creek!

The really big step, though, was his first encounter with an ATV. At one point during our ride, we came upon two men and a bunch of kids, riding their ATVs back and forth on a really hilly section of the trail. We stopped, and Susie began asking if I wanted to turn back so that Panama wouldn't spook. Panama, however, didn't seem to be scared — though he did, of course, watch the ATVs pretty closely.

Before we could turn around, though, the guys saw us and parked their ATVs alongside the trail to let us pass. Panama walked by the parked ATVs without spooking, but he certainly kept his eye on them, turning his head to inspect them as we passed. He also gave them a wide berth, but without any dancing or fussing. I was really impressed with how he handled it!

I'm not sure if it's because he is more comfortable with Susie's horse (an older gelding who took Panama under his wing when Panama first arrived at this barn), or if it's because he is feeling more sure of himself out on the trail, but I definitely noticed an improvement in my horse's behavior during today's trail ride!


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Worming my horse again

Today marked the third time I've ever wormed Panama myself. The last time I wormed my horse was two months ago.

Per my new vet's instructions, I gave Panama a double dose of Anthelcide today. He'll get Anthelcide (a regular dose) again in July and one more time in September; then he'll get Ivermectin in December. Next March he'll start with a completely different type of dewormer, to ensure that the worms don't develop an immunity to the wormer I am using.

Even as small as Panama is, a double dose meant using two tubes of wormer. Each tube holds enough for 1200 pounds of horse, and the vet told me to use enough for 1600 pounds of horse. I've donated the remainder of the second tube to someone else who wants to give their horse a double dose of Anthelcide.

I am pleased to say that Panama tolerated the worming paste much better than last time. I was able to give him both doses within about five minutes. He was a little more difficult the second time around, but he was still pretty good about it.

After worming my horse, I tied him up in the cross ties for about ten minutes while I did other things, in order to give him plenty of time to swallow it. (I learned the first time I wormed him that he holds some of it in his mouth until he can get a bite of hay, which he uses to help him spit the worming paste out.) Then I checked inside his mouth to ensure he had swallowed it all. He had, so I put him back in his stall with carrots and a cup of grain as a reward.

I'm thrilled that worming Panama went so well this time. His ground manners improve daily, and it's heartening to see. I'm such a proud mommy!


Friday, May 16, 2008

My horse's spring vet visit

Today my horse had his spring vet visit.

The barn's owner set up a "spring vet clinic" with her vet, and six other owners (including me) joined in. As a result, each of us only paid a five dollar trip fee — but some of us (like me) had to wait quite a while to be seen.

Here are the various outcomes of Panama's spring vet visit:

Vaccinations: I am switching over to this vet's suggested schedule, which reduces reactions to certain vaccines by giving the West Nile and Rhino flu vaccines in the spring, and the rest (along with the Rhino flu, which only lasts six months) in the fall. Panama got his spring vaccines today, and he'll get the rest in three weeks (so that he'll still be covered, but won't have a reaction from getting them all today). In the fall, he'll get a booster to keep him covered all winter and put him on the spring/fall schedule.

Teeth: Panama has never had his teeth floated, but the vet said he usually doesn't do horses under three, because their teeth are changing so quickly. He said in the fall I might consider having his teeth floated, though.

Deworming: The vet was out of dewormer today, but that's okay because I can worm my horse myself. The vet wrote out a deworming schedule for me to follow from now on.

Sheath cleaning: Male horses, but apparently geldings in particular, usually need their sheaths cleaned once or twice a year to prevent dirt from collecting and forming painful "beans." I asked the vet if he would clean Panama's sheath, and after feeling around a little up there (ew), he confirmed that Panama needed it. So he gave Panama a shot of something he called "horse Viagra" to make him drop his penis, and then scrubbed it all clean with warm water. He did find a couple of beans, so Panama definitely needed the TLC!

I wonder if Panama's girlfriend will be impressed?

General health: At first, the vet thought Panama looked "a little wormy" (meaning he thought my horse had worms) because his belly was so big even though he was slightly underweight. After I explained Panama's history, though, the vet changed his mind. He said that sometimes when horses have their growth stunted (as Panama's almost surely was in his first year, since his mother was underfed while nursing him and carrying another baby at the same time), their intestines grow to the same length anyway — so Panama's belly is probably housing intestines that were meant for a bigger horse, which is what gives him the round-bellied look.

Despite Panama's round belly, the vet said he was slightly underweight, because his ribs were too visible. He told me to triple Panama's grain, from two cups a day to six. I'll probably start by doubling it, though — I have noticed that he's dropped some weight lately, since I've been riding him more often, but prior to that his weight was holding pretty steady with just two cups a day. Besides, since the pasture is now turning green, my horse will have plenty of extra grazing every day!

I've found my new vet! I had a different vet out last fall, when Panama banged his face and it swelled up like a grapefruit, scaring the crap out of me. However, there were things about that vet that bothered me, so I'm glad to have discovered one I like better!


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Horse gift pillow

One of my writer friends, Kathy Kehrli, got me a fantastic present for my birthday, which was the end of last month: a personalized photo pillow, for which I got to choose the photo and the fabric. I just received the finished pillow today, and I'm so pleased with it that I thought I'd post a few pictures here.

We have a sage and ivory theme in our living room, kitchen, and (more recently) our guest bedroom. I therefore decided to pick up the green in my photo pillow to make it more versatile.

Horse photo pillow

My brother-in-law took the picture about a year and a half ago, and it is still one of my favorite pictures of my horse. I think Panama has such a pretty trot, particularly when he lifts his tail, and this picture shows how pretty it really is.

Horse photo pillow

The color theme in my office is primarily deep reds and beigey pinks, designed around one of my favorite places to work — in my old comfy rocking chair with my laptop on my lap. The rocking chair also has some green in it, though, so I think the pillow might work there in a pinch:

Horse photo pillow

Who knows, maybe using my pillow here will help make me feel better about working when I'd rather be out at the barn visiting my horse!


Another unexpected visitor at the barn!

This week is Panama's week for visitors, it seems! Yesterday I blogged about my husband's unexpected visit to the barn; today, my dad surprised me by accompanying me to the barn for my horse's training session.

This was the first time my dad had ever seen Panama. To my surprise, he didn't seem intimidated by him. In fact, the way he talked to Panama, I would have thought he'd always been around horses.

He also played with the barn owner's dog, a cattle dog who takes her job (herding horses) very seriously. If you throw her toy for her once, she'll never again leave you alone, so she kept my dad pretty occupied for a while!

After my dad left, the barn's owner turned the horses out into the green pasture, and I watched them graze for a little while. It was a warm afternoon, so it felt very peaceful to sit on the fence in the sunshine and watch the horses. I also love seeing them trot around, as they do intermittently while they graze, because it looks so graceful and relaxed. They haven't a care in the world when they're grazing on that new green grass, and when I watch them I feel like I don't, either.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

There is still hope for my husband...

Last night my husband toured a house that is for rent over near where my horse is stabled — my brother-in-law is relocating to Denver, and Michael is looking for a home for him and his family.

A little later, Michael sent this unexpected picture to my cell phone:

Cell phone picture of my horse

The picture was accompanied by the message, "Hi Mom!"

I immediately called Michael. Sure enough, he had stopped by at the barn after viewing the rental. He only visited with Panama for about ten minutes, and didn't go into his stall (he claims because he was still dressed nicely from work) — but still, this is an amazing step, coming from the husband who is always so reluctant to accompany me to the barn!


Horse story writing contest

A fellow writer, knowing my horse rescue story and my love of horses, notified me of this writing contest: the 2008 Angel Horses with a Mission True Story Contest.

Excerpted from the writing guidelines:

The Angel Animals Network (AAN) is accepting story submissions about horses who demonstrates what it means and how fulfilling it is to have a life’s purpose and/or a horse who performs some time of physical, emotional, or spiritual services for you or others.

Stories must be original, based on real horses, people, and events.

The guidelines mention that winners and runners-up will be considered for publication in a book they'll be publishing next year. When I asked how that worked, they said publication in the book is a completely separate thing from the contest. From what I understand, you can enter and win the contest, but it's still up to you whether you want your story to be published in the book — you're not automatically giving them publication rights by entering the contest.

There is no submission fee, and you can submit up to three different stories, so have fun!


Ripples in the horse racing world since Eight Belles's death

I've blogged a lot about Eight Belles: her death, concerns about Thoroughbred breeding, a rant about the horse racing industry, and PETA's demands. I'm happy to report that it seems my initial prediction — that Eight Belles's fate would hopefully cause some change to take place — was correct.

I found two articles in our local paper, The Denver Post, indicating that changes have already been set in motion: The Jockey Club has decided to look into equine health, and Colorado State University is studying fetlock injuries.

I'm glad that Eight Belles's death, no matter how tragic, is raising awareness of possible mistreatment within the horse racing industry.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Posting practice

I rode my horse again tonight and practiced my posting. My husband took a video of it, so you can finally see what my posting looks like! It still doesn't look as effortless as my trainer's posting, but my control has improved dramatically.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

The horseback riding lessons paid off

I've been taking some horseback riding lessons on Panama to practice my posting and improve my control. Today I discovered that the lessons have really paid off.

After taking the picture of me snuggling with my horse, my mom stayed to see me ride. The last time she watched me ride was before my lessons and my new saddle, when I was primarily riding bareback. This time, she got to see me ride in the saddle, plus she got to see my newly acquired posting skills.

Unfortunately, it was rather windy while I was riding, and the wind tends to make Panama a little nervous. To boot, it had loosened the top half of a door on the side of the barn, and we were unable to secure it. Twice the door blew open or shut and spooked Panama. Both times, Panama jumped and pranced and tried to break into a quicker gait, and both times I maintained my seat and brought him back under control.

Considering that all three of the times I've fallen off my horse, it's been because he spooked about something, I am really pleased about how I handled both incidents this evening. It seems that taking lessons on my own horse was a really good idea!


Awesome picture of me and my horse

Around 5 o'clock this evening, my mom and I headed out to the barn to visit Panama.

As is the usual in the evening, Panama was lying in his run, sunbathing. Remembering something my trainer had said, I went around behind him and sat on his back. He didn't seem to care, so I had my mom take a few pictures.

This one is my favorite:

Snuggling with my horse


Friday, May 9, 2008

Another horseback riding lesson

Today I had another horseback riding lesson on Panama. I was only slightly sore from yesterday's lesson, so I decided I wanted to go ahead and try it again. I am determined to improve my balance and control on horseback!

I did improve my posting today. I am getting better at doing other things while posting — today I accomplished leaning forward and patting Panama's neck without breaking my posting rhythm. It took a few attempts, but I did it!

Today I also learned the two-point position, where you crouch in the stirrups with your butt off the saddle. It's called the two-point position because your legs are the only point of contact with the horse. It's difficult to maintain at the trot, where it's all too tempting to let the horse's stride bounce you back down into the saddle, but it's a good position for galloping and jumping.

Of course, it'll take a lot of practice before I'm that good — I just barely managed it at the trot today.


Avoiding colic in horses

One of things my husband and I have joked about is how virtually everything can potentially make a horse colic. One of those things is an abrupt change in diet, such as grazing on a green pasture for too long when a horse isn't used to it.

Horse colic is usually an intestinal blockage. Milder cases are mainly uncomfortable for the horse while he or she waits to pass the impaction; in more serious cases, the intestines become twisted, preventing the blockage from passing, and sometimes requiring emergency surgery to fix it. In milder cases of colic, the horse is often lunged to keep him on his feet, as rolling can cause the intestines to become twisted.

Because the threat of colic is so serious, Karen is being careful to gradually introduce the horses to the green pasture. She let them graze for 15 or 20 minutes yesterday, and will slowly increase the length of time until they have acclimated to the higher protein content in the grass.

Other things that can cause a horse to colic are an abrupt change to a different type of grain or hay, too much grain, or too many treats. This all depends on how sensitive your horse's digestive tract is, as some horses colic more easily than others — but since it sucks to find out the hard way, it's better to err on the side of caution and always introduce changes gradually into your horse's diet.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

First time grazing on the green pasture

The barn where Panama is stabled has a pasture that grows very green grass 9 months out of the year. It also has a watering system, which helps the grass keep growing as fast as the horses can eat it.

The horses haven't been turned out in this pasture for several weeks, ever since the green grass started coming in — the owner wanted the grass to have a chance to take root before the horses started grazing on it. Also, the sprinklers were not working, so that had to be fixed — and then the holes from working on them had to be filled in.

Today the pasture was all ready, though, and the horses got their first chance to graze on the green grass. Here is a picture I took of Panama and one of his buddies:

Horses grazing

There is something very peaceful about watching a herd of horses grazing together. Don't they look happy?


An afternoon at the barn

I had a lesson early this afternoon, and I ended up staying at the barn for several hours afterward.

My lesson went well. I practiced posting again, and this time I didn't have any problems with sitting too far back. My trainer must be inspiring to me, because her just being there seems to make me better!

My legs are also getting stronger, which means my control is getting better. I am even able now to do other things while posting, such as adjusting the reins and using leg yields. (The latter one requires practice and coordination, because while you nudge the horse's side with your lower legs, you still need to grip and control your up-and-down movement with your upper legs!)

After my trainer left, I hung out at the barn for a couple more hours. I gave Panama an after-ride treat (an apple and a couple of carrots) and turned him out for a bit. I was still there when it was time to bring the horses back in, so I gave Panama his grain, too. I like being the one to feed him occasionally — partly as a training opportunity, but also partly because I like him to think of me as the food source!


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Eight Belles: What her name means

Eight Belles's name had a horribly prophetic meaning, it turns out.

In nautical parlance, "Eight Bells" is the end of a four-hour watch. It's also a nautical euphemism for the death of a sailor: his watch is over, eternally.

How sad that her name turned out to be so prophetic. But it's also kind of creepy to give your horse — your champion — a name that means "death."


What NOT to do while posting

I mentioned yesterday that I wasn't entirely happy with my posting practice.

On one hand, my horseback riding lesson on Wednesday really helped me with my rhythm — I've got the posting rhythm more or less down for Panama's quick little pony trot, and I don't feel like I'm in danger of falling off anymore.

On the other hand, though, I've developed a bad habit of sitting too far back on the saddle when I sit. If it weren't for that, this picture would be almost perfect:

Horseback riding - posting problems

Here's a closer look:

Posting problems closeup

My butt shouldn't be so far up on the back edge. I'll have to practice posting the trot some more, so that I can correct this habit before it gets too ingrained.


PETA's reaction to Eight Belles's death

The death of Eight Belles, the Thoroughbred filly who was euthanized at the Kentucky Derby after breaking both front legs, has gotten a lot of media attention — as well it should. Probably unsurprisingly, PETA has made some demands of the horse racing industry in the aftermath of Eight Belles's tragic accident:

1) That the jockey who was riding Eight Belles be questioned and possibly suspended. However, Gabriel Saez claims that he had no indication that she was having problems before the accident actually happened. Eight Belles's trainer, Larry Jones, has publicly defended the jockey.

2) That training for race horses not even begin until they are 3 years old. The bones in their legs haven't stopped growing until about this age, and so may be more susceptible to injury.

3) That the use of crops and whips should be banned. I've heard some people argue against this, saying that some horses are "lazy" and need the reminder to keep going and run their hardest. Personally, I don't think a horse that doesn't want to race is any lazier than I am for not wanting to run a marathon. If the horse doesn't want to run without that "reminder," you probably should be looking for a different horse to compete.

4) Limit how many races a horse can compete in each year. I believe the thinking here is that too many races in too short a time weaken the horse's legs and make injuries more likely.

5) Mandate synthetic race tracks, instead of dirt tracks. I guess injuries are less common on synthetic tracks.

It all seems pretty reasonable to me, especially considering that PETA probably would rather the industry not exist at all. You already know my feelings on horse racing, so it probably won't surprise you that I support PETA's demands.

I hope that if nothing else, this incident will create more awareness and empathy for plight of race horses.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Pictures of me and my horse

My brother-in-law, who is an amateur photographer, is in town for a few days. (He's the one who took the header photo of my horse and his donkey playing.) Today he went out to the barn with me, and took pictures while I practiced posting.

The pictures are great, but my posting was less than perfect — I'll get into that in the next post. For now, enjoy some horsey eye candy:

My horse's cute face

Horseback riding - walking

Trotting and posting

Slowing to a walk - my pretty Arabian pony


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Eight Belles' fate gets the media's attention

Last night I blogged about Eight Belles, who was euthanized with two broken legs after coming in second at the Kentucky Derby. That kicked off a post this morning about Thoroughbred breeding — or should we say inbreeding — and the ills of the horse racing industry.

It seems like most people "in the know" prefer to look the other way, much as the cameras did yesterday after Eight Belles fell. The people involved in the industry have too much at stake to admit how harmful horse racing is to the hroses, and they or the media or both manage to keep it under wraps as much as possible — meaning that most average people don't know what's going on in the horse racing world.

So I was pretty pleased this morning when I saw a follow-up article about Eight Belles injury and euthanization: "Is Horse Racing Breeding Itself to Death?" by Sally Jenkins. Although the headline focuses on breeding, the article itself talks more about the disastrous results of breeding — the injuries and the deaths.

According to the article, there are about two "career-ending breakdowns" in the United States every day. I don't know how often "career-ending" translates into "life-ending," but regardless, that's a lot of pain and suffering that a horse has to suffer for the sake of human entertainment.

The article is a clear call to reassess the horse racing industry. Thank you, Sally Jenkins!

My feelings about the horse racing industry

Eight Belles's euthanization and the Wall Street Journal article about Thoroughbred breeding have reminded me why I have come to abhor the horse racing industry.

Admittedly, I didn't think about it much before Michael and I rescued our horse, but since getting Panama I've started to take an interest in these things. What I've learned about horse racing astonishes and disgusts me:

* Because of a standardized way to determine a horse's age — their birthdays are legally all on January 1st of the year they were born, so a horse born later in the year can actually be introduced to racing at well under 2 years of age.

* Even when you don't take the birthday fibbing into consideration, these horses are babies. Two- and three-year-olds are not full-grown! Their legs are not yet fully developed at this age, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is a factor in the high incidence of injuries.

* These horses are literally raced to within an inch of their lives — and sometimes less than an inch, as poor Eight Belles found out. And when they develop problems in their legs, they are pumped up with painkillers to mask the injuries. It keeps the horses running, but ultimately it also exacerbates the injuries.

In my opinion, the horse racing industry as it stands today is unbelieveably cruel. Maybe it wasn't at one time, but a combination of greed and drugs seems to have made possible a whole new level of animal cruelty.


Thoroughbred breeding

Last night I blogged about Eight Belles's injuries and death at the Kentucky Derby. That wasn't the first I had heard about Eight Belles, though — I saw her mentioned Friday night in a The Wall Street Journal article about Thoroughbred breeding.

The article says that 75 percent of all Thoroughbreds are descendants of Native Dancer, a champion racing horse in the early 1950s. Some of them are related to Native Dancer on both sides, which — although the article stopped short of saying the word — means inbreeding.

This alone ought to send up red flags in everyone's minds — that the people who breed, train, and own race horses are so determined to win that they are willing to inbreed the animals in order to do it.

Ironically, the article talks about how narrowing the gene pool has led to more problems with foot and leg injuries. I don't know if Eight Belles was also a descendant of Native Dancer, but the article's warning certainly seems, in retrospect, like a bad omen.


Mystery injuries

One of the most interesting things about barn life is finding little mystery injuries on your horse. Most of the time, there's no way to ever find out what happened.

Yesterday (Friday), the stable owner texted me on my phone to ask if I had seen the new injury: Apparently, he rubbed a patch of fur off his face. She said it didn't seem sore or anything, but she was confused as to how he'd done it.

Sure enough, when I was there this afternoon, I saw it: a zigzag-like patch of shiny black skin on his right cheek. I don't know if he had an itch and rubbed the fur off while scratching it, or if he was injured. It's not bothering him, so I won't worry about it too much, but still — sometimes I wish my horse could talk so that he could tell me what happens when no one is around!


Saturday, May 3, 2008

Poor Eight Belles!

The Kentucky Derby was today. I'm not a fan of the horse racing industry by any means, but last night I happened to run across an article about the race. (I'll blog about it in a future post, as this subject is going to claim several blog posts.) The article mentioned that one of the horses in this year's Kentucky Derby, a horse by the name of Eight Belles, was the first filly to compete since 1999.

Then this evening, I was on the phone with my mom, and she mentioned that Eight Belles had come in second, but broke both her front legs shortly after crossing the finish line. The breaks were bad enough that they euthanized Eight Belles right there on the race track. Poor Eight Belles was only 3 years old.

This brings up a lot of things that I would like to say about the horse racing industry, but I'll save that for a future post. Right now I just want to say how sad I was to hear about poor Eight Belles's death.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Horse teeth: Baby teeth and floating the teeth

I don't know if I ever mentioned that my horse was losing his baby teeth. I first noticed a couple of months ago that he had permanent teeth pushing in underneath his front teeth. The baby teeth, or caps, were starting to angle toward the back of his mouth as they were pushed farther and farther up.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that he had lost all but one of his caps. A couple of days ago, the stable owner found a tooth in the water barrel that we can only assume is one of Panama's:

My horse's baby tooth

The side with the brown rings, like tree trunk rings, is the biting surface. It's polished smooth from lots of eating. The white part is the part that faced front his mouth. On the backside, there is a deep hollow that the permanent tooth carved out for itself as it pushed in underneath.

These were only the front teeth, which (according to the manager of the horse rescue I visited) horses start to lose at about 2 ½ years. Since Panama will be 3 in a couple of months, that is about right.

He still has two more sets of baby teeth to lose in the front — apparently he should lose the ones on either side of the front teeth at about 3 years, and the third set at about 3 ½ years.

Here's another fun fact: Horses' teeth grow throughout their lives. The hay and grain we feed them (rather than 100 percent pasture, as they get in the wild) tends to wear their teeth unevenly, so their teeth have to be checked at least once a year for sharp edges and other problems. The vet or an equine dentist grinds down, or "floats," the teeth in order to create a smoother chewing surface.