Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lower gas bills...or a home for your horse?

This afternoon I found this article on the New York Times website, about how rising fuel costs are affecting people who have chosen to live in the country. The article uses Denver and its "exburbs" to illustrate the problem.

The towns or "exburbs" the article talks about — Parker and Elizabeth — have been growing in popularity for years, though not the way that hip urban neighborhoods grow. The article is right: The people who choose to live out here are the ones that prefer the quiet and the wide-open spaces of living in the country.

And, of course, there are a lot of horse people. When Michael and I were looking for a place for his brother and his family, we looked in Parker, and I was amazed to realize how affordable horse property is there. Ever since, I have cherished a little hope of eventually moving to horse property out in Parker.

Although fuel prices won't affect me much, as I freelance from home, we'll still have to consider Michael's commute. Some areas of Parker are actually no farther from his work than we are right now, but Parker extends way east and north from there — and Elizabeth is way too far southeast for his tastes.

Do you live outside of town for the sake of your horses, and if so, how are the gas prices affecting you?

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Another long trail ride

On Sunday I went on another trail ride with two other horses and their owners: Lily and Karen, and Kiki and Susie. We took the same loop that Karen and I had taken when we last rode together on Wednesday. Panama was not really nervous about it at all this time, which may have been because he knew the trail now, or maybe because Kiki was along — I've noticed he seems to feel more secure when Kiki (the "old gentleman" of the barn and Panama's mentor when he first came) is there.

The most interesting thing that happened was that Lily stumbled and fell. We don't know what caused it because there was nothing on the path, but suddenly she started bracing herself with her back legs (Panama and I were behind her) and going down, down, down in the front. Karen rolled off her back into the brush and Lily went all the way down onto her knees before getting back up again. Nothing seemed to be the matter, so Karen mounted back up and we continued our ride.

On the way back to the barn, we took the bike path under the bridge again, but this time I dismounted and led Panama through. He slipped again walking down the steep bike path into the tunnel, and stepped on my foot half a dozen times because he was trying to walk so close to me (for comfort or to stay away from the graffiti). I walked right up to the wall and patted the graffiti and talked to him in a reassuring voice, but I think I'll have to repeat that quite a few times before he gets over his fear.

All in all, it was another great ride. I am enjoying the longer rides, and even though my inner thighs start getting fatigued by the time we get back, I think it's good for both me and Panama to slowly increase the length of our trail rides!

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Monday, June 23, 2008

My horse was the calm one!

I went for two trail rides over the past few days. The first one was on Saturday with a horse and owner Panama and I haven't gone with before: his girlfriend, Texas, and her owner, Dani.

Dani is 9 years younger than me and so I've been hesitant to go on the trail with her before — not because I think it's beneath me or anything, but because I'm not that experienced and I like to go with someone who is. Dani might know more than me about horseback riding, but she's still a flighty teenaged girl, and I don't know how she'd react if there were an accident like this one.

Dani is also rather... peppy. She's always squealing at the horses and stuff like that. Panama is usually a bit startled and bewildered by her behavior, and I was worried about him spooking when she did something sudden like that.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried: Panama was the calm horse on our trail ride. Texas was very jumpy, and although she startled him a couple of times, he took it all in stride. Dani had more problems with Tex than I had with Panama!

The first major thing that happened was that Texas spooked about going over the first bridge on the bike path. (We usually take the bridge because I don't want Panama to try jumping this part of the creek, which is a narrow cement chute lined with stones. I'm not ready to jump yet!) Texas wouldn't cross the iron strip that marked the edge of the bridge. Dani eventually got her to but it took a while of kicking Texas in the belly with her spurs (poor Tex). Panama balked a little bit, because he had seen Texas do it, but went across with far less trouble than Texas gave Dani.

At the next bridge we encountered, Texas balked again, so I walked Panama ahead. He did fine until we got to the edge of the bridge, where there was another of those iron strips across the path. By then, Texas had recovered, so she and Dani led Panama and I across the remaining three feet.

Texas also jumped when she saw Panama's green-painted manhole cover. She did what Panama did the first time he noticed it: slammed on the brakes and cat-jumped at the same time, staring at it. She recovered pretty quickly though, and Dani was able to actually walk her over it a few moments later. Panama watched carefully as she did, but still wouldn't get any closer to it himself.

Instead of taking the last bridge on the way back, we crossed the creek. Panama did really well with that too.

It was a fairly short ride, but it was a lot of fun. I think it's good for Panama to go with someone else for a change, and of course I'm proud of how rock-solid he was with Texas jumping all around!

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Future post topics

It's only been a few days since I posted last, but it feels like it's been much longer. There's a lot to tell you! I'll be playing catch-up over the next few days, but this is some of the stuff you have to look forward to:

* I went on a couple of trail rides...and Panama did really well!
* I got a new saddle pad.
* I found out about some big changes that are happening at my barn.

It doesn't look like much when I list it out like that, but trust me, it's been a very eventful few days!

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Friday, June 20, 2008

How windy was it?

I mentioned that during our trail ride on Wednesday, Panama was a bit spooked from the wind.

To give you an idea of how windy it was, we found a piece of near-perfect honeycomb from a bee's nest in our yard later that day. Apparently it blew off one of the neighbor's trees during the big gusts. The walls are tissue-thin, and there is a tiny dead bee in one of the spaces. I'm amazed the fragile honeycomb survived the fall.

Honeycomb blown down in the wind

Pretty cool, huh?

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Horses are NOT color blind!

Since my horse spooked about the flourescent green-painted manhole cover, I've been wondering if horses can see colors. I started wondering again the other day, when Panama demonstrated fear of the graffiti on a concrete wall.

I looked it up, and it turns out that horses are not color blind. They don't have the full spectrum of colors that we have, but have what is known as dichromatic vision. If you read the results of the study, on page 5 there is a color wheel comparison that shows what colors horses see. On page 6 there are pictures shown in both trichromatic and dichromatic colors, to compare what horses see with what we see.

I am guessing that the green-painted manhole probably appears to him as the brightest yellow shown on the dichromatic color wheel. I doubt that vivid a color occurs often in nature; and the other manholes probably all appear as a dull grey, which would also contribute to Panama's fear of that particular manhole. The graffiti on the wall probably also appears as much more vivid than everything else, which would explain why Panama didn't want to get close to it.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Things my horse isn't scared of (surprisingly)

Earlier I wrote about my long trail ride on Panama yesterday, when he spooked about harmless things such as quarter-inch-wide cracks in asphalt and graffiti on a concrete wall. Now for the good news: the things my horse isn't scared of. (Yes, there are a few!)

1. Water. One of the biggest accomplishments yesterday was that Panama crossed the stream — twice — and that he initiated it! We were following the trail on the way out, and came to a fork where a little trail branched off and went down to the stream. Panama paused, looked down at the stream, and then headed down that trail. I was surprised but interested to see what he'd do, so I quite happily let him.

Panama walked up the the edge of the water and then dropped his head to check it out. Of course, I have to give him enough reins to do that, which I did. (Note: Because the saddle sits just below the base of the horse's neck, it's freaky to have them put their nose all the way down, because it's like looking over a cliff — there's nothing between you and the ground anymore!)

Very slowly, Panama took a few steps into the water, bending his head and checking it out before each step. Karen brought Lily down, and she waded into the creek too. Panama wandered around a little, but then Lily crossed to the other side, and Panama followed.

Of course, Lily had been thinking she was going to take a shortcut, but we didn't want that, so we had to cross back. We had crossed at a slight downstream slant, but we had to go a little further downstream to pick the trail back up again, so we kind of made a V across the stream. The crossing going back also went through deeper and more strongly rushing water, but Panama plunged through and climbed up onto the bank like a pro. I was so proud!

2. Cyclists. Panama is doing remarkably well about being passed by cyclists. He only jumped once yesterday, and that was because one guy whizzed past us with his gears turning somewhat noisily. And it was only a little jump.

3. Joggers. Panama doesn't seem to have any problem with encountering joggers on the trail. One couple even stopped and talked to us briefly yesterday, and Panama was curious and friendly.

4. Dogs. Panama used to be rather scared of dogs, so this is really quite an accomplishment. He's not bothered by them at all when we see them on the trail, and only tensed up once yesterday when we heard one bark loudly and unexpectedly. When we pass them, he usually puts his head down and turns it to watch them as we walk past. He's very curious, and I think he'd probably like to sniff them. Usually the dogs seem interested in him, too, but I don't let him stop because I worry about how a greeting would go down.

So, see, my horse may be scared of a lot — but at least he isn't scared of everything!

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Things my horse is afraid of

Yesterday afternoon Panama and I went on a trail ride with the barn's owner and her horse. We rode for a little longer this time — about an hour and a half, as opposed to our usual hour ride. Basically, we took the usual loop, then crossed the street (the open space is on both sides of the street) and did a small loop there, too.

It was Panama's first time riding the trails on the other side of the street, and the wind was blowing, so with the combination of the two he was a little jumpy for the last 30 minutes of the ride. I think he jumped half a dozen times at least. The good news is that I've become quite good at keeping my seat, and despite the fact that my heart lurched up into my throat every time, I didn't fall off once!

Here is the new list of things that my horse is afraid of — the little ninny:

1. Manhole covers. Yep, still afraid of manhole covers — particularly the green one.

2. The wind. I don't know what it is about wind that gets horses so jumpy, but Panama got really jumpy at one point when the wind picked up. Two or three of his half-dozen jumps were during this stretch.

3. Prairie dogs. I'm not positive about this, but we were walking past a prairie dog village when the wind was blowing. I'm not entirely certain which he was spooking about, but I do know that he's afraid of rabbits, so being scared of prairie dogs too isn't really a stretch of the imagination.

4. Cracks in asphalt. We tried to cross a little asphalt parking area during our ride. Panama stepped down off the curb without too much of a problem, but then came to a long surface crack running through the asphalt. He balked, then tried to find a way around it. Unfortunately the crack ran the width of the parking lot, so he danced back and forth, uncertain of what to do but unwilling to cross the crack. It was rather comical in retrospect, because I could totally follow his train of thought by watching where he was looking as he tried to find a way around this quarter-inch-wide crack.

In the end, Karen had to walk Lily back over to us, and we had to go back up the curb and walk around the parking lot in the grass.

5. Little white butterflies. He hates those things! He's always tossing his head at them if they are nearby or — heaven forbid — fly across his nose.

6. Graffiti. This is probably the funniest one, though it was scary at the time. To get back from the second loop, we took the bike path under the road. Unfortunately, the tunnel under the road is also a blind curve, with the creek on the left side and a heavily graffitied concrete wall on the right. You're supposed to stay to the right, but Panama was clearly terrified of the graffiti. He refused to walk next to it no matter what I did, so we went through the tunnel on the left side of the path, with me hoping and praying the entire time that no one would come roaring around the corner on a bicycle.

Quite a list of perfectly harmless things, isn't it? The good news is that there were several areas where Panama actually surprised me (pleasantly). I'll write about that in my next post.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I want this saddle pad!

I've been wanting a green saddle pad for Panama, since green in his color — ever since I bought his first green halter, I've liked the color on him so much that I get everything in green for him now.

I've been wanting to find a green fleece contour saddle pad for him — his back is so short that I don't like the look of the saddle pad sticking out around the saddle. However, my trainer says they don't come in dark green, like what I want.

I was looking online yesterday and I happened to find this fleece-lined saddle pad with pockets. To heck with the contour pad — I want this one! Not being able to carry stuff with me on a trail ride is a problem for me, particularly since I'm diabetic. My glucose monitor and glucose pills don't fit in my pockets, so I've been leaving them behind; luckily I haven't crashed on a ride yet. I've been thinking of getting some kind of pouch to attach to one of the D-rings on the front of the saddle, but this would be so much more convenient!

The only problem is whether the pad will fit on Panama's short little back. I'll have to measure him for it next time I'm out there!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Boycott Petsmart!

I don't think Petsmart carries horse products anymore, at least not here in Colorado. However, I'm guessing that many horse people also keep other animals.

If you have pets, don't shop at Petsmart! PETA is urging people to boycott Petsmart until they stop carrying live animals. The suppliers Petsmart uses are no better than puppy mills. For instance, this video shows the atrocities committed on a daily basis by one of Petsmart's suppliers.


Investigation Reveals Horrors at
PetSmart Supplier.
Watch more videos at PETA.org.

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My morning ride

Since I didn't get out to the barn yesterday, I made sure I got out there first thing this morning after dropping Michael off at work.

I was the first one there, and the horses hadn't been turned out yet. Panama seemed happy to see me, and walked right up to the door of his stall to get his halter on and come out. I brushed him, picked out his feet, and tacked him up for a ride.

Since my trainer is coming this week, I decided to ride Panama out in the back pasture — where Leslie rode him during our last session, when Panama was having a hard time listening. I don't want him to be a jerk tomorrow because I don't want her to recommend again that I get him a tougher bit. I think the last time he misbehaved, it was because he hadn't been ridden in the back pasture in a while — not to mention he hadn't been ridden by her recently.

I was hoping to get him used to the idea of riding in the back pasture again today, but I'm not sure exactly how much progress I made. One of the neighbors was having their trees pruned, and the saws and the truck were making a ton of noise. Panama was definitely very alarmed by all this commotion going on right there while we rode. For the first 10 or 15 minutes, I didn't let him trot at all, because I wanted him to get used to the noise (and because I didn't want him to get startled while we were trotting).

Finally we trotted in a bunch of circles each direction. Panama did great one way, and not so good the other way. Although I'd gotten him to the point where he wasn't outright frightened of the noises, he had an unusually bouncy trot going, which I think was because he was nervous. Looking back, I feel a little dissatisfied with the ride, and I think that's why — even though he'd adjusted to the noise remarkably well, the bouncy trot made me feel off my game.

Overall, though, it was a good ride. Panama did get over the noise, and once we started trotting he was responsive to my directions to turn, trot, slow down, etc. I think I just feel like I didn't do as well!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Oh, the guilt

I've had a tremendously productive day, but the downside is that I don't feel like rushing out to the barn for an evening ride like I'd planned. I'm in my writer groove, and a quiet evening at home — dinner, some more work, a movie, and some time with a book — sounds really terrific to me right now.

But I feel guilty. Really, really guilty. Part of it is that tomorrow evening might be kind of busy, so I don't know how easily I'll be able to make it out to the barn. I might have to take Michael to work so that I can borrow the car and go to the barn during the day. Unfortunately, taking him to work and picking him up again tends to eat up a lot of my work time. But on the brighter side, going right to the barn and starting off my day with a ride sounds like a really good idea.

I hate missing even a day at the barn. I always feel like I'm neglecting my horse when I do that. And since I have a session with my trainer this week (after skipping the last couple of weeks — we were running on an unusually tight budget), I don't want Panama to get lazy and develop any bad habits before the session. I am still hoping to avoid upgrading to a tougher bit!

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Low-paying horse work

It annoys me that horse work is apparently seen as being worth less than minimum wage. I found the following ad on our local Craigslist, in the "Gigs" section:

Horse Job

Boarding Stable Help Needed. Feeding 26 horses and Cleaning stalls, paddocks and pastures cleaning and filling waters 7-1 Sunday- Saturday.

* Location: Littleton
* it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
* Compensation: Monthly Contract Work. $1,200.00


It doesn't seem bad until you do the math. "Sunday- Saturday" I interpret to mean seven days a week. So that's six hours a day, seven days a week — or about 180 hours a month. Divide that into $1,200 a month and you get $6.67 per hour.

This rate is below the minimum wage in Colorado, which happens to be $7.02 per hour in 2008. Of course, they get away with this by offering it as a contract job, not an hourly job.

In my mind, an hourly job is one where you have to be there a certain number of hours, whereas for a contract job you just have to put in enough time to get the work done. Under that logic, this job would actually be hourly, since they list specific hours you have to be there. Which means that they ought to be offering at least minimum wage.

Trying to get around minimum wage laws by classifying a job as "contract" is downright scummy, if you ask me!

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Panama's bath

I didn't mention it in my post about our trail ride, but after we got back yesterday I decided to give Panama a bath. He had ugly, dirty saddle marks on his back from our ride (I need to wash his saddle pad!), and anyway, it had been a couple of months since his last bath.

Panama tolerated the bath pretty well, much better actually than last time. It is cold water, though, which I'm sure isn't particularly fun — so I made sure to get through the bath part quickly. Then I towel-dried him, put leave-in conditioner in his mane and tail, and let him graze for a while in the yard with the lead draped over his back. (I didn't turn him out wet because I didn't want him to roll.)

See how pretty and clean he looks?

My horse, all pretty and clean after his bath

I did notice that when he's all clean, it's much easier to see his scars. Look at the picture below — the rough lumps right above his hoof are called proudflesh, and were caused by the trailer accident two years ago. The diagonal lines and the scarred area between are from the wire fence he got tangled up in last summer. The mark on the front of his fetlock (ankle) is from jumping the fence around his run earlier this year; I don't know yet if that scar is permanent.

My horse's scars

Even with the scars, I still like Panama much better when he's clean!

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Horses have the right-of-way!

Caution: Horseback ridingI didn't mention it earlier, but as Susie and I were returning from our trail ride today, something happened that really angered me.

We were waiting to cross the street on our way back to the barn. Susie was still riding, but I had dismounted; I haven't attempted to ride Panama across the street since I fell off the first time. We were waiting for a car to pass, but instead the car stopped to let us cross.

Most cars don't do this, so we waved gratefully and started across. As we crossed the road, a couple more cars had to slow down and stop behind the first car. Once we were across, we heard the guy in the last car call out rudely and rather condescendingly, "Not smart, ladies!" as he drove away.

Susie turned to me in disbelief and said, "What else could we have done?"

And she's right. We have two ways to cross the road — walk right across, like we did today, or take the bike path under the road and walk back up the road 50 feet on the sidewalk. Neither option is ideal, naturally, but nor is either one illegal.

Also, there are signs "Caution — horseback riding" signs posted everywhere. Those signs are there for a reason — just like a "Caution — deer" sign means you need to stop for any deer in the road, a "Caution — horseback riding" sign means you need to stop for any horses in the road.

Horses have the right-of-way. This means that whether you are driving a car or riding your bicycle, it is your responsibility to avoid running into the horse. Most horseback riders are going to stop and wait for a break in traffic, partially out of politeness and partially from a desire to not get run over, but still — if you are driving down the road and someone is crossing on a horse, you are expected to yield to them.

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A mid-morning trail ride

Today I went on a trail ride with one of the other boarders at the barn. Susie and I decided to ride around 10:00 am in order to beat the heat — today was supposed to get to about 85 degrees, so a little cooler than yesterday, but not by much.

We just did the "short loop" today, which is the only one Panama and I have been on so far. (There are some smaller trails that we take from time to time to mix things up, but the basic loop is the same.) We took a few different trails, and Panama did really well with the changes, including a short climb up a steep and rocky incline.

There was one point where we were trotting, and Panama goosed at something in the brush to the left. He jumped to the right, and my left foot came out of the stirrup. Somehow I lost the left rein, too, and was unable to immediately pull him up. I felt a little precarious, but I managed to catch both reins and transfer them to one hand, brace myself on the saddle with the other, and pull him up so that I could find the left stirrup again.

It was good to get out and ride. I'm glad I have friends at the barn to ride with, although I wish Panama were more comfortable on his own — I would love to ride the trails every day!

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Yesterday's ride

Yesterday was quite hot — about 90 degrees — so I went to the barn in the evening. (It's miserable trying to ride in an open pasture when it's that hot — and if I'm miserable, I'm sure my horse is!) My old friend called me shortly before I left, so I invited her to come along.

It had been a while since Cindy last accompanied me to the barn, so she was impressed to see how well Panama is doing when I ride him. Apparently the lessons and practice have really paid off — for both of us! We rode in the arena, and I showed off my posting skills, which I think have vastly improved since my husband took this video.

We were only at the barn for about an hour, but it was good to get a short ride in and spend some time with my horse, since I hadn't been able to make it out there on Friday.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

The horse-loving gene

My mom and I have been scanning all the old family photos from her side of the family. A few weeks ago while we were scanning, we ran across several pictures of my grandfather's younger brother and sister riding a pony.

The pictures were taken up at my great-grandfather's Lake Erie property. The pony probably belonged to them. I think my grandfather has also talked about owning a pony when he was little. So I guess that's where I must have gotten the horse-loving gene!

My mom and I will be working on scanning pictures all day today, and this evening I babysit, so I won't be able to visit my horse today at all. Since I won't have any barn stories to tell, I wanted to take the opportunity to share these pictures!

Click on the pictures below to see bigger versions:

My great-uncle and his pony, circa 1935

My great-uncle and great-aunt on his pony, circa 1935

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A horseback ride in the green pasture

I got another short horseback ride in today. Four days in a row now — and it feels great!

I didn't ride for very long, because a friend accompanied me to the barn and I felt bad about making him watch for too long. (He's also a little scared of the horses, so I didn't like leaving him alone for a long time.) Still, though, I got about 15 minutes of riding time in, and Panama did very well, so it wasn't a wasted ride.

We rode in the green pasture, since one of the other horses was turned out in the arena. (That one had an allergic reaction recently, and has been on stall rest and limited turnout for the past week or so.) Usually riding in the green pasture makes Panama very distracted, but today he performed like a champ! He walked in a circle going both ways, trotted both ways, and trotted in numerous figure eights. He also trotted way down at the end of the pasture, close to the road — something that used to really freak him out — and stopped and backed on command.

It may not have been a long ride, but it was a very satisfying one!

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Luxury equestrian tours

I guess there's a vacation for almost everything, including people who like riding horses. Check out this ForbesTraveler.com article and slideshow on luxury equestrian tours. I especially recommend the slide show — some of the pictures are amazing! (Not to mention, a vacation such as those described sounds absolutely heavenly!)

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Update on Big Brown's Belmont run

I mentioned before Big Brown ran in the Belmont that he had a quarter crack in one hoof, and that his owner and trainer were running him anyway.

I'm pleased to report that Big Brown made it through the race without breaking down. However, he finished last, and ran considerably less well than in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness (both of which he won).

There is some debate over what caused Big Brown to finish last in the Belmont, particularly since his owner and trainer aren't saying. A lot of people are speculating that it is due to his injured hoof, although he didn't appear to be limping when he was pulled up during the race. There's also the fact that Big Brown was taken off of steroids before the race, though apparently that should create a more gradual decline in performance, rather than a sudden bad race.

This article has an interesting theory: that his trainer didn't work him as hard before the Belmont, out of concern for the quarter crack in his hoof, and as a result Big Brown was out of shape on race day. I think that definitely sounds plausible. If it's true, it means that Big Brown's trainer and owner were more concerned about the quarter crack than they let on — and that perhaps those of us who were outraged that he was racing on the injury were justified in feeling that way.

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A trail ride, Colorado weather, and a green-painted manhole cover

My horse and I went on a trail ride today with the barn's owner and her horse. It was the first time Panama and I had been out on the trail in about 3 weeks.

Panama obviously loves getting out on the trail. When I ride him around the barn, he tends to carry his head low, like he's bored or being lazy. But when we're out on the trail, he picks it up and looks at everything all around him. It's fun to see him so alert and excited about getting out on the trail.

Today was kind of a weird day, weather-wise. It was cooler this morning (down to 60 degrees from yesterdays 90-degree day), and by late morning dark rain clouds had rolled in. Karen texted me around 10:30 to warn me that it looked like rain, so I hurried over to the barn so that we could leave a little earlier than we'd planned.

It sprinkled on us for about a few minutes at the beginning of our ride, but then by the end of it the clouds were clearing and the sun was coming out. I had put on a long-sleeved thermal, a sweatshirt, and a light shell (in case it rained), but by the time we finished our ride the temperature was probably ten degrees warmer.

Panama encountered two manholes during our ride. At the first one, which was in the middle of the gravel path, he stared at it and then gave it a wide berth, but didn't spook or startle. The next one happened to be painted bright green, and when he saw it he goosed and slammed on the brakes. (That was fun.) Karen walked Lily back and forth across it a few times to show him it was okay, but Panama just stood there and stared. I didn't push him to walk over it, because he seemed to be so troubled by the different color.

All in all, though, it was a successful trail ride and a lot of fun. By the time we got back to the barn, I was sore (from three riding sessions in a row after taking two weeks off) but relaxed and happy. I'm planning on going out again this weekend!

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Another horseback ride

After my bareback ride Monday evening, I finally got a chance to ride my horse the "real" way last night — saddle and all.

It was my first ride in the saddle — and therefore my first time trotting and posting — in about two and a half weeks. I definitely felt the results of my little vacation: I had to try harder, and my muscles got fatigued faster.

Panama was also a little more of a stinker than he was last night. I don't know what it is about riding bareback, but he was better behaved when I was. Maybe it's out of courtesy because he knows I'm not as secure, or maybe it's because he can feel me better, and therefore interpret my commands more quickly and easily.

Anyway, last night I had to work a little on getting Panama to stick to the rail in the arena — something he had absolutely no problem with on Monday. However, after a few laps around the arena, he settled in and didn't have too many more problems. We also worked on stopping a few times, and he did reasonably well there too.

Since I was riding Panama at dusk, we did have one moment when a rabbit or some other small creature darted through the brush on the other side of the fence. (Anticipating this also could have been what made Panama shy away from the rail so much, by the way.) Panama actually handled it pretty well. I was asking him to slow down at the time, and as a result he only jumped a little and then stared hard at the bushes.

Panama's biggest problem was trying to slow down when I didn't want him to. I'm not sure if it's because like me, he isn't in as good shape due to the 2-week break, or because he could see his buddies on the other side of the fence. In any case, I only rode for about 20 minutes, so between Monday and Tuesday I think I've given him a good, gradual re-introduction to our daily ride.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another quickie

I had a rough day yesterday, but I still managed to get out and see my horse. I was running short on time but still wanted to ride him, so after grooming him I just put on his bridle and led him out into the arena for a quick ride.

The last time I rode Panama was just over 2 weeks ago, and I rode him bareback that time, too. The first thing I noticed last night was that Panama doesn't feel as bony as he was — I think a combination of the increase in his grain and a 2-week vacation from being worked helped him to gain back some of the weight he'd lost.

Also, Iwas happy to notice that Panama was pretty respectful while I was riding him. He listened reasonably well to all my commands, including when I asked him to "Whoa" — something he usually has trouble with. I did have trouble getting him to walk into a corner where there is a new piece of metal bolted onto the fence, but I suppose being wary of potential dangers like that isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as he doesn't freak out so bad that he throws me.

Panama also met his first radio-controlled car last night — while I was riding him. The husband of one of the other horse's owners started driving the car around one of the empty pastures. Although he kept the car at the far end for the most part, occasionally he'd run it closer to the arena fence. I was actually surprised that this didn't end up with me being on the ground, if that tells you anything, but Panama handled it remarkably well: For the most part, he just watched it with his ears pricked straight up and his posture at full attention.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

A visit from my sister-in-law

My sister-in-law visited the barn with me yesterday. My horse had lived on their pasture until he came to Denver in September, so it was her first time seeing him in nine months.

Panama was pretty well-behaved, considering he had just gone through the indignities of having mineral oil poured in his ears the day before. He did start up putting his ears back and trying to nip at me from behind when I'm leading him — a habit I'm going to have to put a stop to ASAP!

I lunged him to show my sister-in-law how he's doing. Of course, I haven't ridden him in two weeks, so he was kind of a jerk about the lunging. He just wanted to run, rather than follow directions. I lunged him on each side, then unhooked him and chased him around the pasture. He ran like the wind — that was obviously what he'd wanted the entire time!

After Panama had his fill of running around the pasture, he came up to me and walked with me. I love it when he does this — walks with me as if he's on the lead rope, even though he's not. I've even got him stopping when I say "Whoa" and stop walking. It's really cute!

On a side note, the flaky skin has miraculously gone away in the 24 hours since I put the stuff in Panama's ears to kill the ear mites. As a result, I didn't bathe his skin with bleach water yesterday, as the vet had recommended in case of a fungus skin condition — I'll wait and see if it really was the rubbing that was doing it.

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Treating my horse's skin condition

At my horse's vet visit on Friday, the vet gave me instructions for treating a possible skin ailment around Panama's ears. Although it sounds like the problem may actually be due to Panama's ear mites (the vet gave me a treatment for ear mites too), the vet is concerned that it could also be a fungus.

Basically, the vet told me to mix a cup of bleach in a gallon of water, then clean the affected area with the mixture once a day. This is the same mixture we used to clean tables when I used to work in childcare, so I can also tell you that it loses its disinfectant abilities after 24 hours — meaning you have to make it fresh every day. (In other words, don't make a whole gallon at a time, unless you have a very large area to wash.)

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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ear mites treatment for horses

Late last night I blogged about Panama's vet visit on Friday. One of the things the vet did was to recommend a way to treat my horse's ear mites. He gave me a single treatment of Frontline, a product that you put down a dog's back to keep away fleas and ticks. He told me to mix it with 12 CCs of mineral oil, then drip 6 CCs of the mixture into each ear, starting at the tip to make sure it gets throughout the ear.

Today I went out and bought mineral oil, then applied it as the vet told me. Unfortunately, Panama doesn't like his ears being messed with, and he especially doesn't like liquid in them. I took him a bit by surprise when I did the first ear, so I was able to get it done pretty easily. The second ear, however, was more difficult.

Eventually I figured out a method that made getting the mineral oil into the second ear a snap. Here's what I recommend:

1. Grab the horse's ear around the base. He first has to learn to hold his head still for this, if he doesn't already. With Panama, every time he tried to shake me off, I squeezed and pinched his ear shut, then let off as soon as he stopped shaking his head. He figured out pretty quickly that he ought to hold still.

2. Pinch the ear closed at the base. I realized that it was the sensation of the oil dripping into the ear canal that kept him from holding still for me, so I decided to delay that from happening until everything was in.

3. Using the syringe, slowly squirt the 6 CCs of mineral oil/Frontline mixture into the ear. Squirt it at the top so that it runs all the way down the inside surface of the ear.

4. Allow the ear to open, but don't let go completely yet. As soon as you do, the horse is going to shake his head, and you want to give the stuff a chance to penetrate first. Panama held really still for me here, so I took the opportunity to pet and praise him. If your horse starts trying to shake you off, I recommend pinching the base of the ear again, and letting up when he holds still for you, just like I described in step 1.

5. After a few minutes, let go of the ear completely. And get out of the way — fast — unless you want a mineral oil bath!

The nice thing is, this treatment kills the ear mites outright and then lasts for about a month, so you won't have to mess with his ears again for a while. The vet wants me to wait and see if they come back before doing anything else, but I might start back up with the Vaseline in a month and see if I can keep them from coming back at all.

Of course, this ear mites treatment is just my vet's recommendation. You should probably check with your own vet before using it on your horse.

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Panama's vet visit

I didn't make it out to the barn Thursday evening as I'd hoped, but luckily for me my horse was pretty well-behaved for the vet anyway.

Panama seemed to have missed me — when I arrived and called his name, he came in from the pasture on his own, without me having to go get him. I put him in the cross ties and groomed him before the vet arrived. Unfortunately, I didn't have much time to spend at the barn yesterday, so the vet saw Panama first and I had to leave right afterward.

Here's what happened at the vet visit:

1. Panama got the rest of his shots. At the spring vet visit last month, the vet convinced me to put Panama on a slightly different vaccination schedule to reduce the likelihood of a reaction to the shots. He got Rhino flu and West Nile last time, and what will eventually be his fall vaccinations — East and West encephalitis — this time. In the fall, he'll get the Rhino flu vaccine again (it only lasts 6 months) and a booster for the East/West vaccine. In 2009 he'll be completely on the new schedule, which is Rhino flu and West Nile in the spring, and Rhino flu and East/West in the fall.

2. The vet gave me a treatment for Panama's ear mites. He gave me a package of a flea and tick treatment that is used on dogs, and told me to mix it with 12 CCs of mineral oil and put half in each ear. I'll write about the ear mites treatment in more detail in a future post.

3. The vet gave me instructions for treating a possible skin condition I've noticed on Panama lately. The skin around the base of Panama's ears and down his jaw and neck a little bit is flaky and crusty-looking, like a case of dandruff times ten. The fur is also grown thin in spots. The vet thinks Panama is rubbing his head against stuff because the ear mites are bothering him, but wants me to treat him for a possible fungus issue anyway. I'll also write about that in a future post.

Panama was pretty good for the vet, but not as good as I would have liked. He remembered that the vet had given him shots last time, and had a little bit more trouble standing still for him. When the vet poked him with the needle, he stiffened up, and then (30 seconds later) jerked his head up and danced sideways.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Neglecting my horse

I'm sure you have noticed my lack of posts lately. My blogs aren't the only things I've been neglecting, though, I'm afraid — I haven't been to see my horse all week.

I hate it when I go through periods when I don't get over to see my horse, because I always feel so guilty. The last couple of weeks have been hectic, since my brother-in-law and his family just relocated to Denver. As a result, I haven't had as much time to work (I'm a freelance writer).

It's all come to head this week, when my deadlines finally caught up to me. I've been working more, but I've also had a few other things going on (such as my dog's surgery on Monday) that have kept me busy. The last time I made it out to the barn was on Sunday, and the last time I actually rode was my bareback ride almost two weeks ago. I even dreamed about trying — and not being able — to ride last night!

Unfortunately, Panama tends to forget his ground manners when he's left to his own devices for more than just a few days. I need to be sure I get up there this evening and remind him that he has a mommy — the vet is coming tomorrow to give Panama the rest of his shots, and I need him to behave himself for that.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hurdles for hauling horses

If you like to haul your own horses when need be, you've probably already been hurting under the rising gas prices. Here's a new hurdle for hauling horses: GM is closing four plants and shifting their focus away from trucks and sport utility vehicles, which have long been the cornerstone of their company.

Higher fuel prices are making many people reconsider buying (or keeping) trucks and SUVs. This article talks about how much more it costs to own and drive a pickup truck compared to a compact, fuel-friendly sedan. Quoted from the article:

That's why more people are deciding that towing capacity and the other benefits of pickup trucks and S.U.V.'s are not worth the costs. The F-250 may still make sense for some business owners. But, as Mr. Fisher says, on those few occasions when the rest of us need to move some horses, we can rent a truck. "The new economics of car buying is, 'Don’t overbuy,'" he told me. "Buy something you’re going to need most of the time."

I know many people who own trucks and trailers so that they can haul their horses wherever and whenever they want to. Unfortunately, it seems that with gas prices rising, truck and SUV sales declining, and now fewer trucks being made, those days may be numbered. I personally don't mind, as I am content with my current situation: I have Panama stabled someplace where I have trail access, and anyway I do most of my riding in the arena and pastures right now. But I'm sure there are others who are — or soon will be — affected.

Do you haul your horses to trailheads or shows? And if so, how are you coping — or planning to cope in the future — with increased fuel prices?

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Running Big Brown on a quarter crack

Big Brown — the horse who won the Kentucky Derby, where Eight Belles broke down — has reportedly come up with a quarter crack in one hoof. Despite the fact that so many racehorses are destroyed by foot and leg injuries, his owner is still planning to run Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, 2008.

I heard about this almost a week ago from a discussion group I belong to, and have since accumulated some information. First of all, here is a picture of a quarter crack; granted, this one may be far worse than Big Brown's, but it should still give you an idea of the gravity of the injury they are dealing with.

Big Brown's hoof specialist has gone to the media claiming the quarter crack is superficial, and perhaps it is. However, that doesn't mean it still will be after the race. Running that hard on even a slight quarter crack could be devastating to the injured hoof.

Another thing that bothers me is that there was an abcess and an infection. That's no small matter, even if they have managed to get rid of it temporarily.

Big Brown's owner and trainer want him to secure a Triple Crown, winning a trio of races: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont (the first two of which he's already won). But is this high victory worth risking the life and well-being of the horse? I don't believe so.

I guess we'll have to wait until June 7th to find out Big Brown's fate for sure. All I can say is that if Big Brown breaks down, and we lose yet another horse this season, it'll be the end of the racing industry for sure!

Don't keep a horse you can't afford

An article on The Washington Post tonight discussed an interesting trend: Pets are living longer these days, but people are also paying more for their pet's medical care in order to keep it that way.

Although the article is about house pets, primarily cats and dogs, it reminds me about one of my biggest pet peeves: people who acquire horses they can't afford to keep.

I know I've ranted about it before, but I really don't understand it. Horses are not all that cheap to begin with, so how do you spend $2,000 on an animal you can't afford to provide care for? Yet this seems to be the case, especially in rural areas.

I think part of the problem is that people think of horses as maintenance-free animals. After all, they eat what grows naturally out of the ground, right? Only it doesn't work that way. It takes a lot of pasture to feed each horse, and you still need to be able to provide hay for them in the winter. You can't simply say, "I don't like the price of hay right now," and opt not to feed it to them.

And feeding is only the beginning. Stabling a horse if you live in town can be quite expensive — in my area, boarding costs run as high as $600-ish a month. (No, I don't pay that much, but I had to really look to find a barn that was both inexpensive and a good place for my horse.) Horses also need foot care from the farrier every six to eight weeks, vaccinations twice a year, and a variety of other things that often have to be done annually (floating their teeth, cleaning a gelding's sheath, etc.).

The bottom line is, horses cost money. I want more people to own horses, because that means fewer go to slaughter every year, but I also want it to be people who can afford to care for their horses properly. So please, don't get a horse (or two or three or more) unless you can afford to give it the care it needs.

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