Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sheryl Crow champions the mustangs!

I was so excited to see this headline:

Sheryl Crow urges preservation of wild mustangs

Good for you, Sheryl, for not only standing up for these voiceless creatures, but also for rescuing one yourself!

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More on the mustang problem

After seeing the article in the Denver Post about the mustang problem, I decided to look for other online petitions. I quickly found the one mentioned in the article, which has over 42,000 signatures. Since this seems to be the most popular petition, I wanted to share the link to it, too:

American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign

I encourage you to sign this petition, too, even if you already signed the other!

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Mustangs made local news

On Sunday this article was in the Denver Post, our local newspaper:

Slaughterhouse, euthanasia possible for wild horses

I wanted to mention it for a couple of reasons: one, because I'm glad the issue is getting widespread attention, even if it has taken a while, but also because there are some really beautiful pictures of mustangs included with the article.

Another good reason to mention it is because the article includes a sidebar with information on adopting mustangs. I've always said that if and when I get a second horse, it'll be another rescue. If I have horse property at that point, I'll probably try first to adopt a mustang. They are pretty affordable: $125 untrained, and $1,025 for a trained horse. (The training is done by prison inmates, which at first thought is a little concerning, but I'm sure they consider the welfare of the horses when choosing which inmates may participate in the program.)

I encourage anyone who loves horses and feels strongly about saving the mustangs to get involved and speak out about this issue!

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An intimate moment

Yesterday when I was at the barn, I got to witness a rather intimate moment between my horse and his girlfriend.

Texas is in heat right now, and has been coming on to both her boyfriends (remember their love triangle?) for several days. Usually she is a little more interested in her other boyfriend when she wants some action, perhaps because Panama is too young or too short, but this time she has been focusing more of her attentions on Panama. It's funny because when she turns her butt toward him and lifts her tail invitingly, she also squats a little in the rear, as if she knows she's going to have to help him reach!

Unfortunately, even though Panama does get visibly excited about her from time to time, he doesn't seem to have a clue what to do with it. Or maybe he's just being a gentleman and taking his time.

Anyway, yesterday I spied Texas getting into position and squirting (yes, mares squirt) at Panama. He did his normal number of walking past her, blissfully unaware. A few minutes later, though, I saw them standing with their necks crossed. Panama was nibbling on her shoulder and seemed to be... rather enjoying himself. She had her head down and was standing very still, like she was enjoying it too, and didn't want to do anything to scare him away.

Then Panama moved up — or, rather, down — a little and began nibbling under the curve of her belly, in front of her back leg — right where dogs like to sniff one another. Texas stuck her head under his belly, too, and sniffed his erection. Unfortunately, after a few more moments he just walked away, completely oblivious to the fact that Texas was happily getting into position for him.

When I first found out several months ago that geldings can still perform — just not with the same, er, enthusiasm — I was rather surprised. Panama seems to have missed the memo — though with Texas's patient instruction, I'm sure he'll figure it out. I think of Texas — who is 10 and had a foal once when she was younger — as his experienced older lover, like a teenaged boy learning the ropes from a 20-something or 30-something woman.

Horses really are funny creatures. It never ceases to amaze me how many human qualities (at least, qualities that we, in our arrogance, assume are unique to humans) they manifest.

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Time for another picture

It's been a while since I've posted a picture of Panama, so I decided it's time for another picture. I took this one yesterday with my cell phone — I didn't have time to run for a "real" camera. Panama and his girlfriend were drinking from the water trough side by side, and it was just so cute! They also kept looking up at me at the same time, with their heads still side by side (which is so cute with their matching white blazes), but they wouldn't hold the pose long enough for me to take a picture.

Panama is on the left, the smaller of the two:

My horse and his girlfriend: Drinking buddies!

Aren't they adorable together?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Horse training: Damage contol

Since my big fall off my horse Saturday evening, I've been a little stiff and sore — but it's quickly getting better. I was surprised how little I hurt Sunday morning when I got up, and every day has seen improvement. In fact, when I'm on my feet and moving around for an extended period of time, I hardly notice — it's only when I sit for a while that I stiffen up.

Sunday night, for example, I was feeling limber enough to crawl around under the dining room table playing "space ship" with my nephews, and last night I resumed cleaning stalls.

I also got back on the horse last night, literally as well as figuratively.

I knew I wanted to get back on Panama ASAP to ensure that Saturday's fall didn't remain his most recent experience of being ridden. I also wanted to reacquaint him with the mailbox, to hopefully undo some of the damage done Saturday evening.

When Michael and I first arrived at the barn yesterday evening, it was quite windy, so I was afraid I'd have to call off my plans. Luckily, though, by the time I finished cleaning the wind had died down just enough. I also knew Panama was in a pretty good mood, so I decided to go ahead and try it.

I mounted Panama at the base of the driveway, right outside the barn. We walked up the driveway to the street with Michael. Panama normally only walks up the driveway with another horse and rider, so he was a bit hesitant, and wanted to follow Michael. Unfortunately, Michael was rather nervous about the whole thing (he's so not a horse person!), and kept zigzagging to get out of Panama's way. I don't think he quite understood that 1) if Panama bolted it would be in the opposite direction, toward home, and 2) he was much less likely to bolt if he walked behind someone, because it makes him feel more secure.

With just a little bit of encouragement, we made it to within about 6 feet of the end of the driveway (and the mailbox). I had to push Panama a bit to go the last couple of feet, so I didn't push him any further, although I did make him stand there and face the road for several minutes. He kept trying to turn away and his entire body was tense, like he wanted to bolt, so after turning him back to face the road a couple of times I made him back away — I had the distinct feeling that if I just turned him, he'd immediately head home, and I wasn't done yet.

Once I'd backed him several feet away from the road — back across the invisible line into his comfort zone — I turned him parallel to the road and dismounted. Then I led him to the top of the driveway and made him stand there with me. He was a little nervous about the cars (which at this point had their headlights on), and I think he also knew what I had in mind, so he was hanging back a bit.

Once there were no cars on the road, I made him turn the corner onto the sidewalk — the mailbox is just barely around the corner, but the way it's placed it's not really accessible from the driveway, at least not for a horse. I showed Panama the mailbox and rapped on it a couple times, talking to him softly the whole time. To my surprise and delight, after several minutes of hesitation he did actually stretch his neck out and sniff it a bit! After snorting on it first, of course, as a warning to not try any more funny business.

Satisfied with that, I walked Panama back down the driveway about ten feet to where Michael was standing (it is actually debatable which one of them was more freaked out by the whole thing). I made Panama stand still so that I could remount, and then I rode him the rest of the way to the barn, with Michael walking beside us.

I don't think Panama is cured of his mailbox fears yet — that'll take some time. At the very least I'll probably have to repeat this a few more times over the next week or so. However, I think it was a great start!

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

My worst fall yet while horseback riding

Yesterday evening I suffered my worst fall yet while horseback riding. My most recent fall, when my horse almost got me killed back in April, was bad enough — but this time I had the pleasure of watching the ground rush up to me (something that I thought only happened in books and movies).

I had a rough day yesterday, and at the end of it, to relax, I went on a last-minute trail ride with one of my fellow boarders — Dani, who owns Panama's girlfriend, Texas. It was the first time Panama and I have been on the trail in the evening, and Panama seemed especially bothered by all the bugs. Perhaps as a result, he was rather more anxious than usual to get home during the last 15 minutes or so of the ride.

He was also having trouble with stuff he doesn't normally mind, such as stepping on and off the curb. That might have also had something to do with it. As we turned onto the driveway, he turned too sharp at the last minute and half scraped me off with the mailbox. He has brushed my leg up against the fence a few times in the past, and it always makes him jump and run a few steps before he calms down. This time, however, my leg was pushed all the way back, so when he bolted I was already unbalanced. Add to that the fact that he was bolting downhill, and you'll have a pretty good picture of why I did a nose dive over his left shoulder.

Judging by my injuries, I'm pretty sure it was my left hip that broke my fall. I rolled over onto my back and lay there trying to breathe. (I'm not sure if I'd knocked the wind out of me, or if I was hyperventilating.) My first lucid thought was that I had broken my hip. I was such a mess that when Dani dismounted and ran over to me to ask if I was okay, I couldn't answer for several minutes. Of course, when I finally could answer her, one of the first coherent things I said was to ask her to go get my horse.

Dani was fantastic. She put Panama away, cleaned his stall (the only one that was dirty inside), and helped me turn in all the horses. Meanwhile, I was in so much pain that I actually cried (haven't done that since I was a kid), and I felt like I would throw up or pass out (or both) anytime I was on my feet for so long.

I know Panama felt bad about it because when I limped down to the barn after him and Dani, he bent his head and leaned his forehead into my chest, like he was saying I'm sorry. If I hadn't been in so much pain, I would have mounted right back up to make sure we didn't end the ride that way. Unfortunately, there was no way I could have done so.

Once the adrenaline wore off, I found I couldn't bear weight on my left leg without pain shooting through my hip — even dosed up on a couple of Motrin. So I iced my hip most of the evening and stayed off my feet as much as I could. Thankfully, I am feeling much better this morning — and, most importantly, able to walk — so although I wasn't feeling up to cleaning stalls today, I think I should be more or less back to normal by tomorrow.

In addition to cleaning stalls like usual tomorrow, I plan to get on Panama — with someone there with us, of course. I'll ride him up and down the driveway a little, and if he is behaving himself, reintroduce him to Mr. Mailbox. I can't have something like last night's freak-out episode happening again — next time I really could break something!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

People who shouldn't own horses

I mentioned recently that there has been a lot of drama at the barn. Some of it has been related to the change in management, some of it hasn't.

One thing that is going on is that one of the boarders wasn't paying her board — she couldn't afford to. Karen had been trying to work with her, but the boarder was pretty much taking advantage of Karen's kindness. The irony is that this boarder had "rescued" her horses several months ago from someone who couldn't afford to feed them anymore.

Anyway, the boarder left without telling anyone yesterday, apparently waiting until no one was at the barn to do it. I was the one who discovered she'd gone, as I went to the barn to clean stalls and turn everyone in — and nearly had a heart attack when I realized two horses were missing from the pasture! There were fresh tire tracks in the driveway since it had rained, however, and there were no open gates or breaks in the fence, so I knew the horses hadn't gotten out.

It turns out that this boarder had just been told the day before that if she didn't pay by Friday (today), all the late charges Karen had so far been waiving were going to go into effect. So rather than paying the month and a half of board she owes, she took her horses and put a stop payment on the check she'd given Karen last month (which Karen hadn't been able to cash yet because it kept coming back as insufficient funds).

If I thought I'd been surprised by this boarder's immature behavior in the last few weeks, I'm utterly appalled now. It would be bad enough if the money were the only issue, but it infuriates me that she is risking the lives and well-being of two horses whom she apparently can't even come close to affording. Some people just shouldn't own horses, and that's all there is to it.

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Cantering on my horse for the first time (intentionally)

Yesterday during my session with my trainer, I cantered on Panama for the first time — intentionally, that is. (He has picked up a canter without my permission a few times when he's goosed about something. The first couple of times I fell off, so I've been a little nervous about it ever since.)

It went okay, for my first time. We cantered twice — the first time for a really short stretch. The second time Panama kind of lost his head — he picked up the wrong lead, went into too fast a canter, and wouldn't slow to a trot when I asked him to. We made several laps around the back part of the pasture before he finally responded to my requests to slow down.

The good news is that I didn't fall off. I felt rather precarious — especially because it was so bouncy, which my trainer said was because he picked up the wrong lead — but I stayed balanced and stayed in my seat. My biggest problem was feeling like I was being rocked too far forward, which Leslie said was because I was putting my weight into my toes, instead of keeping my heels down as I should have been.

In any case, I am really excited to have finally progressed to this point. Even if it wasn't the most graceful first canter on Panama, I've verified that I can canter on him without falling off (even when he's running pell-mell!). From here it can only get better!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

"But you're MY mommy..."

I didn't expect it, although I should have: Panama seems really confused and concerned whenever he sees me in other horses' stalls.

He's really cute about it. When I clean other horses' stalls, he'll go and stand at his own gate. Then, after watching me anxiously for a few minutes, he'll come over to the fence around whatever run I'm cleaning. Sometimes he sticks his head through the fence and watches me, or tries to bite the rake.

When I'm cleaning in the evening, he's even more persistent about it, since that usually means I'm turning everyone in when I'm done. He stands at his gate and rattles it and pushes against it, as if he's saying, "Come on, Mom — this is my stall — and I want my grain!" In fact, sometimes he whinnies and nickers at me while I clean, and I'm pretty sure that's exactly what he's saying.

I guess, for him, my behavior must seem really strange. He knows that I'm his mommy, and he's rarely (if ever) seen me in any other horse's stall. So seeing me clean the other horses' stalls has to seem very odd to him.

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My horse is so curious!

My horse is exceptionally curious, and does some really cute things sometimes. For instance, Cat — our new barn manager as of August 1 — told me about when she was raking one of the empty stalls two days ago. Panama stuck his head through the fence around the run, grabbed the rake's handle in his teeth, and shook it! Then of course he was startled by the noise the rake made when it rattled, and jumped back.

Later in the day, Panama did a similar thing to me. I hurriedly put him in just one cross tie, and ran back to scoop a bee out of his water bucket before it drowned. When I returned, Panama was checking out the bulletin board, which he'd probably never had a chance to do before, as he can't reach it when he's in both cross ties. He using his nose to scoot the eraser along on the tray underneath the bulletin board, which was funny enough in and of itself — but then he knocked the eraser down, and cat-jumped backwards as if it had suddenly come alive. And then he jumped again, when I surprised him by bursting out laughing!

My trainer has often said that Panama is more curious than most horses, but it's not often that I blog about the silly things he does in the name of curiosity!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Training my horse to cross bridges

My horse has a love-hate relationship with bridges.

Back when my trainer and I were first walking him down the trails on a lead rope, she took him back and forth across a bridge to get him used to the concept. He's also crossed many a bridge behind his more experienced trail companions, Kiki and Lil. He was therefore doing great with bridges until our first trail ride with his girlfriend, when Texas balked at going over the bridge.

Since then, he's gotten progressively worse: When Karen and I rode recently, we tried to get Panama to lead over the bridges, and he just wouldn't do it.

Today I decided I'd had enough, and I was going to work with him on this bridge thing. So when Dani and I reached the longer bridge — the one that worries Panama more — I let him balk for a few minutes while I watched Dani fight with Texas. (Dani tried everything — forcing Tex, backing her onto the bridge, dismounting and leading her, etc., but she just wouldn't go. There were a couple of pedestrians watching too, so it must have been entertaining.)

When I grew tired of watching Texas dance around, I dismounted and led Panama across. Naturally, he followed quite obediently when Mommy was leading (unlike Tex when Dani dismounted and tried to lead her). I walked him back and forth across the bridge several times, and seeing Panama on the far side actually got Tex going across too (with Dani on her back). Then I mounted and rode him back and forth several times.

I'm guessing I'll have to repeat the whole process on at least one more ride, but that's okay. It's satisfying to do training like this and see results.

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Milestones: Crossing the street

One of the big things that has happened since I last blogged about a trail ride is that Panama is now crossing the street with me on his back, rather than me having to lead him.

We started doing this about a week and a half ago, I think. On a trail ride with Susie and Karen, we did our longer trail, which goes on both sides of the road. Instead of dismounting and leading Panama across like I usually did, I rode across — and he did fine!

After doing that a couple of times, over the weekend I started riding him across the road when we first leave. It was the first time I'd done that since he dumped me in the street on our very first trail ride together. He's doing great with it, so this morning on our trail ride with Dani and Texas, I rode him across with his girlfriend for the very first time. (This is a big deal because he can be a little jumpier with Texas.)

It's awfully nice not having to dismount to cross the road. I'm so proud of my little horse!

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Getting behind again...

I've been getting behind again. I've been quite busy, especially now with the stall cleaning added into my daily schedule, and I've been forgetting to blog about the happenings out at the barn. So over the next few days, I'll be playing a little catchup.

Coming attractions include:

* A review of the bug spray I've been using
* Updates on some of Panama's recent trail rides
* A few general cute stories about Panama's antics


I'm going to try not to get so far behind in the future. Trying to remember all the things I wanted to blog about kinda sucks!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pony Tales Blog chosen as a Top Pet and Animal Website

Pony Tales Blog has been chosen as a "Grand Prize Winner" in Zane's Top 10 Pet and Animal Websites. I am surprised and pleased to hear that my blog is starting to get some attention outside of the people who know me personally. A big thank you to Zane Waltz!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Cruelty-free pest control

In my last post, I wrote about the nest of baby mice we found at the barn. I really hope it was their mother who came back and got them, because I don't like the idea of killing — or even inadvertently causing the deaths of — helpless animals like that.

There are a couple of natural ways to control a barn's mouse population without killing them. Probably the best cruelty-free method of pest control is fox urine, which you can buy at the hardward store in pellet form. You just sprinkle this around the outside of the barn (where the horses won't get at it, I'd suggest), and the mice stay away because they think it's fox territory. I've read rave reviews of this idea online.

Another method of controlling a mouse population is to use pure peppermint extract. Mice are either allergic to peppermint or hate the smell, and stay away — if you use the pure stuff. Just moisten cottonballs with the peppermint extract and leave them in the areas where the mice tend to frequent — in cupboards or on the kitchen counter, for example. I've also read about people mixing peppermint extract with water and spraying it on their baseboards. The good thing about using peppermint extract is that even though the mice hate the smell, you'll love it!

Of course, like any less harsh method of doing things, there is always the possibility that neither way will take care of your mouse problem to your satisfaction. However, I encourage you to try both before you start killing mice willy-nilly — and maybe, once you reduce the mouse population somewhat, learn to live with having a few around!

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Baby mice at the barn

Like pretty much any barn, ours has a healthy mouse population. Not ridiculous amounts of mice, mind you — but we definitely have them.

The other day, Karen and the new manager, Cat, were moving hay from the hay barn into the feed room. In the back of the hay barn, nestled in between hay bales that hadn't been moved in a while, they found a litter of tiny baby mice.

The mice were quite young, perhaps newborn, as their skin looked like a slug's — grayish pink, hairless, and slightly slimy-looking. Their eyes were still closed; their skin was a little translucent, so you could see small dark inkspots underneath each eyelid.

Cat picked the mice up and put them in a feed bucket, which she and Karen then put up near the house. I was rather bothered by the whole thing, so after Cat left, Karen and I put the baby mice back in the hay barn. The bales of hay were gone, of course, but we made a nest with wood shavings and put them as close to their original nest as possible. One had died and the other five were cold to the touch, so I put them all together in the hopes that they'd keep each other warm until their mother found them.

In the morning when Karen looked for them, the mice were gone. There was no blood and guts, and the nest we'd made didn't look like it had been disturbed by a large animal or anything, so we're hoping the mother came back for them and moved them elsewhere (rather than them getting eaten by an animal of some sort).

Animal lover that I am, I don't believe in killing animals — and that goes for mice, too. After all, they don't bother the horses — they come out to forage for leftover grain and hay, but otherwise they keep a low profile. Therefore I am a big supporter of natural, creature-friendly ways of controlling pests. I'll talk about some ideas for (nicely) controlling a mouse population in a future post.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Drama at the barn

One of the things I hate the most is the amount of drama that happens at the barn. Unfortunately, it seems to be that way at almost any barn. For the longest time, the place I'm at now was relatively drama-free, partly because Karen would ask people to leave if they became problematic. She just didn't want a lot of negative vibes around.

With the change in management that is occurring at my barn, I'm not surprised that there has been an increase in drama. What I can't help but notice, though, is that the drama doesn't seem to be only related to the transition. One certain boarder is proving herself to be a little psycho — to the point that Karen said if she were still going to be managing the place in two weeks, she'd be asking this boarder to leave.

I don't understand why people feel the need to create so much drama. I just want to go there to spend time with my horse and ride, but when there's a lot of negativity around it makes it less fun. Why do some horse people have to be so freakin' crazy??

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Yesterday's trail ride

Before cleaning stalls yesterday, I went on a trail ride with my horse's girlfriend and her owner. We rode during early afternoon, so it was already getting quite hot. Thankfully there's a lot of shade from cottonwoods and other trees along the creek where the horse trails are.

It was only Panama's second ride with Texas and Dani. During our first trail ride with his girlfriend, Panama was quite calm while Texas was rather goosey. Yesterday's trail ride was much the same story, except that I was expecting it and had Panama lead more often.

I had Panama lead Texas over the first bridge that we come to on the trail. I don't think he's ever led the way over the bridge with his older, more experienced trail buddies, but in any case Texas's jumpiness does affect him a little. He balked a little again about going over the bridge, but after a few pops to the belly he walked over it without a problem — and got lots of praise for it, too! Texas followed him right over.

The other bridge was a different story. Both horses balked at going over. Dani allowed Texas to come up behind Panama and crowd us, which I wasn't too crazy about, but luckily Panama was too focused on the bridge to be startled by Texas's proximity. Eventually it was Texas who led the way across the bridge, at which point Panama followed as meekly as a lamb.

Overall, though, Panama again did me proud by being much more steady and collected than Texas. He is getting more experienced on the trail, and as a result feeling more confident and less apt to spook. My baby rescue horse is growing up!

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dirty work

Today marked the third day that I've mucked stalls in exchange for my horse's board. I used to clean my own stall daily at the first barn I had him at, so I knew it was dirty and often time-consuming work, but I have to say that getting caught up on everything the previous muckers weren't doing has made it even dirtier!

On Monday and Tuesday I cleaned stalls in the evenings. I found the biggest drawback to that is that by the time the temperature starts cooling off, the bugs are out en force. Today, however, I discovered a bigger no-no: mucking stalls at mid-afternoon on a day that is 90-plus degrees... Particularly when you haven't had much to eat all day.

All in all, though, I don't mind the work. I rather enjoy having a chance to interact with all the horses a little more, and I like knowing that I'm providing the horses with a cleaner — and therefore safer and healthier — environment than what they were getting before! (And the free board ain't half bad, either!) I'm going to try doing the work in the morning, before it gets too hot, and see if the bugs are a little better then, too.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Stall mucking starts today

Well, as it turns out I'll be mucking stalls starting much earlier than I anticipated — starting today, in fact.

Initially when I offered to start mucking earlier, Karen said no, that the other girl should continue to do it as long as her horse is being boarded there. After all, she's not paying for board — she's supposed to be cleaning stalls in exchange! However, she's still doing a crappy job, so Karen's husband spoke with her about the problem yesterday evening.

And guess what? Big surprise — the girl quit! So this morning I received an email from Karen, asking me to start mucking stalls today instead. In exchange for the early start she's going to reimburse some of my board.

It was kind of a surprise, but I don't mind. At least I'll know Panama's (and all the other horses') stalls are clean. And hey, the extra money doesn't hurt, either!

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Exploring new trails from horseback!

This morning bright and early, I met Karen and Susie at the barn and we all went for a trail ride. We went for another long ride, and took a different way coming back. Usually on these longer rides we have to either take the bike path back under the road, or cross the road, neither of which Panama is all that crazy about. The new route takes us through the neighborhood, so that we don't have to do either.

My horse hit several milestones during our trail ride today:

* He's getting better about the whole manhole cover thing. With Susie and Karen leading on their horses, we made Panama walk next to every single manhole cover we saw. He still won't walk over them, but he'll at least walk by them without staring at them and acting alarmed.

* He led quite a bit. Panama usually follows, partly because I don't know the trails as well as my riding mates do, and partly because he seems to like the security of following another horse. Today, though, he led for perhaps a third of the ride — and he did great at it!

* He crossed the road without me having to dismount first. Since my horse threw me on our first trail ride together, I've been leading him across the street to get to the trails every time. Since we've been going on the longer trails — which take us back across the street again — I've been dismounting to lead him across the street there, too. Today I led him when we crossed the street initially; but when we got to the place in the trail where we have to cross again, traffic wasn't bad, so I rode him across. He did great with it, too!

* He encountered all kinds of things in the neighborhood — and didn't lose his composure! Our new route takes us right down a residential street. We saw lots of parked cars, several manhole covers, and heard noises such as a lawnmower, an electric drill or saw of some sort, and dogs barking at us. Panama was extremely alert (and sometimes a little jittery) because of the unfamiliar surroundings, but he more or less kept his cool. We also had to walk on the sidewalk along the main road about 50 feet in order to get back to our driveway from the residential street, and Panama did okay with that too — even with the cars driving past!

I had a great time on our ride this morning, and I think Panama enjoyed it too. Sunday morning trail rides are becoming a tradition with Karen, Susie, and I. Hopefully I'll be able to start fitting in a few more trail rides mid-week, too!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

I can't wait to start mucking stalls...

I went to the barn this evening to spend some time with my horse and get a short ride in. He hasn't been ridden since Tuesday, and I didn't make it out there yesterday at all, so I wanted to work out the kinks before our trail ride tomorrow.

As it turns out it is probably a good thing I didn't make it yesterday, because I probably would have been pretty upset: Karen told me this evening that the girl who currently cleans the stalls in exchange for board apparently didn't clean at all yesterday.

This girl has never really cleaned the stalls to my liking, but lately it has been deteriorating even worse. Several weeks ago Karen said something to her about it — very nicely, I might add — and in response the girl got mad at Karen and gave her 30-day termination notice.

Unfortunately, she seems to think that since she's leaving, she can now slack off even more. Her cleaning jobs have been getting worse and worse. Last week I said something to Karen's husband (Karen was on vacation) because the poop was attracting so many flies. I cleaned Panama's stall myself one day, it was so bad, and after that Jeff started cleaning it every day to finish up the mucker's half-a$$ed job.

In light of all this, I've offered to start cleaning stalls for Karen several days earlier than I was supposed to start. I'd rather start a few days early than wait and leave my horse to deal with all the manure, the pee spots, and the flies that it attracts.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Mustang petition: Goal achieved!

Just a couple of days ago, I blogged about a petition to the BLM requesting them to not use euthanization as a method of controlling the mustang population. Later that day I blogged again about how quickly the signatures were adding up.

I am happy to report that the goal of 10,000 signatures has just been achieved... and in only a matter of days! Many thanks to all of my friends and readers who followed the link and signed the petition!

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A new farrier schedule

Panama's feet have been growing very quickly since his last farrier visit, so I called the farrier last week and asked him to come out a couple of weeks early. He came yesterday afternoon, and said that if we'd waited until our original appointment, "we would have been in trouble." Panama already had a small chip out of one hoof!

Since Panama's feet were really overgrown at the last appointment, too, my farrier and I agreed to switch to a six-week schedule (instead of every eight weeks). Of course, more frequent farrier visits means a little more expense, but really in the long run it would be more expensive to let his feet go too long and end up with vet and emergency farrier bills!

Anyway, I think that Panama's rapid growth is a combination of a few things. One, the grain I switched him to has a much higher protein content, and he's getting more of it than he was before. Two, he's also getting to graze quite a bit on lush green grass every day, which I'm sure has a pretty high protein content. Three, my trainer and I noticed recently that his butt is a little taller, which indicates that he might be going through a growth spurt (perhaps triggered in part by all the nutrition).

But he's healthy, he's gained weight, and his coat is shiny and sleek, so I don't mind at all. A few extra farrier visits are a small price to pay for a healthy, beautiful horse!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A picture of my horse's girlfriend

My horse's girlfriend was being really cute last night when I was hanging out with Panama. Their stalls are set up so that there is one stall between them. Her stall wall has some bars missing, and she was sticking her head through the opening to watch what we were doing. She did this almost the entire time I was in the barn, whether I had Panama in the cross ties or in his stall. She was evidently very interested in what I was doing with her boyfriend!

My horse's girlfriend

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Euthanizing mustangs is a sensitive subject!

I am amazed at how quickly the signatures on this petition have been accumulating.

I blogged about the petition to the BLM, requesting them to not euthanize mustangs in order to control the population, first thing this morning. I had received the email in my inbox, and by the time I followed the link there were already nearly 3,000 signatures on the petition.

I just checked the petition again, and there are now going on 6,000 signatures — and they are accumulating at the rate of about two a minute! That's a fantastic showing for an online petition!

The goal is to get 10,000 signatures, and I think the petition is going to go far beyond that. For heaven's sake, it hasn't even been a day yet, and we're already more than halfway there!

Please tell everyone you know about this petition — let's show the BLM that the American people won't stand by and allow one of our nation's symbols of freedom to be murdered in favor of corporate interests!

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A better day with my horse

My trainer and I were having a hard time scheduling a session for later in the week, so at the last minute we decided to one yesterday evening.

I was definitely in a better mood going into it, as I had been working on my computer all day, and had the problems almost fixed. (It also helped that I read a lot while I was waiting for backups and software installations, as reading relaxes me.) Panama was also in a much better mood, and made a point of showing off how pretty he was by bending his head, picking up the right lead in the canter, etc.

Leslie rode first, and then I rode for a bit. She gave me some directions for improving my posture while I posted, and that sort of thing. We aren't able to schedule anything for next week, so I'm going to practice a lot, and hopefully be able to start cantering on him the following week.

I stayed for a little while after Leslie left, and was glad I did — Panama was really affectionate. It started when I went into his stall to take pictures of his girlfriend, who was sticking her head through an opening in the bars in her stall wall in order to watch what we were doing. Panama started nuzzling me, then followed me out into his run and nuzzled me some more. I scratched his neck and shoulder, and he put his muzzle in the curve between my neck and shoulder — like if I were another horse, he would have returned the favor.

Then Panama went and stood in his favorite spot for sunbathing in the evening. I thought he might lay down, and took a video of it just in case, but he just yawned a lot and acted really sleepy. Still, it's a cute video — check out those huge yawns!

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Sign a petition to protect wild horses!

Last week I blogged about the BLM's decision to euthanize mustangs in order to control the population. I've also read about it on other blogs, such as this post, which does a good job of putting the mustang population into perspective.

This morning I had a notification in my inbox of a petition that's been started to ask the BLM to protect wild horses, not kill them! I hope all of my readers will sign the petition and lend their voice to the cause.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Bad moods all around

I had a pretty rough day yesterday, thanks to some computer problems that prevented me from getting any work done. Unfortunately, I also had a training session for Panama scheduled in the afternoon, and I didn't think about cancelling it until it was too late to do so.

I don't know if Panama sensed my bad mood yesterday, but he was an absolute jerk for Leslie — possibly the worst he's ever behaved for her. I always hate training sessions like that, because I end up leaving the barn feeling so negative. I take it pretty personally when my horse misbehaves.

My trainer also thought it could be due to the weather — as is common in Denver this time of year, we've had a lot of sudden changes between sunny, hot weather and windy, rainy weather. I have noticed that the wind tends to stir Panama up a bit, so I guess it's not unreasonable that the sudden rainstorms would too.

Anyway, I'm hoping that whatever it was that caused Panama's bad mood, it'll have resolved itself by the time I get there later today. I think a nice ride this evening would be a perfect way to make up for my crappy Monday!

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

A cute 4-week-old filly

My husband and I have been looking at house rentals with horse property lately (he's trying to get his parents to move to the Denver area). Yesterday we went to see a place, and the current renters had an Arabian mare with a cute four-week-old filly. She and her mom were just so cute, I had to share their picture with my readers:

An Arabian mare and her 4-week-old filly

I think baby horses are the cutest, goofiest-looking creatures. I swear they are born with their legs already full grown — their bodies just have to catch up!

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My new trail riding saddle pad

Do you remember that saddle pad with pockets that I really wanted for trail riding? Well, I ordered it! Today was the first trail ride I'd gone on since it came, about two weeks ago.

The pad is fabulous — the half fleece provides plenty of padding under the saddle, and the pockets are roomy and very sturdy. Plus, Panama just looks so cute in green!

My horse wearing his new saddle pad

English saddle pad with pockets

The saddle pad is perfect for trail rides, because the pockets give you plenty of room to carry stuff — without carrying saddle bags that bang against your horse's sides! The stuff I carried in the pockets didn't bang around at all. Next time I am going to try carrying a water bottle — there's plenty of room, and I want to see if something heavier bangs around. (I suspect even a water bottle won't.)

If you are interested in buying this saddle pad, you can order it from TackWholesale.com. It comes in four colors: white, black, navy, and green. I highly recommend it for anyone who rides English and goes for a lot of trail rides!

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Friday, July 4, 2008

New management and a crisis

Yesterday afternoon when I went to the barn there was finally a notice posted with the new manager's name and contact information. It said that she would be looking for help around the barn, so I immediately called her to suggest that I handle the stall cleaning in exchange for board.

The new manager — whose name is Cat — actually came down to meet with me and discuss the barn. We discussed the horses, their owners, and the current setup at the barn. We also talked about me cleaning stalls in exchange for board, and it sounds pretty certain that I'll be able to do so.

While we were there, a major incident happened that totally reassured me regarding Cat: One of the horses, the bully of the herd that used to be turned out separately from everyone else, tried to bite one of the other horses. Usually he doesn't do anything more than take off a little fur and skin, but this time he really went after his victim. Somehow he managed to push the other horse into the fence, and cause a split on the other horse's front leg that exposed the tendon and was nearly a foot in length. The fence post broke nearly in half, and two boards came down.

The owner was there at the time, and Cat and I were in the back pasture. We heard the crash and his owner start screaming at the bully horse to get away. Cat and I ran over and saw that the horse's leg was gushing blood. I hopped the fence and ran to the tack room to grab some white terrycloth rags that I keep there, and Cat created a makeshift bandage for the wound and applied pressure to slow the bleeding. Between the two of us, we got a hold of a vet who was able to come right away.

The vet was able to stitch up the wound, and says that the horse will be fine — he just has to stay on stall rest for two weeks. In the end, though, the incident — and Cat's immediate response — was the best character reference I think I could get. I believe my horse will be in good hands under the new management, and since I can work off the board, the only better scenario I can imagine is if Karen found a place and reopened her business elsewhere!

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Big changes at my barn

Big changes are happening at my barn, and it doesn't bode well for my horse's future there. I was waiting to blog about it until I knew something more conclusive, but at this point it looks like I'll most likely need to find a new place for Panama.

Basically the business's owners have been leasing the property — they don't own the property. I knew when I moved in that this was the case, but I needed to move Panama pretty badly at the time, and there was reason to think the property's owners might renew the lease.

I found out about two weeks ago that they are not going to renew the lease — but they will still be running a boarding stable on the property. At first it sounds like good news, because I won't have to move Panama — theoretically. In reality this is wrong on so many levels: They are attempting to take over a business that someone else put the effort into getting established. Now that the barn is full, they're telling Karen, "Thanks for all your work, but we'll take it from here." And they're not buying her out of the business, either.

Moreover, the property's owners are hiring someone to manage the new business, and they didn't offer the position to Karen. They are also apparently hiring someone to come twice a day for feeding, mucking, and (I'm assuming) turnout.

What that means is that Karen — who is understandably upset — is taking everything that she paid for herself. And that's a lot — the property was nowhere near ready when she moved in. All of the water troughs, buckets, wheelbarrows, manure forks, grain bins, and a good portion of the fencing is hers. And of course, they also cannot use the same name (which Karen registered as an LLC) or the website that Karen set up.

Initially I thought I'd stay and see how it goes, but now I'm not so sure. They are handling it so badly that I can't help but wonder if I can trust someone this dishonest and cutthroat with my horse's welfare. Besides, there is a good chance that they won't keep the barn open long — they've said that they're going to try it for six months and see if they make any money, which of course they won't.

My other concern is that it will be a completely different place without Karen. Karen is 99 percent of what made this barn so different from all the others. She is there frequently (which it sounds like the new manager won't be), she is communicative with her boarders, and she genuinely cares. Contrary to what you'd think, barn managers who give a hoot about the animals are actually pretty difficult to find in this business.

There are three possibilities right now, and though I'm hoping for one of the first two (in order of preference), the most likely scenario is unfortunately the third:

1. Karen finds a new place for all of us. She told me before she left on vacation that she might look for a new place for all of us when she gets back (in about a week), and her husband confirmed to me the other night that they had been looking for horse property. He said they've got a good group of people and might be interested in reopening elsewhere. If they do, I'll definitely stay with them, I think several of the other boarders would, too.

2. I stay in the current location and work off my board. Karen mentioned to the owners that she's been having one of the boarders work off her board by cleaning stalls, and supposedly they sounded pretty interested in that arrangement. Technically, since I expressed interest in that arrangement months ago, I should be their first choice if they decide to go that route. If I'm not paying for board I'll be likely to stay — IF Karen doesn't find a place for all of us, that is.

3. I find a boarding stables for Panama on my own. Of course, most likely I'll have to find a new place for Panama on my own. I've been browsing Craigslist occasionally, but I am just not finding anything that appeals to me. For instance, one place claimed they were full care, but they require boarders to clean the horses' stalls — and they want only $60 less than what I'm paying now. (I've visited that place, and it always smells bad, so I rather suspect most boarders aren't very good about cleaning.) Another place won't allow outside trainers, which I won't agree to — my trainer has been with me and Panama since the beginning, and I'm NOT giving her up.

So right now I don't know what I'm doing. Since a lot of it depends on what Karen and the property's owners decide to do, I may not know until shortly before the barn changes hands. But as far as I'm concerned, that's okay — my contract is with Karen, so I actually have no obligation to give the property's owners 30 days' notice.

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Jousting from horseback at the Renaissance Festival

Last weekend Michael and I went to the Renaissance Festival. Although he had been there once before, it was my first time — but if I'd known it would be so much fun, I would have gone long ago!

Of course, one of my favorite parts was the jousting, which they do two or three times a day. The entire skit went something like this:

* The king, queen, and their court entered and took their seats
* Each of the four knights entered on horseback and was introduced
* The knights and the king exchanged some banter about the tournament (the knights wanted bloodshed, the king didn't)
* The knights made several practice runs on their horses — hitting targets with their lances, spearing small hoops, etc.
* The knights jousted
* The knights started knocking each other off their horses, and fought with swords on the ground
* The knights bargained with the king to get a rematch to defend their honor (the rematch was the last showing that day)

I had a limited amount of space on my camera's memory card, so I only recorded the actual jousting.

Michael and I noticed that one of the knights was a far better rider than the other three. While the others bounced around in the saddle with every stride the horses took, this guy's upper body barely seemed to move at all. After Michael pointed this out, I watched more closely and realized he was riding in a two-point at the trot and canter. His balance was excellent — so good, in fact, that he was able to twirl his lance impressively as he rode.

Of course, the video doesn't even come close to the excitement of actually being there, but still, I'm glad I got it on video!

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Preparing to canter

I've been feeling so much more confident riding my horse lately that I've decided it's time to start cantering on him.

I've been a little nervous about cantering on him up until now. The first couple of times I fell off of him, it was when he spooked and broke into a canter while I was riding. He was a little unpredictable for quite a while there, being a baby and all, but also my riding skills weren't all that good. The last time I cantered was on my brother-in-law's horse a couple of years ago, and I felt pretty insecure; and the time before was probably 15 years ago, when as a preteen I took some riding lessons from a family friend.

The riding lessons my trainer gave me recently have really paid off, though, and I'm starting to feel much more secure on the horse. So last week I told Leslie that I want to start cantering on him soon, and yesterday she had me practice a skill in preparation for that.

Basically, she had me time my posting so that I went up when his outside front leg was forward, and sat down when his outside front leg was back. This is preparation for when I ask him to canter with a certain lead.

I'm planning to practice posting with this timing over the next few days, and hopefully next week I'll be able to start cantering on him under Leslie's guidance!

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My horse's new snaffle bit

Well, I did it — I upgraded my horse's bit. One of the other boarders was selling a snaffle bit that was pretty small, so last Wednesday my trainer and I tried it out on him. To my surprise, Panama has responded to it really well, so I've decided to go ahead and keep using it.

One thing I've noticed is that Panama is much more sensitive to directions with the new bit, so I don't have to try as hard — for instance, just a squeeze of my fingers on the reins is all that's needed to get him to turn. He's also stopping a little better than before (though he still has some problems with this).

As much as I hate to admit it, maybe my trainer was right about Panama needing a tougher bit than that rubber training bit. I'm pleased with how responsive he is to the new bit — it's almost like he's reading my mind!

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The plight of the mustangs

Mustangs — wild horses that live in the American West — are in some serious danger, according to this article, which talks about a possible change in how mustangs are treated: The government is thinking about euthanizing wild horses to control the population.

For years, mustangs have been protected from this kind of thing, partly because they have been perceived as a symbol of the American West. Think about cars like the Ford Mustang, and movies such as Spirit. To control herd population, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rounds up mustangs and puts them up for adoption. Adoption fees are minimal, but you usually have to prove that you have enough land and enough horse sense to gentle a wild horse. Even after a mustang has been adopted, it is still protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

Unfortunately, in 2005 this protection was weakened substantially with a bill that allows mustangs to be sold to slaughter if they are older than 10, or have failed to find a home after three or more adoption attempts. Now the BLM is poised to all but eliminate the protection altogether by approving euthanization as a method of population control.

Did you notice that the article rarely called them mustangs? I noticed the curious near-absence of the term, and went back and counted: The word mustang was used only twice, while the term wild horses was used more than half a dozen times. My guess is that the media is aware of the symbolism that mustangs hold for many Americans, and that they were trying to soften the impact of the article — and perhaps avoid some of the inevitable public outcry — with their word choices. Think about it — while mustang conjures up images of the nobility and free spirit of the American West, wild horse makes you think more of stray animals.

I think the term wild horses was deliberately used more heavily than mustangs, the term that most people would recognize, in order to convey an impression of the horses as pests — like an overgrown rat population that requires extermination. I am appalled that our government would consider revoking protection for a national symbol such as the mustangs. For someone who lives in the West and loves what these horses stand for, it's kind of like deciding one day that it's perfectly okay for hunters to kill bald eagles.

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