Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's a small world after all...

It's times like this when you realize how small the world really is... Pam, whose blog There is a Horse in My Bubblebath I follow, is practically in my backyard for her daughter's Colorado wedding.

Well, actually, she's an hour's drive away in Colorado Springs, but still! I can't believe one of my readers and fellow bloggers is so close!

I wish I'd known sooner. I would have loved to have her meet Panama in person!

I don't suppose I have any readers who live in the Denver area?

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Under-sentencing animal abuse cases

Do you remember the bison slaying case I blogged about a few months ago? A Texas software exec who owns a vacation ranch in Colorado was charged with animal cruelty after he slaughtered 32 of his neighbor's buffalo because they kept getting onto his property.

I was horrified that anyone would do that. It's hardly the bisons' fault — they don't understand about property lines or any of that kind of thing. Furthermore, who the heck lives on a ranch in Colorado (even part-time) and expects their pasture to look "pristine"?

Unfortunately, the guy's lawyers struck a plea bargain, which meant that the judge's hands were tied, and he was only able to sentence him to 10 days in jail. That's not even 8 hours per buffalo!

I know it's not the judge's fault in this case, but just the other day Fugly Horse of the Day had blogged about judges being too lenient in animal abuse cases. Whether it's the judge determining the sentence, or the lawyers striking a deal, the number of light sentences in animal abuse cases demonstrates how little an animal's life is valued in our society — particularly when that animal is considered livestock.

Personally, I think this guy ought to be going away for a very long time. The fact remains that not only did he kill 32 buffalo, but he also did it in cold blood, as retaliation because his pasture didn't look so pretty anymore. I agree with many of the people who commented on Fugly's post: We need to consider, if these people can abuse animals without any remorse, what are they capable of doing to people?

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An update on the treat situation

A while back I blogged about the barn owner giving neighbors permission to treat the horses — without asking me or any of the other owners whether it was okay.

I've been thinking about it a lot, and ultimately I decided I wasn't comfortable with strangers feeding my horse. Virtually every horse person I talked to immediately commented on how they could inadvertently (or intentionally) make a horse sick by feeding him something he shouldn't have. Then too was the issue of Panama acting more pushy and mouthy with me since the treating started.

On Tuesday I finally had the opportunity to talk to the barn owner about it. Of course, he immediately suggested the exact solution I was trying to avoid: that he just tell the people not to feed Panama, because it was teaching him bad habits. I don't like this idea because it still doesn't account for other people seeing passersby feeding the horses, and thinking it's okay for them to as well; they wouldn't know not to feed Panama. However, I also don't like the idea of Panama feeling left out while the other horses get treats.

Despite my feelings about this solution, though, I don't think I have the right to tell the barn owner what to do with his property and the other horses — even though technically the treating is teaching all of them bad habits. (One horse belongs to the property owner, by the way, and I never see the owners of the other two.) I did try to explain why letting people feed horses at the fence wasn't a good idea, and I asked that he'd put a sign up asking people not to feed the horses if it got to be too bad. I don't feel right about asking any more than that, though.

I guess in another week or so, I'll follow up and see if he's talked to the neighbors about it yet. I hate feeling mean, but the fact remains that Panama is my horse and I shouldn't have to worry about him getting overly mouthy — or, worse, sick! — from someone else feeding him.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

When horses dislike people

Yesterday I was able to cram in a short visit with my horse. I went out to the barn in the early afternoon to take off his blanket (it took forever to get up above 15 degrees!), and stayed to groom and play with him a little.

Panama seemed to be glad for the attention, and approached me willingly when I arrived. Interestingly, though, when I had him tied up and was getting ready to take off his blanket, the barn owner walked over — and Panama immediately tensed up.

I've tried not to read too much into his resistance to being handled by the barn owner, but I wonder if I am missing something here. I've always assumed it was because the barn owner is so clumsy with the horses, and his bumbling movements scare Panama. Or because I'm generally the only one to handle Panama (which is why we've been practicing having Michael halter him).

However, I'm not so sure Panama's reactions to other people — such as my farrier — support the second theory. The first theory is still a possibility, but I am wondering now if there is a bit of a personality conflict going on here.

Don't get me wrong — I don't think the barn owner is doing anything to hurt or intentionally frighten Panama. I think it would be pretty obvious to me if he was. But I do think there's something about the owner that makes Panama wary.

Nuzzling Muzzles, another blog I follow, recently posted on whether horses are instinctive judges of people. I think it's a valid theory. The barn owner is a nice guy, but there are certain things I dislike about him (mainly some evidence here and there that he doesn't really know much about horses). Panama might be picking up on my feelings, but quite frankly I think he caught on first — he was running away from the owner before I even started noticing the things I disliked.

I don't think either Panama or I dislike the barn owner enough to justify moving him, especially since everything else about the place is great. However, it is definitely something to be aware of!

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Evidence of moral behavior in animals

Many people seem to believe that animals are not capable of complex emotions, and that by interpreting their behaviors as such we are simply grafting human emotion onto what we see.

I personally feel that this belief is nothing more than a justification for viewing animals as somehow lesser than humans. It all goes back to that need that some people have to feel humans are somehow special. You know, the whole "God created animals for humans to use" or "Only humans can go to heaven" thing.

I blogged before about displays of jealousy in horses, and a study that proved dogs get jealous too. Now I'd like to direct your attention to an article that talks about moral behavior among animals. There are several convincing examples given in the article, some of which I have seen in our own pets. For instance, one of our dogs plays gently with smaller dogs, just as described in the article; and my horse has demonstrated clear concern after doing something to cause me to fall.

The article is a prelude to an upcoming book, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. A visit to my library's online card catalog revealed that the author has also put out another, similar book: The Emotional Lives of Animals. I intend to read both, and greatly look forward to seeing what this scientist has to say!

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Panama's story: A video

Yesterday I was browsing horse videos on YouTube, and I ran across this video:

Lola: It's Only The Beginning

The video is the story of a girl and the progress she has made with her horse. So of course I was inspired to make a video telling the story of Panama's rescue and rehabilitation.

I originally wanted to set the video to Jewel's "Hands," because I thought it best captured the spirit of the video. Unfortunately, "Hands" was not among YouTube's list of pre-licensed songs. (Yes, YouTube is cracking down on copyright infringement in videos now!)

For those of you who have the song, I suggest turning down the volume on your computer and starting the video and the song at exactly the same time. You'll see why the song is so appropriate!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Foiled again!

Today is another day like yesterday, only colder — we are expecting a high of only about 15 degrees. Since I blanket at 15 degrees and under, it seems I won't have much of an opportunity to spend time with my horse today after all.

If it gets into the upper teens this afternoon, and if the sun comes out, I might change my mind. I'll have to bundle up if I plan on spending any amount of time out there, and I'll probably only take the blanket off while I groom him, but if I see a chance to visit Panama I'll take it!

In another news, I've decided it's high time I posted some more pictures. I've got to show you how cute Panama looks in his blue blanket (my favorite)! Also, I haven't taken any videos in a long while, as I was reminded when I was browsing horse videos on YouTube last night. I don't often have a chance for someone to videotape me riding (since Michael doesn't have much patience for visiting at the barn), but perhaps I can get a video of something else!

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Synthetic tracks not the answer after all?

I saw this article tonight on our local newspaper's website:

7 horses fatally injuried at Santa Anita

This reminds me of PETA's demands after Eight Belles's death last year. They wanted race tracks to switch to synthetic surfaces.

I remember at the time reading online that synthetic tracks were too new, and as of yet unproven, to determine whether they would really be an improvement. It sounds like those people were right: According to this article, it turns out the synthetic tracks don't do well at all in inclement weather. Though I wonder whether any track really would...

Is the answer really changing the type of track we races horses on? I guess to me it seems kind of like encouraging kids to bring Molotov cocktails to school instead of guns: It's still dangerous, either way.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Acting out

Although this was going to be a busy weekend, I had planned to try to squeeze in a horseback ride. Too bad I hadn't checked the weather when I made those plans! Our run of warm weather has officially ended: Today was about 20 degrees with some snow flurries here and there.

(It had snowed Friday night, too, but yesterday was so warm that I didn't expect it would get cold again so soon!)

So unfortunately, instead of going out to the barn to spend time with Panama and ride, Michael and I went out to the barn to put on his blanket. He was very jumpy, as he always is when the weather changes abruptly — perhaps even more so than usual, due to my long absence. It had also been a while since he wore his blanket, which didn't help his mood any.

Panama's behavior leads me to believe he was a little cross at me for not spending enough time with him. First he ran away from me when I brought out the halter, but he ran into the back pasture, where the horses don't really hang out but where I always spend time with Panama. Once back there he stood still and put his nose into the halter, just like he always does.

After I put the blanket on him (without incident, thankfully) and secured all the straps, I untied Panama and tried to lead him away from the hitching post. He turned to face me, took several steps closer to the hitching post, planted his feet, and stared at me stubbornly. I think the darn horse was protesting that I hadn't even brushed him!

I tried to get him moving, but twice he planted his feet and refused. Then he freaked out for no apparent reason — though now I think what happened was the hitching post brushed up against his blanket, startling him. He took off and ran in little circles around me, straining to "run away" as fast as he could despite the fact that he was on an 8-foot line. He wasn't pulling very hard, though, so I just hung on and yelled "Ho!" at him over and over. After a few moments he stopped and stood there, tense and quivering, while I walked around him and spoke soothingly.

When we started moving again, his walk was visibly tense and exaggerated, but he did walk at least. I released him in the front pasture, and kept an eye on him as he followed me back to the barn, in case he tried nipping at me from behind. (He does that when he's annoyed that I'm leaving already, but he won't do it if I'm looking.)

Tomorrow isn't supposed to be any warmer — if anything, a few degrees colder — but I'm thinking I may have to suck it up and spend some time out at the barn anyway, for Panama's sake.

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National Adopt an Animal Already in Rescue Day

A horse blog I recently started following, Fugly Horse of the Day, has designated February 2nd as National Adopt an Animal Already in Rescue Day. The idea is to adopt an animal from a rescue or a no-kill shelter — not from an open admission shelter (which essentially means kill shelter). Even though these animals have already been technically "rescued," they still desperately need homes to call their own — not to mention, adopting one frees up that spot for another animal in need of being rescued!

Heaven knows with two dogs, two cats, and a horse, my husband and I are already full up — but Fugly isn't putting any pressure on people to adopt an animal if they're not able to. She specifically issues her challenge to those "who are thinking of adding another animal to your household." Adopting an animal you don't have the time or money to care for properly isn't doing the animal any favors, so this only applies to those who have made a responsible decision to add a dog, cat, or horse to their family.

If any of my readers take Fugly up on her challenge, I would be interested to hear about it!

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Busy weekend and a horse quote

This is going to be a very busy weekend for me. I just recently got done with a 24-hour babysitting gig, and thanks to lil sunshines waking me up at 6:45 am, I haven't gotten much sleep. Nor will I be catching up any time soon — I am also participating in a 24-hour short story contest this weekend, and the story is due at 11:00 am.

I'm hoping to get out to the barn tomorrow afternoon, though. It'll have been five days since I last was out there. I miss my horse!

I'll blog about my visit tomorrow evening. In the meantime, here is a great horse quote that arrived in a newsletter I subscribe to:

"A lovely horse is always an experience.... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words."

- Beryl Markham

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Onion spoof on horse abuse in the media

There seems to be a reluctance in the media to talk about unpleasant topics such as horse abuse. (For some reason the really unpleasant topics, such as violent crimes and politics, are much more comfortable to them.) It's so bad that I think the media's approach sometimes actually perpetuates horse abuse (and cat abuse and dog abuse), by failing to raise awareness of it.

The Onion, which is a news spoof paper and website, has a great sarcastic video about how determined the media often seems to avoid this topic.


Man Who Crossed Nation In Balloon Only Wants To Talk About Horse Abuse

I saw this link on another blog, where a great many commenters — who had clearly never heard of The Onion before — thought this was a real news show. Please be aware that this is not real news — it's a spoof.

But it's also frighteningly accurate, isn't it? Do you know of people in real life — whether in the media or not — who are similarly quick to try to change the subject when something uncomfortable like horse abuse comes up?

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

When Animal Control won't help

Abuse and neglect seem to be pretty common in the horse world. Unfortunately, I've also heard from a lot of people that Animal Control is generally pretty reluctant to get involved. In most states horses are considered livestock, and the law tends to be much more lenient here. What constitutes clear abuse or neglect among cat and dog owners often isn't given a second thought when it's a horse or a cow.

But just because Animal Control doesn't want to hear it, doesn't mean you have sit back and take it! Here's an ingenious way to raise awareness: Post a fake ad on Craigslist, complete with pictures of the poor starving mare!

Yep, this is real — some loser was starving their mare, so a concerned neighbor took some pictures and posted a fake ad on Craigslist. The pictures were horrific, and word traveled like wildfire throughout the online horse world. According to this thread, the resulting furor did succeed in the horse getting veterinary attention, and the owners are being charged with animal cruelty.

Be sure to read the last page of the thread, though. It turns out the mare had to be euthanized because she had been starved for so long. At least the poor girl had a humane death. Does anyone know whether the sheriff's office followed through, and charged the owners?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day horse rescue

Apparently yesterday at the inauguration, a parade horse named Mouse was injured when he was hit by a truck. The Humane Society of the United States was on scene to provide animal welfare services, and they were able to save the horse.

If you go to the HSUS page on the Inauguration Day horse accident, you'll see a video about the rescue, as well as a few pictures. In the first picture you can see the horse's rear leg stuck in the truck's grill. Poor guy!

The report doesn't include much information on how the accident happened, so I Googled it. According to the comments at the end of this article, the parade horse was backing up because he was frightened of a buggy on the road. When he backed into the front of the truck, he kicked out, entangling his leg in the truck's grill.

I have to say I agree with PETA: Easily frightened animals such as horses don't belong in noisy crowds and parades. It's not like the size and noise of the crowd was a surprise, either — the government has been making crowd control preparations for months. It ought to have been obvious that something like this could happen!

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The cost of boarding a horse

By far the biggest expense of having a horse is boarding it. This doesn't mean it's cheap or free to keep a horse if you own horse property, as some people assume — you usually pay more for acreage, for one thing (either more for the property, or more spent in gas commuting from the country), and you have to take into account the cost of buying hay, which is usually included in board. But it's still a much better deal if you can keep a horse on your own land.

This has been on my mind lately, because Michael and I have been (once again) tossing around the idea of buying horse property. We probably won't be able to act on it until the economy recovers a bit, since we'll need to sell one house in order to buy another; but we've been scouting out neighborhoods with horse property and thinking about where we'd prefer to live.

Window shopping for horse property and comparing prices made me think of how much boarding costs, so I added up everything I've spent on board since Panama came to Denver. In just under a year and a half, I've spent $6,000 on board — and that's boarding at the most affordable full-care places I can find!

So you've got to figure that, depending on the value of real estate where you live, full-care boarding can cost you anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 a year. (Show barns can cost even more, but we'll ignore the extreme highs and lows for the moment — I'm talking about average people here.) If you own a horse for even ten years — roughly a third of a horse's life — you'll pay $40,000 to $80,000 in board, and that's not taking into account increases over time!

When I think about it this way, paying more for horse property — especially when I have a young horse like Panama, whom I plan to keep his entire life — suddenly doesn't sound that unreasonable, even with the price of hay. And technically, instead of putting that $4,000 or more each year into board, we'd be putting it into our property, earning equity and tax breaks.

So while owning horses may not be free when you have horse property, it's still the cost of boarding a horse that is the worst!

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How NOT to move a horse

I found this video thanks to Fugly Horse of the Day:



This is wrong on SO many levels, but I'll summarize:

* The horses have ropes (read: nooses) tied around their necks, instead of halters with lead ropes hooked to them.

* If you listen to the commentary, at least one of the horses is tied to the bumper — meaning if he fell, that rope around his neck could strangle him.

* The lead horse is clearly lame, and they're trying to make her trot on asphalt with an Expedition "dragging" her (the woman's own terminology!).

* If you're so fat that hand-walking a horse is too much exercise for you, then you probably shouldn't own them in the first place.

Also, did anyone notice what she said when she was complaining about her husband telling her to move the horses? "How you expect me, a woman (slight pause), with five kids and two grandbabies to go move three horses with an Expedition?"

What is she saying here? That being female and having borne children (who are old enough to have their own children) makes her incapable of making intelligent choices about whether you should tie a rope around a horse's throat?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tail massage

Michael took this picture just before our haltering session on Saturday:

Giving my horse a tail massage

He took the picture to make a point. Panama loves a "tail massage," where I lightly massage the sides and underneath of his tail, right up underneath where no hair grows. If I do it just right, he drops his head, half-closes his eyes, and almost falls asleep at the hitching post.

My fingers are nowhere near his anus, but try telling Michael that!

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Back in the saddle!

Today was a beautiful day, reaching the low 70s in the afternoon. It was warm enough that I actually felt uncomfortable while I was grooming my horse, even though I was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt!

Of course, I'm not complaining one bit. The nice weather meant that both pastures were completely dry, except for some lingering snow in the shadow of the barn. As a result, I was able to get a lot done with Panama today — including my first ride in at least two months.

Panama knew what was up — before I haltered him, he watched me carry the saddle over to the hitching post, his head up and his ears pricked. After I groomed him, I turned him loose in the back pasture and chased him around a bit. He had tons of energy, and once he got into a canter he just ran and ran. It clearly made him feel good, too — he was so excited that he trotted right up to me afterward to see what was next.

Before I rode, I took the time to lunge Panama — because it had been a while since I'd ridden, I wanted to check his mood and remind him of his manners. He was reasonably well behaved, so I only lunged him for about ten minutes before getting on.

I kept our ride short, too — only about fifteen or twenty minutes — because both of us are a bit out of shape after several months off. We'll have to build up to longer rides again — today was meant mainly a refresher, which is a good thing because that's what he needed!

One problem we encountered today was that Panama kept mixing up his cues, usually interpreting leg yields as a command to trot. We worked on that for a bit, but luckily it didn't take too long for him to figure it out again. We also worked a little on stopping quickly at the whoa, which is not one of his strong points anyway, but tends to get worse when he hasn't been ridden in a while.

Framing up took some effort for him, because his back muscles aren't as strong as they were. That's another reason why I kept the ride short — I knew if I pushed him too hard, he'd get tired and start ignoring the command to frame up. Then I'd have to either fight a losing battle, or continue riding and inadvertently send the message that it's okay to ignore that command... Much better just to stop when we're doing well!

My trainer has told me that sometimes it's not how long you ride, it's what you accomplish during that time. With that criteria in mind, today was a grand success!

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Happy inauguration day!

Today the United States gets a new president for the first time in eight years. I'm going to celebrate the occasion out at the barn with my horse. I think Panama would approve, particularly considering this quote from our new president:

"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other. And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals."

- Barack Obama


Amen to that.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

More practice with Michael

Michael and I went out to the barn on Saturday, and we again practiced having him halter Panama.

Panama is curious about having Michael handle him, but he's comfortable with it now. Unfortunately, Michael is hesitant and Panama (little bugger that he is) is taking advantage of it. Michael was taking it slow, just like he did last time, but every time he'd move in Panama would take another step back so that he could continue checking Michael out. He was particularly interested in smelling Michael's shoes, and even once tried to take a bite out of Michael's pant leg. (I blame that last incident on the treats problem.)

Finally I told Michael he was just going to have to get in there and do it. Panama kept turning his head in to Michael to check him out, and I kept telling Michael to push his head away so that he'd have room to halter him, but he was a bit slow on the uptake. He hasn't yet figured out how to tell when you can get away with pushing a horse around a little.

Anyway, Michael finally got Panama haltered, took the halter back off again, and repeated the process. We talked a bit about it afterward, and I told Michael I think he needs to start letting Panama know who is boss when Michael is holding the halter. We'll work on that next time. After that, we need to start working on Michael catching Panama (i.e. walking up to him and haltering him without me standing there to keep him steady).

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Friday, January 16, 2009

National Western Stock Show more humane this year

The National Western Stock Show has been going on in Denver since January 6. I'm not a fan of the stock show, so I've been doing my best to ignore it. However, in doing so I also missed this piece of good news:

National Western Stock Show bans prods

Electric prods are typically used to frighten a horse into bolting out of the chute and trying to buck its rider. For obvious reasons, animal rights groups oppose this practice. The stock show FINALLY listened and banned the use of prods this year.

According to the article, "Denver Animal Control's investigation of last year's allegations found no evidence the horses suffered." Riiiiight. Well, if it's so humane, why aren't we using prods on our children to get them to run faster in track or play harder in team sports?

Thankfully, someone took these concerns seriously, and banned the practice this year.

"That's outstanding. It's a step in the right direction," said Steve Hindi, president of SHARK — Showing Animals Respect & Kindness. The Geneva, Ill.-based group recorded video last year at three National Western rodeos that shows several saddle broncs being jolted out of the chute.

"We'll probably never be rodeo supporters, but I have to hand it to them. They have taken a significant step," Hindi said.

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Should other people treat your horse?

I have a situation that I am more than a little annoyed about.

Basically, the barn owner is allowing people wandering by the pasture to give the horses treats through the fence — and he didn't consult the owners first. If he had, I would have said NO.

I don't like the idea of strangers feeding my horse, particularly when I'm not there, for many reasons. First off, I don't want him to become accustomed to getting treats from people at the fence. Before this started he would barely even pay attention to the people at the fence. Now he approaches all of them — which would make him a heck of a lot easier to poison, or even capture.

Second of all — and my biggest problem right now — is that I don't want my horse to get mouthy and pushy. I do give him treats myself, but he knows he has to behave himself when I give them. Now he's got people feeding him who will give him treats no matter how poorly he behaves — and as a result, he's getting pushy even with me. Yesterday and today I was constantly reprimanding him for mouthing me, shoving my hands and my pockets with his nose, etc.

And it's not just Panama. Yesterday I saw his girlfriend, who is normally the most gentle horse I've ever known, head-butt the barn owner in the back to push him out of her way. And today I watched her try to bite the instructor who gives lessons on her. The alpha has gotten to be more pushy, too — he's taken to standing in the tack/feed room door when I'm in there again, something he gave up weeks ago when he finally realized that 1) I don't like it and 2) I won't give him anything.

I've only noticed the change in the last couple of weeks, so luckily I don't think this has been going on long. The problem is fixing it. On one hand I feel bad about confronting the barn owner, but on the other hand I know he had absolutely no right to tell people they could feed my horse without consulting me first!

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Horse trailer snafu

I mentioned last night that I worked with Panama yesterday on loading into the trailer. I did eventually get some good results, but not before a bit of a snafu!

Panama had just had his grain when I arrived, so I decided to try loading him without grain as incentive. I figured, it went pretty well last time, so it shouldn't be too difficult this time, right?

Wrong! He clearly thought I was crazy for wanting him to get onto the trailer. I set my goal low — just one or two feet in the trailer of his own accord would do — but even that took almost an hour.

There were times when I thought for sure Panama would put a foot on for me, but he'd always change his mind and back away. I tried getting in the other side and looping the lead rope through the partition to get him to load straight. I also tried it being in the same stall as I was trying to get him to load into — I've loaded him into a trailer like that before, but a bigger trailer with more room to slip underneath the partition. (This trailer wouldn't work for that, but I figured there was no way he was getting far enough in to squish me.)

One thing Panama kept doing was catching his lead rope in the latches, which are on the end of the partition. Almost every time he'd stop pulling almost immediately and wait for me to rescue him; if he didn't stop right away, scolding him usually brought him to his senses. Unfortunately, one time he pulled hard enough that he actually pulled the trailer right off the block! The thing moved about a foot before he stopped pulling and meekly waited for my help.

Despite that little snafu, I did eventually get Panama to put one foot in the trailer — twice. The first time he pulled it back almost as soon as he set it down, as if the trailer floor was a hot potato. But with a little praise and coaxing, he repeated the performance a few minutes later — and actually put weight on it! He looked so bewildered when I immediately gave him a treat and showered him in praise.

One thing I noticed helped me to finally get Panama into the trailer was when I went into the trailer and squatted down in a relaxed pose, holding the lead rope. I don't know if it was because I appeared more relaxed or because he was curious about what I was doing, but that's when we made real progress. Too bad there's not room for me to hang out with him in there — I think that would help him a lot in getting over his fear of the trailer!

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

So much for my resolutions?

I may have been doing really well getting out to the barn frequently right around New Year's, but unfortunately that trend didn't continue into the first full week of the year. The only time I got out to the barn last week was first thing Monday morning, to take Panama's blanket off. I even missed getting out there this weekend and the beginning of this week! So today was the first time I'd been out there in a while.

Panama seemed happy to see me, but he was definitely a touch wild from not being handled for a week and a half. He also was a mess — Monday's snow is melting, and he quite happily rolled in the mud sometime earlier today.

I spent some time grooming Panama. The mud was caked into his fur — it was even on his face! This picture doesn't do it justice, but my cell phone was all that I had on me at the time:

My horse all muddy

The slush and mud in the back pasture made it too slippery to lunge him, so I only chased him around a little — and even that not for very long, because he kept slipping. Then I decided to practice loading him into the trailer, but that didn't go as well as planned — I'll explain in my next post.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Busy first week of 2009

I have to confess I am not off to a good start on keeping my 2009 New Year's resolution to Panama: spending quality time with him at least three times a week. I jumped right into a full work schedule this week, and although I had a productive week with my freelancing, I didn't make it out to the barn at all.

And unfortunately, the weekend may not be much better. I have a busy day lined up for tomorrow, particularly since I have an article due, so I think Sunday will be my next availability for visiting poor ignored Panama!

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Recession results in more abandoned animals

The plight of pets doesn't often make top headlines, so I was happy to see this headline on my iGoogle page last night:

Don't dump your pets when times are tough

The article was about dogs and cats, the most common of household pets, but it is a good reminder for horse owners too. I've heard horror stories of horses being abandoned in fields because their owners can't afford to feed them anymore.

And of course, there are a surplus of stories of people who don't provide their horses with food and water in the winter, because they think they can eat snow and live off of dry winter grass.

If the poor economy is affecting your ability to care for your horses, take some hints from the article's sidebar: First see if you can find help, or work in return for board or hay. If you really must get rid of your horses, call around to local shelters. Also, be careful not to give your horse away or send him to auction, where he is likely to get picked up by a kill buyer — even if you have fallen on tough times, your horse still deserves a chance to live!

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Unexpected expenses hurt the most

Remember my discouraging day a couple of weeks ago, that started with Panama wrecking his blanket and ended with him breaking a lead rope?

Well, it turned out that was an expensive day, too: Between having the blanket cleaned and repaired, and replacing the lead rope, I just spent $47.68.

It's a lot better than it would have been had the blanket ($80) needed to be replaced, too, but it's still a bunch of money that I wouldn't have needed to spend if my horse had kept his brain in his skull. The timing was awful too: not only am I still recovering (financially) from Christmas, but I'm also preparing my fourth quarterly estimated tax payment, which is due January 15!

When you own a horse, it's not the regular expenses that hurt the most, even though they are usually where the biggest chunk of your money goes: boarding, hay, regular vet visits, etc. It's the unexpected expenses (even the $50 ones) that remind you that, yes, owning a horse is expensive!

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Monday, January 5, 2009

Who was lucky: Me or my horse?

A discussion thread on another blog made me think about who is the lucky one, me or my horse.

I often have people tell me, when they first hear my story of meeting and rescuing my horse, that I got lucky. In other words, I didn't know anything about his background or how he'd be when he grew up, so I am lucky he's sweet and rideable.

Well, for one thing I think they're missing the point. I didn't rescue Panama because I wanted a riding horse. I hadn't ridden for years, and I had no plans to ride a horse anytime soon — let alone to own a horse. I rescued him because I felt a connection and wanted to save him from abusive and neglectful backyard breeders, not to mention from a likelihood of ending up at the slaughter house.

But for another thing, I'm not so sure that I did necessarily just "get lucky" that Panama is such a good horse. Sure, there are things that are out of my control, such as his size — and granted, he is only just barely big enough for me to ride. But since my best times with him are when I've got both feet on the ground, I don't think it would have mattered much to me if I was unlucky in that respect.

The other thing people often mean when they say I got lucky, is what a good-natured horse Panama turned out to be. This idea just makes me laugh. Panama is a good horse not because he was born that way, but because of the time and love I've put into our relationship. He was shaping up to be a hellion when he was younger: virtually no human contact the first year of his life, very little the year he spent with my in-laws, and a whole string of bad experiences. He was stubborn, standoffish, and difficult when I transported him to Denver at age 2, but over the past year and a half he has become affectionate, well-mannered, and eager to please.

I suppose in a way I was lucky, because I gained a companion and a best friend. But I think Panama was the luckier one, not only because his very existence was at stake, but also because there's a lot of people, even among horse people, who wouldn't have bothered.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Teaching my horse to play nicely with others

You might remember that my horse was having some blanketing problems recently: He wouldn't let the barn's owner halter and blanket him.

I decided then that I needed to practice having other people handle Panama — in particular, having others halter him. While I'm glad that no one will be able to kidnap my horse (good luck getting him into a trailer, let alone getting a halter on him), I do want people other than me to be able to put a halter on him if necessary.

Today when Michael and I went to the barn to take Panama's blanket off, we practiced having Michael halter him. I caught him initially — he hasn't given me any problems with that for a couple of weeks now — and we took him into the back pasture to remove the blanket and brush him. Then I took his halter off and released him in the back pasture, where the other horses wouldn't be around to harass us, and had Michael catch him again.

Initially I was going to stand back and let Michael do everything, but as soon as he tried to approach Panama while holding the halter, Panama walked away from him. I quickly realized I would have to help.

In case Panama was feeling frisky, I clucked at him and made him run a little bit, but he cantered around us only a few times before stopping and facing me. So I walked up to him and stood on his right side (so that Michael could eventually stand on his left and put the halter on). With one hand stroking his neck and the other lightly on the back of his withers, I told Michael to approach slowly.

Panama immediately tensed up and tried to back up, but I scolded him with a little sound I use to mean no (kind of a sharp, low eehh) and tightened my hand on the back of his withers. He stopped backing up after a step or two.

We took it slow then. Michael stayed where he was, about three feet in front and to the side of where he'd need to be to put the halter on. I also told him to hold the halter in one hand down at his side, as relaxed as possible, and hold the other hand out to Panama. Panama sniffed his hand, and I felt the muscles in his neck and shoulders relax; then he reached out to sniff the halter.

Panama seemed somewhat reassured once he recognized the smells on Michael and on the halter, so he stayed relaxed. I put a hand over his nose, the way I do when he snuggles up to me or when I worm him, and held him still as I directed Michael to get a little closer. We mostly stood there and talked, and took it a step or two at a time until Michael was standing in position.

I could tell when Panama was ready. He was relaxed almost to normal, and even started dipping his head to try to put his nose through the halter, which Michael still held loosely in one hand. I laughed and told Michael, "He's ready."

"Really?" Michael asked.

"Yup," I said. "Just slip the halter over his nose."

Sure enough, when he did, Panama put his nose right through it. Michael drew the halter up, got the strap up behind his ears, and buckled it without so much as a whisper of protest from Panama. Of course, I was praising him silly (Panama, that is).

After a few moments, I had Michael take the halter off again. We stepped back.

"Let's try it again," I suggested.

Michael was skeptical. He confided that he had thought we'd only get one time out of this, and that only after some work.

"No, let's do it one more time."

So we walked back up to Panama, and he handled it just fine. Michael slipped the halter on. Panama helped by putting his nose through it. Then we backed off and he stayed there, looking rather goofy with the halter strap too far back behind his ears. (Michael needs more practice than Panama, apparently.)

Satisfied, I took Panama back into the front pasture and released him. I think having Michael handle him more on the weekends is going to become a regular thing, though. Panama needs to be handle-able by more than just me and my trainer!

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Friday, January 2, 2009

HBO investigation: Race horse slaughter

I discovered these videos via a URL on Fugly Horse of the Day: part one and two of an HBO segment on race horse slaughter.

The video is about how prevalent it is in the race industry to sell horses to kill buyers when the horses stop performing as well. There are a series of shots in the first video of what goes on in a slaughter house; the images aren't gory, but it is kind of sad to see the horse struggling as the employee repeatedly shoots it with a captive bolt.





I am glad there aren't any more horse slaughter houses open in the United States, but obviously that doesn't stop kill buyers from shipping horses over the border. Part of the problem is obviously the existence of slaughter houses, which are kind of like dying in a concentration camp as opposed to dying in your own bed — but the real problem is the fact that the practice is considered acceptable in the first place.

It's sad that certain factions of the horse industry view these beautiful animals as nothing more than cash cows to be killed when they stop making their owners money.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

Second afternoon in a row at the barn

I wrote my 2009 New Year's resolutions several days ago, so I feel confident in saying that I'm already off to a great start in keeping my horse-related resolution: For the first time in ages, I spent two afternoons in a row at the barn, yesterday and today.

Today was an even better day than yesterday for quality time with my horse. He seemed happy to see me, and readily approached me when I brought out his halter. I took him into the back pasture again to tie him up and brush him. So that we didn't have the same troubles as yesterday with pent-up energy, I played chase with him a bit before lunging him. Whether for that reason or because he's enjoying being worked again, he was an absolute angel on the lunge line today.

Panama didn't get as sweaty today, so I just gave him a good brushing after our lunging session. When I took him back into the front pasture, he acted like he didn't want our time together to end: He just stood there and faced me, and I had to shoo him off so that I could close the gate behind us. Then he followed me to the tack room, pinning his ears and trying to nip at my clothes, like he used to do when I'd take him off the green pasture at the other barn when he didn't want to go. I scolded him, of course, and he stopped, but I think it was because he didn't want me to put everything away and leave.

It was unbelievably nice to spend another afternoon at the barn. Unfortunately, it looks like we might have some cold weather again this weekend, but I'm going to try not to let it keep me from the barn. I've enjoyed getting out there regularly again, and the weekends are the best time for me to spend time with Panama!

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At long last: An afternoon at the barn

Yesterday was warm (in the 50s) and wasn't windy (most warm days lately have been exceptionally windy), so I spent my first long afternoon at the barn in quite a while. And I have to say, it was heavenly!

First of all, Panama was in a much better mood than he has been lately, so I have to conclude that it was the extreme cold making him skittish and cranky. He didn't so much as bat an eye when I brought the halter to him, and even put his nose in it for me just like all the skittishness had never happened.

The back pasture was completely dry, so I took him back there and tied him up, just like I always did before our run of cold, snowy weather. He seemed happy enough about that. He was slightly jittery when I first started grooming him, but calmed down enough that I was even able to French braid his tail.

After that I lunged him. He started out great — controlled walk and trot, quick response when I asked him to slow down or stop. He even gave me a controlled canter the first time, aside from a little head-shaking to tell me he was feeling frisky. But when I slowed him to a trot and then asked him to canter again, he decided he'd had enough of the games, and ran pell-mell around me, bucking and going as fast as he could without pulling me off my feet.

I finally got him to slow to a trot, and then a walk. We practiced a bit more, and he did give me a reasonably controlled canter on that side before we switched.

But when we reversed directions, it was the same story all over again: He walked and trotted nicely, but lost his mind at the canter. I decided lunging wasn't working, and once I got him to slow down, halted him and removed the lunge line. A swing of the line and a couple of clucks, and he was off again, but without me hanging on for dear life.

Panama cantered around me at a decent clip for probably ten minutes, and I quite enjoyed egging him on. At first he was sporadic, running himself into corners and turning sharply to avoid hitting fences, but eventually he fell into a nice round circle. As his canter began to look more controlled, I stopped encouraging him, and he slowed down. His sides were heaving and his chest and neck were damp with sweat when he approached me — ears pricked and looking very contrite, I might add.

I lunged Panama at the walk to cool him down, and he was very well-behaved. Then I tied him back up with the lead rope, rubbed him down with a towel, and gave him a good brushing. After that it was time for the dreaded wormer. (This was actually two weeks overdue, but with the cold wormer and Panama acting crazy, I didn't dare try to worm him until I had a chance to work him first.) He actually took it without a fuss this time, though he did make a lot of disgusted faces, and looked at me very accusingly afterward. But after making sure he'd swallowed, I gave him a few treats to clear the nasty taste out of his mouth, and he forgave me.

All in all, it was nice to spend an afternoon at the barn. It had been way too long!

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New Year's resolutions

I blogged about my writer's New Year's resolutions on my freelance writing blog, but I also have one personal New Year's resolution that has to do with my horse.

5. Spend quality time with Panama at least 3 times a week.

I have gotten into the habit lately of only going to the barn because I have to do something, like put on or take off Panama's blanket — and three-fourths of the time, that's all I do. This is a big change from how I used to be, when I would visit almost every day and at the very least groom him, if not ride.

You can probably imagine what "quality time" is, but just to clarify, I mean spending some amount of time just with him, whether that means grooming, lunging, riding, or working on some other training thing (such as loading onto the trailer).

I always feel so bad for horses whose owners never visit, and I don't ever want to turn into that kind of owner. This New Year's resolution is about making sure that doesn't happen.

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Holiday homemade horse treats

The website where I got the recipe for my holiday homemade horse treats has been taken down, so I am posting the recipe here.

Here goes:

1 cup flour
1 cup Grape Nuts cereal
¼ cup light corn syrup (Karo)
¼ cup water
2 tbs oil
1 tbs peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Shape into balls (you will probably need to use your hands for this) and bake 15-20 minutes or until crispy.

Peppermint homemade horse treats

The original recipe called for food coloring, but I left it out, which is why they look a little bland. I figured my horse doesn't care what they look like, just what they taste like — and he loves them! He is usually very well behaved, but he'll mouth me and even follow me into the tack room looking for more. I can see why, too — they smell very fresh and minty, even to me!

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