Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snowed in!

If you aren't watching the news, here in Colorado we've had quite a storm. It started snowing late Tuesday night, and pretty much hasn't stopped since then. Unfortunately, this means I haven't gotten out to the barn to see Panama, but I did get his blanket on him when I was last there Tuesday evening. Hopefully he's okay.

I promised Jane some pictures, even though they aren't horse-related. I took these of our backyard yesterday around 1pm, when we had "only" about 10 inches of snow:

October snowstorm in Colorado

October snowstorm in Colorado

We have two dogs with very different personalities. We have one that is part mastiff, part Rhodesian ridgeback (we think), and she's an absolute clown. She loves playing in the snow. Our other dog, however, is a rescue that was chained up outside and left to die, and we suspect she probably spent a lot of her former life outside. She hates going outside and is terrified of being left out there, and therefore doesn't much care for playing in the snow.

Here is Emma, the mastiff mix, plowing a path through our yard this afternoon. See how high the snow is on her side? We think we had around 20 inches at the time.

October snowstorm in Colorado

October snowstorm in Colorado

October snowstorm in Colorado

And here is a view out our front door. As you can see, the roads are passable — once you get into the middle. For those of us without trucks — especially if you park off the alley, as we do — getting there is a challenge. It's also still snowing (though you can't see it in the picture), which means it's only going to get worse! For all intents and purposes, we are snowed in until tomorrow.

October snowstorm in Colorado

Luckily, it's supposed to be sunny and in the mid 30s tomorrow, and sunny/mid 40s on Saturday, so within any luck it'll all be gone by early next week!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Snow day and making progress

Today is a snow day. It has been snowing since late last night, and the weather forecast is predicting 8 to 14 inches before it stops. I tucked Panama in with his winter blanket last night, so I'm snug on the couch with my laptop and a blanket of my own, watching the snow fall outside the living room window.

Speaking of blankets, it turns out Panama has grown even more than I originally thought. His winter blankets from the last two years are too small, and the local tack store is out of the small sizes. The store's owner said that the sheet I bought is from a brand that tends to fit big, so she had me try on a 68 blanket that was there on consignment, just to be sure that she ordered the right size.

Sure enough, Panama is now a 68, and not a 66, despite the fact that his sheet is size 66. He has a skinny neck and hip, though, which will make fitting a blanket a bit of a challenge. His new blankets should arrive in about a week.

Anyway, yesterday my trainer came out and rode Panama in the indoor arena. As we expected, he was quite anxious about this at first. The mirrors don't bother him but echoing sounds definitely do — he even goosed at the sound of his own fart!

All things considered, though, he did pretty well. I even got a chance to ride him for the last ten minutes or so, and my trainer had me work on a few things that we've never been able to do in a pasture. For instance, she had me do a serpentine across the arena with him, to get me to practice switching leg and rein aids. She thinks that with these facilities, we will be about to progress much more quickly than we could at the old barn.

Considering how good I felt about yesterday, today's snow is even more disappointing. I would have loved to ride again today, but I don't dare drive into the foothills in a storm like this, since that area always gets hit even worse!

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Horsey Headlines for October 28, 2009

The other day I read an article about the latest on the wild horse debate. Apparently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (Colorado's Democratic senator from a few years ago) is proposing that we move some of the overpopulated mustangs to preserves in the East and Midwest.

The article basically gives the floor to the biggest idiots on both sides of the issue. Ginger Kathrens, whom you might know as the maker of the famous Cloud documentary, seems to be saying that we shouldn't be doing anything to control the wild horse population, whether by removing or sterilizing them. Such an extreme position is not only dumb, it's impossible, and makes all us pro-horse people look like a bunch of lunatics by association.

We do need to do something to control their population, yes. But the dumbass representing other side isn't winning any points, either.

Dan Gralian, who manages a large grazing range out of Battle Mountain, Nev., and is president of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, calls the plan "a great thing, taking this icon of America back to where it originally came from, the East."

He says wild horses and burros are in the West were brought there by pioneers, cattle barons and prospectors. He disputes the contention of horse advocates that the horse is indigenous to the West.

"We were here first — that's the bottom line," Gralian says, referring to cattle ranchers.


Not only has he apparently never heard of Cortez, but he's also 500-plus years old and has been personally selling beef to Burger King since Columbus was in diapers.

I wish issues like this didn't become clouded by extremists on either side. I'm all for the BLM adoption program, and I don't think it's failing as miserably as opponents claim. I also think we ought to be giving a wee bit more consideration to the mustangs, and less to the cattle ranchers — who, after all, do have 6 million cattle crammed onto the same land that supposedly can't support 30 thousand mustangs. Our country simply does not need that much beef — as our increasing weight and health problems demonstrate.

But even if we did tell the ranchers to back off, we'd still have to control the wild horse population in some fashion. I support the idea of culling the herd down to a more workable level, and then using a combination of sterilization and adoption to keep it there. And as distasteful as it is to send wild horses to Ohio, has anyone stopped to consider that perhaps Salazar is trying to keep them from being euthanized, as the BLM has been threatening to do?

This might be opening the proverbial can of worms, but what are your thoughts on the subject? I'm pretty sure none of my readers are as extreme as either Kathrens or Gralian, so surely we can find a happy medium here!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Growing pains

The other day I was thinking about how grown up Panama is looking these days. He's about 760 pounds now, according to the tape, and I think he might be a little over 14 hands instead of a little under 14 hands.

In order to show the difference in his size and stature, I found three pictures where he is standing in about the same way every time. The first is at about a year old, on the Fourth of July 2006, just a month after we rescued him. His growth was stunted from poor nutrition and he was almost certainly wormy. You can't see it in this particular picture, but despite the big round belly he was quite ribby.

My horse as a yearling

In the second picture, Panama was nearly two and a half years old. It was taken shortly after we'd brought him to Denver and around the time we started his training. Over about 14 months, his shape filled out, the wormy belly went away, and he grew into his head a bit more.

My horse as a two-year-old

The third picture was taken just days ago. Panama is now four, going on four and a half. You can see how much he is starting to look like an adult horse: His musculature is really developing, his body has lengthened (he has grown into a 66 blanket instead of a 64!), and he has finally finished growing into his head.

My horse as a four-year-old

Looking at these pictures, it's hard to believe that Panama was once that little and gangly-looking. My little ugly duckling has become quite the swan!

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Monday, October 26, 2009

More work inside

Since my trainer helped me get Panama inside on Friday, we've done a little more work in the indoor areas. It's going quite well.

On Saturday after taking the pictures of Panama playing in the arena, I took him inside the barn. He balked a few times, but it didn't take a long time to get him unstuck, using the techniques my trainer had me work on Friday.

While we were in there, the stall cleaners parked the truck in the aisle — the truck has a trailer on it where the put the manure and wet bedding to be taken to the manure pile. This gave me an opportunity to work with Panama on desensitizing him to that truck. I walked him right up to the truck, banged lightly on the hood, and then encouraged him to sniff it. Then I stood there and chatted with the stall cleaners briefly. They also had their dogs with them, and since Panama is very interested in dogs, that helped too.

When they moved the truck down a little, they parked it so that it was partially blocking the hallway to the indoor arena. I decided to try walking Panama in and out of the hallway with the truck parked there. I didn't think he would do it, but he did — without hesitation! I think it helped that we were right behind the dogs the whole time, but in any case he is doing worlds better about the whole thing.

I also took him into the indoor, where a teenage girl was riding her horse. This turned out to be quite stimulating and challenging for Panama — all he wanted to do was run with the other horse. In his excitement he was practically bowling me over when I'd walk him, because he wanted to get to the horse.

He did eventually calm down a little, but I told my trainer that would need some more work. So this evening, when she was there for another lesson, she took Panama into the indoor arena with her (with my permission, of course). I arrived about halfway through the lesson to see how he was doing — he was extremely alert but seemed to be doing well. She said he had been quite worked up at first, but he calmed down just fine.

As I was watching, she also walked him over a jump that was set up. It was low enough that my trainer could step over it, but high enough that Panama had to jump a little bit to clear it. At first he was nervous about it, but then he watched her student jump it on her horse several times. Every time he lifted his head and watched with his ears forward, clearly very interested. And the next time my trainer tried to walk him over the poles, he did a lovely graceful little jump!

I asked her if she thought he was ready to start jumping, but she said no — he still needs some other work. So we've worked out a plan where she's going to start riding him once a week, in addition to my weekly lesson — starting tomorrow.

I'm pleased with how much progress Panama made in the last few weeks, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he does with my trainer riding him regularly!

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Tail flagging and first buck at the new barn!

Arab horse running

I told you I had a lot of catching up to do! I've been meaning to post (with some pictures) about how much Panama is enjoying his playtime in the arena — I turn him out in there every day that I visit. Unfortunately I forgot my camera several days in a row, so the first chance I had to take some pictures was Saturday.

I was pretty disappointed at first because he didn't seem interested in playing. Instead he just stood there and looked at me.

My horse in the outdoor arena

As cute as that picture is, it wasn't what I was hoping to get. But he seemed more interested in checking out the horse in the round pen across the way, and especially concerned about the horse that was being loaded into a trailer. See how he has his nose through the fence to get a better look?

My horse wants a playmate!

Finally he decided to roll. He has this cute little habit of pawing the sand first, sometimes quite vigorously, as if he's digging a hole for himself.

My horse getting ready to roll

Who, me?

My horse getting ready to roll

Having found the perfect spot:

My horse rolling

My horse rolling

My horse rolling

Finally the horse that was getting trailered was hauled away. The show over, to my relief Panama decided to play after all. With a little encouragement, he graced me with two magnificent bucks, one right after another (and his first bucks at the new barn). He started out each one by jumping up in the air a little...

My horse bucking

...and then using that momentum to throw his back end way up in the air, without decreasing his speed at all.

My horse bucking

Talk about acrobatics!

He got himself pretty fired up!

My horse playing in the arena

On Friday when my trainer and I turned him out for a little while, he did pretty much the same thing — without the bucks, that is. After one particularly spectacular display of energy, my trainer laughed and commented, "He's so Arab." I was pleased to hear it, since someone recently told me they didn't think he was part Arab after all. (I don't agree at all, but more on that in a future post.)

One thing Panama has been doing a lot of lately is flagging his tail. I've seen him do it before, so I knew he did from time to time, but until I moved him to this barn I've never seen him do it regularly. Now he does it every time I turn him out.

In fact, the other day I was walking him by the outdoor arena while another horse was being turned out in there. The other horse pranced along the rail, trying to get Panama's attention. Panama first tried responding by trotting at my side (the kind of slow, collected, fluid trot where they don't actually move forward any faster than a walk), but I scolded him gently because I didn't want him getting any hare-brained ideas. The other horse persisted in showing off, and I looked back just in time to see Panama very slowly lift his tail and flag it as we walked away from the arena. He was clearly saying, "I see you, and I want to play, I just can't right now. Sorry!"

Panama has a rather cute way of flagging his tail. Rather than sticking it straight up, as I've seen a lot of Arabs do, he curves it to the side and up, so that if you're standing behind him it looks like the letter C.

My horse flagging his tail

This is the first time I've ever seen Panama act like this every time I turn him out. I guess that means he is happy in his new home!

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Solving the indoor problem

Tie stalls at my horse's new home

I have a lot of catching up to do. I have been terribly busy the last few days, and as a result I haven't had a chance to blog.

On Thursday I blogged about the problem I'd been having with Panama balking at doors. He was getting a little better with the tie stalls, though he still balked about half the time. The indoor barn he hadn't entered since he'd seen a truck come in there with us, and the only time we'd been in the arena, I had to take him in directly from the outside (rather than walking through the indoor barn).

I'd blogged about my mixed feelings as to whether I should let me trainer fix the problem for me. Kate said:

It's all new to him, and it'll take time and patience. Although perhaps your trainer could help, I'm with you - he needs to have confidence and trust in you, not your trainer, and that will only be developed by you working with him.


Nuzzling Muzzles said what seemed like the opposite:

What your trainer can do is watch your technique and timing and give you some feedback. I came to the realization that the reason why Gabbrielle went backwards (literally) in her training was because each time she walked backwards I released the pressure to concentrate on my balance. So, I essentially trained my horse to walk backwards when I'm urging her forward. If I had a trainer watching me, he/she probably would have recognized that and changed my behavior before it became a habit.


But although these statements seem to conflict, I realized that they are both correct: My horse needs to trust me, but my trainer is also good at catching things that I don't fully realize I'm doing.

Luckily, our session the next day turned out to be a good blend of both points of view. My trainer worked with Panama a little bit first, just to "unstick" him from where I was having problems with him, and then promptly turned him over to me. She coached me to be sure I was using the right techniques, and sure enough, she found a couple of things I was doing that may have been contributing to the problem: When Panama balked, I always turned to face him, and also, I was pulling constantly on the rope instead of alternating between pulling and releasing. She also coached me a bit at being sure I gave him a more adequate release when he took a step on his own, and reminded me to turn him away and then back to unstick him when he locked up.

My trainer said again what she'd said when we tried to load him into the little trailer: that Panama likes to make it his own decision. He is not a horse that responds well to too much pressure, but he is a smart horse, and given the time and the right circumstances, will usually make the decision you want him to make.

Within 20 minutes or so, Panama was walking through the indoor barn, down the hall, into all the indoor tie stalls and wash rack, and into the arena with very few problems. He also had an absolutely adorable encounter with one of the arena mirrors. He'd noticed them on Tuesday, and expressed some curiosity. On Friday he walked toward the mirror with his ears forward, clearly intrigued by our reflections, and not at all startled when they moved. Then I walked closer and tapped my fingers on the glass. Panama walked right up beside me, sniffed the glass, and felt it all over with his nose.

His behavior on Friday was a good reminder that although there are times when we get stuck and I don't know what to do, Panama is overall a very curious, intelligent, and remarkably confident horse.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The trouble with those pesky doors...

...is that my horse won't go through them!

Yeah, we're still having problems with all the indoor stuff at the new barn. Panama is getting marginally better about the tie stalls — he goes in them best the first time of the day, but usually when I take him back to it after riding or turnout, he has some trouble with it again.

The indoor barn has been even worse. I did have him going down the aisle between the horses' stalls, but he wasn't keen on turning the corner to where the wash rack and indoor tie stalls were. The usual entrance to the indoor arena is at the end of this hall, so that could be something of a problem.

I did have him in there about a week ago, and while we were in the hall the stall cleaners pulled a truck down the aisle. That freaked Panama out pretty badly, and he was a long time getting over it.

Tuesday I rode Panama in the outdoor arena for about 10 or 15 minutes. It was our first time riding at the new place, so I didn't want to do too much — mainly I was working on getting him to focus on me, since he could see all the indoor horses in their turnout pens. After riding him in the outdoor arena, I took him to the indoor barn. He froze up and wouldn't go in, so I took him to the outdoor entrance to the indoor arena.

The indoor arena has one of those big sliding doors on either end, where you can access the arena from outside. I had to open the door pretty slowly, and stop to give Panama a breather every time I could tell he was getting ready to bolt. By keeping his panic within manageable levels, I think he handled the noisy horse-eating door very well.

Once I had the door open, I walked just inside and, holding the reins, let Panama check out the doorway. He sniffed everything, including the sand footing and the slight step up, and within perhaps five minutes walked in on his own. I walked him around on a loose rein, letting him decide where and how fast (an alert walk) we went. He checked out the arena and stared at himself in one of the mirrors.

I thought he was doing reasonably well, so I tried to mount. It turns out he was only doing well because I was on the ground with him — under no circumstances did he want me on his back. He threw his head, sidestepped away from me, and tried to make several breaks for the exit. That is literally the first time he has ever refused to let me mount, so I decided there was a good reason for it, and stopped trying. We explored a bit more and then I took him back out.

Today we made some progress, but also some steps backward. I didn't try to take him into the arena again — today after turnout we worked on going into the indoor barn. This time he did go in, though he was a long time at it — we took it literally a few steps at a time. I held him on a very loose lead, standing about six feet in front of him and facing him, and let him explore everything. He smelled other horses' noses and blankets, scooted the dirt on the floor with his nose, etc.

He was doing pretty well, so I decided to work on the hallway to the indoor arena a little bit. There is a metal trim piece across the concrete floor there, and it is like the Line of Death to Panama — getting him to put a foot over it, let alone all four, is like pulling teeth. I did get him to step over a dozen times or so, but then I struggled with keeping him from putting his head up and pulling back like crazy.

Around this time someone turned their horse out in the arena. I completely lost Panama's focus to that horse, so I changed tack: I walked Panama back down to the entrance, and we practiced going in and out. I didn't get him to walk in without hesitating at all, but I at least got him in through the door about a dozen times in a row. Baby steps...

Unfortunately, I think I may have tried his patience too much today, because when I took him back to the tie stalls he froze up again, and it took me literally about a half an hour to get him through that door.

My trainer wants to work on this problem in our next lesson. I have to admit I have mixed feelings about it. There's part of me that knows I need someone to help me keep his feet moving, because I can't do it from his head. But there's also part of me that wants to accomplish this on my own. I feel like letting my trainer help is kind of like threatening, "Just wait 'til Daddy gets home!" and letting someone else take care of the problem for me. That's not how I want to be.

If I were really motiviated, I could theoretically head out to the barn extra early before my next lesson, and work with Panama on my own for a bit before my trainer arrives. Or I could just wait for her. What do you think? What would you do, if you were in this situation?

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Let's start at the very beginning...

Michael and I went out to the in-laws' place yesterday to visit. While we were there I worked a little with Outlaw, but I forgot to take pictures — for some reason that is really hard for me to remember, probably because I have my hands full and my attention focused on the horse. It really works much better if someone else takes pictures for me (hint, hint, Michael).

Anyway, the last time I was there, Outlaw allowed me to walk right up to him in the pasture, and spent a lot of time smelling me. Michael and I had come right from visiting Panama, so I imagine I smelled like horses and horse treats, which might have had something to do with it.

Yesterday, on the other hand, he wouldn't let me get close enough to clip the lead rope on his halter. Keep in mind that he has been ridden maybe three times in the last year, and caught perhaps a handful of times more than that. Because my in-laws rarely work with the horses, and as a result they are quite wild, their halters stay on all the time — but I personally would like to get Outlaw to the point where I can walk right up to him and halter him.

So I spent about 45 minutes yesterday walking him down. This might ordinarily be quite the challenge on 80 acres, but luckily two of the four horses were grazing in the driveway (the gate being closed), and Outlaw and his other companion didn't want to stray too far from the fence line.

Basically what I did was to stop moving or move slowly every time Outlaw turned and faced me, with my loosely cupped hand outstretched. Soon as he would turn to move away from me, though, I brought my hand down and shook the lunge line at him once or twice. Remember, this is the deaf horse, so I while I couldn't remove the pressure if I ever wanted to catch him, I could at least reduce it and make it obvious by my body language when he was doing what I wanted.

At first Outlaw (and all the others) ran all the way from one end of the driveway to the other along the fence line. I think this driveway has to be a quarter mile long, so long story short, I did a lot of walking at first to find the horses again. But when that didn't work, Outlaw started running a short distance, then stopping and turning to watch me. I think he expected me to give up (because I imagine that is the most common response from my in-laws), and was interested when it became obvious that I wasn't going to.

Outlaw got a pretty good workout before I was able to catch him. Finally, though, he allowed me to walk right up (slowly) and clip the lunge line on his halter. I walked him down to the round pen.

In the round pen, I released him, and we worked a bit on him allowing me to catch him. Initially I just walked away, left him to his own devices for a few minutes, and then walked back up and clipped the lunge line to his halter again. That wasn't a problem, so I tried slipping the new halter I bought him on over his old, rough, weather-beaten halter. Still no problem.

From there I went to free lunging him a little bit. Nothing very regulated yet — I was just making him run by shaking the lunge line (coiled up in my hand) at him a little. I wanted him to learn to stop running and approach me, or at least face me, when I held my cupped hand out to him.

It took a few times, but he seemed to figure it out. We'll see next time I go out there to catch him — I may have to walk him down a few more times, but I'm hoping it won't take as long next time.

One other thing we worked on: stop and go on a lead. Since Outlaw can't hear, I can't tell him, "Whoa," or (the command I've inadvertently taught Panama) "Come on." So we worked on him following my lead, but also on signals to stop or walk when he doesn't respond right away to my movement. When I wanted him to stop, I used a quick, slight downward and backward pressure on the line; when I wanted him to walk with me and he wouldn't, a quick little jiggle of the line with some slight forward pressure took care of that right away. Pretty soon, he was matching my moves about half the time, with only a quick reminder needed the other half.

Even though Outlaw is deaf, I've decided to talk to him anyway, even knowing he won't hear me. My line of thinking is as follows: I think when we talk, our body language usually reflects what we are saying, so by making myself stop talking I may also be "silencing" my body language to some degree. And quite frankly, talking helps me, because on a purely psychological level, it makes me more deliberate about asking.

Anyway, Outlaw is a bit overweight and hasn't been worked regularly in a very, very long time, so even with the leading practice to give him little breaks, all the running had made him sweaty. I decided we'd done enough work for one day and let him go. He moved quickly away from me instead of letting me walk away from him — another thing we'll have to work on in the future.

Although the in-laws live about an hour away from us, I'm thinking of trying to plan my work schedule so that I can go down there one day during the week, this week or next week, since we won't be able to make it next weekend. I want to work with Outlaw again soon to reinforce the work we did yesterday on catching, but I also want to progress on to grooming him and working on ground manners. His ground manners are pretty good once he's caught, but I think he could still use a refresher, not to mention the time spent together would be good for both of us!

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

First Saturday at the new barn

I've been curious how weekends would go at the new barn — whether it would be considerably busier than it is during the week, and whether I'd have to compete with other horse owners to use the cross ties and the arena.

Today seemed like the perfect day to find out. It has been a gorgeous afternoon: sunny with temperatures in the high 60s.

At the other barns I've been at, on a day like this all the regulars would be out at the barn. To my great surprise, the new place was pretty much dead — I saw a couple of people in passing, but the cross ties and the arena were completely empty.

Of course, I'm not about to complain. I love having time to myself and not a lot of chatting!

Today was also one of those rare days when Michael agreed to accompany me to the barn. Naturally, I forgot my camera so I couldn't capture the moment.

As I've been doing every time I visit, I groomed Panama and then turned him out into the arena. He has taken to turning it into a run-fest every time, which he has never done before — but then again, this is the first time in nearly two years I've had a real arena to turn him out into. I also think he likes the sand footing. He loves to really dig in and race by me.

I hadn't made it out to the barn Thursday or Friday, so this was Panama's first time being turned out in the arena in several days. And it showed! He raced around and around. He must really be bored living with two older horses, because he acted like he'd been cooped up in a stall for two days, instead of a spacious corral.

We also seem to be making some progress regarding the tie stalls. Panama walked right in on the first try this morning. After turnout, he was much more hesitant, but once I got him past his initial block, he walked in and out for me several times without a problem.

I've decided to focus on getting over the outdoor tie stalls for now — once we get past that, I'll start working with him on the indoor barn (which he is much more nervous about, and actually froze up walking past it today because he thought I was going to ask him to go in).

Also, pretty soon here I'm going to have to break it to him that the arena isn't just for playing in. I think I'll lunge him in the arena tomorrow, and ride him briefly on Monday.

So much still to do!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Horse racing petition for a minimum age limit

This is just a quick post to inform everyone of a petition asking for a minimum age limit for horse racing. I'm not crazy about the horse racing industry, mainly because the horses are far too young to be worked that hard. If we aren't supposed to ride our horses until three or even four years of age, what business do two- and three-year-olds have racing? You know that means their training had to have started much, much younger.

Please, if you agree that horses ought to have a chance to develop strong adult bones before racing, sign the petition!

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Panama's new waterproof sheet

I've been a little bit worried about Panama being forced out of the shelter in bad weather in his new home. I'm not as concerned now that the other two horses seem to be accepting him, but the shelter is small so it's still a concern. I don't want him getting wet and chilled, especially since the new barn is right up next to the foothills and tends to get a bit chilly as a result.

Panama has two medium-weight winter blankets, and I wanted him to have a lighter weight blanket for when it's wet but not that cold. Both his winter blankets are size 64, but I've noticed that one seems to be getting quite snug on him. Turns out my little man has grown into a 66 at last!

Doesn't he look handsome in his new sheet?

Waterproof horse sheet

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Adventures at the new barn!

My horse's new barn

Panama seemed to be getting along quite well this morning. The older horses seem to be starting to accept him — I watched this morning while the older gelding allowed Panama to eat next to him. Not without some ear pinning, of course, but apparently it was just a warning because Panama kept his ears forward and respectful and didn't run away.

One of the biggest adventures of the day was the tie stalls. Panama is very apprehensive about walking through the narrow doors, and I don't think he likes the sound of the place, either (it echoes).

I put him in the cross ties several times today, and every time we practiced going in and out until he did it easily. However, every time we went back to it, it was like starting over. This is something we'll have to work on a lot until he becomes comfortable with it.

At one point when I had him tied, I suddenly noticed he kept creeping forward and craning his neck to look around the corner. I looked down the passageway at the front of the tie stalls, and saw four chickens huddled together near the door, taking shelter from the cold. Panama doesn't pay them much notice when he sees them outside, but having them inside the tie stalls with him made his eyes as big as saucers!

I also turned him out in the arena for a bit in the morning. It was still quite misty, as you can see in the pictures, but the foothills made a beautiful backdrop nonetheless. Panama and I played chase a bit, and he seemed quite eager to run around and check everything out. In fact, today was the first time in a while that I've seen him flag his tail.

Arab horse flagging his tail

My horse in the arena

There was a horse grazing in the field behind the arena at one point, and Panama didn't know what he wanted to check out more, the horse grazing or the rest of the horses at the barn.



After running off some of the excess energy, I took Panama for a walk in the indoor barn. Walking in the door was a little alarming, but he got over it pretty quickly when all the horses started talking to him. He particularly liked a nosy little pinto mini that looked like Panama's mini me. We also checked out the wash rack, but that scared him — I walked him into it, and he just stood there and shook.

I left around lunchtime to get his new waterproof sheet (more on that in a future post), and ended up coming back after the mist had burned off. I took this picture just down the road from the barn:

My horse's new barn

After trying on the new sheet, I turned Panama out in the arena again. I thought he'd like to be out there with the sun out, and he did — the first thing he did was to roll, and then after a little more running around, he sunbathed.

My horse sunbathing

It's so exciting to explore everything with Panama. Everyone we meet is so friendly, and (naturally) everyone loves Panama! I think we're really going to love this place!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Panama in his new home!

Today was amazing. My trainer arrived with the bigger trailer, which turned out to be a two-horse slant load with a higher roof and a partition that we could swing all the way against the wall to give Panama room to get on. It was a really nice trailer!

And it took all of 13 minutes for Panama to get on it.

I was amazed. Luckily, the trailer belongs to one of my trainer's other clients at the same barn I just moved to, and it sounds like we should be able to use it periodically for trailer training. Since Panama seems to be relatively okay with this one, I was pleased to hear this.

We arrived at Panama's new home earlier than expected, because he'd loaded so fast. While my trainer parked the trailer, I walked him around the parking lot a little. There was a horse in the outdoor arena, and another in the round pen on turnout, that sparked some mutual interest. We stopped and visited with a couple of horses at the end of their runs, too.

Then we put him in the corral that will be his new home. There are two older horses in there with him, and the gelding is a bit protective over his mare. But as I keep telling everyone, unless he is a devil horse, he can't be worse than the alpha at the old barn. And sure enough, he went after Panama a couple of times, but he's too uncomfortable to do much. Mostly his approach was to park himself at his chosen end of the corral (the end with the food, water, and shelter, naturally), face Panama, and plaster his ears to his head.

Panama got the message, and stood about 50 feet away, facing the old gelding, with his ears pricked, waiting for a sign that it was okay join the herd. He looked very sweet and respectful, especially (as the woman who does the evening feeding commented) since he could have kicked that old gelding's butt in a heartbeat. I wish I'd gotten a picture of it, but I forgot to take out my camera until later.

There is so much to see at the new barn...

My horse

The chickens run loose right next to Panama's corral — and for some reason they must associate an open trunk with getting fed, because as soon as I start unloading Panama's stuff, I was surrounded by six chickens:

A chicken at the new barn

And on the other side of the drive, there is a pasture full of cows. They started mooing quite indignantly when the horses were getting fed.

A cow at the new barn

Once the cows started mooing, Panama started sniffing the air and looking around on high alert:

My horse at his new barn

At feeding time, the other two horses drove Panama off his grain (which is fine, because he'd had plenty already in the trailer) and he stood back a ways with his ears pricked, watching me expectantly: "Aren't you going to do something about this, Mom?" With a little prompting, he figured out that the other horses had left their grain in order to eat his, so he got a bit of senior to make up for it.

My horse at his new barn

It was a bit hazy today, so this picture isn't very clear, but it does show how close the new barn is to the foothills. In the distance you can see the outdoor arena. Tomorrow I plan to turn Panama out in the arena and get some pictures of him with the mountains in the background!

Colorado horse barn

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

A failed trailering attempt

My wonderful, very helpful trainer agreed to try to move Panama today when she came out to pick up the trailer, which the barn owner threatened to sell for scrap last night during his tantrum. She and her husband devoted an hour and a half of their afternoon to trying to load Panama.

Which didn't happen.

Panama was pretty fired up today — he knew something was different, since he'd spent the night in the far pasture alone, and I'm sure he'd felt all kinds of vibes coming off of me and the barn owner the night before. I noticed it even when I went out there to remove his blanket — he just about lost his marbles when I started to lift it off, and ran side to side (while tied) until the blanket fell off. I just had to get out of the way and wait until he stopped freaking out. When he finished, I gave him a short refresher course on blanket desensitization.

I left for a few hours, and came back around 3:00 pm. My trainer was coming to pick the trailer up around 4:00, and I wanted time to brush and lunge Panama. He was a bit jittery, but lunged deceptively well.

The trailer was an entirely different story. Panama wanted his grain, oh yes, but there was no way in he!! he was getting into the trailer to get it. My trainer's husband was helping, but unfortunately he had the tug-of-war approach, and you just don't win tug-of-war with a horse. Plus, Panama has always tended to fight back all the harder if you try, so he reared today for the first time in two years.

We switched tactics a few times, and for a while it looked like we would get Panama on. My trainer remembers how Panama is, and kept encouraging to make the decision to get on himself. Unfortunately, at one point her husband decided to try to push Panama on — Panama was nearly all the way on, and he put his shoulder below Panama's rump and just started pushing. At first it seemed like it was working, but then Panama exploded backward to get out of the "trap." After that Panama was afraid of him, and my trainer had to ask her husband to go wait out of sight.

If we'd had a little longer, we probably would have gotten Panama on the trailer eventually, as he quieted a bit and seemed much more inclined to get on once there was no tug-of-war involved. Unfortunately, my trainer had to be someplace at 6:00, so we had to stop around 5:30.

Because of the barn owner's threat, my trainer and her husband took the trailer with them when they left. Tomorrow, however, my trainer will be able to borrow a somewhat larger two-horse trailer without a partition, so it should look much less confining than the one we were working with today. We're also going to allow ourselves several hours to get him on.

Keep your fingers crossed that we'll be able to get Panama moved tomorrow!

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

From bad to worse

Things just keep getting worse and worse, but the bottom line is — I'm glad I'm moving Panama, and the sooner I can make it happen, the better.

I blogged earlier about the flatbed trailer the barn owner decided to park in the pasture. Well, a couple of hours after I left, I went back to check on Panama and make sure the barn owner was taking care of the horses' water over in the other pasture — when I left, he had yet to put a heater in the water, even though it was cold enough that the water was freezing.

I arrived to discover that the barn owner had simply waited until I left, and then moved the horses back into the front pasture (even though he'd said I could put them in the back pasture). I told him if he was going to keep the horses in the front pasture, I wanted the flatbed out of there. "You do, huh," he said, seemingly at a loss for words. So I asked, "What did you do, wait until I was gone and move them back over?" and he said, "Um."

Once he recovered from getting caught, he went off on me — told me I was difficult to deal with (wanting the horses to be fed breakfast at a reasonable time makes me difficult, I suppose) and a piece of work. Then he told me if my trainer didn't get her trailer out soon he was going to sell it for scrap. When I told him he can't do that, he said, "You have an answer for everything, don't you?"

The situation ended up with me putting Panama on the back pasture (the foreclosed one, although the deadline is not until the 29th) and making the barn owner promise to feed him just the same as if he was on the front pasture.

I'm pretty sure he was drunk — at least, I'd like to think that a sober adult wouldn't say the childish things he was saying — but I also think he no longer cares about catering to me now that I'm leaving. The situation has gone from bad to worse almost overnight, and since I've caught him doing something he knew I wouldn't like behind my back, I don't feel I can trust him at all anymore. The sooner I can move Panama, the better.

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A taste of winter, and a catalyst

Although the forecast was calling for highs in the 30s today, I'm pretty sure it never got above 25 degrees. Since the temperature dropped fairly suddenly, I was worried that the horses hadn't had a chance to grow enough of a winter coat, and went out to the barn this afternoon to check on Panama.

Sure enough, he was shivering. I fed the horses their grain (so they would all leave me alone — they hadn't been fed yet) and blanketed Panama once they were done eating.

While I was there, the barn owner parked a trailer in the pasture, so that it stuck out from the side of the barn. It's a flat bed trailer, with what looks like dog run panels fastened to the sides to keep hay in, and the support bar that holds up the front of the trailer is about three feet tall — tall enough to do some damage to a horse. So for obvious reasons, the fact that he was parking it in the pasture concerned me.

When I asked about it, he said he was going to make his son unload the pile of dirt on the trailer's bed to level out the ground next to the barn.

"You're sure he's going to do it today?" I asked skeptically. For one thing, it was only 25 degrees out (at the most), and for another, I remember how the work his boys are supposed to do never seems to get done. Piles of mulch are one thing, but I don't think it's a good idea for a trailer to be sitting in the pasture for weeks.

Perhaps anticipating my objections, the barn owner said in a nonchalant tone, "I hope the horses don't get hurt on it, but I don't have a choice. I have to unload the Suburban."

Uh, yeah, you have a choice. You can choose to park the trailer in the driveway (which is big enough to hold four such trailers and still leave room for a couple of cars to pull in and out) until you know for sure that your son is going to do the work.

I promptly put the horses on the other pasture (the eviction deadline isn't until the 29th), checked their water, and gave them extra hay (as he still hadn't blanketed the other two). I'm furious, though, and I'm thinking I will probably move Panama a week early as a result. Overlapping board by two weeks certainly isn't ideal, but $100 or so isn't enough of a savings to risk Panama getting hurt.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Things I'll miss

Hanging with the horses

To be fair, there are some things I'll miss about my current (soon to be old) barn. They are compelling enough reasons that it took a while for the bad to outweigh the good, but now that the scale has tipped I'm glad I'm leaving.

The biggest reason why I'll miss this place is the small size and relaxed atmosphere. Right now I'm writing these posts from the doorway of the tack room, where I'm in the shade and have a perfect view of my horse eating his (very late) breakfast. When I get home I'll upload the post and schedule it for this evening.

I love hanging out at the barn, in the pasture with my horse, and this place makes it easy to do so. It'll be much more difficult at the bigger barn I'll be moving too, where Panama's corral will be right next to the driveway. Plus I fear it'll start barn gossip if I set up a chair in the corral the way I do here sometimes.

I also like that I can basically do what I want here. I've organized the tack room the way I want it, and sure it technically helped the owner because it's a massive improvement, but how many places would have let me do that? Not where I'm going, certainly.

Of course, these advantages aren't more important than my horse's safety and health, having a place to ride, and that sort of thing. But at the same time, I don't want to take these things for granted in the time that I've got left here — which is why I'm sitting in the tack room right now, with my laptop on my lap, watching my horse eat his breakfast.

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Confirmation

Today I confirmed a couple of things. One was that Kate and Pam were right, and Panama's soles were normal. However, my farrier also said the same thing Pam said — Panama's hooves were too long. We'd gotten a lot of growth in just five weeks.

I also confirmed that my decision to leave was the right one. When I arrived for my farrier appointment at 10am, the horses hadn't yet had their breakfast. The barn owner came out about five minutes later to feed them, but I'll never know whether it was because he saw me and knew I'd be annoyed about the late breakfast. How much later would it have been if I weren't there, though, I wonder?

After my farrier finished trimming Panama's hooves, we went back to his truck to schedule Panama's next visit. I also had to give him the barn owner's phone number, because although my farrier has trimmed his horse and another boarder's before, he has always communicated through me.

While I was retrieving the number from my phone, the farrier looked at me kind of askance and said, "He's sort of an odd bird, isn't he?"

Which launched me into the story of what the last straw was in my decision to move.

My farrier also told me that he thought I was paying too much here, and indicated that he was glad I was moving. You can't get much better confirmation than that!

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Getting ready for winter

It's definitely moving into fall: While the days are still warm enough when the sun is out, the nights are getting quite cool. It's time to start thinking about getting ready for winter!

Having a horse in full care, there is less to do to get ready for winter than if you do self-care or have them at your own place — but I still have things I need to remember to do. For instance:

* Bring summer products (fly spray, shampoo, conditioner) home so that they don't freeze
* Take his blankets to our local tack store to be washed and repaired as needed
* Stop by Murdoch's to take advantage of the end-of-season sales on my favorite fly spray
* Braid Panama's tail (once the flies go away) to help the summer damage grow out
* Find my Epona shed flower, my favorite curry for getting off caked-on mud in the winter, and put it back in my grooming tote
* Call the vet out for fall shots (early November for me this year)
* Deworm one last time in December (Ivermectin)

We have a few things to do around our house, too:

* Replace the furnace filter
* Take all of the fans down to the storage area in the basement
* Drain and put away the portable swamp cooler (not that we used it much this year)

There are other things we mean to do every year but never get around to, such as window replacement (our windows are the originals and a couple of the smaller panes are cracked) or pulling out the overgrown juniper bushes in the front so that we can plant something else in the spring.

What about you? What are you doing to get your family (two-legged and four-legged members) ready for the winter?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Panama's portrait

Yes, Jane, it's contagious.

Inspired by Jane Augenstein, I used the watercolor filter in Photoshop to create a portrait of Panama.

Horse portrait

That's one of the shots from Sunday, when I was playing chase with Panama. I love it because he's so stretched out as he runs — beautiful!

And of course, I had to do the action shot that I'm obsessed with. It looks so... in the moment. It's a bit blurry, though, so the watercolor filter really did it justice.

Horse portrait

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Monday, October 5, 2009

A horse training challenge

Meet Outlaw, my brother-in-law's Tennessee walking horse.

Piebald Tennessee Walking Horse

My brother-in-law recently left for Afghanistan for a year as a private security contractor. (He'll be training local police, supposedly, and not fighting.) I suggested that while he was gone, I ride his horse periodically so that Outlaw wouldn't languish in pasture for a year, and he agreed.

The last time I rode Outlaw was more than three years ago, shortly after we rescued little yearling Panama:

Piebald Tennessee Walking Horse

I remember him being a bit of a pill to ride then. All he wanted to do was run, and didn't have a lot of respect for his rider's cues. Of course, I was also pretty green then myself (as you can probably tell by the way I'm holding the reins — embarrassing!).

The background is that my brother-in-law bought Outlaw when he was only green broke. My BIL doesn't ride him much, especially in recent years, and isn't a very experienced rider anyway, so I expect Outlaw is probably just as green as he was several years ago. Perhaps more so, since I could probably count on both hands the number of times he's been ridden in the last year.

So for obvious reasons, I don't want to just hop on. (My BIL did that about a month ago, and Outlaw took off running before he could even swing his other leg over.) Rather, I want to do what Kate has done with Dawn, and go through the steps one by one to make sure he remembers his basic training. My plan is to first work on catching him (my in-laws never take their horses' halters off — grrrr), grooming him, and reinforcing ground manners. Once we get that covered, I'll move on to lunging him, and so on. Only once I'm sure he remembers his manners under saddle will I ride him.

Here's the challenge, though: Outlaw is deaf. How do I communicate cues, praise, and reprimands to a deaf horse — especially from the end of a lunge line, or even more difficult, if I'm free lunging him? My BIL has done some work with him using hand signals, but not a whole lot, to my understanding.

Obviously I'll need to use my body language to a degree that I haven't had to think about thus far. I expect it will be quite a challenge, but I'm actually looking forward to it because I think it will make me even more proficient at communicating with horses. If anyone has any suggestions for cues I could use when working with him on the ground, please comment! I'm interested to hear how others would approach the situation.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Happiness is...

My husband and my horse

...spending a Sunday afternoon with my husband and my horse.

I've never participated in the photography challenges that many of my bloggy friends do each week, but seeing everyone else's Sunday Stills pop up today, I couldn't pass it up. The day was too perfect not to share, and what better way than this?

First Panama and I played a little game of chase...

Playing with my horse

Playing with my horse

Playing with my horse

...and my husband took me at my word when I said I wanted pictures of Panama running, risking life and limb to get this breathtaking shot:

My horse cantering

But Panama wasn't too interested in playing chase today, so we went for a ride.

Horseback riding

Horseback riding

Like a solar system with two suns, my husband and my horse are the twin centers of my life!

Horse happiness

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Getting ready for the trailer

The worst part about moving Panama to a new barn is trailering him. Last time we moved, a year ago yesterday actually, was a rather bad experience for him. Although I've had some small success practicing with a stock trailer since, the boarders who owned the trailer moved their horses, so we weren't able to keep practicing.

The owner of the new place will be moving Panama on her three-horse slant-load stock trailer, which should be big enough (hopefully) to keep from intimidating him too much. She might also bring her horse, in the hopes that he'll load better if another horse is already on board. However, my trainer and I are going to practice a little in the meantime with her mom's little two-horse trailer, the one Panama won't get onto for just me — hopefully he'll do a little better for her.

After riding for a while today, I thought I'd make use of the practice bridge to work on backing over a lip. The last time I got him onto the other boarders' stock trailer, he tiptoed and rushed it backing off, so I thought it might reassure him if he knows I'll warn him when he's at the edge. It sounds silly, I'm sure, but it'll be interesting to see if it will help.

So today I walked him up the bridge, stopped him at the top, and then backed him down — over and over. There's a little drop between the end of the bridge and the ground, but not much, so I thought it would be a good non-scary way to start. I wanted to focus on teaching Panama the cues, so I said, "Step up," every time I wanted him to step up onto the bridge, and "Step down," every time his next step backward would take him off the edge. I said it in a sing-songy way, so that my voice rose when I said up, and went down when I said down.

When we backed we took it one step at a time, so that I had time to cue him for that first step down. Although he obviously doesn't know why this is important yet, by the end he seemed to be stepping more confidently over the edge. Of course, this is a drop of only a couple inches, and I don't have anything to practice with that would be a better simulation. Still, I'll do this with him a few more times before the practice session with my trainer. I don't know if it will help with getting him onto the trailer, as I think there are other issues that make him balk, but at least it might make unloading a little more comfortable for him.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Back to basics

Yesterday morning I made sure to get out to the barn and ride Panama. It was a lovely day, mid 60s, clear, warm in the sun but with a nice fall feeling in the air.

Our lesson on Wednesday was one of those days when nothing was going right (with anything, not just with Panama). It was also a very windy day, which might have been why Panama was so eager to run. You wouldn't know he lives in a pasture...

Anyway, I discovered that not only was Panama constantly trying to trot, he tried especially hard if I leaned forward or went into my two-point at the walk. So we worked for a little while on walking until I asked for something else, and stopping or slowing to a walk quickly.

I was a bit embarrassed about spending our lesson working on this, so I resolved to do a lot of work on his downward transitions on my own time. Yesterday was my first opportunity to do this. We started out just walking and stopping, and Panama was a complete angel. Then we trotted and slowed, and he was also fine. Once I started asking him to speed up and slow down his trot, though, he got excited and started trying to rush me: trotting more quickly than I was asking for, picking up a trot before I asked for it, etc.

I think he started thinking about cantering, since trotting faster transitioned into cantering a few lessons ago. But having only cantered in two lessons so far, I'm not comfortable doing so when I am completely alone on the property. Perhaps if my husband will come out with me this weekend, we'll try it then.

But only if Panama is not trying to rush me!

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Icky hooves

Today is a day for asking for advice, it seems.

For a week or two now, I've noticed something weird going on with Panama's feet. The soles have been dried out and cracking a little all summer, which my farrier says is from the crazy weather we've had — abnormal amounts of rain, followed by periods of dryness, back and forth. He says that going back and forth between extreme moisture and extreme dryness has a drying effect on their hooves.

Now, however, the soles are turning white and chipping. This picture shows the odd chipping of the sole:

The sole of my horse's hoof

The hoof wall is also chipping a bit too, but that by itself isn't anything out of the ordinary, as it is time for a trim! This next picture, my aim was off so the hoof isn't in good focus, but it shows the coloration of the sole a bit better.

The sole of my horse's hoof

I'm a little concerned about white line disease, but from what I've read that doesn't affect the sole, but the inner wall of the hoof. In any case, I've got the farrier coming on Wednesday, and in the meantime I'm slathering Hoof Heal on every time I'm out there. But does anyone know what might be causing this, and have any recommendations?

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The Great Barn Search - Day 2

Sorry this post has taken so long. I actually made my decision shortly after seeing the fourth barn, so there's not much to tell about that one. It was the one I'd seen with my friend — self care, nice matted stalls, and a nice big outdoor arena with sand, but kind of a hokey turnout situation. I didn't like the fencing at all. And even more importantly, it didn't seem very certain that I could get in by the 29th, which is the foreclosure deadline at my current barn.

So I chose Barn 2. The corral turned out to be available, so I put down a deposit on that. But now I'm wondering if I should go for a stall instead. What would you do?

The corral is pretty big, and Panama will be in with two other horses: a gelding and a mare, both older. The woman who feeds in the evenings said she doesn't think the gelding will be much of a problem, because he's old and doesn't get around very well anymore. However, I'm still worried about the winter if the gelding doesn't let Panama into the little shelter. And what if we get dumped on this winter (as some people seem to think we will)? If the stalls are all gone I may not be able to get Panama into one, and I'm worried we could have a really rough winter.

The stalls compared to the corral are like the Brown Palace (a local reference, for anyone who knows Denver) compared to a Motel 6. The stalls are matted and bedded with shavings, and the barn doesn't get below 40 degrees in the winter. The horses do get turned out every day for about four hours, during the warmest part of the day during the winter. But when I visit Panama, I wouldn't have to go outside at all if I didn't want to — since the barn and the indoor arena are all connected, I'd just have to take him from his stall to the tie racks, and then into the arena. It also means that if I visited at night, I wouldn't have to worry about leading him across the very dark parking area to the indoor arena.

But then again, being in the corral will familiarize him with his surroundings, whereas I think being an "indoor horse" could foster some fears. There are both cows and chickens here — cows in a neighboring pasture, and chickens that run around loose during the day, right over by the corral — and Panama has never seen either, to my knowledge. If he is in a shoebox 20 hours out of the day, is desensitizing him to these things going to be difficult?

Finally, there is the issue of price. The corral is cheaper than what I'm paying now, but if I have to pay for blanketing it may be almost the same during the winter months. The stalls are more than what I'm paying now, but not by much if you figure that they provide grain, which up until now I've been buying myself. Plus I wouldn't have to worry about blanketing — they said their own horses are in the indoor stalls, and they just don't turn them out when the weather is really bad or bitter cold.

Although my concerns do include the financial aspect, I'm also trying to weigh what's best for Panama against what's best for me. He hates cold weather and snow — he's always stayed in the barn, even to pee, when it's cold overnight — so I think he'd love not having to worry about that anymore. And he would get some turnout. But is it a good idea to deprive a 4-year-old of a herd environment? He's kind of a loner, being Low Man everywhere we go, so will he miss the socialization?

And even if socialization and a herd is the best thing for him, can I give up the convenience that the indoor stalls and tie racks would offer in the winter? Also, will I be able to ride him in the indoor arena, or will his winter coat cause him to overheat? I'm not sure, never having had an indoor to ride in before.

I am stressing about this quite a bit right now. I have already put down a deposit on the corral (of which there was only one opening, as opposed to three stalls), so I'm "in," so to speak. But if I'm going to upgrade to a stall, I should probably do it in the next week, just to make sure it gets done. Which means I have to make a decision.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Panama would be happy in the Motel 6 (or the youth hostel, technically — communal living), or should I spring for the Brown Palace of horse care?

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