Thursday, December 31, 2009

Panama gets possessive

Today Panama and his buddy Voodoo were playing in the arena when Lady joined them. This was only the second time he has faced competition from another gelding when out with Lady, and he didn't think very highly of the situation.

When Lady first joined them, she and Voodoo spent some time sniffing noses, as you might expect. Panama looked worried and kept trying to insert himself, just as he did when he and Lady were out with Romeo the other day. But this time he stepped it up a little, and also started herding Lady away from Voodoo. There were a few spats between Lady and Panama, as well as between Panama and Voodoo — Lady is the boss in the relationship, and didn't take kindly to being herded, and Voodoo didn't know how else to handle Panama's sudden aggressiveness.

Then suddenly it seemed to have been resolved, with Panama and Lady hanging out at one end of the arena, and Voodoo keeping his distance at the other. Everywhere Lady went, Panama followed, as if there was a string connecting his nose to her butt. And though I didn't see any massive falling out, Voodoo seemed to get the message: This was Panama's Lady.

It was highly amusing to me, because Panama is usually so submissive — playful, but submissive. But I guess he takes his relationship with his girlfriend very seriously!

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Panama's jammies

Yesterday Panama got pretty sweaty again from our ride, so I used the wickster again. Here he is in his jammies:

My horse in his wickster

The fabric is a coarsely woven cotton waffle-weave type material, and works amazingly well. Walking him in the indoor with this on, it only took perhaps 15 minutes for him to dry.

He is getting used to it now, but at first he didn't like it much. It has a nylon liner at the edges that rustles when he moves, so when I first put it on him he tried running away from it for the first 30 seconds or so that I was leading him. And even after that, he walked with his back humped for several minutes before he realized that the noise was just the blanket, and it wasn't going to eat him. Now he's okay with it, if still not entirely crazy about it!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When distractions are a GOOD thing...

Today my trainer had a rather ingenious way of dealing with Panama's fear of the indoor arena. Instead of fighting his desire to speed up the entire time, she slowed him down by giving him something to think about: ground poles.

We've done ground poles outside, but never inside, and unsurprisingly he treated it like something entirely new. He stalled in front of them, tried to go around them, and when I (coached by my trainer) didn't allow him to do either, jumped over them. Eventually he got used to them and walked over like he was supposed to, so we moved up to the trot.

I also learned one important thing today. My trainer is always telling me to sit back, shoulders back, etc. Well, today, she said it a different way: "Lead with your hips." I did, and found myself relaxing back... and down. Suddenly it all made sense, what I've been doing wrong all this time! Duh! I was pretty pleased with myself — between my new discovery and my trainer's coaching, I was able to sit Panama's spooks much more easily than usual.

In any case, my trainer's idea worked really well — instead of trying to fight Panama's fear, throw a road block in his way and distract him! It made for a much better ride: Instead of having to constantly say "Don't do this," we put something in front of him and said, "Do that." And it worked like a charm!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back into the indoor arena!

I had a lesson with my trainer this morning at 10:00. I got there around 9:20 and turned Panama out with Voodoo (his owner was there too). We discovered the outdoor arena's normally soft sand footing was frozen solid — and not just solid, but rough and uneven, too.

So when my trainer arrived, we agreed to ride in the indoor arena. This was Panama's first time being ridden in many weeks — probably a week or two before his two-week rest was the last time I rode him inside.

He was definitely uptight about being ridden indoors again. We worked through a fear of the jump standards in the corner, the gate, and a beam along the wall that was seemingly just like all the others (though I think it might be the location where the snow fell of the roof and made lots of noise last time we rode in there). We've worked on all these issues before, but even though I don't think he forgot, per se, we clearly needed a refresher today. Once that was out of the way, we were able to add some trotting and circles into the mix.

Panama has an amazing ability to work up a sweat — and quickly, too — doing nothing but walking. It's because he's nervous or anxious at the time, I know, but it is still quite astounding. So by the time we finished 45 minutes or so of mostly walking, he was sweaty enough to need his wickster for the very first time.

As an aside here, I was very impressed with the wickster. It worked ridiculously quickly — I put it on and walked Panama inside for about 15 minutes, and he was almost completely dry!

Anyway, my trainer wants me to ride him indoors every day this week, even when the weather is nice, just to get him more used to it. I will probably try to get him in there bareback at some point, too. It's more dangerous because my seat isn't as good, but he also seems to be aware of that and knows we do less when we're bareback. Just as riding him bareback seems to help teach him leg yields, I'm hoping that it will also teach him that he can relax inside, that it's not a big deal every time we ride in there.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

"Busy little boy"

That's what Lady's owner said about Panama yesterday — that he's a busy little boy. We had turned him and Lady out, and were joined shortly thereafter by another of the 4-year-old geldings (there's at least half a dozen 4-year-olds there right now).

Panama had never played with Romeo before, although Romeo has taken to standing at the end of his run and whinnying every time Lady and Panama are turned out together. For all the fuss he's been making, however, he didn't seem much interested in playing with Panama.

Romeo started out sniffing noses with Lady, with whom he's been turned out once before. Panama didn't take kindly to his girlfriend being stolen, and kept inserting his nose between theirs. After a moment, Lady would squeal, and all three of them would spin away and buck.

After a while they seemed to work something out between them, and Panama started trying to get everyone to play with him. He would jump and dance around them, prancing and spinning and rearing and bucking, and in general putting on a pretty good show. No one took the bait, though, so he started lunging in, biting Romeo, and then racing away — clearly his way of saying, "Chase me!"

After Lady and Romeo's owners took them out of the arena, I got Panama to run on his own. He has taken to free lunging in circles around me, rather than running down to the other end of the arena, where I have to follow. (I like it because it's easier to keep him moving, but the drawback is that he only wants to go in one direction!) When he doesn't want to run anymore, the circles gradually get smaller and smaller. Yesterday, though, he needed very little encouragement to keep running. I guess he was restless from all the standing around he did over Christmas and during the snowstorm!

Hopefully I can get him another playdate soon, this time with someone who will run with him!

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at the barn

Michael and I went out to the barn today to drop off stockings and Christmas cards (we made horse treats and cookies for Panama's playmates and their owners, and I put together Christmas cards for the other boarders I know but not as well). There was no one visiting on the end where Panama's corral is, but one boarder in the outdoor barn and several in the indoor barn were there visiting their horses.

We're having some more really cold weather here, after a couple of days of light but steady snow. Last night was near zero degrees and today didn't get much above 20. Panama has had his blanket on since Tuesday evening and most likely won't be getting it off until Sunday — we're supposed to be getting more snow tonight and tomorrow.

Michael and I have had a pretty relaxing Christmas. We slept in this morning (I love to sleep in, but it's a treat whenever Michael sleeps in with me!), watched The Princess Bride, and then went out to the barn. Afterward we took the dogs for a walk — a short one, since it was pretty cold — and came home to read and relax some more. Now Michael is making his spectacular sweet potato soup for our dinner.

A Christmas Day entirely to ourselves! I think this very well may be the first time in our relationship we've had that. Usually we have either my family or his to visit on Christmas Day. I've been commenting a lot how it didn't feel like Christmas was nearly here, as we didn't decorate and we're planning to do some updates to the house instead of giving one another presents. But today changed that — there can be no doubt that it has been a special day.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Gelatin-free homemade horse treats

Last year I had to look and look for peppermint horse treats that didn't include candy in the recipe. Aside from the concerns about giving horses candy, peppermints are often made with gelatin, which is an animal product made of ground hooves and bones. Since my horse is by nature a vegetarian, I didn't want to be feeding him that kind of thing.

So I found this recipe for peppermint horse treats that uses peppermint extract instead of crushed candy. The recipe as it was originally written was a bit dry, so I found it worked better with a little extra water to make the balls stick together a bit better.

If you have any time on Christmas Day, make some peppermint horse treats. Your horse will love you for it!

Panama's Preferred Peppermints

1 cup flour
1 cup Grape Nuts cereal
¼ cup light corn syrup (Karo)
½ cup water
2 TBS oil
1 TBS peppermint extract

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well. Shape into balls with your fingers or two spoons and bake 15 to 20 minutes at 350. Treats won't turn brown on the top, but should be slightly crispy when finished.

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Merry Christmas!

Michael and I spent Christmas Eve cooking. I made horse treats, while he made human treats.

My husband making cookies on Christmas Eve

Michael looks pretty tired in this picture because it was well after midnight when I took it! We started making cookies pretty late, since we didn't get home from having dinner with my parents until after 10:00.

Last year I made stockings and horse treats for all the horses at the barn, but that was easy because there were only four horses there at the time, including Panama. This year we're at a barn with probably 40 or more horses, so I opted to just make treats for Panama's three playmates: Voodoo, Spaghetti, and his girlfriend Lady.

Christmas stockings for the horses at the barn

In each stocking goes a ziplock baggie of horse treats and the recipe, another bag with a couple of Christmas cookies (human treats), and a Christmas card. I've also made a stocking for my trainer — shhhhh, don't tell! Our last lesson this week got cancelled because of the snow, so she won't get it until Tuesday!

I'll probably make Christmas cards for a few of the other people I've met at the barn, but only Panama's playmates will get treats. I feel a bit bad for not doing the same for everyone, but hey, a busy writer and horse owner can only do so much, right?

Actually, I've been quite preoccupied lately, which is why I'm finally finishing my stockings on Christmas Eve. My cat Prince has been rather sick lately — we noticed a couple of weeks ago that he wasn't eating, so I started force-feeding him and we took him into the vet. After a couple of vet visits and a pretty normal blood panel, he got two bad teeth pulled on Wednesday, and the rest of his teeth cleaned. He still has a sore mouth from the extractions, and is on another four days of pain meds. Cross your fingers for us that once his mouth starts feeling better, he'll start eating on his own again — otherwise, it's more force-feeding and back to the vet! I'm not giving up on him yet!

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

A warm-weather weekend

This weekend was gorgeous, sunny with highs in the 40s and 50s — a real treat after the cold weather we just recently had. I spent a good amount of time out at the barn both afternoons.

On Saturday, my mother-in-law and I went out to the barn around mid-afternoon to meet Voodoo's owner. We turned him and Panama out together, and they ran around for a bit. Then Panama's other buddy, a little gruella mustang affectionately named Spaghetti, joined them. Spaghetti and Voodoo played together, leaving poor Panama out! I tried to get them all to run together, but Spaghetti and Voodoo only wanted to bite at each other and rear up together, and Panama followed me around forlornly, like the outcast kid hanging out with the playground monitor at recess.

Today I turned Panama out for a bit by himself, and he quite happily rolled and sunbathed, but didn't want anything to do with running. So I groomed him and grabbed his bridle, and hopped on for a bit bareback. It was a bit of a cheater thing to do, because it meant that I didn't practice much of what my trainer wanted me to work on (leg yields and circles that get gradually smaller and bigger again). I did work on it a little, but being bareback, I only worked on it at a walk.

I did practice trotting bareback a little, but I still feel fairly unsteady about it. I'm getting better about my balance, but today I kept riding forward on his withers (OUCH!), and I think I'm clinging to the reins a little bit too much. I'd like to learn how to post bareback, which I've heard is possible, though I don't know how well I'll be able to manage!

I did ride for a long time today. About halfway through, Panama's other girlfriend, a striking 5-year-old piebald named Flash, came in with her owner. She was riding bareback too, though with a bareback pad, so we walked our horses together and chatted for a while. Toward the end we parked them side by side to talk, and both stood quietly, occasionally sniffing one another's noses, but in general being very calm and quiet! It was a lovely, long, relaxing ride!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Panama's guide to capturing your Lady's heart

My geldings advice for getting the girl

Panama seems to be an expert at getting girls, so I asked him for his secrets.

Let her chase you around a little...

Let her chase you around a little...

Show interest in everthing she does!

Show interest in EVERYTHING she does!

A little bit of necking goes a long way.

A little bit of necking goes a long way.

Be sure to tell her you love her!

Be sure to tell her you love her!

...And, no matter how excited you get, always respect her right to say no.

...And, no matter how excited you get, always respect her right to say no.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Guess what?

Chicken butt!

Chickens eating corn

I'm sad to say that the chickens' numbers are dwindling. Recently the barn has gone from nine or ten chickens, to only five. They found one dead one morning recently, of unknown causes, and they've found telltale feathers in the pasture — presumably from the others.

There was one night recently where I found a chicken hanging out in the cross ties, scolding me quite aggressively — pissed off at being locked out of the coup, I think. I tried to get her to follow me to the coup so that I could let her in, as it was really cold that night, but without food to bribe her with I didn't get far. I hope she didn't get eaten, or freeze to death, that night — I would feel really bad for not trying harder!

The next night, there was a different chicken in the cross ties. I walked into the building in pitch darkness, and just as I stepped up to the tack room door, I heard frantic chicken sounds. I froze, worried I'd stepped on her, then inched forward to turn on the light. It turned out she was just sleeping in the corner, trying to stay warm, and was probably warning me so that I wouldn't step on her!

I really like the chickens. It surprises me how much personality they have. Just this afternoon, when I pulled up they all came running up to the car. I opened the door, and they all made their little sounds and stared at me meaningfully (it was feeding time). One even went behind the car door and then bent her neck to look up at me from underneath.

They can also be very pissy when they want to be, like the chicken that told me in no uncertain terms how annoyed she was to be out in the cold the other night. The other day, I watched another blocking a magpie from exiting the chicken coop — apparently she was annoyed he was in there, so she let him know it by refusing to let him out.

I hope the remaining chickens are able to stay alive for a while longer, as I really enjoy seeing them around the barn!

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Lookin' good

Muddy horse

This is what Panama looked like when I arrived this afternoon. The mud was so thick in places that I could barely even see his markings! It took some flower power to get it all off.

By the time I finished brushing him and picking his feet, his favorite outdoor arena was empty, so I checked his left front fetlock again for any soreness. Once I was convinced he was okay, I turned him out. He seemed pretty happy to be out, and ran back and forth along one of the straightaways, snorting and bucking at the cattle dog that was keeping pace with him on the other side of the fence.

I wasn't sure I was going to have enough time to ride, even bareback, but I decided I couldn't leave without getting on his back at least briefly. I didn't ride for long, but it was good to get on for a little bit. I made a few observations:

1) Riding a horse bareback when it's cold out warms your legs up pretty quickly! I've been told that before, but I hadn't actually experienced it for myself until today.

2) Panama has gotten noticeably rounder from two weeks off. The people who feed have also been feeding extra hay during the cold weather, and it was a bit more than Panama actually needed. It made for a more comfortable ride bareback, though!

3) After just two weeks off, I was already becoming unaccustomed to using certain muscles. Even five or ten minutes at a walk made that clear. It always surprises me how quickly your body gets out of practice when you don't ride for a while!

We didn't ride for very long — maybe ten minutes at most — and all we did was to walk. Panama seemed fine, and did very well on leg yielding without trying to trot every time. I would have liked to ride him a little longer, but I didn't have much time — but that's just as well, since I am after all trying to take it slow to make sure he doesn't become sore again.

Tomorrow I'll go out there and check him over, and if he's still doing well, I'll ride him some more — bareback again, but hopefully for a little longer this time.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quick update

I checked on Panama this evening, and he didn't seem be uncomfortable after yesterday's play dates. I'll check again tomorrow, and if he's still doing well, I'll ride! Hooray!

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Test run

Today was the first nice day we've had in what feels like forever, although it was probably only just over a week in reality. Temperatures were in the 40s this afternoon, and tonight is the first night in a while that I haven't had to blanket. (I blanket under 20 degrees, or if we are expecting snow.)

As a result, Panama was quite restless. When I got to the barn, I parked and called out a hello to him, but when I went to get his halter I got held up chatting with a couple of other boarders. Every minute or two, I'd hear Panama's whinny as he demanded that I come and get him! (Yes, I know the sound of his whinny.) Unusual behavior for him, particularly when he has hay in front of his face.

When I finally got him and brought him into the tie stalls, he was clearly needing to run. Since it had technically been two weeks since the last time I'd ridden him (though it was only 12 days since the vet put him on two weeks' rest), I checked his fetlock the way the vet had shown me. Panama didn't show any signs of discomfort (though he was plenty impatient with me over the whole thing), and he hasn't been fussing lately when I pick his feet, so I went ahead and turned him out in the arena.

He definitely needed the turnout. I turned him out first with Spaghetti, one of his gelding buddies. Then Lady, his girlfriend, joined us, and Spaghetti left soon after. Panama ran until he was sweaty, and though I watched him closely, he seemed fine.

My plan is to check him again tomorrow evening (since I won't make it in the morning) and see if he has any discomfort from his playtime today. If not, I'll ride him lightly — perhaps bareback — on Monday and see how he does. If he still seems fine, we'll transition back to our regular riding schedule.

Another boarder also recommended that I use sports medicine boots to give his fetlocks some extra support in the soft arena sand. I actually don't think that is what caused his discomfort, since it was just one leg (and I actually can think of an incident that may have caused it — more on that later). However, I'm interested in what my readers think. Do you use sports medicine boots? Why or why not? And how the heck do I determine what size Panama will wear?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kids at the barn

Today I got a little taste of the future: I had my four-year-old nephew with me for the day, so I took him out to the barn with me when it was time to take Panama's blanket off.

My in-laws have horses, but I don't think my nephews actually get to see them very often. Their mom doesn't often take them outside, and she is hyper sensitive about them being near the horses — instead of teaching them some basic safety rules around horses, she just doesn't allow them to interact with the horses very much.

So when I told my nephew that we were going to the barn, his first question was, "Can I touch your horse?" He asked it several times, as if he was having a hard time believing the answer was truly, "Yes."

He really doesn't have any clue of how to act around horses. He runs up to them, he walks behind them, and gets in their way. So I had to constantly be on alert, but that was fine — I trust my horse and I don't mind taking the extra time to teach my nephew a little something. The way I figure it, it'll make it faster and easier next time if I teach him the right way this time.

I had my nephew wait for me outside the corral while I haltered Panama. He was waiting for me at the gate when I brought Panama out. I asked him to stand a little distance away to give us room, but when I turned Panama around so I could chain the gate again, my nephew came around behind him.

I couldn't see where my nephew was, so I held both myself and Panama very still and asked him, "Where are you?" He came around the back of Panama, and once I had him in my sights, I started moving again. I asked him to wait a little ways back while I took Panama into the cross ties — I didn't want us all trying to crowd through the door at once — and he waited patiently until I told him to come on in.

Once I had Panama in the cross ties, I explained to my nephew that you have to be careful behind a horse, because they can kick. At nearly five, I think he is capable of understanding this, but he will probably have to hear it a few times before it sinks in. I don't want to overemphasize it, because I have seen kids his age completely terrified of horses for that reason, but I also want him to understand that he shouldn't walk behind a horse unless an adult tells him it's okay.

Luckily Panama is very good with kids, as well as with people being behind him, so I was never overly concerned about my nephew's safety — more about the learning experience. His mother probably would have gasped and jumped forward and snatched him back if she'd seen her son today, but in my opinion that is completely the wrong approach because it is likely to startle the horse. Much better to calmly ask him to move and explain the danger of the situation once said danger has passed.

Anyway, my nephew was quite happy to feed Panama treats while he was in the cross ties, and even "helped" me brush him a little. It was meant to be a quick trip, though, so I put Panama back shortly after taking off the blanket. My nephew then got to see a "girl horse" (apparently he likes those more) when her owner took her into the cross ties, and fed her a couple of treats too.

He was especially excited about the chickens. He probably hasn't seen chickens in person before, but he instantly knew what they were. (He gasped and yelled, "Chickens!" It was the cutest thing.) They were roaming loose today, so he followed them around for a bit. I had to keep him from following them right into the chicken coop when they tired of their stalker!

Taking my nephew with me to the barn was overall a very positive experience, and I wouldn't mind having a short companion of my own someday on my regular trips. However it was a reminder of how much longer things can take when you have a kid with you, especially one that doesn't know how they are supposed to behave or what they are supposed to do. Still, I was pleased to find that it is possible to combine kids and horses — even with a fairly unruly kid who is not accustomed to being at the barn (which mine certainly will be!).

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Cold weather blues

The highest temperature I saw today was a frosty 11 degrees. That's cold! As my trainer said, Panama picked a good time to be off duty — we've had a lot of this cold weather lately.

Even so, he's been in a good mood. When I went down there today to check on him, he quite happily followed me into the cross ties, no hesitation whatsoever — a vast improvement from a week ago. After straightening his blanket, I cupped my hands around his muzzle and blew into them to warm up and loosen the tiny icicles hanging from his whiskers. To my surprise, he stood quite still and permitted this, though I've never done it before.

I think I have my sweet horse back again!

Even though Panama doesn't wear shoes, a considerable amount of ice and frozen mud had collected in his feet. I picked it out, being extra careful with his front left foot. I also checked on Panama's buddy Voodoo for my friend, and picked a ton of ice out of his feet. (Turns out Voodoo is a leaner — not only did he not help me hold his back legs up at all, when I picked his front he used my body to prop himself up. Boy am I glad Panama doesn't do that!)

The barn is feeding tons of hay to compensate for the cold weather. Sadly, a lot of it gets tossed on the ground and goes to waste, since the old folks are rather picky about their hay (read: all they really want is alfalfa) and Panama, though he tries his best, can't clean up all of it!

Horses in a December snowstorm in Denver

I worry about the old gelding. He is rather underweight as it is from being such a picky eater, and on top of it all he also doesn't get blanketed. He does have a pretty long, thick winter coat, but still, if he were my horse I'd be doing everything I could to keep the weight on him!

This weather is supposed to last a few more days. Another storm is moving in, and we'll be getting some more snow tonight and tomorrow. Wednesday is still supposed to be cold, but sunny, so I'll take the opportunity to hand walk Panama around the property a little!

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What to believe?

One of the commenters on yesterday's installment of Fugly Horse of the Day posted with this link:

Horse Feeding Myths and Misconceptions

I've heard many of these myths, and I'm sure you have too. I already knew some weren't true, such as that grain doesn't make horses hyper — excess calories does. Others — such as that you don't have to soak beet pulp — I didn't know.

The problem with things like this is what to believe. It's not just science vs. conventional wisdom, either — the horse industry is one of those that is riddled with many different, usually conflicting, ways of doing things.

So what do you believe? I for one believe you should go with what seems right to you. For instance, since I know a lot about human nutrition, it has always made sense to me that overfeeding has a lot more bearing on a horse's activity levels than what you are feeding. (People often forget that when feeds such as straight alfalfa and certain grains have more calories in them, you have to reduce the amount you feed.) But you should also go with what seems right for your horse — as the article points out, horses are individuals and have different ways of responding. For instance, when overfed some horses become hyper, whereas others are quite content to move at the pace of a slug while they pack on the pounds.

What in the article makes sense to you? What are you skeptical about in regards to your own experiences or your individual animals?

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Stills: Pets

The subject of today's Sunday Stills interested me, so I decided to give it a go.

Before I met my husband, my family consisted of only two pets: my cats, Prince

My deaf white cat

and Cleo.

My fat black cat

Prince has two different colored eyes — one blue and one gold — and is completely deaf. And yes, he understands mirrors. He was watching me in it when I took that picture. I was actually present when, as a young cat, he figured out what a reflection is — but that's another story.

Whereas Prince loves everybody and is very affectionate, Cleo is grumpy and choosy about who she likes. Most of the time when people come over, she hides. And when Michael moved in with me in 2005 with his dog, she stopped eating and developed fatty liver disease, a life-threatening condition that required me to force-feed her until her liver started operating normally again.

The dog that nearly killed Cleo:

Mastiff mix mutt

That's my stepdog Emma, our mastiff/Rhodesian ridgeback (we think) mix. Two and a half years ago, we added Grace, a rescued white shepherd, to the mix.

American white shepherd

Please excuse the crappy cell phone pictures of the dogs. For some reason those were the cutest current pictures I have of them.

And of course I can't forget Panama. He is as much a friend as a pet, but I'm still including him here because it would seem a shame to leave him out!

My favorite picture of him to date:

My horse Panama

There you have it — our menagerie!

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Observations

It's ridiculously cold (13 degrees) and snowy today. We only got an inch or so here, but appparently they're getting harder hit closer to the mountains, so I may not be going to the barn today.

But my thoughts are never far from my horse, so despite being all wrapped up in blankets and a bathrobe on the couch, I've been pondering certain subjects. Foremost on my mind (considering the weather) is how easy it has been to blanket Panama since I moved him.

For those of you who didn't follow my blog last winter, Panama developed a fear of his blankets that lasted consistently all through the winter — despite having been blanketed the winter before with no problems. In fact, two years ago he could be blanketed while standing in his stall, untied, and he had no problems with it at all.

Last winter was a different story. I moved him in October to a quiet residential horse property — the same one I left in a hurry this October, because of problems ranging from the owner's chronic drinking to part of the property being foreclosed on.

Anyway, from the very beginning Panama wouldn't let this guy halter or blanket him. He tried the first time, and couldn't, so I had to come over and do it. Panama was so worked up that he ran from me for an hour before he'd let me catch him.

Always after that, he had a fear of the blanket. I had to tie him up every time I put it on or took it off. When I brought the blanket over to where he was tied, if I didn't bundle it up in my arms to be as small and nonthreatening as possible, he would pull back and struggle to free himself. And when I took it off, he would tense up, hump his back, and then explode to the side to get out from under it sooner.

After moving Panama to the new place this fall, he behaved similarly the very first time I blanketed him... but only that time. Ever since, he has been perfectly fine with the blanket. I can toss it over his back without scaring him. (He was scared the first time he heard the buckles hit the wall by accident, but after the first time he was okay with that too.) I can pull it off without worrying about him losing his sh*t. It's like last winter never even happened.

I knew at the time that he was probably sensing something about Rick — whether that he wasn't a horse person, or that he drank too much, I don't know. But Panama doesn't often dislike someone, so I should have taken it more seriously than I did. (The only other time he has outright disliked someone, there is also a question as to whether it was based on personality or the smell of beer.)

I've come to suspect that even after I told the owner not to try blanketing or unblanketing Panama, that I would do it, he continued to attempt it on a regular basis. I know of a few instances, because once or twice he successful managed to remove Panama's blanket, and called to tell me so (much to my dismay). But I now suspect he was attempting it regularly, and the only times I actually heard about were the few times he was successful.

My other reason for thinking he was still trying to blanket/unblanket Panama was that he seemed to feel rather... unmanned (for lack of a better word) by Panama's refusal to let him catch him. He would do silly things like stand next to Panama when he was eating his grain and "hold up" his leg when he lifted it — something he always does when eating grain — as if to prove to himself (and me) that Panama trusted him. Or he would make a show of walking up to Panama when he was eating his hay, and saying, "See? He trusts me."

I know hindsight is always 20/20, but it's clear now that Panama was telling me something and I completely missed it. He was telling me he didn't feel safe there, at least regarding blanketing, and perhaps regarding other things as well. I'll never know exactly what went on at that place when I wasn't around, but next time friendly Panama lets it be known that he doesn't like someone, I'll know to listen!

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

A little helper and apparent progress

This morning when I went to the barn to remove Panama's blanket, a fellow boarder had her farrier out. It being Saturday, the farrier's 9 or 10-year-old son was hanging out at the barn while he worked.

When I brought Panama into the cross ties, the kid wanted to know what I was going to do with him. "Just brush him," I said. "Can I help?" he asked.

(See, adults, that's how you're supposed to do it: ask first. Sad that a 9-year-old is better about that than some of the boarders I've met.)

After questioning the kid, I was reassured that he is around horses quite a bit (his dad being a farrier), so I gave him the go-ahead. At first while he curried Panama, I stood at Pan's head and made sure he stood still. Panama is not often brushed by anyone but me, and it being a kid I wanted to make sure he was going to behave himself. But both Panama and the boy seemed to be doing well together, so I relaxed my vigil long enough to brush Panama's mane and clean up his poop while the kid brushed the rest of him — except the legs, I noticed, so obviously he's aware of the potential danger there!

I was pretty impressed with how well Panama stood for an unfamiliar kid handling him. He really is a good horse.

I've also noticed in the last 2 or 3 days that Panama seems to be calming down. He seems to be less nervous in the cross ties, and is balking less about going into the cross ties or crossing the Line of Death. Since he had worsened noticeably about all that about a week and a half or two weeks ago, I can't help but wonder if it's because his fetlock was uncomfortable to work on, and he associated all of those things with working. Is he beginning to relax because he's had nearly a week of me visiting without working him, and is no longer anxious about being ridden?

Another potential improvement — when I picked his feet out today he didn't seem to fuss as much about the left front. Was it just because he was distracted with the kid there, or because I was being extra gentle so I wouldn't jar his fetlock? Or is it actually beginning to heal and bother him less?

I don't know any of these answers for sure, of course, but we'll see how he is in another week and a half. If he seems okay, I'll turn him out (because by then I know he'll be needing it!), and if that goes well I'll try a little light riding. Wouldn't it be nice if all his recent behavioral issues go away with the fetlock pain?

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I really need to grow a pair...

I am really having a hard time with people offering "help" with Panama in the indoor.

First there was the nosy boarder, who tried to do it for me — grabbing Panama's lead up under the chin at one point, and tapping him with a crop at another. That one was the worst.

Then there was the time another boarder chased Panama across the line with an empty gallon jug.

I've also had a run in with the nosy boarder's trainer, who managed to restrain herself (just barely, it seemed) but repeatedly hinted that she was willing to help. ("Do you need any help?" "If you want help, just ask...") Actually, it seems like just about any time I'm down there anymore, someone comes along and tries to help.

Today one of the guys who works at the barn — one of the nicest guys I've seen, always smiling — tried to offer his assistance too. He tried a whole array of cues — clucked to Panama, flapped his arms at him, pointed (as if Panama would just walk to where he pointed?), etc. Panama just looked at him, and then took a very cautious step back — as if saying, "Mom, I don't know what's wrong with this guy, but I think we should leave now."

The whole time I wanted to tell him I didn't need the help, but it was like... well, like the cat had my tongue. Finally, when Panama stepped back, I chuckled and said, "No..." as in, It's not working.

And the guy stopped, just like that. "No?" he said. And then he went on about his business.

I am so torn because I know these people are just trying to be nice, and for the most part (other than the nosy boarder) they're not doing any harm. But no matter how many times they see me doing the same thing, they don't seem to be getting that I'm not just trying to get Panama from point A to point B, I'm actually working on the process.

The good news is that I've got two weeks of non-riding time to work on this. And perhaps sometime before those two weeks are up, I'll find my tongue and start telling people no thank you when they try to help.

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