Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The luckiest FORMER barn cat

We've recently acquired a new family member: a 9 or 10-week-old kitten.  We weren't intending to get a third cat, and the only reason we did was because of this little one's sad story.  I really am a sucker for animals in need...

Anyway, a few weeks ago boarders at my barn started seeing a kitten.  I heard about it only in passing, and didn't think anything about it until two weeks ago, when I found a kitten in bad shape in a horse's stall.  I'd heard it mewing as I walked around the corner, and when the mewing intensified, I instinctively started looking around -- and spotted the kitten right behind the horse's hoof, struggling to get up.

Although the kitten was moving around when I first found it, something was obviously wrong (since it couldn't get up), and once I picked it up it quickly went downhill.  Its eyes were crossed and weren't blinking, its heartbeat and respiration were extremely slow, and its only response to me holding it was to open its mouth like it was trying to cry when I moved it around.  Other than that, it was like a rag doll.

I could find no obvious injury to it, though, so I took the kitten to an emergency vet near my house.  They put it on an IV and gave it some drugs to try to help stabilize its heartbeat, and although it did start breathing a little more easily, it wasn't really responding to the care.  By this point, its eyes were fully dilated and unresponsive to light, and the vet suspected head trauma (I think the horse may have started to step on its head while it was napping in the shavings, and got off when the poor thing started crying).  As much as it upset me to have to make the decision, I told the vet to go ahead and euthanize -- I didn't want (and wasn't really able) to spend a small fortune on more aggressive emergency care, not knowing whether the kitten would even make it.

But the next day, friends at the barn spotted another kitten -- and then I started hearing reports of people seeing the momma cat, too.  Since we had never had cats at the barn, it became obvious that someone had dropped off the momma along with a few of her kittens (probably keeping a couple for themselves, knowing how selfish people like that can be).  I decided to catch the kitten that was left, and hopefully the momma cat too, before anything bad happened to them.

We were going on vacation soon, but I was able to catch the kitten a little over a week ago, right before we left.  My mom took care of her while we were gone.  Unfortunately, no one has seen the momma cat since, and I suspect she either left or became coyote food (or both).  Our barn is right on the edge of an open space park and we frequently see coyotes there.

The kitten was a little skittish at first, but as quickly as she has become accustomed to, and even eager for, human interaction, it's clear that they weren't feral cats, but owned cats that someone dumped.  I have no doubt that someone dumped the momma and her kittens at the barn, thinking that they would live happily ever after as barn cats.  Evidently they didn't stop to consider what a hard life barn cats live, especially when they are strays, rather than cats that are fed in the barn and taught to stay close.  House-raised kittens don't know enough about horses to stay out from under their feet, not to mention they and their mother were at constant risk of being eaten by coyotes or the owl that lives on the property (probably the fate of the momma and one other kitten that hasn't been seen since they first appeared).

I hate it when people say "But that's natural for cats" or something to that effect.  That is the biggest bunch of BS, especially when it comes from horse owners: people who fence their horses in, feed them hay and grain, trim their feet, deworm them, give them shots, blanket them, and more often than not, provide them with a stall and soft bedding -- not to mention put a bit in their mouths and ride around on their backs!  How much of that is natural?  The "natural" reasoning, in my opinion, is nothing more than an excuse meant to justify someone's own selfish desires (such as having a cat around to catch mice) or reluctance to take care of an animal's needs.

This lucky little kitten will live the comfortable life of an indoor cat, just like my other two, who -- for the record -- are perfectly happy with that arrangement.  I only wish that her previous owners had done the right thing and found homes for their unwanted cat and kittens, so that the rest of them didn't have to die in order for this little one to find a home.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A better relationship with my horse

Updating my blog has continued to be challenging, partly because I've been spending so much time at the barn.  I've been riding a lot -- not every day, but close to it -- and the result has been an increasingly closer-feeling relationship with my horse.

One thing I've been working on, and something that I think has helped us immensely, is being clearer -- and insisting on a prompter response from Panama -- with my cues.  I've been inspired to work on that because of the fact that a kid now rides Panama fairly regularly (about once a week).  He is great with her, but as she gets better at riding he is treating her less like a kid and more like... well, like me.  Because he doesn't always respond well to her cues, however, I've been thinking more about how I cue him... and how I sometimes inadvertently teach him bad habits.

I don't think that's the only thing improving our relationship, either.  Our trail ride a few weeks ago, when we conquered several scary things together without me losing my leadership status, was one of them.  Our two trips to the schooling show -- one of which we actually participated in -- also helped, I think.

And now we have another horsey road trip together coming up: On Saturday, we are going with some friends from our barn to a private property that has an obstacle course set up!  That will be challenging for us, so we will see how it goes.  I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to doing obstacles on horseback...  But I am still very excited for the trip!  I'm learning to enjoy trying new things together.

We've also been working with Rondo, of course, although I have to admit I haven't been doing as much with him as with Panama -- it's hard, sometimes, to muster the energy (or the time!) to work with both horses.  I have plenty of updates regarding Rondo, but I need to get my head around some of them before I post!  I will do so soon, I promise!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Our first ACTUAL horse show!

Panama and I competed in our first horse show on Saturday.  It was just a little schooling show, and it was a smaller turnout than the ones by the same association that I'd been to (both with and without Panama) earlier in the summer, so it wasn't a huge deal -- but since it was our first, it feels like a big deal to us!

This is my absolute favorite picture from the show, simply because we look so fantastic here.  Because it was such a big ring and my camera is so small, a lot of the other pictures my husband took didn't turn out so well.  But this one looks great!

This is a show that is run every month throughout the show season, and many of my friends from the barn have been going to it for a couple of years (unbeknownst to me until earlier this year).  In July I tagged along, sans horse, just to see what it was like -- I wanted to try taking Panama to a show, but didn't want it to be the first time there for both of us.  I figured if I knew what was going on, I could be a little more confident and hopefully be able to help him that way.

Then in August, I brought him to the show.  He handled it all very well, but since I wasn't sure in the morning (when you have to register) whether he would, I opted not to show that day.  Instead, he got to munch on hay at the trailer, and we took occasional walks around the grounds to let him get used to everything.  Partway through the day, when I realized he really wasn't going to freak out, I even rode him in the practice arena and he did great!

Some of you who have been reading my blog a long time will remember that a couple of years ago, I took him to a schooling show at a nearby barn with the intention of showing -- but that he was far too upset for me to feel comfortable trying to compete.  (I called that post Panama's first horse show, which is why the title of this post is our first actual show, i.e., the first time we really showed.)  We rode in the practice ring for several hours, and he did eventually calm down a bit, but he was still not terribly comfortable with the situation.

During that trip, we went with his girlfriend in his corral, but as soon as we got there she was promptly separated for him.  He spent a lot of time looking and calling for her that day, and that might have been part of why he was so much more upset -- but I think a lot of it has to do with maturity and confidence, too.  He has grown up a lot in the past two years, and he and I have gained a lot of confidence together.  So when I took him to that show in August, he was alert and excited but never upset, and was actually quite confident and relaxed, even when we were separated from the other horses from our barn.

I was so pleased with how he behaved, I wanted to take him to the show at the beginning of September, but it didn't work out: One of my friends couldn't come, so we were down a trailer.  But luckily there was one last show this past Saturday, since an earlier one during the summer had been rained out.  We went, we showed, and we survived -- and both of us enjoyed it so much that I really cannot wait to do it all again!

The first thing I did when we got there that morning was to take Panama into the show arena (since it hadn't started yet) and lunge him past the bleachers.  We'd only gotten into the show arena once during the show in August, and I knew from that time that the bleachers were going to be his sticking point.  The little girl I nanny for had come to the show with me (she rides Panama a lot and wanted to see what the show was like), so she ran back and forth and made lots of noise on the bleachers to help desensitize him to it.  Then during the warm-up break before the English classes started, I rode him back and forth past the bleachers.  He was clearly nervous about going past them, but he did well.  Interestingly, though, there was a soccer game on the other side of the sports complex, and I think the screaming fans ended up being a bigger deal to him than the bleachers, though he did get somewhat used to it.

We only rode in two classes, Walk/Trot English Pleasure, and Walk/Trot English Equitation.  I was worried about cantering him at the show our first time, because he is more likely to blow at the canter (or canter too fast!), so I decided to take it pretty easy for our first show.

During our first class, Walk/Trot English Pleasure, he did spook a little at the bleachers once, when someone stood up just as we were passing.  (Despite our desensitization work in the morning, they were now full of people, which made it different.)  It was just a very little spook to the side -- his rear end sort of fishtailed away from the bleachers as we passed -- and he came back to me within a few steps, which was nice.  He was also very focused on the soccer game every time we rounded that end of the arena, and was nervous the first few times the fans all started screaming as we headed away from the field.  Overall, though, he was great!

Between my classes, V. rode Panama briefly, and in my hurry to get ready for my next class I accidentally put my stirrups up a notch higher than I usually like them.  I think that contributed to my habit of leaning forward too much at the trot, which the judge commented on when the class was over.  (Nice of her to give me a tip -- I really liked her!)  Panama was much calmer that time, and we even were able to pass the bleachers without incident.

As we were trotting by them for the last time (everything is apparently scarier at faster speeds, I've come to realize), I was focusing so much on keeping him straight and even-paced, and he was focusing so much on doing what I asked, that we didn't realize one of the other riders -- a little girl on a pony -- was in trouble.  This pair had been in our first class too, and the pony was quite naughty -- every time I saw her, the pony was going too fast, and her rider was constantly having to circle her to keep her from running away.  She was rarely able to slow down or stop when the announcer asked for it.  Finally, the pony had had too much, and ran off with her.  The announcer asked us all to walk (I didn't realize why yet) and then I heard the girl hit the dirt behind me.  I felt Panama's butt tense up, but he didn't change his pace, and when I looked I saw the girl on the ground and her pony headed for the gate.

When I was going through the pictures Michael took, I saw the runaway pony crossing through the frame on several shots.  He didn't get the actual fall, but he got several pictures of the girl losing her balance.  V. says the pony actually bucked the girl off at the end.

Panama handled the entire thing beautifully, and the little girl got right up and got back on her pony to finish out the class with us.  After my classes were over, V. rode him in the practice arena some more until it was time to leave.  The sand was very deep, though, and he didn't want to trot much, so she rode briefly when we all got back to the barn.  It was funny to see how tired Panama was by the time she finished riding -- I have never seen him so tired that he is reluctant to trot!  And that was only a half day show, too -- we left after the English classes ended this time (usually we stay for Western too, since my friends ride both).

It was a fantastic day, and I cannot wait for show season next year so we can start doing some more challenging classes.  I think Panama genuinely enjoyed himself too, which I am thrilled about, since the whole point for me is doing something that is fun for both of us!