Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lacey's Eye Problem Follow-Up

I recently spent some time going back over some of my older posts, re-reading and refreshing my memory.  There were two posts that I realized I never followed up on, mainly because the subject matter was sad and for quite a while I had a hard time dealing with it.

The first post was written around this time last year and concerned the eye inflammation of our quarter horse mare, Lacey, I had gotten for my granddaughter.  I had left off where I was going to be taking Lacey to the vet to have him check out the growth in the corner of her eye that had not gone away.  I mentioned that my vet had told me it could be one of a few things: conjunctivitis, a foreign matter in the tear duct, or squamous cell sarcoma.  I was really hoping that it wouldn’t be the last – and it wasn’t.  It was worse.  After taking the growth out and sending it to two separate labs for biopsy, the report came back from both that it was malignant lymphoma.  All of us were crushed and the vet said that best case scenario would be that we would have 2 years yet with her.  But it was not to be.

In some respects, Dr. Harms told me that I was lucky that I had found out exactly what was going on with the mare as most people whose horse was suffering from this had no idea what was wrong and only found out when the horse died and an autopsy was done.  He told me that the only outward sign, usually, was that a horse would start losing weight for seemingly no reason and would come down with fevers and infections that would be very hard to recover from even with large doses of antibiotics.

With that being said, I should have suspected what was going on with Lacey when she started losing weight in October.  But it was a nasty month here, cold and rainy, and all I have is a three-sided shed for shelter.  It was taking more feed than normal for all my horses to keep their weight up and I just figured she needed more.  I was in denial and was concentrating on the “2 years” that I was supposed to have yet with Lacey.  Therefore, I took her to the barn where I board my mare, Joon, and Lacey loved it there.  Inside a large stall at night, lots of food, plenty of attention, and she picked her weight up nicely.  Ah, problem solved...I thought.  But then Lacey got an infection in her foot in January that wouldn’t heal no matter what we did and she went downhill from there.

The second post I could have commented on was done last January regarding emergency instructions for my horses before heading off on my vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  I had left copies of a letter with my friend, Max, and with the barn owner where I was boarding Lacey at the time documenting what I would like done with my animals should an emergency occur.  How thankful I was that I had done that!  Neither Max, nor Eric, had to waste time trying to locate me when Lacey collapsed and needed to be put down immediately.

It was an extremely sad event but at the same time I was so thankful I'd put in place a plan for this very reason.

In retrospect, I should have called my vet out to look at Lacey in October and he most likely would have advised me at that point to put her down.  I feel badly that I probably put the poor mare through more than I should have, but what’s done is done and I have learned from the experience.

Lacey, you were such a good girl and you are missed...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Teaching a Child How to Trail Ride a Horse

Trail riding is a favorite pastime of mine. This past weekend was no exception: camping and riding horses with family and friends in Pillsbury State Forest.  Although hot, there weren’t too many bugs since we had a breeze – actually a wind! – keeping them off and cooling us down.  This group is usually known to take long rides, 4 to 5 hours at a time, coming back to camp for a rest and then going out again for another couple hours of riding.

But this time we had my 5-year-old granddaughter with us so we were limited in the amount of time we could be out.  Although Sophia has been on a horse before – being led around in an arena and competing in a leadline class at a couple of shows – she hasn’t spent a lot of time riding and had never been on a trail ride.  I was a little nervous about taking her camping with us, thinking that I’d have to stay back at camp with her while others went out on the trails, but my friend Max assured me that Sophia could go along and would have fun.

Max has started quite a few young kids (nieces and nephews ) horseback riding, and has a sure-fire method of getting them going.  She said that if you put a child up behind you on the horse, they can’t see where they’re going and tend to fall asleep back there.  Her method is to saddle the horse with a pony saddle and have the child ride in the front, handling the reins, while she sits behind them for support and confidence.  To quote Max, “you can accomplish in two days on the trail what you cannot do in six months in an arena!”

As we started out, Sophia was a little nervous and at the first hill was saying “I don’t like this, I don’t like this!”  But by the end of the ride, only an hour and a half long, she was giggling and saying “let’s go faster!”  We came back to camp for lunch and a rest and a little while later Max asked who was ready for another ride; it was Sophia who jumped up first with her hand in the air saying “I am, I am!”  That ride was only an hour and the only way we could get her off the horse at the end was to promise to go out again later, which we did.

The next day we had to almost start over again with the confidence, but it wasn’t long before Sophia was riding along with the reins in just one hand and the other pointing out things along the trail.

Tips For Starting Out:
Max gave us a few pointers in starting children trail riding.

First and foremost, use a horse that is calm, child-safe, is used to trail riding and has been ridden double before.
Be sure the child knows at least the basics in horse riding: how to "go" and "whoa," how to steer, etc.

Always use safe equipment – including a helmet for the child's safety!

Keep in mind: the adult rider will be sitting back a little further on the horse’s back than normal. The horse not only shouldn’t mind this, but needs a back strong enough to support two riders.  Before we put Sophia up on that first ride, Max got on the horse we were using – Will, my Arabian gelding – and rode him around the camp for a little bit while sitting behind the pony saddle to test his ability.

Next, have a pad that can be attached to the back of the pony saddle for the adult rider to sit on.  This bridges the gap between the back of the saddle and the saddle pad, making it more comfortable to sit back there.

You must also realize that horseback riding on the trail takes a lot out of a young child, so keep the rides short in duration.

It's always recommended the adult take the reins for letting the horse graze or drink.

The last thing is to take along snacks and water, even on the short rides, as once they get low blood sugar the whining starts.  At that point, stick a lollipop in their mouth!

If the proper steps are taken to ensure everyone's safety – for riders AND their horses – trail riding horses can be a fun and rewarding experience for everyone!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seat Aid: Shifting Weight

Not too long ago, I was riding my mare Joon in the arena at the barn, doing serpentines and was so pleased with her responses to me. It seemed all I had to do was turn my head to look where I wanted to go and she would already be bending around in that direction. It was like she was reading my mind.

After our riding session, my friend Max and I were sitting having a cup of coffee going over what we had practiced that day on our horses. When I told Max that Joon had been “reading my mind,” she told me that no, Joon was just feeling my shift in weight as I turned my head. I was surprised because I thought I had stayed straight in the saddle and hadn’t leaned or twisted – other than my head – in any direction.

To explain what was happening, Max had me sit on my hands while sitting up straight as if I were in the saddle. Then she had me turn just my head and feel the difference in my hands. Try it yourself and you’ll see how the pressure on your seat bones changes with just even a small movement. No wonder horses can react to our slightest moves and be so “in tune” to their riders. Can you imagine how sensitive their backs are to feel that slight movement even through a saddle?

It makes me so much more aware of how much pressure I am exerting on my horses’ backs when riding, and even mounting. I am careful when mounting not to just drop down on their back, and I’m working a lot harder on posting softly at the trot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Training Technique to Loosen a Horse's Hind End

How do I get my horse to engage his rear end?
This is a common question among horseback riders. Whether you need your horse to be more 'rounded'/collected in the show ring or you're working a green horse, this is a great technique for loosening a horse's hind end.

This groundwork exercise teaches a horse to engage his hind end, which of course helps him get off his forehand, too. Here Max demonstrates with Will, my Arabian gelding, whose conformation has always made it a bit of a problem to collect him up and make him drive with his hind end.

Use lateral movement to encourage better balance, suppleness, and responsiveness in your horse. Here we are asking the horse to move his hind legs further under his body, thus increasing impulsion and movement. This will create more even muscle building on both sides. It will also check to see quickly if both sides of the horse's body are supple, which we find on this gelding is not the case. This exercise is the simplest of lateral movements and will also help when mounted and asking the horse to move away from leg pressure: to execute a proper side pass, leg yield or half-pass.

A simple groundwork exercise which takes only a few minutes, this training technique can make a world of difference to get your horse rounded by driving with her rear end, as well as make her lift her shoulders up to get off her forehand.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Emergency Instructions for My Horses

In just under 3 weeks we are planning on heading south to our condo in Puerto Vallarta for a few weeks of vacation in the sun. I’ve been busy lining things up and planning what to pack. A very important part of my planning is the care of my animals. It isn’t just a case of who will feed them, but what should the people in charge do in case of an emergency.

My neighbor will be in charge of the horses I have here at the house; he knows how to run the tractor to put out the round hay bales, he’ll check on the horses daily and make sure the automatic waterer keeps working. He’s familiar with horses and knows how to handle them, knows who to call if the waterer quits working and has the name and phone number of our veterinarian.

Two more of my horses are boarded at a barn not far away. I don’t worry about their care as they are wonderfully looked after, but my vet’s number is also handy for them to have.

But I will be out of the country and won't be easy to get hold of in case of an emergency. What then? I need to leave a list of instructions so that it is totally clear as to what I would like done in case of an emergency. I have left my friend, Max, in charge of all decisions, but I have given her a list of my preferences for each horse. I’ve had to make some hard choices about what I would like done, and how much money should be spent for each horse. I have an old, retired horse with arthritis, one with a life-limiting health problem, one who is a great riding horse but needs an expensive drug each riding season, and 2 more horses that are wonderful riding horses and have many years left in them.

So with each person who has the care of my horses I have left a list of the following: vet’s name and number; Max’s name and number; and each horse’s information (name, age, sex and health conditions). With my vet, with Max, and with the owner of the barn where I have two of my horses, I have left instructions as to what I would like done and how much money should be spent in the case of an emergency. It is also important that I line up with everyone how the bills should be paid until I arrive home.

And last, but not least, what if the unthinkable happens – we have an accident and don’t ever arrive home? I would like to know that all of my animals, including the dog and barn cat, are taken care of, that they go to good homes. In that case, I have a letter describing what I would like done with each of them, signed and put in with our wills. It isn’t a pleasant thought, but I wouldn’t want them just hauled off to an auction.

*Addendum: read more about why it's a good idea to have this type of plan laid out before vacation here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I came across an old picture the other day of something that made me cringe. The picture was taken almost 30 years ago at the start of my “horse career,” and at the time I thought nothing of it. I have learned a lot in the ensuing years and now as I look at the picture I realize how the fit of the hackamore is all wrong. Do you see?

There are a few different types of hackamores – bosal, sidepull, jumping cavesson and the mechanical hackamore. All of these are designed to act on the nose and jaw of the horse, rather than the tongue and bars of the mouth as with a bit.

The bosal comes in varying sizes and weights and is used many times to start a young horse. It consists of a noseband with a large knot to which is attached a mecate – a long, braided rope that when tied on correctly has a closed loop rein and a leadrope. Some bosals may also have a throatlatch piece, called a fiador.

The sidepull has a noseband that fits tighter and has rings to attach reins. As the name suggests, this type of hackamore is used for lateral movements of the head.

A jumping cavesson is similar to a sidepull but is usually attached to an English bridle and the noseband is an even tighter fit than the sidepull, giving it more subtle control.

A mechanical hackamore is not really a true “hackamore” as it has shanks and a curb chain, giving it quite a bit of leverage and can be very harsh in a rider with rough hands. It doesn’t have a lot of ease in turning a horse, unless the horse is trained to neck rein, but it does have considerable stopping power.

With all of the above hackamores - as with any bridle - the fit is all-important. The nose band should ride on the bone of the nose, not on the soft tissue below the nose bone as pressure there can cut off the wind of the horse, or can break the tip of the nose bone if it is sitting just on the edge of that bone.

So do you see why I cringed at the picture? With a strong pull, how would this horse be able to breath?

Scrapbook of Memories

I have a very good friend and horse riding buddy, Jan, whose 76th birthday will be in the spring. She is no longer riding so her daughter, who is also a very good friend and riding buddy of mine, has an idea for her mother.

We have been going through our photo albums, gathering pictures of Jan, her horses and all the good times we’ve had on horseback. We’ve also been writing down stories and memories that we’ve laughed about all these years with the idea of making a scrapbook – a memory book of Jan’s riding days. What a wonderful idea!

Not only will this give Jan something to go back to and laugh over for a long time, it also gives us the opportunity to reminisce and enjoy again all those times. We plan on getting together at Jan’s house sometime this month – it’s too cold to ride anyway! – to compile the scrapbook. Among the three of us we will come up with many, many stories and pictures and I have a feeling that this book will be very large.

I plan on riding for many years to come, but maybe it would be a good idea to start my scrapbook now.

Mother & Daughter in Field with Horse