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!