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Archive for January, 2010

Warm Yummies on a Cold Day


I don’t normally show love with food, but I did today.  This was partly because I hadn’t seen Elvis in days and I missed him, and also because I hadn’t seen him in a few days and I knew he’d be ready with his scornful glare.  So, I brought hot water from home and prepared a yummy warm beet pulp mash with carrot treats for Elvis.  When I went to get him from the pasture, he tried to ignore me in protest.. that is, until the other 4yo started to come over.  On the walk in, he was trying hard to convince me that I was a neglectful mother.  He didn’t have much to say though, once I parked him in front of his beet pulp mash.

While he ate, I groomed him and yelled at the dog who was acting a fool; he lives in the city with me, and really wants to be a farm dog.  So, when he visits the barn, he runs around trying to do all the things a farm dog would do but at hyper speed to make up for his wasted life in the city.

Elvis tolerated Noah, and Noah is entirely too nonchalant around horses.  I managed to put the lab on pause in order to get some not-so-candid shots.  Elvis is sporting his new Christmas Present from a friend, a fancy new rope halter (you can’t really see it though, because he’s too consumed with his slop).

Elvis (enjoying his cold weather treat) and Noah (enjoying his farm-dog-for-a-day status).

"You'd better not try to nick this, Farm-Dog-For-A-Day, or else..."

Noah discovers ice chunks are a fantastic toy.

...still destroying ice chunks.

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Recently I read a thread on trot.org which provided a wonderful observation of the chasm between the saddlebred industry and the rest of the world.  The thread was targeted towards an unknowing soul who was soon to become the victim of a teeming hornets’ nest, quaking with the promise of an opportunity to re-establish their solidarity of action.  The thread, titled “Saddlebred Abuse Petition”, highlighted a recent Care2 petition dedicated to highlighting abuse in the saddlebred industry.  The mission statement is as follows:

We need to unite against the abusive “traditional” training of many gaited horses, in an era when kind horse-training methods are widely accepted and endorsed by experts. Few countries allow these barbaric methods, which can include 24/7 lock-down ( sometimes in complete darkness and intense heat and with fatal consequences), tendon cutting, soring and punitive training methods.

The USA, Canada and South Africa all allow these horrors. Please join the care2 Group ALOHA (Animal Lovers Opposed to Horse Abuse) .

Now, as promised, I offer to provide some sort of medium between “the greater equine community” and “the saddlebred industry”, for the benefit of both groups.  I have never made claims to be in any way, shape, or form a member of the saddlebred industry (in truth, I’m having difficulties with the prospect of joining the registry – where will my dollars go?  Into supporting saddleseat, or perhaps one of the empty sport programs that appear to be atrophied?).  However, I consider myself an expert at observation and research, and I’ve also had the opportunity to be one of those individuals who developed a crystalline outsider’s view of the world of the saddlebred.

As far as abuse goes, I absolutely believe that it exists.  Before the naysayers siege upon me, no, I have not seen any with my own eyes.  However, let us take the statement quoted above as a starting point:

  • Is it a common practice to stall 24/7? Yes.  Are the stalled environments often altered to condition the horse’s behavior or enhance it’s appearance (such as darkness)?  Yes.
  • Are tendons cut?  Absolutely.
  • Soring?  I’m not sure on this one, but I’m sure it’s been considered.  Clearly you could sore on all four feet to achieve the needed effect.
  • Puntitive Training?  My goodness, yes!  Tie the horse up, yank the horse in, anything in the name of the extreme and artificial body shape.  Condition the horse with fear in order to get the needed “happy look”… (this term, by the way, makes me gag).

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.  More importantly though, at an early age I realized a very important truth:  Money and horses don’t mix.  One doesn’t need video tape and photographs (although I’m sure they exist) to know that abuse is a cornerstone of the horse industry business plan.  Show me one Honest Joe in horses, and I’ll show you a boatload of individuals who put themselves before their horse.  For an industry like the Saddlebred industry, which is entirely self supported (even if by a shoestring), and where the sole measure of accomplishment is shaped by cash prizes, how can human nature not leave it’s ugly stamp?  Horses are not robots, but to meet the ever increasing bar of excellence, they must be treated as such.  In the end, to myself and countless others, the saddlebred world of saddle seat appears to be a mecca for those who use horses to promote themselves, their egos, and needs.

Sadly, this Culture of Me can be found in most horse industries: Racing, Western Pleasure, Dressage, Eventing, the list goes on.  As stated before, when egos seek to cash in, the horse always loses.  Interestingly, it appears as though the stars have aligned in a diabolical way which has produced an industry that is so insular, and so self dependent (not to be confused with self reliant), that it’s foundation is riddled with corrupted practices which are upheld as the only answer, the only way.  Sadly, the saddlebred is their victim.

In all honesty though what angers me the most, what insults me to the core, is the pervasive apathy that saturates the saddlebred industry and is then masked by rabid and vehement group-think, all in the name of defending their cause.  One could counter argue for hours and only end up where they started, because they absolutely will not remove themselves from their paradigm.  I’m convinced this is because they are ashamed.  Isn’t this what we’ve all done, since children, when we are in denial about a flaw in our nature?  Weak arguments are shuffled in that denounce anything less than stellar representations of their practices, or that insist the horses are “happy” in their lifestyle.  Rationalization then ensues, followed by the casting of stones at other disciplines.

Lost in the fray are those true horsemen that do love the horse first, before they love themselves.  Lost also are the horses.. those who are burn outs, or who are given no chance but slaughter, or who are lame and pain.  How can the industry alienate the core components of it’s structure such as these and survive?  It can’t, and it won’t.

In true form, however, the industry does exactly that as was illustrated perfectly in the thread which has inspired this posting.  Slurs and insults were slung at the creator of the petition, and yet the heavily moderated (and ASHA supported) board continued.  I’m sure that soon, once dissenting voices gain in strength, the thread will be shut down.  Many in the past have, that have countered the group-think mentality.

Then, things will roll on in the same way they did before.  The industry, and those members who make it up, will have no idea that yet again they increased the chasm between themselves and the rest of the equestrian community.  Yet again they have disrespected their horses, they have chosen ignorant security over harsh reality.  Yet again they have taken one step closer to preventing this wonderful and beautiful breed from gaining the foothold that it needs to succeed.

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Since my last posting yesterday, I’ve spoken to my farrier.  I explained that I think Elvis’s angles are off in his feet, and that I think it is due to the freakish hoof growth he’s had the past five weeks.  With his front shoes, he obviously can’t wear down his toe, and it seems to be pulling the whole hoof forward.  With the harder ground, I’m sure this is what was making him a “not right” yesterday, especially since it was occurring on his right front, and his right front is the foot that needed the most reshaping.  I don’t recall his feet looking this way before my trip, and feel as though they grew significantly since before Christmas.  This blows my mind, especially since it is winter (and feet grow slower) but, as my BO pointed out “Elvis doesn’t follow any rules.”  So true.

So, I canceled my lesson today and maybe – just maybe – I’ll see my farrier sooner than later.  Either way we have an appointment next Tuesday.  I know he’ll set Elvis straight again – Farrier to the rescue!  Until then, I don’t see much work in our future.

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This poem has grown to be a favorite of mine, for many reasons.  I find myself thinking about it a lot, in general, and thought I’d share it.

Little Horse

You come from some other forest
do you
little horse
Think how long I have known these
deep dead leaves
without meeting you

I belong to no one
I would have wished for you if I had known how.
What a long time the place was empty
even in my sleep
and loving it as I did
I could not have told what was missing

what can I show you
I will not ask if you will stay
or if you will come again
I will not try to hold you
I hope you will come with me to where I stand
often sleeping and waking
by the patient water
that has no father nor mother

W. S. Merwin

Text Copyright © 1970 by W. S. Merwin

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Today started out really well: I ended up at the barn by 1pm, hoping to hit the warmer part of the day.  I felt pretty good as I had been getting a lot done today, and was excited to be unexpectedly riding (I wasn’t sure I could get up there early enough to avoid the rush hour traffic on my return).  Elvis saw me drive in through the big field, and ran up to meet me at the second gate – how can this not make a horse owner feel good?  The sun was shining and I was really hoping that the ground would be a bit softer in the ring; perhaps that is why he was “weird” yesterday?

I tacked up Mr. Congeniality and headed to the ring.  Unusually, I wasn’t alone as the BO and her daughter were riding.  The ring appeared to be hard, but not that bad.  I mean, the horses left foot prints and I could dig my heel into it.  Things were looking good!  Plus, I could do my ground work with lots of distractions to snag Elvis’s attention: a perfect opportunity to remind him that I’m the only thing he should be concerned with.

With the numbers of riders, and just to keep Elvis guessing, I decided not to lunge.  I hopped on and spent a good amount of time warming up at the walk.  He became round and soft so nicely, and was really reaching down and into the contact.  He held this suppleness into his basic lateral work, and negotiated the busy ring well.

With things going as well as they were, I moved him into the trot.  Occasionally, he’d be really good, but then he’d invert a bit and go against my hands.  Also, for a few strides I felt that he was off on his right front.  So, I hopped off and put him on the lunge.  Other than feeling as though he’s generally more short strided (basically, since his first shoeing, I feel as though his stride up front has been affected, and I plan on having my farrier address this next week), I didn’t see any hitch to his stride.  To the right though every so often I’d see something very small, actually it was more of a body stiffness as opposed to an actual “off” step.  It would be there and then it would be gone just as quickly.  He also wasn’t as forward as normal.  Hmm..

I decided to hop on and just see what I could feel at the trot.  He actually did pretty well to the left, but then to the right I felt it again.  I called it quits and headed back to the barn.  What a bummer!  Plus, it’s worrisome.

At the barn I did a 45 minute epsom salt soak, but I’m not sure how effective it was seeing as how I only had cold water.  I’m sure it helped some, hopefully it helped enough.  I felt his legs and they were clean and heat free; I knew this though as I feel them before every ride.

What I have noticed so far:

  • Elvis didn’t seem himself yesterday.  He wasn’t off, but he wasn’t as forward and wouldn’t come round and soften in the trot – this is why we walked mostly.
  • We’ve had a major cold snap the past few days; it is the coldest it’s been in this area at this time of year in eleven years.  The arena is a weird material, kind of a crushed rock mixed with some sort of gray sand (I keep forgetting to ask what it is).  I think it’s a local product, as there is a lot of mica in it.  I think it was chosen because it drains well, and the barn is on a flood plain.  It’s not the most shock absorbing material by any stretch, but it’s not “bad”.   About 5% of the ring is truly frozen, as puddles were frozen.  I don’t think the ring is any harder than it’s been in the middle of the droughts over last summer, but it is harder than it “normally” is.  I’m not sure I am fully convinced that this is the problem though, as Elvis came from Wisconsin where the ground truly freezes….
  • …although perhaps the fact that he’s being worked on this surface is a relevant variable?
  • I think his feet are long up front.  This wouldn’t surprise me as I doubled his Platinum Performance over a month ago.

So, I’m not sure what is going on, but he’s not himself and he’s presenting in such a minimal way.  For now, I think rest is best.  I canceled my lesson for tomorrow, and rescheduled for next week.  We will warm up a bit more and hopefully the ring will be softer, so that I can see if he changes in response.

For now, pictures of the poor boy:

Soaking his hoof. Also, you can really see how bad this side of his clip job is, haha! His HQ looks weird, too.. Could I have found a more unflattering photo?

Look at his fuzz! Another boarder was amazed at how thick and long his coat was the other day, and kept running their fingers through it. It is like bunny fur.

A long ovrdue photo of Elvis's leg... notice the lack of scratches?!

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Today warmed up to 29 degrees.  I just can’t believe this cold weather!  Not only has it been in the 20s the past few days, but the cool temperatures have been maintained with bright and sunny skies; there are no clouds to be seen!  Today the water bucket were reportedly frozen solid over night, and the troughs and buckets kept re freezing throughout the day.  Fortunately the property has running streams on it, but unfortunately Elvis prefers water from the hydrants.  I’m sure he’d drink from the streams if he were thirsty enough though.

I collected Elvis from the big field today, which was his first time on turnout in days (the horses have been staying in their paddocks due to overly wet fields).  The BO’s 4yo was persistently bugging Elvis (I assume because he had cycled through the other horses).  Elvis has a rip now in his Rhino blanket, ugh!  He was so happy to be rescued from the annoying pony (biting and kicking) that he ran across the field to me.  Actually, first the annoying pony came up to me.  I waited until he was within a few feet and then I spooked him, hahahaha!  He ran away, and Elvis saw his chance, so he ran across the field to me.  He knew that I was his refuge!

I tacked him up quickly and headed over for our ride.  Today was an off day in general.  First, on the line Elvis was kind of lazy.  The ground was hard, but not at all frozen.  I’m not sure what his deal was.  Also, under saddle his trot work wasn’t that great.  Then, I felt as though my saddle was crooked.  Additionally, I was also getting irritated because out of nowhere the excess of my reins started getting caught under the saddle pad at the trot, and pulling in my hands.  This was SO irritating!  I have no idea what was different about today.  I even stopped and resaddled to see if it was just the wrong placement for the pad, and to straighten things out in general.  This didn’t improve the situation.  Lately it seems as though I can’t ride without having some sort of equipment issue.  Alone, these issues wouldn’t be a problem, but one instance after another is a recipe for absolute frustration!

Seeing as how our trot work wasn’t fabulous,  I went back to the walk.  It’s always easier to fix something if you drop the speed.  At the trot, Elvis was a little on the forehand and not holding contact or remaining soft and round.  At the walk he was just find.  So, I focused on my body and staying as straight and even as possible, and in turns not forgetting to push my inside hip bone forward (for some reason this is harder for me with the “drape” leg of a dressage position).  We did basic lateral work, practiced stops, did a few strides of haunches  in, and worked on moving from a more collected walk to a working walk and then to a stretchy walk.

After working in the ring, we headed back to the barn.  I decided to just let Elvis choose his path to see what he’d do.  Instead of turning right to cross the stream toward the barns, he turned left and headed down a short trail through the field.  He went up the hill, then down, and then decided to cross the river.  I then decided that we should do the trail on the other side of the property.  Lately it’s been totally flooded, and I wanted to see what it looked like.  As I suspected, there were huge patches of frozen ice sheets over shallow puddles.  Elvis had the best time cracking through the puddles.  For the length of the frozen portion of the trail (2oo feet?) I rode a horse without a head; Elvis went along investigating the ice and sniffing at the holes he made with his feet.  He was very cute.

Eventually we ended up back at the barn and I untacked him.  I noticed that my fleece pad with shoulder inserts was a bit further forward than it usually is.  The saddle was ever so slightly off-balance from back to front.  Immediately realized that I did feel as though I wasn’t sitting on my pelvic floor as easily, which would explain why Elvis was going more on the forehand than usual.  Ugh!  I wish I had noticed this!!

I had a hard time leaving in a timely manner, as I was just really enjoying being with Elvis (even though the temperatures were dropping like a rock).  I hand walked him for a while and let him graze along the lane.  There isn’t much grass left in the fields as it’s all retracted for the season, so he was very happy!  He even gave a pony ride to my favorite barn cat, who came out to keep us company.

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I went up to ride today partly because I just really needed some Elvis-Time, and partly because we both need to get our act together for our upcoming lesson.  Not surprisingly though, I was the only person riding!  It’s been very cold (for the southeast) lately, and I ended up riding in 28* weather.. with wind!  Fortunately though, I was sporting a new pair of Kerrits winter breeches (thanks, Mom!), as well as some other fantastic winter essentials.  I was actually comfortable!

Once in the ring we took some time to inspect the few frozen puddles; Elvis enjoyed stomping and pawing at them.  We did groundwork and then lunge work.  I think Elvis is really starting to get stronger in the canter.  During our last lesson, we really worked on getting him to slow down and hold the canter.  At first, he was only able to do it for a few strides at a good speed.  Over time though he’s gotten much better, and he looked very nice today and he was very responsive.

Our ride was fantastic.  We worked at the walk for a while doing leg yields, spirals, figure eights, surpentines, etc.  He’s really starting to reach deep into the contact, which is great!  He was round and bent nicely, and remembered the whole inside/outside rein. At the trot he was fabulous.  We had success at the same exercises, and his tempo was perfect!  It was so nice!

All in all, today was great.  I really felt as though we hadn’t been apart for so long.  At this rate we should be ready for our lesson!

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