Monday, April 30, 2012

Riding Reflecton: We did it!

As we cantered toward the center line, turning from the long side, I felt my horse nicely on my seat and in the reins.  I steadied us, a momentary hold with reins, my legs, and my seat.  I felt my horse soften and as I released the steadying half-halt he transitioned to a light-footed halt.  Wow!  I patted Harley's neck and he remained motionless.  Has someone been practicing when I am not around?

We tried it again a couple more times using a three-loop serpentine.  Every attempt was not perfect.  We still lose our balance and add a few shuffling trot steps in sometimes, but when we've got it, we've got it.  Harley can transition down to halt or walk from the canter.  Dare I say that we accomplished a couple simple changes?  The dressage kind through walk.  Surprisingly, he seems pretty happy with the downward transition and more anxious about the upward transition.  He relaxes into the halt or walk.  I still have to get the aiding right to keep him walking after the transition.  It seems to be easier for him to just halt.  What I like the most, is that I can release the rein, and if we have the balance, he remains steady and finishes the downward transition without any need for the rein.  Don't get me wrong.  I do need to support him with a strong half-halt to initiate the transition, but then he can carry it through.  I am so proud of Harley!

After a walk transition, he was so feisty before the next canter.  I had to tell him walk-walk-walk and encourage softness and a four-step gait with my seat and legs.  Only when he stopped trying to prance did I allow him to canter.  He gets pretty tense in anticipation, so that is something that we can definitely work on.  He likes to get on with it rather than wait.  I have to learn to wait with my body.  I tend to creep forward myself.  I love his exuberance, though.  Some of those prancy steps feel like something that could be half-steps.  I have always thought that about him.  He just packages himself and I know it is in there. He has the personality to match the energy required, though maybe not always the relaxation.

Harley is just so much fun to ride.  He is the perfect horse for me.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Horses have discerning palates.  Nature requires this, because they did not inherit the ability to lose their lunch, should they eat something toxic.  A horse's gastrointestinal tract is truly one-way, hence the necessity to make sure that everything which goes in is safe and healthy for the horse.  Their taste buds and olfactory senses are their first line of defense.  Of course, this can be frustrating if the horse refuses something that his owner so carefully chooses and adds to his menu, usually with the intent to make him a healthier, happier fellow.

A simple joy of horse ownership.

Have you ever watched your horse graze?  I am sure that you have.  It is a very enjoyable, peaceful activity.  Nothing makes Harley quite as happy as food and eating, so watching him eat is watching him in complete and contagious happiness.

Just spend a little time watching a horse graze and you will see just how discerning the palate can be.  Certain grasses and "weeds" are gobbled up, while others are passed by untouched.  Sometimes I think that I have found a patch of delicious grass only to find that Harley brushes the green blades with a closed muzzle and walks to a patch that seems less enticing to my human eyes.  A few preferences stand out to me.  He likes long grasses, probably because he can easily rip them free even with his overbite, although it doesn't seem to handicap him as he doesn't lose any time as soon as I give him the "okay" to start grazing.  Maybe the longer grasses are the sweetest, the long blades holding more sugar then their cropped neighbors.  Or maybe he just doesn't like someone else's seconds!  Since he prefers long grasses, this means that he loves to eat along fence lines and gates, under picnic tables, overhangs, and benches.  He will drop to a knee to reach under the picnic bench for grass and always inspects the upper surface of the picnic table.  A boarder feeds her horse carrots on the table top and Harley knows this!  He is usually rewarded for his careful inspection with a few carrot morsels left over or fallen through the cracks of the furniture.

The only "weed" that I can readily identify and observe disappearing into his mouth is the dandelion.  Harley loves dandelions, specifically the flowers.  He will eat the entire plant, but the flower is never left behind.  Sometimes he will stop and nip off the flowers of a couple dandelion plants before abandoning a grazing area for a fresh spot.  Horses cannot see at the end of their noses, so how does he identify the plant?  Do dandelions have a delicious aroma?  Is it the soft, feathery texture?  Whatever it is, Harley loves it and rarely misses the yellow delicacies when I am watching him graze after a nice ride or just because.

There is no where to hide, little dandy!  Harley is hunger.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Solo Trail Ride

I arrived at the barn yesterday determined to have fun spending time with my horse, even if we could not go dressage-ing in the arena.  You see, the dust is much too thick.  Harley's allergies have made it so that he simply cannot tolerate dust clouds.  After my bout with laryngitis, neither can I and let's face it, eating dust is not healthy under the best of circumstances.  Truth be told, it so dry that everyone is having a problem, horse and human.  Between the dryness and the pollen, the environment has become downright choking, but it will not last forever.  As I am writing this, it is raining outside.  Yes!!!

My solution was to attempt a trail ride and try to stick to the less sandy paths.  There were many cars parked at the barn when I drove up, but no one in sight and several empty halters in the aisle.  This was a sure sign that I had missed the boat on an impromptu group trail ride.  No problem.  I like to take Harley out by myself once in a while and we had learned of a few new trails recently, so I was interested in doing some exploring.  I strapped my cell phone to my boot and headed out with Harley.  He marched off with a spring in his step.  He loves trail rides.

A must for venturing outside the arena.

The feeling of partnership elicited by riding your horse out without company is difficult to describe.  The feeling is a combination of mutual dependence and trust.  I need you and you need me.  We have to stay together and stay safe.  I can get an idea why endurance riders become enamored with their sport.

Riding solo also gives an opportunity to be closer to nature.  When we ride in a group, nature usually runs away.  When Harley and I rode alone, we saw many animals: a lizard darting into the leaves, a herd of deer that watched vigilantly but did not run as we passed them, a woodpecker, squirrels, and countless other birds.  On occasion we have seen a hawk perched in the tree tops, watching us casually as we walked below.  I think that animals are less likely to run away if they do not feel that you are sneaking up on them or trying to conceal your presence.  When I saw the deer up ahead, I starting talking to them and telling them that we were just passing through.  I did not make any fast or unpredictable movements and Harley's ears flicked and swiveled, mirroring the movements of the deer's ears.  He likes to stop and look at them, but then he is fine to just walk by.  I tried to give the impression that we are just another herbivore, no need to worry.  I wonder if having a deer-colored horse helps to convince them?

We rediscovered the new paths that I had learned of a couple weeks ago.  I was glad to see that they were not yet overgrown, but that time is fast approaching.  The wild blueberry bushes are starting to regain their foliage and soon our view will be blocked by the broad leaves of deciduous trees.  For the time being, I can see deep into the woods, which allows me to spot deer or other riders on horseback long before we meet up with them.  It also makes us more visible to people on dirt bikes or four-wheelers, something that I wish that I did not have to worry about.

I was relieved to find that the new paths were lined by pine needles and leaves instead of sand.  This seemed like a good place to move out without worrying to much about dust.  Of course, the nice thing about trail riding is that you leave the dust behind you, unlike in the arena where you inevitably circle back around into your own dust cloud.  We trotted off and Harley demonstrated his happiness with several enthusiastic snorts.  He tossed his head a couple times, indicating that he would be more than willing to move up a gear, but I wanted to keep our pace moderate to accommodate the winding path and trees.  Harley powered along, lifting his back and arching his neck just like we were in the dressage ring.  He has definitely learned how to use his balance for the better.  He used to dive forward, throwing his weight onto the forehand during trail rides.  It was a matter of muscle memory.  He carried his previous owner on trails before he really knew how to balance under saddle.  Occasionally, he reverts back to this, but a few half-halts serve as effective reminders.  I made sure to widen and soften my seat as I half-halted on the outside rein.

"Remember you are with me, Harley.  Stay with me."

He shifted his weight back to where it belonged and pushed off his hind legs to steer around a tree.  Another half-halt on the new outside rein had him back on the new outside hind and around the next tree.  It was exhilarating.

Harley snuck in a canter depart during a short straight section of trail and I allowed it.  His canter was slow and collected.  I felt like I was riding a knight's horse in the movies.  He did not lean on the reins at all, as if he knew that would be taking too many liberties.

It was too soon when we ran out of trail and found ourselves just behind the farm.  I dropped the reins and let Harley do his quarter horse saunter back to the barn.  With a new plan, we had avoided dust and enjoyed a change of scenery.  Mission accomplished!

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: So Dry

Every other spring I would be complaining about excessive rain and muddy conditions for my horse's feet.  A few years ago we had lots of snow and it lasted for months.  When the thaw finally happened, the spring rains kicked in and there was a lot of standing water and local flooding.  Forget about keeping the paddocks drained, I worried about the sump pump in my house breaking, because it was running constantly.  Water was pumped into my backyard and then soaked right back into the ground below our house, so the pump could force it above ground again.  Thankfully, our basement did not flood, but our grass sure was green!

This winter we had no snow, which I am more than happy about, but now we are also not receiving our usual spring rain.  April showers are supposed to bring spring flowers.  Some of my flowers are blooming despite the dry conditions, but where is that rain?

Really dry hoof wall "crackles" distinctly under the rasp.

When it comes to my horse's feet, I prefer dry to wet.  Wet conditions harbor fungi and bacteria and usually take their toll on the frog.  Dry conditions can make for a very tough foot, which is good, BUT can be very, very difficult to trim even with a new, shiny rasp.

Fresh rasp.

A sharp 12" Ladies Rasp with a nice, reliable handle that does not fall off

Thankfully, I have a simple, cheap solution to tough, dry hooves.

Plain water.

I spray the bottom of Harley's feet along the hoof wall and begin rasping.  It is amazing how much easier the rasp cuts threw moistened hoof wall.  I simply reapply when the rasp stops cutting so easily.  The only downside that I can see is the threat of rust.   I keep my rasp out of harms way when I spray the water and leave the rasp in the sun for a little while after the trim, so any dampness will evaporate.  I used to cover my rasp with a leather sleeve and keep it in my grooming box to "protect" it.  This rusted my rasp so quickly, that it was just about useless by the next trim.  Now I keep my rasp loosely covered by saddle pads in the trunk of my car which is free of any horse care products that may leach moisture and rust the metal.  A rusted rasp is a dull rasp and a dull rasp makes me a very unhappy girl!

More "rasp crispies" and some thick hoof wall.

The water makes the filings stick.  His sole looks like crackle paint and has been exfoliating.

The finished product made much easier to attain with water!

And a matching partner.  Not sure if it is visible in the photo, but I am smoothing and rounding the heels more than I used to and the mustang roll is extended all the way around the hoof.  I am waiting to see if this change in my trimming technique widens his foot at all.  Harley has given it two hooves up, so far.

The pair and the photographer.

A finished hind hoof with the mustang roll extended all the way to the heel.

Walking like a Egyptian...

And standing like a prince.

Now if we can just get some rain.  The riding rings are terribly dusty.  Harley was coughing.  I was coughing.  The trail wasn't much better and the ticks are out there!  Smokey the Bear is warning that the fire danger is "Extreme" in our area.  When I was a kid attending lessons, I never would have begged for rain.  A rainy day meant no riding.  Now I am changing my tune.  These dry conditions are making riding in the rings unhealthy and Harley and I really want to ride!

Please heavens!  Open up!

Thank you for NOT smoking!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Riding Reflection: Work those thighs!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous this weekend.  Sunny and in the 70's yesterday and over 80 degrees today!  I actually wore shorts.  It was a really nice feeling.  Our birds spent the day in front of the open sliding-glass door with only the screen separating them from the great outdoors.  They were so cheerful, chirping and carrying on all day.  They also had several visitors: a morning dove, a bright, red cardinal, a robin, and a mocking bird.  Our birds and the birds outside all seem to know that they are the same creatures.  They are curious about each other.  The bravest will come very close to the door for a peak at domestic life.  My birds love wild, visitors.

I did not ride today, because I had too many things on my to-do list before school starts up tomorrow, but I did ride yesterday before dinner.  My husband came along and hung out in the gazebo with the barn owner while I rode Harley.  I like it when my husband comes to watch me ride and see Harley.  I did not ask him to take pictures this time, so he could just relax and enjoy the weather.

Harley was his usual wonderful self.  I did not have anything specific in mind to work on until we started riding.  Once we got to cantering, I realized that I haven't asked Harley to transition between walk and canter for quite some time.  Transitions from the walk to the canter are great for building strength and transitions from the canter to the walk are an open training objective for us.

Harley remembered the walk to canter right away.  He did a really nice job lifting up into the new gait.  He felt light on his feet, but he still told me that the exercise was a challenge.  He flattened his ears a little, which means that he is really concentrating and trying hard.  The left lead was pretty fluid and came fairly easily.  The right lead was interesting because he would almost take the first stride in place.  He was being really good about not lurching forward or hollowing and throwing his head up to pick up the lead.  It felt like he was experimenting with his springs, rather than sacrificing his position for the transition.  I guess people are not the only ones who do that.  I think that he will only get more consistent and stronger with time.  Since he also seems to like the exercise, we should practice a little each ride.

About to canter off from a ride in August 2011.

The canter after the transition was absolute butter to ride.  Soft and easy.  I could think about my position and ride him completely from my seat.  I decided to try using my upper leg in the downward transition.  I remembered reading that closing the upper thigh and knee "pinches" the forehand, which naturally slows the shoulders of the horse.  Admittedly, I do not like the word "pinch" in my riding and I have spent a lot of time relaxing my legs and trying not to pinch, but I liked the idea of using my upper leg rather than my hand to ask for the transition.  After about a quarter circle of canter, I closed my thighs firmly against the saddle to see what would happen.  Harley slowed and with a little rein pressure came to a gentle, smooth halt.  Wow.  I was not expecting such an immediate response.  We tried the downward transition several times in each direction.  I can see that this new use of my upper leg means something to Harley.  With practice, I hope that I will be able to determine the amount and duration of pressure to bring him directly to walk or halt from the canter.  I have spent so much energy trying not to close my thighs or knees against the saddle, that I have completely ignored the usefulness of my upper leg.  Harley did not seem upset or worried by the way I was using my leg either, so I think that we are onto something good!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Riding Reflection: Four Barrels

As an adult rider with her own horse at a small farm, I do not have the opportunity for many lessons.  There are a slew of reasons, but the biggest two are finances and level of instruction and those two seem to build upon one another.  Better instruction costs more money, which means that I can only afford a small number of lessons each year.  Good instruction can also be difficult to find, which requires trailering your horse or hiring a trainer to come to you.  Neither of these two is cheap and seeing as how I drive a Honda Civic, which, by the way, does not come with a tow package, and am trailer-less, I must subscribe to the latter.  After years of less than delicate instruction, I am very, very picky about who I am willing to give my money to and I will only ride with an instructor whose philosophy melds well with my own.  This considerably reduces the trainer pool, but I am okay with that.  I do have an instructor who is reasonably-priced and whose expertise blows my mind, but unfortunately she lives out of state, so I only get to ride with her when she travels to the area for her usual group of private students.  This gives me the motivation to make the most of my lessons and leaves me on my own most of the time, which I like very much.  However, sometimes I just get the hankering for a lesson.  I want someone to give me an exercise that is substantial and let me tackle it.  Harley enjoys this too!

On our last ride I had that "lesson hankering".  It has been weeks since we have gotten in a good ride and months since our last lesson.  I did not want to work Harley's body really hard, but I did want to work his mind.  As luck would have it, someone else had set up four barrels in the arena, probably for another lesson.  Sometimes I get annoyed when there is stuff "in the way" when I am riding, but this time, I decided to embrace those barrels and make up a lesson for us.

Simple can still be interesting.

We started our trot warm up, moving around all four barrels.  Then I started picking barrels to circle around.  I picked them out ahead of time, so that I would have to prepare my horse, and I did not always choose the same barrel and I did not always make the same size circle.  Harley learns patterns very quickly, which I can use to my advantage, but sometimes I also like to make him wait and listen.

The circles started connecting the barrels with diagonals lines.  This was how I changed direction.  The barrels inscribed a little dressage arena where we were always changing direction and bend.  Harley had to stay on his toes, as did I.  I started to feel something interesting.  As we finished a small circle and began a new diagonal line.  I felt Harley dropping his weight onto his inside shoulder.  This was noticeable, because the turns were frequent and challenged him to keep changing his balance.  I want Harley's weight to stay more on his outside shoulder as he completes the circle so that he can lift his inside shoulder.

Then, I want him even in both reins and ready to shift his weight onto the new outside shoulder as he lifts the new inside shoulder.  This allows me to correctly turn him from the outside shoulder rather than ride from the inside of my horse, which compromises balance.

The simple barrel exercise had shown me something rather profound, as this shift in balance between his shoulders was also essential for the canter depart and the flying change.

In order to help him keep his weight on his outside shoulder a little longer at the end of each circle, I started taking a firm hold on the outside rein just as we approached the straight diagonal line.  I few times, he over corrected and sidestepped slightly at the beginning of the diagonal.  This was good, in my opinion, because he was stepping toward and into the outside rein, which gave me more influence on his outside shoulder.  I gently eased the pressure on the old outside rein and gradually increased the pressure on the new outside rein as we passed the midpoint of the short diagonal.  It was like passing the responsibility from one side to the other.  Harley's weight transferred accordingly and I checked my own balance to make sure that I was staying centered.  I did not actively shift my weight in the saddle, as that would tell his haunches to move around and I wanted him straight behind and continuing forward.  This exercise was almost entirely about his shoulders.

Compartmentalizing your horse's body is very similar to separating your own aids making them independent.

When Harley and I got the coordination down, I started adding in the canter after the straight diagonal line.  I wanted him to shift his weight onto the new outside shoulder before he picked up the canter.  This allowed him to lift smoothly into the lead and with a nice gentle bend in his ribcage.  I cantered around half the barrels, returned to trot, assessed his outside shoulder, and began the next diagonal.  Just like in a lesson with a ground person, Harley was totally on.  He understood the task, figured it out, and was ready for the next phase.  When he picked up the right lead early on the diagonal and before a left turn, I knew we were on the same page, paragraph, and sentence.  I chose not to move my legs as this can sometimes block his efforts.  I just paid attention to turning his outside shoulder, sent my intentions left, and... 

...collected flying change, in perfect rhythm!  He stayed in the bridle, his butt did not pop up, and I felt him switch all four legs and land softly on the new lead.  It felt great!  I praised him with pats and "Good Boy's" while enjoying a very engaged left lead canter for half a circle.  Then we came back to walk for a break.

That was the same beautiful change that he did on the trail last week.  He is getting so much more organized and much less poppy (Check out the 2011 Bloopers video to see just how much pop he can muster!)

As we walked I pondered the ultimate training question.  Do I end on that excellent effort or try the other side?  There have been many times where I chose to end it, but this time I decided that the exercise was in our favor.  We should go for it.  Harley has more difficulty changing clean in this direction.  He switches behind pretty easily, but tends to switch in front a stride late.  If I send him really forward along the diagonal, he is more likely to get it clean, but he also gets strung out, so I am trying to back away from that strategy.  When I ask in a figure eight, he almost gets it, but sometimes it feels like half a stride late in front and I am not sure if he is landing correctly but extremely softly or putting a foot down and then switching his shoulders.  Now you see why this shoulder exercise was so groundbreaking!

I picked up the reins and started a left-hand circle around the barrels.  Harley's energy let me know that he was still onto the game, but it came with some tension, so I circled and made a few transitions to walk so that he softened his neck and back again.  I whispered for him to canter and he smoothly lifted off.  I checked the outside rein connection and felt for his outside hind landing in my outside hand.  I can feel this if the horse is really stepping into the rein.  He was with me, so we casually approached the diagonal.  I asked him to wait with the outside shoulder and he did.  He gave me those ears that said, "I am going for it."  I kept my legs passive again, and as we began the right turn around the barrel, I felt him push off with a grunt and...

...he landed on the right lead.  All four feet!  The maneuver had clearly taken some thought and physical effort on his part and for a second it felt like he was motionless in the stride.  I gently supported with my legs, now in the new canter position, and he pushed himself forward in the right lead canter.

I cheered for him and he immediately came to a halt as I dropped the reins, patting both sides of his neck.  We turned for the gate to add a crescendo to his praise.

"You're done!  You did it, Harley!"  What a great lesson!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hold the Gravy

After filling the garbage can with uneaten $23/bag horse feed this weekend, I was beginning to crack.  What is wrong with my horse?  Is anything wrong?  Harley keeps smiling at me and acting like his cheerful self, but eating less than half of his normal ration at mealtime just cannot be good.  I rode him for fifteen minutes on Monday and he seemed totally normal, but I felt guilty wondering if I was working him while hydrochloric acid was sloshing in his gut.  According to the advertising of exorbitantly-priced ulcer medications, ulcer horses often "suffer in silence".  I was starting to feel panic set in.  I read and reread the SmartPak supplements list, which is not a good idea for my wallet, researched the likelihood of horses developing ulcers, poured over my notes from his last vet visit and a recent Purina seminar that I attended, and started searching for answers on forums, another bad idea, but this time for my psyche.

I kept checking and rechecking my SmartPak order like it was a magic potion.  Only two more days.

Just like the last time I checked.

Five minutes ago.

This is what happens when I have time off.  Normally, my job would prevent me from going totally neurotic about Harley and something going awry.  What am I going to do if I have kids to worry about some day?

Upon further inspection, the impulse-buy Neigh-Lox did not appear to be to Harley's taste.  After eating some from my hand initially, now he was leaving it in the meal trough with his uneaten slop.  I started to fret that the antacid was turning him off his dinner even more and removed it from his menu.  I also reduced his grain again, fearing that a building colic was inevitable.  The barn owner called me and politely questioned my feed changes.  When I explained that I didn't think he would eat anymore than 3/4 of a scoop, she offered to give him a little at a time so that she could keep track of how much he was actually willing to consume.  I thanked her profusely for her help and apologized for making so many changes in such a short time.  She knows that I worry.  I think that I can keep it together much better for other horses (I think), but when it comes to Harley I can get lost pretty quickly.  I just want him back to normal.  Now.

I received an evening text from the barn owner with good news: Harley ate all of his dinner.


I was happy, but still confused.  I learned of the solution the next day when I visited the barn to check on my big, quadruped child, and I immediately had flashbacks of being a cat owner.  There were certain flavors of wet food that my cat would eat happily without complaint, but I didn't dare buy the "turkey with giblets"!  According to the feline palate, that stuff was not made to specification and you could not get my cat to put his nose anywhere near those brown lumps in thick gravy.  Give him the mashed up food or dry crunchies and he was fine, but no giblets in gravy!  No, no, no!

Turns out, Harley has decided that he does not like gravy anymore.  Sure, he has had his food watered down for years and eaten it without fanfare.  Yes, he used to receive generous portions of beet pulp and ate them wet and soupy with his Ultium.  We had stopped wetting his food temporarily this winter, because he did not want to eat "cold" dinner, at least that was what we thought was the problem.  We started wetting his food again when the vet saw him two weeks ago and he scared me (again) with what appeared to be belly pain.  Everyone is always concerned that he is having trouble chewing, so we started soaking his grain again.  He ate it fine until this weekend.  When the barn owner fed him piece-wise she did not soak each portion and he gobbled them up.  She tried it again the next morning and he ate 1 and 1/2 scoops without hesitation.

Like my former beloved cat, it appears that Harley is not a "turkey with giblets" fan.  Since wet feed made his trough a sloppy mess, I cannot say that I am disappointed, although I did like getting some extra water into him.  I am breathing a little easier knowing that he is eating his meals again, but I am also wondering what will be next.
Mr. Particular is getting even more-so with age.

Love you, Harley, but sheesh.  Pass the Neigh-Lox.

Innocently, "Who me?"

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Question of Feed

Harley is backing off his grain again.  Needless to say, I am perplexed and worried, but a part of me is wondering if I should really be rejoicing.  Allow me to explain.

Harley has always been a very hardkeeper.  He has seldom scored a body condition score above a four, although always with good muscle tone and a shiny, healthy coat.  This winter, under my vet's instructions, we tried a couple things to get some bulk on him.  This was partly spurred on by the fact that he contracted a virus in December, which compounded the weight issue.  A blanket, alfalfa pellets, and finally a large increase in grain were in order.  Fast forward to the spring and he looks AMAZING.  I get feedback from everyone, including the vet, and their sentiments are the same. 

Harley looks great!  The best in his life probably. 

Now the problem is that he is starting to refuse to eat all his grain.  This started a few weeks ago with a possible low-level colic.  This is very atypical for Harley.  The vet came out and did an exam, we reduced his grain and he was fine up until this weekend.  Now, he is backing off his grain again.

The ultimate guessing game.

I went out yesterday and hand-grazed him for about 40 minutes.  He seems totally normal.  Alert, eager to eat and friendly.  I cannot say that he is displaying a "poor appetite".  He really wants to eat, but he is more interested in hay and grass than he is grain.  I brought him in for dinner and breathed a sigh of relief when he immediately began chowing down on his dinner.  Less than 15 minutes later, he was standing as his door ready to go out for his hay.  I looked in his bucket and he had left about half of his grain.  Hmmm.  I looked into his eye and stroked his nose.

"Are you okay, Harley?"

He stared back at me with bright, social eyes.  He did not look sick.  Did I fill him up on grass?  I think he knew that I wanted him to eat more, so he walked over to his food and nosed the wet grain around a bit, but then returned to his door with the same expectant look. 

"Time to go out!"

I got out the stethoscope and listened to his gut.  Noisy and easily heard without the physician's instrument.  I tried rubbing his belly and even drumming on it a bit to see if he would kick his stomach or show any signs of discomfort.  Nothing.  He really did not look sick at all.  As per my vet's instructions, I gave him a low dose of Banamine by mouth, just in case, and he proceeded to put on a comedy act putting his lip in the air and turning away from my hand when I offered him a cookie to chase the medicine.  The more his audience laughed at his antics (some friends were nearby), the more he played up the dramatics.  He was not acting like a sick horse.  I decided to put him out with Cisco and he immediately dove into his hay. 

Back at the barn I checked his unfinished dinner and estimated that he ate about 3/4 of a scoop.  If we have a 3-quart scoop, which I believe we do, then he ate about 2 1/4 scoops of Ultium.  If Ultium weights about 1.25 lb/qt, then he ate about 2.8 lbs of grain.  Ultium is a high calorie feed at about 1900 cal/lb.  The protein, fat, and fiber ratios are 12%, 12%, and 19% respectively.  I have not been riding him lately, it is no longer winter, and his body condition is about a "6" according to my vet. 

Is it crazy to think that Harley is meeting his energy requirements with much less feed? 

Most other horse owners would probably balk at how much he was eating before.  I sure did!  He was consuming two full scoops at each meal during the winter.  I have already mentioned that I would never have given him that much grain without my vet's instructions.  For years, he was eating a full scoop of Ultium and a full scoop of beet pulp at every meal.  I was not comfortable with giving him anything more than one scoop of grain, but he also was not able to maintain above a 4+ body condition score.  This weekend, I tried substituting some beet pulp back in his food and he turned his nose up at it, eating all around it and leaving every shred behind.

So I have all these questions going through my mind:

Is something really wrong with him and that is why he is backing off his feed?
Does he have ulcers?
Has all that grain caught up with him and caused a problem?
Or is he finally able to maintain his condition on a "normal" grain ration?

I have been shoving food into him for so long that now my perspective on what a horse should be eating at each meal is skewed.  I never liked giving him tons of feed.  Forage is healthiest for a horse and many horses sustain themselves on high quality forage with minimal grain or a ration balancer.  We did just switch to a new hay shipment: orchard grass and timothy.  The hay looks much finer then the coarse stuff that we had before.  It looks good.  Is he getting more calories from the hay now, too?

I bought some Neigh-lox (an equine antacid, everyone gets a chuckle out of the name) at the local feed store, as per the vet's instructions.  He ate it out of my hand at first, but I think he is leaving it behind now.  I have ordered Ulcergard, which I will try when it arrives in a few days, and SmartGut pellets.  The SmartGut pellets seem to use the shotgun approach, with antacid, prebiotics, probiotics, and herbs.

I have been reading up on ulcers, because poor appetite is a symptom, but he does not seem to display any other likely symptoms.  He is not stall bound.  He has 24/7 turnout with a buddy.  He is not traveling or competing.  His coat is shiny and healthy.  He is not irritable or resistant to work and, for the first time, he is not thin. 

Harley, the happy enigma.

There are a few factors that could be making him ulcer-prone or disinterested in eating.
  1. His busy, high energy personality
  2. He is only fed twice daily.  (Free choice hay is not an option.  Neither is a lunchtime meal.)
  3. He has allergies.
The allergies are new in 2012.  I have not written about them yet, but Harley is being treated for allergies.  Is this the likely stressor?  He is not on steroids and the treatment he is receiving should not be causing digestive upset.  The vet is pretty adamant about that one.

I have wished a thousand times over that he could have free choice hay.  I tried to make it happen last year with the Nibble Net, but that was an abysmal failure.  He could not eat efficiently out of the net, probably due to his overbite, and he subsequently lost weight.  It is really tough when you board your horse.  I want my own farm some day, but I do not see that happening in the near future and probably not in New Jersey.  Besides, my husband and I work full-time.  We would not be around during the day to keep an eye on him (or give him lunch) and we would have to buy a second horse to keep him company.  Oh yeah, and we would have to win the lottery.  ;)

Did I ever get to the rejoicing part? 
Maybe Harley only needs the amount of grain that he is willing to eat at mealtime.  Can a hardkeeper get easier?  That would certainly be something to celebrate.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Buttermilk Buckskin: Changing Colors

And a ride!

Since I was absent from the barn last week, Harley's coat changes have nearly gotten away from me!  His light, cream-colored fur is being replaced by more reddish tones, which should lead to dapples on his rump and shoulders.  The new red hairs are visible along his cheek bone and behind his eye in the photo below. 

I have always enjoyed watching his color changes, but this is the first time that I have tried to document the changes gradually.  His spring transformation seems to be picking up speed!

More red hairs on his nose.  The red and cream together give him that golden look.

Can you see the star on his forehead?

Red hairs on his hip points, croup, and...

...withers.  Sometimes he almost gets bands here, but I think that is in the fall.  The lines that you see are just shadows.

Check out the black patches above the backs of his knees.  Those were not there last week!

The fronts are just about there.  I guess knee-highs are always in fashion for Harley.

A lot more light hair has left his hind legs.

The good old-fashioned grooming block is the trick for helping the short hair shed off the front of his hing leg.

This is a totally insane picture of his mane.  The "frosting" is nothing new, but has grown quite long on top of his dark mane.  The lower section is growing in for the first time since I have owned him.  This is thanks to some foal fencing that I paid for and helped put up in 90 degree weather.  I was happy to have his mane grow in, but I was even more happy to not have him contorting himself through the fence to eat grass.  I do not think that he is as happy with the arrangement.  He would rather have the grass.

"Enough pictures already!"

Sorry Harley, but just look at that blue sky.  Unreal.

We did go on a trail ride after this long never-ending grooming session and photo shoot.  He was extremely pleased to be out and about after a week of waiting around and trying to amuse himself.  Although I am still getting over the cough and I do not sound great, I am feeling better, too.  We kept the ride to lots of walking and some trotting here and there.  I tried to keep Harley slow in trot for the sake of our company (we are always faster than our company), but he was not having it.  I got to feel some beautiful lengthened trot along a sandy trail and he rounded up into an equally powerful collected trot as we navigated a winding path around trees.  The path was cut to slow horses down on the way back home.  I guess no one told Harley that!  It was very, very fun to ride in sitting trot, changing the bend around each tree and feeling him push off his hind legs.  Dressage is beneficial even to trail riding!

Once we got back to our property, I let him canter along a wide path leading to the paddocks.  He did this beautiful collected canter-right and when we approached a gentle bend to the left, he lifted up into an expression and exciting flying change.  Totally clean and totally awesome.  I did not ask him for it deliberately, but I am sure that I shifted my weight and that is all the encouragement he needs for his favorite trick.  The left lead afterward was so full of excitement and joy that I could feel the power beginning to overflow and I could see what he looked like in my mind's eye: arched neck, flared nostrils, expressively articulating knees and hocks, and flying mane and tail.  Harley may be beautiful on the outside, but his true beauty is this fire inside of him.  The desire to show off his energy and spirit.  I feel completely honored that he chooses to share it with me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Friendly and Fresh

When I stepped out of my car today, I heard Harley whinny from his paddock.  How sweet.  Couple the fact that he hadn't seen me in a week with the notion that his buddy was already in the barn and I had one lonely pony.  He was waiting at the gate when I got there and I could not resist giving him a kiss on his velveteen nose.  He eagerly shoved his nose in his halter as I gave him the once over.  Besides some tangles in his mane and tail, he looked relatively clean.  I have cared for grays before, so I know how messy they can be.  Even though he is very light-colored, Harley is not much of a mud worshiper.  Off-white seems to wear dirt rather well anyway.  I walked him back to the barn and he was all happiness with shiny, bright eyes and a swing in his step.

I got out the grooming kit and set to work.  I hadn't gotten far and was just brushing his neck, when the barn owner mentioned that I did not appear to be wearing riding clothes.  Alas.  I wanted to ride, but my body was not quite up to it yet.  I had only gotten one good night sleep in the past week and was prone to coughing fits.  I am sure that Harley would take care of me, but I have difficulty setting limits when it comes to riding.  I would end up riding for an hour, working up a sweat, and possibly setting myself back another week.  I am already fighting off two infections.  I do not need a third!

So I purposely did not wear riding clothes.  I knew that this would (most likely) keep me out of the saddle.  Although, let me tell you, Harley is one charismatic fellow and difficult to resist.  Despite creeping thoughts of "just a walk around the paddock", I stuck to my guns and the grooming kit.

I barely finished responding to the barn owner's inquiry by confirming that I was not riding today, when Harley started to paw with his right front foot.  I was standing on his right side, brushing his neck.  Before I could finish scolding him for his behavior, he deliberately brought his right front leg to the side and plopped his hoof on top of my foot!  I was so surprised that I barely knew how to react.  His hoof was gone almost as soon as it grazed my foot.  His stunt had been without pressure or force against my shoe, so I was completely unharmed, but no less stunned by his clear demonstration of frustration.

"Excuse me..."
"...but it sounds like you said..."
" riding?!  What gives?"
 (These pictures are from a different day when Harley was demonstrating how he can stretch his front legs on his own using the "elbow touch" Spanish walk precursor exercise.  I thought they were more amusing in this context.)

"What do you mean?  We are not riding today?"

Rather then continue my original notion to scold him, I just apologized and told him that I would give him a good grooming. 

"We will ride later in the week.  I promise!"

Harley is definitely not the kind of horse that likes to be idle.  I think that I underestimate this sometimes.  He is rarely fresh, but this behavior definitely qualified!  No offense Harley.  I do not like to be idle either, but I do want to be able to speak above a hoarse croak and without coughing incessantly some time in the near future, so I am just going to have to give it some time.  I know that I could get up there and ride today and it would be no problem, until I felt worse later.  Thankfully, spring break is just around the corner.  Plenty of time for resting, riding, and cleaning my house, because that needs to be done, too!

What do you think?  Did Harley recognize that I was not wearing riding clothes?  Did he understand when I said "no" to the question about riding?  What does he understand exactly? 

Apparently a great many things!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

When Val is not around...

Hi Everyone.

Harley here.

Val is not feeling well.  She did come to see me this week, because it was my birthday, but I could tell that she wasn't herself.  She would only whisper to me.  Something about losing her voice.  Luckily, I do not care if she can talk or not.  I read her mind without too much trouble.  I took Val for a nice ride even though she was not feeling 100%.  She said that we would only walk, but I knew that she did not mean that.  We trotted!  We cantered!  We half-passed!  It was lots of fun and a good birthday for me.  I got lots of grass-time afterward, but now Val is feeling worse, so I have not seen her for a few days.  Hopefully, she will visit me soon.  I do miss her on the days when she does not make it out here.

Luckily, I am good at staying busy.

Everyone says that I have my nose in everything and they are most certainly correct.  When I am eating my dinner, I like to watch the barn owners filling the water buckets and putting hay in the other horses' stalls.  They tell me to keep eating, but I can eat and watch at the same time, so I keep watching.  And eating, because I really like eating, too.

My nose.

Cisco's mommy comes to visit him quite often.  I really like her.  Cisco is not super helpful, so he hangs back and waits for his mommy to come get him.  I have to be extra friendly to make up for this.  I walk up to Cisco's mommy and we play a game.  She hides behind the big pine tree.  I know she is there, so I peek around the tree to find her.  I can tell that she likes this, because she tells me that I am cute and then hides again.  I am really good at this game.  I can find her every time.  I could play this game for hours, but, eventually, she wants to get Cisco, so she tells me to "back up".  I back up like a gentleman.  Sometimes I wonder if she might let me come along, too, but she always tells me to "stand" so that means that I have to wait.  I usually yell from my paddock for a while just in case she changes her mind.  I do not want her to forget that I am still thinking about our game and the nice grass outside my paddock.

Me eating AND watching.  Notice my pony neighbor who buries his face in his bucket.

I like to watch Cisco and his mommy do groundwork and ride together.  I also like to watch the barn owner give lessons.  I learn a lot by watching.  I learn that some horses do not like to canter as much as me.  I also learn that some horses like to turn when their rider does not expect it.  I wonder why they do not just read their rider's mind?  Maybe they are trying, but it is difficult.  Sometimes the barn owner asks me what I think about the lesson.  I try to tell her telepathically or I just nod my head.  Humans like that.  They also like it when I stick my lip in the air.

After he is done working, Cisco comes back and I greet him by arching my neck and sniffing noses.  Sometimes he temporarily forgets the rules.  He likes to test me.  He knows that I get first pick of the hay, but sometimes he just has to test.  I chase him away pretty good.  His mommy likes this because she says that I exercise him.  I always let him come back, though, because he is my best friend.

There are little green grasses growing in my paddock right now.  I like to nibble the little green shoots and nose though the pine needles.  I can do this for hours.  Sometimes, I feel like taking a nap.  The sandy ground is perfect for napping and so is the sun.  We have had some nice sunny days lately.  They are great for naps.  Cisco and I took a nap together in the sun.  We laid near each other in mirror image formation.  I have seen mirrors before in an indoor ring, so I know what mirror images are.  Val saw us napping and wanted to take a picture (I read her mind), but I heard her so I woke up and was standing by the time she returned with a camera.  I do not want to nap when Val is around.  I might miss something!

Val and I hope you have a good April's funny day.
My recommendations are to eat, sleep, play, watch, and hang out with your friends. 
If you are gray, go lay in the mud, too.  Cisco is part gray and likes to do that. 
As for me, I prefer just being nosy.