Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Hurricane Sandy Report and Science

The feeling of being shell-shocked has not worn off, but my family, home, and animals are all okay.  Harley weathered the storm in the barn with his buddies.  The "unofficial" disaster plan was in place, which includes filling all spare containers with water, tying identification tags in the horses' manes, and securing all lose items on the farm such as barrels and cones.  Harley had his allergy medicine with instructions for emergency use, should the dust of the barn cause him problems.  I also thoroughly watered the walls and bedding of his stall as a preventative measure.  Thankfully, he was completely fine and already happily turned out by the time that I saw him on Tuesday.

As for our situation at home, we lost power before 2 pm on Monday.  This was before the hurricane even reached land, but we had been experiencing steady rain and some wind since late Sunday.  We were ready with our generator, flashlights, camping stove, and head lamps, which turned out to be very convenient.  Climbing the stairs to and from the second floor felt like spelunking, but it was worth it to have my hands free.  After losing power for 90 hours this summer, we still felt all too practiced, but thankfully we did not have to wait as long for the power to come back on.  School and my husband's work were cancelled Monday and Tuesday.  I received a call that school was closed again on Wednesday due to numerous power outages and flooding in some areas.  Power was restored to our home around 10 pm last night.

The worst part about the storm was the wind.  It did not rain nearly as much as expected, but the wind was very strong.  I can see why the builder installed "hurricane straps" on the frame of our house.  We did not sustain any damage, but the house was creaking in a rather unnerving manner early Monday evening and late Monday night into early Tuesday morning.  The eye must have passed over us between those two times, because the rain had all but stopped and the wind was minimal.  We set up the camping stove and made dinner around 6 pm Monday night.  Hurricane Sandy was one humongous storm with a huge eye, because that eerie calmness lasted for a couple hours.  We even went for a walk and counted how many people were running generators in our neighborhood.  It felt like the Derecho all over again, a powerful storm which downed many, many trees on June 30th.  Thankfully, the forest in our area was largely thinned due to that event, so there were not many trees down this time.  That must be why the power came back much more quickly, however, there is serious flooding and storm surge damage less than ten miles from where I live.  The clean-up for those areas has barely begun.

I am sure that whatever residual stress is dissipating for me and my husband is nothing compared to the stunned feeling that residents of the New Jersey barrier islands, northeastern coast, and New York City are experiencing.  I live very close to the barrier islands, but thankfully not on them.  Just to give you an idea, a twenty minute trip down the expressway is all that is required to arrive in Atlantic City.  Ocean City is not much farther and I used to work in Stone Harbor, which is at the end of the Garden State Parkway.  The Parkway actually has street lights when you drive that far south.  It took me forty-five minutes to drive to work.  I taught school groups about the ecology of the marsh and barrier islands.  The beach was literally my classroom.  Much to the children's delight, it was not uncommon to see dolphins jumping in the water on the horizon or an osprey or two soaring over the waves in search of fish.

The natural barrier islands protect New Jersey's salt marshes and coastline from the daily tidal cycle.  This past week, those islands protected many of us from Hurricane Sandy and a tsunami-like storm surge complicated by unfortunate timing of the spring tides, a super high tide created by the combined gravitational force of the Earth, moon, and sun.  Spring tides occur twice a month during the new moon and the full moon.  Normally, the larger high tide is held and absorbed slowly by the coastal salt marshes, which prevent the mainland from regular flooding.

There is and has been an on-going battle in New Jersey between land developers and conservationists regarding the preservation of the salt marshlands and barrier island dunes for longer than I have been around to learn about them.  Please allow me to generalize, so that I may explain the situation to you.  The importance of the salt marsh as a flood plain, not to mention the unique brackish water ecosystem which overlaps with the marine ecosystem, is used as fodder to argue that large sections of salt marsh should be preserved.  Land developers, in general, favor filling in and developing sections of marshland for profit, as coastline has many marketable features.  A similar battle occurs at the beach, which is on the barrier islands.  Obviously the existence of the boardwalks and shore towns, for which New Jersey is famous, indicate that not populating the barrier islands is out of the question, but, believe it or not, dune restoration is considered a debatable agenda item.  Ecologists and conservationists warn that the dunes must be preserved and restored with the systematic planting of dune grass, which helps to anchor the delicate dunes, in order to protect the rest of the barrier island.  Some owners of lucrative beachfront property complain that dune restoration projects decrease property values by blocking the ocean view and cite that conservationists are mainly concerned with the preservation of bird species like the piping plover.  Also, flat, sandy beach is accessible to tourists.  Lumpy, rolling dunes are not useable land, although I believe most beach-goers enjoy the dunes as acceptable landscape.

Personally, I think the dunes and marshes are beautiful.  I do not even mind the "earthy" smell of the salt-marsh and, of course, I understand and appreciate the importance of protecting the organisms that live there.  Despite this, I know rationally that we cannot save everything.  After all, I live in a house that was built on what used to be pine barrens, another native habitat in New Jersey whose use must be settled through litigation.  I even worked on a research project in college, with the intent of describing timber rattlesnake populations, so that their habitat might be preserved.  Just imagine how difficult it must be to convince developers and citizens that land should be preserved to protect a snake species, let along a rattlesnake species.  I respect the important role of this reclusive predator and I support its conservation efforts, and, yet, now I live on developed pine barrens.

I try to see both sides, to some extent, but I am admittedly "ecologically-biased".

That being said, there was a mad dash effort with bulldozers to further build up existing dunes when Hurricane Sandy's threat looked realistic.  I know that dunes are not going to survive or completely prevent the destruction that ensured along New Jersey's barrier islands from a catastrophic weather event.  A long-term approach is required.  This is the motivation behind the preservation of salt marshes and dunes, not to inhibit profit or assets.  Maybe the effects of this hurricane will change a few perspectives, just as they have changed the landscape.  There are no easy or simple solutions, but there is one certainly.  Mother Nature is not to be trifled with.

I wish all those well who are recovering in the storm's aftermath.

I took all of the following photos earlier this year.

The beach of Atlantic City, New Jersey in August 2012

A small section of Atlantic City's boardwalk, beach, and casinos (August 2012)
Dune sustaining grasses behind the Atlantic City boardwalk (August 2012)

The quiet boardwalk and grassy dunes of Ocean City, New Jersey in April 2012
The view from the end of the Ocean City boardwalk (April 2012): The regular spacing of the sparse grasses here suggests that a dune grass restoration project is in effect along these minimal dunes.  Some of the local high schools and colleges participate with their environmental and oceanography students.  Ocean City beach, like much of New Jersey's coastline, is decreasing in size due to erosion.

Monday, October 29, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Fits Like A Glove

The classic black shoe goes with buckskin very nicely.

The Easyboot Glove size 1.5

Harley's new boots arrived at the beginning of last week.  I knew that his feet needed a trim, so I had to wait until I had time to do his feet to try on the boots.  After a fresh trim on Saturday, the boots fit snugly, but were easy to install.  I tapped his toe against the ground a couple times to push the boot farther onto his foot.  Then I lunged him at walk and trot for a few minutes to see how he moved in them.  He walked and trotted very willingly and the boots were on his feet even better after that short bout of exercise.   I saddled up and decided to give them an official first ride.

Tested and approved.  We walked, we trotted, we cantered and the Gloves stayed put.

The boots were a success!  Harley moved like he wasn't wearing anything on his feet.  He did, however, let me know that he was aware of his new accessories, because he reached down and chewed on the gaiter a couple times.  I think with practice he could learn to pull the velcro tabs, so I will try not to allow him to investigate them. 

I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I first started riding.  I wasn't sure what would happen if the boots fell off mid-stride.  Cantering and a ground-covering trot were the most nerve-wracking tests for me.  Both of these gaits were fine, but I was definitely a little nervous when Harley decided to open up and strut his stuff in trot.  His shoulders lifted and he floated along with no problem at all.  The only time that I even noticed he was wearing boots was in the walk and trot warm up.  Occasionally, I heard his hind toe hit the bottom of the boot on his front foot.  Due to his somewhat long back, he has never been one to overreach, but he does track-up nicely.  I think the little extra height created by the treads in the boots was making the difference.  The intermittent, soft knocking sound only happened in the beginning of the ride, so maybe he learned how to compensate for the treads after a few minutes.  Once he has warmed up, Harley carries himself better, too, which gives his front end more time to stay out of his hind end's way.

I am excited to give these boots a try on the trail.  I do not see myself letting Harley gallop in them, but I rarely allow Harley to gallop anyway.  There are very few places flat enough and long enough for him to do that around here.  Besides, I think that he had plenty of galloping time in his yahoo days.  I am enjoying the rocking horse canter that he now offers on the trial and this is much healthier for both of us.

I also purchased thin, comfort pads and power straps, but I have not installed either of them yet.  The boots are so snug that I am not even sure if his foot and the pads will fit in the boots together.  All of the other riders at the barn who use the boots also use the pads, but I do not think that Harley needs them.  He is used to walking around without anything on his feet.  Why would he need pads?  What do you think?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dear Mother Nature,

I totally appreciate your awesomeness.  I saw what you did during the Derecho Storm this summer.  I remember what you threatened before Hurricane Irene in August 2011.  I now own a generator, but I would really prefer to not have to use it.  You dropped a bunch of snow on northern New Jersey last year just before Halloween.  That was not an amusing trick and I do not want to be the victim of your attempt at weather-based comedy this year.  Dangerous weather is serious busy for us life forms.

I would like to ride my horse, try on his new boots, go to work, hand out candy on Halloween, and have a generally boring week, thank you very much.  May I remind you that I live in New Jersey?  I like it boring around here.  Since my state is so small, maybe you could just cut us some slack and skip right over us.  I do not think anyone will notice.  We hardly made the news during the Derecho when a third of the state lost power.  I promise not to tell that you gave us a break.

Respectfully yours,

Monday, October 22, 2012

Imperfect Photo

My husband came with me to the barn yesterday, armed with the camera.  The weather was gorgeous and the farm decidedly empty and peaceful.

Happy day!

Unfortunately, perfect conditions do not guarantee that your horse with allergies will have a clear day.  Harley's cough was bothering him yesterday, despite my long-term efforts to mitigate his hyper-immune response.  I had to cut the ride and the photo shoot short.  This makes me sad for many reasons, especially when he trots off like he wants to work even though he is not feeling 100%.  I like to celebrate the good stuff that we are doing on this blog, because there are some days that we are stuck in the starting gate.  I did have some time in the saddle, so I should not complain.  Thank goodness I am not really interested in showing, because how could I sign up for a show when I cannot predict if he will be coughing that day?

Since we had an imperfect day, I decided to share an imperfect photo. 

Does this count as expressive?

I believe this was our first walk to canter transition in this direction.  Obviously, there is a lot to be improved here.  I know that we are capable of a much better transition.  What we lack in finesse, we make up for in effort.  That is Harley's "game face" by the way.  I still think it is cute.

Prior to this transition, I did not engage Harley's walk enough to place his outside hind under his center of gravity, allowing him to lift his front end smoothly into canter.  The walk to canter transition requires coordination, suppleness, and strength.  I enjoy practicing the transitions that skip a gait for just that reason.  Although Harley was not quite in the position to perform an elegant, controlled transition, he still went for it.  This is his nature.  He used brute force to make the transition happen, which required that he also flip his head and neck up.  He was compensating for not having his weight over his outside hind (my fault).  I admire the roundness of his back behind the saddle and those flexing muscles.  They don't call them quarter horses for nothing!

I have been working on keeping my seat more firmly closed in the transitions, so I am happy that I have accomplished that in this "imperfect" snapshot and that my inside foot is forward, encouraging the left lead.  I would like to see my hands side by side, but I am glad that I have not surrendered my elbows.  It is possible that Harley was expecting me to give up my position, so that he could throw his neck forward into the gait.  I wanted up in the canter, which he can do.  A clear picture is important even if this one isn't exactly pretty. 

Training is a process with many imperfect photos along the way.

Rebalancing for the second stride

What a difference one stride can make!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Wracking Up The Stars

Harley is on a roll.  He has collected many stars in the past two weeks.

Star number 1: A body condition score of 5+ and clean blood work

Star number 2: Super floaty trot (Dare I say, cadence?!)

Star number 3: A smooth, flying change from left to right

Star number 4: Being a model ambassador for the horse

Star number 5: Lungeing through a deep puddle of water

I just can't keep up, but I am loving it.  

The fall vet visit was a blast, because we did not have to have the conversation about how to improve his weight.  I also had blood work run to ensure that he does not have an infection hiding in there.  When you have a horse with allergies who periodically coughs, you have to be careful that the allergy symptoms are not covering up another illness.  His blood work came back absolutely perfect.  He is healthy as, well, a horse!

Harley has had two sets of children visit with him in the past two weeks.  He stood like a champ for both visits, waiting patiently while little hands patted him, brushed dirt off his coat, and laughed at his funny faces.  Little children inevitably forget that they are not supposed to walk behind the horse.  Harley is a good first-horse for children to be around, because he is very forgiving of those types of mistakes.  He stands solid and, even with his sensitive nature, is not bothered at all by the excitement and unpredictability that accompanies little kids.  I was so proud of him and it was a lot of fun to introduce little children to a big horse.  Parents and grandparents alike commented on what a nice horse he was.  They were preaching to the choir, but I still liked hearing those compliments.

I rode him during afternoon lessons last week, so we had a little audience.  Harley was moving out so beautifully.  I could feel the energy traveling from his hind legs to my seat, up to my elbows and down my lower arms to the bit.  There was no break or kink in the lines.  I could adjust the tempo or stride length and the connection remained, true and powerful.  At some point, I could see and feel his shoulders coming up and swinging freely.  I almost called out to the barn visitors,

"Are you seeing this?"

But, this would have been in vain, because they were not riders and would not have been able to see what I was feeling.  I kind of laughed to myself at that thought.  I would have to enjoy it alone. 

Harley was floating. 

I have been working on myself a lot lately.  I keep imagining that there is room from his hind legs to keep traveling forward through my seat and waist each time we make a transition or while we are moving forward.  This is keeping me more upright and reminding me to keep my core fully engaged.  I have discovered that I have a bad habit of collapsing my waist and opening the back of my seat.  I think the image of his hind legs stepping forward has made me aware of this.  It is almost like his hind legs step forward and tip my seat forward out of alignment if I am not thinking about keeping my seat closed and receiving that energy.  I did not realize that I was doing that and quite a lot, especially in the canter.  My position must be better as indicated by that floaty trot and he gave me some of the absolute best walk-canter-walk he has ever done on the same ride:  relaxed, balanced transitions with barely anything in the reins.  He was listening so closely, I could feel him in my mind.  Please allow me to remind you that I am a very scientific person, but that was how tuned in he felt.  I could hardly believe it, because walk to canter is very challenging to his relaxation and canter to walk is very challenging to his balance.  Improving the rider's position is such an effective way to improve the horse.  It was like all the static was gone.  I love relearning that over and over again.   

And to think, when I started years ago, I thought that dressage was more about the horse.  
I was so wrong.

The clean, smooth, gorgeous flying change in his more challenging direction arrived on a previous ride after lots of circle work, tempo changes, and more walk-canter-walk transitions.  Harley felt very through and connected along the inside of his body.  This is work continued from a previous post where I described how I have been using the inside rein more.  That's right.  The inside rein.  I have been neglecting it for a long time, with the feeling that using it was bad.  I guess I had "inside-rein-guilt-issues".  They are dissolving quickly and as a result, I believe that Harley's suppleness, throughness, and relaxation have improved, with his balance following closely behind.  Having the inside rein improve his balance is so counter-intuitive to me.  I see use of the inside rein as something that sets a horse off balance, but this has not been the case.  I guess that I should acknowledge that the inside rein is not working in a vacuum.  All of my aids are present.  I must just be learning how to let the inside play its part more effectively.

And finally, I lunged Harley yesterday.  He walked.  He trotted.  He cantered.  He stretched his neck and back, all in a plain halter.  No extra gear necessary.  We practiced transitions and then I drew the line in to decrease the circle.  He trotted smaller circles around me with beautiful bend and balance, as if he had an invisible rider.  Then I asked him to trot through a big, deep puddle at one end of the arena.  I let him enter the water and do whatever felt natural to him.  I fully expected him to walk or stop, but he didn't.  Harley kept trotting and picked his feet up as he pranced through the water.  He did try to drift to the side a little, but the puddle was so wide that there was no going around it, so with a couple repetitions he was marching straight through.  He started dropping his neck, in stretchy circle fashion, and dragging his mouth through the water, coming up with water dripping from his cheeks and jaw as he continued to trot around me.  Tons of praise and "Good Boy's" were in order after that!

You are a five out of five!

Stars sound delicious.  More, please.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Boot Fit Kit

Low-cut boots are all the craze this fall.

Do you like going shoe shopping?  I know that a fair number of women do, but I am not one of them.  My reason for not liking shoe shopping is pretty simple: I have an incredibly difficult time finding shoes that fit.  There are so many styles that just will not stay on my feet, like pumps and slip-on's and flats.  That doesn't leave much except boots.  I love boots, but most boots appropriate for work have a heel and usually an excessive one.  I just cannot wear heels to work.  In fact, I almost cannot wear heels at all anymore.  I remember squeezing my feet into ridiculous-looking shoes for school dances, but my feet will not comply with that sort of thing now.  Too many years stretching those heels down, I guess.  The front of my foot aches like crazy, too, if I wear shoes with a raised heel.  The only shoes that seem to work for me are rather plain-looking leather uppers with flat soles.  Occasionally, I try to wear something cuter to work, but I always end up changing my shoes after lunch.  And, yes, I bring extra shoes to work.  I have a low tolerance for discomfort.

Since I do not have a good track record with finding shoes, I decided that I better do some homework before ordering boots for Harley.  I think that I saw his eyes glaze over the same way mine do when I am trying on the umpteenth pair.  He was patient, but shoe-shopping sure is boring, even for my horse!

Several people advised me to get a fit kit before ordering Easyboot Gloves for trail riding.  Apparently, the Glove is pretty difficult to fit correctly, because the boots are snug.  I measured Harley's feet and decided to order a wide kit, because I have a 1.5 and a 2 regular that I can borrow at the barn.  The measurements of his feet do not quite fit into any of the regular sizes, so I decided to order the size 1 wide fit kit and compare to the regular gloves in our tack room.  Just in case you are curious, you can request a fit kit from EasyCare, Inc. for the cost of shipping.  They sent me three sizes: 1.5 wide, 1 wide, and 0.5 wide.  The fit kit came with some instructions and tips for finding the right fit.  I have to return the boot shells when I am finished with them.

Regular with the gaiter and wide without in size 1.5.
After switching boots back and forth and taking tons of pictures.  I have reached my conclusion.

I do not like shoe shopping AND I do not like boot shopping.

And I do not know which size boots to order.

I am pretty, almost definitely, most-likely certain (Can you tell how sure I am?) that the 1.5 wide and the 0.5 wide do not fit.  I think that his foot does not fill up the front of the former and his heels are not completely in the latter, but he is spreading that "V", which apparently is a good thing.

Good "spreadage".

The size 1 wide looks promising, but the "V" does not spread that much until he moves.  The widest part of his foot is in the back half of his foot.  When he walks the "V" opens and closes like a Pac-Man.  Otherwise, I think that this boot fits well all the way around his foot and he can trot without it slipping off, even sans gaiter.

Size 1 wide

Size 1 wide

Size 1 wide

I put on the size 1.5 regulars.  He seems to fill out the boots well, but there is this weird space at the inside front of each boot.  I imagine that the powerstrap, which can be ordered for the front of the boot, could fix the gap, but I cannot help wondering if the boot is being torqued, because it just doesn't fit.  This was what motivated me to buy the wide fit kit.  I have no idea if my reasoning makes any sense, because I have never fitted these boots before.  He will walk and trot in the size 2 regular, but they have big pads and a powerstrap installed already, so I am not sure how snug the fit is.  I suspect they are too big, because they slip on really easily.  Too easily.  There must be a catch!

Size 1.5 Regular: Both boots have a funny space on the inside.

I hope these boots are made for cantering!

According to the EasyCare, Inc. website, the number one mistake that horse owners make is ordering a boot that is too large for their horse.  I do not want to make that mistake, but I also do not want to order one that is squeezing his foot in a funny way or is going to trap sand or mud in the boot.


Guess what?  I received an email from EasyCare, Inc. while I was drafting this post.  The wide boots are intended for hooves that are wider than they are long, so Harley's feet do not match that specification.  The recommendation is to order a 1.5 regular with powerstraps.  The used 1.5's that I was borrowing for fitting purposes may have changed shape and conformed to the foot of the horse who wears them.  A new pair will probably provide a more snug fit.  The powerstrap should make sure the fit is secure.

 I just sent them an email yesterday.  What great customer service!

So there you have it folks.  I guess that I am going to order the Easyboot Glove in a size 1.5 regular.  And now I get to pick out a color for the powerstrap.  I like that part!

Can we be done now?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Health Report: Harley Makes the Grade

Yesterday was the big day for fall checkups and body condition scores at the barn.  Harley received a glowing report.  His lungs and gut sounded great, with the former quiet and the latter noisy.  He took his fall shots like a champ and was, in general, a very well-behaved pony.  The vet felt some fat desposits on his ribs and rump.  She nodded approvingly at his streamlined, but definitely present, crest and neck muscle and mentioned that his back is more built up.  She knows that these things do not come easily with Harley.

"Necks pictured may look bigger than they actually are", but at least you can see that there is a dressage-horse crest there!

 And then it was time for his "grade":

Body condition score of 5+ out of 10: This is a BIG deal for Harley!


No feed changes for Harley are required at the moment.  Since he can lose weight very quickly, being a "plus" before the winter is great.  He has been eating his meals consistently and with vigor.  I think that he may have gained a little since I last wrote about my concerns regarding his weight.  There has also been a concerted effort to bring him in at the very beginning of meal time so that he can finish his feed before his buddy starts on the hay.  I think this is making a significant difference.  I have many of your suggestions written down if I should need them at a later date.  I am very grateful for the feedback and advice that was shared so generously in your comments.  I have a list of products available at our feed store now, which includes chopped hay and Blue Seal Haystretcher pellets.  I think that either of those might work well if I want to add some more forage to his diet this winter.

I have decided to keep the alfalfa hay cubes that I purchased.  I am feeding them as a ride-day snack.  Harley loves them!  I break them into pieces with my fingers, so that he is eating small flakes of each cube rather than a whole chunk.  The barn owners knew a horse who nearly choked on hay cubes, so I have been forewarned that feeding them whole and dry is not advisable.  My vet said that this is fine to give him and is in line with her recommendation for multiple feedings.  My reasoning is that getting some extra food on the days he works will help him maintain the status quo weight-wise.  It's kind of like a horse "power bar".  I bought a container for the cubes and keep them in the hay barn.  I consider it my own hay that I can give Harley whenever I want.  That is very liberating.  When we have some really cold days this winter, I could even bring some warm water from home and soak some cubes before a ride, so that he can enjoy them afterward.

Also, Harley's blanket has been cleaned and repaired for the upcoming winter.  It looks like new.  We are ready!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Memoirs: A Girl's Horse Is A Prankster

The last memoir that I wrote about Harry, the 14.1 hand Haflinger stallion, ended on a rather sad note, because I shared that he passed away.  I have several fond memories of Harry, which are still worth sharing and certainly worth remembering.  Harry was quite the character and he had some funny quirks.

For example, Harry liked keeping his stall clean.  His fastidiousness was apparent, because he did not want to urinate in his stall.  He would wait until someone snapped on his halter and walked him out into the yard, and then he would promptly stop and relieve himself.  He did not care that his cleanliness might be infringing upon others by urinating where we generally walk and work around the stalls.  His stall was clean and that was all that mattered.  If he did not go immediately after leaving his stall, he would often stop and do his thing mid-lesson.  He even did this in the warm up at a horse show.  I have a very awkward picture of myself in full show attire sitting on Harry while he is going "number 1".  This picture was not staged or taken intentionally.  Harry just thought that picture time was as good a time as any.  The picture below was taken just before...

Harry had a funny way of showing that he knew how to jump.  I was riding him back from a lesson, when he spooked at a garden hose.  Paralyzed with fear, he pricked his ears at the hose and planted all four feet.  I urged and nudged with my legs, but Harry would not move.  I kicked and clucked and then resorted to smacking him with the whip.  Whether this was right or wrong, the tactic landed us on the other side of the hose.  It felt like Harry launched straight up into the air and flew over the hose like a UFO, touching down on the other side with all four feet at once.  It had to look like a cartoon.

Harry also jumped three ground poles from the trot the first time that I tried to lunge him over cavaletti.  The jump was beautiful and effortless.  He looked like he was jumping a triple bar.  Needless to say, he started jump-training shortly there after.

Not afraid to outdo himself, there was also the time that Harry took off with me after I asked him to canter.  He galloped full speed around an indoor arena for about five minutes straight.  He was totally and completely unreachable.  My only choices were "bail out" or "sit and wait".  I chose the latter and gritted my teeth as he careened around each corner and picked up speed with each circuit.  I still do not know why he ran like that.  I mean, Harry was a bit lazy.  I suspect the trainer who was hired to work with him may have installed a new "go" button.  I do not know what the training technique was, but I definitely missed the memo!

Along with getting carded for riding a stallion in a Haflinger show, these are some of my favorite Harry moments.  However, there is one more that may take the cake.  I was not there for the incident, but the story was relayed to me in amusing detail.  Here, I will try to do it justice.

Harry was a stallion.  He was entire and could breed if given the chance.  His home included a couple mares.  Pretty, warmblood mares.  Very tall mares.  Harry was not turned out with the girls, obviously, but he was well aware that they were around and was always the gentleman.  Remarkably, Harry was not mouthy or fickle with his manners.  I have met far more mouthy geldings.

One of the pretty mares was also very clever.  She knew how to open her stall from the inside.  She had learned this trick years ago from another smart mare, but for some reason she rarely made her escape.  On one particular day, she decided to fly the coup and one may be able to guess why.  She was in heat.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, there was a stallion on the property and each horse was stalled with dutch doors.  The top doors were usually latched open.

I am going to leave the next part of the story to your imagination, because, honestly, no one quite knows what happened.  What is clear, is that Harry was found with his front legs on the outside of his stall and his hind legs still on the inside of his stall.  In other words, Harry was straddling the dutch door and he was stuck!  The mare had left him high and dry.  She was grazing casually, away from the stalls, as if she had not been a contributing factor in the stallion's current predicament.  As luck may have it, I believe that someone other than the farm owners arrived at the property first (perhaps it was a lessonee), and decided to call the police.  Who else do you call in an emergency?

By the time the police arrived, the farm owners were home and there was a whirlwind of activity in progress, as everyone worked together to try and rescue Harry from himself.  The police car pulled into the driveway, producing a couple confused or, perhaps, annoyed officers, who exclaimed disparagingly that someone had called about "a horse stuck on a door".

One look at Harry straddling the dutch door and his owners removing the bolts and screws in the frame was all the officers needed to figure out that they had not been punked, pranked, or mislead.  They helped remove the stall door and Harry was freed of his trap.  Poor Harry.  Between his height, the stall, and the clever mare, the prank was on him!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Buttermilk Buckskin: Going Grey

Harley's winter coat is sneaking up on me.  I noticed that he was shedding his summer coat in the beginning of September, but it wasn't until recently that I really looked at him and realized that he is much lighter now than he was this summer.  In certain light, he almost looks grey.

Good-bye brown points and reddish hairs

Good-bye dapples.  His coat is now more blended in with the white hairs at the top of his tail.

Good-bye dark stockings behind

Fading up front, too

Hello cute star and whorl

Look at how tall and dark his stockings were this summer!

And such pretty dapples and reddish color!

He almost looks like a different horse.  I can see why some of the kids call him the "white one".  Luckily, his coat still hides dirt pretty well.  Off-white is quite fashionable!

Thanks for the new fall colors, Harley!  I can't wait for your dark, black nose, a sure sign of winter.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

My Barefoot Horse: Hoofwall Update and "Boot Club"

Doesn't Harley look tall in this picture?

I am happy to report that the hoof wall separation created by reducing the hoof wall bevel (a technique which I have now rejected) is growing out nicely.  I trimmed his front feet at exactly two weeks, so that there was not an opportunity for his hoof wall to reach the ground.  I also trimmed his bars, which I think look quite nice.

Left front: A small crevice at either quarter remains, but should be gone very soon.

Right front: Similar improvements are present due to new hoof wall growth.

Yes!  The separation that extended all the way into his heel is gone!  New heel had replaced the crevice, which he wore away on his own, before I even picked up the rasp.  That is a tremendous relief and it demonstrates how much hoof wall he can produce and that he does do some of the maintenance trimming himself.

Right front comparison: The same heel two weeks ago.

Fresh rolls and straight legs (Where did his hind legs go?)

Close-up #1

Close-up #2

In other hoof news, I have decided to join "Boot Club", as in hoof boots.  As the owner and hoof care provider of a barefoot horse, you may be surprised to learn that I do not own a single pair of hoof boots.  I mostly work Harley in the ring, which has a startling number of rocks amidst the sand, but I also take him out on the trail.  I have done this with him for years without a thought about hoof boots, even though there are other horses on the property that do wear them. 

Last weekend I went on a group trail ride.  It was the first big trail ride since the ticks and chiggers appeared in the woods.  I basically avoid the woods like the plague all summer, because of those nasty arachnids.  It is just about time for them to die off for the year, to I agreed to go out on a trail ride.  Two of the horses in the group were wearing hoof boots and their riders commented that there was a rocky part that bothered their horses.  As usual, I listened but did not worry about it.  Harley walks over gravel without a problem.  But then we got to the rocky part and I understood what they were talking about...

There were a lot of stones.  The water runoff from last spring or during the summer, must have washed away more of the sand uncovering the rounded river stones.  It has a been months since I have been out there, but I think there are more stones in a couple sections of the trail.  I was surprised to find that Harley was "footy" over them, meaning that he was walking carefully and gently.  He even "ducked" a few times, which feels like he stepped on something that hurt.  Needless to say this was upsetting to me.  The horses with the boots walked over the rocks like they were not there.  I was surprised that the rounded stones bothered him so much.  He walks over crushed driveway stone freely when grazing in the stable yard and those are pretty jagged rocks.  There are also tons of rounded stones in the riding ring and we walk, trot, and canter over them.  I guess the sand in the ring allows the rocks to sink away from his foot if he lands on one.  The ground beneath the stones on the trail had no give.

After our ride, I thought about it from a whole-horse perspective.  Diet is usually the culprit for footiness, but hoof conditioning is also a factor.  Since he had not been trimmed for two weeks at the time of the trail ride, I do not think it was my trim (I have never had a problem there.), but he is growing out hoof wall separation, so maybe there is something to that.  Experimenting with his diet is not a small factor, because of his hardkeeper status and boarding limitations (I cannot offer free-choice hay, for example), and I do not see myself trail riding enough to condition  his feet to stony terrain.  After thinking about it, the responsible thing seems to be to purchase hoof boots.  I only trail ride occasionally, and I do not want to risk injuring his feet, whatever the cause of his dislike for the stones may be.  I think that a nice pair of hoof boots is probably something that I should already own for him, so now is the time... join "Boot Club".  There are no rules that say I cannot talk about said club, so here we go!

A popular hoof boot for trail riding at my barn is the Easyboot Glove.  It has been recommended that I purchase pads with the boots, but I am also told that the Easyboot pads wear through too quickly.  Not sure what to do about that.

I think I am going to order a size 2.  I tried a 1.5 and a 2 on him.  I was able to squeeze the 1.5 on without pads.  The 2 fits with or without pads and just looks better to me.  I know the glove is a snug fit, but I think the smaller size looked crooked after he pushed his foot into it.  He also picked his feet up high when he walked in the 1.5.  Is it possible for the boot to be too tight?

Harley walked and trotted with long strides and without a hiccup in the 2.  I am a little worried about getting the size right, because I do not want them to come off, especially when he canters.  I plan on ordering the "power straps" just in case.  I measured his feet and I found both fronts to be 120 mm long and 115 mm wide.  I was surprised that the dimensions were so close.  His feet do not look that round to me.  Looking at the sizing chart, I am pretty sure that I did something wrong.  Ironically, I think the bevel makes measuring difficult.  Do I measure the weight-bearing surface or to the edge of the bevel?  His feet are about 125 mm long if I account for the rounded bevel, but the width doesn't really change.  Do I measure something that I rasped off and if so, how?

Boot advice welcome.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Riding is Life

There just never seems to be enough time in a day,
and then I am reminded that riding is a metaphor for life. 
Keep moving forward.

Got in a quick ride after work yesterday.  Worked on sending Harley really forward in the canter.  I let the tempo increase.  I wanted to feel the energy going all the way up to the bridle.

He gave me two flying changes with power behind them. 
I had both legs ON. 
Forward is always a positive in life and riding.