Monday, February 25, 2013

Where Art Thou, Friend?

Harley has a dilemma.  The dilemma has become his indirectly, but I am sure that in his mind, the problem is 100% his to deal with.

You see, Harley's friend has a foot problem called navicular (shiver).  Navicular is a condition which scares me the way laminitis and colic scare me.  His friend has been barefoot for years and improved dramatically when his shoes where removed, but recently (the past 12 months) his comfort has decreased.  His owner is very caring and dedicated.  She has been giving him special (read: expensive) supplements to make his feet feel better and hopefully offer some healing.  She also employs body and energy work techniques and booted him with feverish regularity for the better part of a year.  When his comfort could not be improved enough with these tactics, she recently decided to take the plunge and have glue-on shoes installed on his front tooties.  He is now sporting Epona shoes, which I find very curious, but unfortunately I cannot examine them and satisfy my curiousity, because his glue-on shoes are covered with cast material.

Why the double duty (shoes and casts) you ask?  The answer is simple:


We have lots of it right now in southern New Jersey.  The mud is thick and deep and sticky.  It is especially bad at the entrance to Harley's shed.  Harley visible despises walking through it and will actually balk when I ask him to leave the shed and follow me.  This is very un-Harley-like, but the expression on his face when he squishes through the ankle deep mud says it all:

This sucks.

And what it really sucks at is shoes.  Mud especially loves EXPENSIVE shoes.  The more expensive the better.  Harley's buddy is sporting some champs right now and the good news is that they have finally made him comfortable.  His owner reports that her horse was trying to entice Harley to play with him using the "nip and run" strategy shortly after the installation of his new flats.  Harley loves to run around, but she said that he actually looked surprised and a little confused since his docile friend does not usually initiate such games.  I was very happy for all three of them.

But now, the mud is threatening to rip off the precious hoofware that is making Harley's friend so happy, which would make him an unhappy pony and his owner very, very unhappy (Did I mention that the shoes are expensive?).

When I visited Harley yesterday, I found that his friend was no longer in the same paddock as Harley.  Harley's friend is temporarily hanging out in the riding ring, because the sand is doing a much better job of draining the water.  His shoes should be much safer in those conditions, but it is sad that they are also temporarily separated.  Their living arrangements are right next to each other and they can definitely see each other and even stand within thirty feet of each other if they want to, but they are still apart until the mud subsides.

I thought about moving Harley over there with his friend, but I really do not want to do that.  The riding ring is adjacent to another horse paddock and the horses tend to fraterinize over the fence.  This is unsafe and a horse management no-no in my book.  Harley's friend will probably be fine, but Harley is an alpha.  I do not want him fighting with another alpha over the fence.  I have never seen Harley fight with another horse, but I do not want to give him a 24/7 opportunity to give it a try, so separated they must stay for the time being.

As an aside, it was so windy that his mane was completely flipped to the other side of his neck in the next photos.

There was some heavy nickering going on here.

Don't worry guys!  It's only temporary.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Things People Say

I have read a number of articles and threads about the stuff that people say to pregnant women.  I would never have had an appreciation for those stories before I was expecting myself.  I thought it might be fun to make my own list.  Feel free to add to mine!

  1. Was it planned?/Were you trying?
  2. Do you have a doctor?/Are you taking vitamins?
  3. That's not a belly; that's a bread basket!
  4. How much weight have you gained?
  5. My delivery was so painful and traumatic that I never had a second child (true statement revealed to me right after I shared my good news).
  6. Are you hoping for a girl or a boy?
  7.  How far along are you?
  8. The last place I would want to be looking is in maternity (said by a random shopper while walking by me in the maternity section at the mall, my husband heard her and was pissed).
  9. Oh, you are getting so cute.
  10. I can see your belly now./You're getting so heavy.
  11. Your stomach isn't nearly as big as this other pregnant women.
  12. Do you have insomnia?  Better get used to not sleeping!
  13. Do you want to find out if it is a boy or a girl or do you want to be surprised? (isn't it always a surprise?)
  14. Do you know what you are having? (it's a human!)
  15. Breastfeeding is great and the best thing that you can do for your baby!
  16. Breastfeeding is painful/horrible/impossible; use formula and save yourself the trouble.
  17. Did you pick a name yet?
  18. Just use drugs. (this one gets said a lot in reference to the delivery which I find kind of amusing since usually the status quo is to "just say no")
  19. How are you feeling? (multiply by 1,000,000,000)
  20. And the creme de la creme:
Can I confirm your birthdate?
Reeallly??  I thought you were like nineteen!
(Said by a phlebotomist after vampiring more blood from me.  I waited until I was in my early thirties to have my first baby and people still think that I am a teen mother.  Not cool!)

Many of the gems above were eyebrow-raising, but the one thing that has really surprised me is that people have not advised me to stop riding my horse, even though horseback riding is at the top of the list of dangerous activities to be avoided by pregnant women.  I had been bracing myself since day one expecting to be judged for riding my 1000 lb pet while gestating a baby.  I am not sure if people just don't want to go there and tell me not to do my most favorite thing in the entire world or if they truly believe that I would not take the chance if I thought that I would be taking too large a risk.  I have been happy to see that pretty much everyone, from riders to non-riders, have been supportive of my decision to keep riding my horse.  My husband and I discussed it with one of my doctors and she said that because I have been riding regularly for most of my life, I can continue to ride, but I can't fall off.  She also said that "bouncing is okay" and won't hurt the baby.

As an avid rider who values a good seat and the work I have put forth to improve my balance and position in the saddle, I couldn't resist clarifying for her.

"Oh, I don't bounce."

October 2012: At the beginning of our new adventure.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hungry As A Horse

Unfortunately, I do not see my horse everyday.  I board Harley at a nice place and they take very good care of him, so I do not have to be there to feed him or clean up after him everyday (I DO have to pay for it to be done, though).  I try to see my horse as often as I can, whether it be to ride, lunge, trim his feet, or just groom and feed him carrots.  Despite my best efforts and the fact that spending time with my horse is among my favorite things to do, life does get in the way at times and I have to miss seeing him.  Here are some examples of reasons why I might not be able to go to the barn:
  • I have to work late at school.
  • I have a bag full of grading, which is working late but at home.
  • The daylight hours are short, which also means he gets fed dinner earlier in the day.
  • I have a doctor or dentist appointment after work.
  • There is a family birthday on a week night.
  • There is a family birthday or holiday event right in the middle of the day on a weekend and I also have work or household obligations sucking up time before and after the midday event.  I detest midday events, because they monopolize the entire day.  Just make it in the morning or at night!  (please) 
    • One time I had to wait for guests to arrive for a family event (not my event) and I couldn't leave the house until they arrived.  They were about four hours late and it was an absolutely gorgeous Saturday in the spring.  I think that it had been raining for a while before that, so I was nearly beside myself knowing that I could have left and gone to the barn and been back before they arrived.  It was so difficult to hide my distress and socialize/entertain for hours afterward.  The only one who understood my frustration was my Mom (and my husband).  She watched me cry over enough rained out riding lessons as a kid to know exactly what was going through my mind!
  • I have to clean the house (with my husband) before guests or a holiday.  With both of us working and neither of being very domestic, this usually turns into a cleaning marathon ending minutes before our guests/family arrive.  It's miserable, but at least it gets us to clean the house!
  •  Household projects or yard work, which must be completed during the daylight hours, can hog up perfectly good barn time.
And speaking of "hog", here's a new one:
  • I'm too hungry to go to the barn. 
I can hardly believe it, but this actually starting happening to me a lot in the fall.  Of course, it was because I was pregnant, and like my horse, I have a high metabolism and a high energy job.  I knew that I would have to eat more to share with a newly developing human, BUT I had no idea what that would be like.

During the first trimester, I would actually rush home from work with a hunger so intense that I didn't even take my coat off before I opened the refrigerator.  I could down a can of soup, an entire avocado or cheese sandwich before my husband came home to see any evidence that I had made food.  Other times, he would walk in and I would be stuffing my face with my "first dinner" only to have no problem a few hours late eating a "second dinner" with him.  I felt very, very fortunate not to have any sickness or fatigue.  I have spoken to enough women and heard enough stories at this point to know that I should thank my lucky stars, but MAN-O-MAN was I hungry. 

This started to interfere with my barn time as the days got shorter.  There was less and less time after work and I needed a good chunk of it to fill my stomach.  My husband remembers seeing me looking kind of upset after work one day and when he asked what was wrong, I lamented that it was a beautiful day and I wanted to go ride my horse so badly, but I was too hungry to leave the kitchen.  It was really distressing to me.  I had never been a slave to my physical being before.  As a teacher, I was used to ignoring my bodily needs to suit a bell schedule.

Of course, I was still able to get out to see Harley, but it was much easier to do on the weekend.  I would bring a snack (or snacks) and take a break from trimming or grooming to eat before a ride or finishing my work.  I started giving Harley his hay cubes while I took my food break.  He enjoyed this deal immensely and I found myself appreciating the expression "hungry as a horse".

I started eating the baby carrots that I brought for him and he would definitely give me a look if I walked out the tack room with one in my mouth and none in my hand for him.  I don't think that sort of thing was lost on my equine companion. 

Sorry, Harley.  I couldn't help myself!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A New Horse Girl

The Memoirs of a Horse Girl blog hit a milestone this week:


I can't believe how excited I am over a number.  I write this blog for so many reasons and connecting with other horse people is a big reason that I love blogging and reading your blogs.  I know that the number of followers is not a perfect count of how many of you visit and read about my adventures with horses, past and present, but for some reason it has been really fun to watch that number go up this week.  I am grateful for all of you down to my very first follower, because you cannot get to one hundred without every single person along the way who decided that this little corner of cyberspace might be a nice place to visit.  Thank you so much for visiting, reading, and sharing your comments when you have the time to do so!

Thank you!!!  Carrots all around!

Partially in celebration of hitting the century mark and partially because I have decided that the time to hesitate has passed, I have some news to share...

Lately, I've been doing some shopping around.

I have been looking for a new, cheap back-up blanket for Harley (suggestions welcome).
I have simultaneously been purusing the internet for information on...
car seats, strollers, and crib bedding sets.


My husband and I are expecting our first little one AND

"It's a girl!"

My parents are very excited, as are we, and my Mom has already noted that Harley may have two girls grooming him before long.  Harley would love this, of course, and I find myself appreciating him in a whole new light as I imagine a small person interacting with his wonderful temperament.  I have started describing my horse to non-horse people as "the golden retriever of the horse breeds", even though I used to like to emphasize the fact that he has a strong canter (still true) and is too forward and sensitive to be a lesson horse (still true, but give him a few years...).

I absolutely love that I feel completely comfortable around Harley even though my belly is starting to stretch the elastic in my winter riding pants to the max and I now use the therapeutic mounting ramp to mount and dismount my horse (sooooo convenient).  So yes, I am still riding Harley and all the pictures you saw taken from his back were real and taken by me.  This time of year does not lend itself well to riding, so I have not been riding as much as I would during the other seasons, and that has worked out fine.  I also have been doing far less trail-riding than I had originally planned.  Remember the Easyboots that I bought in the fall?  They will have to come out next year for their debut, because I am not interested in riding out for hours far from home (and a bathroom).

A life-changing experience is on the horizon and, quite possibly,
a new horse girl is in the works!

We made a special cake to share the sex of our baby with our family.  As a science teacher, I had to get some chromosomes and genetics symbols in there.

After some pomp and circumstance, we cut the cake to reveal....

the pink interior: strawberry mist in vanilla cake with dark chocolate frosting.

Harley was good about keeping the secret until I told all my human friends, but I did have to keep him quiet with more carrots than usual.  Every time he tried to open his mouth to share the news, I stuffed more carrots in there.  ;)


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Memoirs: A Horse Girl & An Unquiet Horse

As a therapeutic riding instructor, I have worked with a fair number of donated or nearly donated (reduced-price) horses.  I have also test ridden and handled potential therapeutic mounts.  All of these horses had something in common: an owner or seller who described the horse as quiet and easy to handle.  I learned with time to take the opinion of owners and sellers of potential therapeutic horses or any sale horse with a grain of salt.  I do not mind if the horse has a quirk, one thing that really bothers him, or needs some remedial training.  What I do mind is the horse of an owner/seller who misrepresents their animal to the potential harm of others.  Such misrepresentation may not be intentional, but ignorance can cause just as many problems as outright deception.

For example, many years ago I test rode a horse who was outwardly quiet.  He stood quietly for grooming and tacking up.  The apparent trainer of the horse confessed that he liked the horse and found him easy to handle, but that his girlfriend let the horse get too nosy.  I made a note of this comment and said nothing.  The horse was taken out to a large round pen with high solid walls, the kind that you cannot see over.  The trainer worked the horse in the round pen, demonstrating the horse's obedience in all three gaits and both directions.  Then the trainer got on the horse and rode him around the round pen.  The horse never missed a step and moved on a loose rein like a good, Western mount.  The guy also stood upright on the horse's back demonstrating that the horse would stand reliably.  This was very impressive.

After observing the horse safely handled and ridden, it was my turn to handle him and to get on.  After some basic leading, I mounted the horse and he stood quietly.  I tested his "whoa" after taking a few steps forward and repeated the test several times using different degrees of rein pressure, seat, and my voice to see how sensitive the horse's brakes were.  Then we moved up a gear and I rode the horse in all three gaits in both directions.  The horse went just as easily for me as it had for the trainer and I rode him entirely on a loose rein, as I had seen the trainer ride him.  My employer and I were wise to the fact that horses may behave differently in different settings, so we asked to ride the horse in a fenced-in arena instead of the round pen.  The trainer obliged and we walked the horse to an outdoor riding ring.

The horse was mostly the same fellow in the new ring, except for a new discovery: he had no interest in rein contact.  Now, I do not expect a future therapeutic horse to be a dressage horse, but acceptance of the bit and contact with the bit is basic training for the ridden horse.  This horse was mildly rude about the contact if I shortened the reins.  This told me that the horse had some holes in his training and possibly some leadership issues.  Since his reaction to rein pressure was not huge, we considered that he was just not used to any sort of riding except that on a long, loose rein.  A horse that goes on a loose rein is desirable for therapeutic riding and considering his apparent good manners, we decided to take the horse on trial.  Our usual trial period was thirty days.

After getting the horse back to the farm, I made plans to work with him right away.  This was our typical procedure, as we wanted to see what the horse was like in an unfamiliar setting.  Once again, the horse stood nicely for grooming and demonstrated basically good manners.  We usually have to train more stringent rules about personal space and leading into therapeutic horses, but this horse seemed to be equipped with a reasonable foundation.  I took the horse into the indoor arena, with plans to work him at liberty, before tacking him up and riding.  I had watched the trainer work the horse at liberty and had a reasonable idea of what to expect from the new horse.  Or at least I thought that I had a reasonable idea...

Once in the indoor, I made my first mistake and this was most definitely my mistake.  I took the horse's halter off and turned my back on him to shut the gate.  The horse immediately followed me to the gate, intruding on my space and possibly thinking about walking out of the open door.  I suppose working with so many compliant horses that had been trained to stand and wait had made me complacent.  I forgot that I was dealing with a horse that may not have any of the understanding that I expected him to have, despite the obedience that I had observed the day before at the horse's home.

I noticed very quickly that the horse was following me, so I turned around and "got big".  This means that I made myself look physically taller by throwing up my arms.  I was telling the horse to back off.  This is a technique that I had employed many, many times to stop a horse in its tracks or deter a horse from entering my space.  Before I could move or react, the horse spun around and kicked into the air with both hind legs. 

It is difficult to appreciate how fast horses can move, until you see them in real space and time.  The kick was aimed at my head and, no doubt, would have made contact if the horse had really wanted to hit me.  The horse trotted off a few feet and stopped.  I stood in front of the open gate, shocked by what had almost happened, but physically unharmed.  I never in a million years expected that horse to react so violently.

Now the gig was up.  I knew there was more to this horse then we had originally been led to believe.  If this situation were to repeat itself in the same manner today, I would walk away right then and call the owner to come pick up the horse.   

Of course, I demonstrated less than swift learning skills in this story as the horse had clearly warned me with the resistance to contact and the double-barreled threat to my face, but I eventually did learn my lesson and will never make the mistake to "get big" to a foreign horse or work a horse initially at liberty again.  That was a lesson learned by the skin of my teeth.

At the time, I was not sure if the behavior was a true indicator of the horse's nature or a fluke that I caused by surprising the horse.  He had ridden and handled so easily the day before that I decided to continue my plan to work him at liberty in the indoor.  Truthfully, the horse had been so much fun to ride that I was really looking forward to riding him again and this pushed me to overlook the undeniable act of defiance.

Sometimes humans have thick skulls.  I am no exception.

I walked out into the arena with a lunge whip (at least I was not so stupid as to forget that) and asked the horse to start moving.  The horse reluctantly walked forward and stopped.  I swished the whip again, assertively, but careful not to surprise him this time.  The horse stared at me.  I asked him to move again, but he just stared and did not budge.  I increased my demands, swishing the whip with more energy and strength, clucking, and telling the horse to "walk" while walking closer to this very strange animal that was behaving less and less like the horse I had met the day before.  Finally, I was so close to the horse that I had no choice, but to give up or press the issue.  I was a fool for doing so, but the trainer in me was roaring.  I decided to press.  I whacked the horse smartly on the butt with the whip.

You would think the horse would have reacted more aggressively, but he only tossed his head and started trotting.  Feeling that I had called his bluff and asserted that my will was just as strong as his, I gained confidence.  I kept the horse trotting all around the indoor ring, swishing my whip and clucking if he showed signs of slowing down.  I value fairness, so I tried to forget any ill feelings that I had toward the horse for his previous behavior and praised him for moving out at my request.  I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that I had the situation under control.

And then the horse threw me for another loop.  This horse picked up the canter and dropped his head and neck all the way to the ground.  At first I thought that he was showing signs of submission and stretching, but once he reached the next corner of the ring, he turned and headed straight for me at the ring's center.  His teeth were bared, his ears were flat against his head, and his eyes were looking directly into mine.  His expression said one thing and he said it clearly:

"I want to kill you."

The gelding ran at me with his snake mouth open and his eyes as red as the sun.  All assertiveness left me.  I had the whip in my hand, but I forgot it was there.  Every cell in my body screamed,


I dodged around a barrel, trying to create a barrier between my person and the wild animal in pursuit of my flesh.  The horse skidded to a halt, spun around, and came after me again.  This time I ran for the open fence at the front of the arena.  I could hear the horse behind me, but I didn't dare turn around.  I dove between the rails of the fence like a swimmer entering the water.  Dust and arena footing flew against the fencing as the horse stopped and spun again taking off, but this time away from me.  My friend and fellow instructor had walked in to see the monster's final attempt to savage me.  We stared at each other in utter disbelief.  My heart pounded in my ears and I felt light-headed knowing what had almost happened.  That horse had the shortest trial period in the history of trial horses.

For some reason, I had to convince my boss that the horse was truly dangerous.  My friend and I relayed the story, but it just sounded too crazy and she had seen the horse go so obediently the day before.  My employer had never seen a horse behave as I had described and frankly, before that day, neither had I.  I was worried that another staff member at the farm might attempt to work with the trial horse, which was common practice.  I was even more worried that another person might jump at the challenge to try and "tame" the animal that chased me.  I knew that type of person well and that no story would suffice in discouraging a determined personality.  My own mistake at ignoring the horse's dangerous initial behavior was proof of that.  I offered to show my boss exactly what the horse was capable of.  Let's just say that I am a fast runner and I feared for another person's safety enough to risk going head to head with that horse one more time.

True to the story, the horse came after me again with very little provoking while my boss was standing at the fence.  I had planned a path of escape this time and weaved a line around barrels before exiting swiftly between the rails.  My employer's face was priceless.  I do not think that she believed her own eyes at first.  This was a horse recommended by its owner/seller to be used for compromised riders and handled by volunteers.  We will never know for sure why the horse behaved so much differently at its home base or if the seller and trainer were aware of the horse's extremely aggressive tendencies.  That was one quiet horse that I was happy to never see again.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Snowy Ride

Winter Storm Nemo ended up leaving us mostly rain with a little snow and ice by Saturday morning.  Like last weekend, it was pretty and not too much trouble, as the sun melted most of it off the roads by the afternoon.  The lasting side effect is mud, which is disgusting on the ground and on my horse's legs and feet.  Harley visibly resists leaving his shed, because he has to walk though ankle-deep mud, churned to a very, squishy consistency by the high traffic of the horses entering and leaving their shelter.

By comparison, the sandy footing in the arena was too hard for much riding.  The tracks of former rides had left stubborn divots and humps in the footing, which are not pleasant to walk over.  After exhausting a few soft patches in the ring and walking one too many circles, I decided to abandon the ring for the woods.

Most of the snow was gone by Sunday, but the dusting remaining among the trees was still beautiful.  We saw some deer, showing their white tails as they leaped away.  I heard a mystery bird answering the "chirp" of my cell phone as I snapped these photos.  I bet she was a mocking bird.  I stayed close to home, but we still had a very nice walk.  The pine needles and dried leaves protected us from the frozen ground, which allowed Harley to march out with flowing strides.  I kept him on a long rein for most of the ride.  Near the end, I asked him to stretch into the bridle.  He raised his back and engaged muscles that we have not been using very often lately.  I am sure that the light exercise felt nice after standing in his shed all day and night.  My body felt great to be carried along by my horse, even though all we had was a simple walk together.

Harley is feeling good with very little coughing, just a couple "woofs" in the barn before we left.

Last Saturday before we tainted the snow with tracks and mud.  With this soft, white footing, the small ring was still fit for riding that day.

I love how shadows on snow look blue in photos and in artwork.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Buttermilk Buckskin: Winter Fuzz

I know that our horses' winter coats can be a hassle, but something about long hair is just so romantic.  I may not feel that way once shedding season begins or if Harley decides to roll in the mud, but for now, it looks pretty cool.

The setting sun added to the ambiance and made his coat look more golden than usual.

Did you know that those longer hairs on his jowls, belly, and legs are functional?  If the horse is precipitated upon, the rain or melting snow will travel down the longer hairs and off his coat.  This helps to keep his undercoat and skin dry, which helps him maintain his body temperature in inclement weather.  It is for this reason that I never trim these hairs during the winter months.  And plus, Harley lives out.

Fuzzy ears: I make sure that I free them from the browband.  This picture was taken in artificial lighting.

As much as I like his winter duds, I enjoy trimming the hairs that remain once he does shed out.  My horse transforms into a delicate-looking animal again, with the help of the clippers.  That sort of thing satisfies the left side of my brain and the right side gets to have fun matching the curvature of his jaw and cheek.  Despite what the groundhog says, it still seems to be too early to charge up the clippers...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Winter Uh-Oh!

Hi Harley!

How are you doing, buddy?

Um, is your blanket lopsided?

Oh dear, that can't be good.

Oh no!

Harley!  How did this happen to your blanket?

Someone is going to have a drafty butt for a while.

Any suggestions for repair? 

I do not own a sewing machine and the place that I sent his blanket to for cleaning and repair after last winter will need weeks to fix his blanket.  Thankfully, the seams pretty much ripped out and only a tiny bit of blanket material is actually torn.  There were no blanket mishaps last year, so I am not sure how he lost the butt flap this time around!