Sunday, October 27, 2013

Autumn Health Report: Haystretcher and Owning a Horse with Special Needs

Autumn has not been a good season for Harley this year.  More than once, I have arrived at the barn to find him coughing.  I also received messages from concerned friends that Harley was having a problem.  With the guidance of my vet, I temporarily stopped his immunotherapy shots (for diagnosed allergies) and gave him medicine to help with the coughing symptoms.

I had to do this in September.

Then in October, he needed a double round.


In September, his trigger was most likely pollen, as the temperature was mild (in the 70's) with glorious sunny, clear days.  No riding for me, though.  We needed rain, too, which did not help.  Dryness is Harley's enemy.  He does extremely well in July and August when everyone else is complaining about the humidity.

By October, the pollen was gone, but Harley's coughing was back with a vengeance.  This time it was not dry (we had a rainy spell) and I was getting scared.  When the usual dosage didn't give him the relief he needed, I had to call my vet and she changed the plan.   Thankfully it worked,  but we are only a few days out from it so I am still worried.   There is no cure for allergies and while this may seem like a small problem in the grand scheme of horse problems,  it is a chronic issue.   In other words,  I have a horse with special needs.   I must remain vigilant,  because timing is very important when treating a respiratory problem.  Thankfully,  there are many people helping me to look out for Harley.   He is the kind of horse that steals people's hearts.   I swear,  he has more friends than I do.   I am Harley's owner,  rather than he being Val's horse.

What do I think was the coughing trigger?   Temperature fluctuations.   We had several warm days followed by cold nights.   This type of pattern caused him a problem in January.    Isn't it always something beyond one's control?

Also on the health-related front,  we are trying a new food item for Harley: Haystretchers.  Have you heard of them?

A couple horses on the farm are doing really well on them and one recovered from a colic with very timely weight gain.   It was the barn owner's idea to try them for my horse since he eats so much grain.   We are replacing a portion of his meal with these hay pellets.   The vet loves them and has given them the thumbs up.

I like that he will be eating more foage and less grain.   I also like that the cost per bag is less than his expensive Ultium.  Harley is gobbling them up, so he seems to approve as well.   It won't take long for us to see how his weight does on the hay pellets.   Winter is coming (Game of Thrones, anyone?) and we need him nice and plump for the cold season.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Horse Mom

Do you use this term?

I never liked it.  When I first became a horse owner people started referring to me as Harley's Mom. For some reason, this made me uncomfortable.  I was not his mother.  His friend, owner, trainer, companion, partner, but not Mommy.  That just seemed weird to me.  After more than six years of not referring to myself as Harley's Mom, I walked up to him the other day and said, "Mommy's here!"


It was definitely a slip from saying this to our daughter when I return from work, but saying it to Harley didn't seem so wrong anymore.  Maybe it was because he had a rough week with his allergies.  Maybe it was because I am a Mommy to a human baby now.  Maybe I have just gone soft.

I take care of my horse.  I make care decisions for him.  I pay for his "daycare".  I set boundaries for his behavior.  I worry when he is not well.  My heart sings when I see him.  I love him even when he is not perfect.

Okay.  I guess Mommy fits after all.  But, eventually, we are going to work again, Harley.

Are you a Horse Mom?

One of our most recent photos together.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Being A Newbie Again

Do you know that feeling when you are completely green at something and nothing is second nature, so you have to think about every step in a process?

This summer,  I realized that I was a newbie again.  I have not been a newbie at anything for quite some time.  The weight of this realization did not dawn on me right away.  My epiphany occurred when I started reading about infant sleep.  I wanted to know if I was doing the right thing for my baby.  Was I putting her to bed at the right time?  Was she getting enough sleep?  How was I supposed to survive nighttime nursing when my baby was hungry every two hours and took forty minutes to eat?

Naturally, I turned to the internet and started reading everything that I could find about infant sleep.   It was so completely overwhelming.  The conflicting advise.  The heated debates.  Experience and tradition verses science-based and natural parenting.

Wait a minute.  Full stop.

There is natural parenting?  Where have I heard this before.  And then I realized it.  I am the new horse owner navigating a conflicting set of care and training philosophies.  Do I put my faith in the experts?  Which experts do I listen to?  How can I tell who is genuine and who is just looking to make a buck?  I had a new appreciation for what newbies in the horse world must feel: vulnerability, anxiety, and even fear of doing wrong by one's horse (baby, in this case).

This was not a parallel between baby care and horse ownership that I had anticipated.  What did I do to escape the sea of conflicting advice and infant-raising practices?  I asked myself, "what would I do in this situation with Harley?"

And then I knew the answer.

I listened to my baby.  I borrowed aspects of philosophies that worked for us.   I also stuck with information that was backed by science over tradition or societal convention.  Even though I love evidence-based information, my gut was still a part of the decision-making process.  I only practiced infant-raising practices that felt right to me.

I discovered that I am mostly what I am calling a "natural" parent.  I breastfeed, I hold my baby a lot, she is cared for by her parents and family when we are away, and her crib gathers dust (i.e. We bed-share.).  My baby has a routine (rather than a schedule) that is based on her cues to eat and sleep, although some clock-watching is involved so that she is ready to nurse when I come home.  And to date, I have only been separated from her for a maximum stretch of four hours (half my work day).  My husband and I work full-time, but my husband has changed his schedule to reduce the number of hours that we are both away from baby.  My Mom takes care of Sweet Pea while we are at work; we are very, very fortunate.  We combine baby-wearing with strollers for long walks.  I am dedicated to nursing, even though this is very difficult while working full-time, and bed-sharing makes nighttime nursing about a thousand times more manageable than getting up and sitting in a rocking chair for an hour three times a night.  I actually feel rested in the morning and I love the closeness that I have with my little one during the night and right into the morning.  I feel that the biological and emotional needs of my baby and myself are being met as we traverse this very new life as Mommy and baby.  Somehow, Harley has influenced that.

My daughter is now four months old, and I am no longer completely green.  I am still learning all the time, but I am happy with my infant care choices thus far and am grateful that my life with horses has given me some invaluable perspective.

My gentle beast, sweet husband (he is taking a photo, too), and baby.