Return

So I’ve been on a hiatus that lasted a lot longer than I thought it would. Things sort of just piled up. My horses are getting through winter, though there’s been very frustrating weather going on. My older horse gave me the scare of my life over the past month, but we’re through the tough times now (I hope).

My horse Aki is turning 20 this year, which for many horses wouldn’t make them necessarily old. But for my horse, it’s definitely the end of the golden years. He’s lived a hard life, and it’s starting to show- his fetlocks touch the ground when he trots, and we’re considering putting him in suspensory support boots full-time to give his tendons the support that they need. In addition, the cold and damp weather has caused him various issues with his arthritic joints, and our other horse may be stealing his supplements. Earlier in the winter, he began showing signs of bladder issues- couldn’t urinate, swollen sheath, extreme stiffness in his movement. My mom didn’t tell me until she had already had the vet out once. He showed signs of crystals in his urine, so we figured he had a bladder stone. By the time I got home, I couldn’t assess his movement because the yard was a sludge pit due to rain, but I noticed significant swelling in his sheath. The vet came and took bloodwork twice, and the results are (partially) in- no EPM, and we’ll need to put him on a Phosphorus supplement, but I don’t know the full results of the tests yet.

Meanwhile, the swelling went down, but I haven’t been able to work with my horse at all this break. It rained, then it froze, then it snowed. It’s remeniscent of the winter two years ago when he fell- I couldn’t feel a problem with his movement after the fall because I couldn’t ride for a month after the incident- the ground froze and thawed too much. The first thing I’m doing when I have my own place is build an indoor arena. The weather is my worst enemy right now in terms of caring for my horse.

I hope everyone’s had a good Christmas and new years, and stay warm.

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Hiatus

Due to a ¬†number of events, I will probably not be posting in this blog until December. Here’s a lineup of what’s going on (and it’s all terribly exciting!)

November 1-30: National Novel Writing Month (write 50,000 words 0f a novel in 30 days)

November 16-25: spend time with my family for Thanksgiving break!

November 16-18: spend more time with horses than my family because Brody Robertson is putting on a jumping clinic at a nearby barn.

December: Final Exams and then Christmas break.

 

I’ll try to post any meaningful learnings from the clinic when I have time! ūüôā I hope everyone has a fun November, and a wonderful Thanksgiving. Remember now’s the time to prepare your horses for winter (and get in some of that last “reasonably warm weather” riding!)

 

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Bad 4 Days

These past 4 days have been rough for a lot of the barn people I know. One barn lost one of the most fantastic lesson horses I have ever ridden. A talented rider I know was thrown and broke her arm. A woman’s husband was involved in a devastating car wreck that totaled their truck and trailer (though, thankfully, nobody was seriously injured), a barn hand’s girlfriend was involved in a car accident, and too many people I know have friends in the hospital due to injury while riding. Also, my instructor has the ¬†flu. So, here’s hoping that this streak of bad things ends today. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.¬†

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Winter Wonderland

It’s that time of year again. The break-out-your-jacket, don’t-forget-your-gloves time of year– and this year’s supposed to be a cold one, at least where I’m at. So I’ve got a few things to do this season.

Check my blankets- I need to make sure my horse still has a blanket, and that it fits. While my boy rarely uses his blanket, it’s still a good thing to have on those 10 below days when I walk out to the barn and find him and his pasture buddy shivering violently.¬†

Re-evaluate my feeding- my horse is on Equine Senior, which should be helping him gain and maintain his winter weight. However, while I’m at school, my mother is the only one taking care of him. She has to manage our horses by herself, which means that I can’t demand that she feed small portions of Equine Senior 5 or 6 times a day. She has a job, after all. But you better believe I have done my research on this issue just in case I come home from school and find my horse underweight.¬†

Know my footing- I ride my horse year-round, and I have a pasture to ride in. No indoor arena, no arena at all. Not even sand. I have dirt and grass. Which is fine, but it means that I have to be careful this time of year. I had a bad fall a couple of years ago where I thought I was on solid footing. Unfortunately only the top layer of dirt was solid– beneath that was slick mud from a rain we had gone through 3 days ago. My horse and i both went down, and while I emerged from the fall just fine, it ended my horse’s jumping career.¬†

Those are just a few of the things I am considering in terms of horse care this winter. Here’s hoping that the weather predictions are wrong.¬†

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We are Killing our own Industry.

Seriously, we are. Those of us within the United States who love horses are shooting ourselves in the foot repeatedly, and it’s always on one issue.¬†

Horse slaughter.

First, let’s get a few things straight about slaughter, because it seems to be a subject that even the most placid people lose their cool about.¬†

Slaughter myths:

1. That supporting horse slaughter means you want to eat every horse you see. Ever. 

¬† ¬† ¬†This is ridiculous.I support slaughter, not because I like the death of horses but because I cannot see an alternative to it, and life without it has proved miserable for the horses involved. I do not want to see my Thoroughbred gelding on my dinner plate (or anyone else’s for that matter). It does mean that I want to see that untrained, unbroken, chronically lame and poorly conformed horse treated with dignity and compassion rather than allowed to starve to death in the comfort of someone’s back yard.

2. Horse slaughter is exceedingly cruel, causes stress to the horse, and looks like something out of a horror movie.

     No. Captive bolt, the method used by slaughter houses, is a method of euthanization that, according to numerous vets, is more humane than even the chemicals we use to put our hopeless colic-cases or suffering elderly pets to sleep. Captive bolt severs the brain stem immediately- no time for pain, no time for panic, and  no time to fight against death, all of which are possible with the use of chemicals. Because, see, horse slaughter is all about the quality of the meat produced. Horses going to slaughter will not be starved, because that horse is worth its weight. They are not kept under stress, because that causes the muscles to tense, lowering the quality of meat. They are treated decently, if only because indecent treatment spoils their worth.

¬† ¬† ¬†As for the common scenes of a horse going to a Mexican slaughterhouse to be stabbed repeatedly in the spine… that is not at all what goes on in professional slaughter houses. Even if it were, to me that only gives me more incentive to fight to keep US horses within US slaughter houses. Our horses, though, are treated just the same in slaughter houses in Mexico and Canada as they would be in the US, though. Again, this is all about the quality of the ¬†end product.¬†

3. Little Mary Sue’s 4h pony will end up on the menu.

¬† ¬† ¬†No. Wrong again. The only horses bought by “kill buyers” are the horses that are not bringing in any money. A pony or horse that is broke to ride and even halfway trained will go for at least $400. Many auctions set the minimum bid at $400 to deter kill buyers. This is because a horse is only going to bring $300 or so at the slaughter house. Why would ¬†a buyer spend more money on a horse than he can make from it? It’s illogical.¬†

¬† ¬† ¬†In this manner, slaughter actually sets the baseline for our equine industry. Without slaughter, poor-quality horses start to sell for less than $200. They start selling for $100, $50, even $25. And they aren’t sold to someone who will keep them about 3 days and then humanely dispose of them (I know that sounds cruel, but the alternative is worse, I swear). Instead, they go to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, who have moved to the outskirts of the suburbs and consider themselves country. Perhaps they have a 5acre plot instead of the typical 1acre. They think they’re ready for a horse, and– oh look! That one there is only $25! He’s kinda cute, and look, he smiles at me when I go near him. So they buy the horse that bares its teeth at approaching people. They buy him for $25, and think that less than 5acres of grass is enough to feed this horse forever. This horse ends up spending a year on moderate pasture, and then the good grass runs out. He starts wasting away, because the Johnsons didn’t understand that a $25 horse still costs more than that down payment. They don’t know that he needs his hooves done every 6-8 weeks, or that he needs his teeth floated and his vaccinations kept up-to-date. They don’t know that hay and grain are necessary for that horse now that the pasture is all scrub grass. So this horse ends up starving to death over the course of 18¬†months.¬†

I’d rather take the captive bolt, myself.

 

Still, it is true that horse slaughter is not as humane as it could be. But the answer to this problem is not as simple as banning the practice. Why? Because kill buyers just shipped US horses across our borders. This meant longer transport for the horses, longer for them to go through the most inhumane part of the entire process. And now we can’t even do that– Mexico and Canada have closed their plants to US horses because our horses didn’t pass inspection. That’s right. Our horses were tested and found to have too many drugs in their system to be considered safe for human consumption. With this new ban on US horses and the current outcry against slaughter within the US, how are we supposed to take care of our unwanted horses? Our rescues are full. They are beyond full. We have too many unwanted horses, and now too many would-be horse-owners who are uneducated about how much work it takes to own and care for a horse properly. We have too many people who believe that setting a ¬†horse free is a viable solution. Yes, he can run free. He is free to starve to death on his own, free to run across a busy street and get hit by a car– killing himself and possibly injuring the people within the vehicle. Turning horses loose is not at all what the movies make it out to be.¬†

So, in my mind that leaves only one option. How do we make everyone else see that the alternatives to slaughter are worse than slaughter itself? First, we should educate them. Teach them the facts of horse slaughterРthat the number of neglected, starving, dying, suffering unwanted horses jumped drastically since slaughter was banned. That captive bolt is actually humane. That the horses are kept as fat and happy as possible. 

Next, we should start enacting legislature involving not the destruction of slaughter, but the betterment of it. Instead of shutting down plants, we should be working to increase regulations. Make the transportation more comfortable for the horses, make the plants cleaner, nicer, more humane. This makes slaughter less cruel, with an added benefit of creating jobs, which everyone’s so concerned about these days. Too many unwanted horses and not enough jobs in the US… I can’t think of a better solution than this. Can you?

In summary, yes, I support horse slaughter. I support the education and freedom of information about slaughter to US citizens, in the hopes that we will use this information and new education to enact legislature that benefits everyone- us, the horses, and the industry as a whole. I hope that one day this subject will be viewed with logic, and that no unwanted horse will ever have to starve to death in the back yards of people who “saved him” because they “love him.”

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Sometimes, it Just Takes Time

At the beginning of this year, things were a bit hectic for me. The school horse I leased over the summer had a dicey readjustment to school life, some of my classes were looking grim, and to top it all off, I was put on the new horse, whom I have nicknamed Ernesto. 

Ernie is not the most attractive horse on the face of the planet, and we’ll just leave it at that, but aside from his outward appearance he just wasn’t the kind of horse we really thought would adjust well. He was anxious, and paces in his stall so much that he has worn tracks in the bedding by the end of the day. He was also rather ADHD. I will freely admit that I disliked him from the moment I haltered him. I disliked him even more when I tried to lunge him and he spooked 4 separate times –for no discernible reason– before I had even clipped the chain to his halter. He took a lot of leg to be encouraged to bend, and he challenged my weaknesses as a rider to a ¬†point that I no longer found riding ¬†him to be constructive. And the few times we took him over fences were just plain scary. And I don’t scare easy.

I’ve been off of Ernesto for a few weeks now, and had been switched to a very sweet, responsive (but strangely-built) horse named Sid. So when I walked into the barn today and saw my name next to Ernie’s on the ride list, I will admit it kinda took the wind out of my sails. Luckily, I needn’t have worried.¬†

Ernie was a different horse. Sure, bending was still a challenge, and he got over-excited at times, but he had put himself together enough that he was once again a fun,¬†reasonable challenge to ride. I had a blast. Turns out that all we needed to do was give him some extra turn out and a period of just walk/trot work to get himself calmed down and convinced that we actually WEREN’T all there to eat him. Just those simple things turned him from a horse I dreaded to ride into a horse I would actually willingly ride again.¬†

So if you’re having a difficult time with a horse, just remember to take a step back, breathe deep, and remember that sometimes it just takes time.

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Know When to Quit

What an ugly phrase. Know when to quit. Know when to give up, when to toss in the towel, wave the white flag, and just go home. I hear it all the time in horses- quit while you’re ahead, quit when you know you can’t solve the issues that are going on, quit before you screw up worse. And while it’s a genuinely important thing to know, I think the way we think about it is stopping us from utilizing this ability effectively. I think rather than telling ourselves that we need to quit, we should start thinking about it differently. I like to think of it as a strategic retreat.

My self-control and ability to retreat from a poor ride were put to the test this weekend. See, I went to a show and I went about everything in entirely the wrong way. The horse I was planning to ride was a young Thoroughbred I taught to jump over the summer, and I haven’t ridden or seen him in a little over a month. I remembered him being a very good, fantastic natural jumper, a horse I could take over everything, and I thought he would handle everything perfectly. I donated a really cool saddle pad and set of 4 polo wraps for the grand champion prize… and I wanted to win them.

Our schooling didn’t go so well the day before the show. The course was tricky, and the horse still wasn’t used to me being on him. He had been ridden by a novice jumper for the past month and wasn’t certain of his style or strides anymore. His muscles were underdeveloped for the job I was asking him to do, and I just couldn’t make anything come together. On top of that, he just was overwhelmed by the hyped show atmosphere. And I got frustrated.

I’m usually really really good about making every ride a positive experience. I’m usually the really calm, collected, “show mom” competitor, and I lost my cool at this show. I knew that after our first couple performances that the horse I was on was not the same horse I had trained over the summer, that we should’ve taken more time to reacquaint ourselves. I decided to scratch the show, but when I informed my fellow competitors, their response was “you’re quitting?”

No.

I’m not quitting. It’s a strategic retreat.

For that horse, there was very little positive takeaway from the show. We didn’t have any good rides, we didn’t have any good moments in the warmup, it just didn’t work. The only positive experience I could give him was to walk him back to the barn, untack, brush him off, and let him loose to roll and gallop and play at his heart’s content. So I did. I retreated with the intention of ending a bad experience before it got worse.

And sometimes you can retreat after a good experience and end on a good note, sometimes you have to stop before bad goes to worse, but you should never call yourself a quitter for doing so. By making that choice, you are putting the horse before yourself and you are being a smart rider/trainer/teacher. It is not a negative thing (unless, of course, you failed to pick a good ending moment and had to instead end after being thrown or something. Then it’s a negative thing). I prefer to think of it more as being mindful of my horse’s experience. I like to think of it as a strategic retreat- like I’m a general and I want to exit a battle before my soldiers are all killed.

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Unity

A few weeks ago, I heard about a new book coming out: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. If you haven’t heard about it, here’s the basic idea: a dystopian society in a land called Shima (based off of feudal Japan) with Steampunk technology and mythical creatures. Yukiko, the main character, is sent by her Shogun (a singularly evil man) to capture an arashitora (griffin, basically). This novel touched me deeply, and my post is going to contain some SPOILERS, so be warned.

SPOILERS

Yukiko and the arashitora, whom she names Buruu, spend a lot of time together, developing a bond. This process is, of course, helped by the fact that Yukiko is slightly psychic and can speak to Buruu mind-to-mind. Because their minds touch, the longer they spend together the more each bleeds into the other- Buruu gains some of Yukiko’s qualities while Yukiko gains some of his, and over the course of their journey they become one ¬†mind with two bodies. The descriptions of the two of them in battle left me absolutely beathless, and very nostalgic.

I know what it’s like to be that close to something- I had that unity with my horse, Aki. Certainly there’s a difference between wheeling and diving and attacking your enemies in battle and racing around a pattern of fences hoping for the best time, but that feeling of connectedness was there. When I thought of turning, he turned- without the delay of the usual cue-to-response. I thought and he did. I’m so lucky to have had that connection so early in my life. I know many riders go their entire career without ever truly experiencing it.

While I am afraid that I will never again meet a horse with which I can achieve this unity, I am very glad to just know that it exists. It gives me something to strive for, a reason to work with even the most difficult horses, because I know exactly what we can be capable of if we just work hard enough.

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Correction vs Punishment

We all know that when training an animal, there is a difference between correction and punishment. However, I’ve noticed that a lot of people utilize punishment as an everyday training method. My views on this? I don’t like it. To my mind, the difference between correction and punishment is:

 

Correction: an action that discourages undesirable behaviors and is administered (in varying degrees of intensity) directly in response to that undesirable behavior at the time it takes place. 

 

Punishment: an action to discourage undesirable behavior that is not necessarily administered when the undesirable action takes place, or continues longer than is necessary for a simple correction.

 

For instance, say a horse lifts his head on the approach to a jump when his rider wants his head to stay long and low. A correction for this action would, for me, constitute a half-halt with the outside rein coupled with a slight squeeze of the leg. The half-halt signals that the horse should be thinking back to me, while the leg tells him that he should keep a consistent pace (so that he doesn’t misconstrue the half-halt as being a signal to stop or slow down). A punishment would be to continually half-halt, or, worse, see-saw the bit in his mouth–especially after the horse has brought his head down.¬†

 

There are times where a punishment is appropriate. I had a horse nearly back himself into another (very grumpy and very willing to bite) horse because he was unwilling to move forward when I asked. A correction would be to get him moving forward and then end there and go about whatever I was intending to do. However, because this is a consistent problem with this horse, I felt it necessary to punish him instead. So rather than achieve the forward motion I had asked for and let it go, I galloped the horse two laps around the arena. This punishment was not harsh or dangerous, it merely told the horse that if he did not move forward when I asked him to, he would have to work harder than I originally intended. The problem was corrected, and I was able to finish my ride with no more problems of that nature. 

 

Sadly, I’ve seen too many people who turn to punishment as their number one form of dealing with issues, even when punishment is inappropriate. I have witnessed a horse that moved stiffly to the right being left in his stall with his head tethered to the right side of his body. I have witnessed horses (and cats and dogs, for that matter) being punished for bad behavior hours or even days after the event has happened. This is not good training psychology. If you punish after the fact, the animal does not even know what it is being punished for, making the punishment counterproductive. Rather than discouraging a certain behavior, you end up causing your animal to distrust or dislike you, which throws a wrench into any relationship.¬†

 

Has anybody else had experience with this? Does anyone have any alternate definitions of “correction” and “punishment?” How do you view this issue?

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The Perfect Horse

It’s been a year and a month (or just about) since I first moved out of my childhood home to start the grand new adventure of college. Honestly, the most difficult part about leaving home wasn’t the fact that I had never moved before, that I would be in a new city for the first time in my life, that I would have to make new friends. No, the hardest part of leaving for college was that I had to leave my horse behind– and at such a difficult time in his life, too.

My horse BroadwaySport (Aki, for short) is a 16hh bay Thoroughbred, 18 years old. He raced at the track as a two-year-old and won only one race. He worked as a lesson horse, show horse, pasture ornament, and just about everything in between, and when I bought him five years ago, it showed. He wasn’t the most attractive horse ever, but we clicked. The moment I got on him, I knew he was the one. We’ve worked together as a team for years, and together we have multiple championships and reserve championships under our belt. He took me on my first foxhunt, my first mini-event, my first successful jump course. I owe this horse a lot, and I’m grateful for it every single day. Especially now that he can no longer do what he loves to do best. Two years ago we both suffered a fall in the pasture, which was then followed by six weeks of weather conditions that prevented me from riding. When I finally got back in the saddle, I knew something was very, very wrong. While Aki’s movement had never been your standard “good” movement, he was drastically lame following the fall. The chiropractor said that the fall messed up the alignment in his sacral and lumbar vertebrae, which increased a pre-existing misalignment in his pelvis as well as weakened, stretched tendons in his hind end. ¬†Aki could no longer jump, event, or foxhunt. That year, our last year together before college, we couldn’t even show. I spent my summer with him working towards simply helping him trot and canter with ease, and then I had to leave.

While it broke my heart to leave him in such a state, I knew he was in good hands with my mother and my best friend to look after him. I haven’t gotten terribly homesick for him too often here at school, but the other day a friend of mine posted a picture on facebook that was so touching, and reminded me of Aki so much, that I couldn’t help but cry.

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When I got Aki, he came to me with the most awful musculature I’ve ever seen, fairly significant conformational faults, and terrible, terrible hooves. He had been through so much, and overcome so much adversity, but he did it with dignity and grace. I like to think he taught me to do the same. Aki has never bucked me off, but he has told me when I’m wrong, and the times that I have fallen, he’s always waiting, giving me that “what are you doing down there?” look that only horses can give. He taught me to be patient, to be kind, and to accept that 99.9% of everything that goes wrong under saddle can be traced back to me. Better yet, he taught me to fix my mistakes, and to do it quickly and without a fuss. He and I grew so close that I would swear he can read my mind, and he taught me that with the right partner, I can be so much more than just… me.

I hope you have a horse like Aki in your life, at some point, and I hope ¬†you have many, many years together. To me, the five years I’ve had with my boy seem at once to be the most precious gift I’ve ever been given, yet still not enough. While I will always wish for more time with Aki, I know there are more perfect horses in the world, just waiting to discover their perfect rider.

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One mind::one expression

-Megan ‚̧

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