2009-07-06 Arguing with a colt

 I have this problem.  It’s summer, and it’s getting really hot in the afternoons.  Too hot to ride.  I spent about fifteen minutes on Hickory one afternoon last week and came home with the next best thing to heat stroke.  No telling what that little ride did to him.

I’ve been putting the horses out on the grass early.  The big ones eat for two hours and get fat.  Hickory and Jetta can stay on the grass for five hours.  Well, Jedda could live out there and she might stop showing ribs, but there you are.  Anyway, I’d put them out at seven or so, let them stay out for a couple of hours, then bring them in, fed and full so I could bring Hickory in and ride him in the arena.  The rider recognizes the fact that a fed horse is bound to be more easily focused than a hungry horse, and a horse with company isn’t going to spend your entire ride trying to escape back into the ranks.

And that worked in the spring. But now, it’s so hot at noon, I hate to leave the horses in that metal hot-box barn on that light colored heat radiating arena in the hottest hours of the day.  Grass is cooler.  But that leaves me with cool morning hours for riding and hungry, resentful, fustulous horses.  So I’m trying to work this out.

This morning, I let everybody out at seven thirty for an hour to take the edge off.  Then went back after my treadmill work-out and brought them in.  But that leaves only an hour in the afternoon, so that isn’t good either.  And anyway, by nine-thirty, when I finally had them in and had shoveled the jail and the arena, it was already hot.  Evenings, of course, don’t work because we get eaten alive. (Sullen eyes: I hate summer and I hate winter.)

But this is about this morning.  I rode Hickory for the 23rd time today.  And for the first time, he bratted out on me.  So I’m writing about it because I have to tell the story, that’s why.

I let him eat a little hay in the jail while I prepare things.  And I can saddle him without tying him up that way, which is nice.  He gave me only a token fuss about taking the bit about five seconds of non-cooperation, then took it very sweetly.  And he was good in ground work — if typically reluctant.  I trotted him over my six poles, and for the first time, he took them like a poem—he was lovely, lifting his feet and flying over them.  Usually, at least on the last one, he drags and kicks the pole out of alignment and gets all bent out of shape. But today—he was ace.

Then I circled him and had him take the one foot jump—heading west, he actually cleared it, like he didn’t have lead in his feet.  Going east, he refused it every time.  I kept at it, and he finally more or less trotted over it, which was weird.  But he didn’t knock the pole off.

He stood when I got up in the saddle and he didn’t fidget.  I sat there for a while, just kind of messing around, tightening the girth and patting and rearranging stuff.  Then I asked for the yield, which he does very well to the left.  The right side, however, is broken.  Even with a full cheek snaffle, it’s broken.  So we had to do it about two hundred times, and after that it was STILL broken.  But better.

We walked around the arena.  And then we trotted, keeping on the rail.  He’s responding pretty well to legs and rein.  And we did a lot of trotting. He took the poles going south just beautifully, but his rudder got stuck going north, and we kept drifting off the poles in the middle.  Maybe it was that right side that was sick last night . . .

So we were doing fine.  Mostly.  He got a little fussy about trotting once or twice, but nothing really.  Then I asked for the canter.

Instead, I got a head.  Head came up (not hugely, not like it hit me between the eyes), and head went down.  I asked again.  That little hop he does, the toss of the head and the sitting back on the haunches to start?  It was like that, except different—and not only because he did NOT start.  I think I might have gotten a little crow hop, even.  I wish Char had been there because she would have made a big deal out of it, and I could have felt like a raging cowboy.  Whatever it was he was doing, it was NOT moving forward, and it was snotty—head up and down, everything not doing what it’s supposed to.

And that made me mad, because I couldn’t get him to level out.  So I slid off, which made him happy, and I stalked over to the lead and stick—with Hickory trailing happily behind, head lowered helpfully, in case we were done and I wanted to take his halter and bridle off.  But instead, he got led back into the middle of the arena, and when I said, “Canter” he cantered.  Both ways.  Over and over and over.  He even tripped a couple of times (going clockwise) which may or may not have been done for dramatic effect.  Oh, and going that same way, had one of his pull back melt-downs.  Which didn’t help his situation any.  In the end, he did what I told him to do.

I have to tell you that I was impressed with myself for not turning into a total coward.  

I took the lead off (his head was down again) and disappointed him by climbing right back up into the saddle.  We started a trot, and when I asked for the canter, he started it, but headed for the panels—and when he got close, changed direction so abruptly, I came a little out of the saddle.  But I didn’t go anywhere.  Lost a stirrup.  But this time, when I asked for the canter, I got one.  And we kept doing it for about fifteen seconds, which is about as long as I like cantering in that arena.  But we did it several times, going several directions, including past the barn, which I no longer rope off. And he responded to rein and leg.

After that, we had one more discussion—this one about trotting through a space between two barrels, which he managed to avoid by getting his rudder stuck again.  So we worked on that for ten minutes, and got his rudder fixed.

I never ride for a terribly long time.  Partly because it’s too hot, and partly because I’m too ignorant to know what I should be doing, and not hopeful enough to assume I’m doing any of it right.  But I won the arguments in the end, and I felt pretty good when I got off.  I think we’re improving.

He was VERY happy in the end when I finally took his suggestion and relieved him of his headgear.

After that, I put my Parelli hackamore on Zion and worked on walking.  Just walking, please.  I am happy to report that it did not go perfectly, which I take as a sign that he is finally feeling better.  His nose is still running, though, and I almost wonder if he’s got allergies??

So not only have I ridden since spring, I’ve ridden about 40 times, if putting your leg over a horse and at least walking around counts as a ride.  Everybody but Jedda.  I am not enough people to get to everybody, and Zion is my love.

But there you go.  I feel like you should be proud of me, even though you, Geneva, will want to tell me ALL THE THINGS I DID WRONG.  Which could take you a week, and would be worse, if you’d actually been there to watch me be all thumbs with everything.  But I am trying, and Hickory still loves me after I’m mean and work him. Oh.  I brushed him down after and hosed him off a little, then put him out through the barn to keep eating with Jedda.  But he didn’t want to go.  He kept following me back to the barn.

I finally figured it out.  He had three peppermint treats coming to him—that’s the reward for letting somebody stick bars through your teeth and make you canter in circles—and he wanted ‘em.  So I gave him his pay and sent him on his way.

And that’s the end.

A lovely moment

Yes, the colt broke the trailer today.  Somehow, he decided he needed to be on the other side of the trailer neck hitch thing – I’ve changed the panels around, and we’re parking the trailer behind the barn now – so I’ve got this little isolation stall . . . with a trailer in the middle of it. And grass, grass growing terribly long. So I put Jetta in it for a while the other day, hoping he’d eat it down, which she hasn’t. So I put the colt in it today.  He was content enough with the grass.  Until he got on the wrong side of the trailer neck.

I guess he tried stepping over it and caught his foot in the  break cable.  He didn’t panic.  He made very little noise.  But I guess he pulled the cable out and severed all the connections.  So now we have a trailer to fix.

This wasn’t what I was going to write about.  Oh, and I’ve been feeding Stan’s pony and filly.  Which has been fun. But I wasn’t going to write about that, either.

I’m writing about a sweet thing I saw the other day.  I don’t remember seeing any of my five horses every actually grooming each other.  Maybe once.  Maybe  Zi and Jetta, years ago.  But just a couple of days ago, I was working in the arena and I turned around, and there were Hickory and Dustin, head to withers, grooming each other.  I think this is the passing of the alpha.   I would never have expected to see Dustin peacefully paired with anybody.  But I’ve seen the colt eating next to him- carefully.  And now this.  It was pretty amazing.


After Sophie’s mental breakdown on the lane, I realized that I was going to have to do some tuning up of everybody.  I’m not that great a rider, and the idea scared me.  So I started out taking Sophie for walks, taking her down there by hand.  At first, she was skittery.  But I learned a lot by doing it.  And I took her three times, the theory being, the more often she goes down there, the less she’ll be bothered under saddle.

Then I started walking the colt down there for the same reason.  He’s really not been out of my place often – just to the vet and down to Rachel’s a couple of times.  He was squirrely too, but brave.  When the little calf ran up the dung hill just beside us, the colt threw his head up and re-set his feet, but he didn’t pull back, and he didn’t try to bolt.  This is good.

Everytime I finished the walk, it was in Bob’s big arena.  Just a little work out to break up the walk home so we don’t get too silly when we’re heading that way.  I told Geneva about that, but she said the real workout – trotting till we’re tired – should be on the way out, so the actual ride down the lane is an escape from work, a rest.

I walked Zion down there a couple of times, then decided it was time I got some guts, that it was time for me to take a ride instead of a walk (Geneva had twitted me about it, and she was right).  So I went to the field, fed them all, and then worked him on the ground for a while.  After I had him saddled, I called Guy and called Rachel – just so somebody knew where I was going.  Then my battery started to run down.

Off I went, down the road on my Zi, who was pretty sure he didn’t want to go.  I waved at Bob, who was working in the arena.  So one more person knew I was out there all by my lonesome, just in case my horse pulled something on me.  But it turned out, he did as asked, just a little nervous.  And mostly well behaved.  Of course, he did the drunken sailor thing – I guess he feels that, if he can drift far enough to the side, he’ll finally just sneak his head around so he can change directions.  But it didn’t work.  At the very end, he really got querulous, calling and calling.  So I forced him to finish, then turned around before I lost him for real.

After that ride, I was ambivalent.  I’d handled him.  But barely.  So days went by.  Then I decided I’d better do it again.  So I saddled him up the next week, and called Rachel – but this time, she came with me, she and Jaden on her cruiser bike.  I was worried the bicycle freaking him out, but he wasn’t bothered.

I worked him on the line under saddle.  Then I trotted and cantered around my little arena for a while.  Then we went across the street and worked out in Bob’s big arena.  Zi was breathing hard, and Rachel, who made me keep trotting around – I was worried I was pushing my welcome with her.  But no – a woman of infinite patience.

She rode down the path with me, and I think Zi thought the bike was some odd kind of horse, because he seemed much more comfortable.  And I was tons more confident, not being all alone back there.  In fact, I was nearly euphoric – I was safe, and he behaved beautifully.  Well, better, anyway.  We went down to Harold’s gate and back, and he was quiet.  But maybe that’s because Westin had just trimmed him and his feet were ouchy on the rocky lane.

The next day, I decided to saddle up Sophie.  I never expected to be so scared about that.  But danged if Rachel didn’t come again.  And we went through the same routine.  And Sophie was fine.  No weirdness.  No misbehavior.  A good ride.

The only thing was, I couldn’t get her to canter on the line, and I wasn’t about to ask her to under saddle, not after she hump-jumped a couple of times under Rachel.  I needed to know her better, make sure the respect was there.  But the walk was good.  Last week, I worked her on the line, went through the games, and got a nice, brisk canter when I asked for it.  So all’s right with the world.  Maybe.  We still need to do it under saddle.

There was a hitch when I walked the colt down the lane the third time.  I took a detour and walked him through the neighborhood there – nice houses and asphalt.  He’d never done any such thing before, and he was head up, nose scanning, snort, snort.  But he was so fine, I relaxed my vigilance, and didn’t see the sideways shy till it hit me from behind.

He hit me and I was sure I was going to do a face plant on the road, but things were very confused – like he’d stepped sideways into me and gotten his legs tangled with mine – I was falling, but did not fall.  Then he pushed me again, and I still didn’t fall.  Later, one calf hurt and the opposite heel hurt – and I’m guessing he was standing on my heel and my legs were locked.  Anyway, it was a little miracle that I didn’t end up losing all the skin off my face.  After that, he did fine.

Now all I have to do is ride the colt (very scary) and keep riding Zi and Sophie – and maybe the other two too.  I have to admit, this is a little overwhelming.  Five horses and the family has vanished, all the children grown up – something to think about before you buy a helpless animal that will depend on you for twenty to thirty years.

Still, this is my dream.  And if I age well, I will thank them for getting me outside and keeping me flexible and fit.  Assuming they don’t throw me and break my neck.

Catching up

I haven’t written because I’ve been doing my head off.  I have to post the thing about our first ride down Boardman’s Lane this spring and Sophie coming un-glued, because that freaked me out: my gentle, boringest, most trustworthy horse freaking out about – what?  A ditch?  An electric fence buzz?  And running backward across a newly staked out for landscaping yard, tearing up the stakes and string and leaving divots in the level dirt big enough to store an alligator in.

Yes, it’s spring.  But I did ride her for at least five or so minutes over the winter, and she nearly bucked Rachel off, which Rachel definitely didn’t need.  But as I say, there is a post about this. What I really want to write about is this spring’s anti-founder strategy.

I did what I always do, start off like Geneva taught me: feed the horses in the morning so that their stomachs are full before you put them on the grass.  The first day, I turn them out for ten minutes, rewarding them for coming back in with a dessert- a handful of alfalfa.  The second day, it’s fifteen minutes – I just shovel manure and work around the barn till it’s time to bring them in.

This year, I set up the first fence all along the east side of the pasture, a long, maybe thirty, forty foot strip that ran the length of the grass north of the barn.  The grass is always longest there, richest, and gets oldest first.  So I wanted them to eat it down.  I left all the gates open when I put them out there, so nobody’d be trapped in that narrow run.  And they ate it down well over the course of almost two weeks.  The first week for the fifteen minutes, then twenty, finally half an hour, with hay in the morning.

When I felt like it was good to go past fifteen minutes, I started cutting down the morning alfala for everybody but Sophie.  I’d keep Sophie in the jail at night, or Jetta – in the morning, I’d run Jetta out through the barn, then put Sophie in the jail, or keep her there if she was already in there.  Then I’d run everybody else out on the grass, feed Sophie hay, work a bit, then let her out the last fifteen minutes.

I meant to do exactly what I did last year, but I was moving too fast – couldn’t take the time to remember to check the blog, didn’t even check the calendar.  I keep re-inventing the wheel, which is just stupid.

But it worked.  I checked her digital pulse often, sometimes finding it, sometimes not.  Once it was hot.  But the next morning, it was gone.  She’s doing fine.  Still has a little pulse, but no sore feet, no stiffness of movement.  So whatever I’m doing, we seem to have dodged the bullet again this year.  I’m keeping Jetta in the hot jail during the day – Jetta is my tank, and putting Sophie in there at night, just in case the heat is part of the problem.  But so far, so good.

I have re-defined the pastures.  I started with the three in the back and the four out front.  But when Rachel had to give up her horses, she gave me back my gate, which gives me one more to work with.  So that huge middle pasture is now two.  We’ll see how that works.  I ended up grazing out the back before the front – the grass was just too long there, and I had to get to the weeds to spray them.

Always an experiment.

And spring is finally sprunging –

Here is a story for you: Chapter One


Sophie, first day of being in the jail—and suddenly attacked by a goose.



Saturday Morning, before we went to Burgers, I spent three hours working this brave little tractor for the first time in the arena. (Sorry that there are no pictures of this—hard to take pictures of yourself while you’re actually operating largish equipment. But I looked GOOOOOD. Really, I did.) And the reason why I did all that work was because I saw these:


(Our twenty five year old snowdrops)

And knew that this:


(The first spring rain. Pretend you see it)

was going to start to start falling pretty soon, and I didn’t want this:



to happen in here:


which, as you see, regardless of the rain, very happily


did not happen. Mostly. So you see, my work was not only fun, it was not in vain. Which is a satisfying thing when it happens.


Here is incontrovertible proof that I am telling the truth about running the tractor ALL BY MYSELF (after G showed me how).

And then I cleaned out this (hint: not Dustin, which I am not qualified to do)—


But did not clean this:


the evil, horse attacking goose.

Here is how this goose came to live with us: that rascal of a Dick Beeson brought this thing (you are not going to believe he could be so vile) to the CHRISTMAS PARTY as an ORNAMENT. He often does this, thinking he is very funny. Once it was a bowling ball with a cut off cork glued to the top with a hook sticking out of it. Like anybody has a tree big enough for that. And the problem with this is that the person who wins these things inevitably decides (in gratitude, I am sure, for my not throwing them off the list every year) to leave their prize hidden somewhere in my house. Once, it was under my pillow. I don’t remember where or how this winged thing was stuffed away, but he hung in the garage for years, and has protected our barn against . . . something . . . now for many, many years. At least four. Anyway, since we put the barn up and realized we could uninstall the goose from the garage and stick it out here where it will get the horses de-sensitized to swinging, senseless things and Dick’s sense of humor.

I also put up this:


This is the outside of the jail. We call it the jail because Guy’s mother called the place where recalcitrant dogs were sent to cool their heels the “dog jail.” This is actually not for bad horses. It’s taking them into custody for their own protection. We put these panels up when we have to shut the horses off the pasture (hooves and soft ground and growing grass=not a productive combination), which means that Sophie and Jetta have to be in the same tiny space 24-7. Which means that Jetta will eventually lose hide, blood, dignity and all semblance of confidence. And ultimately, legs, tail and nose. So the girls have to take turns in here, every other day. Pffff. Women.

I carried every one of those panels and even that gate (and that’s no chopped liver, let me tell you) ALL BY MYSELF. Including all these:


Which are on the other side of the barn, and with which I am mounting yet another experiment in small pasture maintenance. Geneva is rolling her eyes at this point. Woo-hoo, carrying ALL THOSE GREAT BIG TWELVE FOOTERS BY YOURSELF. Because SHE hefts these:


which are eighteen feet, and she does THAT all alone. These are steel panels, by the way, built to withstand the onslaughts of 1100 pound ravening stud animals who really, really want to get to the other side. And how do we girls carry them? You back up to the things, hook your arms through and carry them on your back. You remember those Buster Keaton movies where the guy’d be carrying a huge long board, and suddenly turn around to look at something, and accidentally knock some poor dude off the building with the tail end of the swinging board? Yeah. It’s like that. And the gates are HECK to carry.

But we gladly do it for these:

Horse Muzzles. Horse Noses. Softest things in the world. And I LOVE ‘em. And I kiss them EVERY DAY, and I have since mid 2001. Get close enough to smell a horse’s breath, and you smell every green and growing thing. It’s wonderful.


Here seen in passive mode.


Here in active mode.

Yep. It’s the life. Just don’t ever invite me in (especially in early spring) unless I take my boots off first.

I’m just sayin -

I don’t write here a lot. That’s because nobody reads here a lot. I started this blog in hopes that my experiences with my horses might help somebody else in their own efforts not only to love, but to serve and care for an equine companion. I am not much of a trainer, but I am trying. And so I write this stuff down here, when I can.

Training: I favor the Parelli program. I know there are a lot of people out there who are doing “training programs.” Parelli was one of the very first, and as far as I am concerned, this is the very best. My friends have gone to Clinton Anderson, feeling that he is quicker and more get it done. But I don’t believe in “quick and easy” relationships. Parelli is elegant and the psychology of the horse is respected – not just for the sake of manipulation, but for the sake of understanding. Horse owners have to take their responsibilities seriously – the mental health of the horse, and the safety of the owner depend on this.

I started using the program years ago, and it has given me a clear and wonderful way of learning to share the world with my buddies. Funny how, as you grow to know them, you can “see” the “looks on their faces” as clearly as if you were trying to decipher a human face. That means a lot to me. They know me now – and respect me most of the time. When I say no, they know exactly what that means.

Now, to sum up some things:

Sophie’s Foundering. It happens mostly in spring and early summer. I beat it completely last year, but it took work. When the grass came on, I only let her stay out on it for fifteen minutes at a time, long after i was giving the others half an hour to an hour. I’d let them all out but Sophie. Then I’d feed her a breakfast of hay and go home. When the time came to put everybody back inside, I’d go a little early and let her out. I’d take fifteen or so minutes to muck out or whatever (if you can’t find fifteen minutes worth of work around your place, you must have tons of money and lots of help).

After that fifteen minutes, I’d bring her in with the boys. My two older geldings keep very well, and for the first several weeks on the grass only need a half hour to forty five minutes of grazing the lush spring grass to maintain their weight and health. My older quarter mare needs far more time to keep her in flesh, and the colt has needed that, too. Now that he’s grown up, we’ll see. Spring this year will tell. All are in good flesh now. In fact, I fed them too much because it’s been too cold, and Dustin, the oldest and the alpha, colicked – we think maybe on the extra grass hay – as I have written in the post before this one.

We had no thrush this year, which was good. And the grass held out till October. Five horses on an acre and a quarter from end of April to end of October. Not bad management, if I do say so myself.

If anybody does read this, and has questions about what i’ve learned about training or feeding or managing, just post and ask, or write it in a comment, and I’ll answer. We sat on the colt for the first time in October. Geneva did the honors, and that colt was brilliant and gentle. But we’d put in so many hours of consistent work in both discipline and communication. It was good to see it all pay off.

In case you were wondering –

This is what it’s like to have horses:

You get up in the morning. (Some people do this earlier than I do. Let me just explain that I get up WAY earlier than I would if I didn’t know people (horses) were out there in the frost starving. And though I may lie abed until it’s no longer dark outside, I am up and stumbling around way before it’s warm, which doesn’t happen till about May around here).

You pull on your running pants and a ratty navy blue shaker sweater (which you still love), then pour yourself down the stairs where you pull on your new, toasty lined coveralls and warm boots.No.Wait. First you have to go back upstairs and get the cell phone which is supposed to be plugged into the charger,”where, of course, it never is. Then you clatter back downstairs to tear the house apart looking for the dang phone. (Repeat these steps until the cell phone is found. By this time, you will be very, very warm.)


With phone in hand, put on your heavy duty, rootin’ tootin’, LLBean, Thinsulate and plaid flannel lined denim field coat with the corduroy cuffs (that are pretty much worn through.I love this coat) and your neck warmer and your ear warmers and your hat and your gloves. Then you pull your keys off the hook, and you can go on outside to the car.


Self Portrait #1: In the window of the Sienna

Everybody scrapes windshields in the morning.You already know that part.

Then you drive down Center, hoping the heater will start working before you get to the barn.

It doesn’t.

You carefully seek the least icy place to park—something within jogging distance of your gate.You finally climb the gate and trudge through the snow (wishing you’d brought your camera) down the long, long snow drifted driveway.


Self portrait #2: on the driveway (note the tire tracks)

It is at this point that you find the Sick Horse.

You know that he is sick because when he sees you coming, instead of heading for the barn where he will beg for breakfast, he lies down in the snow.

This is not good.


You continue on your way, hoping he’ll get the “I’m going to the barn” part and follow you. But with every step you take, you are trying to ignore a growing sense that what might have turned out to be a really nice day isn’t going to.


You get into the barn and ring the cow bell, which is to say: “I’m serious about dispensing hay, here.”And you peek out to see what the Sick Horse is now doing. Well, he’s galloping. He hardly ever gallops. But here he comes, thundering down the pasture. So you breathe a sigh of relief, while somewhere down deep inside, part of you knows you’re kidding yourself.

Everyone is eager to eat. This is good. Four little equine piggies. You measure out the hay and sling it expertly into the feeders. But the Sick Horse, now standing in his stall, looks down at his hay and decides he doesn’t want it after all.

In fact, he is now looking for a nice place inside the tiny twelve by twelve stall to lie down. Lie DOWN? It’s then that you get really scared, and you touch him all over and find that his chest is wet with sweat (could it just be snow?), and you listen with your ear to his sides, and you hear no grumbling in the gut, which is really, really not good, and when, the moment you let him go, he starts looking for another place to lie down, you go for your medical box.

As if that’s going to help. You take his temperature. You check his gum color and his capillary refill time.You want to count his breathing, but you don’t have a second hand or a stop watch or even an alarm on the cell phone. Stupid cell phone.


By this time, you suspect that you are walking in circles and breathing too fast, so you call one of your best buddies, the horse guru/vet nurse, who is attending a really fun horse event hours away (which you were supposed to go to, but did not because there was already too on the family’s plate, and besides, you are leaving for Texas on Wednesday). She reminds you about all the things you need to check — including heart rate. And since you have a stethoscope (not a great one), you try to find the heart beat with it, even if you have no stop watch, no cell phone with a timer, nothing with a second hand.

After twenty minutes of testing every known heart-beat revealing site known to man, you still cannot find anything.

Then you call your Home Hero, who immediately goes out to get the Suburban started and shows up WITH HIS COMPUTER so you can time the respiration and the heart rate, assuming you ever find it (you really, really need a stop watch). He then starts to dig the horse trailer out of the snow, while you yell to the neighbor next door, a true equestrian, who shows up and looks over the Sick Horse (because now we know he really is one) and speaks the words you have been trying not to hear in your head. Colic. Vet. Go. Then he stays to help dig and hitch up—both the trailer and your flagging spirits.


This is a neighbor, but not the neighbor of this story. This is the snow moving neighbor with the primeval snow moving machine. GO BOB. I do not have a picture of Stan digging us out.

Meanwhile, the Sick Horse drops a load of green horse muffins, which is very, very good news. It means his bowel isn’t twisted, not entirely at least. And he does it twice. Even so, while he has only actually lain down on the ground once, that horse has been shifting weight from side to side, trying to relieve the pain in his gut, which you are praying is only gas or something.

You insert the horse into the trailer (lucky for you, all your horses are good at doing this). You drive east on Center. Stop to put air in one of your eight tires (lucky for you the air is working at the gas station) and you get on the freeway, headed for the vet (lucky for you the fog’s burned off and all the heavy traffic is heading in the other direction).

The vet is a great guy. He can be sharp and impatient, but that’s because he’s got a job to do, and Stupid people tend to get in the way. This morning, vet staff are ready for you—the exam room door has been retracted, the nurse is there, everything ready. And the Sick Horse, even though this is his first time at this vet’s and he is feeling lousy along with being a great big coward, is good as gold and walks right in.

You help the vet put the Sick Horse in a sort of structural straight jacket (“the stocks”), a short, narrow, free standing stall made of heavy pipe, designed to make a horse stay put, which is not typical horse behavior.


As I do not have pictures of the vet doing the things I describe here, having left my camera in the barn in the hurry to get out, you are getting more fog pictures.

The vet will re-check everything you already checked (no, he does not trust you).

In the end, the vet gives your horse a shot of something very, very nice.Then he puts on a really, really, REALLY long plastic glove—finger tip to shoulder long—and then he sticks his hand INSIDE the horse. From behind.

You’ve seen how an accordion works. Horses work basically the same way.When you stick your arm up the wazoo from behind, they gather themselves all together, back humped WAY up. The look on the Sick Horse’s face at this point says only one thing: “woo-hoo-Hoo-HOO.”

The vet pulls out a huge, line-backer’s fist-sized green and solid piece of fecal impaction and shows it to you. This is the plug. The first in a line of many.In other words, your horse has been trying to pass a small bowling ball. The good news: the bowel has officially not twisted. The horse will probably live another day.


The bad news: they have to sedate the horse slightly, then stick a very large, very long piece of tubing into one of his roomy nostrils.They feed it up and inside. And they keep feeding it in and feeding it in. (Whoops, got caught on the wind pipe there for a second). Three or four feet of tubing, at least, up the nose and down all the way into the stomach.

The vet blows into the tube every so often as it goes in, and then sniffs his end of it. “He doesn’t smell too bad,” he happily informs you. And you are amazed once more that medicine is half voo-doo and half technology.

The tube is finally connected to a pump. One gallon of mineral oil, two gallons of water pumped straight into the stomach of the Sick Horse, who is evidently, at this point, feeling no pain.

After that it’s easy.Reload the horse in the trailer, pay the vet (wallowing on the ground in profoundly real and teary thanks, which you did NOT do at the mechanic’s day before yesterday when he replaced your Sienna’s rack and pinion assembly) and go home. To wait and see and hope it’s all over.

You pull up at your pasture, unload the Sick Horse, who steps coolly out of the trailer, straightening his polo shirt and asking, “Say there, chaps: what’s for breakfast?”

But you have to pick up every sliver of hay in the horses’ yard.You have to because the Sick Horse is not allowed to eat ANYTHING until you are quite sure he will not, in fact, die.You tie him up as you do this because he is determined to vacuum up said slivers before you can get to them.He becomes more and more disgruntled.

But you finish, letting in the other little equine vacuums to finish the job.Then you kiss the now Rambunctious Horse on the nose, set him free, and go home to clean the bathrooms.

(The bathrooms? That would be the faithful G. I’m writing this instead.)


This is neither the sick horse, nor the rambunctious horse. It is the snotty horse, who was supposed to be a pony but turned into this instead. This is later. When we are not so worried and have time to be disrespected.

And that is what it is like to own horses.

Post script: the Sick Horse is now the Lively Horse. All you need is a couple of hundred dollars, a great neighbor and a gallon of mineral oil. Call me next time you’re constipated.


I can’t decide which of these three I like. This is #1


This is #2


This is #3, which really is not just like #2. So whaddya think? None of them are right yet. One is too blue. One too dark. Tell me, tell me which one you like????

One sick baby at a time.

While Scooter is in hospital with pneumonia, I do not need a sick Tiger.  But he kept lying down yesterday, as we spent all day long putting a floor in the tackroom, and extending the walls up to the ceiling in a bid to keep the arena/hay dust out of everything we own.

Char worked, cleaning a year’s worth of thick, fine dust off of everything I’d hauled out onto the drive, until Guy brought her a disinfectant (having gone with M to Home Depot for supplies).  She used the stuff, and it burned the first two layers of skin off her hands.  Fun.

So she spent some time riding Dustin – first bareback in halter, then with the saddle, since he wanted to trot.  And you don’t trot on Dustin without a nice think pad and a saddle between you and his spine.  That was when we noticed that Tiger was dull, and kept lying down.

 At first, I thought it was just the nice afternoon.  So I sat on him, later to be overcome with guilt, thinking he hadn’t been feeling well.  I rode him up, and it was cool – Murphy applauded me,  sitting on an “unbroke” pony as he went from supine to upright.  And it was actually really fun.  Once he was upright with me still sitting him, he got confused.  Started to take a step forward.  Stopped.  Just like – “What am I supposed to do now?”  Then I slid off.

Later, I could see that his flank was all tucked up, and kind of rippling from time to time – to the tune of interesting gastro intestinal noises.  Temp: 99.9  Respiration: 32/min  Heart rate: 36/min  Capillary refill: 4 secs

So I put him in the jail with water, and we all went home, cleaned up and went to Cocolitos for birthday dinner.  Took some to the kids in the hospital.  Went back to look for poop, which I was prayerfully grateful to find.  No horses dying of a torqued bowel tonight.

Today, I checked Sophie’s feet after their 40 minutes on the grass.  There is definitely a pulse in all four now.   Quick but not pounding.  I’m not sure how to go.  Tomorrow, I may keep her off most of the time.  I also need to check the others.  The wild bunch.

G read that a woman was killed, run over by her spooked horses when she went out to water them.  It could happen any day to anyone.  The other day, I was brushing Tiger, and followed him into his stall on the end of the barn.  Jetta was in there, too.  I had my back to the inside of the barn, one eye on Jetta, who suddenly ducked her head and turned away.  And I was being hit from behind, shoved, the way a wave shoves you, that great uniform strength just moving you forward.

I yelled, shocked to find that somehow, Zion had gotten into that space with us, behind me. Like, why hadn’t I noticed?  And when Dustin took three steps out of his stall, all hell broke loose with these three, crowded into the 12 x 12 with me.  Zion pushed me about three steps before I was able to slip to the side.  When he squeezed out past me, I slapped him hard with the shedding blade, yelling.

And then I went after the surprised and now dismayed Dustin.  “Don’t you MOVE when I’m in the middle of the rest of them,” I shouted, admittedly unfairly, shaking my finger in his face. When I turned around, there was Sophie, standing over at the far side of the jail, watching it all.  And behind her, only eyes and ears showing over her back, was Zion, evidently hiding from me.  The dork.

Not dead then, me, today.  And it was just luck.

Finally – the season starts

I have been dying to put the horses out on the grass. But frankly, there hasn’t been any.  Usually, I start the season’s feeding in the third week of April.  But not this year.  Our winter left prodigious amounts of snow on the mountain, but the spring brought no rain.  Not for over a month.

The grass is deep green, which is right, seeing as I dragged that spreader all over it in late March, but where the blades would be a foot high by now, I barely have a lawn’s height anywhere on the entire acre.  Last week, I lugged that sprayer all over for the second time, looking for thistles and mare’s tail, and got quite a bit.  But as I put the fence posts in this week, I found tons more.  I am not pleased with Adam for having us thrown out here where the weeds never seem to lose.

I had enough hay to tide me until the second cutting of alfalfa.  Much confidence.  Wondering where I’d put the left over when then new harvest came in.  Not now.  I’m lucky if I can make it till then.  So last week, I started putting up the electric fence, in hopes that irrigation would kick things in to gear – assuming the water ever started coming down the ditch.I was late getting ready anyway – what with M leaving for South America and the trip to Disneyland, and G leaving Kansas City for the East and my Aunt being 88 and delicate.  But now, after doing a little every day, I have got most of the fences up, and I have only two more days on the charge for the solar energizer.

I let the five of them out on the grass Tuesday, May 6th, for fifteen minutes, which was really more like twenty to twenty five.  I had checked Sophie’s feet for a pulse before that and had felt absolutely nothing.

When I brought them back in – and they were surprisingly obedient, which is to say, I only had to yell for five minutes and swing ropes and chase back and forth – they ran back down the drive to the arena quite handily.  But I didn’t get down there myself, what with having to chase Sophie along, so they hit the arena bucking and throwing their heads, circled the thing and came pounding right back out again.

I wasn’t stupid enough to think they wouldn’t run through me, so I was philosophical about it; I’d closed the gate to the grass, so all they could do was get down there and moon around, staring over the fence, before things heated up again.  And sure enough, here they came back again. Zion actually seemed to be listening to me.  He was the first to give in, and led the charge back up the drive and into the arena. Sophie lingered, eating the grass on the verges till I fetched her with a personal invitation. I put her into the jail – well, she chose it – and once I had her eating a little hay, took her pulse again. The pulse in the white foot is a little easier to feel every day.

Today was their third day on the grass.  I’ve fed them each a flake of hay in the morning to fill them up.  Then let them out as time allowed – an hour after the hay the first day, but several hours later the next day – it was the first day of irrigation, which means I was in the middle of a day-long anxiety attack, and the first thunder storm since last year.

I was at the hospital with Scooter – four days old and with pneumonia already.  I asked Stan if he’d open Hinckley’s gate and bring the water down for us, which he was glad to do.  But as it turned out, John had shut the water off way up at the river not an hour before we needed it (WHY?????).  So Stan went to the river and turned it down.An hour later – still no water in our ditch.  Poor Stan went up and down the main ditch, looking for the danged water, which seemed hung up between Goodmans and our place – while the thunderstorm raged around him, pounding him with rain and hail.  He gave up after an hour.

Fifteen minutes later, the water, with all the power of the river behind it, came roaring out of the gate, pushing a massive plug of dead leaves and trash in front of it.  All of which is now strewn all over my pasture. But we did get the water.  We got two inches of rain in two hours, and two cubic feet of water on top of that.  If the grass can’t deliver after that, I’m quitting the business and buying rabbits.

No.  Not rabbits.

Anyway, Sophie is already reacting to the grass, so I’m going to have to go very carefully with her.  The pulse is still slow and still faint.  But it’s there.  Dratted girl.  But everybody looks in good weight at this point – including old Jetta.  I’m not seeing ribs.  The Baby, Tiger/Hickory – he’s gotten so tall so fast, I’m not surprised that he’s the thinnest of all of them.  We’ll see how it goes.

I have about eight bales left. If the grass is strong, it may be enough to carry me through.

Why do I do this to myself?  Maybe because of Zion, who ran up the drive today, and then stood there behind the open arena gate, watching me as I came up the drive, his white blaze all attention.  He waited patiently there, as though it were a fence, making no move to escape, which he easily could have done.  And so I gave him an extra handful of alfalfa leaves.