Thursday, March 26, 2015

A promise.

A promise. 

Today was a sunny, crisp winter day and after months of lugging water buckets and chipping frozen manure I needed a reminder of why we do what we do. So I hopped on each buckskin for a few minutes bareback to remind myself of the joys of horses.

First was Miss Haley, our buckskin Morgan mare. She has turned into such a gentle and sweet mare, who is now my most trusted ride. Her smooth little trot is easy to sit to and I trust her not to throw any bucks while riding bareback.  We ride around the paddock and she arches her neck and prances, her warm back beneath my legs bouncing up and down with each step. She carefully picks her way over the frozen rutted ground and never takes a wrong step. Though I have only had her for 4 years, we share a bond of "girl + Morgan" that is much deeper. Way, way, way back in her pedigree she is related to the soul-mate Morab of my childhood, Lady Byrd.

Next is Bucky. While I am riding Haley, my husband is brushing Bucky to keep him from being jealous. He has grown into an "in-your-pocket" little gelding who prefers the company of people to horses. He nickers as I approach with a halter, brush, or bridle, knowing that he is about to get some well deserved attention. He has a huge heart, but is frisky and as I climb onto his back sans saddle I question the intelligence of my decision. A few deep breaths later and we are connected, he settles in to a long swinging walk and enjoys a scratch of his withers. He snorts and raises his tail, but makes no wrong move as we enjoy a little jog. He has grown into a spunky, but obedient, little mount and is always trying to please.

Behind my barn, there are two large frozen mounds of soil that I ride over . . . one is covered in the frosty remains of fall grass and is only slightly raised above the surrounding ground. You have to know where to look to see it, but my eye is drawn to it every time I look out across the hay field. This is where Lady Byrd is buried. She was my soul-mate in equine form, my confidant, and best friend for almost 20 years. We battled Cushings, laminitis, heaves, and neurologic disease and with a breaking heart I had her euthanized at the age of 31.

Next to her is a newer mound of dirt, without grass on it and the dirt still maintains a different shade of brown from the surrounding ground. Here lies Bailey. A little grey Thoroughbred with a big stride and an enormous heart. He was in and out of my life for 14 years and finally came back "home" a few years ago. After years of unsoundness, and then melanomas and colic, I euthanized him as well while my best (human) friend was by his side.

This is never an easy decision. But I know in my head, as well as my heart, that there are far worse fates for a horse. You can see them everyday if you can bear to look. Horses, once loved, once cherished, dumped at auction or passed from trader to trader. Injured, in pain, shipped for days at a time without food or water. Or those who are left to starve or fend for themselves. Both of my current riding horses have known starvation and neglect. Bucky was only 2 years old when he was shipping to Canada, skinny and diseased. Being young and sound did not save him from this fate.  Haley was found starving and pregnant in a herd of 30, her owner unable or unwilling to care for them any longer. A fancy color and pedigree did not save her from this fate.

Only we, as owners, can save them from this fate. And so, riding over these frozen mounds of dirt, on my beloved horses who put their trust me, I make them a promise.

I tell them: "Your bellies will always be full, hooves and teeth cared for. You will always have a safe enclosure and shelter from a storm." I whisper in their fuzzy ears, "You will be required to have manners, but will always be treated fairly and without anger."  "And if you are ever suffering from a painful, debilitating illness and I cannot help you, I will euthanize you. I hope that we all grow old and grey together, but life is uncertain. This I know well. But I promise I will never send you, my beloved horse, out into the unknown without a safety net."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Spring Horse-keeping in Vermont . . .

Spring in Vermont brings it's own set of challenges . . . the big thaw has begun, complete with forecasted downpours, and so it begins. The girl vs. mud challenge. You know it is out of control when you start fantasizing about earthmoving equipment, but settle for buying a new ice axe at the hardware store. We now have a set of 3 pick axes, not including the one I broke last winter on an ice dam.

I know some people have the zen-like ability to not worry about it and accept that the ice will melt, the mud will dry up, and eventually we will have dry, firm ground again. Simply put, I am not one of those people. Each spring I go to war with the giant manure encrusted glacier that is my paddock. I have ruined plenty of clothing and required numerous bottles of Advil in this endeavor. The sooner the glacier is gone, the less mud we have, and the sooner we will have firm ground to ride on again!

Don't get me wrong, I love looking at, caring for, and spending every dime of extra income on my horses. They are big pets for the most part, but it is so nice to have all that hard work pay off by being able to go for a nice long trail ride. But before that can happen, hours of training and conditioning must be done, which requires dry ground.

And so I spend hours, ice-picking, manure-scooping, river-diverting and trench-digging in an attempt to decrease the mud-bog come spring. Right now my wheelbarrow is stuck axle-deep in a snow bank, and I spent most of the morning digging trenches in the ice that will be filled with mud by lunch time. So for now its looking like glacier:1, me:0.

I'm considering conceding defeat and preemptively re-naming our barn "the Mud Palace". Good thing we have a horse trailer!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A few of my favorite things . . .

I am such a lucky girl! I got a beautiful new camera for christmas and so I would like to share a few of my favorite things . . .

Oh those donkey ears!

Sass's wild hair!

Frost on pony muzzle!

The PERFECT donkey nose . . .

A black tipped buckskin ear!

Bucky's soft little face

Haley's kind eye

Leo sitting by the fire :-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Frass

It's that time of year again! The holidays, and some little fuzzball has to work overtime to give all the nieces, nephews and friends that come to visit pony rides!

Sass has been such a good pony for us and has come such a long way from the timid little beastie we brought home from Spring Hill two winters ago. I still remember her following me around quietly as I took photos of all the neglected ponies. Thinking about it on the drive and then coming home and telling my husband, "ummm, we're getting a pony, but don't worry, she's small!"

Me & Candy a long long time ago . . .

Sass reminded me of a little pinto pony *I* learned to ride on years ago, she was an absolute saint and her name was "Candy".

Sass may be small in size, but not in personality! Sass can still be very fresh, difficult to catch and impossible at times to trailer; but worth her weight in gold when it comes to children. She *loves* kids and will follow them around all day and lets them groom, lead and ride her without any complaint.

Hannah rides her around all by herself and Emma is learning to trot so we hope to go to some more horse shows this coming summer and do lead line classes! I am working on getting Sass out in the yard and working her over obstacles to get her a little more trustworthy for the kids to eventually ride her outside the ring.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bailey Update

So with Bailey home and settling in well, we got him all bundled up for the winter and are working on deciding how he will fit into our little horse family. He has a very fine coat and gets chilled easily so he has a whole wardrobe of winter blankets and liners to keep him warm and dry.

He is very social and loves to hang out with me while I clean the paddock or switch blankets and his favorite is having his face rubbed! Sonny & Bailey bonded over this as it was Sonny who used to give our old mare the best scratching!

Bailey *loves* the pony, Sassy, and will hang out with her when I want to ride Bucky. Bailey is very sensitive and easily stressed by change so having a variety of herd-mates to turn him out with is helpful!

We have done a little light riding with Bailey just to see how he does and he is still amazing, even at 16. He is a true gentleman and very light and sensitive to ride. He definitely has some creaks and cracks, but is very happy to have a job.

He loves Ali and will do just about anything for her!

Bailey had radiographs and evaluation by a veterinary chiropractor for his soreness. We are hoping with chiropractic treatments, acupuncture and supplements we can keep him comfortable and sound! Light riding is in his future to keep his joints supple and moving.

If all goes well he will spend the rest of the winter with Ali enjoying an enclosed barn at night and light rides.

Obstacle Challenges . . .

After many trail adventures, it was time to take Bucky to a few clinics to work on our skills. So October 24, we attended the first clinic at West River Stables . . . the first major obstacle, was keeping Bucky calm and focused in a ring full of horses!

There were about 15 horses at the clinic and Bucky was VERY well behaved and kept his cool as we practiced turn-on-the-haunches, turn-on-the-forehand and other skills needed to maneuver obstacles on the trail or in the show ring.

Jerilyn & Tana

We worked on backing up on an 'L' and also tricker obstacles like this horse-eater. A board on two barrels that you have to move on end attached to a rope while keeping the other end on the barrel. Jerilyn & Tana demonstrated this for us, Bucky got as far as moving the board, but we did no t complete the obstacle. It will take some time to get used to something attached to us moving!

Angie & Doc working the gate

We also practiced opening / closing a gate from horseback, a very useful skill and something we have also worked on at home. Overall Bucky is very good at this and let me latch / unlatch the gate patiently. I did get a big ole bruise on my knee at home though when we went through the gate without leaving room for my leg - ouch!

Then in December we attended the second obstacle clinic at Crystal Gait, and were able to use their gorgeous heated indoor arena. It was very nice to be in this ring while the wind howled outside and temperatures dropped!

Bucky adapted nicely to the indoor and was very good with the other horses in the ring. Sometimes I forget he is only 5 years old, having many adventures has definitely made him a more reliable mount.

There were a variety of obstacles to work on including this horse eating "teeter - totter" which Bucky thought was pretty scary. We did go over it (and leapt off) a few times, but ended with a positive experience. Bucky also LOVED the big ball to play with, herd and chase. I hope to someday introduce him to cattle work, which I suspect he would love.

We also got to do a mini "cowboy race" which was fun and Bucky was very good. Now it is time for him to have the winter off and get ready for more adventures next spring!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Home sweet home . . .

What a week! So Bailey started his journey home Tuesday afternoon and was sent off with love from his home in Florida . . . and he arrived safe and sound in Mass. Wednesday evening, only about 24 hours later! He traveled in style and arrived in good shape!

It is so great to have him home, he really has matured a lot and took everything in stride. He definitely was a little dazed to get off one big trailer, a quick rest and then into a little one to make the final leg of his trip up to Vermont.

Ali was so happy to see the gray boy and loved having him visit for a quick stop over, if all goes well Ali & Bailey will get to spend a lot more time together.

Bailey definitely thinks its a little chilly up here in Vermont and is glad we had plenty of warm blankets waiting for him.

Bucky isn't sure what to think of Bailey, he let Bailey know that he *is* the boss, but is happy to share his paddock and even hay (from a distance). Bailey on the other hand is in love with the pinto pony mare Sass and loves to hang out by the fence with her. But overall very minimal drama, you've got to love geldings!

Now its time for Bailey to settle in, relax and adjust to life in Vermont. He likes the warm fall days to roll without his blanket on and trot around the back paddock while I work with Bucky.

He is a sweet and beautiful boy and I am reminded everyday of how lucky I am to have him again in my life. This weekend we headed off to Equine Affaire and the hubby took care of the ponies, they were good for him too!

Monday, November 08, 2010

A homecoming of sorts . . .

Many years ago I worked at a Thoroughbred breeding farm, where I fell in love with a certain 3 year old racehorse by the name of "Booger" (registered as Snake Oil's Star). He was a little horse with a big personality and a recent race track flunky. He ran in a total of three races and embarrassed his owners by running last or close to it in all of them . . .

How Dear aka "Nana"

I also cared for both his sire and dam. His momma was a shy little grey mare affectionately called "Nana", though her registered name was How Dear. Nana was born in Florida in 1977, never raced but produced 16 foals, she passed away around 1998. And his sire was a handsome dark bay fella named Snake Oil Stevie, foaled in 1985. He sired some other racehorses and was also standing as a sport-horse. Booger had at least four full sisters, one was an adorable filly I also cared for named "Charm".

One of my very first rides on Bailey . . .

At the age of 3, Booger had already failed as a racehorse, so he and some other racehorses were scheduled to be shipped to auction. Foolish and young, I decided it would be a good idea to buy him and train him as a riding horse! The name had to go . . . so he was renamed "Bailey". Lucky for me he was a very sweet and willing colt and we had great adventures around the farm.

He loved to jump, once he got over the initial spook at new fences . . . and he was a beautiful mover. I was lucky to have a few dressage lessons on him as well and Bailey turned out to be a very willing partner. We did a few local shows and even trail rode on occasion (which was exciting!). But in 2000, I had to leave the East Coast to go to veterinary school and considered selling Bailey. He was an amazing little horse, but was very sensitive and I worried about finding just the right home for him . . . so decided to lease him to my best friend instead.

Ali & Bailey were an amazing pair! Ali really brought out the best in Bailey and he would always do his best for her. Ali took dressage lessons with him and showed him at training level.

After graduating vet school in 2004, Bailey came "home" to stay with me in Vermont. But in 2005 with life getting in the way, again it was time to find Bailey a new home . . . so he was given to a dressage trainer to continue his training and have a good home. As horses often do he changed hands again and spent a few years eventing and living the good life with a family that adores him in Florida.

And now Bailey is being shipped up from Florida tomorrow to come home - again. We can't wait to see him, it is so hard to imagine that he is 16 now! Our dapple grey boy is now all white! In photos he looks a little like his mother, but I have not seen him in 5 years. Although we already have plenty of horses to fill our barn, we had to make room for this sweet horse. He will always have a place in my heart and in our barn as well!